Mark was a very charismatic person. His smile was contagious, brightening the day of whoever saw him. I wondered whether this was natural or was some sort of trick he learned after becoming a paladin. Most people’s moods would damper a bit when they looked behind Mark and saw Malik. They clearly found him just as unnerving as I did. The only person who didn’t seem bothered or even aware of Mailk’s creepiness was Mark. I wondered if Malik would ever get over the death of his family.

“Hello!” Mark yelled while waving at a gnarly looking sea captain at the other end of the dock. The man's face was covered with an unkempt beard. His skin was blemished and leathery from standing out in the harsh sun for too long. He wore leather boots and a long coat that was a dull red and black.

“I’ve been waiting for 3 days.” grumbled the sailor. “That’s coming out of your pocket.”

“That’s perfectly reasonable. I thought we’d make it here in less time,” said Mark who was still smiling. It seemed like nothing would damper his good mood.

“It’ll take some time for me to set up the charter. I didn’t know when you’d be getting here but we’ll be able to leave in a couple of hours time. Might want to hit up the pub. The food ain’t that good but it’s got cute servers and the beer is beer.”

Mark just nodded.

“Come on. Let’s give old Captain Pickford some room.” Mark stated.

I followed Mark and Malik as they backed away from the dock and onto dry land. It eased my nervousness a little but I was still dreading the upcoming journey on the boat. The dock had been stable, easily holding my weight. I didn’t know if the boat would be able to hold my weight, especially if the sea became rough. I dismissed the thought. Worrying about sinking wouldn’t help me.

The inn was modest but well maintained. The lumber used to make the building was relatively new and lacked any signs of rotting. Inside, there were multiple round wooden tables to sit at. A few booths lined the wall opposite to the bar, which was where Mark decided we should sit. The booths were roomy for humans but they were a tight fit for me. I took up an entire bench and had to scrunch up my knees to fit my legs under the table. Malik and Mark sat on the other side of the table.

A tiny human girl walked over to our booth with a clipboard in her hands and a writing device I'd seen my master use.

She turned to look at Mark who was sitting on the inside of the booth, clearly ignoring Malik who was the closest to her. Maybe it was nothing but for a brief second I thought I saw a cruel expression flash across Malik’s face. No one else seemed to notice so maybe I had just been seeing things.

“I’ll have the Swordfish.” Mark determined after asking the waitress what she thought was the best dish.

I didn’t know whether or not the swordfish was the best dish on the menu but it certainly was the most expensive. I had a feeling that Mark was being fleeced out of his coin and it made me worry what type of merchant he was. I hoped he was more experienced with navigation than he was with his negotiating.

Malik got the fish stew. It was a murky brown color, hiding whatever types of seafood floated underneath the dark surface. The smell of fish and spices from the stew was pungent but much nicer than the smell that wafted around the dock.

Only a tankard of beer sat before me, still full to the brim. I wasn’t going to order anything since I didn’t eat food but Mark insisted on buying me a beer anyway. He said it had something to do with celebration. I didn’t want to waste the company's money since I needed them to get me to the firedrake.

Mark’s plate of swordfish was large. At first, I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to down the entire plate but was surprised to find the elegant man turn ravenous as he ripped through the food like it was his last meal.

It wasn’t long before both Malik and Mark had finished their meals so we had plenty of time left before we had to board the captain’s ship. There wasn’t much to do in this unnamed port so we stayed seated. I watched the waitress approach us one last time.

The waitress stopped at the table before grabbing the empty plate and bowl that sat onto the table. She looked over towards Mark with a large smile on her face.

“Would you like to rent a room for the night?” She asked with enthusiasm. The enthusiasm didn’t seem genuine, at least when I compared her demeanor to the maids that used to clean my master’s estate. They never smiled even when guests were around. It didn’t matter to me though. We’d be gone by the end of the night.

“This town is great, but I’m afraid we’ll be sailing across the lake to the Dunbar trade route. We’re already late as it is.”

“You might want to rethink your journey. Water has been raging for the last week. Numerous ships have disappeared on the route to the Dunbar dock.”

“I’m afraid that’s not an option. It’s essential we get our goods sold as soon as possible, we’re already behind schedule.”

“Well, make sure you’re safe,” said the waitress to Mark. She had yet to acknowledge that Malik and I were even there. She walked away with the empty plate and bowl that laid on the table.


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