Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Kingdoms of Albion, Chapter Two

The Warhound was a smelly pigsty of a bar, with day laborers and off-duty guardsmen drinking and gambling in smoke-filled card games. The bar itself was named after the old wolf that sat near the entryway, snoozing despite the noise. The owner of the bar, a Nortur barbarian that refused to be called anything other than Gus, said that he’d used the wolf in the war with Hadron when they’d marched upon the Norturlends, just as many within his tribe had. The Hadron had claimed his tribe, either through execution or slavery, and so Gus was left alone to fend for himself. His wayward travels through the backwater lands of Hadron eventually allowed him to come upon the United Kingdoms of New Albion. He’d moved to the village with a hefty pouch full of crowns and a war wolf at his side, and set up a bar to be built, with a brewery in the back. Gus hired the local farmer’s daughters to serve as the barmaids while he managed the bar itself.

Tentrek smiled as he entered the bar, subtly casting an air-freshening spell over himself. He’d been busy juicing mandrakes, the small infant sized plant creatures crying wildly as Tentrek pressed them for their potent numbing juices before re-burying them in the cold hard ground. While a potent, not to mention valuable, toxin that caused paralysis if ingested it also served as a great means of numbing pain if used as with a thickening solution to create a cream. Tentrek kept a sealed jar in his robes, one of the many pockets he’d sewn in, serving him as a way to smuggle his contraband around. He never left home without a few healing draughts and several potions of magical reserves, allowing him to regenerate his own magic in great leaps and bounds rather than in a gradual absorption from the world around him.
Spotting Vione’s brilliant red hair, Tentrek weaved through the crowd towards the back table where the apprentices of the village sat and drank. It was almost tradition for the rest of the village to leave this area open for those undergoing the rigors of training. Several tables held young soldiers, their heavy plate mail armor half undone so that they could get comfortable while enjoying a drink. The table where Vione sat held two others, with a barmaid standing near them talking. Tentrek made his appearance known by swooping down upon the barmaid, causing her to jump in shock.
“Tentrek! Don’t you dare do that to me again!” She laughed, holding a hand over her bosom. The plain brown and white linen outfit did little to hold back the cold of winter, but the large fire in the fireplace where a bubbling stew was held in a cauldron kept the Warhound plenty warm, warm enough for a bit of sweat to be trickling down her neck. Tentrek banished the thoughts of what he would do with the young barmaid if he was brave enough and instead merely bowed.
“Rosie, you look lovely as usual. I hope you won’t mind bringing me a bowl of stew and one of your fine Fizzy Ringers, would you?” Tentrek said, pulling up three copper coins between his four fingers.
Rosie just smiled, looking away for a moment. “I’ll have it right out. Now sit down, I think these three have been waiting for you long enough!”
Tentrek reached into his robes, fishing out several pink petals from a pocket. “Grind those up and put them in my stew if you would. If you do, and I’ll be able to tell if you don’t, I’ll leave a silver piece as a tip.”
Rosie’s eyes grew wide at the mention of such a wonderful tip and hurriedly took the petals into hand before moving back into the crowd.
“And what will those do, pray tell?” Vione asked as Tentrek pulled up a chair.
“Roaring Lilies are renowned for their petals relaxing effect, so long as the juices within them are released and heated quickly. I’ve had a long day and would like someone else to get their hands dirty for once. Besides, Rosie’s sister came in today looking ill; I figure a silver or two might help her without looking like charity.”
Vione merely rolled her eyes while the short haired blonde man across from her merely nodded. “An admirable act Ten, I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Yeah Ty, I can be a nice guy sometimes,” Tentrek replied to the Acolyte of the Great Healer. Tikkun, a child who had been rescued from a Hadron garrison during the war, was like Tentrek in the fact that he had no parents. He, like many others, had stayed and been raised within the church. Tentrek looked over at the white robes with red trim on the sleeves and collar and wondered what it would be like to be a servant of a god, instead of a servant of a man…
“So what’s everyone having? I got a bonus from Master Black today for some scrolls I scribed and I’m looking to spend it. Lisa, you want a drink?” Tentrek asked, leaning over to look at the fourth of their little cadre of friends, a shy girl that served within the soldier’s unit as a fully-fledged warrior. She was just seventeen summers of age, and she walked with a silent step the belied her womanly features. Her black hair, normally tied back in a bun, was hanging around her face now in a curtain while she took a sip of her sizzling red drink.
“I could use another Tenny…” Lisa smiled, holding up her glass as she poured the last drop into her mouth, her face flushed from the spicy drink. Fermented peppers mixed with fresh mint; not a taste that everyone agreed with (in fact Tentrek was pretty sure that Lisa was the only one in the entire village that ordered them) but they were enough to get a slight buzz from.
“Sure, I’ll cover ya,” Tentrek said, reaching out and slapping her on the back. Her over shirt, a loose fitting black woolen piece, did a very good job hiding her leather armor that she still had on beneath her clothes.
“And what about me? I could use a drink!” Vione growled playfully, reaching over and grabbing Tentrek by the ear. “Or are you just trying to get Lisa drunk enough so you can have your filthy little way with her, hmm?”
Tentrek sputtered a response as Lisa blushed. “I’m just buying her a drink, one she was already having! Gods V, you need to stop treating me like some kind of man-whore.”
“You’re a sorcerer Tentrek,” Tikkun calmly said, his soft features made all the softer by his calm smile. “How can we trust you when you can change the laws of reality?”
“Because I’m your friend maybe?” Tentrek drolled.
“Aw, I’m just teasing ya Ten,” Vione said, cuffing him in the arm. “Besides, if you were to do something untoward to Lisa, she’d be the first to gut you.”
Lisa merely looked down at her empty glass, her hands around the mug. Tentrek smiled and waved a hand under the table, releasing a calming charm to radiate from his shoes. Whatever had Vione fired up today, she needed to be settled down before she sent Lisa into another panic driven episode of embarrassment. Tentrek broke the tension that was building as Rosie came to the table with a bowl of stew and a mug of frothy pink bubbles, setting them in front of him with the care one would use when serving royalty.
“Ah, Swiftmane stew… I think you will make some man very lucky soon Rosie,” Tentrek smiled at her, fishing a spoon from one of his inner pockets. “Did you crush the petals in like I asked?”
“They were really pulpy and slippery, but they’re in there,” Rosie said, standing up straight with her hands on her hips. “That’ll be four copper, three for the stew and one for your drink.”
Tentrek fished out another silver coin and pressed it into Rosie’s hand. “I don’t have anything to do tomorrow so why don’t you give me three refills on the Ringers? And Lisa could use another drink as well. Keep the rest for yourself…”
“T-Thank you Tentrek, but I couldn’t accept any more money from you…” She cast her eyes down, avoiding eye contact as Tentrek heaved a sigh. “I’m not a charity case. Never have been, never will be.”
“You have a sister who has an illness as well,” Tentrek said gently, low enough to where the whole bar didn’t hear him. “If you don’t want to be a charity case, then make sure my mug never goes empty. Deal?”
Rosie stared off across the bar, her eyes focused on something near the bar. “Fine. I’ll make certain to keep the service up for you. But no more tips!”
Tentrek laughed, earning a chuckle from Lisa as well. “I’ve already got these two giving me hell for meddling in affairs not my own; I’d hardly want to add another angry woman to the list.”
The whole table laughed, Vione the loudest as she slapped the table. “Damn straight! Rosie! If he gives you any trouble like this again, you tell me and I’ll take it out of his hide when we practice together, you hear?”
“Oh, I don’t mean it that way…” Rosie said, placing a hand on Tentrek’s shoulder. “It’s just Gus, he’s been offering me a better salary ever since he heard about Sally… and Gus has never offered that to anyone, not unless they were in trouble.”
“Gus is a good enough man,” Lisa said, leaning on the table. “He must care for you if he is offering to pay you more.”
“Oh, he’s just trying to be my knight in shining armor I suppose…” Rosie said, folding her arms underneath her breasts. “Dirty old man that he is, I suppose I could do a lot worse.”
“Gus is nice!” Lisa said, defending the bartenders honor.
“Gus looks like an Ogre mated with Stonefolk, all beard and body hair… plus he always reeks of liquor from all the drinks he serves.” Vione declared, looking up at Rosie. “You don’t need a man just to get a better life for yourself. Just work hard and accept the pay raise, no strings attached.”
“But then I’d feel guilty…” Rosie said, looking over at the bar. “He doesn’t have many close friends that aren’t absolute drunks. Maybe if I got to know him a little better, some… redeeming qualities might shine through?”
“I know of an elixir that makes hair fall off, and another that could help him lose weight if he was willing to do more than hawk his wares at people day in and day out.” Tentrek supplied, wincing even as he said it. “But they both have a price tag on them that might be out of his reach, I’m afraid to say.”
“Why would you know of a potion to help people lose weight?” Tikkun asked, curious as Tentrek was thin as the reeds growing on the waterfront.
“I’m trying to ensure that I never have any problem finding work when I am out and on my own. Many nobles would pay a high price to make their wives or daughters more appealing.” Tentrek said, earning sour looks from the two women seated next to and across from him.
“You’d work for someone as despicable as that?” Lisa asked, slightly disgusted.
Tentrek shrugged. “If it’s to help a marriage stay fresh or help a poor girl find love, who am I to judge? There are many sides of magic that people find reprehensible but still indulge in. Save for a few types of magic, I fail to see the horror in allowing someone to look a certain way.”
Rosie merely shook her head and squeezed Tentrek’s shoulder. “You work on that stew and your Ringer. Just wave at me when you want another, alright?”
Tentrek picked up his drink and inhaled the vanilla and strawberry scents coming from his fizzing drink. “Oh, that’ll be just fine.”
“And you lot are good on drinks for now?” Rosie asked, looking over at everyone else.
“If I could, may I have another ale please?” Tikkun asked, holding up his empty flagon. Rosie reached across the table, taking the flagon with a smile.
“Of course Acolyte, anything for a man of the cloth. That’ll be a copper, though.”
“Of course,” Tikkun reached into a small bag tied to his sash, pulling out a single copper coin and passing it to Rosie. “Thank you, Rosie.”
“Anytime Acolyte,” Rosie laughed, turning and moving through the crowd towards the bar.
Tikkun leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his blonde hair. “I’ve been telling people all week to stop referring to me as my title and nobody is listening. How have you gotten people to drop the honorifics for you Tentrek? I haven’t heard anyone call you esteemed sorcerer in a while, so you must have done something to save yourself the agony of nobody using your name?”
“Oh, I just work with a person more than the church does, that’s all. You hold mass and reside over weddings and Journeymen ceremonies. Hell, you gave up the mortuary business to the Stonefolk that moved here from Nortur.”
Vione snorted. “Morbid bunch they are, always looking at you like they’re sizing you up for a coffin.”
“I sell them enchantments for their tools every once in a while, mostly stuff to keep it from breaking. They always pay in gems.” Tentrek said as he spooned some of the broth into his mouth. “So tell us Vione, what is it you’re sitting on that’s making you so irritable tonight? It must be something big to make you this friendly.”
“Go to Hell… I hate to say it but you’re right. I was in the barracks today and heard some officers talking.” Vione growled, one hand drifting down to the hilt of her sword.
“What about?” Lisa asked.
“Apparently some Gobbers attacked a caravan that was meant to come in tomorrow, slaying the guards and hauling away the goods to their lair,” Vione said, taking a quick pull from her own drink, a much smaller glass of Nortur Everchill.
“That’s odd. Gobbers rarely take anything from what they kill, they just eat until full and leave the rest to rot.” Tentrek said, sounding puzzled. “What would make those little monsters suddenly care about material goods?”
“What was on the caravan’s transport ledger?” Tikkun asked, looking at Vione.
“A lot. Apparently three children bound for your church, barrels of liquor, spices, textiles… new armaments from Dreadforge for our soldiers… the list goes on.” Vione ran a hand up her face, growling at the very idea of what they lost. “Dammit!”
Surprised by her outburst, all three of her friends looked at her. She visibly deflated and gave a meek grin. “Sorry, it’s just I asked if I could be on the team that hunts the Gobbers down.”
“And they said no?” Tikkun guessed.
“They said they weren’t sending anyone out to try and collect the resources!” Vione hissed, leaning into the table. “The Captain was furious, but the Commander was clear: no official rescue or recovery missions are being launched at this time. Something about how our recruits are going to be sent on patrols for the next two months. The Hadron have some holiday coming up that makes border skirmishes a little more common place as the Hadron come and try to sack villages in search of slaves.”
“Well, it is a justifiable excuse. The meeting of the three moons, Ba’last, is a holy day for Hadron. The first forty days leading up to it the Hadron take prisoners and weak slaves and corral them for sacrifices. The borderlands are at high risk during this time I would imagine.” Tikkun said, looking at Vione as she seemed to struggle with what he just said, the calming spell fighting against her fiery temper.
“Hold on, you said they were on route to visit us?” Tentrek asked, looking at Vione with shining eyes.
“Yeah, so?” Vione grumbled into her drink.
“Well, who’s to say we can’t just go and take the Gobbers down ourselves?” Tentrek asked, looking at each of his friends faces in turn.
“My place is to stay here for the people, serving them when they are at their darkest hour,” Tikkun said, shaking his head.
“I can guarantee that caravan had some medicine on it, as the medicinal herbs, I get every month for Master Black come from Dreadforge and their gardens,” Tentrek said, looking at Tikkun as he set his Fizzy Ringer down on the table, wiping away the suds from his face. “The Church must have a stake on this caravan as well, almost every facet of our town lives off of these merchant runs.”
“How would we get permission to do this?” Lisa asked, looking at Tentrek with steady eyes.
“I’ll ask my Master to file a request for bodyguards and a holy man for me to go herb gathering. I’ll use the cart we have and one of the stables horses and we can load up on what’s left of the supplies after cracking some Gobber skull!”
“You think we could handle Gobbers? They took down bodyguards easily enough, what threat could we pose?”
Tentrek looked at Lisa with a small amount of sympathy. Despite being an amazing soldier and scout, she still had confidence issues. “I’m sure if we catch them by surprise we’ll be able to handle them. Think about it guys! Our town relies on trade! If we get a reputation that caravans aren’t safe, then it’ll hurt the entire populace.”
“So you’re proposing that we retrieve what we can, kill the Gobbers and what, and return the goods?” Vione asked, sounding confused.
“We’ll send a messenger hawk to Dreadforge to send another caravan to perform the trade that the original merchants would have done. It’ll take them a week to prepare a caravan and get merchants willing to go, and even longer to arm this one. That gives us plenty of time to recover the goods and kill the Gobbers.”
“I don’t know… this is technically against the rules of being an Apprentice… which may not matter to Lisa but the rest of us all have to live by them.” Tikkun said, crossing his arms and closing his eyes. “I barely know how to fight, and only have an old suit of armor my Master bequeathed to me. And what aid I can call from the Heavens is limited, seeing as I have to actually summon the energy rather than convert it, like some of us here.”
“Hey, I might have been a priest myself and I’d be stuck in the same situation,” Tentrek said, holding his hands up. “Luckily I got drafted out of the Church, or else I’d be useless to you all in this situation.”
“So we’re really going to do it?” Lisa asked, sounding less nervous and more excited. “We’re going to leave Moonrise to go on a mission?”

Tentrek smiled, chugging his Fizzy Ringer with glee before waving his hands in the air. “I’ll set about getting us all assigned to a squad tomorrow.”

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