“We don’t get too many elves out this way,” she motioned him to the far corner.
“Shame,” he smiled. “I’ve found the people to be quite charming.”
“Put your knife and gun on the bed then step back.”
He did so, “is this a robbery?”
“Honey,” her throaty laugh filled the room pleasantly. “If I wanted to rob you we’d be downstairs and you’d be none the wiser.”
She shrugged, “I enjoy my trade. Take off the long coat.”
“I heard tell about some fancy elven coins that came through on a caravan recently,” he slowly removed the jacket, not wanting to spook her and wind up with a piece of lead in his chest.
“And,” he tossed the coat on top of his weapons. “I need more information.”
“Sorry, honey,” she sighed. “That’s all there’s to tell. Caravan came through ’bout a month ago, paid with some fancy old coins that turns out to be Elvish then they went on their merry way.”
“I’m not seeing a coin pouch or wallet on you, sweetie and information isn’t free,” she eased the hammer back into place.
“Ma’am,” he looked her square in the eyes. “I’ve enjoyed this meeting, it isn’t often I get to deal with competent people on my travels. I would hate for this to end badly and ruin our budding relationship.” He tipped his hat and caught the coin pouch that dropped out.
She smiled as he tossed softly tossed it to her, “that’s more like it.”
“It’s a lie,” she opened the pouch and smiled. “The Imperial post nearby heard about the coins and rounded up the traders. They haven’t been seen since.
“How far to the fort? ”
She cinched the bag and set it on her vanity, “they’re haven’t been seen in over a month.”
“Three hours on the road heading north,” she sighed. “You can’t miss it. It’s the one in stone.”
He donned his coat and walked out of the room. No one paid him much attention as he walked down the stairs and out of the tavern. As far as the other patrons were concerned he was just another satisfied customer, a speedy one at that. There were a few things he needed to do before he headed out. For one, he had arrived earlier in the day by train and didn’t have a horse, but he could easily rectify that by borrowing one for the night. The other issue being that an Imperial Fort, even one in a peaceful backwater was well staffed.
Before he had settled in the tavern he patrolled the town. It was the standard square layout with thick stone walls on the outside and quick log cabin construction for the buildings like dozens of others along the frontier. Most towns like this weren’t so lucky to have an outpost as close and were provided an Imperial Sheriff to maintain the law. Regardless of location, each town had a signal tower, but depending on how remote determined what type. The more isolated a location meant a telegraph was too much a liability and messages were sent with light and mirrors. Being so close to a fort meant that the message lines were secure.
Baelon headed for the sheriff’s office. Following the standard Imperial layout it was located in the center of the town. Being so close to a fort also afforded the luxury of a quick route to town via aerial tram. It was a squat building with a small holding area for a few criminals, there were bars on the windows and a sliding panel on the door for extra security. The only difference he could see from the dozens of others out there was the docking station atop the building. Without breaking stride he walked up to the door and knocked.
“What?” A voice barked.
“Bounty hunter,” he called back making his voice gruff.
There was the sound of a weapon being cocked, most likely a street sweeper.
“Alone,” he added. “I need to check the private board.”
Most bounties were posted outside for anyone to see but there was a special board for those who the Empire wanted alive. Only proven professionals or commissioned hunters got to take a peek at the listings.
There was the sound of two heavy locks moving, then the door opened to show a broad shouldered man who needed to shave. An Imperial seal was pinned to the left of his crimson leather vest.
“Trouble?” As suspected the man was carrying a shotgun, his right hand was firm on the stock and one of the hammers was engaged.
“I’ll be sure after I check the board,” Baelon didn’t make a move, a scatter gun this close would make him very dead.
The sheriff looked out at the street beyond and waved him inside, “Where?”
“Tavern,” he stepped inside, his eyes flicking to the telegraph station in the corner and empty cells. “The third room at the top of the stairs, whoever is in it doesn’t want visitors.”
“That ain’t strange,” the sheriff groaned, relaxing the hammer back into place.
“Send a deputy, see for yourself.”
“Does it look like I have a deputy?”
“No,” Baelon pounced, one hand triggering the catch on the bottom of the barrel while the other worked the switch on the top leaving the sheriff holding a stock and barrel.
The sheriff raised the stock, swinging it like a club. Baelon dipped to the side, sending his rigid fingers into the hairy Adams apple. Gagging, the sheriff stumbled back, dropping the pieces of shotgun, and bumping into the open door. Not wasting a moment, the elf shoulder checked the flailing man, slamming the door shut in the process and putting the sheriff out for the time being.
Grabbing the lump of a man under his arms the elf began to drag him to the nearest cell, only to find it was already occupied. Standing on the other side of the bars was a rakish man who was drowsy or drunk, possibly both. The prisoner looked slightly confused at the sight of the sheriff being manhandled into a cell. Baelon took the keys from the lawman’s belt and locked the cell. He paused for a moment and looked at the prisoner who waited expectantly.
“They took my boots,” the man raised a stocking foot.
Baelon leaned down and pulled off his boots and handed them through to the prisoner, then his jacket. He unlocked the door and waved him through. Anyone who took their time to look at the tracks would see that the same pair of boots walked into the jail then walked out in another direction. It wasn’t too likely there would be witnesses but anyone looking would see the same coat walk out as the one that went in. At night the difference in build wouldn’t an issue.
“They took my hat too.”
The prisoner nodded and left.