Amberly threw a big beefy arm around me when we got back. “Master Arch! I can’t believe you’ve been hiding this lovely young lady from us all this time!”
I looked up and saw that Charm was helping Elsa with the customers. She was in the middle of filling a mug when she saw me, and the look she gave me could freeze a fire spell.
I swallowed. “Oh, uh… yes, Charm is our cook.”
“Your cook?” Herwin exclaimed. He was now well embedded between Bran and Amberly. “She’s too much of a beauty to be hidden in the back of the house!”
“Well.. what do you say, Charm? Would you like to work at the front serving drinks from now on?”
Charm’s eyebrow twitched. In that little twitch, I could guess exactly what she wanted to say:
Charm is only here because for the second time today Master was late. Because of his impropriety and tardiness, we were left short-handed and unprepared, therefore Charm is standing here pouring drinks to these drunkards. Master is well aware that Charm is disinterested in being the object of attention among the customers. Now Master is taunting Charm about having her do this permanently? I will murder you in your sleep, you insect.
I coughed violently. “Ahe-ah! Well, unfortunately, a good cook is hard to come by, so I can’t pull her away from that duty. But now we have Cassia helping with serving. Isn’t that right, Cassia?”
“Oh yes, Arch-don. Let me wash my hands and I will take over for Charm,” Cassia said, catching the murderous gaze Charm was giving me.
“Thank you, Cassia.” You may have just saved my life.
Surrounded by patrons, Elsa looked radiant as ever and already several drinks in.
I quickly threw on an apron, scrubbed my hands with soap and joined the girls to attend to the customers.
My rounds took me back to the builders. Herwin looked like a new member of the crew, although his finery didn’t quite match Bran and Amberly’s simple shirts and work trousers.
“No Galston today?” I said, taking Herwin’s mug to refill it.
“Ah, he wanted to come, but he had other appointments today,” Herwin said. “He said he would be sure to come back and call on Miss Cassia.”
I smiled at this. “That’s good to hear. A man like him will make things livelier.”
“That’s very true. He is a good man!” Bran said happily.
“Where’s Dalian?” I said, looking around for the third builder.
“Heh,” Amberly said. “He’s upset we didn’t wake him when you were pouring the Gilhanna. I tried shaking him awake that night, but he was out like a candle.”
“Don’t worry,” Bran said with a cheerful grin. “He’ll come around eventually.”
The rest of the night went much smoother than the previous two. Mideon did not return and there were no theatrical confrontations, which some of the patrons seemed to find a little disappointing after two nights of heart-pumping excitement. But I was happy for things to be back to normal again.
Better yet, word had gotten around that Galston had visited, and the tavern was nearly full by the height of the night. There were several new faces along with many that hadn’t come by the tavern in some time.
Elsa was in a chipper mood and got several of the new patrons blindly drunk. Charm was still sour as a raw lemon, though it was probably not noticeable to anyone besides myself, and Cassia did a fine job with the customers. However, I did find a distant and distracted expression on her face throughout the night.
Later, after we had cleaned up and gone to bed, I heard a knock at my door.
“Arch-don? Are you asleep?” It was Cassia’s voice.
“Not yet,” I said, sitting up in bed. “Come in.”
Cassia entered wearing her sleeping gown. My nineteen-year-old brain suddenly was sending me certain signals that I had to push away to focus.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I am having some trouble sleeping… may I sit?” Cassia asked.
“Yes, of course,” I said, feeling my pulse rise a little.
She took a seat at the little desk in my room. Right, of course, she sat on the chair. That made sense.
“I feel uncertain about those orphans we ran into today,” Cassia said.
“You don’t believe the pretty templar boy will take care of it?”
“I believe he will, but perhaps… I don’t know. I am afraid he will not be as… diligent as he could be.”
“So you want to help find those kids?”
I shrugged. “Then do it. We don’t open until five o’clock in the evening. Plenty of time to do your searching.”
“I’d like you to come with me.”
“Because I might need your help.”
“My help?” I said, incredulous. “You have two gates open and you’re a templar. I haven’t seen your swordplay yet, but I bet it’s good. I think you’ll do fine without me.”
Cassia bit her lip. “Then perhaps I have ulterior motives…”
My ears perked up. As did my teenage senses. “Ulterior motives?”
“I want you to come because I think it will remind you of the merits of helping others. Even if it’s just a few orphans.”
“The merits of helping others?”
Cassia nodded. “There is great joy to aiding those in need.”
“Cassia, you do realize that there are orphans all over the world that have it worse than those kids. There may be less in the major cities where the Order of the White Church operates, but the church isn’t everywhere. And not just orphans. There are all sorts of atrocities committed every day, even in Adentris, where things are generally better than the rest of the world. And don’t get me started on our neighboring countries. Go farther south across the Primordian Sea, and you’ll find that slavery is still a popular trade.”
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help these orphans.”
“Nor does it mean that I should. True, their lives are hard. But there are people out there suffering far worse than them. Why do these kids get my help and not the others? Because they are near me? So I am helping them out of convenience? You want me to rescue some orphans then go back to being a tavern keeper, thinking I’ve done something good? Because I won’t, Cassia. I’m no hypocrite. The motives of people that only do good when it is convenient are so that they may think themselves virtuous, but that doesn’t mean they actually are.”
“I disagree, Arch-don,” Cassia said, her voice even. “You are right that there are people suffering everywhere, but every little bit counts. Perhaps some people do good to think that they are good, but I believe they also do it because they believe it to be the right thing to do. It can be both.”
I shook my head. “When you’ve lived as long as I have, you see the truth of things. No matter how much good you do, injustice will exist. Often times, the people who promise to do good become the ones to create new injustices. That’s the way of life.”
“If you truly believed that, you would not have become The Hero of Our Time.” Her voice cracked now, and she stood, her hands gripping together tightly. “You are a good man, Archibold Stormblood. I know you are.”
“Sure, I’ve done a few good deeds, but I only did them because they were necessary, and there was no one else to do them. If a demon lord with the power to wipe out humanity appears, or a mad king hell-bent on enslaving the whole world shows up, sure, I’ll lend a hand. But these other things? The smaller things? You will never be rid of them.”
Cassia dropped her eyes, looking disheartened.
“You go ahead and help those orphans,” I said. “You can stay at the tavern as long as you like even if you don’t show up to work nights. We have plenty of rooms anyway.” I fluffed my pillow and laid back down.
Cassia was quiet for a long time.
Then she said, “If you help me find the orphans, I will wear any of Elsa’s dresses of your choosing for an entire week. Assuming that she lets me borrow them, that is.”
I sat up and swallowed. “A-any of them?”
I sat as my head swam through the possibilities. There was a thin-laced white dress that even Elsa had only worn on one or two occasions because it had drawn too much attention from the patrons.
“I don’t know… this… this doesn’t seem fair.”
“That even includes the white dress that Elsa saves for special occasions,” Cassia said.
“Y-you know about that one?”
“The one with the laces and the ample cleavage?” I had to be sure. Take this from a person who has negotiated the borders of nations and the rights of millions: Never make a crucially important deal unless you are certain of the details.
Cassia nodded again.
“Th-this…this is blackmail!” I said, feeling myself swaying.
“Umm… I’m not sure you know what that word means, Arch-don.”
“For a whole week?” I repeated.
“For a whole week,” she repeated.
* * *
“Is Master saying that he is going to leave and return late again and have Charm tend to the bar where she does not belong?”
Charm had her eye of destruction on me again as we stood in the kitchen. She had just finished beating a bowl of eggs for breakfast when I had given her the news. For some reason, she picked up a knife. I don’t know what business a knife has with a beaten bowl of eggs, but I wasn’t deterred. Not when the stakes were so high.
“Listen, Charm, there are orphans to be saved. Poor little kids without homes or parents! It’s my duty as a citizen of this city to do all that I can to rectify this horrible situation. Cassia and I hope to return before sundown, but yes, it is possible things might run late. But I’m sure you can understand and make a small sacrifice and tend to the tavern while I’m gone for this noble cause! Think of the children! Isn’t that right, Cassia?”
“Erm, well… yes.”
Charm gave me one of her half-lidded stares filled with suspicion. She was definitely thinking something wasn’t adding up.
“Well, we must be on our way,” I said quickly, guiding Cassia to hurry out the door. “Thank you, Charm! I will pass along your blessings to the children!”