Like every morning Tatty slept until the sun shining through the balcony opening landed on his bed. The light and warmth it brought to his fur always roused him from slumber. Slowly opening his eyes the white fox lay still for a moment, twitching his pointed white ears to listen to the sounds of the city. The noise never differed, the shouts of the merchants extolling the virtues of their wares and shops mingled with the creak of wagon axles, teamster curses and braying of donkeys. Then there was the clanking footsteps of the local guard patrol marching down the street accompanied by laughing children at play and the chattering of merchant wives enjoying breakfast on their balconies and chatting together.
Stretching his limbs sinuously Tatty arched his back then clambered out of bed, lit the fire and set the kettle to boil. With this done he stepped out onto the balcony that fronted his modest house. Standing in the sun in just his loincloth the white fox basked in the warm sunshine. Rain or shine though Tatty's routine was the same. He bowed politely to the ladies on their balconies before beginning to stretch and test every limb. Hard muscles bunched and rippled beneath his fur as he worked on loosening up before throwing himself into a vigourous exercise routine. He did squats, push ups, jogged on the spot and a variety of other tasks designed to keep the body healthy and let the mind focus on other things. This morning his mind was focussed on the visitors he was expecting that afternoon, sifting through the information he'd gathered for them, a smile adorning his vulpine muzzle in anticipation of the fun.
He worked out for half an hour, watching the street below, musing on his business and letting the ladies on their balconies admire his body. He was well aware that most of them were infatuated with him. The lonely monk living in the modest house he'd converted into a shrine to his mysterious god. It inflamed their romantic imaginations and many of them were lonely and appreciated his morning routine. It gave them something other than their husbands to look at. It also made them friendly and talkative and that was a good thing in his line of work.
"Good morning young Tatty," Mrs Selanta called from her balcony, the elderly hedgehog also waved at him, "Did you sleep well?"
"I certainly did ma'am," Tatty called back, lithe body shifting back and forth as he exercised, "How fares your husband and your sons?"
"Oh you know, hard at work, the silverware won't sell itself,"
"Glad to hear it, ah Miss Frobashire good morrow," he waved at a young squirrel who'd just appeared on the balcony two doors up, "You are well I hope, the morning sickness is not troubling you too much?"
"Oh it is much better this morning thank you," she placed her paws on her stomach, "Those herbs you gave me are working wonderfully."
"That is good news," Cynthia Direweight the costermongers wife joined in, "You're young man treating you well I hope?"
"That young squirrel is spoiling her rotten I reckon," old Mrs. Barrow piped up then started dispensing motherly advice for how the young lady should handle her husband. That was how Tatty's workout went, chatting back and forth with the neighbourhoods ladies as he sweated his way through his routine, his white fur growing tousled and unkempt.
Once he was done he waved to his neighbours and bid them a good day before going inside and drawing the folded wooden screen across the balcony door. He then stripped and went through into the only other upstairs room to wash up. Rinsing off the grime of the night and sweat of his workout by using the water from the pump he'd had installed up here. He didn't take time to heat the water in the morning just washed up in cold, drained the basin and got dressed. His clothing was sturdy and simple, soft leather sandals that laced up to his knees, a stiff brown leather kilt and a studded leather vest of the same hue lined with common holy symbols in grey thread. His hair was clipped back in a ponytail by a copper ring which was the only ornament he permitted himself. Dressed for the day the young monk made his way downstairs from his simple room and opened the shrine for the day.
Like the shops on either side the ground floor had sturdy stone walls and a solid foundation with a small basement whilst the upper story was wood. The house was about twenty foot wide and thirty deep. Unlike the prosperous shops on either side Tatty had knocked down the walls between rooms to form one large room. The floor was covered in a woven mat of rushes and the only furniture was a set of cushions scattered about a low table set with a cast iron samovar. There was a weapon rack behind the central cushion that face the front door and it held a series of halberds that Tatty was quietly proficient with.
Other then that the room was empty except for the hearth that had originally been in the kitchen. The bay windows which in a shop would display the goods of the merchant had been removed and the entire front of the house was now covered by folding wooden screens which opened directly out onto the street. A similar set opened out into the small garden that had been transformed into a mystic looking meditation garden that was all raked sand and artfully positioned rocks. It was a trifle overdone but it helped set the mystic atmosphere he was aiming for and it worked surprisingly well. With the shrine open to the street Tatty poured hot water from the kettle he'd brought from upstairs into the samovar to brew tea and seated himself on his cushion. Breakfast was a simple mixture of nuts, berries and miniature pastries with fresh green tea
When the water clock in the garden clonked it's way through the tenth hour he was joined by groups of local children whose parents were too poor to pay for school or whose home was the street. He spent an hour teaching them letters and numbers and making sure they all got something to eat and drink. Their ages ranged from four to fifteen and some of the local mothers came along to help the young fox with his class. He never turned anyone away and always had space, a pastry and cup of tea for anyone who wanted to help. At eleven he wrapped up the class and said his goodbyes to everyone and changed out of his leather clothing into a simple pair of cotton trousers and spent twenty minutes raking the sand in the gardens.
At half past Sergeant Hood of the city guard, a vibrant orange tiger brought his platoon of recruits to the shrine and Tatty spent two hours drilling them in how to use a polearm. It was hard work, leading them through the motions, guiding them into the right form and correcting their mistakes. At half past one the class came to a close and the sergeant provided lunch and payment for Tatty whilst the recruits tidied up the shrine.
"Thank you again for taking the time to train them Tatty," the tiger said with a grin as he opened the boxes containing their lunch, "It's rare to find a weapon instructor who takes as little as you do in payment for training such a large group."
"It's my pleasure to help Sergeant," Tatty murmured helping himself to a steamed rice bun, "It is reward enough to know your young guardsmen can protect themselves and others and use those halberds properly. Most cities give their guards no proper training at all and it is fun to teach them, they want to learn."
Chuckling soft Hood watched a young recruit sweeping the front steps, "Aye they're a spirited bunch for sure. I hope they'll be able to hold onto that as they get older."
"I am sure they will," Tatty murmured before taking bite of his bun, chewing happily through the beef inside, "Thank you for trusting me to train them, I know my methods are a bit peculiar."
"Well it makes sense to me, training the body as well as how to use the weapon," Hood grinned, "We need the guard to be fit as well as trained."
Chatting with Sergeant Hood was always nice, he was a down to earth chap who seemed glad for the chance to speak his mind openly. He could never voice his opinion to his superiors and here was a monk willing to listen. So they talked and had lunch and then at two the white fox said goodbye to the sergeant and his men, closed the front folding screens and cleaned up. He took time to heat the water this time. Filling a large iron bucket which he set over the fire to boil, it was enough to fill the basin in his wash room and allowed for him to have a proper clean before dressing once again in his traditional clothing and preparing for his afternoons work.
His first visitor entered by way of the garden, there was a panel that slid open if you knew how and those who could afford his services had been granted that secret. His guest was Sebastian Carmichael, Lord Secretary to the City Treasury. The wolf had black fur and a regal bearing and Tatty treated him with great respect. Bowing deeply, offering him tea and seeing to his comforts before broaching their business.
"I can confirm that Nicolas Boranth and Elise Woodrose are to be betrothed, this will unite their trading houses as one. The betrothal document states this and it is their intention to rule the house jointly with their first child being heir."
"You offer your usual indemnity on this information?" Lord Carmichael asked, "If this is true I can position the city to take advantage of this situation."
"Of course, half my fee now, the other half upon public announcement, they intend to reveal the engagement at next week's Fishermen's Guild Ball."
"Excellent," the wolf dropped a heavy pouch onto the monk's table and finished his tea, "As always you are a credit to your order Whisperer." He nodded and quickly departed leaving Tatty alone to count the money in the pouch.
Next was David Zafran, a fine gem merchant and affiliate at the Jewelers Guild, the horse was nervously dry-washing his hands as he sat down before the fox, "You were right, Dovram, Franklin and Weslyn were nominated for the council. I was able to make a lot of money at the bookmakers....." he looked around and dropped a heavy pouch on the table.
Taking the pouch Tatty opened it and counted the coins out one by one, "Thank you Master Zafran, I am glad the information provided proved useful."
"Yes well... we are done for now yes?"
Dropping the coins back into the pouch the monk smiled at the horse, "Unless there is something else you'd like me to find out for you. My liege will reveal all for the right price and discretion from you of course."
David shook his head and stood back up, "No... no I don't want any more to do with this," he bowed and hurriedly left. Tatty watched him go, rolling a gold coin around his fingers before dropping it back into the pouch. He'd have to keep an eye on Master Zafran he didn't seem to have the constitution required for his kind of business. He made a couple of arrangements to keep the horse under surveillance and prepared for his next customer.
As the afternoon wore on he met with four more people, sometimes he sold them simple things. The identity of a merchant's mistress for his wife, a list of named individuals who'd enjoyed the pleasures of Madame Larinum's boudoir four nights ago. He took a commission from a local smuggler to retrieve the patrol schedule for the river guards over the next week. His final meeting was going to be much more interesting, he brewed fresh tea and composed himself. The back gate of the compound clicked open shortly after the water clock clunked four and a tall, broad shouldered gent in a huge blue cloak hurried across the garden and into the shrine. His hood covered his head and he couldn't have looked more suspicious of he had tried. Worse he was casting worried glances back across his shoulder toward the garden gate.
"If you are that worried about being followed my lord you really shouldn't act as if you have something to hide."
The hooded figure jumped and turned to look at the fox, trying to keep the shadows from his cloak hiding his face, "Anyone could have seen me come down that back alley."
Shaking his head and pouring tea Tatty gestured toward the cushions on the opposite side of his table, "Actually they couldn't, I paid a lot of money to have the entrance to that alleyway ensorcelled. Anyone watching you would have lost track of you in the crowd. It takes extreme strength of will to be able to see anyone using that alleyway. So please relax, sit down and have some tea."
The figure moved forward cautiously then sat on the cushions and accepted a teacup in one gloved hand, "Are you sure no one will have seen me?"
"Quite,it is a very sophisticated and expensive spell, my visitors expect discretion in these matters. So please push back your hood and relax friend. We have business to discuss people do not request a private meeting with me without reason."
"A friend of mine told me about the drop off point, how to contact the Whisperer, I was surprised you sent a response back so quickly."
"It is my business, my liege and my god demand efficiency, now please let us talk."
The figure hesitated then pushed back his hood to reveal a thick brown mane and tawny furred muzzle. The lion was young with deep hazel eyes and a nervous disposition, "I am..." he started but Tatty cut him off.
"You are Kelvin Carsanth, second son and third child of Violet and Yadeon, leaders of Pride Carsanth and owners of the Coil Flow Shipping Line. Your family owns 16 river traders, 7 merchantmen and one galleon with another being built." Tatty smiled mischievously at the lion, noting with some pleasure the stupefied look on his face, "Remember it is my business to discover such things. No one meets with me until I have looked them up."
"But how, I never put my name down," Kelvin stuttered, the hand holding the tea cup shaking nervously.
"I have ways Kelvin, if we are to do business there are levels of discretion required, you need to know from the start that I am good. It'll be tempting to make me disappear once I've done what you want. You need to know that should that happen things you do not want known will surface all over town. Things about you and my other customers. You might not know who they are but all of you should be interested in keeping my identity and business secret."
"I believe you, honestly I do..." Kelvin took another sip of tea and nervously played with the cup.
"Then let us talk business, what do you want Kelvin?"
The young lion shifted around uncomfortably then pulled a tightly rolled scroll out of his cloak and placed it on the table, "My father is dying, his life can be measured in days. When he dies his Will shall be opened and everything will go to my eldest brother as is traditional. I... want you to switch the Will with this one naming me the new head of the Pride."
"Not an easy job, such documents are ensorcelled and protected," he touched the replica with one claw, "Are you sure you had this made with all the enchantments duplicated?"
"Yes," Kelvin snapped, "I was there when father called in the lawyers, my older brother is a lay-about, a wastrel just waiting to inherit. Father won't...." he stopped talking as Tatty raised a paw.
"Not to be insensitive Master Carsanth, I already know all I need to know. The price for such a job is seven thousand gold, paid in full up front."
'Seven..." he gaped at the fox, "You want it all now?"
"Yes, this is no information gathering job, it is extremely dangerous I will take full payment and you have my word that it shall he done before dawn. Or you can try to find someone else to do it, but as this document stands to make you supremely wealthy seven thousand is a paltry sum."
Squirming on the cushions Kelvin looked everywhere but at Tatty for a minute or two then pulled a bulging pouch out of his cloak and pulled seven huge coins out. They were octagonal and an intricate mixture of platinum, gold and obsidian wrapped about a diamond inlaid with the city crest. Tatty picked one of them up, his claws probing the coins, searching out those subtle signs that would indicate the real thing from forgeries.
"Impressive, few people can acquire the Diamond Guarantee, very well, your commission is accepted." He scooped the coins into his lap and smiled, "By dawn tomorrow the documents will have been switched, the original disposed of and our contract completed."
"Roichart and Partners, it's in the safe in Roichart's office," Kelvin said as he stood up and adjusted his cloak.
"Actually the fake is in Roichart's office, the real Will is in the vault under the basement."
"How will I know if..."
"If I am successful you won't hear anything, if I fail you'll hear about my arrest and your fee will be returned," standing up Tatty escorted the Lion out of the shrine and toward the gate, "Remember just act normally when you leave the alley. Until we do business again Master Carsanth fair hunting."
He bowed the feline out of the gate then sealed it for the evening. He then walked into the centre of the garden and basked in the last slither of the evening sun to reach the garden. Swaying from side to side Tatty performed a ritualistic, meditative dance to centre his body and his mind. As the sun sank below the roof of the building behind the fox brought his meditation to a close, locked up the screens at the back of the house and prepared for the nights work. He stored the lions fee in the usual place, a hidden compartment in the fireplace then stripped down to his loincloth and enjoyed a simple evening meal in his room.
Fed, watered and ready in mind and body Tatty stood in the centre of his room and waited as night fell. He could distantly hear the water clock ringing and he shuddered in anticipation as the noise slowly grew clearer. His ears were changing, the sharply pointed fuzzy appendages were flattening, losing their fur and become large, dish like and supernaturally sensitive. As his ears changed his muzzle was becoming sharper, narrower, shorter and with a soft groan that became a squeak his fangs merged and clicked into place as a sturdy pair of incisors.
His whole body was in the throes of transformation now, it took great willpower to not scream in agony as his bones twisted or cry out in pleasure as muscles flowed into new arrangements. His body became shorter, thinner, his muscles wiry yet gaining supernatural strength that put his usual physical fitness to shame. Tatty’s claws became razor sharp, deadly, infectious weapons. His hands and feet were covered in tough pink skin with only a down of extra fine hair covering them. His tail coiled around his ankles, the pink skin rough, mottled like scales and his whiskers were now prominent and sprouted from either side of a twitchy rodent nose. Formerly pristine white fur had become shaggy, unkempt and a light grey in hue that helped make sure it was impossible to identify Tatty the wererat with the white furred fox.
Reduced to kneeling on all fours by the intensity of his transformation Tatty's ragged breathing slowed as he recovered from the ordeal. The air was heavy with his new, sharp rodent scent and he shivered as he pulled the scent down into his lungs, it felt good to he himself once more. It had been many years since he'd considered his fox body as his true self, now this was the real him. Lifting up onto his haunches he groomed his whiskers and ears, licking his paws and brushing then through his fur. Satisfied his body had finished it's change he abandoned his loincloth, grabbed the fake Will and scampered on legs that were closer to feral than anthro down into the shrine.
A square section of the rush coated floor lifted up to reveal a ladder down into the basement. Closing the trapdoor behind him Tatty moved into the small stone chamber. His eyes adjusted to the gloom easily, the only light down here was a single enchanted crystal giving off a faint yellow light. The were-rat opened a trunk and pulled on his work clothes, they were similar to what he wore whilst a fox just tailored to fit his body and with a couple of small changes and additions. His frame was certainly more feral than the rat-kin anthros in town but not that different. His outfit consisted of a pair of tight grey leather trousers, a hooded leather armour vest that laced up down the side and a very heavy duty belt.
The substitute will went into a heavy waterproof pouch which he tucked inside his vest. A small dagger hooked on the belt alongside a set of locksmiths tools. He also had a case containing a variety of vials, a sturdy file and a coiled length of waxed rope and a grappling hook. Satisfied with his clothing the rat pulled up his hood and levered open the grate that led down into the sewers. With one last check for anything he might have forgotten Tatty scampered down into the dank tunnels.
The route Tatty followed through the sewers was not a straight path, he wound his way down tunnels, over intersections and across small metal flow gate frames. His motion was swift, his body was designed for quick movements, pattering on two or four feet down interlinked side channels and across the circumference of large drain ports. Constantly, ears pricked, eyes warily watching for those subtle signs from his feral rat cousins that would alert him to a dangerous path or a tunnel to be avoided.
Tonight he was lucky and was able to reach his destination within an hour of setting off. The tunnel he wound up in was large, ancient and well maintained; situated under the palace district were the great Lords made their home. Leaving the main channel the were-rat scampered down a side passage and stopped before a large iron grill that blocked his progress. In the gloom his eyes picked out the scurrying shapes of feral rats, their eyes reflected the light. One of them scampered up the other side of the grill and looked at him for a moment. Deft paws held the bars and strong jaws wrapped about a large latch then she used her weight to pull the lock free of it's home.
"Thanks cousin," Tatty whispered as he slipped through the gate and locked it behind him. The rodent watched him for a second then started to groom her whiskers and the were-rat pressed on. The tunnel opened out into a large, dimly lit chamber that looked like a junction of three pipes. A large grill in the floor to the left led into a near vertical drain that Tatty knew from experience dropped down into the disgustingly stagnant and mud coated under-sewer. They were the most ancient tunnels buried and forgotten when newer tunnels were built. On the wall opposite was a large circular drain, the output for some old tunnel, there was a channel that ran through the centre of the room from the wall grill to the drain but it was mostly dry and hadn’t been used for years. The room was illuminated by soft green glowing lanterns and piled up in heaps and untidy piles against the wall opposite was a veritable trove of treasure.
There were large chests bulging with gold, platinum, silver in all shapes and sizes from bars and unrefined ingots to coins and plate, goblets and dishes. Then there were gemstones, jewels uncut and shaped; some loose others set in fanciful jewelry or as part of a larger piece. Weapons made up a decent amount of loot as well as the occasional skull or bleached bone or armoured mail vest. Helmets with gilding and a large cast-iron sea chest overflowing with fine quality fabrics. There were feral rats all over the place, scampering this way and that, climbing in and out of various smaller pipes and they varied in size from small feral to dire rats but there was strangely no sign of King.
Tatty wasn’t that worried, the giant Rat King would be somewhere nearby and he’d know the were-rat was here. Crouching down on his haunches the rat took some bread out of his belt pouch and crumbled it, feeding chunks to the ferals scampering around his feet whilst he waited.
“It is good to see you care for the conclave Tatty,” King declared in his urbane voice as he strolled through another entrance tunnel, “I take it my business on the surface is going well?”
Tatty turned and bowed, the King loomed above the were-rat at something approaching fourteen feet, his heavy bulk mostly muscle and yet his footsteps were surprisingly light. His bare grey feet padded quietly, he even managed not to click his toe ring on the floor as he approached his were-rat. Feral rats were scampering in and out of his tail and up over his shoulders whilst his fox-fur cloak flapped impressively behind him. It was clasped around the shoulders by two whole fox tails and he’d forgone wearing a crown for the moment leaving his thick black crest fully on display.
“Business is well my liege, we made a good price on the information we sold today,” he pulled out a large bag and held it out to the King, “We also took a special commission for seven thousand.”
“Excellent,” King opened the pouch and fished out one of the Diamond Guarantees and squeaked in delight as he held it up to one of the green burning lanterns, “Very good, setting you up as an information broker was a good call.”
“It’s fun work,” Tatty said licking his nose and brushing his whiskers out, “I’m glad you like it, I remember how hard it was to convince you it was the right idea.”
“Indeed,” King mused and chuckled deeply, “I remember when you first came to me, I’ll admit I was surprised by someone being so willing to embrace my gift and this life.”
“It is just what needs to be done,” Tatty squeakd quietly and swished his naked tail, “It’s as simple as that, I get to use my skills to serve you and I enjoy it.”
“I am glad you kept badgering me to let you try, many who are gifted with your blessing are so reluctant to embrace it. Still enough time as a rat will eventually show them the truth,” King turned and tossed the sack of coins onto his treasure heap then waddled over and sat himself down against it with a contented sigh.
“May I ask why the reminiscence my King?” Tatty followed, his pose half crouched, wary, there was a tiny worrying spark of doubt that the King was doubting him for some reason.
Noting the way Tatty skulked toward him, nose twitching at the spike of fear in the were-rat’s scent King laughed softly and reached out with his tail to coil it about Tatty’s shoulders. “Fear not my rat, I was just musing I had a group of adventurers in here earlier. I caught them trespassing so sent them down that old mine to extract the Rogue Stone, they had a rat-kin with them.”
“Oh?” Tatty perked up at that, Rat-Kin were rare in the city, they were immune to the were-rat blessing. They were even greater potential minions for the King due to their ability to be imbued with his gifts directly without having to transform into were-rats, “You made him one of us?”
“Yes, if he survives the mine he’ll be joining your ranks as one of my people,” King stroked his clawed paws back and forth across his stomach and smiled, “He has some interesting friends as well, they are young, inexperienced but… I have been given some thought to them, it might not be a bad idea to have a party of trained adventurers of my own.”
“Interesting thought Majesty, you think you can… turn them?”
“Yes, I have a plan, it’ll take awhile but Orel is already mine… but first I need to set some things up. Do you have anything to do tonight that must be done?”
“Ah one thing, I need to substitute a document at the offices of Roichart and Partners,” Tatty took out the replacement Will and held it out to King, “It’ll take me a few hours to break into the vault.”
Kings eyes glowed as he looked at the scroll, his brow hooded as he considered the options laid out before him, “Ok, do that then I need you to pay a visit to a forge in the Garantha District, it belongs to Reginald Harven and is on viaduct way.”
Tatty tilted his head to one side and nodded, already trying to work out the best route to follow to reach Garantha from Roichart’s place in the District of Leaves, “I can do that, what do I need to steal?”
“It’s called the Interdiction Arabesque, a type of fancy scroll work made out of enchanted iron. Lord Tof’Marole commissioned it and had it imbued with a whole variety of very expensive warding spells to protect the family vault.” King drew Tatty in close, settling the were-rat down on the floor before him, “The spells are attuned to activate as soon as it is attached to a wall. So if it was to say be stolen and bolted to the wall of my chambers here it’s magic would work for me.”
“Interesting, I am sure I can liberate it for you, is it very big?” Tatty asked, leaning into the touch of the King’s paws atop his soft grey furred head.
“About the size of one of those fancy silver platters, it’s small but powerful. It also happens to be the thing Orel and his party were hired to escort to the Lord Tof’Marole’s manor,” King’s grin grew wider, “As they didn’t show up it’s still being held at Harven’s forge, if it was to say… get stolen. Well it’d make Orel and his party unemployable, especially if we sell the information to the right people.”
Licking his nose Tatty stood up on his hind legs and grinned, “Double profit then, I’ll see to it at once.” He bows to King and scuttled off, taking a different passage to the one he used to enter. The potential addition of newcomers to the King’s Mischief of Were-rats gave it a personal slant for Tatty. It meant he’d no longer be the only were-rat in the city, it was going to be a fun night.
Welcome everyone to Part 3 of the first story Arc here at Rat King's court!
Here we introduce a new character Tatty the King's Loyal Were-rat and the city's broker of information and performer of espionages.
We'd love to hear what you think of the story so please do let us know through comments below!