Smoggit was a master wizard, but a terrible innkeeper. He had no space bedroom to house guests in, so Pamela had to sleep on the floor. It surprisingly soft as warm, as the heat of the earth rose up from the dirt. The hunger pangs biting into her belly woke her up. As they rumbled like last night’s thunder, she winced and rubbed her shrinking stomach.
It was then, in that half-conscious, starved state, that she smelled it: a wonderful aroma wafting in from Smoggit’s kitchen. The scowl from the night before gave way to an early morning smile. She massaged her eyes open, pushed herself up off the floor, and there she saw him: Mr. Smoggit, hard at working making breakfast.
“Morning,” she said.
“Morning, Ms. Gausón. I hope you’re hungry. I’ve prepared some rosemary potato hash that I’d say is to die for.”
“Starving. Thank you,” she said.
She rose to her feet.
“It’s the least I could do. Sorry for the accommodations. You’d think I’d be better prepared for guests, being a gnome of some renown.”
“It was fine enough. It was good to sleep somewhere safe for a change, at the very least,” she said.
“Yes, I’d imagine. The forests of Mordøn are teaming with beasts and robbers, and the Cassian deserts… well, if the heat doesn’t get you, the cold will finish you off!”
She walked over to Smoggit and stood looming over his shoulder, looking down at the cooking food. She took a healthy whiff, and smiled all the more.
“Yes. I’m quite proud of how it came out. Would you care to take a seat? Or, breakfast will still be a little bit, more than enough to time to clean yourself off.”
She looked down at her hands and arms. Mud and muck coated her skin, hid beneath her nails, hung like beads in her hair. She drew back, ashamed.
“Oh, I meant no insult. I only offer the opportunity, if you’d like to take advantage of it,” he added.
He glanced away from his pan to her clothing.
“Maybe, while you’re at that, I could set the food to simmer and see what I could do with your clothes,” he said, “When it comes to fashion design, I do have a rather magic touch.”
She chuckled politely.
“That would be lovely.”
He nodded, then shooed her off.
“All right then, it’s settled. Off with you. As Grabbit will have it, I’ll have a tasty meal and some proper clothing waiting for you upon your return.”
She tossed a stray, dusty hair behind her ear.
“Why are you being so nice? I’d expect no such hospitality from a wizard of your status.”
He set his spatula down and gazed determindely into her cerulean eyes.
“Because life is hard enough, my dear. It is incumbent upon us to bring a little softness to it,” he said, and pointed to the rear of the hovel, where a spider-silk drape hung on a rod over the entryway. “You’ll find the hot spring through there. Do set your garments on the floor outside once you have removed them, rather than hanging them on the rod.” He blushed as he looked himself over. “We gnomes are not known for our height, after all.”
“Of course,” she said.
She set her clothes outside the spider-silk drape, and looked upon her wire frame. The journey had reduced her to just skin and bones, a crusted hollow semblance of herself. But she was here, and that was what mattered.
Before her bubbled a quaint little hot spring, dug into the dirt many years ago. The steam rising from the spring was soothing in of itself. She paused as the vapors swirled about her head, making it feel as light and warm as the vapors themselves.
With a toe, she probed the water. Finding the temperature quite agreeable (though a bit on the hot side), she stepped in. The water enveloped her beleagured form like a mold cast to her precise measurements. Her entire being seemed to melt at that moment. As the dust clotted about her body dissipated into the steam and swirling waters, she felt ever muscle loosen. She found a supportive nub on the side of the spring, and sunk down into it.
While she rested upon the nub, her mind wondered far from that place, that spring, far from Smoggit and even from her Herculean journey here. Her mind went back home, to the fields of Accur, where she was born. She saw, in her minds eyes, the thatch-roof houses and the children playing. She saw the women tending to their chores and the men returning from the hunt with the latest kill. She saw her own home, full of trinkets and potions. She saw the ragdoll her father had passed down to her from his grandmama, and her grandfather’s broadsword.
The memory arrived to her in tempered shades of blue, as blue as her eyes, and she sighed for a moment and wondered if she would ever see it all again.
“Ms. Gausón, breakfast is ready,” said Smoggit, from the other side of the drape.
His voice hit strongly enough to shake her back into full consciousness.
“Thank you. I’ll be right out.”
“Good. We wouldn’t want the hash to get cold,” he said, “I put your things on the right side of the drape.”
She was left-handed, so this was opposite of where she had first set them.
The warm water of the spring driveled down her frame as she begrudgingly lifted herself out of the water. For an instant, she imagined herself a fountain in Prince Hugor’s palace. Then, she took hold of her clothes and spread them out before her.
Her mother had sewn them together, and, in fact, had sewn her robes ever since her village’s summoner elected Pamela as the next priestess. Oh! She had forgotten their original color: a redolent mauve. The journey had not worn it away, but merely hidden it under layers of brackish muck. But now, here it was again. Little a little girl, she held the robes up to her person and spun about with much gaiety.
“Do the results please you?” said Smoggit, now only a shade in the distance.
“Yes, very much so!”
“Good, good. Breakfast will be on the stove.”
As her stomach quaked, she slipped on the robes and hurried outside.