Rat & Will Chapter 2: All the Signs of a Bad Idea
Will and Rat smelled Morgans Reach well before they rode close enough to see it. It wasn’t only the usual large midden heap some distance outside the walls of the city. The road to the small walled city was lined with staked corpses for several leagues. It made for a smelly and disgusting several hours of an already awful ride.
Rat was unamused by the decor. “This whole job is starting to feel like a terrible idea. Worse than your usual, I mean.” She glared back at Will.
For once, he didn’t bother to argue. “Segritt told us the job was nasty. But he said the pay would be really good.” He grimaced as they passed yet another corpse covered in quarreling crows.
“Pay had better be really, really good.” Muttered Rat. “How’d he find out about this job, anyway?”
Will shrugged. “Friend of a relative of an acquaintance or something. You know, I don’t think he actually said.”
“Why did I let you figure out our next job again?” Rat’s mood had plummeted from bad to terrible at the sight of the first corpse. Now it was at historically low levels.
Will, well used to Rat’s moods, even the historically bad ones, grinned. Even though he’d wrapped a kerchief around his mouth and nose, it easily filled his blue eyes. “Because you didn’t trust me to sell the jewels from the last thing. Worried I’d get cheated or robbed.”
Rat sighed. “You would have too.” She shifted the scarf she’d wrapped about her face, looking for more coverage and less smell. “How big is this town? Are we sure they even have any people left?”
Will frowned. “Most of these were men. Big. I’d guess fighters. Someone is clearing out threats or making a point about bandits.”
“Vardo’s drawers! Who has this many bandits in one place?” Rat growled as they passed yet another corpse, this one little more than part of a skeleton and a pile of bleached, dislocated bones on barren ground.
“Good bet this town is under the thumb of a mayor or lord who doesn’t care for sass. Probably we should watch ourselves.” Will pointed out helpfully.
“Probably we should just keep on riding.” Rat glowered at another pile of bones too far gone to even look human.
“We can, you know.” Will gave her a look far more serious than he usually wore. “No reason to go looking for trouble.”
“Who are you and what the blighted hell did you do to the idiot I married?” Rat shot him a curious look and waved his good natured laughter away. “Seriously, since when do you see this nonsense, figure there’s a petty lord doing this shit to his own people and suggest we just ride on?”
Will chuckled. “Maybe I finally got old enough to find that wisdom you keep saying I lack.” He nodded back at her. “Besides, I know you aren’t going to ride past without at least trying to sell all that meat you made us pick up.” He pointed a thumb back at their pack pony, who even now cowered under a full load of dog carcasses.
“True.” Rat hated to waste an opportunity to make some coin. The damn dogs had torn up two saddle bags. Might as well see if she could at least get the cost of replacements. “You know me well.”
“Right.” Will nodded towards the walls they could only now see rising out of a set of brown hills pushing haphazardly out of the forest they rode in. “Besides, there aren’t a lot of other options. I haven’t seen an occupied farm or cottage since we started our ride this morning.”
“Hell. Maybe the whole place will be deserted and we can just scavenge some decent stuff and move on.” Rat suggested hopefully.
“Only you would think a town full of dead people is the best thing we could wish for.” Will shook his head. “But I don’t think so. In fact, we seem to have some company coming.”
They watched as a distant handful of men on horseback rode towards them. Something about the posture of the riders set off alarms and they both surreptitiously checked weapons. “Bandits?” muttered Rat.
“Nope. Too organized. And wearing uniforms, I think.” Will answered quietly.
She could see he was correct. The five men rode at a rough gallop to intercept the couple, who slowed automatically as they approached.
Rat noted with contempt that the leader of the group purposefully spurred his horse into jumping and rearing as the (guards?) encircled them. It was probably supposed to look threatening, but the man didn’t hold his seat well enough to carry it off. Rat herself was no real rider, but Will could outride nearly anyone. Having spent enough time watching him, Rat could recognize a lack of skill when she saw it.
She didn’t have time to do more than sneer before the leader tried to grab hold of her reins. Beve, a tough little desert pony, sidestepped his grasp easily and nipped at the man’s horse. Like her owner, she protected her personal space and tended to get cranky when even other horses got too close.
Rat eyed the man with irritation, noting that he hadn’t gone for Will’s horse, but now turned to her husband and huffed, “You’re on Lord Tremant’s land. State your business.”
The man was a self-important little runt, covered in far too much braid for the cheapness of his uniform. His thinning hair was over-long and greasy, a thin mustache crept across his lip like a worm, and his beady eyes gleamed with mean intentions. Rat noted that he wore ill-matched jewelry he’d probably looted off passing strangers too stupid to turn at the sight of rotting corpses.
Of course, they’d been too stupid to turn around at the rotting corpses. Ignoring that, she shared a look with Will, who gamely offered. “Heading to Morgans Reach.”
The man grunted. “State your business there.” He made a show of fondling his sword hilt, so intent on Will that he didn’t notice when Rat rolled her eyes.
Will ignored the implied threat and shrugged. “We were attacked in camp by wolves. Map had a town close, so we figured on selling the meat and getting a few things repaired before moving on.”
Rat nearly smiled as the lie rolled right off her husband’s tongue. Time was, he’d have botched it entirely. The other guardsmen shared glances. She bet they believed him, but she couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or not.
The leader shared his own glances with the other men. “Heading on to where?” Will stared at him, perturbed. He wasn’t ready for more questions. Basic lies could be learned, same as any skill, but true deception was an Uvel blessed talent her husband lacked.
Rat cut in. “Got a job a week’s ride down the road. Client paid well enough for privacy. Promised to pay better when we get there.” She met his eyes calmly, noting the dismissive way he looked down on her.
“Wasn’t talking to you, dwarf.” He sneered before turning back to Will. “You’re mercs?”
Will nodded, his lips drawn tight in irritation at the man’s treatment of Rat. The man smirked. “That means you ain’t likely to be missed, don’t it boys?”
The other four drew swords in response. Rat grinned. The leader barely had time to look surprised at her expression before she’d kicked Beve into action. The little pony jumped at the man’s larger horse, surprising it into rearing and tossing the man to the ground. While he flew screaming, she threw three small knives in quick succession, catching one of the still seated men in the throat and another in the shoulder and arm.
She caught sight of Will and his horse, Atilla dancing towards the last two riders. They’d separated, probably hoping to catch him off guard which wasn’t bloody likely. Will was magnificent on the ground. Mounted, they’d need at least a half dozen fellows to make it a fair fight.
Not that she cared much for fair fights. Fair fights were easier to lose.
Speaking of which… Rat hooked her reins on the saddle and jumped from Beve’s back, managing to land almost gracefully where she’d meant to.
The guard leader had not had her luck. With his horse gone and left leg at that particular angle, he’d not be running anywhere. Good. She turned to the men she’d hit with her knives. One lay in a heap on the ground, hilt dark at his throat, but the other was still a problem. He’d pulled one of the knives out and was fighting to stay atop his horse while he worked on the one in his shoulder. She pulled the small crossbow from her belt and shot him quickly in the throat.
Then she turned back to the leader on the ground. With a wide smile, she stomped on the broken leg. He screamed and reached for a knife. Stupid. She shot him in the face and neck with the little bow. Then she turned and watched Will dispatch the second of his foes with a sweeping sword to the chest. The man fell across his horse, which shied, dumping the body to the ground, and ran off into the forest.
Will looked around, found only Rat and the horses still moving, and shook his head. “Well that escalated rather quickly.” He nodded towards the city. “Think anyone up there was watching?”
Rat looked at the walls, then at their little spot on the road. She’d have been hard pressed to find a better spot to ambush the guards without being seen. “Nah. No good line of sight from the walls or towers. These jaktrops were stupid. Better to pick an observable spot in advance and wait there.”
Will dismounted, tossed his reins over the branch of a tree, and walked over to where Rat was pulling a little arrow out of the neck of the dead leader. “So how’re we going to explain killing their guys?”
She looked up at him in startled disappointment. “Obviously, we’re gonna lie.” She reached down and lifted the heavy gold rope the leader wore about his neck. “But first, we’re gonna steal their stuff.”
Will laughed and bent to wipe the blood from his sword on the coat of a fallen guard. “Obviously.”