HEARTHSIDE STORIES: Bûche de Noël at the Fenfoss Inn, by Brianna Sugalski

Brittany—December 24th, 1531

Garin pressed his knuckles against the wormwood bar top, the dull edges of the coins digging deeper into his clenched palms. He leaned protectively over the till before him, fighting the urge to chuck the tin box at the pair of brawling korrigans on the opposite side of the counter. For the umpteenth time he swept a black lock of hair from his forehead, set the gold medallions down, and began counting over again.

The pile of coins was deceptively sizeable, consisting mostly of gros. Each piece amounted to a portion of a livre at best. It would barely be enough to cover the end-of-month market run, he could already tell. At least Meriam never made him go; the ride to Paimpont was Lorietta’s job. The witch knew how to make up for her shortcomings in the small town.

Plus, it was a daytime market.

A thump against the wood jarred him and sent a few of the gros rolling across the counter. Unthinkingly, Garin shot an arm over the bar. His fingers brushed against the coarse fibers of a wool cap. He grabbed ahold of it, along with the tufts of hair beneath.

With a yelp of shock, the forest troll dangling from his hand opened his mouth and released a string of protests. Garin set him down upon the bar top, bringing him eye level with the barkeep.

He allowed the korrigan—this one was called Fritzrik, if he remembered correctly—to catch his breath while he waited for the violent thoughts to pass. They normally faded with his adrenaline, but tonight he especially wanted to wring the trolls’ necks.