Act I: The Silver City
“Names,” Tugg said through clenched teeth, his one eye still running over the notes on his dirty ledger. The gate he managed marked one of the smallest portals into Masala, relegated mostly to foot traffic and pack mules. The stone archway, hiding a strong iron gate, was moss-covered and reeked slightly of a perpetual moisture.
“Munin,” the man in front of Tugg said, his heavy boots squishing through the mud tracked over the city cobbles. His dark hair hung wet about his shoulders, and his cloak was nearly soaked. “This is my sister, Hueny.” He stuck his thumb out at the woman beside him, who wore a large-brimmed hat that obscured her eyes. An gun of some sort lay cradled in her arms, wrapped in a sheath of leather against the rain. Both of them were covered in dust and grit that had turned to a grey silt in the rain and dripped from the corners of their long coats.
Tugg dipped his pen into his well. “What about her?” He pointed the pen past the pair at a short girl with hair that might once have been blonde. Tugg pegged her at about twenty, but a hard lived twenty. Iron cuffs rattled on her wrists.
“She’s a slave, here for market. I thought it best her master give her a proper name,” The man said.
“Selling your village-mates, eh? Things must be getting on badly in the floodplain,” Tugg said, shifting his nearly dissolved coca leaf to the other side of his mouth and clenching it tightly.
“Mind your own business,” the woman said.
Tugg hummed a deep chuckle to himself. Insults always gave you a better idea of who a person was than niceties.
“Why is the city shut?” The man said, his tone neutral. “I’ve never been stopped at a gate in peacetime before.”
Tugg grinned. “The gate is my business, not yours. Now I need names for all of you.”
The man looked back at the slave, his yellow-green eyes hard, and nodded to her.
The young woman looked at the man holding her chains for a moment, then shouted “They killed my master and stole me! They’re brigands!” She rushed forward, then found herself falling into the mud as the man tugged on her chains. He pulled her up by her wrists.
“Blast me, but don’t make me tear you up before we even get you to market!” he said, his eyes glaring. His companion put her gun above her head, as if she was going to slam the butt into the slave’s face. The slave twisted away.
“It’s true!” the slave screamed.
“Slaves will say anything to get out of their debts,” the woman said, still holding the butt of the long gun high.
“Call her Hella,” Munin said, staring into Tugg’s one eye.
Tugg reached for his pen, a stripped and sloppy-looking feather, and stopped.
“What is it?” the man said.
“I’ll need to have a look at your gun.”
“You work for the church now? You get charged to inspect every scrap of iron that comes through for flint?”
“What’s the hold-up!” Another man man shouted from behind the trio. He held the rains of a laden mule, his simple cloth soaked through.
“My job is my own,” Tugg said. “If I want to inspect your gun, I get to, unless you want to take the round way up to the West gate and lose half the day, and deal with fellas that are much more sour than I. Now, unwrap that iron.”
The slavemasters looked to each other and then nodded. Hesitantly, the woman untied a small thong and slipped the gun out of the leather, displaying a simple stock and bare iron receiver. Tugg looked closely at it.
“If this is a matchlock, I’m a dead rabbit,” he said, looking at the vacant screw holes on the gun’s receiver.
“It’s legal,” the man said.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Tugg said.
“Tugg! What are you doing you old fool?” Michel, one of the lieutenants of the guard, rode up to the old arch and reined in his horse.
“My job,” Tugg said, and spit out a discolored wad of coca onto the ground.
“Are these them, or not?” Michel said.
Tugg’s one eye looked over Munin and the slave. “No. I’d say not.”
“Then let them through,” Michel said. “You’re backing things up.”
“They’re in the slave trade.”
“I don’t give a damn what trade they’re in. We have orders. If they ain’t the ones we’re looking for, send them on through.”
“Aye, sir,” Tugg said, and put his hand to his chest as a salute.
“That’s better. You have the morning ledgers?”
Tugg nodded and pulled his current piece of paper from his wooden ledger stand, then handed it to the armored lieutenant. Michel quickly rolled it up and stuck it in a saddlebag, then rode off.
“We’ll be off then,” Munin said, stepping forward. Tugg put a hand out.
“Just a moment. You interested in a private sale?” he nodded to the slave, being all but dragged by Munin. “Avoid the auction cut. I know a richer or two that might have a taste for what you’ve got.”
“I’m taking her to market,” Munin replied.
Tugg scowled. “Alright, move along.” He watched the trio slip away and stuck another coca leaf in his cheek, then looked at his ledger. He realized he had forgotten to write their names down. “Who were they?” he said to himself. He shook his head dipped the quill into his inkwell, then wrote down what he could remember. “No matter.”