Charlotte and Rone had paused for tea at a shop around sunset, enjoying a bite of fresh bread and jam and relaxing midway through the long walk back to the inn. The wind coming off the ocean had dried the sweat they had worked up climbing the steep slope back to the high part of town, and though they were well-dressed their hair had the crispy look of sailors. When they finally reached the inn in it was after dark.
“I’m about ready to fall into bed; the second half of that walk just went on and on,” Charlotte said as they walked up the stairs toward their room. The fire in the main room down below lit the corridor dimly.
“Aye, that’s problem with walking downhill. Eventually, you have to go back up hill,” Rone said cheerfully. “Still, the Highlands have made a climber out of you, despite yourself.”
“Despite myself, what is that supposed to mean?”
“Prim, proper, polite, and protected. Lots of ladies like you love to stay locked up.”
“Not me!” Charlotte said through a wide grin. “I can’t get you… you won’t put two words together in one minute, and later you spit out the most scrumptious alliterations.” Charlotte hugged his arm as he began fumbling for the big brass door key. “Prim, proper, polite, protected. You forgot politically passionate and positively pedantic. Or-”
Rone stopped her with a sudden rigidity in his touch and posture. While Charlotte was talking Rone had noticed the little girl Missy exiting a room, holding a small oil lamp. He had locked glances with her for a protracted moment, before she turned away from his gaze and galloped down the stair at the other end of the hallway. The gaze had spoken volumes to the man, and though he knew he was out of his element in the city, he was not so far removed from his past experience to mistake the look on the girl’s face for anything but fear and guilt.
“Yes, sometimes I fancy a bit of poetry, even if only to please myself.” Rone’s voice sounded cheerful, but his face was grave as he looked stiffly into Charlotte’s eyes. He reached into his stripped jacket and drew forth an old friend. A faint click could be heard as he drew back the hammer. He reached over the top of the lock with his index finger and lifted the frizzen, feeling for a full prime. With his left hand he turned the key. His right held the pistol at eye level. “Aye, it will be good to get some shut eye.” He pushed the door open. As it swung open, Rone could see a silhouette in the moonlit window. He stepped in.
“Ah, mister-” The silhouette could not finish his greeting. Rone swung the door shut, leaving Charlotte outside with the key, and at the same time it slammed into the door frame, the butt of Rone’s pistol slammed into the teeth of the very large man standing beside it. By the time his girth hit the floor Rone was upon the silhouette, his left hand now clutching his knife in an overhand grip.
“Is it Munin, or Phillip?” The voice croaked as the edge of the blade pushed against his jaw. The man below sat limp.
“Speak right and live. Speak foul, and you’ll dine with Grim this very night.”
“It seems the girl was well to trust you. You also do not have me at as much of a disadvantage as you think.” Rone glanced down to see a pistol leveled at his belly.
“I’m good at my business, as it seems you are.” Rone held back some pressure on the edge of the knife. Without breaking his intense gaze on the man he trained his pistol on the man who had hidden behind the door, now lying in a heap behind him. “So, who are you?”
“My name doesn’t have much relevance-” Rone pushed the blade again hard on the man’s skin. “But it’s Farthow, if you must have it.”
“Why are you here?”
“Business, like you gathered. I’m representing a very wealthy and important man.”
“In regards to what then?”
“The girl, of course.”
“I turned her loose.”
“Not that girl.”
Rone’s eyes widened.
“I would make it worth your while to turn her over to me. How does 500 Aurals sound?”
500 ounces of gold. The price made Rone pause. “You could raise an army to take her for that.”
“Not a very good one. And she’s already taken, am I correct?”
“All the same, I’d rather know your employer’s name,” Rone said.
“I can’t tell you that, you know.”
“I’m going to guess it’s the count. Harec. You might even be his head of espionage, am I right?”
The man remained motionless. “Now tell me-” The door swung open once again. Rone looked away for a moment to see the man who was crumpled on the floor standing above him, also in the process of turning to look at the door. He never saw what had entered. As he collapsed (once again, this time against the bedpost), a slender body with a sea of copper hair flying around it replaced him, holding what looked to be a table leg like a club.
In a heartbeat he felt his arm be pushed up and away, and felt a strike to the side of his solar plexus, knocking the wind from him. Farthow was up and out of the chair, but before Rone could level his pistol he had overturned the table and leapt at the window. The move shocked Rone and he without realizing it held his shot, but Farthow followed through, landing on the window sill and sliding over the roof toward the street. Rone moved over to the window and looked down to see a deserted night street.
“Bastard is good.”
“What was all that?” Charlotte said, panting as she moved to join Rone at the window.
“You just had to give us a last name.” Rone eased the hammer on his pistol down and tucked it into his belt. Charlotte was breathing hard, still holding out the table leg like a sword. “But thanks for the backup,” he added.
“Do you think-” Charlotte leaned the leg-club up against the bed and breathed deep, “it was the captain, Mister Johnny?”
“Could be, but… I doubt it. Probably Corving at shipping office.” He nodded toward the window. “This fellow used the name Munin, too.”
“So a follow up from the west gate, then?”
“Aye, that’s what I would think. Of course it could be someone who was waiting for us all along.”
“What makes you say that?”
“500 Aurals was what he offered for me to turn you over to him.”
“What? That’s three times my dowry.”
Rone raised an eyebrow at her. He moved over to the large collapsed man and checked him. He was still breathing. “We can wait for this bloke to come-to and ask him some questions, or we can quietly slip out the back. I’ll leave it to you.”
“I think we’ve over-stayed our welcome, can you grab our things quickly?”
“As quick as you need, love.”
“Drat that little Missy, I paid her to tell us about things like this.”
“Well I don’t trust most folks further than I can throw a coin. These two probably threw a bigger coin. But still, she did warn us, even if she didn’t mean to. You can read a lot in a look.” Charlotte nodded.
A thud and a series of shouts from the common room below snapped them both to attention. “I knew he wouldn’t have come alone!” Charlotte said.