Rat & Will Chapter 4: Meeting Milla
Morgans Reach was in bad shape. It was probably a nice enough little town at one time, but years of neglect left the streets and buildings stained with soot and despair. Will and Rat could feel eyes on them as they rode through the lengthening shadows, but there were few people out on the streets.
“Light’s going. Good bet that people avoid being out after dark here.” Rat muttered quietly to Will.
He shook his head sorrowfully. “I doubt it’s much safer during the day. This is a main road just in from the gate. Wonder how much worse it gets in the alleys and back streets?”
“Way worse, I’d bet.” Rat sighed. “We’re gonna need to sell those dogs pretty quick.”
Will grinned. “Starting to regret bringing them?”
“Not yet.” She nodded at smallish meat shop with a few paltry bits hanging in the window. “Time to work, I guess.”
Half an hour of bargaining later, Rat was the irritated new owner of a small purse of coppers, a really decent set of bone needles for Will, and a pair of high quality horn cups. Will’s eyes were glinting with humor, but at least the idiot pack horse seemed relieved to be rid of it’s bloody cargo.
“Can’t believe the damn lordling has taken so much of their money. How’s he expect them to pay any blasted taxes?” Rat was grumbling as she loaded up her new goods. Though she was an old hand at bargaining and trading, like any good dwarf she preferred to trade for currency, stones, or metal.
Will grinned. “Those cups are nice enough. Fetch a good price elsewhere.”
“You mean somewhere they’ve actually got money?” Rat wasn’t going to be talked out of her irritation. The poor butcher hadn’t even bothered trying to cheat her, he just hadn’t had much to trade. She kind of hoped the influx of dog meat would help him change his fortunes.
Which was an uncomfortable feeling.
She usually made it a point not to care too much about useless things like the fortunes of random shop keepers. “What kind of place has butchers that get excited about a pile of dead dogs?”
“Morgans Reach, apparently.” Will looked sad. “But at least you brought in some fresh meat to the place. And you gave them a pretty good deal. Going to feed a lot of people.”
“Didn’t do it to feed people…” Rat grumbled, but she knew Will was right. This place was in desperate shape.
“So, where to now?” Will looked around at the nearly dark streets.
Rat lifted her chin toward a sign down the way. “We seem to have found Morgan’s Keg, at least.”
The sign was faded, but still featured cheerful enough lettering and brightish colors. It stuck out from the building at a jaunty angle. Underneath, the windows were relatively clean and the stoop was freshly swept. It was the only decent looking tavern they’d passed. Finding the stable entrance around the corner, they rode in.
After getting the horses situated in stables that, like the rest of the tavern, looked worn out but well tended, Rat and Will strode towards the kitchen door of Morgan’s Keg. Rat always liked going into a tavern through the kitchen. You could get a feel for the entire place (and whether one could safely eat the food), by inspecting the hearth. A tired looking woman waved them through. Rat just walked on, but Will bowed slightly, getting a slight smile for his polite behavior.
In the main tavern area, the place was dim, but the bar and several tables near the fire were lit well enough to see that it was clean, if spare. Like many such places, the tavern had various items, signs, and tools on the walls and mantel. Rat noted the places where items were missing and wondered if the inn suffered thieves or money woes. There were a few other patrons in the room, but not nearly so many as a place like this could, and should, hold at this time of night. It made her think the money woes scenario more likely than thieves.
They approached the bar, and this time, Rat took the lead. She gestured to the barkeep, an old man bent with age and missing more teeth than he had. “Two house ales.”
He pulled two mugs of frothy brown liquid, dropped them down in front of her, and muttered, “Four coppers.”
She slid five across the bar. “We were told to ask for Milla.”
The coppers disappeared rapidly. He cocked his head to one side. “Who you be then?”
“Your name Milla?” Rat slid Will his ale and took a small sip of hers. Deciding it wasn’t bad, she took a deeper drink and gave the old man a stubborn look.
The man grunted, then gestured to a table by the fireplace. Rat nodded, decided on a table against the wall instead, and made herself comfortable there. Will joined her, casually leaning against the wall on the other side of the table. “You might have tried to be polite.”
“Nah.” Rat took another drink of the ale. It was pretty good, actually. Especially for the price. “Old geezer like that? He’d want the entire tale and us buying drinks the whole time.”
“True.” Will took a long pull at his own ale. “Wouldn’t really be a hardship. This is pretty good ale.”
“It is.” Rat agreed. She grinned when Will rearranged his long legs and settled into his “Will has to stay still” pose. With all his armor and bulk and height, the chair groaned. “Try not to break the chair. Not interested in paying for it and I bet they get picky about the furniture.”
“They do, actually.” A woman’s voice broke in. Will jumped. Rat didn’t. “Granther said you asked for me?”
“Maybe.” Rat looked the woman they’d passed in the kitchen up and down. She was big, even for a human woman, with sturdy arms and shoulders. Pretty in a worn way. Curly red hair piled high on her head, more out of the way than fancy. The apron covering a well-mended dress that was clean and pressed. Her red knuckled hands bore the marks of ink and hard work. Rat met her brown eyes. “You Milla?”
“I am. And who are you?” The woman sat down in the third chair without asking and looked at Rat, then Will. Will smiled reassuringly, but didn’t speak.
“I go by Rat. This,” She gestured at her husband with a thumb, “is Will. Segritt told us you have a job.”
The woman’s eyes widened. Whatever she’d been expecting from Segritt, it wasn’t them. Rat nearly grinned. They tended not to be what people were expecting. “You’re the Tethas warriors?”
“Nope.” Rat didn’t need to see Will to know he’d hunched his shoulders. “We’re the mercs.”
“Oh.” Her face fell. “Segritt said he knew a couple of Tethas warriors.”
“Guess he didn’t find them.” Rat glared at her. “Did you have a job or not?”
She nodded, but still looked downcast. “Oh yes, but I’m not sure you’ll be interested…” She shrugged. “You might have noticed that the city is not doing well.”
Rat snorted. “Something about the corpses along the road did give us that impression, sure.”
Milla frowned and her eyes flashed. “One of those corpses is my husband. Plenty of other good men out there too. Been going like that ever since that “Lord” Tremant took charge of our city.”
“Bad business, sounds like.” Rat had a feeling she knew where this was heading. Problem was, she was pretty sure the woman couldn’t afford what she was going to ask for. “What’s that got to do with us?”
“I want him dead. Our city used to run itself, with a council and elected mayor. Prosperous. Lord Tremant ended that. With him dead, we might be able to save what’s left of the place.” Milla looked back and forth between them, full of anger and desperation.
Rat sighed. “That isn’t a cheap job. And we aren’t assassins.”
“I don’t want him assassinated. I want him dead. Properly, openly dead. Him and any of his men that stay loyal longer than the second it takes to check his pulse. I want our city back.” Milla pounded on the table. Rat nearly raised a brow. Under the tired, the woman boiled with anger.
“Alright. Say we take this job. What kind of pay are you offering?” Even as she asked, Rat was already counting up what it would cost to get to another city from here. Could they even find the supplies they’d need? She didn’t mind hunting for their feed, but hated to depend on it, especially near a place like this. Desperate people under stupid lords had a tendency to over hunt the land.
“I…I don’t have much money…” The woman looked away. “That’s why I asked Segritt for-” All at once, she grabbed at Will. Just as quickly, Rat pulled a knife, but Will, figuring out what the woman was about, waved her off. Rat glared and kept the knife out, but didn’t use it. The woman poked at the brand in the center of Will’s right hand. “You are a Tethas Warrior!”
“Was.” Will gently pulled his hand from the woman’s before Rat got too antsy. “No longer.”
Somewhat deflated by his gentle words and actions, Milla sank back to her chair. She looked at Rat, suddenly noticing the knife. “I…I wasn’t going to hurt him.”
“No.” Rat stared at her with cold, dark eyes. “You weren’t.”
She leaned away from Rat, then looked back at Will. “But Tethas Warriors don’t quit.” Brave or stupid, she ignored Rat’s snort and kept looking imploringly at Will.
He shrugged. “Didn’t quit, exactly. Just took on a longer term Lost Cause.” He and Rat shared a weighty look. Milla looked back and forth between them. “But you aren’t supposed to ask for money. You took vows of poverty!”
Will lifted a shoulder. “Do I look wealthy? She takes money. Barely gives me any of it.” He sent a fond look at Rat.
Not a complete fool, Milla re-evaluated. Rat shifted in her chair, waiting for the woman’s new angle. “So if money weren’t an object, you could do what I’m asking? You could rid us of Lord Tremant?” She seemed to be thinking hard.
Rat leaned in. “Possibly. Got lots of questions. But we’re good enough at killing people.”
Milla smiled. She’d been a beauty once. “I wasn’t lying. I don’t have much money. No one down here does. But Lord Tremant and his people…they have plenty of coin. The Gods know they took enough from us.” She set hands carefully on the table. “You could make plenty, if you aren’t against collecting your own fee, as it were.”
Rat raised an eyebrow. “Townspeople aren’t going to want theirs back?”
“Of course.” Milla met her eyes. “But they aren’t likely to argue with the people who freed them from Tremant.”
“Or the people who killed the guy they couldn’t get rid of on their own…” Rat stated flatly.
Milla nodded. “Or that.”
Rat considered. Checked with Will. Saw in a single look that he, of course, was all for helping. He was always for helping. She shrugged. “We’ll need a contract. Will and I are proper mercs. You got a Guild rep around here?”
Milla’s answering smile was knowing. “We do. Tremant hates him. So you can probably even trust him.”
Rat nodded. “We’ll do some looking around tomorrow. If we agree to do this, we’ll put together the contract. Let you know tomorrow night.” She looked around. “For tonight, you have a room?”
Milla actually laughed, though it wasn’t a happy sound. “Can’t actually remember a time I didn’t. Room goes for two silver for the week. Five coppers for a hot bath.”
Rat sent her a cold look. “I’ll pay for the bath. And more ale. But you’re gonna give me the room for tonight and tomorrow for making the trip. If we decide to do business, I’ll include it in the contract.”
It was Milla’s turn to consider, then nod. “You drive a hard bargain.”
“Wait till you read our contract.” Rat drained the rest of her ale. Will followed suit. She and Will stood. “We’ll see that room now. And I wasn’t kidding about the bath. I’m covered in dead dog.”