The Land of Teuhyo
(Inspired by Dungeons and Dragons)
Chapter 2: Propositionin’
The man slunk out of the tavern, his groaning friend hopping on one foot as he leaned on his shoulder. He glared towards Nedjem, who was still sitting by the door. Their eyes met, and Nedjem reached out.
The man flinched, but Nedjem’s touch didn’t hurt like last time. His fingers glowed a warm yellow, and he noticed a few of his more superficial wounds begin to close.
The man looked up, his eyes displaying confusion and conflict. He opened his mouth and began to form the words “thank you,” but his smile turned into a scowl at the sight of the Elf who’d humiliated him. He slapped Nedjem’s hand away, storming out of the tavern.
Iah got to her feet, looking frantically between Nedjem and the man behind the bar, still holding his smoking gun. “John…! I’m so sorry! He…” She pointed at the door. “That one started it!”
John put the tip of the gun to his lips, blowing away the puff of blue smoke before he pocketed the pistol. “You three. Over here. Now.” He turned to Momo. “Go get the pink one, will ya?”
Iah, Nedjem and Aeron shuffled over to the bar, while Momo dashed out onto the balcony and came back in dragging a whining Vulcan by one of his pointy ears.
“Sit.” John said.
Nedjem and Aeron sat, Vulcan was shoved into the chair, and Iah hung back behind all of them, her eyes cast to the floor.
“Iah.” John said, his tone commanding.
Iah flinched, looking up only briefly.
“Alright.” John leaned on the bar, in the faces of the three ruffians. “Can someone explain what that was?”
There was a deep silence for a moment, and then Nedjem spoke. “I heard some things.” He said. “So I acted.”
John raised an eyebrow. “What exactly didja hear?”
Momo cleared her throat. “In his defense, John…” She said “those two were…real difficult folk. You know how them Gabriota people can be.” She crossed her arms. “They kept asking about Iah the whole time…was bein’ real lewd n’ such.”
“And y’all handled it with a bar fight?” John shrugged. “Still, I’ll not have my workers bein’ harassed on my watch. Thanks for…taking care of our girl there.” John nodded at Iah. “You ain’t in trouble, girl, I promise.”
Iah looked up.
“Y’all handled yourselves pretty damn well.” John looked back at the three men. “Y’all ratcatchers?”
“What?” Vulcan blew a raspberry under his bandana. “Do I look like a ratcatcher to you?”
“We’re just caravan guards, sir.” Aeron piped up, interrupting Nedjem, who was about to speak.
“Y’all might want to look into bein’ ratcatchers.” John nodded. “Be a real good opportunity. Especially for someone like you…” He pointed at Aeron. “…No offense.”
“Are you making an offer?” Nedjem asked, now leaning forward with his elbows on the table.
“Well…I, uh, need something taken care of. There’s good coin in it.”
Vulcan slid forward over the table. “We are DEFINITELY ratcatchers.” He said slowly and deliberately. “And we’d LOVE to help you out.”
John looked around at the others. “What about the rest of y’all?”
Nedjem bobbed his head from side to side, and Aeron shrugged.
“Yeah, they’ll be fine. How much do we get?” Vulcan asked, jittering like a kid after too many sweets.
John held up one of his hands, all five fingers splayed out. “Five gold. Each and every one of ya. Two gold right now, the other three when you get back.”
“What exactly are the details?” Nedjem asked.
“Okay.” John lifted his hat, scratched his head, and put his hat back on. “Okay. I have my own inn…with Henry, down there.” He pointed at the door downstairs. “But my brother also has his own inn, over in Orlaine. You ever heard of of Orlaine?”
The three men collectively shook their heads.
“Good. It’s a shit hole.” He said. “See, my right bastard of a brother…I lent him some money. He was supposed to pay me back after a year, was gonna make repairs to his inn. Come a year, he still hasn’t come back with my money.” He crossed his arms. “Head off to Orlaine, find out why my little shitheel of a brother hasn’t paid me back yet. If you get the money, great. If not…get a note from his wife or something.”
“That’s all?” Vulcan asked.
“That’s all.” John said. “Head off to Orlaine, get that money from my brother.”
“How much does he owe you?” Nedjem took his hands away from his face in curiosity.
“Would ‘a lot’ be, say, five gold?”
“Son, it a lot more than five gold.”
“Six gold?” A little voice behind them whispered in shock.
“A lot more than that, Iah.”
Iah flushed and looked at the floor again, clearly not expecting anyone to hear her.
“So how’s it sound?” John looked over the three of them.
“Sounds fun!” Vulcan looked to his traveling companions. “Right guys?”
“Before we go.” Nedjem stood up. “I’d like to give you this for the damage I caused.” He reached inside the waistline of his underwear and pulled out five gold coins.
“What’s that for?”
“For the damages I caused, from the bar fight.”
John blinked. “You got a bit of blood on the floor. It’s not a big deal.”
“Momo can mop it up…that’s what she’s for…” As John spoke, Nedjem watched his eyes move up and down his body, stopping to linger for a moment where his crotch was covered by his only remaining clothing.
“At least let me mop up.” Nedjem insisted.
“I mean…if it’s okay with Momo.” John looked at Momo, who’s eyes were glued to Nedjem. “Could you grab the mop?”
She didn’t answer.
“Momo. Get the mop.”
She stared for a moment more, before John snapped his fingers in front of her face and she jumped, rushing downstairs and coming back up with the mop and bucket. Without meeting Nedjem’s eyes, she shoved the mop into his chest and disappeared behind the bar, the sound of shuffling cups coming from below the counter.
“Thank you.” He said. “Oh, and John, I’m not interested.”
“In job? I guess if the caravan life is for you-”
“No.” He held up his hand and smiled. “You’re looking at me with those eyes John.”
“Those…?” John stammered a bit. “I…don’t reckon I know what you mean, son.” He turned to the rest of them. “Since it looks like your caravan has hightailed it anyway, you’re all free to stay the night.”
“Wait what?” Vulcan jumped up. “When did they go?!”
“I saw them halfway down the road as I was comin’ up-”
Vulcan dashed outside, slamming the door against the outside wall as everyone stared at him. He came back moments later; panting, coughing and red as a tomato.
“They didn’t gimme my money!”
Night began to fall on the Tab and Verne Inn. What few customers were left trickled back into their own rooms or into their carts. Nedjem leaned the mop against the wall and silently climbed the stairs upwards. Aeron turned to Vulcan for conversation, but the latter was absorbed in a large sketchbook, and merely glared at his Half-Orc companion.
Nedjem settled down on his bed, still without his pants, but taking advantage of a nightshirt that Momo had put out for him. The room was rather large for one person, but he wasn’t sure the floor could support two. Looking down, he saw where the chandelier that was hanging over the stage was bolted into his floor, and how it creaked precariously as he stepped on it. He stayed around the corners of the room.
There was a knock on his door. Slowly, Nedjem stood and opened it a crack. “Oh. Hello…?”
Iah stood in front of him, her gaze fixed on the tray in her hand. There was a half-eaten piece of cornbread on a paper plate, and a bowl of thick chili that was about half-full.
“John noticed you didn’t buy dinner.” She whispered. “So…I was wondering if you wanted to share?”
“Oh, no, you need it for yourself, don’t you? He asked.
“I’m alright, please, take it.” She pushed the tray towards him.
“No, I couldn’t-”
“Please take it.” Iah squeaked, and Nedjem took it finally.
“Thank you…” He actually was very hungry, but asking for food after causing a riot in the very establishment he was now sleeping in just wasn’t good form. He took the food inside and put it on the desk behind him, and Iah followed him a few steps.
“You’re still bleeding…”
His hand went to his ribs where the break still was. “Oh? Is it bad?”
“I can heal it for you.” Iah stepped forward. “I…I know spells…”
“No, no, you should save that.” Nedjem smiled at her. “For an emergency.”
“It’s not so important.” Iah insisted. “We don’t actually get many bar fights here…despite how it looks.”
“Still, I started it. I should fix myself up.” He straightened up and winced as his back crackled loudly.
Iah rushed forward. “At least let me clean it up.”
He was going to protest, but something stopped him. Perhaps it was the way she looked up at him .”I suppose it would be good to not bleed everywhere…”
Iah led him to the bed and had him sit down, her shy demeanor suddenly melting away as she became focused on her work. She took a ragged cloth out of her small purse and pressed her hand to his back. “Sit up straight.”
Iah wrapped her arms around him, running her fingers slowly over the crack in his ribs. He felt something shift ever so slightly, and she pulled away. “Let me see your hand.”
“Oh, that’s all healed.”
She grabbed his hand anyway and bandaged it with the little bit of wrap she had left. By the end, Nedjem felt pretty sore, but the snapped bone felt secure, and his hand was no longer dripping blood onto the floor.
“By the way…” Nedjem said as Iah was finishing up her care of him. “That was you singing earlier, correct?”
Like a switch turning on, Iah froze and the calm demeanor she’d held while checking him suddenly melted away. She looked up at him. “Y-Yeah…?”
“It was entrancing.” He said with a smile. “You have a beautiful voice.”
Iah’s face turned bright pink, as though all the blood in her body was rushing to her face. Her eyes darted away from his face.
“Are you okay?”
“I, uh…” Iah jumped to her feet, swaying slightly. “I need to go!” She rushed out of the room, one hand over her mouth, slamming the door behind her.
As she turned to make a break for the hallway, she plowed into something soft and looked up. “Sorry Henry!”
“Hmph. Would you look at that.” Henry said with a slight pout. He cheerfully twirled his cane and hung his top hat on one of the nails sticking from the wall. “I won’t tell John~”
“NO! I wasn’t-” She stammered, her eyes welling up in tears. “I was just…bringing food…”
“I’m teasing you, sweetie.” He patted her cheek. “Actually, Johnny sent me to get you. He wants to have a chat.”
“Am I in trouble?” Iah whimpered.
“Now why would you be in trouble, Iah?” He winked. She scowled a bit, and he patted her head. “Dearie, you’ll be fine. Go talk to Johnny, I’m going to bed.” He waved back at her as he walked into the darkness of the hall and disappeared behind the door at the end.
Iah swallowed and descended the stairs again, pulling her cloak closer. Momo was drying the last few cups for the night, and—aside from her—it was only Aeron and Vulcan in the tavern now.
She patted Iah’s shoulder. “Good job today.”
“You’ve heard me sing that song before.” She said softly and deliberately.
“I meant with the fight.” Momo smiled. “You helped give those guys a run for their money.”
“Not really.” She looked at Aeron. “He and the other guy did most of the work.” She felt a sinking feeling as she realized she’d forgotten to ask the man upstairs for his name.
She slipped into the basement. John sat in the shadows, his hat still hiding his face. No light reached into this corner of their shop. Still, as much as it scared her, Iah felt a sense of comfort was over her as she stepped into the darkness.
“Am I in trouble?” She asked softly.
“No, kiddo.” John stood up slowly. “It’s about the ratcatchers.”
Iah looked up at him, now curious.
“I don’t trust ‘em.” He said. “I know they’re all prolly good folks but…out here, it’s the frontier, and I can barely afford what I offered them. If I find out they took the two gold and skipped Orlaine…well, little things like that are the holes that sink a ship.”
“Oh…” Iah nodded. “But…why bring me down here?’
“Because I want you to go with ‘em.” John said.
Iah froze. “You what?”
“I don’t trust ‘em, Iah.” He said. “But I do trust you. You keep ‘em on track to Orlaine, alright?”
“Why me?!” She cried. “Why not send-”
“Henry can’t make the trip that far with his bad leg.” John crossed his arms. “And Momo knows the ins and outs of this place better than I do, we need her at the drinks. And…no offense kid. You’re the best entertainment we’ve ever had, but you wait tables worse that an ox in the rainy season.”
Iah’s lip began to quiver.
“Hey…” He coughed and patted her head awkwardly. “It’s not forever, alright? Only a couple of days. A week, tops. Then I want you home.”
“Home?” She sniffled.
“Yeh.” His face actually twisted into a smile from his usual grimace. “You’ll always have a home here, kiddo. You know that.”
Iah hugged John tightly. “A week, tops.” She whispered with determination. “I won’t let you down, John. I’ll get them to Orlaine.”