A middle-aged woman walked into the Drinking Bear and collapsed into a rickety wooden chair placed near a blazing fireplace, kept going through the night to keep late diners and weary travelers protected from the night's chill. She closed her eyes briefly, welcoming the rest to her eyes and the warmth of the fire behind her. Her face, once well-rounded and jolly, was thin and worn. Her hands, once only lightly callused from the everyday tasks of living outside a city with her children, were scratched and dirty. Her entire body sagged with weariness.
This was Ros.
"Is there anything you need, Madam? A warm meal, perhaps?" She jumped at the voice of George, the innkeeper.
"No, thank you. I'm afraid I can't pay for it."
"Get her something to drink, Georgie," a young man shouted from several tables away. "She looks like she could use something to warm her up."
"And you're paying for it I expect, Julien?" George asked the man. As much as I'd like to, I can't be giving food and drink to every poor traveler who comes in a little short of coin. The missus is bad enough."
"Ah, George. You know I will. What'll you have, madam?"
"I -- tea, please," stuttered Ros.
"Tea it is, then. Put it on my tab, George." Without a second glance, the young man went back to his conversation.
"You can afford it, that's for sure," muttered George. "I'll have your tea in just a moment."
"Who is that man?" asked Ros. "It's rare one meets a person so free with their generosity."
"That's Julien. Everyone in town knows him. Nicest person for miles, I'd say. He's got an estate outside the city, but he likes to come in and mingle with us commoners. He's a nobleman, you see. Heir to a fortune. You're very lucky to have come in when he was here." George trailed off, then mumbled, "Off you get your tea, then," and shuffled away.
Julien and his companion rose from their table, and made to leave. He dropped a handful of coins into George's hand as he walked to the door. Ros saw the glint of sliver before George quickly pocketed them.
"Thank you, sir!" Ros shouted after them. And she added more quietly, "Thank you. I was desperate for that bit of kindness."