Coulter walked down the road trying not to be noticed. He had grabbed some unobtrusive clothing and walked as if he had been working in the fields all his life. He stopped in front of the WildRose tavern and looked up one end of the road, and down the other.
There seemed to be regular traffic. None of Blackpool's minions about to gum up his scheme. He turned and walked into the front door. Inside the light was much dimmer, but the air was warmer than the cold breezes outside. He walked to a table and sat down.
Anna walked to the table and asked, " . . . anything you need today stranger?"
"Ale . . . " grunted Coulter, trying not to allow his face to be seen too plainly. " . . . please just some cold ale."
Anna turned to the bartender. "A tankard of Ale for Mr. Counter here!" she shouted. Coulter winced at the mention of his name. Anna turned her face back to him. "Anything else?" she smiled.
"Yes, why don't you just go to the window and shout it into the street?"
Anna cracked a half grin. "Sure thing . . . " she sneered" . . . anything to oblige a customer." Anna took two steps towards the window before Coulter reached out and grabbed her back. Anna fell backwards and landed in his lap. "Oh Counter, I didn't know you cared!" Anna laughed as she started to kiss him on the neck and face.
Coulter pulled away from her as she sprang to her feet. "Hey, I didn't ask you for that!"
"I wasn't offering." She turned to a far corner where she could see Mo and Marco sharing a pitcher of Mead. Coulter watched as Mo smiled in triumph and held her hand out to Marco, who grunted his displeasure, dug a coin from his pocket, and begrudgingly placed it in her hand.
Coulter looked up at Anna who smiled back in triumph. "Half of that is mine."
"Mo bet Marco that I could kiss the next man who came in here and get away with it. Lucky thing it was you. Imagine if the prince had come in here. I'd be on my way to the gallows."
Coulter wanted to grin at the little jest, but at the same time, he didn't want to give away his demeanor.
Anna could see that in his eyes. "One cold Ale, on the house, coming right up." Anna turned and walked away. Coulter made himself comfortable, sitting by the fire, and making himself warm and comfortable. He had just come from Tyler's blacksmith shop where he cut a deal for Tyler's support. From Tyler, he had heard of the transgressions that Dirk Blackpool had subjected the citizens to. It only inflamed his rage and added resolve to his intentions.
The Ale appeared. Coulter turned to see that it was being served to him by a small girl, or was she a bunny? It was a short creature, mostly human shaped, but with long bunny ears, and a cute little bunny nose. She held out his tankard of ale on a small wooden serving tray. The bunny-girl smiled at him with two small, white, shiny, front teeth. If Coulter had seen this apparition in a dream, he might have taken it for a nightmare, but in real life, this thing was so cute, he had to fight the compulsion to give it a kiss.
He took the tankard from the tray that she held out, and she answered him with a pretty smile. "Thank you." He said to the bunny-girl.
"You're welcome good sir." She answered in a voice that was almost inaudible. Then she turned and started to walk back to the bar.
"Just a moment . . . " Coulter called to her. The little bunny-girl turned to look back to him. "Do you live here?" He asked.
"Oh No sir." She answered. "I'm just helping missus Anna till my daddy comes back. He'll only be a few days."
"What's your name little one?"
"And who's daughter are you?"
"My daddy is General Claire" General Claire. Coulter had heard his name so many times, always with honor, and always with dignity. This was as close to a daughter of royalty as he had ever come. He smiled at her and said, "Well, thank you for the drink."
"You're most welcome good sir." With that, Usagi walked back to the counter, and disappeared behind it. "
Coulter sipped his ale. The loud slam from the bar disturbed his tranquility. He turned back to the bar where he saw a man, drunk, slurring his speech, and making very haphazard movements while all the while shouting at Anna. "Whaddayamean I had enough?" He slammed his beefy fist down on the counter again.
"Go home Stephen. You're Drunk!" Anna exclaimed.
The man at the counter was a local farmer. His hair was sweaty, greasy, and hung down straight in his face. His beard was almost three feet long and matted. His breath was strong enough to kill a horse. He leaned into Anna's face, and held her sleeve so as not to allow her to get away from him. He looked at her through half closed eyes, blinded in a drunken stupor. "Yeah, so I'm drunk! So What? I been working hard at my fields all week . . . man has a right to tip a few once in a whale,..eh . . . while, hasn't he?"
"Go home Stephen." Anna said firmly. Coulter was almost up out of his chair to attend to the ruffian when the most amazing thing occurred.
Coulter watched in amazement as Usagi jumped up on the counter. She held a short sword in her hand. Coulter had never seen anything like that sword ever before. She took one step towards Stephen and Anna. Before Coulter knew what had happened, he saw Usagi leap into space, and swing the blade through the air before landing scarcely two feet away from them, both feet planted firmly on the counter, with the sword pointing back away from her, and her gaze, staring intently into Stephens face. Her look was very intense, but at the same time, very relaxed.
Stephen slowly released his grip from Anna's sleeve. He turned slowly and Coulter now saw what had calmed him down. All but scarcely a quarter of an inch of Stephens beard had been neatly chopped away. In one swing of the incredible sword, Usagi had changed the shape of the beard from a point, to a square. Stephen eyes looked down at where part of his face had once been. His eyes were wide in amazement. He was suddenly stone cold sober.
"Go home Stephen." Usagi whispered.
"Y..y..yes, . . . " Stephen Stammered.." I think,.. ah...I think I hear my wife calling me." Stephen put a coin on the bar before he slowly turned away, and walked to the door. "T..thank you." He gently opened the door, and just as gently closed it behind him.
Coulter sat amazed at the little opera that had just played out in front of him. He saw Anna give Usagi a big hug and kiss as Usagi giggled gleefully. "You get some extra cookies tonight young lady!" Anna exclaimed. Their happiness filled the room as Marco and Mo walked to the counter, and joined in on the congratulations.
Coulter walked to the counter and asked for more ale. Anna refilled the tankard. "You know how to handle yourself well."
"Thank you mister." Usagi answered. "My daddy taught me everything."
"Your father is a great man. How long did you say he would be?"
"Oh any day now. He's just coming back from the foreign wars. He negotiated a truce. We're all so proud."
Coulter reached up and rubbed his chin in thought. "Listen little one. Perhaps I can help you pass the time more, shall we say, profitably?"
Usagi walked up to him (She still stood on the counter) and looked eye to eye with him. "What did you have in mind sir?" she asked.
"How about striking a blow against that low down dirty Dirk Blackpool?."
Mo suddenly threw up her hands and walked for the door. "I can't know any of this!" She spoke loudly as she left the room, slamming the door behind her.
"How do you mean 'strike a blow?'" Usagi asked.
"I intend to hurt him in a place he never thought he ever would hurt. But I need your help. How about it?"
"Will it hurt him real bad?"
"Oh I can guarantee it."
"OK mister, but I'll do it for free."
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