“Oh, my,” said James. He stashed his rucksack in a far corner (where it barely fit) pulled off his boots and stretched out full length on the bed. He immediately slid to the center. “Oh, my,” he said again. “We never had rooms like this in the Breezy Hill Inn. But I guess we’ll have to make the best of it…at least it’s warm and dry…it might even rain later…then we’ll be thanking our lucky stars…”
Star stashed her pack on the opposite side of the bed. (Hers was smaller so it fit better.) She took off her cloak, unbuckled her rapier, untied her fancy leggings, pulled off her boots, and stretched herself full length on the bed. She immediately slid to the center, feeling James’ body pressed full length against her own. “Oh, my,” said Princess Star. (But for different reasons.) “My, oh, my.”
Although Star (a Princess of the Realm of Eulalia) and James (a former hospitality industry associate) had slept next to each other, close to each other, and once even under the same cloak (Star’s) on a particularly chilly night; they had never slept together in a bed that seemed determined to press them together as tightly as possible at every single moment.
Star found herself thinking of just how well-knit James’ limbs were, how his smile lit up the room (even a room that was only an eighteen-inch border around a bed); how he always seemed to be in a good mood, always ready to lend a hand; the fact that he was incredibly handsome and brave, that he had a twinkle in his eye (part of the time) and had beautiful eyes (the rest of the time)…and the amazing amulet he gave her (which tingled a little as she thought of it); and the fact that he was great at making fires…(Princess Star is romanticizing things a little here, going just a bit overboard, but you get the idea; she liked him. I mean really liked him. But being a Princess, and having lived a pretty sheltered life, she really didn’t know what to do about that feeling. Plus there was the whole disguised-as-a-man thing which wasn’t helping at all.)
James, for his part, was having some serious man-issues. Darned if certain parts of William of Ossetsia’s anatomy didn’t feel…well…just…well…different from what you might expect from a prince (did he say “prince” before, wondered James) of a foreign land. Things must be really strange down there in Ossetsia, thought James, as Star’s rather womanly backside pressed against his leg. I wonder if it’s the figs, James thought, as a very, very, very, unmuscular breast touched the back of his arm for what seemed like a very long time. James was not having trouble sleeping. He’d completely forgotten that’s was what he was supposed to be doing. In fact, he’d forgotten the point of a bed entirely. Maybe if I take a few deep breaths, thought James. No. That caused all new parts of him to start touching all these other new parts of…him. Now he was noticing William of Ossetsia seemed to be breathing more deeply, too. I wonder if it’s the desert air, thought James. Then he thought: If he rolls over, I’m sunk. (But sunk into what? James did not know. James was confused.)
Meanwhile, down below, Peanut had finished his fifteen-hour day (yes, he’s a boy) six in the morning until nine at night. Silver had been brushed and fed (oats and a nice bag of mash): check. Scullery: check. Firewood: check. Floors: check. And with a stolen hunk of bread Peanut had gone to bed: a flat wooden box with feed sacks for a mattress and more feed sacks for blankets and a feed sack with his extra shirt in it for a pillow. (The shirt was pretty wrinkled.) The fake knight Roderick had straightened out his squirrels (he liked to do that before retiring) and toddled off to his own bed. The Benbow Inn settled down, a slight creak here, a slight creak there, like an old wooden ship in a calm harbor.
In room Number Two things had settled down too, but the whole “calm harbor” thing was pretty much out the window which the room didn’t have. Princess Star had managed, (by hanging an arm and a leg over the side of the bed) to hover a good inch or two from young James. James (for his part) had figured out much the same thing. This enabled them both to fall asleep. Once asleep however, their muscles relaxed and their guard relaxed with it. So when they woke up in each other’s arms (in the large, sagging bed, in the windowless room, in the calm harbor of the Benbow Inn) James kissed William of Ossetsia (lightly, experimentally; then, for real). And Princess Star kissed him back.
Prince Robin and Rodney were leaving the Breezy Hill Inn: with some regret on Rodney’s part (he’d never had a hot pool to soak in before and it was really stirring his imagination) and no regret on Prince Robin’s part (because he really didn’t like chickens). In the lobby all the staff assembled in a long line to see them off; that is, all the staff not presently carrying Prince Robin’s seventeen suitcases, trunks, satchels, valises, knapsacks, plus his numerous cases of wine interspersed with the occasional haunch. There had been a lively competition for this honor so a number of the staff sported split lips, swollen eyes, and noses with little bits of cotton sticking out of them. The winners were not always the biggest, or the most intelligent of the valets, but they were however (despite their injuries) the happiest. Given Prince Robin’s propensity for tipping the prevailing opinion was “Hey! You Just Never Know!”
Also behind the reception desk were Belle and Dixie, the owners and operators of the Breezy Hill Inn. Belle was really looking forward to telling Prince Robin the inn was completely booked (even though it wasn’t). Belle now thought of Robin as “that free-spending, chicken-hater” and, even though those things tended to cancel each other out, she still wanted him off the premises. Dixie hadn’t met either Robin or Rodney (mostly because she liked to stay in her room and drink) but Belle had told her all about this strange pair so Dixie felt she owed it to her curiosity to see them before they left.
Robin led the parade down the stairs, dispensing bon mots and mots justes with princely éclat (even the occasional faux pas had no affect on his joie de vivre)—if he’d had any flowers he’d have been strewing them. Behind them came Rodney carrying his small black bag and feeling more mellow then he’d felt in ages. Maybe I’ll call it “Rodney’s Relaxery,” he thought, giving a name to the new hot pool business he intended to start at the first opportunity.
(to be continued)