Rat & Will Chapter 10: Smart Mercs Don’t Negotiate

Downstairs, Rat and Will found the usual old man at the bar. Once again, the tavern was dim and empty. She walked to the bar, gave him a hard look. “Two ales. Then Milla.” 

The man grunted. “Milla’s in the kitchen.” He set two ales on the counter. “Four copper.”

Rat raised a brow, but didn’t bother going for her purse. Instead, she took hold of the mugs. “That’s one of the things we’ll be talking to Milla about.” She handed an ale to Will, then turned and walked towards the kitchen. A few steps in, she turned back, looking around Will to glare at the man. “And if I have to take my belongings off another street rat, I’ll be talking to you about it.”

The old man gave a gape mouth grin. “Gave Fro quite the fright.”

Rat sneered at him. “Lucky I didn’t bleed him.” 

The gaffer guffawed. “Tethas Warriors? Not bloody likely.”

She stalked back to the bar, clunked the worn mug down, and yanked the glove from her right hand. Held it up to show a palm that was calloused and scarred, but unbranded. “Don’t think you know shit about what I’d do, old man.”

The man shrugged and nodded at Will. “He’s still got the brand. May not claim it, but those brands go deep.”

Will spoke quietly, his eyes cold. “The boy kept quiet, even after you sent him up there. Even after seeing for himself what we were. Such loyalty deserves the same.” He pushed a chin in Rat’s direction. “Have a care. Her words tend to be punctuated with knives.”

They turned again, walked together to the kitchen. Behind them, the old man narrowed his eyes. He’d made a miscalculation with these two. Had Milla done the same? He poured himself an ale and sat, thinking through the puzzle of the two scarred mercenaries in his granddaughter’s tavern. 

Done with the old man, Rat entered the kitchen to find Milla elbow deep in a caldron of soapy water. A stack of clean mugs sat drying on the table beside her. She paused in the act of scrubbing and gave the two of them with a weary look. “I hear Granther was causing trouble for you. If anything is missing, let me know. I’ll get it back.” 

Rat felt Will relax next to her, but she wasn’t interested in letting it go so easily. So she gave the woman a hard look. “We got our stuff back.”

Milla noted the anger in Rat’s eyes and winced. “I don’t know what he was thinking. I suppose you’re not helping us now?”

“Depends on you.” Rat pulled the contracts from her coat. “And whether you sign these or not.”

She sighed, but looked relieved. “I’ll take a look.”

Will spoke for the first time. “I thought you owned this place?”

“It was my husband’s inn. Rightfully mine, now.” Milla dried her hands on her apron and tried to look sorry. “Help ran off after Trell got taken. Granther’s the only one brave enough to help out here now.”

“What did he do?” Rat cocked her head.

“Stopped a guard from taking a neighbor’s child to the Lord. Not even 15, that girl.” Milla sneered and to Rat, it felt more real than the earlier grief. “Whole family left two days later. Hope they made it out.”

Rat handed the her the contract. The woman read through it, twice. Then she looked up. “You want me to promise you a place to sleep forever?”

“Might not use it.” Rat smirked. “Don’t expect a private room if you’re full. But we live through this, gonna need some reward we didn’t find ourselves. Just a place on the floor and a healer if needed.”

“And a horse.” Milla glared up at them. 

“We’ll steal the horse, fair and proper.” Rat grinned. “But you’re going to make sure no one argues about it.”

“And all that two pack horses can carry?” Milla raised a brow. “You planning to leave anything for us?”

“Sure.” Rat met her gaze. “A city without Lord Tremant. And anyone who doesn’t give up after he’s dead.”

“Right.” Milla looked at Will. “You fine with this?”

He met her eyes, shrugged. “I’ve read it.”

She shook her head. “I’d hoped for… She left it open, not sure what wouldn’t offend the strange pair in front of her.

“Stupid heroes.” Rat finished for the tavern owner, her tone sarcastic. “You know stupid heroes make terrible mercs. Mostly only manage getting themselves killed.” 

Will snorted. “Get others killed sometimes, too.”

Rat shared a look with her husband. “Right.” She looked at Milla. “Sign it or don’t. Makes no difference to us. We can leave this shithole of a city a lot easier than you can.”

“You have a point.” Milla shrugged. “And I don’t have a lot of options. What does this part down here mean? It isn’t in Common.” She pointed to a bit at the bottom. 

“Means you’re covered.” Rat picked up a small loaf of bread off a shelf and cut off a small hunk. Handed it to Will, then cut a piece for herself. “If we fail, we’ll not give up our client’s name. We might lie. We might…forget to mention we were contracted at all, we might not. But you don’t get mentioned by us. Otherwise, the guild covers you. Pays you 600 gold and gets you out of the city alive.”

“600 gold?” Milla looked at them, wide eyed. “For that much money, I don’t know whether to wish you success or not.”

Rat smirked. “Only get the money if we get pinched alive, which we won’t, and if we talk, which we won’t. So don’t get your hopes up.”

“You’re awfully sure of your abilities.” Milla looked again at the contract, then back between the two of them. “Just the two of you.”

“Tell her the rest.” Will spoke up. 

Rat glared at him. “I was getting to it.” She looked at Milla. “Also, if you sell us out or tell anyone anything that gets one or both of us captured, harmed, or killed, you pay 600 gold to the guild.”

“I don’t have that!” Milla looked at them in wide-eyed alarm. 

“No problem. They’d take your tavern.” Rat shrugged. “Or, you could just not talk. Like we won’t.”

“Talking would hurt me as much as you.” Milla stared at them both with a mixture of frustration and sadness. “You’ve no idea what Tremant’s men would do to me.”

“Sure.” Rat held out her quill. “Sign it or don’t. We’ve got work to do, staying or not.”

Milla bit her lip, then she took the quill, dipped it in the ink and scrawled it across each of the pages in turn. Rat and Will followed suit. Rat carefully sanded the signatures and replaced the top of the inkwell. When Rat tried to hand her a copy, Milla shook her head. “I can’t have that here. Take it to Urden. He’ll hold it for me.” Rat nodded and Will followed her out of the kitchen and into the back alley.

Rat and Will checked on their horses before venturing out into the city. “They’ll need exercise soon enough.” Will observed. “Especially your Beve. She’s going to start causing trouble here.”

“Tomorrow, probably.” Rat gave Will a look. “Pack horse too, even if the stupid thing could just sit here and eat for the rest of it’s life. Lazy.”

“Still not planning on naming it?” Will grinned at her. “This one’s lasted longer than the last three.”

“Nah. Soon as I name it, it’ll die. Probably from spite.” Rat grimaced at the horse in question. Horses were expensive and she hated replacing them.

Will laughed and opened the gate for her. Rat rolled her eyes, but didn’t comment. She’d long since given up trying to get Will to stop doing such things. It wasn’t that he didn’t think her capable - she knew he trusted her abilities and skills implicitly. He was just polite. And loved her, strange as that still sometimes felt. And…he was just Will. 

Beyond the eye roll, she refused to comment, and instead looked around the alley. It was late afternoon. They had only a few hours till dark, and though Rat wasn’t overly concerned about their safety, she did have enough to do without fighting stupid street toughs or guards. So they’d best be quick. She turned towards the Guild Hall, Will right behind her, like an overgrown shadow. 

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