That Horrible Moment Chapter 3

Muddy Boots

By Donraj

        The sun was setting, a cold wind blew, and it was beginning to rain.
        As he stood in the alleyway, cloak wrapped tightly around him to ward of the chill, Gilliam reflected on how aptly that described the course his life had taken. In the months since Fort Zeakden, they had taken to the shadows, sleeping in bedrolls off the side of the road and only traveling in slums like this God-forsaken part of Dorter.
        He tried to count his blessings. Despite their fears, there was no sign that the Hokuten were pursuing them. Gilliam suspected that some of Ramza's kin were to thank for that, normally deserting soldiers would have been hunted from one end of Ivalice to the other. Saved by a family name, that thought left a bad taste in Gilliam's mouth.
        A noise at the opening of the alley drew his attention from his depressed musings. Warily, he gripped the hilt of his sword under his cloak as two hooded figures entered the alley. He relaxed immediately as one of them threw back her cloak, revealing a tanned face and a straw-colored shoulder length ponytail. For some reason, the sight of Ellis cheered him from his gloom. He smiled for the first time in days, and gestured to a spot sheltered from the drizzle.
        As she and Alberto took cover under the over-hanging roof, Gilliam asked the obvious question. "Where is Ramza?" When they had split up, Ramza had been traveling with them. Gilliam had volunteered to join them as well, but Ramza had chosen Alberto. He had reasoned that it would be best to keep the mage away from settled areas as much as possible.
        Gilliam could not argue with that logic.
        "He's meeting with a mercenary leader, goes by the name of Gafgarion. I'm told he was a general during the War. If it goes well, we'll end up working for him."
        Gilliam nodded, trying to hide a wince at the news. So this was what it had come to. Common mercenaries. His temporarily elevated spirits plummeting once more, he tried to look at it objectively. This would give them a better chance to fade out of sight. Still.
        He changed the subject. "We have rooms at one of the inns. Rosa is waiting in the common room. He tried to smile convincingly. "Let's get out of the rain."
        As he led them to the inn, his boots, once kept polished to absolute perfection, were splattered with mud from the many puddles in the dirt streets. Once, that would have upset him. Now, he did not even notice it. They were scuffed beyond redemption already, and by now, he was used to it.

***

        As Gilliam met with Alberto and Ellis, Rosa sat in a small table in the corner of the inn's first floor, staring into the swill that passed for a drink here. Trying not to taste the stuff, she gulped the mug down and called for another. As she waited for the next round, her gaze swept across the room. It was, she thought, the exact last place a member of the nobility was likely to be. The tables and stools were hard, uncomfortable wooden things, scarred and dented by past brawls. Her fingers absently traced a long cut down the center of her own table that appeared to have been made by a battle-ax.
        The patrons were of a similar nature. A combination of wagon guards, mercenaries, and smugglers crowded the place, with enough coming in to replace the drunks thrown out into the street when they finally lost consciousness. As near as Rosa could tell, she was the only woman present who was not either on a man's lap or angling for the position. She would have bet every Gil she had that money was involved in that arrangement. Tiring of the scenery, she dropped her head to the table and closed her eyes. She instantly regretted it as something sticky adhered her forehead to the table. With an effort, she lifted it back up. As the barmaid came by with her drink, Rosa grabbed her arm. "And a wet rag." The woman nodded sullenly and stomped off. As she did, Rosa caught sight of Gilliam entering the bar, Ellis and Alberto in tow. Encouraged ever so slightly by the prospect that she would be able to leave this miserable sinkhole soon, she waved to him. As she did, an extremely drunk chocobo driver laid his grubby hand on her forearm. "Hey there, pretty lady, you want some company?" he slurred. "I have company," Rosa replied coldly, hoping the man would take the hint. He didn't. "So pretty, wha do ya say? I got me pay today, and I'm leaving tomorrow." "Bon Voyage," she shot back, pulling free from his grip. "Bitch!" he shouted, grabbing her again. In one quick motion, Rosa eluded his grasp, pulled her arm forward, and spun backwards, slamming her elbow into the man's face. He fell back, blood streaming out of his broken nose. He crashed into her table, slamming it and him to the floor. He also knocked Rosa's drink down. That ticked her off. The man stumbled back to his feet and spat out a tooth. Cursing crudely, he charged Rosa. Rosa waited until the last moment, than leapt to the side like a bull fighter. Not bothering to draw her sword, she picked up the stool she had been sitting on. As the man turned for another try, she slammed it over his head. Hard. That probably would have been enough to discourage him. Rosa could probably have walked away at that point, and he would have happily let her go. That wasn't the point. Rosa, months of frustration finally given an outlet, would not let him go. Screaming with rage, she smashed the stool over his head again, and again. It slipped out of her grasp at that point, but she was not about to stop, not now. Grabbing him by the throat, she began to pummel him in the gut, the face, anywhere she could reach. Out of nowhere, a hand caught her wrist, forcing her to halt the frenzied beating. She looked up angrily, preparing to lash out at her new adversary. She froze as she saw the man's face. It was Gilliam. "I think you can stop now," he said quietly. "He's not going to bother you anymore." Rosa, still enraged, started to pull away. Damn filthy peasant, she thought, serves him right. A voice in the back of her mind cut through the anger and the alcohol. And what about Ellis? She's a peasant too. Are you going to attack her too? Chagrined, Rosa relaxed and looked at the man. He was unconscious, covered with bruises. She had gone too far. Embarrassed, she looked back at Gilliam. "Uh, I, uh." Ellis's voice cut her off. "I think we might want to find another place to spend the night." Rosa and Gilliam looked towards her to see that she had an arrow drawn to her bow and aimed at a number of people, presumably the man's friends. Feeling both guilty and happy at the excuse not to have to explain herself, Rosa rose to her feet shakily. "Let's go, now."

*****

        After fleeing the inn, Ellis led them through a series of side streets and turns, making sure that no one followed them. Finally, they made it to another inn, even more run down than the last. Not bothering to risk spending time in the common room, they spoke to the innkeeper, handed over the payment, and rented a pair of rooms. They all gathered in one of them. Quietly, Ellis looked them over.
        They were tired. Not just from the incident in the bar, they were exhausted, mentally. Traveling was nothing new to Ellis, but she realized that to nobles, raised all their lives to believe in their own superiority, deserting and living as fugitives had to be a shock. She looked to Gilliam.
        He tried to hide it, masking it with a smile whenever he looked at her, but the way he frowned or winced whenever he thought no one was looking showed the truth under that fašade. Gilliam was depressed. His eyes, while alert, were a bit blurry, Ellis suspected he had not been sleeping well.
        Rosa did not look much better. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her body shook, both from the alcohol and the adrenaline wearing off. She swayed slightly on her feet, and Ellis wondered just how much she had drank today.
        Ramza had seemed much the same before they parted, silent and staring off into nothing whenever he was not wearing the mask of a leader. He was a member of one of the great families; this had to be hardest on him.
        She looked to Alberto. He seemed fine. Ellis was not entirely sure the insane wizard had even noticed that they had defected. More likely, she thought, he simply did not care as long as he had excuses to blow things up. Well, that was one way to deal with stress.
        "What are Ramza's orders?"
        Gilliam's words cut through Ellis's thoughts, drawing her back to the present. She started to pace to hide her momentary surprise, gathering her thoughts.
        "Ramza is trying to find a place for him, and us, with a former soldier who went mercenary. He told me to tell you that and two other things. First, he wants us to try to find some sort of job here. Our funds are low, plus we need to make ourselves seem useful to this guy. There's a man here in town I know of that should be able to fix us up with some sort of work, guy's call Tiran."
        Rosa's head jerked at that sound. "I know him, he's had dealings with my family. He's one of our trade agents."
        Ellis nodded. "Among other things, Tiran hires guards and mercenaries for traveling merchants and to deal with problems that the government is slow to deal with. He's a fairly major player around here, he comes into contact with almost everything."
        Gilliam frowned. "That could pose a problem. If he deals with the noble families on a regular basis, he might recognize Rosa, or me. It. might be better if you handle the negotiations alone."
        Ellis thought about it, then nodded. "He can be found at a small restaurant uptown, called 'The Juravis's Eggs.' I'll met him there tomorrow." Ellis took a deep breath before continuing.
        "Ramza wanted me to deliver one other message. He says, that if anyone wants to leave, he will understand completely."
        The company exchanged looks quietly at that, thinking about the offer. Why had they stayed with Ramza? He was the one most likely to be sought, the one most likely to endanger them. Why not leave?
        Finally, Alberto broke the silence. "Of course we won't leave, working for Ramza is too much fun!"
        In unison, they all turned to stare incredulously at Alberto. Finally, Rosa, perhaps aided by her slightly inebriated state of mind, began to chuckle. It quickly turned into a full blown laughing fit, with Ellis and Gilliam joining in soon afterwards.
        A minute later, Ellis wiped the tears from her eye. "That's what I thought. Well, if there's nothing else, let's get some sleep." No objections were raised, and Gilliam and Alberto retired to their room. Soon, they where asleep.
        Except for Gilliam. Restless, he stood by the small window and looked out at the starry heavens above, long into the night. The worries of the last few months swirled through his mind, chasing away all hope of slumber.
        Being expected to sleep in the same room as Alberto may have had something to do with it as well.


Chapter 4

Donraj's Fanfiction