The hill bottomed out into a dense marketplace, still busy after dark with people crowding watering holes and eateries. The sound of the shots had elicited a panic from those in the streets and alleys, and everywhere men and women were rushing inside as barkeeps and merchants pulled in wares and bared doors, motioning straggling patrons to hurry inside. Musicians, playing in the open air for the milling crowd were begging for help in moving their drums and chairs. Rone sheathed his blades and lead Charlotte into the midst of the crowd.
“He’s following,” Charlotte said with a croak. Rone glanced back and saw the hooded man slipping through the churning crowd.
“I think it’s the man from the room,” Rone said. “Here.” He pulled Charlotte hard to the left, into the middle of a crowd. “And slip the pack off.” Rone slipped his pack down and took her musket, letting each hang from relaxed arms.
She followed his lead and unshouldered her pack, letting it hang in her hand from its top strap. She followed him into a deeper throng of people. Men’s and women’s voices filled the pressed space, speculating to the origin of the shots.
“It’ll be the coca sellers on Shore Street fighting again for sure,” A woman’s voice said.
“Doubtful,” a man said in reply. “Sounded like it was coming from outside. The sheriffs again, I’d wager.”
“Just as bad,” the woman said in reply.
Charlotte and Rone went along with the crowd into a quickly filling inn’s common room. The barkeep was standing on the counter just inside the door, a short two-barreled flintlock in his hands, held off his shoulder but ready for action. He was, in odd contrast to his posture, smiling jovially.
“Half-priced drinks for the next keg!” he shouted. A roar from the room answered him as a boy pulled the door shut and barred it. The bartender tossed his gun to a portly woman near the kitchen entrance and hopped down.
“Not the reaction I expected,” Charlotte said into Rone’s ear.
Rone grunted in response, then said, “I see another dining room. Let’s see if we can find a corner for a few minutes.”
“Do you think we lost him?”
Rone shrugged. “The door is barred. Not much else to do.”
They went under a low arch into another room, darker and longer than the common room with a low ceiling of old bowing rafters. Benches and tables crowded the walls and round tables filled the middle of the long space. They found an empty stretch of bench near a far corner, far enough away from the fireplace to be drafty and pulled themselves into it. Men and women sat scattered throughout the room, uncaring of the pair, their backpacks, or the long-barreled musket that Rone leaned up against the wall.
Very shortly after they sat down a young serving woman approached and said, “What can I whip up for you? It’ll be awhile before the guard clears up the fight. It was an hour last time. Was only one man they caught thought. Strung up the poor sod the next day.”
“What are they doing?” Charlotte said. Rone silently glared at her.
“Ah, you usually spend time uptown, then?” the serving girl said. “We gotten a few gunfights lately.” She stuck her thumb out over her shoulder. “Poppy says it’s the slave trade. Bunch of fellows come in from Tyrant’s Gallow with teeth. It’ll all be cleared up soon.”
“We don’t stay out often,” Rone said. “But I’m sure it will all be taken care of. We’ll have whatever the kitchen’s putting on special.” He pulled a silver coin from his purse and flicked it to the server.
“To drink?” The serving girl smiled and turned her head as young man slid past, touching lightly the small of her back before crowding into a spot beside the fire. He met her glance and smile briefly before turning back to his friends.
“Ale. Two pints,” Rone said, smirking. The server shuffled away, and Rone turned his attention to Charlotte who was wringing her hands and hunching over the table.
“Are we just going to sit here?” she said.
“For the moment, yes,” Rone said.
“Everyone else is sitting.”
Charlotte narrowed her eyes at him.
Rone sighed. “We’ll be able to slip out with the rest of the crowd. I hope, anyway.”
“If the guard doesn’t break down the door.”
Rone nodded. “I’ll try to come up with something. Till then try to look like we’ve been here all night.” Rone glanced toward the common room as some musicians started up a dance to a loud cheer.
“Would it be too auspicious to reload?” Charlotte said, eyeing the musket.
Rone chuckled. “I don’t know these people.” After a pause he shrugged and produced his pistol and powder horn. Quickly he brushed the bore and reloaded, primed his pan, then slid the pistol to Charlotte. Nobody did more than glance their way. “I’m going to track down this innkeeper and see if I can get us a room to at least change our clothes in.”