I slid of Smat’s mule and stood amidst the chaos, getting my bearings while the residents of Southallow ran about with urgency. Women herded children and farm animals, men set up a fire bucket line that ran from the marketplace well to the gate, while others donned thick leather jerkins and gloves and wrapped wet towels across their faces and hefted axes, shovels, and rakes – obviously headed out to make a fire line. One thick-bodied man, who had a curling mustache the color of mustard and a bald head, spotted our small party and yelled for some nearby men.
Torgood cursed and made to turn the horse around, but another man, this one tall with cropped copper hair, reached out and caught the horse’s bridle. Smat climbed down, his hands up, and Torgood followed.
A sharp gesture from the yellow mustached man made me raise my hands as well.
“If it isn’t the Handyman,” the man said to Torgood, smirking.
“Watchman Engli, so good to see you.” Torgood smirked back. “How’s your darling Rahila?”
The man looked like he wanted to smash Torgood’s face in. Instead he barked to his friends, “Bind them and take them to the keep.”
Smat resisted, saying “Wait – we’re here to help fight the fire,” while I said, stupidly, “What? Why are you arresting me? I haven’t done anything.”
“Sorry Smat, you are riding with a wanted criminal.”
Smat gave Torgood a look of feigned horror. “I didn’t know. I just meet them on the road – that one,” he pointed to me, “had taken ill, so I helped.”
Watchman Engli considered, giving me a closer look. Weather gods knew I probably looked like animated death.
“You know this man?” he gestured to Torgood. Of course I said yes before thinking. He snorted and told Smat to go join the fire line. Smat gave a parting wave to us that made Torgood curse under his breath.
The keep sat atop a small rise at the apex of the town, which I noticed as we were marched through, had more than one tavern. I’d never been to Southallow, but obviously Torgood had. They locked us into a room with a stout door and a iron grill for the jailer to look in through. There weren’t any seats and just a small hole in stone floor with a smell that gave its purpose away.
Torgood sank down against the wall opposite the door, and I sat as far away from the smell as I could.
“So, been to Southallow before?” I said after a while.
Torgood gave a sour look.
“That watchman seems to hate you. What’d you do – sleep with his wife?”
Torgood laughed at that a little longer than I thought the joke merited.
“Aye,” he said, wiping a tear from his cheek, “his wasn’t the only one, but he’s the only man who caught me.”
I reviewed what I now knew about Torgood, the village tinker/fix-it man, and it disturbed me. I’d finally seen the small sharp knives they took from him before we were shoved into the cell. They also took my satchel, but just set that aside unsearched.
“That’s so very honorable of you, Torgood. I can’t wait to tell your mother what an upstanding citizen of Oakdale you are – apparent bandit, expert at killing Dvergr, husband cuckold-er. I think I would have been safer going to Crown City by myself.”
He gave a snort of dismissal. “You’d have never made it out of town. Weaver Noth wanted to burn you alive. My mother sent me because you need someone to watch out for you.”
“Yeah – you do. With your memory, you very much need a keeper and I’m sure Jeslynn was happy to have a break.”
Jeslynn’s name made me sit up straight. There was something hanging at the edge of my mind related to her.
“Jeslynn is not my keeper,” I said and felt a cleansing anger building in me. “Storm god’s nads, Torgood, you had us robbed. Why?”
He didn’t answer for a moment and instead studied his dirty hands.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. They were just supposed to scare you.”
“They succeeded,” I said through my teeth.
He looked at me. “I’m sorry, Gestin, it was supposed to be a joke. Truly, I just wanted to give you a thrill. Something to tell the folks at the tavern when we get back.”
“Why would you pull such a horrible joke?” I answered my own question a moment later. “Because you think I’m the village idiot. That’s just mean.”
He shrugged and mumbled, “Sorry.”
I considered bashing his head against the wall or perhaps forcing him down the shit hole.
“Let me see if I have this straight,” I said, trying for calm. “I don’t remember things, so therefore I’m stupid?”
“I know you’re not stupid, but you are kinda gullible,” he said with a nod.
Had he pulled jokes on me before? If he had and I remembered, he would be a walking corpse.
“And when I get my memory back?”
He made an expansive gesture. “The whole village will celebrate the return of Gestin Hospitlar.”
I made a rude gesture at him and he laughed.
We sat in silence for a long moment; he thinking whatever shallow thoughts he had and I fuming.
Outside in the town, the community fought a fire that was – ultimately – Torgood’s fault. If they figured that out – if Smat confessed – they’d hang him. And then they’d hang me for being his companion.