For ysabetwordsmit‘s Prompt
Warning: this turned out a bit dark.
“Have you ever stroked a unicorn?”
The tavern wasn’t the sort that catered to women, certainly not to delicate, smooth-skinned women wearing silk reminiscent of a habit or a widow’s weeds. She made the men who drank there uncomfortable, hard-working rough men who drank hard, rough drinks. She made the bartender nervous, a man who kept two knives and a cosh under his bar and had used all three without flinching. She made the boy who ran errands and the girl who waited tables nervous, skinny orphans who had seen more in their lives than the hard men had in spans three or four times as long.
And they didn’t seem to be making her nervous at all.
They’d tried, they really had. Leering, rude jokes. Excessive, sarcastic chivalry. Belching. They didn’t even have to work at the body odor. When all else had failed, they’d just tried ignoring her, and yet, night after night, bad drink after bad drink after worse food, she kept coming back.
Tonight, when they all sat three seats away and tried to ignore her bubble of presence, tonight, when they’d finally managed to actually forget she was there for a bit, tonight, she came up with that one.
The bar fell to silence. They all stared at her, then stared at Jakob. Jakob could answer. He had an answer for everything.
“Stroked a… Lady. Lady, what in the blazing furnaces…!”
It was the answer they would have given. Tavern-goers nodded sagely. What in the blazing furnaces, indeed.
“A unicorn.” She sipped her ale as if it were wine. “Its coat is very soft, you know.”
“No, I haven’t… who in the ground gears pets a unicorn?”
“I wasn’t intending to pet it, you see.” She sipped her ale again. “Barkeep, something a bit stronger, if you please.”
“Lady, I think you’ve had enough.”
“Barkeep.” Her voice had taken on a new edge, an edge of pearl and dagger, an edge that reminded them of the unicorns they were all trying so hard to forget. “I have had hardly sufficient to begin. I ask you again, all of you, have you ever stroked a unicorn?“
It occurred to Jakob just about then that the black of her habit covered a waist that could have been thickened with age, or, perhaps more likely, with bandages. It occurred to him what he had heard of those the unicorns didn’t favor, when the towns and villages sent their women to the water. “Give her what she wants.” His voice was harsh now, too. His daughter had gone to the river. She had come back with a baby. He didn’t think that was what this woman had returned with. “It’s on my tab.”
“No, Lady.” He held the eyes of every man in the bar for one long minute. “None of us have ever touched a unicorn, but we would be honored to hear your story.”
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