Fantasy Fiction posted May 23, 2022 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4... 


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The Companions discuss next moves

A chapter in the book A Penny for you Fought

Rattling Cages

by Fleedleflump




Background
The Companions, a group of misfit mercenaries in the town of Pennylast, has been contracted by the local watch to find the killers of a poor family killed with supernatural means.
"Ye gots te understand, lass - the union's there te help the workin' folk. They gots te be hard bastards so they kin stand up ta management." Harry was not pleased with how I'd left the last meeting, and was taking every opportunity to let me know it.

We'd left the union headquarters behind and found a nearby street vendor selling hot drinks. Compared to Carman Dennis' tisane, they tasted like river water from near the sewage outlets, but at least they could be described as 'wet' while we discussed our next moves.

Lindon snorted. "It looks to me like a protection racket. Pay your dues and bad things won't happen to you. And dare to hire a carman not in the union? Suddenly, your trade dries up. Nasty business."

"Ye daft elven git! It's about fairness and equality."

Smiff sniffed. "They're out to make a profit, just like everyone else. Got to admire anyone who makes themselves a new industry then makes it compulsory. Good business."

Harry looked ready to explode, his cheeks turning ruby red, so I held a hand up and looked around to make sure I had everyone's attention. "Okay, bored of this conversation. Terence, do you have anything to say on the subject?"

"Don't need union," said the barbarian after a few moments' thought, taking a break from smelling his finger suspiciously. "Got Companions."

"Good, now that's sorted." I put hands on hips and looked round my ragtag band of guys. "Our job is to find who killed the Millers and take them down. If there's one thing I took from the crime scene, it's that the killers had fun with it. They had flair and imagination and they took their time." I pointed back the way we'd come from. "Dennis was about as trustworthy as a marshmallow drawbridge and definitely, without doubt, a dick. But he didn't take part. He told us why it happened, but not who did it."

"Awright, boss," said Smiff. "What's the plan?"

"Let's say Dennis is right and the Millers were killed because they agreed to sell up. Their neighbours on Belly Row make paupers look like high-rollers, and if any of them could do magic, they wouldn't be living there. The killer had some seriously gnarly magic skills and wasn't afraid of using them. Someone like that doesn't come cheap." I felt a small shudder run through me. "That means, the murders were bankrolled, and not by anyone backing the regeneration scheme."

Lindon took a slurp from his cup and winced. "If I tried anything like that, I'd explode from every orifice before the first arrow struck. I can barely hold it together just doing some light astral projection." Harry and I shared a look, remembering why we always carried nose-appropriate pegs in our carry sacks. "Violent magic like that doesn't go unnoticed. The local Gnomes must have felt it."

I felt my stomach heave. "Maybe it'll come to that, but let's leave the Gnomes as a last resort, please. I can't take that level of cuteness." I gestured at Lindon. "Alright, my wizardy Elf, let's focus on the carmen again for a moment. What did you pick up during the conversation?"

"He wees spying?" Harry was turning an even brighter colour. "Ye canne dee that."

Terence downed his drink in one gulp, apparently oblivious to the steam billowing from his mouth and nostrils. "Elf should spy on me, too. Have some good thoughts."

Harry folded his arms. "Uh wager ye ne'er think much beyond food and yer wee groin, lad."

I snapped my fingers to quiet them. "Lindon?"

"Dennis was frightened, but it's hard to say what about. He only believed around half of what he was saying, but that's average for most people."

"What about the two guys with him?"

Lindon shrugged. "Dimmer than a dry lamp in a brothel. They barely had thoughts - ideal bodyguards, really." He shifted uncomfortably. "There, err, is one more thing." I stared at him until he was uncomfortable enough to continue. "When you threatened Dennis - especially at the end - he got ... well, excited."

"What kind of excited?" Smiff sounded angry. Sweet.

"Let's just say it's a good thing he didn't stand up to shake our hands. He likes you, Roz - especially when you're sassy. If we have to talk to him again, that might help."

I nodded. "Okay, Smiff. Put your Watch hat back on. What's our next move?"

"Well, we've spoken to the dossers." He pointed at the floor, then turned his hand to the sky. "Now it's time to rattle some ponce cages."

"Does ye like anyone, lad?" muttered Harry.

"All of 'em and none of 'em, me old Dwarf mucker. Once you get it that they're all just out for 'emselves one way or another, you see there ain't much difference. The world's one giant shitter and everyone - posh or poor - dumps in it."

"Ach, ye's a misanthrope."

"Oi, I ain't no pervert, Dwarf."

I snapped my fingers again. "Specifically, which cages do you propose rattling?"

"Sorry, boss. We need to talk to the surveyors - pacifically the survey wizards, since they're at the sharp end. Also, if you can get 'em to lower their noses long enough to see you, you need to talk to the town planners."

I pinched the bridge of my nose. "You know, I miss the days when we could solve a problem with a sarcastic comment and a few well-placed punches. All this talking to people makes me paranoid. How do you guys do it - listen to people all the time, trying to decide who's telling the truth and who has something to hide?"

Smiff smiled. "It don't take too long before you realise. Everyone's got something to hide, and no one tells the truth, even when they fink they are. Listen, I can deal with the posh sods if you got some less ... watch-friendly folks to talk to."

An idea blossomed in my head like a moth from a chrysalis ... or a maggot from an apple. Which of those was more appropriate really depended on whether it turned out to be a good idea.

"Okay," I said. "Smiff, you know who to talk to, so you go do it. Take Lindon to do sneaky wizardy stuff and Harry in case anyone's kneecaps need molesting."

"Oi!"

"I'm taking Terence to visit some old acquaintances."

"Uh kin protect ye, lass, just as weel."

I smiled at the Dwarf. "I know you can, old friend. But this time, I need intimidation, and Terence's left tit is scarier than the rest of us put together."

I turned back to the group. "Let's reconvene at the Dragon's Tail when we're done. You two," I indicated Harry and Lindon. "Let Smiff lead on the questioning, but plans of action are down to Harry ... Unless he decides you're all joining a picket line, in which case you have my permission to clonk him on the head." Satisfied I'd irritated all three of them, I waved to Terence to follow, and headed for a meeting I really wasn't looking forward to.




Many thanks for reading. Chapters 1 and 2 will still be promoted if you're quick and want to get caught up :-).

Characters

The Companions - A group of mercenaries who take odd jobs for cash. Used to be the wrong side of the law and now aren't so sure.

Rozlyn - Leader of The Companions. Sarcastic and doesn't take crap.

Harry - Dwarven getaway carter (of old). Scottish accent. Only recently grew a beard. Been with Rozlyn the longest.

Lindon - Elven wizard, kind of useless, often randy.

Terence - Huge barbarian. Generally oblivious. Handy in a barny.

Smiff - Cockney Watch Deputy. We don't trust him yet.
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