So it went, for another two days until they came to the town of Wikkersak, in classic freehold style it was a mishmash of Tannican, Elquin and Freeholds architecture built and rebuilt over many hundred or maybe thousands of years. It straddled the road and its walls, also of various ages and cultural influences, rambled north and south from one tower or keep to another.
Tipper was set to walk around it but Mokha pointed out that the town was a sprawled irregular arrangement of older, smaller villages that had grown into each other over the centuries. Walking around would add a dozen yat or so to the trip and he would not mind a short stop for a real meal at one of the establishments along the main road. Adwin also wanted to enter the town and was even so bold as to suggest they could meet her on the other side if she really did not want to walk through.
She begrudgingly agreed that a proper meal might be a good idea, “But no wondering off, I’d like to be moving past by early afternoon.”
They walked through the open gate into the stink of the town and while the other two scrunched up their noses at the smell, Mokha took a deep breath and sighed, “Ah, the lovely smell of civilization.”
There were a couple of guards nearby talking to some young women, they hardly paid the trio of travellers a second glance. Adwin was looking around trying to see everything at once while Tipper’s gaze was more calculating, appraising possible dangers. Mokha lead them down the main road, past animal pens and a slaughter house. After a few hundred paces the buildings were closer together and were typically some sort of enterprise with a workshop on the lower level and residences in the back or above. Most of the buildings were one or two stories with the occasional exception of a third level or an older Elquin building with a tall tower at one end.
Closer to the center of the town there were more people on the streets, nothing that Mokha would consider busy or crowded, but he noted Tipper was increasingly uncomfortable while Adwin was having difficulties nodding and saying hello to all the folks he was passing. Up ahead Mokha could see his intended destination. The Maidens Reprieve, was a newer three story tavern with a walled yard surrounded by a collection of smaller sheds, a wagon house and stables.
Mokha pointed out the alchemist’s shop across the way, “Liptalon’s Magic Elixirs, great alchemist, nice shop. I might want to take a quick peek in and say hello before we leave.”
“We are not shopping.” Tipper said, the busy street had her on edge, there was too much activity to keep track of it all. Mokha almost told her that she needed to be looking for the things that were out of place, but then he wondered if she’d ever been in a town before. Her distaste could be fear. What an odd person.
As the trio entered the yard along the flagstone walkway and loud voice declared, “Its him! Someone get Dannos. You there, stop!” Mokha looked around to see what was going on. A couple of rough looking lads came off the porch and moved towards them.
Mokha recognized one of the locals. Tipper stepped away from him and them, hand dropping to her hatchet. Adwin looked around confused. The one who had shouted stopped a pace from Mokha, he was carrying a cudgel, pointed it at Mokha and declared. “You have a lot of nerve coming back here thief. Now return what you took.” He thumped the cudgel against Mokha’s chest.
“Excuse me?” Mokha was confused, he looked to the fellow he recognized, “There seems to be some sort of misunderstanding. Perhaps we could talk about this.”
Another thump of the cudgel hit his chest, Tipper stepped another pace back and Adwin was looking at him, worried. A couple more thugs came through the gate behind them and two more came out of the building. Many of the locals were stopping their activity in the streets and the yard to see what the hubbub was about.
The cudgel fellow turned briefly to speak to the two that had emerged from the tavern, “Can you believe this guy. Gods cursed Tannican thinks he can get away with stealing from us and come waltzing in a couple of eight-days later like we’re all pals.” The cudgel thumped into Mokha’s chest again.
Then, something surprising happened. Adwin smashed the mans arm with his staff, the cudgel dropped to the ground and the man wielding it staggered away clutching his arm. Then Adwin smacked the other lad, the one Mokha was hoping would recognize him, upside the head. It dropped the poor fellow who lay on the ground clutching his head in both hands. Adwin pushed Mokha towards Tipper, who seemed caught off guard though she managed to grab Mokha as he stumbled into her.
Adwin had everyone’s attention, staff held ready, “I don’t know who you folk are, but this is not the man you think. I can attest that he was nowhere near here within the last few eight-days.”
One of the men, the most recent to step onto the porch walked down the short stairs and started rolling up his sleeves. He was a big fellow and a short sword hung from his belt. He rolled his shoulders and tilted his head from one side then to the next. The fellow on the ground groaned and started to crawl towards his companions. Other locals were gathering, all seemingly interested in how this would play out, no one was shouting for the guards.
Tipper made sure Mokha had his balance and hissed at Adwin, “What are you doing?”
The big fellow looked at Adwin, “Might be that fellow’s name isn’t Shak, in fact I’m pretty sure its not. Likely, he’s Shak’s companion from a couple months back though and that means he owes us for what his friend took. Now you’ve gone a roughed up a couple of my crew and that means you owe us as well.”
Tipper pushed Mokha further back towards a corner of the property wall, stepping in front of him. “Adwin, this is a bad idea.”
“I’m not letting a gang of thugs beat him for something he didn’t do.” Adwin was now cautiously backing towards her, aware that he was facing multiple people from at least two flanks. A couple more of the locals came through the gate, one of them had a hammer in hand and the street crowd sounded angry.
The big guy laughed, “You messed with the wrong people kid. But I’ll give you one more chance. Give us the Tannican and you and your girl get out of town.”
“Not happening.” He was off the walkway now, Tipper and Mokha three paces behind him. When the big guy put a hand on the pommel of his sword and moved toward them, Adwin took a lunging step forward and thrust his staff into the man’s midsection, just below the ribs. The big guy staggered back gasping and then Adwin tuned to the other two. “Run!”
The property wall was short enough that Tipper jumped up onto it with ease, the locals beyond backed away with shocked exclamations. She dragged Mokha up and over and together they dropped to the ground. “Careful of my lute!”
Adwin rolled over the wall a moment later, his water skin launcher off his pack and landed somewhere in the crowd of locals that had gathered in the street. The trio took off at a run down one of the side streets. Shouts of anger followed, “Get them!”, “Someone get the guard.”, “What’s going on!”
Mokha was soon trailing the other two, he dropped his bedroll and Shak’s cloak, took a better grip on his lute and after a quick glance behind ran faster. At least a dozen people were giving chase, the big guy with the sword leading the pack. Tipper turned down a winding alleyway encouraging them to move with haste.
The alley was a clutter of mess and debris, it forked after a dozen paces or so and the trio ran down the right branch, then ducked into a door and ran through a weaver’s shop out onto another street. Tipper slowed them when there was no sign of pursuit and the trio attempted a casual walk across the street to another alleyway. A distant bell started ringing, rich toned with a pleasant reverberation. They quickened their pace and once into the alley broke into a run again, descending a narrow stair.
“Do you know the way out?”
“Not trying to get out.”
“We need to loose them first.”
“We should run for the gate.”
“No, it’ll be closed before we get there.”
Mokha saved his breath for running. He had nothing to add anyway.
More bells were ringing across the town, not in any sort of uniformity and it quickly became noise. The town would be looking for trouble makers. The trio stopped after turning into a small sunless yard to the left of the alleyway. Mokha was breathing hard, the other two seemed alright, though the look Tipper gave him and then Adwin was full of malice. At least they seemed to have lost the immediate pursuit.
Tipper took her gear off and bundled it into the driest corner of the yard, she fished some clothing from her pack and then took off her armour, binder and under padding. Mokha admired her strong body and Adwin scratched at one of his ears looking confused. After changing, she belted on her knife and hatchet and pulled her tunic down over them. She combed her hair out with her fingers and put it into a pony tale.
Again she cast a withering glance at the two of them, “I’m going to see about getting us out of town. You two stay put, stay quiet and stay out of sight.” She lifted her skirts to avoid the filth of the alley and walked away.
Mokha looked to Adwin who was looking at him. After a moment the two of them grinned. Adwin shrugged and Mokha thanked him. They exchanged an awkward hug then settled down to wait.