I sat back and stared at the pile of papers and scrolls in front of me. The debts from my little Inn were really piling up, I had only bought this place a few weeks ago but at this rate, ‘The Drunken Termite Inn’ would probably not make to the end of this Long Night Festival. Never mind making it to the next one.
The Festival of the Long Night was just ramping up and every Inn in town was booked. Some places were even down to renting out their horse stalls! I stared down at my blank log book in frustration, we didn’t have any guests, like we hadn’t since I bought the place. The coming long night could last for months and without some paying customers, the chances of being able to keep the doors open for very long were bleaker than the long night, I sighed and put my head down on the table. Our first festival as Inn keepers might very well be our last.
I swore loudly and looked over at Borsos. Borsos is my brother and the cook for this little Inn. He was stirring a pot of stew while staring out the window. His thoughts were obviously a million miles away.
“What can we do differently?” I mused aloud “How can we be failing this badly?”
Borsos snorted. “Maki, I told you not to let that old geezer put into the bill of sale that you weren’t allowed to change the name. Who wants to stay at the bug Inn?”
“He had customers at least! There is no reason for the name of all things to be chasing people away!” What I hadn’t ever told him was that in exchange for keeping the name, the old geezer had lowered the price enough that I was able to afford this place. The price was otherwise way beyond what I manage.
“Well, something is keeping all the customers away and it is not my cooking. And another thing-“Before Borsos could get further into his rant he was cut off by the front door slamming open.
The setting sun put a dark shadow over the figure that was standing in the door frame. “This the Termite?”
I jumped to my feet, “Yes, yes it is. How may we assist you? We have plenty of rooms available and supper will be ready in a just a few minutes.”
The figure entered the room and closed the door behind him, “Is this seriously the only Inn left in town to have rooms left for rent?” The lamp illuminated his face. He was an older man, face marked with the lines of many travels.
I paused, then forced a smile back onto my face, “I suspect so, sir, the festival brings in many people to celebrate.”
The man snorted. “You mean brings people in to get drunk and spend all their money when they should be preparing for the weeks or months of darkness that lies before us.”
“I tell my dear sister the same thing every year.” Borsos laughed, “This festival is probably to blame for many deaths of fools doing foolish things.”
I straightened up and stared at them both, “And I will tell you both what I always say, this festival is not about getting drunk. It’s about the celebration of both light and family before we enter the darkness. It is a warm memory to get us through the dark, and cold days ahead. Many people don’t or can’t travel during the long night so this is also the last opportunity to get their needed supplies. “
Borsos rolled his eyes, but the stranger was studying me with an unreadable look on his face.
I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment as I shifted my gaze to the floor, “Sorry to be so bold, Sir. Can I have your name for the room?”
“Reyes.” He took off his heavy leather cloak and hung it by the door. “I will be staying for the duration.”
“The duration? Of the festival?” He couldn’t possibly mean of the whole long night, could he?
“No. Of the night. I am a traveler and frankly you can’t travel well when the world is covered in a dark blanket, with no moon or stars to cast any light. You can’t trade what you can’t see.” Reyes sat down at the table across from me. “You said supper will be ready soon?”
“Yes it will! And it will be the best stew you have ever had!” Borsos boasted, stirring his pot a little faster.
I left the two of them to talk as I went to make sure the room was set up. Not that we had any customers in there recently to mess it up, but I really wanted to make sure there were no rampant dust bunnies roaming the room. The room was even dustier than I expected and it took longer than a few minutes to clean up and make presentable for our new guest.
By the time I got back down stairs, Borsos’s stew had been done for a while and the men were talking. Their dirty dishes were still in front of them. Of course Borsos wouldn’t have thought to come up and help me get the room ready. He always says that ‘Cleaning is a woman’s work.’ I even have to clean the dirty dishes he creates while cooking. If he wasn’t my brother, I would have thrown him out of my Inn a long time ago.
The sound of my stomach growling reminded me how long it had been since my first meal. I joined them, taking a seat at the table and Borsos handed me a bowl. As always, the stew smelled mouthwatering. If my brother wasn’t so headstrong, he could be cooking at the best taverns in the town. Before I could take a bite however, the door opened again yet. This time it was a young couple.
The man was holding a sleeping child and the woman was wringing her hands. “Is this the…uh…Drunken Termite?” She asked, her voice trembling. Both their eyes were locked on the stew on the table, and even from where I sat, I could hear their stomachs growling.
“Yes it is, how can I help you?” I asked as I rose from the table.
“We need a place to stay.” The woman’s eyes never rose from the floor, “The guards seized our home for use during the long night. We have no coin but we can earn our keep.”
“We have no room for freeloaders.” Borsos said with a sneer in his voice. “Find somewhere else.”
“Borsos!” I glared at him, “Hold your tongue! Of course they can stay here. What would Mother say if we threw them out in the dark?”
I could see him brisling, but for once in his life obeyed my directions.
“Come sit and introduce yourselves.” I pulled out one of the chairs.
The relief on their faces was plain to see as they sat. “I am Kitta.” The woman gave me a grateful smile. “This is my husband Niko, and our daughter, Nissa. You have no idea how much this means to us. We will do whatever you need us to do help with around here.”
“We will figure that out later. Just get some food in your bellies.”
Borsos dished them out some stew, and I could see the annoyance on his face as he did so. Well, he can take a flying leap. This is my Inn, I bought it without any help from him, so what I say goes!
I sat down again in front of my stew. I had taken a single bite when the door opened again. “Hey, Termite! Come out and help with the bags!” An older man barked out as he entered. As soon as he saw us around the table he gave us a puzzled look. “Where’s Termite?”
Borsos and I exchanged a look, “This is the Drunken Termite. My name is Maki, I am the Innkeeper.”
“No, the Innkeepers name is Termite.” The man glowered at me through his thick, bushy eyebrows.
“The old keeper sold the place to me shortly…” I hesitated “Shortly before he died.”
“Termite is dead?” The man staggered and fell into a chair. “Now where will we go…”
“You are still welcome to stay here, Sir.” I felt sorry for the old man. He had obviously been close to the old Innkeeper. “Are you in town for the festival?”
He shook his head, obviously only half hearing me. “Termite….” He shook his head again. “Ah, no miss. Me and mine usually come and stay here at the Inn for the whole long night. We will pay, of course. It is just easier staying in town with a bunch of people rather than on the outskirts.” He gave me a small smile. “Especially with me getting up there in age.”
I grabbed my log book, “And we will be happy to have you stay with us for that time. Can I have your name, how many rooms you will need, and how many people will be staying with us?”
His small smile grew until he burst out with laughter, ”Oh, my dear, I really hope you have the space. Termite always held out the entire Inn for us and made sure the other Inns knew he would be booked for the festival. The other inns know not to send any over flow of guests to the Termite.”
“That’s why we had no guests!” Borsos gasped at the man.
“Termite didn’t tell you?”
I shook my head. “We only bought the place a few weeks ago. Uhh… Termite died almost as soon as the papers were signed. He was only worried about us not changing the name and that we must remain open for the festival and the long night.”
“He wanted to make sure we had a place to go, to be sure.” The man grinned “Call me Roach. Termite always did. Inside joke, I’ll have to tell you the story one day. My whole family is on their way. All thirty of us. “He dropped a bag of coins on the table and there were flashes of bronze, silver, and gold when the bag popped open. “This should be enough for the twenty rooms. Assuming you have the space?”
I could see the worry on Nico and Kitta’s faces. They obviously thought I was going to throw them out now that I had paying customers for that room I gave them. Silly people, I would need them, it’s not like Borsos and I could care for thirty…er… thirty-one people all by ourselves.
“We only have eighteen room….Roach. We rented out two rooms already.” I prayed to whatever gods that would listen that he would still stay even without the entire Inn at his disposal. With that money, we could afford to stay open for this Long night and maybe even longer.
“But I am sure we can find other….accommodations, for our other guests. Excuse us.” Borsos grabbed my arm and hauled me into the kitchen “What do you think you are doing Maki? Throw those other people out! We have a real paying customer! And one that is willing to pay in large sums and up front!”
I shook my arm free of his grasp. “No. I will not go back on my word. And we will need the help with the extra guests.”
“You are bloody insane!” Borsos hissed, “You are going to condemn this Inn with your bleeding heart!”
I turned and walked away, ignoring the abuse my brother hollered at my back. I reentered the dining room with a forced smile on my face.
“Sorry about that Mister Roach. Like I said, I only have eighteen rooms. Reyes and this young family here got here before you did and I will not go back on my word to house them for the Long Night.”
Roach was studying me and then a giant smile stretched across his face. “I see now why Termite sold this place to you. You have the same gentle soul. Eighteen rooms is fine. Some of my children will just have to deal with being bunked up. “
I had to fight to not let my relief show on my face. My vison blurred as tears crept up.
When my vison cleared, I saw Reyes was now holding Nissa. It was such an odd sight, the old grisly man holding the sleeping child. Nico and Kitta were both on their feet and moving into action.
“Let me help you with your bags.” Nico told Roach. “The young miss here is letting us pay for our housing by having us help out around the inn and now is as good as time as any to start doing that.”
I turned to Kitta, “The rooms are rather dusty, let’s get started cleaning them!” I then frowned and sighed to myself. “Borsos! If you are done with your temper tantrum, get some more stew on, we are going to be packed with guests soon.”
He didn’t respond but I heard banging coming from the kitchen as he started to cook.
With that, I strode off in the direction of the rooms. We are going to be packed soon, Just in time for the festival. And it is just, like I said, the festival is a time for family and laughs.