Today's Reading

Tanya snatched it out of his hand. She read, "Writ of Requisition. By the order of the Queen and Council, all accommodations, provisions, livestock, and sundries deemed necessary by the commander of this corps, Sir Kiernan Rees, are to be surrendered upon request. The Queen and Council thank their citizens." It was signed by Councilman Hewitt, known even to Tanya as the Queen's closest advisor.

Tanya found her voice. "This is fake. I don't believe it."

Rees leaned over and drew her attention to the second signature. "It was certified three days ago by a Sir Clark. I believe he is the tax collector in these parts."

Tanya knew that signature well. It was the same one she saw on the tithe documents every other month.

Suddenly she found that she was standing up. "The Smiling Snake is mine."

Rees held out his hand. "Show me a writ of leaving signed by Loomis and certified by Sir Clark, or another appropriate official, and we might have something to talk about."

Tanya started trembling. She couldn't quite tell if it was with rage or with the beginnings of fear. "I'll find it," she said loudly. "But it doesn't matter. Ask anyone in Griffin's Port. Froud meant me to run this inn. He always said so."

"Are you sure he meant that?" Rees leaned forward, a sharp glint in his eyes. "Are you sure he wasn't just trying to keep his unpaid help happy? Anyway, even if you do find it, this writ is signed by both the Queen and Councilman Hewitt himself. It can't be reversed by just a tavern wench with a scrap of paper."

Tanya, defiantly, met his eyes. "That is unacceptable. Sir."

"I don't make the rules, tavern wench. You'll have to take it up with the Queen and Council."

Tanya didn't answer, but she did snatch the cask of wine off his table before shoving her way through his men and climbing the stairs to her room in the attic.

The attic still acted as storage for the Smiling Snake, but Tanya had made a nest for herself among the chests of linen and piles of silver waiting to get polished.

Two overstuffed, oversize canvas sacks of goose down piled on top of each other was all she had for a bed, but they were made up in immaculately clean sheets of rather fine white linen. Her blanket she had made herself out of scraps of bed coverings and curtains from the inn, again overstuffing it with goose down. It might have been catch as catch can, but for all that, it was probably the most comfortable bed in the house. Tanya sat down on it heavily and took a drink directly out of the cask.

She unlaced her boots and kicked them off, then took another drink. She would wait until the men had put themselves to bed, or more likely fell asleep in tavern chairs, since she was damned if she was going to light fires and change sheets in the rooms for them. Then she would creep downstairs to the little room off the kitchen where Froud kept his books. That's where the writ of leaving would be. Tanya knew it was there. It had to be.

The Smiling Serpent was the key to Griffin's Port. It was the biggest room in the city where everyone was welcome and equal.

The pirates that everyone pretended weren't pirates could carouse at the stalls by the docks, but it got cold there at night. The rich mineral merchants could host lavish dinners in their homes, but they couldn't get any news there. The fishermen had their own cozy homes with their cozy families, but sometimes even respectable fishermen needed to drink. Everyone needed something that only the Smiling Serpent could give them, and Tanya knew, without a glimmer of a doubt, that she was the one who made it happen.

Tanya was the cook, the brewer, the distiller, the laundress, the housekeeper, the waitress, the hostess, the landlady, the muscle, the drunk-wrangler, the comforter of the brokenhearted, etc., etc. Tanya passed messages. She stored up information. She flirted with the boys who were just starting to be men and a little too nervous to be in the big tavern room with the grown folk. The nice boys anyway. The bad ones she scowled at, though they seemed to like that just as much.

She mattered here. After ten years, this was her inn.

Tanya repeated that fact in her head over and over again until she was finally soothed into a fitful sleep.

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