Chapter Four: In which Ethyl and I take our baths, and the town is invaded, as is inevitable in these types of stories.
I made my way up to my room, and just as the tavernkeeper had promised, I found a hot bath waiting for me. It had been a good two weeks since I had a hot bath. I had suffered through several very cold baths in the interim, and I can tell you, that a hot bath beats a cold one any day of the year, except maybe summer, but certainly any autumn, winter, or spring day of the year. Peeling off my clothes, I slipped into the tub. It was only about three feet around, so my arms, legs, and my head hung over the sides, but my torso was happy.
My torso was still feeling nice and warm, when the door opened, and my daughter entered.
“Look around,” said I. “Is there some soap and a clean cloth somewhere?”
Ethyl found both items sitting on a chair by the door and handed them to me.
“Go wait in the other room,” I directed. “As soon as I get out of this bath, you’re getting in.”
“But I had a bath last week!” she growled.
“You must wash some of that grime off of you, lest some wild animal drag you off, thinking you’re its long-lost cub.”
“At least then I won’t have to take a bath.”
“So you think,” said I. “It will be your luck to be dragged away by a cave lion. You’ll be longing for a bathtub after a cave lion licks you clean with its rough tongue. I can tell you that from experience.”
With a rude gesture, she turned and left.
As loath as I was to leave the warm embrace of the bath, I didn’t want my child left with nothing but cold water, so I quickly soaped up, rinsed off, and dressed in my night shirt. Then, I went to the other room to fetch the girl. I was forced to pull her by her ear back to the first room, wrestle her to the floor so that I could strip off her filthy clothes, and then throw her bodily into the water. Luckily for her, the tub was just her size. She only agreed to use soap when I told her that if she didn’t, I would make her take another bath on the morrow.
When she was finally passably clean, I dressed her in her nightgown. It was a cute pink garment, made of the finest, softest wool in all of Aerithraine, and had the image of Castle Dewberry embroidered upon it. Castle Dewberrywas our home, though we had not been back since before Ethyl’s first birthday, so she had no memory of it. She crossed her arms and made growling and hissing noises as I brushed her hair. If a cave lion had only heard her, it would have reinforced the idea that she was its missing cub.
“There now,” I told her. “You make a charming and presentable girl, which is to say that I could present you to… a king or queen, if I had a mind. Perhaps to the Queen of Aerithraine.”
“She’s a wicked slattern!” hissed Ethyl.
“Be that as it may,” said I. “We could present you to somebody. It would have made your mother so proud… bless her departed soul.”
“Tell me what she was like?” asked Ethyl, in the rarely heard tone of tenderness.
“What would you like to know?”
“Was she beautiful?”
“She was extremely beautiful,” I said wistfully, which is to say, full of wist. “She always wore beautiful dresses and she never even once dressed in pants and pretended to be a man.”
“Why do girls have to wear dresses?” grumbled Ethyl. “Dresses are stupid.”
“But you look so cute when you are in a dress, with ribbons in your hair and your cheeks all rosy.”
“When I grow up, I’m never going to wear a dress!” she hissed. “I’m going to wear pants and go adventuring! If you think dresses are so great, then you wear one!”
“I am a man and so I do not wear dresses, not even for fun, and not even for seven months one time to avoid the army. As for you, hop into that bed right now. Tonight, I want you to think about what you just said and what your poor, dear, departed, saintly, deceased, beautiful, dead mother would say. I shall be next door if you need anything.”
I went back to the other rented room and dropped down onto the bed. I was asleep instantly. I frequently fell asleep instantly, as I was usually exhausted from dealing with my unruly offspring, which is to say my daughter, which is to say Ethyl.
It seemed I was asleep only a minute, when I was awakened by the sounds of shouting and the clanging of sword and shield. Grabbing my own sword and my own shield, I ran out of the room. A quick glance next door showed me that Ethyl was still asleep. I hurried down the stairs and out the door.
I almost immediately ran into a giant leg. It was attached to a giant body, which is to say, a giant. It was not Thurid Njärlbjörnsdöttir, for it was a male giant. He carried a huge axe in one hand and a torch in the other. He looked about ready to toss that torch onto the tavern. Not wanting that to happen, I stabbed him in the kneecap, which was just about at eye level with me. With a cry, he dropped to his knees. But before I could stab him in an even more tender spot, he arched his back and fell forward, struck from behind. As the giant dropped into the dirt, I came face-to-face with the warrior who had finished him off, which it to say, killed him. It was Ellwood Cyrene.