Worry in the Monarchy
The Inn of the Singing Cow, within the small village of Temen, sat in the Barony of Nemtanka on a main trade route extending from the Barony of Lanteler to the north, where the royal palace stood atop the rock pinnacle just off shore of Lake Hasp, to the southern Barony of Arana, on the border of the kingdom of Karaken, a nation that continued to stage skirmishes with Carandir over land claims.
The outside of the building was yellow stucco with an oak door and tall, narrow windows that admitted light but could not be crawled through.
The tavern owner, Namar Reesa, a short, squat man with close cropped hair that was speckled with gray, had one rule; patrons could discuss anything except for politics or romance, because both subjects could bring brawls that broke up the furniture.
Yet, he could not stop the whispers of the merchants, travelers and local people concerning The Queen.
Three patrons sat at a table; a woman with long, dark hair that she constantly brushed away from her left eye, a silk merchant who came through three times a year and a man with deep crevices in his face and two missing teeth.
The silk merchant offered a toast. "To The Queen's birthday. I plan to be in Meth for the celebration. The local taverns always bring out the best brew then."
"Thirty-nine," said the old man quietly.
"And still no heir," whispered the woman. She leaned into the table as her hair brushed the surface.
The merchant squinted as he looked around the room. "Those are dangerous words. They will get us tossed onto the road at least."
The old man chuckled. "If everyone who spoke of the barren queen were shown the door, there would be no customers in this inn."
The merchant flinched, then gave a tepid smile. "Still, the celebration will be good for business. The Queen herself wears a pair of silk slippers that I brought her two years ago. Everyone wants to emulate her."
"Everyone did," said the woman. "Now, everyone wonders if there will be a monarchy when The King and Queen fly to the Dragons' Halls."
Reesa came over to the table as he wiped his hands on a towel. "Another round? How about some stew to hearten you for the road?"
"You keep a quiet establishment," said the woman.
"That's how I like it," said the inn keeper. "Peaceful. A comfortable place to welcome travelers."
The old man looked down at the table. "How peaceful will it be when no one wears the crown?"
The merchant nearly choked on his drink.
Reesa said, "Do you want me to throw you out?"
The woman pushed her chair back. "You'd have to throw all of us out."
The silk merchant cleared his throat. "I'd like some of that stew."
The old man said, "You've heard the talk as well as anyone here, as well as anyone across Carandir."
"And I don't want to hear it in my inn."
The woman brushed back hair from her face. "Thirty-nine, barren and The King won't divorce her, won't even take a consort."
Reesa clenched his fists as he held the towel. "That's not the way of Carandir."
The old man looked up from the table. He stared into Reesa's eyes. "Maybe ways need to change."
The inn keeper pointed to the door. "That's it. Out. The lot of you."
The merchant cradled his mug in his hand. "That stew really sounds good."
The three stood, the silk merchant last. The woman raised her voice well above a whisper. "You think you can stop the worry, the fear for the future? What will happen to the children? What will happen to Carandir? We'll go, but the problem remains. Staying silent won't help. We need an heir. The Queen will never bear a child after her fall. Her womb is dried up. Soon our homeland will be too."
The old man and the woman walked out. The silk merchant stayed behind. "It has been a long time since I ate."
Reesa stared at the door, then back to the merchant. "Oh, shut up and eat some stew, you coward."