Bitter 197

Britta pressed the button that relogged her. She woke up in the Temple of Roha, just as she had many times before.

She jumped off the slab and left the small room. The main hall of the temple was empty apart from Sister Florence who was on the floor with a bucket and scrubbing brush. This seemed to be her default alternative encounter. She was either bursting into the room to make sure the player was leaving, or scrubbing the floor.

“Hello, Sister Florence,” said Britta.

“Oh, hello there,” said Sister Florence in her usual perky faux-Irish accent. “Something I can be helping you with, is there?”

“Could you tell me how to get to the guard house?”

“To be sure. It’s just over there.” She pointed towards the exit. “You haven’t got yourself into any trouble, I hope.”

There was a flashing in the corner of Britta’s vision and she called down her map. A new label had appeared over a large block to the north of where she was. She had spent some time exploring the town, but had stayed away from the poorest areas, which was where the guard house was situated. She tapped the building, making it her desired destination. A line appeared on the map, showing the route, and a glittering trail materialised in front of her.

“Thank you,” said Britta. Sister Florence smiled, but her eyes were already vacant as she carried on mindlessly scrubbing the same patch of stonework.

As Britta left the temple, she wondered if the dwarves would be out looking for her. If they did think she had used magic to escape, they might be a little more wary of her. Or they might be less gentle with her next time. She would have to watch out for suspicious, short people.

The guard house wasn’t too far, and once she reached the other end of the street, and the crowds had thinned, she could see it ahead of her. A large, wooden building like a fort.

It had a rough look to it, like heads on spikes might sometimes be out front, but the effect was somewhat undercut by the rainbow sprinkles leading from Britta’s feet to the door.

There were guards milling around outside, marching off in small groups or coming in with a prisoner in chains. They were dressed in dirty, tattered leather armour, but you could tell they wore a uniform. They had the same tight-fitting helmets and short swords at their waist. The armour was yellow and black, although time and poor care had faded it to tan and dark brown.

The guard house looked like the sort of place you would hold dangerous people, but there wasn’t a sign or anything like that.

Britta stood watching for a few minutes to try and get a feel for the place. It was quite big for a small town like this one—not that Britta knew how many people lived here, or how many of them were criminals.

She walked up to the entrance, and looked up at the guards loafing around outside it, blocking her way. She couldn’t tell if they were meant to be guarding the place or having a break. It wasn’t like a police station normally had cops outside on duty.

“Erm, hello,” said Britta. “I’m here to see someone.”

A large, portly man looked down at her. “Good for you.”

“Can you tell me where to go?” She was being as polite and as succinct as possible. Real-world police could be temperamental, but they had plenty of rules to keep them in check. Here, they could probably get away with murder.

“You here to see a prisoner?” asked the other guard, who was shorter but no less rotund.

“Yes,” said Britta, glad to be making some headway.

“Can’t just pop in for a visit,” said the first guard. He patted his belly like he was thinking about what he might have for dinner.

“I’m a relative,” said Britta. “I’m his wife.”

“Oh,” said the second guard, “you’ll want Family Visitations. Second floor.” He moved aside to let her by.

It was odd to be a married woman all of a sudden. There was a sense that she was now treated with more respect. Like a woman, rather than a girl. She liked it, although she wasn’t sure actually being married would be worth it just for this feeling.

She entered the building and headed for the stairs. There were even more people inside, and the smell wasn’t very pleasant. Guards were shoving and dragging their prisoners in all directions and there didn’t seem to be anyone in charge.

The second floor was a lot quieter. There was a counter, a bit like at the post office, with chairs along one wall. The occupants were mostly women, some with children, some quite old. The men who were present looked bored, most were dozing. They were all NPCs.

Britta walked up to the counter and waited. There was no one behind it and no bell to ring. She looked over at the people sitting, hoping one of them would tell her what she should do. There was a cough and she looked back to find a tall man in a nicer version of the guard uniform. He looked much cleaner than most of the guards downstairs.

“Can I help you, miss?”

“Stanley’s Cameo. You brought him in on a murder charge earlier. He’s my husband.”

“Yes, you’ll have to wait,” said the tall guard. “He’s probably still—”

Britta could see she was about to get the brush-off. “I have five screaming babies waiting for me at home,” she snapped at him with heartfelt anguish, “so, if you could speed this up a bit, I’d appreciate it.” She glared at him, one eye twitching and her clenched teeth bared. A woman close to the edge.

The guard was taken aback, either by sympathy for a woman at the end of her rope, or by Britta’s less than attractive face screwed up into an even more hideous form. “Yes, ma’am, of course. I’ll just check.” He hurried off.

Britta smiled. Being a wife earned you some respect, but no one wanted to mess with a harassed mother.

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