Home of Sword and Soul
"What's wrong?" Zeke asked.
"We're going the wrong way."
Annette joined them moments later.
"Gentlemen, I hate to interrupt your conversation but we have to keep moving. There is a tavern with a small lodge that we'll make just before dark if we hurry."
Famara looked up from his compass watch. "We're going the wrong way."
"This is the way to Prussia," Annette replied.
"It may be, but it is not the way to the book. The compass says we must head south."
"Your compass is wrong," Annette said.
Famara's look was not pleasant. "The compass is never wrong."
Annette made a face just as arrogant as Famara's. "That's impossible. Bavaria is to the south. The Bavarians and the Prussians are not the best of friends."
Zeke took off his hat then scratched his head. "Wait a minute. I thought this was all one place."
Annette shook her head. "The German kingdoms act as one but they are not officially a nation. Prussia dominates but the other kingdoms still hold on to some independence, especially those in the south."
"That was informative, but it still doesn't change the fact that my compass tells us to go south," Famara said.
Zeke replaced his hat. "Ma'am, I don't know you or this place that well but what I do know is that that compass has been right every time. If I was a betting man I'd bet on it."
"This makes no sense," Annette spat."Lead the way!"
They traveled south, following winding roads that climbed the rising heights them meandered along Rhine River. It was almost dark when the shadow of an imposing castle looming over the nearby river stole their light.
"There," Famara said. "The book is inside the castle."
Annette opened her mouth as if to speak but then closed it.
"Well, if that book is in that castle the Prussians are close as well," Zeke said.
Famara nodded in agreement. "We need a place to stay."
"Follow me," Annette finally said.
She led them to a small village nestled into a crook in the river. The streets were empty save for the horses tethered before a small tavern. The smell of sausage and beer drifted in the air. Zeke rubbed his stomach then licked his lips.
"Didn't realize how hungry I was until right now."
Annette smiled. "There's plenty of food inside."
"Wait a minute," Zeke said. "Won't we...stand out?"
"Don't worry about that," Annette replied. "This is not America, or Freedonia for that matter."
They hitched their horses and entered the tavern. Long tables stretched across the room, occupied by a scattered crowd of folks who looked up at the trio when then entered. A woman entered from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron as she approached. She looked at the three of them before her eyes settled on Annette.
"Kann ich Ihnen helfin?"
Annette nodded. "Wir brauchen einen ort zum verveilen."
"Annette?" The gruff male voice came from the far end of one of the tables. A thick red faced man stuffed in a dusty suit hurried toward them.
Annette bowed. "The one and only."
The man grinned. "I can't believe it. Annette Bijoux is in here in our village!"
The man shouted for everyone's attention then dragged Annette to the front of the tavern, chattering as he went. By the time they reached the front everyone smiled at them in admiration. Chairs were brought for them and plates filled with food set before them.
The man sat beside them. "I am Helmut Baum. You can't believe how excited I am to see you. This is truly an honor!"
Annette blushed. "Thank you, Helmut."
"I saw you sing in Paris ten years ago. It was your last performance. All of France was there."
Annette giggled. "Not all of France. I'm sure there were a few sailors that didn't make it."
Helmut Baum let loose a boisterous laugh. "Indeed, Indeed."
He stood. "You must grace us with a song!"
Annette looked away. "It's been a long time since I sang for an audience."
"I own this tavern and the lodge next door. Grace us with a song and you and your friends can spend the night for free."
Annette stood. "It would be hard for me to sing without music."
Helmut scurried to the back then returned with a guitar.
"I cannot play, unfortunately," he said.
"Neither can I," Annette admitted.
"I can." Zeke finished off a sausage then stood.
"All I know is Mississippi music," he said.
Annette beamed. "Perfect."
Zeke took a few moments to tune the old instrument then fell into a slow work song rhythm. Annette closed her eyes, patting her hand against her hip in time with Zeke's tapping foot. Then she let loose a moan that shook Zeke and Famara to the core. This petite genteel woman had the voice of angel. The entire tavern was mesmerized as she sang. Even Famara dropped his serious countenance, rocking his head from side to side to the song. Annette finished with a crescendo of emotions, drawing enthusiastic applause from the tavern folk.
The voice that uttered those words were familiar to Zeke. He looked up at Famara, his eyes narrowed.
"It's Dolph," he whispered. "And he's got friends."