Owen rolled over in bed and stretched. His feet met a lump in the bottom of the rugs. It purred, then growled.
‘Arrgghhh! Oh do bugger off, Tabitha,’ Owen muttered.
Paws padded up his legs and body, a large tabby lump plonked itself onto his chest, white whiskers tickled his face and a rough Velcro tongue licked his nose.
‘OK! OK! It’s morning. I’m getting there.’
He rolled over and the cat fell off onto the floor. She leapt up and swatted him on the nose then shot off out the door. He could hear her paws thudding down the wooden floor of the corridor.
Still groaning, Owen rolled out of bed in his turn to land on all fours, far less gracefully than the cat. He clambered to his feet, naked, and stalked off to the bathroom. The mirror showed him a face he found unfortunately familiar.
‘Like it?’ the mirror asked him.
Owen stuck his tongue out at it. The mirror wiggled his ears back at him. They both grinned at each other. The morning rituals done the mirror allowed Owen to get on with washing his teeth. As always after a session, his mouth tasted like the bottom of a parrot’s cage. Morgan’s secret formula toothpaste pretty well took the enamel off his teeth as well as the grunge from last nights drinking and feasting. Teeth done, Owen went over to the bath which had begun filling as soon as he came into the room.
‘Cold, I thought, this morning,’ the bath told him.
‘If it is, I’ll de-plumb you and put you in the crusher myself,’ Owen replied caustically. ‘And if that’s what you call thinking I’d take up road sweeping, if I were you,’ he added for good measure.
The bath giggled and waggled the hot tap at him. Owen climbed in and sank up to his chin in hot foaming water, it smelled of rosemary. Twenty minutes later he climbed out, feeling a lot more himself and able to contemplate breakfast. A loud fluttering and banging at the window made him turn away from delving in his sock drawer, he padded over to open it, still naked.
‘Thought you’d never get out of that bloody bath!’ The rather wet and bedraggled raven hopped over the sill and onto the rug and stalked over to stand beside the fire blazing in the hearth. ‘I’ve been banging away on that glass for at least ten minutes, thought I might break the window.’ He ruffled his feathers and stood hunched up on the log basket to one side of the fire, not even thinking about preening as yet. ‘I suppose you don’t know it’s snowing and blowing a blizzard out there?’
‘I do now,’ Owen replied, grinning down at him. ‘I opened the window, if you remember. A blast of cold air came in at that time along with a large dollop of snow which is now quietly melting on the rug and making it all wet. Thanks!’
The raven deigned to make no response to this. Owen went back to getting dressed.
A knock on the door was followed immediately with it opening and a large tray entered the room. It was followed by a small woman with long black hair done in braids around her head and garnered with ribbons and jewels.
‘Ha! Thought you were up. Here’s breakfast for you both.’ She pointed to a table by the window and the tray obligingly floated over and set itself down there.
‘What happened to the rug?’ the woman asked, staring at the growing puddle and the shrinking pile of snow. Then she saw the raven sat in the log basket. ‘Oh … right.’
She stuck her head out the bedroom door again and yelled, ‘Cloth! Mop! Bucket!’
A loud clanking preceded their arrival. The woman pointed at the mess beside the table and the mop got to work. It squeezed itself dry in the bucket while the cloth polished the wooden floor. The woman gave another call out the door which was soon answered by a fluttering and whirring as a small green dragon flew in. It hovered at eye level with her for a moment, its eyes whirling, then flew over to the rug and sent a gentle flame out over the wet sheepskin.
‘Careful!’ Owen yelled.
‘Oh hush!’ the woman retorted. ‘He’s perfectly capable of dealing with a carpet. Don’t shout so or you’ll scare him and then we’ll have an accident.’
Steam was rising over the rug now, along with the scent of wet sheep. Owen wrinkled his nose and the raven coughed.
‘Serve you right!’ Owen told the bird.
‘There, that’s done,’ the woman said as the little dragon flew back to perch on her shoulder. ‘Now sit down and get some food in you,’ she told Owen. ‘There’s a potential problem down in the bar that needs your attendance, so get a move on and come down.’
Owen had already sat down at the table and begun carving himself a slice of ham to go with the eggs, tomatoes, fried potatoes and mushrooms already on the plate. He looked up warily.
‘Oh indeed!’ she was grinning at him. ‘Don’t worry, Coronee has the situation under control, for the moment, but we could use you getting down there as soon as you can. Both of you.’ She glared over at the raven who hunched himself down even further.
‘Thanks Morgan.’ Owen smiled to her around a mouthful of ham and eggs. ‘We’ll be down pretty soon.’
Morgan went out, taking the mop, bucket, cloth and dragon with her.
The raven stretched one foot lazily towards the fire, flapped his wings and fluttered over to the table. Grasping the edge of the tray in his claws he reached into the bowl of chopped meat Morgan had brought and swallowed a piece. The tray grunted and wriggled in discomfort at the sharp talons gripping it, spilling some of Owen’s coffee. He swore.
‘Here,’ he picked up the bowl of meat and put it on the shelf of the stout wooden perch beside the table. ‘Stop messing with the tray and get up here.’
The raven stalked across the table and hopped onto the perch to get on with his own breakfast. Half an hour later they both left the room to go down to the main bar of the Inn. Three steps down and Owen remembered. He turned back and opened the door, the tray sailed past him down to the scullery to get washed up. He nearly closed the door on the blue bowl before it had got out in the tray’s wake. It chittered crossly to him and swooped low over his head making him duck as it chased after the tray.
‘Damn the things!’ Owen muttered crossly, not really meaning it. The bowl threw a piece of meat at him, the raven swooped down and caught it, swallowing it. If it was possible, Owen would have sworn the bird had a grin on his beak.