Bitter 62

“No, stop, wait,” Britta shouted, holding up the wooden coin like a small shield.

The woman stopped her charge but still help the pitchfork out, aimed at Britta’s head. She was about twice Britta’s height and at least three times her weight.

“What you got there?”

“It’s a token for a mount,” said Britta, waving the coin about like she was trying to get a bird to take a nut from her.

The woman lowered the pitchfork, slightly, and leaned forward. She squinted, then leaned back and raised the pitchfork again. “Put it down, there. Slowly.”

Britta did as asked, bending down while keeping her eyes on the woman. Her clothes were rumpled and her hair was pointing at a funny angle with bits of straw sticking out of it. She looked like she’d just woken up in a hayloft. Did NPCs sleep or was this just another designer affectation?

Once the token was on the ground, Britta took a step back. The woman edged forward and picked it up. Then she put it up to her mouth and bit it. “Seems real. Made it past the bandits did you?”

Britta hadn’t seen any bandits, but then she’d taken quite a large detour. If the bandits were part of the quest, she was glad to have missed them.

“Yes. I avoided them.”

The woman seemed surprised. “Did you now? I guess it’s easier when you’re so small. I suppose that no good husband of mine sent you.”

“Ah… yes. Are you Marj?”

“That’s right.” A white tag appeared over her head with her name on it.

“Jasper said you’d have a horse my size.”

“Pfft. Horse? I don’t think so. Only thing that’ll fit you is Donald.”

“Okay. Where is he?”

“Wait here.” She backed away, still eyeing Britta suspiciously. She disappeared into the barn and the returned leading a goat. It wasn’t even a big goat, although it did have quite large horns that looked sharp enough to cause some damage. Probably to Britta.

“Here we are,” said Marj. She grabbed the goat by the tuft on its chin and looked into its eyes. “Donald, this is your new owner. She’s going to take care of you from now on, understand?”

The goat’s eyes seemed to flash red and then it reared up trying to stamp on Marj with its front hooves.

Marj still had it by the beard and yanked it back down. The goat bleated. It sounded like a sulky car horn.

Marj nodded like an agreement had been reached. She let go of its chin and held out the rope that was tied around its neck. Britta took it, and smiled at the goat. It rolled its eyes and then lowered its head to investigate the grass around its feet.

The goat had no saddle and no reins. Britta wasn’t sure how she was supposed to climb on, stay on or get anywhere.

Marj held out her empty hand expectantly. Britta looked at it.  “I thought it was free.”

“Aye. But it’s customary to give a tip.”

“Oh,” said Britta. She still didn’t have any money. She could just leave, but Marj was looking very expectant. If she tipped her, there might be an additional part of the quest. Like a saddle.

Britta opened her inventory and looked around. She took out one of the hats she’d been given that she couldn’t wear herself and placed it on Marj’s open hand.

Marj screwed up her face. “What’s this?”

She didn’t seem impressed. Not surprising. If the hats had been worth anything, she wouldn’t have been gifted two of them. There’d been a small chance the woman would have appreciated the gift, but sadly, small chances rarely worked out.

“It belonged to my grandfather. He wore it during the war. It’s not worth much but it means a lot to me.” She didn’t expect that to make much of a difference but perhaps it would remove the look of disgust from Marj’s big, round face.

Marj looked at the hat more closely. “Oh, in that case… thank you very much. I’ll wear it with pride.”

As Britta watched her place it on her head, where it fit quite snugly, she noticed the tag over Marj’s head had changed colour to very slightly pink. What did that mean?

Britta was surprised that her lie had been believed, and that the hat had been accepted in lieu of payment. It had certainly changed her attitude towards Britta. Was that why her tag had changed colour? If she could she lie her way out of trouble with NPCs, that would come in very useful. She could make stuff up, no problem—her mouth had infinite ammo.

“Since it’s so special to you, I suppose I should give you something in return.” She was being much more friendly now. “Here, maybe you can use this.”

She wasn’t getting a saddle or a guide to riding goats. Marj was holding out a scrap of paper. Britta took it and opened it up. It was a recipe for soup. The ingredients were mainly plants that sounded familiar but not quite.

Steel carrots - 4

Dung weed - 1 bushel, strained.

Corn on the keb - 1 peeled

Rice water - 2 cups

Cloud salt - 1 pinch

Liver flowers - 4 petals

It was called Royal Orange Soup. It wasn’t clear if it was just a regular meal to make you less hungry or if it had some special properties, but since this was a game, the latter seemed likely.

“Thank you,” said Britta.

“That’s my Grandma’s recipe. Put a spring in your step, that will.”

Jump over tall buildings? Britta put the recipe in her inventory. Even if it was nothing special, maybe she could sell it at the auction house. How many other people had stumbled on this reward? Maybe no one.

Britta returned her attention to the matter at hand. Getting on her goat. Now that Marj was more friendly, Britta hoped for a few pointers. She slowly approached Donald, who didn’t seem bothered, and then threw her leg over and grabbed on. She ended up on the goat’s back. It was the perfect size for her, her feet almost reaching the ground but just far enough above to not get in the way. She shook the rope she was still holding.

Donald didn’t move. She shook it again. Nothing. She looked over at Marj, but she was standing still as a statue, no expression on her face. Standby mode. Britta dug her heels into the goat’s flanks and Donald took off.

Britta leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Donald’s neck. They were moving surprisingly fast which was good, but Britta had no idea how to steer, which was bad.

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