Chapter 9

“You there!”

The voice came low and husky; it was the voice of a man who’s spent hours upon hours in the stuffy air of disreputable inns, until, inevitably, the stench of opiates and stale ale scarred throats and broke voices. The face and expression matched the tale; scarred cheek, rough skin, haunted eyes, and a four-to-five-day beard to further testify that decorum mattered little.

“There’s our man,” Solifea whispered to Benjamin as she eyed one of the caravan’s guards who had broken off from the pack and was walking towards them. Ben looked awkwardly at her over his shoulder, then the man, then at her again.

“How can you tell?” he asked.

“Tries too hard,” she said, stifling a chuckle. “Never heard of a man with such a voice leaving the inn that gave it to them.” It wasn’t how she could tell, of course. He sported no company’s crest or colors, for one. Had he been wearing, he would risk meeting someone asking all kinds of questions; no good for a Templar playing guard. Then it was the walk, the way the hand rested on the sword; few have skill enough to suppress such things. And then, there was the way he measured her as much as she was him. That man expected to see her but was not sure what to expect until he saw her. Her eyes’ glimmer fading, she looked bored and agitated as she answered him.

“Aye, raven, what’d you want?” she played along. Caravan guard freelancers were often called that. It rhymed with craven. If a company did not respect you enough to pay you, chances are you were just there for show, circling the carriages, only to fly away at the first sign of trouble.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, spitting annoyed. “I work alone better. Guard, are you?”

“More or less. Had trouble?”

“Nah, all clear for miles,” the man answered looking up the rock Solifea and Ben were seating. He had not tried to come too close. Good. “Know the city, non-guard?” he went on.

“I do. If you are looking for an inn, the Flightless Goose’s your place, I’d say.”

“That’s good and all,” he said, “but I am looking for work. We’re coming from Elysses and Soldier damn me if I walk another mile.” He spat and cleared his throat before he added. “Perhaps something easy, quiet. Night work, even better.”

“I see. There’s night work, alright,” she replied, “though not the kind a non-guard would send you to, usually. You want something square with the Aspects and on the level, there’s sometimes a midnight shift open at ol’Aldegov’s warehouse. Boys keep breaking in, stealing women’s undergarments, the pervs. You think you’d handle that?”

“Not tonight, for sure. But I’ll see to it. I should clean up, though. Know a bathhouse?”

“No, no bathhouse I’d send you to.”

He nodded and turned. “Aspects with ya,” he said as he was walking off.

“Aye, alright,” she returned and sat next to Ben, shushing him when he opened his mouth. Only after the caravan was gone did she look at him.

“We’re meeting him at the Goose then?” he asked.

“No, no,” she answered. “He’s alone and he wants to keep it that way. We’re meeting him tomorrow, midnight, at the square with the Trickster’s statue, near the Goose. Told him to keep undercover at least until then and we can decide our approach.” Ben blinked.

“I know I get distracted sometimes but that’s not what you said to him…”

“Trust me Ben,” she said with a smile, putting her hand on his shoulder. “It’s settled. Let’s stay tonight out of town. Talk with a couple more mercenaries and such. Ask if there’s been trouble, like we did with him. Just in case someone’s watching. Tomorrow we can go to the meeting.”

“Are we telling him everything then?”

Solifea sighed.

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