The sun had lowered itself beyond that of the western hills of Bree, the sky now blanketed in a deep iridescent red, clear of all clouds. The inside of the Pony was quiet for dusk, a brief flurry of patrons had been and gone and passed to more private quarters. A gentle song resonated about the walls of the near empty inn, clear and light in melody. Upon closer inspection the source of such a voice flowed out from behind the worn wooden counter and tankards. A woman raised herself from behind it, placing a cloth against the ale spattered counter and lightly resting one arm against it. She continued her idle song, watching the colourful but dimming light sifting its way through the dusted windows, till the creak of the main door distracted her reverie.
“Well, good day to ye Sir, or perhaps eve I should say?” She chirped with a welcoming smile.
The figure she appraised gave a slight nod of the head only after a brief yet searching glance around the room and its lack of patrons. With the absence of Mister Butterbur he strode over to the counter and withdrew a clothed object, licking thumb, he swiftly removed the soft leather covering it and rested the subsequent pipe underneath, on the counter. Running his dampened finger around the ashen rim of the bowl, he finally looked up to the maid and offered his own greetings.
“Aye, that it is lass. I shall have my-... I’ll have a cider please.”
He pointed flippantly to one of the kegs and returned his attention to his pipe. The maid smiled and pushed herself lightly from the counter, making her way to a stack of cleaned tankards. The fellow swiftly folded the soft leather casing into a perfectly formed square and after but a brief rummage in a pocket he settled a neat pouch atop the folded cloth, his eyes darting to the sudden arrival and thud of the tankard of cider.
“Here’s ye tankard of cider Sir, that’ll be forty-eight copper please.”
“Hoy, that was fast... i’m not finished-..”
The maid looked from the tankard to the fellow, her curious gaze searching the patron and his intended meaning. The fellow forgo his preparations of the pipe in an altogether flustered manner, clearly ill at ease. Clearing a space for the tankard he began his search for coin, counting out and stacking neatly, six ten copper pieces, with heightened efficiency.
“Tis all for you lass, no thanks needed.”
The maid stifled a laugh as she plucked up the coin pieces arbitrarily, saying her thanks none-the-less. Resting back on her heels, she rested one hand upon her hip and the other periodically shuffling the coin to and fro amongst her palm as she looked again upon the fellow. A vague sense of familiarity was apparent upon his countenance, though from where, the maid could not deter. He bore dark hair of uncertain length, worn bound at the back with a single strip of leather. It was kept neat with few stray hairs, ‘cept the odd clump framing his face. A full beard lined his jaw, though neatly trimmed and closely kept in check.
“Can’t recall seeing ye around here much Sir, but perhaps I am mistaken?”
“Same hour, near every week I should say. ..”
The maid pondered a moment and slipped the coins into her apron pocket.
“Perhaps that explains your familiarity, though alas, I don’t recall a name as such or whether I have spoken with ye before...”
“I don’t believe we have miss, usually a different maid behind here or just Barliman himself.”
The maid nodded slightly as she watched him continue with the lighting of his pipe, efficient to task, he took up his cider and turned to face the rest of the inn.
“And so, may I know of ye name Sir? Seeing as ye are a somewhat regular here?”
The fellow withdrew his pipe slowly,
“Al... miss. The name’s Al.”
“A pleasure Al, my name, if it’s unknown to ye, is Joy, Joy Roseberry.”
The fellow turned on his feet back toward the maid, the ale swiftly coming down toward the bar top as the inn door pushed open giving way to a stream of Brees farm-hands and workers and the subsequent rabble that followed. He peered at the woman at length in slight alarm, as her attention diverted toward the influx of patrons and backed his way through the crowd as promptly as able.