Bitter 254

Now that Britta looked at Dennis more closely, there was a resemblance. He certainly had the same bearing and height. Was this something intended by the devs? Or had they just reused the same basic computer model for the two NPCs, and the game had filled in the backstory?

Britta sat down at the table as Clara brought over the stew. Dennis smiled politely and set out the bowls. He’d said he’d do the talking, but so far he hadn’t said much.

He had mentioned his mother used to work for the Mayor. Perhaps a maid who had an illicit affair with the master of the house. It was the sort of story Mum liked to read. Big chunky books with distressed looking women in torn clothing on the cover.

Britta had tried reading one once, and had been appalled by the ridiculous amount of throbbing passion worked into every page. She very nearly didn’t finish the thing.

It seemed unlikely the devs would be up on their romantic fiction, although you never knew. Maybe bodice rippers were a hipster thing nowadays. It was even less likely the game would know of those kinds of stories, but then the game never behaved like she expected it to.

“Here we are, nice and hot.” Clara poured out a ladle of rat stew into Britta’s bowl.

“Thank you.” She peered into the simmering green concoction. It did smell good. There were no tails or claws in it, at least. Telling herself no real rats were harmed in the preparation of this meal, Britta picked up the wooden spoon.

“B is new to town, Mother,” said Dennis. “She’s thinking of working for the Mayor.”

“You’ve met him, have you?” Clara’s eyes lit up.

“Only a couple of times. He seems very… nice.”

“Oh, of course. A real gentleman.”

“She wanted to know what he was like to work for,” said Dennis, “so I thought you might answer her questions. So she can make a more informed decision.”

“Very good of you, Denny. He’s such a big-hearted boy. And he’s right, you should always make sure your employer is a man of good credentials. And I can assure you, the Mayor is.”

“My mother’s a big supporter of the Mayor’s. Votes for him every year.”

“Oh,” said Britta, “he’s elected?”

“No,” said Dennis, “but that doesn’t stop Mother.”

“Oh, quiet with you. You don’t need a big fancy election to let people know what you think, do you? Now, B, what would you like to know?”

“Um, well, you used to work for him, didn’t you? That’s what Dennis told me.”

“I did, I did. A wonderful time I had. But then little Denny came along—” she placed her small hand over Little Dennis’ much bigger one “—and I decided to take early retirement.”

Britta felt awkward asking personal questions about Clara’s relationship with the Mayor, especially with the product of that relationship sitting across the table from her.

“Did you work at the house?”

“No, not really. I spent some time there, of course—lovely place—as part of my duties, but mostly it was out in the field.”

What was she talking about? Had she been a farmhand? “The field? Does the Mayor own land?”

“No, no. Not that kind of field. Oh, you’ve finished. Let me get you some more.”

Without realising it, Britta had finished her bowl of rat stew. She had been so involved in thoughts of lusty goings-on down on the farm that she had forgotten the main ingredient of rat stew was rat. Even more worrying, it had tasted quite nice.

“No more for me, thanks,” she said.

“What? No, you must.” Clara ladled more into the bowl.

Britta looked to Dennis for help, but he was busily slurping away. She still didn’t know what it was the Mayor was holding over him exactly. He had insisted she talk to his mother about these matters, but Britta didn’t feel any closer to the truth.

She’d had an illegitimate child with the Mayor, and now lived here with Mayor Jr, well out of the way in the ghetto. They didn’t seem to be bothering the Mayor with anything. They couldn’t be more discreet, really. What did he want from them?

“Of course, it’s been a long time since I worked for him,” said Clara as she returned to her seat. “Things may have changed, so I don’t know what kind of rates they charge for my line of work these days. You’ll have to negotiate that side for yourself, but you don’t have to take the first offer. If he wants you, he’ll keep trying.”

Britta noticed Dennis tense, lips drawn tight.

“Your line of work?” said Britta. “What do—”

There was a loud knock on the door. The three of them stopped eating—damn, she was nearly through her second helping—and looked over at the door.

“Now, who could that be?” said Clara.

Dennis rose and went to answer it. Just as he opened the door, he was pushed back and three dwarves wrapped from head to foot in black clothing, only their eyes showing, burst in. They looked like dwarf ninjas.

“We don’t want no trouble,” said the one in the middle. “The gnome comes with us.”

Despite not being able to see their faces, Britta could tell they were dwarves for several reasons. They were short, which wasn’t by itself a giveaway—many races ran short, including her own—but they were also wide. No one did broad like a dwarf.

In addition, the Scottish accent was a not-too-subtle hint. Never let it be said the devs missed the chance to play up to a stereotype.

And lastly, their giant beards were poking out of the bottom of their cowls.

“What’s the meaning of this?” said a startled Dennis. “You... you get out of here this instant!”

“Calm down, dear,” said Clara. “You know that’s not how we speak to guests.” She had a large kitchen knife in her hand that wasn’t there a moment ago. The sharp end was balanced on the end of her finger, and it was spinning like it was on display, glinting as it caught the firelight.

The dwarves seemed less sure of themselves and were muttering what sounded like, “Red Swan, it’s the Red Swan.”

No, definitely not a maid or a farmhand.

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