“I’m not going to kill anyone, Kizwat,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear. “Let’s go.”
I shoved him towards the door.
“Wait,” said the largest of the large men. He wore a leather vest with nothing underneath it and he had a mullet. That should tell you all you need to know. “What relation are you to this man?”
He positioned himself between us and the exit. He wasn’t the type you could easily knock aside. Did I mention his size? Big. Very big.
“What’s it got to do with you?” I decided to go on the offensive. “Are you a gossiping old lady? Stick your nose in other people’s business so you can tell the girls about it later?” I looked past him at the men standing behind. “I bet he’s a terrible nag as well.Do this, do that. You’re not doing it right. Why haven’t you finished yet. You know what I’m talking about, right?” I pointed at the short fat one at the back. “That’s why you’re nodding.”
Mullet-man spun around, his glorious mane swishing through the air. “Why are you nodding, Dundus?”
“I wasn’t, I wasn’t. I was thinking about something else.”
I dragged Kizwat outside while the Patrick Swayze fan club bickered among themselves.
“We have to do something,” wailed Kizwat. “We should go back in there, and teach them—”
“Wearen’t doing anything. And in future don’t volunteer me to fight your battles for you.”
Kizwat quieted down and looked at the ground. “I’m sorry, but—”
“No. No buts. I don’t know how you managed to fuck up, but there’s no way you’re going to teach them anything. Just go back to Probet.”
“And do what? Look.” He awkwardly placed his crippled hand in front of me. “What can I do with this? I can’t even hold a hammer, never mind use one. They did this to me.”
It looked really bad. But I could probably fix it. “I can heal you. I don’t know if it will be as good as before, but you’ll probably be able to do most things.”
“Heal me? How?”
I didn’t want to tell him I would use magic; there were too many people who knew about that as it was. “Where I come from, we have techniques to help people in this sort of condition. Physical therapy. Look, come with me.”
We went across the street to the pub where the others were waiting for us. It was a small, dingy place with only half-a-dozen customers. My lot were squeezed into a booth at the back, nursing drinks and whispering to each other. They looked up guiltily as I approached. Were they talking about me?
“You better not be getting drunk again.”
“It isn’t alcohol,” said Claire defensively. She swirled the liquid in her cup. “It’s juice, and it tastes awful.”
The others all pulled faces and nodded. I didn’t bother introducing Kizwat, I just sat him down on one end while I sat down on the other, pushing everyone into a tighter clump between us.
“Go on then, tell us what happened.”
Kizwat looked around the group then told us how he had arrived in Dargot full of hope and excitement. He had immediately registered his claim for the silver hammer at the guild and handed over the spike to be tested. While he waited for the results, he had gone for a drink.
“It was in this very place that I waited while the guild masters verified my claim.” He looked down at the table. “I was very happy and when I told people why, they bought me drinks to celebrate. I don’t remember very much, but when I woke I was in terrible pain. They told me I had been in an accident. A wagon had run over my arm. But no wagon could do this. It was them. They did this to me. One of their own had recently claimed a silver hammer and they didn’t want some lummox stealing his customers away. They said the tests on the spike were inconclusive and it didn’t matter anyway because my injuries meant I wouldn’t be able to use it. When I asked them to give me the spike back, they said it had been misplaced and they’d let me know when it turned up. That was two weeks ago.”
I didn’t know how accurate his version of events were, but I found it all very easy to believe. Having the only silver hammer in the city was obviously very lucrative, and there was no advantage to them in handing out another one. And it wasn’t like Kizwat had any connections or influence with anyone of note.
“But you can change their minds, Col-een. At least make them give back the spike. If you can heal me like you say, I can take it to one of the other cities and start over.”
It seemed unnecessarily cruel to not give him the spike back after they’d fucked up his arm. It wasn’t like they could do anything with it. But I could also see it as a sensible precaution. Why give it back when you could keep it and make sure it never posed a problem again?
“Hey,” said Maurice excitedly. “Are we going to break into the guild, slip past all the guards and security measures, find the spike and get out of there without them even realising they’ve been robbed?”
“No,” I said. “We aren’t.”
Everyone seemed disappointed. Fucking idiots.
“Do you guys even remember the group philosophy that’s allowed us to survive this long?”
“Expect the worst, hope for a blowjob.” They said it together in perfect unison like they’d been practising. They also said it very loudly, which drew a few funny looks.
“No. That’s my personal philosophy. You lot don’t need to think like that because you have blowjobs galore whenever you want them.” I tried not to sound bitter, but it was hard. “The group philosophy is to avoid trouble at all costs, and this—” I pointed at Kizwat “—is trouble.”
It was a bit harsh dismissing Kizwat’s desire for revenge and retribution out of hand like that, but when it came to avoiding trouble, you had to be firm in your absolute refusal to do the right thing.
“I’m sorry, Kizwat, but this isn’t a fight we can win. They have too much of an advantage and no one cares if some kid from the sticks got scammed.”
Kizwat banged the table with his one good fist. “It isn’t fair. It just isn’t.”
“No, it isn’t. But what is? At least you’ll have your arm back.”
I had no intention of getting involved with whatever dispute Kizwat had gotten himself into, but I had no problem fixing his arm and sending him back to Probet, as long as it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.
“Come to our inn tomorrow morning and Claire will start working on sorting out your arm.”
“Me?” said Claire.
“She has experience with deep tissue massage. She may not look it, but she has the hand strength of a forty-year-old welder.”
But Kizwat wasn’t listening to me. He was staring across the room with a grim expression on his face.
“What is it?” I looked over to see what had taken hold of his attention.
A rotund man with chubby cheeks and an impressively terrible comb-over was going around shaking hands and sharing jokes with the clientele. He was in Dargot military uniform.
“It’s him,” said Kizwat. “He’s the one who got me drunk that day. Wanted me to join the army.”
Whether he was part of the conspiracy against Kizwat or not, if the army was involved I wanted even less to do with this business. Kizwat looked like he was ready to launch himself at the guy.
“Kizwat!” I snapped at him to get his attention. “First get your arm healed. Go get some rest now. It’s going to be a painful process. Tomorrow morning, don’t be late.”
Reluctantly Kizwat nodded and then left. He kept his head down and skirted around the room. Once he had his arm back, I wasn’t sure he’d be so meek. Maybe it would be better not to help him.
“People round here aren’t very nice,” said Flossie. “Poor guy.”
“People are people,” I said. “Their location has little to do with it. If he hadn’t got himself drunk, he’d never have been done over like that.” I gave them all a hard glare. They all looked elsewhere.
“Why did you tell him I would do it?” asked Claire.
“I don’t want him to know we’re using magic. You’re magic’s weak enough that if you do it while massaging his arm and you’re subtle about it, he’ll be none the wiser. Plus, it’ll give you someone to practise on. Throw in some Eastern medicine waffle, Reiki and all that bullshit, if he gets suspicious.”
“Actually,” said Maurice, “it isn’t bullshit. Clinical trials have shown—”
“Perfect. Keep him distracted with exactly that kind of nonsense. If he falls asleep from boredom, even better.”
“It isn’t boring, it’s very interesting,” Maurice mumbled to himself.
A shadow fell over us and I looked up to see the round, jolly face of the man Kizwat had blamed for the drunken stupor that had cost him his arm.
“Greetings, friends” he boomed. “You look new to the city. Allow me to introduce myself. Corporal Ween. Folks around here call me Crunchy, but that’s a story for another time—it involves an accident with my underpants when I were a boy, ‘nuff said. Tell me, have you considered joining up with the brave men of the Dargot Armed Forces and protecting this great city from the tyranny of monsterdom?”
“Yes,” I said. “We have. Thanks for stopping by.”
“But have you considered the personal benefits?” he continued. “Free meals. Smart uniforms. The latest weapons. And all the friendship and camaraderie you can handle. Let me buy you all a drink and I can tell you more about it.”
“We don’t drink,” I said. “It’s against our religion. We’re Mormons. Our God, Almighty Oprah, expressly prohibits all beverages stronger than lemon squash.” I crossed myself.
“In nomine patris et filii, Ellen Degeneres. Amen.”
“Amen,” the others all echoed.
“Go in peace,” I said with a strong hint of piss off.
He wasn’t one to take a hint very easily. He leaned down. “And of course, there are the three wagons full of whores that follow the army to every battle. Best looking tarts this side of the border.” He waggled his eyebrows.
Claire stood up. Not good.
“What about me?” she said.
Corporal Crunchy stepped back and looked her over. He didn’t seem terribly impressed. “Well, I don’t know if they’re looking for more whores, but I can put in a good word for you.”
Surprisingly, Claire didn’t lose her cool. “No, I mean as a fighter. I have skills. What I like to do is take a man’s cock in my hand like this.” She grabbed an imaginary member in her left hand and started moving her hand up and down. “Once I get it nice and stiff, I take my dagger—” she took a dagger from her belt with the other hand “—and place the tip right in the eye of the penis.”
She held the dagger over the invisible penis with the tip of the blade poking the area at the top. There was nothing there, of course, but every man in the room could see it very clearly.
“And then I plunge it!” Her dagger dived into the encircled fingers of her left hand.
There was a collective flinch and wince.
“I could even teach the whores. They’d be even more useful then, wouldn’t they? And I have plenty of daggers.” She started to pull out blades and knives, stabbing them into the tabletop one after the other.
“No, no, that’s fine,” said the horrified corporal as he backed away. “I’ll get back to you.”
Claire sat down and began pulling the daggers out of the table. There were eight, and I’m not sure she didn’t have a few more on her. Once, I had warned her about protecting herself from dodgy men. Message received, it would seem.
“Probably best not to ask for a handjob tonight,” I said to Maurice out of the side of my mouth.
“Wasn’t planning to,” replied Maurice in the same fashion. “Ever again.”
There was a distinctly uncomfortable atmosphere in the room after Claire’s demonstration of her ‘skills’. The man behind the bar had a word with one of his staff who ran out with a lute in his hand. He went over to the corner of the room and started plucking away on it while humming along.
This did help soften the mood as some of the men hummed along and clapped a beat. Flossie’s eyes began to sparkle. She slowly rose to her feet and edged her way out of the booth.
I looked at the others. “Where’s she going?”
“I’m not going to kill anyone, Kizwat,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear. “Let’s go.”