The further down the alleyway he went, the darker and darker it seemed to get! Kenneth never took much stock into claims of witchcraft, but with all of the unnatural aspects that he observed during his short time in Colfrith, he began to wonder if the villagers’ story had any merit! The silence of the north end was unnerving! He almost wished that more of the malicious townsfolk resurfaced! Each inch forward that he and his steed took made him feel more and more paranoid! The air had a strange electricity to it- he felt as though he was back on the battlefield! He would’ve preferred to have returned to the war in this instance, at least he had a better sense of what that enemy was capable of! He couldn’t fathom what to expect right then, but he was positive an attack was eminent! Just when his tension reached its peak, a loud noise sounded in the distance!
Kenneth swiveled Bailey to face the perpetrator, and while he had no clue what he would contend with, he vowed not to go down without a fight! He fully anticipated running into a formidable, supernatural foe, but to this astonishment, the source of the din had merely been a man lighting a candle in a nearby streetlamp! At that juncture, it occurred to him that the growing dimness he witnessed had simply stemmed from the setting sun! He admonished himself for falling prey to such flights of fancy, and as he commanded Bailey to renew their journey, he committed himself to avoid spooking his thoughts with paranormal concepts! The inhabitants of this area really got into his head, and he realized that these reprobates probably wanted him to get frightened like that! This convinced him even deeper to not let his anxieties get the best of him! Still, as they trotted along, he couldn’t shake the sensation of some sort of malign force readying itself for an ambush!
At last, he spotted a wooden sign in the distance that marked the entrance of The Leafy Taverne! The colorful leaves that surrounded the inn’s name gave the venue a charming tone, and the verdant plants that bordered the front stoop were quite a welcomed change to all of the deadened flora he encountered in this terrain so far! He couldn’t imagine any sort of dark magic wielder occupying this space! Although, he remained cautious as he tied his ride to the banister by the stairs… “If you hear any funny business happening in there, feel free to kick down the door and get us out of here!” Kenneth requested to Bailey. Bailey stared at him blankly, and as Kenneth turned towards the building, he knocked on wood that if he was stepping into peril that he could find his way out!
When he used the knocker, he heard the sound echo throughout the abode! He thought that was an eerie omen, and a part of him hoped no one would answer so that he could escape from this place and search for another individual with the ability to give him directions to Philadelphia, but to his dismay, a woman responded to him, “Come in! I’ll be out in a minute!” He wanted to dread this encounter, but something in the timbre of her voice made him think that the dweller within did not contain a wicked bone in her body! His instincts propelled him to go forth without hesitation, and he heedlessly obeyed this whim!
From the manner in which she was described, Kenneth envisioned a shadowy interior with spiderwebs and a bubbling cauldron simmering with a sinister substance, but he didn’t see anything like that! He walked into a well-lit room with dozens of cozy wooden tables and matching chairs, and there wasn’t a speck of dust as far as he could see! There were several cushy stools lined up neatly against a bar, and even the staircase behind it appeared inviting! It was the only sight he had seen in this hamlet that gave him even a hint of warmth, which led him to contemplate how on earth the citizens of the borough could possibly have drummed up an ill opinion of its governess! He recalled that they mentioned something about her husband dying mysteriously, which prompted him to consider that perhaps this hospitable hall bore a false pretense of safety…
He saw a pale pink dress descending the staircase, and his pulse began to race! No matter what her intentions with him were, he was about to confront them! He steeled himself up for a contentious brawl, but as soon as he espied her soft visage, all of his worries disappeared! She had a radiant smile and nimble, light-beige skin that made her glow, and her golden-brown eyes displayed a mix of fierce kindness and a scrupulous intelligence! Her graceful curves made her appear to glide across the surface, and he no longer believed he was dealing with a witch! In fact, his throat practically closed up from nerves as he mentally prepared himself to speak with an angel!
When she caught a glimpse of him, her eyes widened in shock, and she paused with the apparent inclination of retreating back upstairs! He momentarily fretted that his presence had offended her, but then she regained her composure and apologized, “Forgive me! You’re not who I was expecting!”
“Neither are you!” Kenneth repeated her sentiments in hopes of creating some common ground.
“Hmpf! I supposed you heeded the rumor that I’m sort of sorcereress!” she disdainfully remarked.
Kennenth instantly regretted his comment, and he attempted to smooth things over, “I listened to them, but if I had accepted them as fact, I wouldn’t have come!” She seemed mollified by this, so he breathed a sigh of relief and then explained, “My name is Lieutenant Kennth Harvey, and I’m with the Continental Army! I was a reconnaissance mission and got lost, so I need to get some guidance on how to return to camp. Would you be able to tell me how to get to Philadelphia?”
She asserted to him, “No, I can’t!” His expression fell! She had been his last resort for refuge in this nightmarish place, so if she could not offer him assistance, he feared that he would meet his doom in this macabre municipality! Fortunately, she swiftly followed that with, “But my map will do the job!”
He laughed out of both alleviation and humor! He couldn’t quite predict her next move, but he kind of found that intriguing! She brought out a folded piece of parchment from behind the bar and invited him, “Have a seat!”
Kenneth gladly followed her direction, and he got a bit of a thrill when she sat down beside him! He couldn’t decipher exactly why this action had that effect on his mood, but he supposed that it had something to do with basking in comforting aura! She laid out the map and pointed to a specific location on there. “This is where we are.”
“Ah, I had viewed Colfrith on the map previously! Only on ours it was labeled as C.C. Asher Mill slash Colfrith!” Kenneth’s memory of the region’s layout returned to him as he gazed at this cartography. “This is where our general got the lumber to build our fort!”
“That’s right! It’s a mark of pride for our population!” Her grin quickly morphed into a frown as she recollected, “Well, at least it used to be…”
Kenneth’s curiosity piqued at this reference, but he didn’t want to pry in case the matter became too personal to her. Instead, he changed the subject away from the topic that upset her by retracing the history of his footsteps, “Let’s see… I began here, and I went along a small trail there…”
She asked him, “Egad! Are British troops really hiding so close to my home?”
“Possibly,” Kenneth answered her. “Or perhaps Hessians.” He had made that statement offhandedly, not picturing that he could have articulated anything significant with that speculation, but when he noticed that she quivered at this mention, he glanced up from the map and perceived from her movements that this theme had seriously startled her! She tried to cover up her apprehension, but he knew that he had stumbled into a fearsome flashback of hers! He sincerely did not want to put his nose where it didn’t belong, but he developed a hunch that he may have been able to soothe her apprehension by letting this bit of background materialize, so he gingerly broached the issue, “I’m sorry if this is an invasion of your privacy, but was your husband’s demise due to a Hessian’s aggression?” She stared at him with tremendous alarm, and he recognized that they had not discussed anything regarding her family life, so he reasoned that it most likely disturbed her that he knew something so typically confidential! He therefore amended his enquiry, “Pardon me for bringing up such a painful reminder, but some of your neighbors touched on… well… He may have gone down in an unusual fashion…” He immediately kicked himself for his choice of alluding to this affair and dearly prayed that he hadn’t fallen out of her good graces for this blunder!
“My husband got examined by a doctor after his death,” she revealed. He was delighted that she had opted to privy him with this information, and he hung on her every word as she spoke, “And while he saw no evidence of foul play, he also could not determine a cause of death. Everyone theorized that I performed some sort of spell on him, but I’ve never engaged in the occult! I swear it was the alcohol that did him in! Once I had learned the ropes of how to run our inn, he let me take over while he imbibed with our guests. He got sicker each day he did that, but no one else believed he was in any danger! They merely regarded it as a bad habit that he developed and left it at that!”
Kenneth reflected on that, “So, they’ll believe that you’re capable of a fantastical jinx, but they won’t buy that liquor may have become lethal after a certain level of consumption?” She uproariously laughed at this ludicrous concept, which made Kenneth’s heart soar! He had done well in chatting about her recent past after all, and so she decided to seal her more elated emotions by stating firmly, “For what it’s worth, I believe you!”
She broadly beamed at him and expressed, “I appreciate that!”
“You’re very welcome!” He pleasantly peered at her, but as their eyes met, he had the sudden urge to show her some romantic affection! The pull was strong, but his more logical side resisted. It was a crazy notion! He got the impression that her husband had departed not so long ago, and he hadn’t even learned her name yet! He tore himself from her torpor, cleared his throat to rid his mind of any lingering amorous urges, and readdressed the original conversation, “Oh, it appears as though that I can get to Philadelphia by continuing to travel along this pathway to the north!”
“The lumberjacks and deliverymen stopped using that route,” she brought up. “They seemed to indicate that it was dangerous!”
Kenneth frowned at that pronouncement. “Hmm… Can I really count on their judgment though? If they want to believe otherworldly malevolence can stem from a woman like you, then why should I trust their wisdom?” She simpered at his embellished compliment, and Kenneth knew that if he didn’t leave right then that she may have tempted him into never leaving again, so he compelled himself to bid her adieu, “Thank you so much your assistance, Miss…”
She filled him in, “Harbin. But you may call me Clarissa.”
“Until we meet again, Clarissa!” He tipped his hat in a courteous manner, and as he made his way towards the exit, his heart ached! He assured himself that if he still harbored this infatuation by the finish of the war that he would revisit her, and it would be an easy feat to complete now that he knew how to get to and from these quarters! Just as his hand hit the doorknob, thunder cracked and the torrential downpour he experienced earlier resumed! He heard Bailey whinny in distress, and he cried out, “My horse!”
“There’s a livery out back!” Clarissa relayed to him as he dashed out the door.
When Kenneth came back inside, his uniform was completely soaked! He debated whether or not to spread his slipperiness throughout Clarissa’s well-maintained residence, but then, from upstairs, Clarissa shouted, “I have your room ready!”
Kenneth inquired, “I’m spending the night here?”
“Well, you can’t hardly traverse any trails in such terrible weather!” she replied. He inwardly admitted she had a point and climbed to the second level. He saw Clarissa standing before an open door, and she let him know, “I put a warming pan in there so you don’t catch a cold! And I have my husband’s old pajamas for you too. I’m afraid that they’ll be a tad big on you, but it’s better than sleeping in wet clothes! When you’ve changed, leave your clothes in the hall and I’ll put them by the fireplace so that they’ll be dried by morning!”
“I truly appreciate this!” He pat through his pockets and then told her, “Unfortunately, I didn’t bring any money…” She tried to object to that premise, but then he exclaimed, “Oh, I got it!” He took off his wedding ring and attempted to hand it to her. She raised her eyebrows to that gesture, so he elucidated, “I’m a widower! I just kept that on because…” He bit his lip as he could see that he didn’t really have a solid basis for this quirk! “She’s been gone for over ten years, I just…” He trailed off as he felt his cheeks burning red.
Clarissa gently chuckled and pushed his hand back. “Keep it! Patriots do not have to pay for a bed here! You’ve given enough already!” He shined with gratefulness, and she genially bade him, “Good night!”
He pleasurably returned, “Good night!” They exchanged obliged looks prior to turning to their perspective rooms.
With such a pleasant interaction with an attractive lady, especially one whose gentle touch lingered with him extensively, Kenneth reckoned that he would sleep well that evening, but he couldn’t relax with the howling wind outside! He swore he could still detect irate whispers in the gale! As he laid on his cozy bed, he replayed his discourse with Clarissa and denoted that he had forgotten to dive deeper into the Hessian ordeal. He hypothesized that she simply had an aversion to this group, but when he closed his eyes, he beheld a pair of angry eyes glaring at him! As he bolted up, he pondered if there was more to this Hessian thing than she had led on…