The Baker of Brennan #4

Rose set the last plate in the drying rack by the sink and dried her hands with a towel. Kent did the cooking, she did the cleaning. Much as she would prefer to spend her evenings sitting back and relaxing, someone had to wash up after dinner. Her mind kept going back to this morning, when she acted like an idiot. All that man did was willingly overpay and give her a compliment, and she behaved like he sprouted an extra head.

The front door creaked open and Kent stomped in with an armful of chopped wood. They had a stack on the front porch courtesy of the local woodcutter, who was paid for his efforts this time of year with a loaf Rose’s heartiest oatmeal bread every day. “The snow started.” He let the front door bang shut behind him. “Looks like it’s going to be heavy.”

Just as Kent stepped away from the door, there was a sharp rapping on it. He blinked and looked back at it. “I didn’t see anyone out there.”

Shooing him out of the way, Rose hurried to the door and cracked it open. Who stood there was an incredible surprise. The stranger, the one she made the cookies for, gave her a polite smile under his cloak. “Hi. Sorry to bother you at home, but I guess your shop is closed in the evenings. The tavern keeper said it might be okay to stop by.”

She peered out into the darkness behind him, but didn’t see anyone else. “Um, what did you want?”

Rose,” Kent hissed, “invite him inside.”

Oh, right.” Apparently, this man made her stupid. Opening the door wider, she gestured inside. “Please, come in.”

He stepped inside and pushed his hood back, then pulled his leather gloves off. “Thanks.”

It’s completely okay for you to stop by,” Kent said with a friendly grin. He turned to set the wood down by the fireplace. They already had a fire going and it was fine, but he bent down to tend to it anyway.

Good.” Tucking his gloves into his armpit, he seemed uncertain about who he should be addressing. “I don’t want to impose or anything.”

Rose blinked and held out her hand to take anything he wanted to have set aside. “No, it’s no imposition. Can I get you something to drink? Hot tea?” Not that she could imagine any reason he came to chat for a while, but it was polite to offer.

The Stranger
Rembrandt Laughing (Self-portrait in gorget, laughing, Rembrandt)

For a moment, it looked like he was going to refuse, then he shrugged ever so slightly. “Actually, that sounds great. It’s really cold out there. Just a half cup, though. I don’t want to be any trouble, but I could really use enough to keep me warm back to the inn.”

It’s no trouble.” Kent stood up, still grinning. “Have a seat, I’ll get it.”

While Rose stood there, staring, not really sure what just happened, their guest paced in and took a seat on her couch. It creaked under his weight, and she winced to think about what he must be used to, compared to her aging, worn furniture. “Um, I don’t usually entertain customers at my home. This is kind of a…”

Kent piped up from the kitchen to end her statement. “Rare treat!”

Their guest chuckled. “I guess I’m intruding. Really, I just came over to put in an order for tomorrow morning. Except it’s snowing. Do you open the bakery when it’s snowing?”

Yes.” Rose sat down in the old chair opposite the couch and sighed lightly. “Well, maybe. It depends.”

Makes sense,” he nodded. “I guess you’d open for sure if you lived in the same building.”

I suppose so.” What were they even talking about? Rose scratched her forehead, using the gesture to distract him while she tried to think. “You wanted to order something?”

Yes, I did. I mean, I do. The cookie was incredible, I’ve never had anything like it. Al I could think-”

Wait. One cookie? There were supposed to be two.”

He stopped and blinked at her. “I was given one sandwich cookie. It was very good.”

I see.” Her eyes narrowed dangerously. It wasn’t his fault, though, and she turned the glare away from him. “I’m glad you liked it, at any rate.”

Sounds like someone’s going to get into trouble.” He was grinning when she flicked her eyes back to him.

Oh yes, Karen is now in a lot of trouble with me.” She went to the trouble to cover the cookies, she was very clear about there being two of them. If Karen took them, she was going to be angry. If it was someone else, they were going to be her slave for a week.

Which one is Karen?”

The woman running the tavern.”

Ah. Right. By the way, my name-”

Rose sighed heavily and held up a hand to cut him off. “No, I don’t want to know your name. You’re an adventurer, delving the Pit. No matter how many times you go down in, there’ll be a time when you don’t come back out. I’d much rather just forget a random stranger than mourn a person with a name.”

Kent came back with a steaming mug, but the stranger ignored him. He nodded, mouth pursed in disappointment. “I guess I can understand that.” Standing up, he started pulling his gloves back on. “Survival can seem more important than living. If you go into your shop tomorrow, I’d appreciate if you could do a coffee flavored pastry of some kind for breakfast, and a baguette with my dinner. Have a good night, Miss Rose.”

Surprised by his manner, she looked up and watched him turn with a little swish of his cloak. The door creaked open and slammed shut behind him.

What just happened?”

Rose stared at the door and shook her head.

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