by Zach Wheat
Epitaph Three: Fifty Cog
“I told you he was broken,” Joth said, as Stradanis stepped out of the Sherriff’s office and closed the door. “I like the music though. What was that?”
“What was what?” Stradanis asked.
“You made smoke and you made him calm and fall asleep,” said Joth. “With your lute.”
“Varytonos,” Stradanis corrected.
“It’s not black arcana,” Joth said.
“No,” said Stradanis, “It’s a technique.”
“Like what I do?” Joth asked. “Like distriction with my sword?”
“Yes,” Stradanis said. “Just like that.”
“You can make people feel good and sleep?” he asked.
“Among other things.” Stradanis said.
“You can teach me?” Joth asked.
“No,” said Stradanis. “Tawn and I are headed to the inn.” Stradanis abruptly turned around and walked away from the Dajenfel, as his feral dog followed. Joth, frustrated, ran to catch up with them.
“Why not?” Joth asked. “I’m not stupid or anything.”
“You aren’t,” said Stradanis. “But that’s not the issue.”
“I’m not a bandit anymore,” Joth said, “I’m with you and Tawn, right? I’m a warrior now.”
“You’re not with us,” Stradanis said. “You got us here, you gave us food, and I didn’t kill you. You don’t owe us anything and we don’t owe you anything.”
As he came upon The Miner’s Delight, Stradanis noticed the worn door was torn off its hinges and leaned against the doorway.
“That’s new,” Joth said. “I guess I was too busy listening to your music.”
Inside the inn, a warm fire burned, as two large soup pots filled the air with stewed meat. Worn rugs tried their best to cover a busted wooden floor. Tired, soot-faced men with tankards drank at tables and talked with unrestrained enthusiasm, as two women, one old, and one young, filled their mugs with clay pitchers.
“Ya’ll cain’t be up in here,” said the older one. She was sour-faced and dour, with a ruddy face full of exertion, her hair pulled back in a grey bun. “Ya’ll stink like a temple a’ Daygawn.”
“We haven’t been in any temples,” said Joth.
“Naw, youse smell.” She said. “Like bandits that ain’t seen a bath in years.”
Stradanis poured coins from a small bag on the nearest empty table, looking like an odd archeological collection.
“We don’t take none a’ them. We only take cog.”
“None at all?” protested Stradanis. “Most places I’ve been will take Dominion or Stygian coin.”
“This here is a Black Cog town, Valendorian. I can give ya maybe one stew and a’ ale from them Stygian coppers,” she said, “but that’s it, and that’s outside.
“I have cog,” said Joth. “How much for all of us, including the dog?”
“Are ya crazy!?” the barmaid crowed. “That dog is nasty. That’d be like…forty, no, fifty for all of it.”
“Ok,” said Joth, as he handed a large black steel coin to the crone. “I have a fifty.”
“I ain’t gonna ask how ya got it, but that’ll do,” she said. “Mara, draw these bandits a bath.”
“We’re not bandits,” Joth protested. “We’re warriors. We’re murderbreed.”
“Warbreed,” Stradanis corrected with a sigh.
“I ain’t washin’ that thing,” Mara said.
“Why not?” asked Joth.
“She means Tawn, Joth,” said Stradanis. Tawn looked up from where he was resting at the room’s edge, far from the curiosity of the two crude tubs full of water. “Just relax, Tawn,” he assured him.
“Ya’ll can soak a few more minutes,” she suggested, “but I suggest one a’ ya’ll snips all that matted fur off before you try to put the dog in.”
“Do you have scissors?” Stradanis asked Joth.
“You both think just because I’m Dajenfel, I carry scissors?” he replied. Joth stepped out of his bath and rummaged through his belongings. “I’ve got a little bag here somewhere.”
“Don’t touch the clothes,” Mara commanded. “I’ll take them that ya got there and burn ‘em and bring youse something clean. Just get back in the tub so I don’t have to see none a’ that.”
“Why?” asked Joth, frowning. “Do you think I’m ugly?”
“Just do it,” demanded Stradanis. Joth picked up a small leather pouch and got back into his tub. He opened the pouch and began to pull out an array of rusty needles, razors, syringes, serrated spikes, a scalpel, bits of barbed wire, and finally, a pair of scissors in a reasonable state of usability.
Mara shuddered and gingerly collected the soiled clothes with a sickle and left the room, as Joth began to grind the scissor blades with a stone.
“Has he ever had a bath before?” Joth asked.
“Have you?” asked Stradanis.
“I don’t think so,” he admitted. “If I saw this much clean water, I would save it to drink.”
“So why did you spend fifty cog?” Stradanis asked, as he stood up in the tub and toweled himself off.
“Because, we’re…we’re a team, right?” he asked. “You, and me, and Tawn?”
“Give me those scissors,” Stradanis commanded. Joth handed them to him.
“You should cut around his face,” Joth suggested. “You can’t hardly see his face. It makes him look sad.” Stradanis carefully began to snip bits of matted fur from the dog.
“Why do you care?” Stradanis asked.
“He likes me,” Joth declared. “He licked me when you were playing music for that crazy Valendorian sheriff.”
“Did he?” Stradanis asked.
“Yeah,” said Joth, “and he keeps scratching that spot on his face. I think maybe he got a thorn in it.” Stradanis pointed to a spot near Tawn’s jowl.”
“No, no, no,” said Joth. “Let me help.” Joth grabbed a razor and walked over to the confused dog and began to shear off large bits of matted fur. “You’re going to take forever,” he complained.
Once the scruff was shorn, Tawn made it clear that he was not going to be put in a tub of water. “He doesn’t like water,” said Joth sympathetically. “I think he’s afraid.”
Stradanis lifted Tawn and dunked him into Joth’s bath. The dog cried out and began to thrash.
“Easy!” cried Joth. “He doesn’t like that.” Joth pet the wet dog and began to soothe him as Stradanis scrubbed him with a brush full of lye as fleas fled the invasion to their watery deaths.
“Don’t worry, Tawn,” Joth assured him. “I was scared, too, but you will feel better, I promise.”
“I didn’t think Dajenfel experienced fear,” Stradanis commented dryly.
“We don’t,” whispered Joth. “But he doesn’t know that.”