Jot wasn’t waiting around for nothing, he was going to get paid. The job hadn’t been easy after all, but who was he to complain? At least it had been a job. Honest? Not quite, but that wasn’t uncommon for a thief. Especially in a city where he and the rest of the gang had no network to pull tricks from. They were on their own for the first time since they were all too young to remember.
Being run out of the city had been a bit of a surprise, though. Jot had honestly expected the new King to simply kill all of Cath’s closest cohorts. Desie was there with him, somewhere in the backwater city, as was Monae; but he hadn’t seen either of the girls in at least a week. Time seemed to drag on and on, the heat oppressive and stifling. It was hard to breathe deep with the air so hot and thick.
At long last the merchant came back to the road-side counter to hand Jot a bag of coins. It was a lousy sum, but it beat starving and a semi honest bought meal would settle well in his gut.
“That should do ‘er, lad. I’ll send word if I find more work,” said the merchant, his jagged teeth waggling.
Jot did his best not to cringe. “I’d appreciate it, sir. Good day.” He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
The young thief’s first stop was the tavern, where a pint had his name on it. He’d carved it there himself. The barkeep had not been impressed, but the coins that Jot paid him on a daily basis was enough to soften the old coot’s heart to some bad manners.
The tavern, the Musty Wife, was a few lanes down and a couple doors to the right. Jot didn’t mind the walk, normally; but it was a lot less of a pleasant walk when he felt like he was swimming in his own sweat. Dust kicked up with every step and the dirt road gave no mercy to those traveling on it. The grim coated skin, clothes, and lungs, only to be rid of briefly after a bath.
When the Musty Wife was finally in sight, Jot sighed in relief and quickened his steps. So close to drinking the day away. It was the only thing that brought him joy in the backwaters of Raanan. Now and then he thought about his old life, two years or so ago, and then he drank until he forgot even his own name. Today was turning into one of those days. The Musty Wife had nothing on the Hobbled Hen, and Jot missed his home in the city dearly. The creaking door opened easily, giving way to the dark interior. There was little air flow, but at least it was cooler and out of the sun. Walking with a sure stride, Jot marched up to the counter and plopped his new earnings on the counter.
The barkeep turned at the noise and nodded in greeting before grabbing a mug and filling it to the brim. He took the bag when he set the pint down. “I’ll have dinner sent yer way, soon as my old lady gets it sorted.”
Jot paused with the mug halfway raised. “This isn’t mine.”
The barkeep rolled his eyes. “Bloody idiot, it was mine first. Some lass over yonder is using it, when she’s all finished up, I’ll sort you out. Be patient.”
“But that was mine.”
“Boo hoo. Scoot off.”
Clearly dismissed, Jot glowered and turned his gaze toward finding his pint. He almost missed the young woman who had commandeered his mug, had it not been for a familiar smirk playing on her lips. His world tumbled to a halt for a moment, until his ale was all over his boots and his new mug was rolling on the floor. At first she seemed like a ghost, a trick of his desperate eyes, but no matter how long he looked she stayed. He blinked and she was still there.
His King had returned.
The barkeep was cursing hard enough to crack stone at Jot, but he could hardly hear the lout. Suddenly the future didn’t seem so bleak. He was still struck dumb until someone took his arm in a warm and solid grip.
“Excuse my friend, good sir. You see, he has been working much too hard lately. We’ll cover his bill. Not to worry,” spoke a smooth warm voice. Jot didn’t look at his guide, he was still numb from seeing the King of Thieves in such a place; and not just in his imagination, this time.
He let himself be guided to her table and fell into the chair he was pushed into.
“I have to say, Catherine, are you sure this is the right guy?” said the stranger to Jot’s left. “He seems a bit….” An arm waved in the air in a loose limp wristed pattern.
Cath laughed, bright and a little rough around the edges. “It’s been a while, Isaac. Give him a moment.”
Making a concentrated effort to gather his wits, Jot finally turned to the other person at the table. The young man was weather worn, but shone even in the dim light as he imagined royalty did. Perhaps it was the fair blond hair, or the light eyes, but there was a richness about the stranger that Jot couldn’t understand, and that bothered him. As did the stranger’s familiarity with his King. How dare he call her by her full name like some brother?
Noticing his attention, the stranger held out a rough and calloused hand. “Captain Isaac. You are?”
“Jot Collins,” Jot mumbled, trying to rein in his glower.
Cath simply laughed into her ale.
Isaac had been a little impressed with the Capital, but the further he traveled with Catherine, the less he appreciated the lands of Raanan. It had never been a land of interest, and he was just as happy to know they hadn’t overlooked the place. As pirates, maybe a raid every year would do them well, but… now that he knew the King and Queen, it would be difficult to explain his actions. At least they had gotten away from all the hustle and bustle. Nevertheless, this backwater place in some misplaced desert was just not on. He knew this dingy, sloppy, drunkard sitting beside him was important to Catherine, but this was getting ridiculous. Also, the ale was atrocious, and he was feeling ill just smelling it on this lout named Jot.