Chapter 5 Edit
"The most profitable endeavors are usually those that start humble."
---The merchant of Vanizzia
"And I thought you were the boss here." said Marin in a less than respectful tone. They were hopping around on a cart that was used for transporting goods, (but that now was transporting five people disguised as travellers and other two disguised as merchants) pulled by the two reptilian beasts. "Well, I said I was the leader, not the boss. A leader is a guy that inspires other people to do their bidding, a boss is a guy that actually has a bidding for other people to do. But I like to think we decide things together, me and Gilbert." Hobenrûd whispered to her, in a tone low enough so that the other five people wouldn't hear. After a brief silence, he added, very louder: "So shut up, wench."
Marin rolled her eyes and looked around. She was already feeling bored. If there was something she didn't enjoy, it was travelling. Everyone she knew loved to talk about how travelling is good and seeing new things is amazing. But they seem to forget just how...boring it was. She didn't mind seeing new places and all that, but it would take ages for her to reach there.
Trying make time pass faster, she decided to ask something that was bothering her for some time: "How do you know we're going in the right direction? It looks like we're going in circles.", soon after, however, she regretted having asked, since it made Hobenrûd smirk again: "See the scratches on the trees? They form a path, full of twists, so that no one can follow us, between the three towns near the forest and the camp. One scratch is the path to Halhm, two scratches is Munber and three is Jointsville. They also serve to make everyone think the forest is dangerous and leave us alone. Like the fluorescent balls and the wind flutes."
"The what?", Marin asked, suddenly interested. "We spread rumours that this forest is haunted, so that the people will leave us alone. The scratches were my idea. Gilbert used a liquid made by some trees near Gulge inside glass balls. This liquid, I'm not sure why, ask Gilbert 'bout that, gets bright at night, so everyone thinks they see ghosts. And this other guy, Keaton, he helped us build some big wooden flutes that, when the wind go through them, make the weirdest sound I've ever heard. It works wonders."
One of the soldiers on the cart, named Jarek, hesitated for a second before adding: "Keaton was my brother. We were musicians, until he made a song denouncing the king...He sent soldiers that killed our family and we...we barely escaped. A friend of ours told us about the Cherry Wood's Knights, so we came here...he died a month ago of some coughing disease." He gripped the dagger hidden in his jacket a little stronger and his eyes watered.
Marin stopped looking at him and turned to the path ahead. She thought that this was starting to get too personal, and decided to focus in finding a way of gaining Hobenrûd's trust; enough trust that he wouldn't kill her as soon as she revealed who she was. For she hadn't given up of her plan yet. She still wanted to get the rebels to help her to get the throne.
Soon the landscape changed dramatically as they reached the wide open greeneries of the Eastern Plains. Small herds of wild bovines could be seen on the horizon and a cloudless sky announced that that day would be good. Another soldier, called Gangee, exclaimed behind Marin "Hey! It's a flock of Glumbelies. People say they're a sign of good fortune."
Marin looked at the sky, six little blue points flew in a V formation, due west. "Even if those really are Glumbelies, people only say that they're a sign that there's food nearby." said another soldier, Humd. Gangee responded by saying: "Well, where I come from, food nearby is good fortune."
They went in the direction of the Northen Mountains for several minutes, until they found a dirt road. They followed it through the highlands and soon they were in the village of Halhm. Halhm was a small trading stop between the western part of the continent and the port city of East Gormenor. Most of the village's income came from buying and selling products from merchants and to merchants that passed through there, and the village's seven warehouses and two trading posts were, apart from the small subsistence agriculture and the local pub, the only source of jobs to the villagers. Hoben stopped the cart near the local pub, the "King's High Brewery", and told the others "Okay, folks, go buy some supplies, me and Priss will take care of the scaring."
The scaring?" Marin asked. "I told you already, we spread rumours about the Cherry Woods to keep people away. Look, just follow my drift." He entered the pub and looked around. It was a seedy establishment and, no doubt, the meeting place of the Red Wolves gang, that controlled the local black market. The tables, bar, barstools and chairs were made from badly crafted lumpy wood, the floor was covered in wooden planks, and, contrary to all safety rules, a fireplace, currently unlit, but that the black walls announced to have been lit recently.
When Hoben entered, the loud sounds of many people talking at the same time stopped, and all the eyes in the room turned to him. Seeing this, he exclaimed "Blimey! I'll never ever get near that Sallund dammed forest again! It was the most dangerous trip I've ever had to do. Wolfmen! Flying manhunting beasts! Ghostly whisperings! And even undead! Undead, I said!" Almost all people in the room laughed, but kept to look at him. "Even though I courageously did my best to follow the shortcut through Cherry Woods and lead those travellers to their destinies, I admit I faltered many times. If it were not for the encouragement of my love for this woman, I would have given up at the third attack by the wolfmen! Isn't it right darling?"
Marin looked at him, wide eyed, looked at the other people, and then looked at her feet. "Y-yeah...yeah...i-it was...that, yes." Hobenrûd climbed a nearby table and continued: "I felt like the great adventurers of the past, fighting countless monsters!" He was fencing with an invisible sword, against a foe made of thin air. "Monsters so horrible that can't be named! Luckily, the travelers with me were great adventurers of the present, and in a joint effort we managed to destroy the black crystal that gave life to those horrors!"
Hoben got down from the table and sat near Marin again. He seemed to remember something: "Oh, but it is not over yet. Seconds after we destroyed the crystal, a witch appeared and told us that she would create another one, even more powerful, and all those that travelled the Cherry Woods would serve to feed her horrible creations! ...Bloody hell, I talked so much my throat is dry. Barkeeper! A Kleigen Madness, will ya? What you'd like darling?"
Marin, that was too interested on her feet to look up, answered: "Ju-just water." She then rose her eyes to look at Hoben's face, and whispered: "Did you really need to exaggerate that much?" He drummed his fingers at the table and whispered back: "Oh, what're talking about? They loved it. Last time I did that, they given me drinks for free."
Seconds later, the barkeeper brought the drinks to their table, which was uncommon at that time, and said, smiling "For you two, it's on the house. Wish you luck in your next adventure." Marin went wide eyed again. Hobenrûd smirked, lifted his cup and exclaimed: "Cheers!"
Chapter 6 Edit
"All laws are made to give people entertainment and wealth in breaking them. No law is made to give people scarcity and suffering in abiding by them. That applies, except for everyone else."
---joke by those who frequent the underground market
Hobenrûd sat contentedly, having drank his pewter cup in a single gulp, and it now lay empty on his table, untouched, while he talked with the people sat on a nearby table. It was difficult for Marin to listen to their talk amidst all the raucous noise of the pub, so for most of the time she kept seated on the lumpy bench, with her cup near her mouth, slowly sipping peacefully from it; and, sometimes, if she cared, contributing with a monosyllabic word or two in Hobenrûd's conversation.
A woman that was seated at the other side of the pub got up and walked towards the table the two of them were sitting on. She politely interrupted the conversation and asked Hobenrûd to follow her out of the pub.
Hobenrûd remembered that he was supposed to act as if Marin were his wife, so he started telling the newcomer, "Uh...sorry, but I have a wife and...", but she interrupted him by whispering "N-no. It's not for that! It's...it's very important." The woman had such a downcast look that Hobenrûd realized that something serious really had happened, or was going to happen, and giving a last look at Marin (who nodded for him to go on), walked outside, accompanied by the woman, telling Marin that he was going to be right back.
They stayed outside for a minute or two, and Marin noticed that the woman was talking and crying at the same time.
After Hobenrûd had returned, Marin asked him what the other woman wanted. He took his cup and rolled it between his hands, while he answered, "What? ...Oh, nothing really. She just said I am a great adventurer and asked me to save her kid from some slave-traders."
"Oh, that's nothing?" Marin gave him a meaningful look. "Wow, you ARE a bit crude!"
"But hey, it's none of my business, and anyway I don't even know where her child is by now!"
"Well, we can spend some time looking around." one of the soldiers managed in reply.
Then their other partner joined into the conversation. "That may actually not be a bad idea, Hoben. If we help her, who knows, maybe the woman will be able to help us out too, convincing the others to join us when we rebel!" Hobenrûd sighed, thought for a second, and said: "All right...But no swashbuckling! If we find him, we'll just buy him out...and let's not lose a lot of time with this, okay? We still need to reach Lukavia."
The group paid for the drinks and left the pub. They decided to spread, so that they would cover more ground in their search for the boy. After half an hour, they returned from the search and met back at the pub--empty-handed.
Marin was the first to speak: "I found the mother again. I told her we can't find the boy. She apologized for having "bothered" you..." she glared at Hobenrûd while saying this. "And said she would see if she could get enough money to buy her son back herself..."
"Well, the problem is solved then." said Hobenrûd, matter-of-factly. The others in his group thought he didn't really seem to care for that woman's well-being.
"Well...almost," Marin interrupted. "She... well, she said she discovered where he was, but didn't have the money to buy him... and then she started crying. S-so I... I told her we would get him back to her safely," Marin finished, stammering.
Hobenrûd couldn't help but to exclaim "Aw, come on! We can't waste time like this! Drindell won't hold out forever!"
"What else could I have said? I mean, she was crying! And I don't mean sobbing. I mean crying!" Marin exclaimed in response.
Hobenrûd sighed, gave the matter a moment of thought, and stated, more calmly: "All right. Let's get that kid saved already." Even while he said it, he appeared more concerned with the time. "Let's make this fast. Then we'll have to double our travelling speed."
Gangee seemed surprised at this, "Don't you care about that woman?" Hobenrûd turned towards him, and stated; in a more serious tone: "Look, it's not that I don't care about her. It's just...it's just that saving her kid won't be of much good if Drindell is dead. We are this close to finally being free of the king. We can't waste time with trifle matters...I do care about her...and that's exactly the reason I must reach Lukavia. Fast."
He told the others to get some of the gold they brought with them to pay for the boy and departed to a decrepit-looking building in the far northeastern side of the village. The building seemed to be unoccupied, but loud voices could be heard inside. Hobenrûd slowly, but strongly, knocked at the door, and, seconds later, a wooden panel slid to the right and two eyes were looking at them. The bodiless eyes asked: "Give me the passcode."
Hobenrûd backed from the door and whisperingly asked Marin: "What is the passcode?"
"She didn't tell me about any passcode," Marin answered in the same tone.
The bodiless eyes on the other side of the door rolled and a hand appeared through the wooden panel, rubbing a finger in the other, while the bodiless eyes clarified: "Don't you understand? The 'passcode'."
Hobenrûd rolled his eyes, took out a golden cup from Jarek and showed it to the eyes. Moments later, the door was open and they entered the 'headquarters' of the Red Wolves. The decrepit appearance of the building was more than confirmed when they saw the interior. It was a crowded, bad smelling, rotting wooden building that sagged from the weight of many years of wearing, so that one would surmise that only by direct intervention of the Gods didn't fall to the ground.
There were various products in countless shelves, stands and on carpets. Illegal products, that is. Liom Weed (That only the poor addicts really spent some money on), jewelry (Now that's better), stolen Sardinan art (now those look like something worth stealing), and, of course, slaves. And by the number of clients currently in, the Red Wolves probably made a lot of money doing it.
The group of aspiring rebels quickly went to a section of the building with an iron cage, or pen. Full of people with their hands grasping the immobile iron bars. They were mostly people that couldn't pay their debts with the Red Wolves, but also some people that were kidnapped for no particular reason, except that the policing forces don't usually do anything to stop it.
"What are we getting into," muttered Marin. "This place is a disaster."
Chapter 7 Edit
"I do not fear a powerful man. But I do fear those that fear him."
---Drindell, the arcane
A rather muscular man in good-looking clothes, obviously well fed, and with two full scabbards on his belt, came lumbering towards them, a smile on his face, expectant of some business to do. He took a deep, understanding glance at the group, and made an educated guess on why they were here.
"Greetings, my good sire! Methinks you are searching for a good, hard-working pair of arms to carry your armour around, am I not right? Or maybe the lass just needs someone to clean the house? No matter what you be searching for, us Red Wolves can provide it. For a nominal fee, of course," said the slave trader, enthusiastically.
"Actually, a friend of mine has told me that you have taken her kid earlier today. I would like to have him back, if that is not asking too much." answered Hobenrûd, somewhat apologetically.
The vendor slowly rubbed his own chin preparing a reply, while simultaneously looking at Hobenrûd's bracelet for a second or two.
Then he answered, bluffing: "I am truly sorry, sire, but a lifelong client of mine has shown interest in the boy already, and I always keep my deals. But I see you have an astounding jewel there on your wrist. If you would be so willing as to part with it, I would gladly offer you the boy in return..."
"I am also sorry," interrupted Hobenrûd, "but this jewel is family heirloom, I can't give it to you. Would you be interested in six or seven golden spoons?"
The vendor paused, considering. He was practised with such things, and knew that his customers could not be pressed too much for a price. Yet he would try to get the best deal possible. "Six or seven golden spoons would not be enough recompense for half a slave, sire." he replied, rather easily, but clearly bluffing, sounding nervous. "But I truly am interested... What else do you have to offer?", he added, slapping his hands three times, looking at some point behind them.
Hobenrûd looked at Marin. "You have anything on you that you can part with?"
She gave him a shy look back, and reached into her purse...all she had was a gold, four silver and several copper coins and a dagger. She told him so. Hoben raised his hands to the air while exclaiming: "Well, I give up then! We can't spend all our gold now. We'll need to buy food. Tell that woman..."
Another vendor (A much stronger-looking one) appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Hobenrûd's wrist. "Say... Nice jewel you got there. In fact, a good client of ours was looking for one just like that, isn't that right, Wallton?"
The slave trader grinned, revealing a golden tooth. "Yes. Gold bracelet with a large red stone, and little black glyphs carved on it."
The second ventor continued: "He has expressed quite an interest in it, indeed! A generous interest. So, I recommend that you accept this fair deal I have for you: this jewel for the boy, or anyone else here for that matter."
Wallton grinned. "I guess I ought to stay out of this, but beware, customer, he's quite strong. Against him, I suppose that you have really little choice but to accept any deal he offers." Then he smiled even more. "...Or my friend will be forced to break your arm to get it."
"Really, I can't give you this," replied Hobenrûd to the second Red Wolf. "So, please, just leave me alone, and I'll go away. You can keep the boy. I don't want any blood shed."
The vendor appeared to think for a second, then replied: "Umm... NO!" The bulkier Red Wolf twisted Hobenrûd's arm, pried the bracelet open, and pulled it off, while simultaneously shoving him to the ground.
Hobenrûd got up, recalling what the bracelet stood for, and angrily said: "Give me this back. You can keep the boy." At the same time he was getting into a fighting pose.
The vendor chuckled, and answered: "Yes, I'll keep the boy. And your jewel."
The next few things happened so fast that Marin nearly couldn't see it. Hobenrûd tackled the strong man, took the man's sword from his scabbard, and slashed the blade into his gut. The Red Wolf fell on the ground, bleeding and dying, gasping in pain, and struggling futilely to get back up.
Hobenrûd took the bracelet back from the fallen brawler and rather contentedly, without demonstrating any worries for his surroundings but ready for another engagement, put back in its place on his own arm.
Jarek and the other soldiers unsheathed their swords and stood, facing the crowd. Prepared to defend themselves against any attacker. The other gang members in the area looked toward the commotion, but seeing the man riddled in agony, decided it would be better not to interfere.
Chapter 8 Edit
"For whom is it well, oh, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well."
---Popular saying among the Ruivocan commoners
But then something made them have to interfere. Hobenrûd demanded, "Open the pen and let them all free."
"What? Why should we?" retorted another Red Wolf, bringing out his scimitar at the same time.
"Oh, want to settle this with blood, eh?"
"Well you started it, customer!" he replied.
"You'll feel sorry for--" Hobenrûd did not finish his sentence, as the next moment a powerful jolt of pure, sizzling electricity pierced the charged air, sending Hobenrûd reeling to the wall, but still with his hand tightly grasping his sword. His golden bracelet felt particularly warm. "What was that?" But Hobenrûd had no time to figure out.
Then he noticed that yet another Red Wolf, farther away from him, covered in flowing robes, had brought out a long, slender golden rod, with a gem embedded into its endpoint. There was an expression of surprise on the wizard's face, however.
The next moment all three warrior Red Wolves had jumped toward Hobenrûd. Gangee and Jarek quickly entered the fray, their own shining blades at ready, lashing two and fro across the battlefield. The melee continued for quite a while, with Hobenrûd in the midst of it all, and the group too close together all the time for the wizard standing in the corner to be able to put in another blast with his lightning-rod. Meanwhile, Princess Marin edged toward the wizard, but still veiled in comparable dimness, waiting for the right moment.
Then, one of the Red Wolves was slain, with a long bloody gash on his thigh, and toppled to the ground screaming and delirious. The others took some time to retreat, and backed off slightly.
"Afraid of me?" taunted Hobenrûd, as Gangee, Jarek, and three other soldiers returned to his side.
The next moment the wizard was chanting another incantation, but Marin brought her dagger upward toward the wizard's neck, forcing him to break off from his attempted spell in a gasp of shock. "Enough's enough, wizard," she challenged. "Now drop your artifact."
The wizard gave her a sidelong glance, and before she could respond, thrust an elbow into her breast. A near miss to the solar plexus, it did very little but infuriate her, and she lunged at him, just as he backed out of the way.
The next moment one of the Red Wolves lurched back to the two, brandishing his sword threateningly and making the undercover princess step back in alarm.
The wizard prepared to attack with another incantation, but right before he finished, Hobenrûd had tossed his bracelet to Marin, who caught it. The bolt of charged energy went straight for the bracelet--and was immediately absorbed. Not half stunned, the wizard then uttered another incantation, and fired at Hobenrûd and his allies. One of them took the blast and started spasming, screaming, stuttering, at the top of his lungs, onto the ground.
In a last hope, Marin tossed the bracelet, like a frisbee, aiming straight at the wizard's temple. The impact knocked him out.
The two remaining Red Wolves gave up, dropping their swords to the ground, and were soon being guarded by Hobenrûd's soldiers. Jarek helped the fallen man back onto his weak feet, and pronounced that he would need quite a bit of rest for at least a few days, much to Hobenrûd's dismay.
Hobenrûd turned towards the pen and broke the rusted bolt of the pen with a mighty slash of the sword. "All of you. You're free. Go back to your families, and then leave the village as soon as possible. Somewhere they can't find you."
"Wow, looks like we discovered quite some treasure," remarked Gangee, his head probably whirring with plans for how to use them.
Marin retrieved the enchanted bracelet and returned it to Hobenrûd, and took the stranger's enchanted lightning-rod to be her own "treasure" from now on, thinking it would be of some use.
The vendor was unarmed, but still, he managed to protest: "What in... You can't do that! I paid a lot money for them!"
Hobenrûd grabbed him by the clothes and brought his short sword to the man's neck. "Well I just did. If I ever hear you kidnapped someone again... I'll cut your legs and let you bleed to death." Deciding he was done with him, Hobenrûd let him go and turned to leave.
He remembered one thing: "And tell that client, that if he wants this stone, he comes and gets it." He dropped the sword on the ground.
Then the seven of them--Hobenrûd, Gangee, Marin, Jared, and the three other soldiers--left the dilapidated building, only now even more so after the battle and bloodshed.
Chapter 9 Edit
"The greatest glories of mankind were achieved with the lowliest of intentions; the most terrible dictators always meant so well! Good and Evil live side by side, for one would mean nothing without the other."
They kept silent until they reached the cart, when Gangee said "And I thought you said no swashbuckling." But Hobenrûd didn't answer. And so all seven of them kept silent for a long time, while they travelled northeast, towards Lukavia. But after half an hour, Marin couldn't hold back anymore.
"What was that? How did the bracelet protect us from that magic?" she asked. But they all kept silent. She decided to insist. "Come on! I saved your lives back there, knew that?" Hobenrûd paused, before answering: "I don't know. A guy gave me this thing when I saved his life. Maybe he didn't even know that it was magical. Maybe he just thought it was pretty. But let's just say he repayed me saving his life. With interest."
Marin looked at the staff she was carrying, hesitated for a moment, and asked: "Does this thing work like that too?" He looked at it, and answered that "I don't know. Probably not. I'm not an expert in this kind of things, but I did have magical potions, in the war. We had regenerative potions, anti-fatigue potions, so I guess they're all kinda different."
Marin rolled the rod on her hands, and looked at the jewel at the tip. It was cyan, and had red glyphs carved on it. "Is the gem the source of...that? Or the glyphs," Hobenrûd shrugged and said, "all I know is that this thing has helped me a lot lately, Priscilla. And as long as it keeps working, I don't care how it works."
"Hmpf...I think I should ask Drindell about this." stated Marin, giving up. "Yes, I think you should. Assuming he isn't dead already." Marin felt her heart fall down to her stomach. "I...I didn't want to..." "No, no...I-I didn't mean that it would be your fault. The three hours we lost won't make a difference...and besides, we're not even sure if Lukavia will accept helping us." he clarified, apologetically.
Marin didn't show that this affected her, but yes, she felt better with that. "Although...", he added, smirking again "When I'm finished talking to them, they'll be begging to help us."
And thus the party kept on, and although many tales are told of how they killed dragons, saved villages, defeated black knights and destroyed towers; I could find no proof of that. So, to keep within the historical parameters I set to myself, I will skip to the next undeniably true fact: After travelling for almost a week, they finally reached the capital of Lukavia, Fafner.
Differently from the various villages and hamlets scattered throughout the countryside, Fafner is a bustling financial and commerce hub. The city itself is set out in a somewhat circular form, with one-story buildings in the outskirts, where the peasants lived. The buildings, however, get increasingly higher and more beautiful as one moves toward the center of the city, some with four stories! And then, in the center of the circle, a towering white marble palace, surrounded by parks, statues, canals and artificial lakes. That some travellers describe as "the most marvelous sight on Hur."
Since the time they were able to see the city over the hills until they entered into it, all seven of them were astounded with the view of the city, except for Marin and Hulleiman, a thin, dark-haired man, that lived in the capital of Ruivoca. Since the two cities competed to see who would gain the title of most beautiful so long ago, all the inhabitants of Ruivoca's capital hated Fafner for "stealing" the title.
As the cart entered the seedier outskirts of the city, they could smell the dirtiness that pervaded everything, from the dust in the very air around them to the alleys, where beggars, covered in animal fur, sat, motionless...and the beggars themselves. Of course, the impoverished outer rim of Fafner did not exist long ago. The auburn haired twin soldiers, Namar and Byon, looked around, to the dirty cats slowly jumping from run-down houses to another, to the flies flying around the trash cans around the neighborhood and to the trash that littered the middle and the sides of the street.
But, travelling further into the city, the stench in the air began to wane, the buildings were now painted, and bigger; some cleaners could be seen on the streets, and the beggars nearly disappeared. And things improved steadily, until they saw the familiar symbol of the Holy Order of Sallund, (a circle within a larger circle, with the words "Bring light to the dark corners of the world. Bring light to the dark minds of man" inscribed along the circumference) decorating the entrance arch of one of their grand temples.
That marked the beginning of the richest section of the city, the reason the city is remembered as the most marvellous on Hur.
This is where the nobles and the richer merchants that lived in the city had their homes. No, their palatial manors. The marketplace, differently from the other two in the city, was specialized in luxury goods. This is where the tastiest, high quality food was sold, while the peasants had to accept the rest. This is where the only legalized Money Lender establishment in the town worked (Under protest from the Holy Order), not that others didn't work in small banks near the market.
With no time to waste anymore, they quickly reached the palace gates, where two men wearing blue painted full plate armour greeted them. "What are your names? What do you wish inside the palace?" they asked, bringing their pikes at a horizontal position. Hobenrûd quickly answered "We are but simple merchants from afar, that wish to bring wealth and green rubies to your most noble king."
The guards relaxed and said: "Go on in. I didn't know you'd come back so quickly." As they entered the marble corridors, Marin asked "Green rubies?" Hobenrûd rolled his eyes, sighed, and said: "I don't choose my passwords."