Percival led them with confidence to the city gate. He had requested while they were walking away from camp, that if the guard asked them their business to let him do the talking. He deliberately left out that they would be targeted by the customs guards because Kegar was a dwarf, he had already told Kegar, that everyone in Capita hated any non-human, there was no use beating a dead horse. The point however was moot. There were no guards at the gate. Peasants with their whole lives bundled onto carts and mules filed into the city. Few made eye contact. They were simply struggling to get into the packed city. Perhaps, if there had been guards to direct the mass it might have gone more smoothly.
As it was, it was nearing midday by the time they were finally through the gate. Percival pointed out the “quest board” to Katrina. “Two harvests ago, that board was nearly empty. Not because quests weren’t going up either. Things just were getting done.”
“Why aren’t they getting done now? Have the people lost their will to work?” She looked around at the mob, they didn’t look lazy, they looked terrified.
Percival shook his head, “No. Those that would be doing the work are dead or otherwise occupied.”
Katrina nodded. The streets were choked with people. Wide, frightened eyes dominated the hordes.
“Come!” Percival said grabbing Lizzy’s arm, “This way.”
As they forced their way through the streets people turned and saw Kegar walking with them. While people outside the gates had been too fearful to bother Kegar, those inside felt just safe enough to vent their anger. People began jeering, spitting, and flinging filth. Since they were throwing things at a dwarf who stood barely four feet tall, most of it missed. Unfortunately, that only served to anger those that had missed their throws and antagonize those that had been hit.
Percival breathed a sigh of relief when he ran straight into a guard. “Sir, I’ve been ordered-”
“What’s this?” The guard said, looking past Percival at Kegar, “A dwarf in Capita?” The guard pushed past Percival to Kegar. His fist came down on Kegar, giving him a solid blow across the face, before Kegar had even realized there was a guard in front of them. “It’s because of your kind that we’re in this mess!” The guard snapped his fingers, “You and you, hold him.”
Percival tried again to stop the guard only to be swatted away. “Sir!”
Kegar swore, pulling away from the guards. “I’m on my way to the king!”
“Not ours you’re not!” The crowd hissed and roiled.
Lizzy clutched her lute to her chest. She had never seen a mob like this. None of them had. The fear rose up in her like a tempest, wild and untamable. She felt a jolt, looking down, Katrina’s hand was on her arm. A faint blue glow around it. She was saying something but Lizzy couldn’t quite make it out.
“Play!” Katrina shouted a fifth time.
In Pode there had been a few times at the inn when people had gotten out of control, trying to start a bar fight or the like. Usually right after eating Stroz’s food for the first time. When such times occurred, Lizzy would play a special song that cut through the din and clamor and calmed the people involved. This was the song she played.
The song did cut through the screams around them, but only just around them. As it filtered through to the crowd it died. There was too much noise to be heard clearly and it needed to be heard clearly because the crowd’s anger was too strong, their frustration too great, it soured the music.
Katrina thumped her hand on Lizzy’s shoulder. It was hard to move it up there with the press of people pushing against them. Even though those closest to them weren’t raging, they also weren’t resisting the pushes of those behind them. Which meant that Katrina, Lizzy, Kegar and Percival were being crushed. A brighter blue glow surrounded Katrina’s hand on Lizzy’s shoulder. Lizzy’s music rose again, and this time, thunder rolled under the cords, crashing as percussion and elevating the music.
A calming drizzle began to fall on the crowd. One by one, their anger was soothed. They realized that they needed to find a inn with room, or to convince someone to let them stay. They had obligations, the most pressing, to get out of the rain. It took the better part of an hour, but most of the crowd moved on to other places in the city.
The guard and his two friends seemed stuck fast. Their anger, for whatever reason, was the hardest to disperse. Finally, the rage fell from the guards’. The one holding Kegar finally let go, but they did not offer an apology for their actions.
Percival had to shout over a clap of thunder, “Can you please take us to the king? He requested our presence.”
The guard turned away from Kegar, disgust still spread across his face, and looked squarely at Percival, “Why didn’t you say so? This way.” He started walking toward the center of the city.
The way to the king was choked with supplicants, but the guard led them past all that. He finally passed them off to a guard in the red and gold of the palace. This guard, who didn’t bother to give his name, led them to the king. The king was old and distracted. Fear oozed from his pores. His chancellor sat at a desk by the throne. It was clearly new to the room. The desk was so filled with papers, they could only see the top of the chancellor’s hat.
The king’s nervous eyes flicked over the group, “You’re the ones from Pode?”
“Excellent. I need you to slay a dragon.”