Downstairs there was no 1 except Bartholomea regulating the ovens and Sem
Partoldi at her table. She wore a long full electric blue tunic belted
with a platinum chain. She looked up at my step on the stairs. Her eyes
were sharp and bright cutting through all intervening layers, infinitely
knowing. I recognized the shrewdness, humor, calculation, but something
else was there, too fleeting and too murky. “You’re going to follow that
message,” Sem Partoldi observed and lifted to her lips the hot drink held
in her lidded tankard.
“Yes.” I said to Bartholomea as she crossed to us, "I must go now."
In her sudden surge of feeling the innkeeper touched my arm, something she would never have done under less trying circumstances. “Please, a few moments! Friend Ince, honored rider, you must not leave our village, my inn, and face the mighty untoward line fields with an empty belly. Please sit. It will be only a few moments and I will set before you a plate of my best batter cakes. Steaming hot! My very best! It is a cold morning. With just a touch of savory,” Bartholomea added holding up her pink plump fingertips pinched together. She stepped briefly behind the bar. “Here. Here is some hot tea. Begin with that. Sit. Please. It will not be long.”
I took the mug and the chair across from Sem Partoldi. The window on the river road showed gray. Gray heavy sky, gray still river. There was a gap in the rain. Sem Partoldi waited, watched me with her glinting eyes.