“Rat pies! Get your fresh rat pies here! Authentic medieval rat pies, just like they made in the fifteen hundreds!”
Matilda Scarletstrike paused and turned. There was something about the vendor’s voice that reminded her a little bit of her ex-husband. But no. The street vendor, who looked a little ratlike himself, was a little more energetic than she ever remembered Roland being. Plus, standing out here on the central plaza in front of Krim’s main hypergate, hawking rat pies to tourists, was a lot of work. Roland had never been known for hard work.
A tourist bumped into her. She could tell he was a tourist because he was dressed in a default adventurer’s outfit, the third option on Krim’s welcome menu. Plus, he was headed for the meat pies.
“Watch where you’re–” the tourist began then glanced at her face, then blanched and stumbled away. “Sorry, my apologies…”
She narrowed her eyes. Maybe it wasn’t a tourist after all, but Roland in a noob disguise. The tourist backed away slowly into the crowd then turned and ran. She let him go. Roland would never have apologized.
Then her view was blocked by an extremely fat man waddling towards the pie seller. Now, eating rat pies — she wouldn’t put that past Roland. And she’d seen picture of him from back when he still had a physical body, and he did tend to putting on weight. She could easily see him, once he was in a virtual world like Krim, which heavily marketed its extremely realistic simulation technology, that he’d go back to his old habits and gain all the weight back.
The fat man was dressed like King Henry the Eighth. Roland always had poor fashion sense.
She should walk away. Like her therapist said — focus on the positive. Take a couple of deep breaths. Count to ten. Visualize puppies and kittens. Instead, she took a step closer.
“Hey you,” the fat man said.
“Rat pie?” asked the vendor. “Fresh from the underground sewer tunnels. Just like they had in medieval times.”
“I’ve been getting complaints.”
“About my rat pies? Surely not!” The vendor lowered his voice. “If people are telling you they taste like pork, it’s because pigs are the rats of the farm animal kingdom. They’ll eat anything, you know. Even each other. So it’s not that my rats taste like pig. It’s just that pig tastes like rat.”
“The chamber’s received word that you’re in violation of the grid terms of service.”
“Oh, you’re from the chamber,” said the vendor. “Have a pie. On the house.”
The fat man glanced down at the steaming pies in the vendor’s cart and wrinkled his nose.
“Good morrow, my lord,” said a woman at the next stall over. “Perchance thee wouldst prefer some tripe with vinegar and salt? Mine stock of offal is diverse and varied and dainty bits make rich the ribs.”
“See, that’s how you’re supposed to do it,” the fat man said.
“Oh, and what, my rat pies aren’t authentic enough for your lordship?”
“It’s not the fake rat so much,” the fat man said. “It’s how you’re marketing it.” He tapped a stout walking stick against the hand-lettered sign on the rat pie cart.
“What’s wrong with Medieval Rat Pies?”
“Krim’s supposed to be immersive,” said the fat man. “It’s not immersive if you tell them it’s the medieval period. Folks living in the middle ages didn’t know they were living in the middle ages, did they?”
“It would have been the modern ages for them.”
The vendor glanced at his sign. “So you’re saying…. you want me to change it to say Modern Rat Pies?”
“Exactly. Now get off with you before I levy a fine.”
Matilda turned away. The Roland she knew wouldn’t have passed up a free pie, even one allegedly filled with rat.
She took a deep breath. Her therapist would be proud. She didn’t let her temper get away from her
Where to now? She could go on an adventure, take her mind off things. She started walking away from the hypergate deeper into the square. There was a booth advertising trips to the edge of the world — and over. There was a protester in front of it, holding a sign that proclaimed that the world was round.
“You will literally see the edge of Krim,” the travel agent proclaimed. “‘Tis a sight wondrous to behold!”
“It’s all faked with smoke and mirrors,” the protester argued. “It’s a conspiracy that goes all the way to the grid admins!” That was annoying. She put a hand on her knife hilt, then stopped, took a breath, and grabbed one leaflet from the protester and one from the travel agent. The next booth that offered a wide array of bladed weapons. That was interesting.
She bent over to look at a particularly sharp-looking falchion when someone tapped her on the shoulder. She ignored the tapper and waited for the blade merchant to hand her the falchion. She held it up to the light whenever whoever had been tapping on her shoulder said, “How met, weary traveler?” and pulled at her arm.
She whirled and sliced the curved blade of the falchion across the belly of her pesterer. The man fell, and a basket of scrolls dropped from his hand. One of the scrolls rolled across the dirty cobblestones and came to a stop at the fat man’s feet.
“It’s a little dull,” Matilda said, and put the bloodied falchion back on the merchant’s table.