He lifted the next bale of cotton and piled it on top of the two other bales. Looking behind him now he saw that was the last one that needed to be stacked. “Boss, I’m out of cotton what’s next.” “Damn it, boy that was supposed to take all day.” “What? You want me to put them back?” He never knew with the boss there were days where it felt like that is all he did move things from there to here, then over there, then back again to the first spot. “No, I don’t want you to move them back, hold on, let me see what else needs to be moved or stacked. Take a break, get something to eat or something.”
He walked down to the Mortar and Pestle and found a couple of crates across the street, sat down, and got out his book. He didn’t like to let people know that he could read, they always seemed to want to make fun of him for having a book. Like he couldn’t read and he was looking at the pictures. That was stupid since the book didn’t have any pictures but still he didn’t like to be teased. People saw what they wanted to see; a 6’4” tall youth, not a boy but not a man yet either. Corded strength in his arms, legs, back, even his neck. He looked like someone that could bench press a wagon so there was not supposed to be any intelligence behind his eyes. He left them blank whenever possible as to not waylay those thoughts.
Sitting in his accustomed break spot he watched as Aimee made her movements through the restaurant. The Pestle wasn’t the best or the worst restaurant down by the docks but it was one of the most popular. It was clean, the food prices were reasonable, and the food tasted good. There was always talk about how sailors and fisherman wanted to go off and get drunk and forget their lives. That wasn’t always the case, sometimes they wanted to go somewhere and have a reminder of home or why they were sailing in the first place. They sailed for pay to send home to their families and the food at the Pestle reminded them that there were decent people in the world and that the food might not taste the way ‘mom made it’ but it had the feeling that it was the way someone’s mom made it and that was enough.
Watching Aimee from his perch he was pretty sure they were of about the same age. Not that it made a lot of difference, not really. It wasn’t like he was going to go up and talk to her anytime soon. He might look big, tough, a little scary but he was pretty much like most other eighteen-year-old youths when it came to women or girls, females really, he was scared of his own shadow. Something might happen like she might talk to him or might not talk to him or laugh at him or laugh with him there were far too many chances in all of that.
Darla looked up from where she had just sat a man and a woman whom she was confident were someone else’s husband and wife. Looking up and out of the Pestle she spied him again on the crates across the way. Maneuvering through the tables she came up and behind Aimee “Your boyfriends back I see.” With an exasperated sigh “How many times do I have to tell you I don’t have a…” Turning to see who it was Darla was going to be teasing her about now she stopped “Oh, him” Shaking her head and her blonde hair in a ponytail carefully did not slap anyone in the face. “I do not have a boyfriend, you know how my parents are Darla.” Nodding as he cleared away a set of plates. “I do know how my aunt and uncle are and that doesn’t mean I would not want him as my boyfriend. I mean just look at him, he’s GORGEOUS and all those muscles…” Darla sighed a bit “If he liked me I know he would be some stupid woman beater that had bad breath and kissed like a guppy or something. Since he likes you, he probably is a Prince hiding out from an Evil Minister or Wizard or something.” Aimee shrugged a little but that didn’t stop her from watching him “He doesn’t talk to me, I don’t talk to him, that isn’t that much of a relationship.” Darla thought about that a moment and went to take another order.
Watching as Tam pounded the next nail into the horseshoe he finally worked up his courage to ask. “Tam?” He started without much of a preamble but he also knew that he could have asked why the gods didn’t like the color pink and it would make as much of a difference. Letting go of horse’s hoof Tam looked up “Oh I can see by the expression on your face this is going to be good.” Tam had a deeper voice, and it sounded much more cultured than most people expected from an apprentice farrier. Tam had been the one that had taught him to read, got him books when he ran out, and probably shouldn’t be an apprentice farrier, perhaps a student at the Collegium or maybe even a Wizard’s Guild Adept.
Shaking his head “No, well maybe, I have been thinking.” “Yeah like that is going to bode well for either one of us.” Rolling his eyes “Would you please let me finish, this is hard enough.” Tam nodded, smiling “I am sorry, yes, do indeed go on, I can hardly wait.” Nodding, clearing his throat “Well, how do you talk to girls?”
Out of all the things that Tam had expected to be asked that was way down on the bottom of things he expected. Looking at his friend he saw what a lot of people saw. A tall, big guy, his blue eyes were a bit more intelligent looking at the moment than the usual slightly vapid look they could get. Nonetheless he was a good-looking guy and the thought that he would have a problem speaking to women never really entered Tam’s mind.
“Before I answer that, let me ask you a question. Are you a virgin?” There was a sound of sputtering and a “uhm, well, I don’t think that is any of your, well, yeah, OK, yes I am.” Tam nodded “well that is at least a good an honest answer and I appreciate that. It also tells me the best place for you to start. You listening?” Tam waited to hear something or at least a nod “Good, it is always good to start with Hello, then you ask how she is, if she is having a good day, compliment her, say something nice about a ribbon in her hair, or a dress she has on, or even her shoes. Women like that and I can’t imagine girls are any different.” Taking a deep breath, he got up and armed with his newfound knowledge decided that today, TODAY was going to be the day he spoke to Aimee.
Taking a deep, deep breath he walked over to the Mortar and Pestle walking right by where he would normally sit on one of the crates. Darla looked up and her mouth made that same type of shape that a fish would make that O look. Walking up to him she asked, “Table for one, two, five?” Clearing his throat, “Just one but I would like to be seated in Aimee’s section.” ‘Well he can walk and talk that is a good thing, doesn’t sound stupid, and he put a sentence together.’ “Right this way sir, I will make sure to seat you in Aimee’s section.”
Aimee was in the back folding some of the tablecloths that had been used last night and she found it boring but her section didn’t open for about another thirty minutes. Humming but still bored she looked up as Darla was making a beeline for her. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon you have a customer in your section.” Aimee shook her head in the negative “No, I don’t, I don’t start yet and I am not going to let Draeger decide I am going to start early and not pay me for it.” Darla took a hold of Aimee’s left arm and started pulling her. “Believe me you are going to want to serve this patron, now, c’mon.” Aimee reluctantly got up and went to at least see who it was that Darla thought she was going to want to serve.
Stopping himself from rising when he spied Aimee being pushed out from behind a half wall made him wonder for a moment if she didn’t want to see him. He then reminded himself of what Tam had also said “Most of the time they are as afraid of you as you are of them so pretend that you aren’t and see what happens.” Nodding he told himself that a couple of times.
Aimee made her way towards the man at her section and as she got closer, she did get a bit more afraid. He was big if not huge. His arms were the size of one of her legs and in much better shape even with all the walking she did in the Pestle. Clearing her throat and trying to smile. “Do you want to hear the specials?” Nodding his head “Yes, that would be great.” Aimee went through the specials and he picked the stew, she nodded and headed off to fill his order wondering what else it was he wanted.
He watched Aimee leave, and he started to yell at himself a bit, why didn’t he ask her to sit down, ask her what her name was, compliment her hair bow or her shoes? He promised himself to do better when she got back with his food.
Darla stopped Aimee as she headed into the kitchen to get the order filled. “Well, what did he say?” “What did you expect him to say? I gave him the specials, and he ordered one.” Darla had to stop herself from kicking Aimee in the shins. “He is interested in you, you aren’t on shift yet, get a bowl of stew or something and go sit with him, see what he is like. He is good looking and if you don’t do something I will.” Aimee looked at her friend “You, you wouldn’t.” “Watch me” With that threat hanging over her Aimee took an apple and some cheese along with a small knife and put it all on a tray along with the food ordered and beer tankard. Steeling herself “Here goes.” And made her way back to the table.
This time he did stand when Aimee came back and that made Aimee blush. “You don’t have to do that… would you mind if I joined you? I don’t start working for a bit and I should get something to eat.” She put the tray down and served the two of them. As he sat down, he waved his hand towards the chair across from him and she took that to mean she could sit with him. It was no different, not really, then sitting with her father or something if he came in before her work started. Or at least that is what she told herself.
Looking at him she started talking first, “I’m Aimee by the way, I don’t think we have been introduced.” “Oh, yeah, I mean I’m Rek, it is short for Derek but for the most part a lot of people call me Mule.” She giggled “I’m sorry but you don’t look like a mule, I mean not at all.” He blushed at that and Aimee found that to be endearing if not cute. Too many men that came in here thought they were the gods gift to women and it was nice to see that he wasn’t one of them.
Rek was finding that this talking to women thing was a lot simpler than he thought that it was going to be. She said something, he replied to her, then he said something, and she spoke back to him. Tam was right this wasn’t anything like casting a spell which he couldn’t do, but he could talk to women, well he could talk to Aimee at any rate.
Darla went by the table of the two a couple of times and on one side she was disappointed that they were not kissing and fondling like, like, well how she would have been. Though on the other hand it was nice to see that Aimee looked to be happy. Darla cleared some plates and realized that for the longest time she had thought Aimee was happy, but seeing her laugh, giggle, smile, her face aglow, that she really hadn’t been and at this moment she was. Sighing, Darla knew it wouldn’t last, something would come and break it, something always did have it in for happy.
Giggling “Alright Mule," More giggles. “I will see you back here at 10 tonight when I am done with work.” Mule nodded “I will walk you home and we are going to decide about maybe doing a picnic? I don’t think I have ever been on one before so you will have to let me know how to prepare.” Nodding, still giggling “Your job will be to get a clean blanket that we can sit on and put food on so nothing covered in horse hair and pick a spot that is grassy and under a tree. To my knowledge most picnics are done outside the walls so you might give that some consideration.” Nodding “I will ask Tam, he probably knows all about picnics and the best place to have one.” On her tiptoes, she gave him a very chaste kiss on his right cheek. “Thank you, I can’t remember when I have had a better time talking to someone.” Mule was in a daze until he got back to Tam at the farriers and even after that his mind wasn’t fully on his work.
The next morning when Mule woke up he was smiling and whistling which seemed to annoy the heck out of Tam who was holding his head and muttering dark words about those that whistle and other people that make grog. Tam had gone out the night before, in fact he had not been home when Mule got there, and had too much to drink and now his head was paying for it. Mule was in the kitchen area banging iron skillets and pots and seeing, at least to Tam, to see if explosions could happen in Tam’s head. “Would you be quiet, I’m trying to die over here.”
Mule tried to stop being happy, but it was just not happening. “Did you find a place for a picnic for me? I made sure to get a clean blanket, I think this picnic place is a bit important. I told you that I’ve never been on a picnic before, right? You’ll pick a good one?” Tam was pretty sure that there was a knife around here somewhere that he could use to stab Mule in the eye with just to get him to shut up. “If you promise to stop talking, make me some tea, continue to stop talking, I will tell you after I throw up and then shower what it is that I think you should do.”
About an hour later after Tam had indeed thrown up and then showered, drank two pots of tea, he was pretty much back to being human again. It was hard for Mule to wait that long but he did have patience so he used all that he had to not pester the man while he was recuperating from his over indulgence the night before.
Tam looked at Mule and realized that he had it bad for this girl Aimee. That wasn’t a bad thing as long as the girl wasn’t in it for Mule’s money. Not that he had a lot but there were times that one silver piece could look like a million gold pieces under the right or wrong circumstances. He didn’t think that was the case, but he decided that he would look a little bit into this young lady, to protect his friend.
“You remember Whiff and Dirt?” Mule had to think for a moment the words were familiar but he wasn’t placing faces to them. “The gnome and the druid?” Mule then nodded “Oh, yeah, they were your friends back when you would go off and have wild adventures which usually meant you went camping, ate really bad food, got sick, and then came back to town claiming it was all a grand thing.” Tam nodded “Yes, those guys. Well we came up with something for your picnic that is a bit, well special. It will cost you though, but nothing you can’t afford.
Mule thought about this for a moment, Tam was what a lot of people called a ‘Wheeler Dealer,". Mule never really knew what this meant because he never saw Tam once make a deal on a wheel or even an axel or a wagon, but the name stuck. “Fine, what is the deal?” “Well there are two deals, actually. They will do this picnic thing for one gold piece, flat out. Or, they will do it for three silver pieces and you owe them a favor that you can’t say no to. I did get the agreement that it would not be anything illegal in any state, city, or country because I knew you would want to know that. I also knew that you were good about money and you could afford one gold piece but the three silvers also sounded good and that they might forget totally about the favor and never call it in and you would have saved all that money.” Tam watched to see what Mule thought about it. Mule wasn’t slow, but he never rushed into a decision when it concerned money or a few other things too.
“What are those two idiots going to do? I should probably know what it is I’m getting into before I sign off on anything.” Tam sighed a little ‘Why can’t you just say yes or no? Why does it have to become something?’ He didn’t say that of course, no matter how much he wanted too, “Why don’t we go ask them?”
Walking into ‘The Shield’ was like walking into an open beer mug. The place smelled like two-day-old beer even with all the windows open. Tam pointed and Mule saw the two in the back. Heading back that way Mule felt his boots stick to the floor and made that squeaky noise that proved that his feet were sticking too. Looking down at their table Mule shook his head “Let’s go outside I am not sitting down at a table in the place.”
Going out the back door they were not the only other ones that had decided to move outside. Whiff and Dirt had come along with them bringing their beer mugs and a half empty pitcher of beer. Tam turned a bit after pulling two benches a bit closer together under a sycamore tree. “Tell him, tell him what you thought of that might work.”
The gnome started “Well as you know I am a master of the magical arts of misdirection.” Tam said under his breath “That is illusionist to the rest of us” “I will have you know I am considered a Mage-Illusionist thank you very much, Mage Illusionist Arkon Whiffledorm.” Tam tried not to roll his eyes and failed miserably. “Or Whiff for short, which being a gnome he is. My boon companion Credence Dirtside”, Tam again interjected “Or Dirt for short.” Whiff started to look a little annoyed at this point with the interruptions “Are you quite done? I am the one telling the tale here.” Tam raised his left hand in surrender.
“Thank you, yes Dirt and I will be completing this magical task for you. We will be turning a rooftop, of your choosing, into a perfect picnic paradise.” Waving his right hand in some sort of ritual passage a small magical diorama took shape. “It will have a small pond, a babbling brook, a small animal or two, pleasant flower smells and a twilight feel to the whole thing. All in all, a perfect paradise for the rendezvous with your young lady friend and she will be stunningly surprised. What do you think?”
Mule looked between the two, Whiff and Dirt. Whiff was a gnome and did indeed have the badge that went with his tale telling, he was Guild registered. He was also dressed as oddly as a gnome could be. Boots that came up to his knees, pants tucked into the tops of the boots and then a bit of leather that came over the knees of both boots. A white shirt that had big poofy sleeves and a leather vest and then a leather jacket over all of that. The hat was the one thing that seriously set him apart from pretty much every other know Mule had ever seen. It had a wide brim that was turned up on the right side and a huge pink feather in the brim with five other feathers around it. He looked more like a bard then a mage of any account. For some reason, it suited him.
Dirt was a half-orc which made it a bit odd that he was also a druid but someone had to be and why not let it be Dirt. Wearing sandals, a dirt stained robe, no hat, he did carry a walking stick, and it was of some wood but it could be anyone’s case what the wood was made from. He favored the orc side of his parentage then whatever else he might have had as one of the other parents. He didn’t speak much, but that didn’t seem to matter to Whiff or to him. The two of them got along and that did seem to be the only thing that mattered.
“I can have all of that for three silver pieces and some favor to be determined later or I can pay you a gold piece up front?” Whiff nodded to Mule “That is the deal as well as whatever we ask you to do that the act cannot be considered illegal.” Mule nodded “I will take the three-silver piece option then, I am not made of coin after all.”
That night Mule was waiting outside the Mortar and Pestle for Aimee to get done with work so he could walk her home. He got there about ten minutes early so he would not be late. Looking in the main doors he saw that except for the bar section the place seemed pretty quiet. Aimee was helping Darla with cleaning up the tables and smiling and speaking to the patrons that were still there. The Pestle wasn’t one of those late-night places but it did stay open till the Watch Tower rang the bells that signaled that it was the next day and that all was well. The bells started their tolling and Darla called out “That’s it folks we are closed. Everyone has paid so finish your pints and head on home.” People started to get up and make their way towards the doors and Darla good naturedly was shooing people out.
“That is right Earl it is time for you to go home and no I am not coming home with you, your wife would bonk one of us on the head with her broom.” There was more good natured teasing as the place emptied out. Except the table by the fireplace. There were five Nython soldiers sitting at that table and when Darla had started to call for people to leave, they stayed in their seats and seemed to ignore the directions.
In fact, one of them stood up and grabbed Darla around the waist. “C’mon honey that isn’t any way to treat a war hero, now is it?” Darla was used to patrons getting a little handsy so spinning away was not that much of a chore. “Oh, a war hero eh? Wait to be a war hero don’t you have to win the war first or at least a battle?” Aimee had come to see what was going on and why the doors weren’t locked yet when one of the other five grabbed her. She wasn’t as adept at pulling away, for the most part, and for whatever reason the male customers didn’t try to play games with her.
“Oh, what do we have here? A cute one, nice too. C’mere and give a soldier a kiss darlin.” “Get away from me you oaf, I am not kissing you or anyone else and do you ever brush your teeth?” Aimee was trying to get away or at least turn away. Things started to look bad at that moment as two more of the soldiers each stood up and started to help their friends with each of the wiggling and now screaming women as the women struggled to get away and the men were trying to pin them to a table each.
Mule had had enough at this point and started across the street to stop what was going on. There was no way a man, even soldiers were going to manhandle innocent women. That was one of the things the soldiers were supposed to be fighting for after all, protect the innocent, protect women and children and here was a group of them doing the opposite of protecting the innocent.
As Mule walked into the front door and the women were still struggling and trying to scream, it being a bit hard with a hand coming down over their mouths. The leader that had started this whole thing noticed that Mule had walked into the restaurant. “Whoa there big fellow, I mean seriously what did your parents feed you. This is an army meeting there is no need for a civilian to get involved. Turn around before I have to do something you will regret, being dead.”
There had been stories that Mule had heard about when someone got angry that they saw red, they lost all control, that they felt themselves leaving their bodies. That didn’t happen to him. He looked at what the soldiers were trying to do to the two women, the women’s clothing coming off or being pushed up, their cries and tears for help and things merely got cold. It was like things came much more into focus for Mule, he saw what needed to be done and he knew he was going to be the one to do it.
“I don’t think so Captain, I really don’t. Now you can let the women go and we will all forget about this or I will have to do something about it. One of the young ladies had promised to go on a picnic with me tomorrow, now while I do not know what a picnic is, it does sound like something I might like to do. If you continue with what you are doing I don’t think she will want to go on that picnic so you need to stop.”
The way that Mule saw it there was no reason to stop Aimee as well as Darla were in trouble and it didn’t look like anyone was coming out of the kitchen to help nor was anyone coming from the Watch to find out what was going on so it was going to be up to him. Taking a moment to look about for something he could use as a weapon he found a simple thing nearby. It was a sturdy wooden chair, it had been a bit sturdier until he picked it up and swung it at the stone fireplace and it broke into three good sized pieces. Picking up the biggest of the three pieces he looked at the man he had addressed as Captain “I am guessing we are going to dance now?”
“Look at that Leif the boy has got himself a truncheon.” The leader looked between the soldier holding one of Darla’s legs and then back to Mule. “I don’t think I am going to call him a boy, why don’t two of you hold on to our women there and the other two of you give me a hand.” One each of the men holding Aimee and Darla let them go after making sure that they were still being held onto firmly by the soldier left.
“Alright sonny, I think three against one are odds you aren’t going to want to take on. Why don’t you just leave now before someone gets hurt.” Mule nodded “Take your own advice, let the girls go and I will not need to hurt you.” Leif shook his head no “That isn’t going to work now and I think you know it.” Nodding his head “I thought so but I wanted to make sure that I gave you a chance before things got seriously out of hand.” With that Mule took a step forward and reached out to the number three soldier, he had been holding onto Aimee’s ankles and Mule had not liked how he had been moving his hand up and down the girl’s leg. Picking him up and off of his feet he threw him across the room, the man went through the window and out into the street with a loud crash. The other two stared at Mule for a moment. “They call me Mule it isn’t just because I’m stubborn.”
The two men drew their swords and spread out so Mule couldn’t do that to either one of them. Each started to make feints in and then back out to keep Mule off balance. Mule used the part of the chair he had to keep their swords from hitting him. He knew if one of them got a good cut on him he would be done for and then no one would be there to protect the girls.
Darla and Aimee knew that there was not going to be a lot that Mule could do either if they were going to be lying on the table with someone holding them. Aimee was scared, more scared than she had ever been before in her life but she had a shred of hope that Mule would be able to do something, anything, but she also knew that she was going to have to help if she could. Darla was angrier than scared her brother was in the army and her father had served and neither one of them would treat a woman this way. If they had even thought about it she knew that her mother, the old battle-axe would have at the very least boxed their ears in.
Starting to thrash from side to side, trying to get a hand free or a leg, something so she could fight off her attacker she felt that she was falling off the table onto the floor. “Yeeoooow” as she fell to the floor and felt the blow jar her as well as her attacker as she hit the ground hard. That gave Mule a small opening, his attacker on his right looked to see what was happening and he used that moment to use the chair leg and smash him over the head with it. The attacker went down, seeing stars for a second, his eyes rolling up and into the top of his head.
It wasn’t enough of a distraction though because in the instant that Mule smashed the soldiers head in the attacker on the left danced forward and pierced Mule on his left side. It wasn’t a fatal wound, but it bled pretty freely and it had him turning his body towards the other two making it harder for him to keep moving as quickly and now having to protect his wound.
Both women were now screaming as loud as they could and trying to fight off the men that held them. Darla’s attacker even though she had moved off the table had more or less jumped on top of her to hold her down. From the doorway “What is going on in here?” A loud and somewhat angry voice called out. That had Mule stop trying to hit Leif with his impromptu truncheon but he didn’t put it down as he panted hard, trying to catch his breath.
The man walking in did indeed have the uniform of a Nython soldier but he also had the markings of an officer, a Captain. “Soldier do you want to explain yourself here?” “I am not sure sir, I mean yes sir I want to explain I do not know exactly how to sir. This Citizen attacked us when we wouldn’t pay the price he was charging for his whores, sir.”
Aimee and Darla both started screaming again when they heard that they were being told they were prostitutes. “Sir” Darla spoke up first, mainly due to the fact that Aimee’s mouth was being covered again by her assailant. “We work here, servers, we are not women of the night or any other type of night. The soldiers came in and after they were told it was time to go they accosted us. Mule was trying to stop them from having their way with us or whatever they were planning on doing, probably kidnapping to boot.” At that moment Darla and then Aimee both tried to kick the soldiers closest to them.
“is this right Sgt. Leif? Did you attempt to turn these women out into the night?” Leif thought about this for a quick moment. “We might have been mistaken sir, it is possible, but that does not change the fact the women and this man both attempted bodily harm to the King’s Soldiers.” The captain nodded “Yes, I see that. Alright, let the women go and we will take this man outside and give him thirty lashes for attacking the King’s men. That should settle everything.”
Mule hadn’t said anything during all this interaction, partly because he was doing his best not to fall over from blood loss and that the conversation was going a bit quick for him to follow, he did though hear and understand the last part, he was going to be whipped. “I do not agree with that Captain, I did nothing except defend the honor of these women.”
From the doorway a man who seemed to just appear and was lounging against the door jamb nodded. “I have to agree with my man there Captain. You can’t go begin whipping a man for doing his moral duty. What type of precedent would that be setting?” The Nython captain turned and saw the man and grimaced. “Captain Dark, you cannot be telling me that this man is one of yours? Why is it that whenever there is an issue with someone you show up and suddenly he is a part of your Company?” “Just lucky I guess, we of the White Company take care of our own and I am not going to permit you to flog someone, a Company Man, and a man doing his duty to protect the innocent women of this town as any decent man would do, just not going to happen.”
Listening and his face going back and forth between the two captains, Mule wondered what it was he had gotten himself into. “I want to know how long has this man been a member of the White Company?” A slow, insolent shrug followed “You know us Captain, we are mercenaries we don’t keep that type of paperwork with us, but I can assure you that when you come to check on his papers, he will have been a member in good standing. Isn’t that right, Trooper?” Mule thought about this a minute, then nodded. “Yes Sir, Captain, it will be the truth I will be a member of the White Company.”