The man drank alone. He always drank alone. I stood behind the bar, absentmindedly scrubbing the dirty dishes: the cups, mugs, plates and bowls crusted with the scraps of food that the patrons left behind. Disgusting. But as I cleaned, I kept my eye on the man.
He was the only patron here. He’s usually here until the last minute, slowly picking at his stew or sipping on his beer or wine. I’ve seen nobody come with him here. He doesn’t talk, either. We’ve all come to know what he wants to eat or drink, and we leave him be. I don’t think he’d be one to enjoy company, anyway. He just seems like that type. None of us know anything about him - not even his name.
As I watched him, I couldn’t help but stare in awe. He has better hair than me. I let out a chuckle, a smile gracing my lips. His dark skin is perfect, except where a scar ran over his right eye - which was covered with a patch. Speaking of his eyes - er, eye - they were stunning. If he were more sociable, I would love to get to know him, but alas, he prefers to be alone. My eyes drift down to his neck, where he wore a black choker with a small, polished purple rock fastened to the front. I couldn’t quite put words to it, but something about it drew me toward it. It was beautiful.
By now, I had finished cleaning the night’s dishes. Now I just needed to put them away and, after that, I can finally close up. I just wanted so badly to get home; my feet were aching, having been standing up since dawn. The sun was well below the horizon at this point.
As I turned around to open the cabinet, a mug in hand, I stumbled. My heart lurched as my hands instinctively reached out to break my fall, the ceramic mug dropping to the floor and shattering into miniscule pieces. I landed with a thud on the solid wooden floor, my hands landing right on top of the sharp remnants of the mug I had practically thrown to the floor.
I heard the squeaking of a chair against the floorboards and heavy boots stepping toward me, and I looked up to see the quiet stranger squatting down beside me. His brawny arm wrapped around my waist and lifted me to my feet. I shakily laid my hand on his shoulder to steady myself as I stood before he helped me to the stool on the other side of the bar. As I lowered my hand to rest in my lap, I looked in horror as I saw the blood that I had left on his once-perfect white shirt.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to put my hands on you, and now I ruined your shirt, I-”
“Shh.” The man took my hands in his. They hurt from landing on the floor and on the broken pieces of the mug, and they stung even more when he pulled small leftover shards from the wounds. He untied the black sash that was tied around his waist, ripping it in two. I panicked, my heart still racing. I was just making everything worse. Then he grabbed the bucket I had been using to clean the dishes and used the water to clean off my hands, making sure they were free of any more ceramic remnants before he wrapped them both carefully with the silk fabric.
“You’ll want to make sure you keep those clean. An infected wound isn’t fun to deal with, not to mention all the healers worth going to are busy with it being violet fever season.”
His voice was deep and comforting, stilling my heart that seemed to beat faster and harder than I thought was possible. I felt horrible that I ruined his clothes, especially something as beautiful and clearly expensive and foreign as this silk sash that now wrapped around my hands.
“Yeah, I’ll try,” I mumbled. I lowered my hands to rest in my lap again. “Look, I’m sorry, I…” I trailed off as I noticed he had left my side, grabbed the broom that hung on the wall, and swept up the mess. I hopped off of the stool and rushed toward him. “Sir, you don’t have to do that. I’ll take care of it.”
He shrugged. “It’s fine.”
I protested, but he insisted on helping me clean it up. I felt guilt settle in me, feeling like a boulder that was crushing my chest. He tossed the mug in the trash and returned the broom to its place, then turned to me with his hands resting on his hips.
“There. We’re done.”
I realized it was later than I liked, and I still had to make the trek across town to my home. I hated walking outside in this town at night; it isn’t full of th most pleasant people I’ve ever met. I muttered a quiet, yet polite, “thanks” as I grabbed my coat and threw it over my shoulders, put out the lamps, and grabbed my bag.
“Hey. Let me walk you home.”
I looked up at him, my eyes hopeful. I had wanted to ask him to come, but I felt it would be too much to ask of a complete stranger. And again, I don’t really know him, and I don’t know his true intentions. He seems nice enough, though… But perhaps that would come around to bite me in the ass later. Maybe just part of the way…? I nod. “Sure. Just to the inn would be fine… I would appreciate that. Thank you,” I say.
I led the way out of the door before I paused. “My name is Katie.”
He stared at me, unmoving. I felt unsettled, suspicion crawling up around me. I was about to just turn tail and run before he spoke after a few awkward moments of silence. “Sacha.”
Sacha. I liked the name, and it seemed to fit him. “Nice to meet you, Sacha.”
We continued our journey, travelling in silence most of the way. I was still slightly on edge. This quiet, mysterious, handsome man wasn’t making any conversation, and it felt creepy - though I wasn’t making much of an effort to spark something up, either. I finally broke the silence, fed up. “Why are you so quiet?”
Sacha let out a frustrated groan. Great. I pissed him off already, didn’t I?
“I just don’t like people,” he mumbled. I had to strain my ears to hear him. “I don’t get along with them. Most people don’t care for me, anyway, and that’s just how I like it. Sitting alone in a warm place with a pleasant drink to warm my belly is preferable to sitting and chatting with a group of… friends.”
“Do you have friends?” I ask. Somehow, I thought I already knew the answer to that. I’d never seen him with anybody when I was working, and on the rare occasion when I saw him outside of the bar, he was walking alone - unless he had his horse by his side. I guess horses can make good company - I ran a small farm and inn on my property, and when I wasn’t at work dealing with men making rude, raunchy comments, I was caring for other people’s animals; mainly horses that they board at the farm.
Sacha shrugged. “Eh. Used to. They moved on.”
There was something sad behind his voice, like talking about his old friends hurt him. I decided not to press him about it any further. I didn’t want to bring up any painful memories more than I already must have.
“Huh?” I looked up at Sacha, who was staring straight ahead. We had finally reached my home; a large, expansive property just on the outskirts of Clasey on Lake Chilnoque. When I turned my gaze to follow his, my mouth dropped open in shock.
About a dozen men sat milling about outside my home, accompanied by their horses and travel packs. From the black and white colors of their attire and the strange bird’s head emblazoned on their banners, I knew exactly who was here.