«Landsbreak, near the docks»
Tamarack ducked into a roll as two burly members of the tavern staff tossed her out into the alley.
"Lousy cheat—you're not welcome here no more!" bellowed one of the men.
"Thieves—I scored that gold square n' fair!" she hollered, only a little tipsy after a long afternoon over ale and cards. "Gimmie my winnins!"
One of them tossed only a handful of playing cards in her direction before both departed without a word. Tamarack watched the cards flutter to the ground.
"Gods!" she muttered. "En't my fault I happened to remember which card was bent in th'upper right corner. Call me a cheater, will ye?" She raised her voice to a holler again and bounded up to pound on the window. "I want me gear back at least!"
One of the men returned to toss a dwarven-craft warhammer and mace out the door. Tamarack took them up and waited for more. After a few more moments, a buxom barmaid appeared, holding out a well-worn backpack.
"There's a lass," said Tamarack calmly with a smile, taking her pack and quickly grabbing at the woman's sleeve to keep her still. "You'll talk 'em out of this silliness, won't ye, lovey? I en't kicked out for good, right?"
The wench extricated herself from the dwarf's grip with a barely-disguised look of disgust. "You've been trouble for all of us from day one, Ms. Dwarf. I'm scarce inclined to speak for you. Shove off, now, and take your business somewheres else."
"Aw, be a lambkin—somewheres else en't got the prettiest wenches in town!" Tamarack wheedled.
The door slammed in her face. The dwarf screamed in frustration before making an obscene gesture through the window and gathering up her things, strutting off to the docks.
The salty air was invigorating, cooler now as evening approached, breathing fresh life into her and brushing off some of the after-effects of too much ale. Unfortunately she was still lacking in judgment, so when she spotted a group of familiar sailors finishing up some trading with the local merchants, she saw fit to make a nuisance of herself.
"Aw, Cap'n Greaves's fine and sturdy crew, is it?" she called out, strutting up alongside the men. "Ye louts miss me yet? Lacking a bit o' class on board? I'm still free for hire—go on and tell Greaves, won't ye?"
"Greaves ain't interested in any word of you, 'lassie'," spat back one of the sailors, "and he's done his best to make sure you're unemployable fleetwide!"
"Ouch, there's a greeting for an old shipmate!" Tamarack exclaimed, feigning deep offense. "A gal knocks you flat in a fight once, and this is how you treat her?"
"You did NOT knock me flat!" the sailor protested.
"Make yourself scarce, Tam," cut in one of the others, slightly more positively inclined toward her. "If Greaves catches you hanging about here, he'll have you arrested—no joking."
"I en't scared of Greaves, nor hardly the scrawny whelps around here that call themselves the town guard!" Tamarack boasted. "And y'all are a bunch of mewling babes if ye can't handle a gal shipmate."
"That's hardly the issue, and you know it!" snarled the first sailor.
"Boo, hoo, hoo!" Tamarack mocked. "Go run to your wet nurse before the little girl beats you again!" She took up her weapons and swung them around in an arc, slamming them together in front of her with a loud metallic *CRACK* that rung out over the docks. "Y'all are pissin' scared o' me, en't that the case?"
The sailor dropped his things and rubbed his hands together. "Alright, dwarf. No one here is scared of you—in fact, any one of us could thrash you soundly."
With a smug grin, Tamarack raised her weapons in invitation. "Let's go then, shall we?"
The knot of sailors stood around her in a semicircle, glaring but unmoving.
"Boo hoo, little babes," she pouted dramatically. "Who's scared now?"
"You would be, if you weren't hiding behind your big hammer, little girl!"
Tamarack stuck her chin up in the air in defiance. At first she thought none of them would dare to touch her, but then they all moved at once, two grabbing her arms and two more prying the weapons out of her hands.
"Give 'um back, you dogs!" she screamed, thrashing and snarling like a badger, but she was obviously greatly outnumbered, and soon they had her up in the air by all four limbs.
"In the drink with you, wildcat!" one of them laughed, and all the sailors joined in the chorus of laughter, toting her toward the nearest dock.
"LET ME GO, YOU COWARDS!" she hollered.
Having been scouting the docks for sailors on shore leave who were a little worse for wear and who would be easy to roll, Taylar gave up and started looking at the ships for one that he could board and pilfer from.
He started to plan the best way to board a decent-sized merchantman [ship], planning out how to drop down from the docks and shimmy up the draw lines until he could enter the boat from under the mizen deck. From there it would just be a few short steps until he could reach the hold and help himself to a large satchel full of whatever the ship was carrying. He hoped there was something he could eat as well, it had been too long since he had actually felt full, he had wasted too many days where a single roll or an apple had been his only food.
As Taylar approached the pier his mind was mainly full of the merchants he would be able to flog the loot to. He hardly noticed the crowd of sailors until the cries of the dwarf reached his ears.
Taylar slipped into the shadows and moved amongst the sailors. As the sailors hoisted the dwarf protesting into the air, Taylar silently drew a kukri from his concealed sheaf thanking the darkness that he had remembered to put goose grease inside the sheaf. Taylar dragged the kukri fast across the hamstrings of the sailor who looked like he was bearing most of the dwarf’s weight.
Tamarack did not notice that an additional figure had entered the scene, but she did notice very quickly one of the sailors collapsing in agony, and that suddenly one of her legs was free. Without hesitation she drove her freed foot straight into the face of the one holding her other leg, and soon she had both feet on the ground.
She used every advantage she had now, kicking and biting until she had her arms free, and then employed one of the greatest advantages of being short—she barrelled forth and drove her shoulder straight into the crotch of the nearest sailor. Around her, others were falling, but she still did not spy an ally in the melee.
Taylar seemed unaware that the other fighters in the melee were using fists and their bodies and he continued to cut a bloody path through the sailors. The sailors, drunk and confused overlooked the small agile figure causing so much harm so quickly.
As the dwarf squared off against the bosun, Taylar headbutted the last standing sailor in the groin and the poor sailor staggered back onto a patch of dock that wasn't there. As the sailor screamed and hit the water the dwarf finished the bosun and the rest of the sailors scattered.
Taylar stood looking at the dwarf, his kukris in his hand, dimly aware of the bloodied bodies that littered the docks. Taylar remembered the judge and looked grim at the thought of the watchmen who would soon arrive. He glanced over the dwarf looking for major wounds and then gestured towards the shadows.
Tamarack stared at the little dark figure for a few long moments before throwing her head back for a boisterous laugh of pure delight, despite the impending threat from the local authorities. Soon, however, she took up her effects and followed the cue from her new friend, bolting for the shadows. They ducked behind some buildings and through a labyrinth of alleys. When they had finally collapsed in a low, quiet place, Tamarack had another close look at her companion.
"Well, if it en't a little guttersnipe," she marvelled, suppressing giggles. "There a live body under all that, or has some bored person invented a filth golem?"
Taylar tipped his head sideways and looked the dwarf up and down. "Person. Where go next? Incoming law."
Tamarack ran her fingers through her short-cropped hair and sighed nonchalantly, showing off her lack of worry with regards to the local law. “Oh, I might know a few places we can disappear till things cool off. Ye look like ye could use a solid meal, pup. There’s a lady owes me a favour—makes the best meat pies in town, too. Like?”
Taylar simply nodded and followed.
Tamarack proudly led the way, more than happy to have someone trailing along willingly behind her. She had plenty of curiosities about her new puppy, but questions could wait. A few alleys over, she stopped at the back door of a low building from which plenty of delicious smells were wafting.
A scruffy, wide-eyed little boy in a nightgown answered her knock. A grin spread over his face
“Ayeee, Tam’ra!” squealed the boy, leaping up and down. He flung the door open wide, allowing them passage. “I’ll get mum!” He clomped and shuffled away in too-big boots.
Tamarack chuckled at the boy and settled comfortably on the bench next to a little table nestled in the back corner of a large, warm kitchen, inviting her companion to do the same. From the front of the building came the friendly noises of a busy eatery. Shortly, a woman hurried in to greet them, the boy close behind her. The woman was young, and though her face was lined with experience beyond her years, her expression was carefree and full of joy.
“Tam—bless you, my dear!” the woman exclaimed, hurrying forth.
Tamarack stood up on the bench to reach her for a friendly hug. “You’re lovelier’n ever, Kenna. Why do I ever stay away?”
“Oh, you darling!” giggled Kenna, pressing a kiss to the dwarf’s forehead. “What can I do for you today?”
“Well, lovey… we’ve got a little law after us tonight. Think we could snuggle in here for a short time?”
“Oh, as long as you need to, of course! Anyone comes by, I haven’t seen you. Who’s your friend?”
“This? Oh, just a stray I picked up a’ the docks.” Tamarack grinned down at Taylar. “Don’t he look as he could do with a good meal?”
“Oh, of course!” Kenna sighed, pressing both hands to her chest. “I’ve got some beef pies coming out of the oven shortly; you just get cozy, the both of you, and I’ll have you fed in no time.”
She hastily poured two large mugs of ale and set them on the table before filling a few bowls from the stove and whisking them out front to her customers.
“Won’t be but a few moments, just you wait!” she called back. “Cody, it’s bedtime—up to the loft with you right away!”
Tamarack snug Taylar a grin. “Kenna thinks ‘small ones’ are just precious, like little children. More ye play along, the more good stuff you’re like to get.” She gulped down half of her ale.
The boy climbed up onto the table in front of Tamarack. “Didja keel any gobbers, Tam’ra?” He made a swiping motion with a phantom knife.
“Not lately,” she chuckled. “Shove off, now. Ye heard your mum.”
Cody pouted, but shuffled away nonetheless. Kenna bustled back in and checked the oven. The pies ready, she pulled them out carefully and deposited two straight in front of her little guests along with a pair of spoons.
“You two just enjoy, I’ll be with you a little later!”
When Kenna had disappeared out front once again, Tamarack tucked eagerly into her pie.
“So, what’s your story anyhow?” she finally asked her new friend through a mouthful of food. “You like helpin’ out comely dwarves, or just hate sailors?”
"Had enough of tall people picking on littl'uns."
Tamarack watched him closely. Certainly he looked like someone who had been picked on a few too many times.
"I live here." Taylar gestured at the shadows at the corner of the room. "I'm not clean enough or nice enough to life in the light with the beautiful tall people."
Taylar proceeded to cram food into his mouth and took back half the ale in one mouthful. He then turned and looked at the dwarf, food crumbs spraying as he spoke.
"So what’s next?"
Tamarack grinned at him in amusement. “‘Clean’ is overrated, and ‘nice’ is a mere handy tool,” she opined. “At any rate, I seem to have fallen from the light a bit meself. Been hangin’ about here for months hopin’ for ship work, but I think it en’t gonna happen thanks to Cap’n ‘Let’s-All-Blacklist-The-Dwarf’ Greaves. Thinkin’ of movin’ further inland, seein’ a bit more of Auldelia. There’s a whole world out there of taverns I en’t yet got kicked out of!” She laughed heartily and spun in her seat to straddle the bench, facing her new friend. She watched him inhale his food and felt a little twinge somewhere inside. She had finished two-thirds of her supper and felt satisfied enough, so she slid her plate in his direction.
“Wouldn’a’ mind a some company on the road,” she continued. “Ye were downright deadly out at them docks. Ye wouldn’a’ put a knife in me back while I sleep, would ye?” She fixed him with a grin that was far more serious than amused.
Taylar looks innocent. "I no stab little people."
Tamarack studied him for another moment and then shrugged. “Good enough for me. Eat up then—we’ll soon be on the road, puppy.”
By Tamarack (Amanda) & Taylar (Phil)