A Rose In the Snow

Jack made his way into the taproom of the Emperor’s Tailor and shook the snow from his cloak. The barmaid eyed the wood ax strapped to his back and whispered something to the bartender. Jack shrugged and tried to look harmless as he took off his cloak and hung it and the ax in its harness by the door. He did not want any trouble. Well, any more trouble. He had more than he knew how to deal with as usual. He had the best luck and the worst luck. That strange mix had made him travel out into a snowy night to this inn in the middle of nowhere on the border of two kingdoms.

He walked up to the bar and tried to look charming as he approached the bar and smiled at the barmaid. She rolled her eyes and walked off to deliver somebody’s drinks which left Jack with the bartender. Jack smiled again and leaned on the bar.

“I was told that I could find some sellswords here,” Jack said. “Is that true?”

The bartender grunted. “I don’t want no trouble in my inn,” the bartender said. Was he also the owner or was it a figure of speech? It barely mattered.

Jack put his hands up in a harmless gesture. “No trouble, sir,” he said. “Well, there is trouble but it is far from here. I have brought none of it with me. I’ll be traveling back to the trouble soon enough.”

The bartender gave him an unfriendly, impatient look. “Did you have a point?” he asked.

Jack nodded. “Yes,” he said. “My point was my original question. Are there sellswords here for hire?”

“Do you mean in general or are you looking for somebody specific?” the bartender asked indifferently.

“Uh yes,” Jack said. “There was one in particular that I was told would be able to confront the particular trouble I’m confronted with.”

The bartender sighed. “Who in particular were you looking for?” he asked.

“Ah, sorry,” Jack said. “I do tend to give less than straight answers. It’s an inherited trait. I am looking for the famous Rose Red.”

The bartender narrowed his eyes. “Are you serious?” he asked.

“Deadly serious,” Jack said. “I need her particular talents. I’ve heard the tales and I need her.”

“You’ve heard the tales,” the bartender said with a scoff. “So you know that her name comes not only from the color of her hair but also that she has worn the blood of her enemies.”

“That’s exactly why I’m looking for her,” Jack said. “She has a long, long list of vanquished monsters and villains. I have one more for her list.”

The bartender shrugged. “Don’t come crying to me if she breaks your nose,” he said. He knocked on the bar in a particular rhythm. “Knock like that on the door to the backroom over there.” He pointed.

Jack nodded. “If this goes well, I’ll order your finest ale,” he said.

“And if it goes poorly?” The bartender asked.

“I’ll order several of your cheapest,” he said. “But I’ll need a room either way.”

“I’ll have one prepared,” the bartender said. “Good luck.”

Jack nodded gratefully and headed to the door in question. He carefully knocked exactly as the bartender had indicated and waited. A woman’s voice from within yelled “Enter!” Jack pushed open the door and stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. The room was warm and full of smoke from the burning herb. There were two beautiful but hardened women sitting at the only table. They were empty plates and plenty of empty mugs scattered around. Both women were dressed casually, their cloaks and jackets slung over a chair near the fire. One woman had pure white hair and porcelain white skin. The other had scarlet hair and her skin was a darker brown. The barmaid was sitting on the lap of the one who had to be Rose Red and the two of them were in the middle of a deep kiss.

“I don’t mean to interrupt, Ms. Red,” Jack said. “but I have a business proposition for you.”

Rose Red pushed the barmaid off of her lap and pressed a coin into her palm with a smile. The barmaid left the room, giving Jack the stink eye. “And yet you did interrupt,” Rose said. “This had better be good.”

“Ah,” Jack said. “Should we not talk in private?” He glanced at the white-haired young woman whose eyebrow rose in response.

“Anything said to me can be said in front of my sister,” Rose said. “Out with it before I make you regret knocking on that door.”

“I need help with a giant,” Jack blurted out.

“A giant?” Rose asked. “I’ve never tangled with a giant before. What’s your name?”

“My name is Jack,” Jack said.

“Wait,” the white-haired lady said. “Jack? Giants? You’re not that Jack are you?”

“The one with the beans?” Rose asked with a smirk.

“That was my father,” Jack said. “His story has become somewhat exaggerated but he did steal from a particular giant and killed him somewhat incidentally. He died years ago but the giant’s family wants vengeance now. They would not only harm me and my mother but they want to level the entire town of Spriggin where I’m from.”

“Well,” Rose said. “Your father was a thief and probably deserved their revenge but you can hardly be blamed for his actions. What’s your plan, Beans?”

“I am putting together a team to accompany me while I parlay with the giants,” Jack said. “If that’s unsuccessful then I need fighters who can get the job done. I don’t want to further the cycle of violence but – ” Jack said, leaving the obvious unsaid.

“So you want me for your team do you, Beans?” Rose asked.

“The team really does not work without you,” Jack said.

“Flattery,” Rose said. “Will not get you as far as coin.”

“My father squandered a lot of his ill-gotten gains before he died but I have turned what was left into a thriving business,” Jack said. “I’ll pay your fee.”

Rose nodded. “It sounds like fun,” she said. “What do you say, Snow? Do you want to come with us?”

The white-haired lady shook her head. “I have a kingdom to get back to,” she said.

“Come now,” Rose said. “Leave the crown for a little longer. We spend so little time together these days.”

“Fine,” Snow said. “I’ll come with you. You may need my particular skills too.”

“You’re welcome to come too,” Jack said. “I’ll pay. Does that mean we have a deal?”

“We’ll draw up a deal when I’m sober in the morning,” Rose said. “For now, get the hell out and send the barmaid back in.”

“Right,” Jack said and headed for the door.

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