Jorac hadn’t slept on a bed so lumpy in quite some time, and he awoke in the middle of the night several times, tossing and turning. He must have dozed at last, because there was some light leaking through the window shutters when he stirred again. He went outside and used the tiny outhouse (it reminded him of the one his family had when he was growing up). Here there weren’t corn cobs or wads of grass, but a papery, fuzzy leaf of some sort in a small pile near the seat; it proved not as comfortable as the cotton wool used by the rich houses, but better than most alternatives.
When the Dorrie and Kimma came out of the house, the men were up and dressed for the day, and Veseen and Schrog were preparing a list of needed supplies. The squad hadn’t been planning more than a day trip deep into the swamp, so they had only the one tent and little food. Hox was still sleeping, and would be another day recovering. The young giant still needed a bit of tending, and would doubtless need some food when he awoke; the pair of day-old breakfast pies they’d saved him wouldn’t last him long.
It took only a few minutes for everyone to agree that Schrog and Veseen would go into town for supplies, and Dorrie and Jorac would stay here with Hox. Jorac gave Schrog some money; he’d brought quite a lot, and was mentally composing his expense report. “T’ings go right, we prolly be back by lunch time,” Schrog said. “Anyti’ng else you needs?”
Jorac thought a moment. “Yeah, I’d better let our bosses know where we are.” He smiled wryly. “Not that the wizards would come looking for me in time to help, but I can probably avoid a lecture if I tell them.” He scrawled a brief note on the paper he’d brought and handed it to Schrog. “Can you get one of those Swampside runner boys to take it to a constable? Cerom will know where we are, and he can get word to the Wizard Council for me.”
Veseen said “Master Radyry” to Jorac in a quiet voice.
Jorac nodded. “And I need to get word to Master Radyry too. I warned him Veseen might be in late last night, but we’re past that already. Here, let me write another note.” Jorac forced himself to take his time and wrote a flowery, respectful note to the wizard master explaining that Veseen was safe and would be needed further, stressing how valuable the boy had been on the trip. He could have written less, but it was all true, and Veseen’s school marks might benefit.
After Schrog and Veseen set off, Jorac followed the women into the shack, where Kimma checked on Hox. She left a water skin near him and whispered, “He’s okay,” then motioned them outside so they wouldn’t disturb him.
When they got outside, she said, “No fever, arm looks good. Nearly normal color, no swelling.”
“When do you think he’ll wake up?” Dorrie asked.
“Maybe this morning, maybe afternoon. Hard to tell. That potion mostly makes ‘em sleep about one day.”
“You know,” Jorac said, “we haven’t paid you for that potion yet. How much do we owe you?”
“Eh. Well, I tells people anywheres from fifty coppers, up to a couple hundred, depending on how well I likes em. With Schrog here. . . aw, I don’t know. Call it a hundred.”
Jorac knew he had barely a hundred coppers, and wanted to keep them. He reached in his pocket, opened his pouch, and pulled out a gold coin.
“Sorry, I can’t pay a hundred coppers; you’ll have to take this instead,” he said as he handed her the gold. It was worth about five times her asking price.
“What the hell you tryin’ to pull? I gave you my price.” She looked as if she was going to throw it back at him.
Jorac put his hands up in a don’t-blame-me manner. “Hey, I’m on expenses. I’ll turn in a report and collect it back from my bosses. And remember, Hox is so big you had to give him a double dose of potion. Not to mention that you knew what potion to use for his problem and how to use it, and you’re sheltering not only the patient, but four other people who came with him! I’m not sure what I gave you is even enough.”
“Aw, ‘twern’t nothin’. Okay, I’ll keep it.”
Jorac said, “It’s perfectly fair, even at your reasonable rates. Actually, what you’ve done for us is worth a lot more than that. When I get back to the city, I’m going to apply for a reward for you.”
“Reward? What for?”
“You saved the life of a constable on duty. One working for the Wizard Constable, so that counts extra, and I know how to do the paperwork. We’ll get you compensated.”
“Aw, de orange and green frog just make ya sick for a while; it ain’t like it was the orange and purple. He’d have lived.”
Dorrie stepped in. “Young lady, don’t low-rate yourself. You saw what Hox needed and you did it, even after you saw Schrog, and before you heard his tale. And where else were we going to get help for him? You saved his life, and he was on duty, so you get a reward from the constables, or the wizards, or maybe even both. Got to know how to play the game, make them think it’s their idea. Me and Jorac can work on that. And don’t forget to add on your fees when you guide us; we’ll need to make sure that gets paid too.” She smiled. “Of course, you’ve got to come into town to get it.”
Kimma thought for a long moment. “Well, thanks,” she said quietly. “I guess I can use the money.”
Jorac had the impression she was thinking of the future for the first time in a while. He knew what that was like; he remembered the night at his father’s house when he realized he had to find something better to do with his life. The next day he’d shaved the beard he’d grown with the tribesmen, and set out finding the job as a guard that eventually led him here.
Dorrie said, “If you’re going to make money in your business, here’s some advice. You need a special price for nobles and wizards. Five times as high.”
Jorac grinned. “And I just paid it, because I’m working for the damned wizards now – begging your pardon, Madame Velosp.”
Kimma was confused by the remark, so Jorac and Dorrie explained how Dorrie was able to parlay her limited magical ability, along with her theatrical skill, into a good living.
In return, Kimma explained some of the economics of her business, such as it was. Miz Madouve had a good reputation as a healer, more reliable than most. A few other healers came and went in the swamp, sometimes eking out a living for a few years while waiting for some problem in the city to quiet down. Miz Madouve’s clients weren’t numerous and couldn’t afford high prices, so she often ended up bartering her services for food and supplies. “Sometimes I get two or three folks in a day,” she said, “but I go lots of days when I don’t see nobody.”
Jorac asked conversationally, “So, what do you do on days like that?”
“I put on de outfit, an’ Miz Madouve usually goes out swamp-crawlin’. Stuff to hunt out dere.”
“Ur, um, like those soft leaves in the privy? I’ve never seen the like.”
“Yeah, stuff like that. Maybe find some stuff I can trade. I should go out again soon, too.”
“Mind if I go with you? I want to collect some more of those leaves. I imagine we used a week’s supply for you, and if we’re camping I’d like some more.”
Dorrie volunteered, “I’ll sit with Hox. I don’t mind.” She looked at the shack, not at Kimma.
Kimma looked at Jorac and Dorrie, obviously weighing the offer. Jorac didn’t blame her for the caution; despite their constable uniforms and knowing Schrog, she’d only met them yesterday.
Finally she said, “Yeah, alright.” Then her voice changed. “But out dere, I’m Miz Madouve, got it? And don’t do nothin’ stupid.”
“I’ll obey your every command. I don’t want to end up like Hox.” Or with a crossbow bolt in me, he thought, and I know she’d do it. Somehow, that thought more pleased than worried him; competence was something he highly approved of.