The Kings Cudgel
On a lonely stretch of the kings road a low building, squatting along the edge of the road looms out of the gloom of a bad winter storm. The snow of midwinter has piled up along the walls almost to the eves. The roof is covered with deep snow and long Ice-sickles hang from the eves reaching deep into the drifts. Smoke streams away in the wind from a large chimney at one end of the building. The snow has been cleared from the door and forms a short tunnel that leads to the Inn. A sign on a tall pole in front of the inn swings wildly back and forth in the wind. From the crossbar of the post hangs a large crudely made club, shaped something like a short base ball bat with two metal bands wrapped around the business end. A sign with large black letters hanging below the club reads, “The Kings Cudgel”
"The Kings Cudgel? What a strange name for an inn,“ Jack thinks as the cold winter wind swirls snow around him. He shrugs, pushes open the heavy door and steps across the threshold into a long low room. The only illumination in the inn comes from the yellow flame of guttering torches set in holes bored into some of the gnarly tree trunks that are the supports for the low peaked roof and the large fire place.
Jack stops just inside the door, shakes the snow off his traveling cloak and pulls back the cowl. His long dark hair hangs in curls to his shoulders. A halo of frost rings his face and ice cycles drip from the tips of his mustache, goatee and the cuffs and hem of his cloak. He waits a moment before continuing into the room absorbing the heat from the large fire place about thirty feet away. Three fires burned on the hearth, a couple of braziers are set to one side with kettles on them. Steam rises from the kettles and smoke rises from the fires as the carcass’s of two small animals drip fat onto the coals while being turned on spits by a small boy and girl dressed in tattered, dirty, greasy rags. Stirring a large kettle with a wooden paddle over the third fire is a very large girl with fat cheeks and squinty eyes. Her straggly greasy hair is damp with sweat and sticks to the sides of her sweaty face. Her ample bosom sways under the damp, stained, cotton, of her blouse as she stirs the contents of the pot. Her skirt is of rough sacking that is tattered along the hem and is darkly stained with who knows what. Her bare feet are large flat, thorny and unwashed.
“I’ll have to remember not to drink the house wine “Jack thinks absently”. The girl catches him looking and winks at him. Embarrassed, Jack turns away. To his right, is another ancient stone wall with a smaller cold fireplace in it. several low rough tables are set against the wall with equally rough hewn benches. On each of the tables, are the flat shells of some kind of mollusk with several unlit candle stubs set on them.
There are other tables randomly set about the room, with stools, charis and small benches placed around each.
Jack notices the bar across from him. It is no more than two split planks laid across a couple of tree trunks and leveled with rocks. There are four tall stools at the right end of the bar. Behind the bar is a very fat man that Jack supposes is the proprietor.
He swings the small pack off his back, knocks the snow off it and makes his way to the bar. The roof beams are so low that Jack, a tall man, has to duck to keep from bashing his head as he crosses the room.
Behind the bar, the fat man with a very large head and a very receding hairline, watches jack through slit eyes as he approaches. What is left of the man’s hair is tied back in a cue that sticks straight out from the back of his head for couple of inches and then blooms into a little tuft. The man has full jowls that waggled when he moves his head and a little rosebud mouth that looks out of place on the other wise hard face. His almond shaped eyes are tiny slits in his cheeks on ether side of a wide flat nose.
Behind the fat man, on a rough shelf are several brown misshapen hand thrown jugs. On each end of the shelf is a wooden keg with a tap stuck in the bung. On a high short shelf are two, what appear to be real glass bottles. The bottles are covered with a thick layer of dust but they are clean enough to see the level of the amber liquid they contain. Glass bottles are a very rare thing these days and very precious. If the liquid inside is actual commercial “Whiskey” they are even more precious. Jack was puzzled that the bottles were being displayed in such an open fashion.
The fat man speaks and Jack has to control the impulse to jump back and draw a weapon.
The mans voice seams to come from every where. It is deep and rumbling like boulders rolling down a mountain. The voice is felt as much
“You seam to have an interest in my back bar” The fat man rumbles and if possible squints his eyes even more as he peers at Jack.
“I am relatively well traveled at least in the north and I have only seen two other glass bottles in my life.” Jack exclaims. “They belonged to the Earl of Stone Bridge. They were kept in a safe box and only brought out on special occasions.
The liquor in bottles had long since been consumed but the bottles were venerated as if they were some sort of religious relic.
Aren’t you afraid some one will steal yours?“
“Ha-ha. No one would have the balls to steal from Quintar Rogan! The hero of the battle of Black’s Ford. Sacker of the white city of Contenell and General of old King Grogan’s Black Guard. Have no fear bucko, woe unto he who tries.”
“I take it that you are this Quintar Rogan person of witch you speak? Jack asks sheepishly.
“Yes, that I am. And who might you be my curious young sprout?
“I am called Jack.
“Jack? Jack! The proprietor ruminates a moment. “Jack, that’s an odd name, I don’t believe I have ever heard that name in these parts before. Do you have a second name? You know, like a last name? Like maybe your fathers name?” Quintar asks.
“Well, no, actually, my father’s name is also, Jack. In fact my grand father and his father and all their fathers before them were named simply “Jack”.
“This is very odd indeed. How do people where you live tell you and your father apart?” Quintar asks, rubbing his chin.
“Well that’s simple” Jack replies. “We look different”
“No, no, no, I mean when they are talking about you and your dad, how do they differentiate between the two of you.” Quintar urges.
“Oh yes, I see now what you mean,” Jack replies. “They just call my dad old Jack and me they call young Jack.
Now, what about your grand-dad, is he still alive? Quintar asks.
“Oh yes indeed he is sir very much so“ Jack replies enthusiastically with a shake of his head and a small chuckle.
So, now, when people want to differentiate between your grand-dad and the rest of the Jacks, what do they call him. Quintar realizes as soon as he asks the question what the answer is and he speaks in unison with Jack.
“Oh!” The fat man mumbles as he slaps both hands to the sides of his face and sighs deeply.
“What brings you south then young Jack?” Quintar asks resignedly shaking his head. “And how may we help you” he adds.
I am on my way to “Granite Ford”.
“I seek food and a nights shelter.” Jack replied.
“Granite Ford eh!” growled the fat man. “Off to see the king then, eh ?”
Quintar grins at Jack as if he thinks it might be a grate joke and is
trying not to laugh.
“My business in Granite Ford is my own sir.” jack retorts. “Do you have food and a place where a traveler can rest in safety for the night? If not I shall wish you a good day and move along”. Jack replies haughtily.
“And what would you do, camp along the road? In this weather? Ha!!” the fat man barks a laugh. “There’s not another inn on the kings road until you get to the Boars Tooth at the Dweesle River ferry crossing. That’s a days travel on foot from here. This snow storm is getting worse and it’s almost dark. If you try to camp in the open in these parts your throat would be cut and your purse gone before you have a chance to role into your blankets. If not that, then you will be a frozen slab of wolf chow by morning.”
The fat man laughs again, it is a high almost feminine laugh and his whole body jiggles so much that jack fears he might fall over.
It is hard for jack to believe that this is the dreaded Quintar Rogan. The man who legend had it, almost single handedly defeated the usurper, Galidon the Dark, stopped the rebellion and saved the kingdom for the old king Grogan. Of course that was many, many years ago and the old king died only a year after the final battle for his kingdom. His son Ernest the Week ascended to the throne but was overthrown after a year in a bloodless coup by his cousin Ferdinand the Sly with support of the Generals and Ernest himself. (Ernest never wanted to be king in the first place).
Ferdinand was a disappointing ruler. His main interest being, bedding as many of the women of the court that he could corner. His rain was cut short however when his queen, Grizelda found him shagging her hand maiden in her tower bedroom. In a
screaming fit she pushed the king out of a tower window . The queen was
named temporary regent by the council of nobles. As it turned out, they considered pushing ole Ferdy from the window was a public service and deserved a reward. Regent Grizelda ruled for twenty years before succumbing to an unknown ailment and mysteriously passing away during the night. Queen Grizelda the crude, (as she was known) had a son supposedly sired on her by King Ferdinand but that was never verified.
Even so her son Vernon of Gallenthorp was invested as king with out complaint from the people or the gentry. Vernon is proving to be a capable king and is respected if not loved by his people. His rain, of thirty years so far, has been prosperous for some and not so for others Hence the robbers and cut throats that one can encounter on the Kings Road.
“Oh no young sir” The fat man continues. Bringing Jack back from his reminiscing. “You have no place to go on to, so you might as well relax and spend a safe night here with us at The Kings Cudgel.”
With a jolt jack remembers where he had heard of the “Kings Cudgel” It is the name given to Quintar Rogan.
You, you are the kings cudgel,” Jack blurts out.
“Yes, they called me that once,” Quintar replies wiping his hands on his filthy apron.
Hopping to change the subject he becomes very businesslike.
“Now then, lodging’ll cost you one silver chip per night and that includes two meals one evening and one morning.” Quintar goes on. “A bath’ll be another copper, two if you want hot water and soap, three coppers if you want Blossom over there to scrub your back. He nods his head toward the fire by the end wall and some how actually winks a squinty eye at Jack.
Jack looks toward the wall and is caught looking by Blossom who smiles coyly, looks away and giggles stupidly.
“Just a room and the meals thank you” Jack mumbles.
“As you will. That will be one silver chip then.” Quintar holds out his pudgy hand and jack drops a small flat triangle of silver the size of a thumbnail into his palm.
Quintar inspects the coin then puts it between his teeth and bites down on it.
“Right, then” he growls. “Foods not ready yet so I’ll have my other daughter show you to your room. “Grenzelat!!” He yells over his shoulder. After a moment with no response he grumbles, “Where is that worthless slattern! Grenzellat! Get your scabby bum out here!”
“I’m coming father” a lyrical voice calls from an archway in the wall to the left of the bar.
A young girl appears in the arch. She is tall and slender with long blond curls cascading down her back to her small waste. Her eyes are dark and flash with an inner fire. She smiles at jack and his knees go weak. She has a wide mouth with ample red lips and even white teeth. Her smile makes dimples on ether side of her mouth. She is warring the standard off the shoulder white cotton blouse of girls of her station. She wares it a little lower than necessary exhibiting the rise of her breasts to grate advantage. Her blue cotton skirt is full and reaches nearly to the floor. When she walks she exposes her small feet covered with light goat skin slippers.
“What do you want Father?” She asks sweetly, wiping her palms on a stained apron tied around her waste.
“Show this young fellow to his room and no funny business now. Do you understand?”
“Yes father, as you say.” The girl huffs but actually curtsies to Jack and indicating the doorway with a delicate hand “Right this way young sir,” she croons and disappears through the doorway.
Jack follows in a trance.
The girl takes a torch down from its hole in a post. Holding it ahead of her, she beaconing Jack to follow as she starts down a dark hall. Jack stumbles along in the gloomy shadows behind the girl occasionally slipping in things better not known of. He wonders at this beauty he is following . Could she really be the daughter of the Kings Cudgel and sister to Blossom of all things? It seamed unlikely. “I wonder what her mother is like” he thought. “Look at the mother and see the daughter was the old saw.”
Then another thought comes into his head “Who are those retched children turning the spits? Are they Blossom’s or Grenzelat’s or even Quintar’s children.” Grenzelat’s melodic voice brakes into his thoughts. “Upper or lower? she asks.
“Uh? What?” He stammers stupidly.
“Do you want a room up above or down here?” She asks with a slight giggle.
“Do the upper rooms have a window?” he asks not knowing what else to say.
“Some do” she replies “and bolts on the inside of the doors to” She adds coyly.
The girl precedes him a little farther down the hall, turns to the left and climbs a ladder that is set against the wall. At the top of the ladder she steps onto a catwalk that runs back the way they had come but about eight feet higher. Along the catwalk are more doors to rooms.
“Which one would you like?” the girl croons. “You are our first guest tonight so you have your pick.”
“Is there any difference in the rooms?” Jack asks.
“Well“ the girl giggles the second room from the far end has a large window, a big soft bed and is the room next to mine, She whispers running her index finger down his arm.
“Gosh” Jack stammers “that sounds, a, nice”.
“Damn!!” He thinks “what an idiot!!”
“Gosh that sounds nice?”
“She must think I’m a complete bumpkin.”
“Dose that mean you would like to take that room young sir?” the girl teases.
Yes, yes that will do fine he says making his voice lower, trying desperately to sound cool and failing miserably.
“Hmm.” the girl muses. She turns and walks toward the opposite end of the catwalk. She stops at the second door from the end opens it and steps inside. Just inside the door she turns around so that Jack, who is following closely, runs right into her. He has to rap his arms around her to keep them both from falling.
“Oooh, you do like me”, Grenzelat exhales.
Under her light clothing she feels warm and soft and pleasantly bumpy as he tries to extricate himself from what is becoming an embarrassing situation.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, uh, pleas excuse me,” he stammers stepping back and regretfully removing his arms from around her firm young body.
“Grenzelat! Grenzelat!! A loud voice bellows from below. Where the devil is that poxie wench. GRENZELAT!!!” The walls shake from the proprietors voice.
“I better go” She whispers. Before she slips under Jacks arm and out the door she pauses to light the candle on the nightstand with her torch.
In the dim light of the flickering candle the room looks small, about seven feet by seven feet. A wooden cot with a lumpy, straw filled tick takes up one hole side of the room.. There is a rough wool blanket folded at the foot and a dirty straw filled pillow at the head. Under the small shuttered window in the wall at the head of the bunk is a crudely made night stand atop which the half used tallow candle sputters in a shell dish. There is no other furniture in the room not even a hook to hand a cloak from.
“I’m coming father,” the girl replies meekly as she slides down the ladder.
“Where have you been, wench?” Quintar yells as the girl slips by him ducking a swing from his right hand.
“We have more customers down here” he growls. “There’s no time for you to play games with that young northerner. Now, get in there and help out” As he says this he puts his foot against he rump and propels her through the doorway.
She falls sprawling on the floor at the feet of two Gorogorions.
chapter 2, Gorogorions
Gorogorions, how do I explain about Gorogorions?
The largest of this pare. A prime specimen of the breed, stands about three feet tall, with a barrel chest and thick stubby warted legs. His head is large and warty with tufts of greenish hare sticking out of each wart. The face is vaguely elephantine with short tusks protruding from the upper jaw, a prehensile nose and small mouth with many sharp teeth and large independently rotating dark eyes on short stalks that stick of each side of the head at the temple. The other was a female and as such, almost indistinguishable (by humans) from the male accept that they are a little smaller than the male, the females voice is deeper, their skin is a little lighter shade of gray, and they have a thin line of stiff red hairs running along the edge of their mule like ears where the males ear hairs are gray.
No one really knows where Gorogorions came from and where they fit in the evolution of the planet. Of course there are many odd creatures roaming this world that some how don’t quite fit in.
I guess the best way to start is to go way back to the ancient history of what is now known as simply “The Realm.”
The oldest histories of the world, which were carved into wooden or clay tablets, refer to a great calamity or disaster occurring way back in the mists of time.
It has been learned by scholars in “modern“ times, that for centuries before the end of the original civilization there had been, famine, plague, political upheavals and wars for dwindling resources.
Eventually the endless wars exhausted the very resources that they were fighting over.
With no more oil to sell and few other resources the oil producing nations had, eventually been taken over and consolidated politically by a radical religious sect bent on the cleansing of the world to prepare for the return of their deity.
Feeling that they had nothing to loose and everlasting life to gain they unleashed a weapon of incredible destruction on an ancient rival.
In retaliation the allies of the attacked nation attacked the aggressors with a similar weapon. Allies of the aggressors upholding old treaties attacked that nation. The attacks and counterattacks eventually lead to a final crescendo of madness which unleashed all the arsenals on the planet in a final orgasm of nuclear, biological, chemical, and genetic destruction.
Some lucky few managed to escape the destruction of the final days by taking refuge in deep man made caves that had been provisioned for the occasion. For generations they hid like rodents in a hole. When they finally emerged the world that they found was far different from the world that their great grand fathers had escaped . Of the other creatures that were left to crawl back from the brink of extinction, many species had changed completely due to the effects of radiation and the chemical, bio and genetic weapons. Other species appeared that didn’t really fit on any previous evolutionary tree. Many familiar animals like cattle, pigs, deer, geese, and many others disappeared altogether.
It was almost like a great wind had stripped the tree of evolution and a bunch of suckers grew out of the stubs.
The Gorogorions are one of those strange anomaly‘s.
They were first discovered by hunters in the ancient Gorogor Forest, (hence the name) that forms the eastern border of the Realm and runs unbroken for a thousand miles from the southern dessert to the foot of the ice fields of North Morovanda. On its east side it climbs the High Barrier mountains to the timberline. No one knows how deep the forest actually is or how many or what kind of creatures live secluded in its gloomy depths.
Legends, old wives tales and superstition keep the denizens of the forest secure in their dark world.
Occasionally some intrepid and brave hunters will penetrate the forest in pursuit of some game or other. This was indeed the case for two such men,
whose names are lost to time. Following the blood trail of a large gore-rat, they entered the forest and after several hours became hopelessly lost. Eventually they stumbled upon a nest of what we now call “Gorogorions”. The creatures were busily preparing the lost gore-rat for eating when the two hunters burst upon them in a mood to do mayhem in order to wrest the rat from these strange bug eyed creatures.
When the Gorogorions detected the intruders they bowed their heads extended their mule like ears and began to hum.
Immediately the hunters relaxed, forgot their aggression and set down their weapons.
The Gorogorions, with a few gestures set the men even more at ease and invited them dine on broiled gore rat, truffles, and tubers. The hunters were happy to comply and spent several weeks living with the Gorogorions. Learning their simple language and teaching the Gorogorions “Standard”, the language of the realm.
That was several hundred years ago and now, Gorogorions are a common sight and are known now as extraordinary mushroom and truffle cultivators and traders. Most importantly, with their extraordinary psychic talent for defusing stressful situations they are welcome guests anywhere.
The Monarchs of all the kingdoms have in their entourage several of the small mild mannered creatures.
Since the discovery of Gorogorions and their incorporation in the world, major wars between kingdoms have virtually stopped. In parliaments,
congresses, assemblies and throne rooms real work is occasionally accomplished without rancor. It became quite fashionable for the homes of the nobility to have at least one Gorogorions in residence. Often the small grey creatures become a beloved member of the family.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, this is not a form of slavery.
The Gorigonions are invited to join a household and stay as long as they like. They are not required to do any work, although the Gorogorions are very helpful creatures at heart and delight in being productive.
Most Gorogorions are able to communicate with humans in ‘standard’ the problems occur with the inability of humans to understand Gorogrions speech. Their long prehensile nose and small toothy lower jaw make it almost impossible for them to clearly enunciate the round syllables of human standard so they speak a sort of shorthand which is made of mostly consonants.
Although Gorogorions, form Life long partnerships with members of the opposite sex. They have a mating season like other “lesser” animals. In the fall the males and females both experience hormonal changes which for a time severs the bond between couples. The individuals separate and mate wildly with any Gorigorions of the opposite sex, that they encounter. Once the mating season is over the couples reform like nothing has happened and raze any offspring that are born in the spring. Unfortunately their mating frenzy seldom results in many pregnancies so the Gorogorion population stays consistently small.
The only article of clothing that Gorogorions wear in all weather is a kind of loin cloth made of fake “Spiny Dracon hide.“ Legend has it that the first Gorogorion captured a Spiny Dracon and trained it to let him ride, then to show the world how tough the Gorogorions are he mounted the Spiny Dracon and road it through the world.
If you ever saw a Spiny Dracon you would know that the legend is a lie.
The Spiny Dracon is an animal about the size of a yearling calf with a wide swath of sharp spines running down its back to the tip of its flat spiked tail. The head on the Dracon is long and narrow with a large mouth filled with a double row of serrated teeth. The hide across the shoulders and along the flanks of the creature is tough and thick and covered with thick sharp spines. The hide will resist penetration by the sharpest hunting spear.
Even men with flint locks now days give these animals a wide birth in the rare instance that they are encountered.
Anyway, the Gorogorions continue the tradition with the wearing of the symbolic Dracon skin loin cloth. It isn’t really Dracon skin but the hide of a porcupine with the spikes pulled out but at least they ware something because believe me, no one wants to see a Gorogorion’s genitalia. I am sure that I have missed some of the other Gorogorion traits but we will no doubt discover those together.
chapter 4, Tutorious Falis
The door to the inn crashes open and a blast of arctic cold swirls in through the opening bring with it a cyclone of snow that coalesces into the figure of a man covered from head to foot by a long white fir trimmed traveling cloak. Long fingers appear from the ends of the sleeves, the right hand holds a staff of light, strong, Cracle wood with the image of Galoot’s head carved on top. The large fangs of the Galoot curving down to form a hand guard of sorts. The man razes his left hand to pull back the cowl of the cloak. The face is pale and thin with a long hawkish nose above thin lips stretched across a wide mouth. A heavy red beard covers much of the man’s face below the Piercing blue eyes that now peered at the room from under great bushy red eyebrows. The man exhales a long plume of steam as he relax in the warmth of the inn. He shakes his shoulders and a small avalanche of snow slides from his cloak and piles on the floor around his feet. The man in white looks over the two Gorogorions and the girl picking herself up from the floor. Then he turnes his attention to the fat inn keeper.
“Ha! Quintar you old reprobate! I see no one has burned the cudgel down around you yet! Eh?” The man chortles in a dry reedy voice.
“It has been a while since I have been in these parts and I was very pleased to see the old place still standing.”
“Welcome, welcome, Tutorious Falis, It has been a long time indeed.” The inn keeper rumbles. “Where have you been these many years. I thought that the Userper had captured and imprisoned you. Rumor had it that you were boiled in oil and then hanged and then drawn and quartered..”
Quintar looks aside to the girl. “Show this nice Gorogorion couple to room seven if you please Grenzelat.“
The girl curtsies and extending her hand in the direction of the doorway to the apartments. “This way pleas”, she says sweetly.
“Ah well” the man in white chuckles, The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
But now old friend I need a room for the night and some of your famous Galitrop stew.
“I am afraid I will have to disappoint you mate.
The room I have but there will be no Galitrop stew this time of year. They have all migrated south and won’t be back until late spring.” Quintar growls.
“Alas“, sighes Tutorious. “All this long cold days travel I was sustained by the thought of a nice steaming bole of The Cudgel’s famous Galitrop stew. Through the long cold leagues, breaking through waste high drifts of snow, crossing frozen rivers, I kept the vision of large fatty chunks of orange citrus flavored Galitrop meat floating in a thick purple gravy with those wonderful spicy red mushrooms that the Gorogorions cultivate in their forest fastness and those delicious sour, hairy, blue tubers and that strange bitter green slimy stuff, before me .” Tutorious gushes.
“And Now you tell me there will be no Galitrop stew to revive me after my toils. I am undone” he moans.
“So now then, my deer innkeeper. What meager sustenance do you offer a retched traveler on this cold and snowy night?” Tutorious queries.
Quintar squints his squinty eyes at Tutorious.
“Broiled Gore-rat or bloat sheep, Bugle toad stew, acorn mush, boiled tubers and redeye gravy with fresh red eyes” Quintar intones.
“That’ll work” Tutorious replies with finality.
“You’ve grown a bit long winded in the years that have passed” Quintar observes.
“Oh yes,” Tutorious clears his throat and speaks in a low whisper. “Since my rescue from the dungeons at Dragon Roost prison near the end of the great rebellion. I drifted for many years, cleaning stables, digging graves, doing any kind of work to stay alive. One day I found myself in the great citadel at Car-lump-dour. I had found service with a noble there. He was the bastard son of some beheaded prince I believe. I only knew him as Mr. Whipet.
As you know the citadel is in the center of the largest metropolis in the realm and being a large city with thousands of people there is a need for news and communication so this enterprising young fellow found an old
partially destroyed hand operated printing press in a collapsed section of the
old city. He had the press and as much other related stuff as could be found, moved to an abandoned building down near the docks where he rehabilitated the press, figured out how to work the thing and after many false starts began printing of all things, a news paper. Can you believe it? A News Paper!” Tutorious shakes his head.
“The first ones were no more that just hand bills. Just one page printed on one side.” Eventually circulation increased to the point where Mr. Whipet could sell advertising. Soon, he had to train another printer and then a staff of writers and reporters. The paper has a circulation of thousands and is growing in the city and beyond. He is building a news paper empire in the north. Now he is having a paper mill built on the Codswallow River. Some people down stream are in an uproar but he is pushing ahead.” Tutorious takes a breath.
“At any rate,” he goes on. I gained employment with his household, in the kitchens to be exact. I’m a grate dish washer you know” he chuckles. Oh yes, world class ha, ha!.
“Which reminds me, my old friend. What will it cost me for a nights rest in your delightful inn and some of your delectable food and refreshment, ” he looks at Quintar from under his heavy red eye brows.
“One night and two meals will be one silver chip. Cash!” The innkeeper replies flatly.
“Yes, I see. a-hmm, that will be just fine“ Tutorious murmurs disappointedly and produces a, small pouch from somewhere inside the sleeves of his cloak. He shakes it and it tinkles with the sound of a very few coins. Tutorious dumps the contents into his palm, pushes the bits of metal around with his finger tip, comes up with a silver chip and drops it on the bar. He returns the remaining coins to the pouch and with a flick of his hand that could not be seen it disappears Back into the recesses of the sleeve.
“As I was saying” Tutorious continues his story. “I was working in the kitchen and eating the meals prepared therein. They were very good meals, as this young man had the good fortune to hire as his kook, a girl from Entergoria and every one knows that Entergorian woman are the best cooks in the realm if not the entire planet.” He stopps and looks at Quintar for a moment.
“By grumpin! Your wife is an Entergorian if I am not mistaken,” He cries.
“By the way, where is the spirited beauty of yours? I have been here for several minutes now and she has not shown her pretty face or so much as yelled at any one. Where is the woman? Is she ill? He asked.
“No“, Quintar’s growl is low and full of pain. “No, she passed on in child birth many years ago” he manages with only a slight quaver in his voice.
He starts to go on but the words catch in his throat.
“I am truly sorry for your loss my old friend. Grenzelia was a prize truly a prize” Tutorious says softly.
“And what of the child?” he asks.
“Oh, she survived and thrives today“ the innkeeper says flatly. She is the young girl that was here when you appeared in our foyer.”
“Ah yes the young beauty. I should have known. She has the look of her mother. You should be proud to be the father of such a lovely and well mannered daughter.” Tutorious complements Quintar.
“Pretty, yes. Well mannered? Ha!” She is a lazy retch! and will no doubt end up badly.
“Wasn’t there another girl?” Tutorious asks. “She was about knee high the last time I saw her and cute as a button, as I remember”
“Yes that would be my Blossom” Quintar replies proudly. “She is over at the fire preparing the evening meal. She inherited her mothers knack with food but sadly she got stuck with my looks”.
“Hmmm, yes, alas,” Tutorious mumbles.
“Well, as I was saying” Tutorious picks up his story again. I was sitting in the kitchen of my masters house expounding to the cook in my most eloquent terms on the epicurean delights that emanate from her humble refectory. I was over herd by the master of the house and was asked to join him in his study. Uncertain as to what I may have done to raze the ire of my employer I sheepishly followed him up the long stairs from the kitchens to the main body of the house. Little did I know at the time that I was never to work in that kitchen again.
Mr. Whipet led me to a set of double doors. He pushed open the right hand door, entered and strode across the room to a large polished desk behind which he sat and folded his hands in front of him on its top.
“You have a way with words”, he said. “Do you know your letters then?”
Yes sir, I was educated at the University of Coldpalace where I earned several degrees including; a MA in literature and philosophy, a BS in alchemy, a PHD in astrophysics, a certificate in carpentry and dry wall and a WTF in divination.
“A WTF?” What kind of a degree is that? Whipet asked. “Obviously you have never taken divination” I replied. “In short, yes, I know how to read and write,”
“So then”, he said pulling on his right earlobe, “I take it you have had some training in creative writing?
Of course!”, I replied.
Tutorious slaps the bar “Well my friend, right then and there he offers me a job as a freelance restaurant critic and food writer. Yes sir, I even have my own byline; I am known as Tooty the Foody.”
“We took a little poetic license with my name, you see” Tutorious winks conspiratorially at Quintar.
“Quintar clears his throat and shakes his head.
“How the mighty have fallen,” he mumbles to himself.
“Now then, you’ll be needing a room”, the innkeeper announces. “Do you have any preference for an upper or a lower?”
“The years I spent chained to the damp walls of The Dragons Roost and the years of hard labor after that have left my muscles and bones too feeble to willingly climb ladders, so a lower if you please, kind sir.”
“Right then! I’ll put you in number eight, next to that nice Gorogorion couple” Quintar tells him.
“Oh, I hope they don’t squeal all night” Tooty whines.
“No problem there my friend, they only rut in the spring, Tee, hee, hee, Quintar laughes.
Grenzelat? Grenzelat!! The innkeeper yells. “Where is that girl?!!”
Tutorious looks at the fat man with an expression of shock on his face.
“Grenzelat? You named her that?” Touorious Falis asks Quintar.
“Why, ah, yes, I did actually,” Quintar admitted sheepishly.
“Does she know what it means?” Tutorious asked in a low whisper.
Of course not, Quintar replied. “She will never know. No one knows the old tongue now a days. There are only a few of us left that were taught in the academy. You, me, maybe a few others, most of us died in the wars that followed or in prisons like The Dragons Roost.
Just then the girl Grenzelat appears in the doorway to the back rooms.
“There you are, wench. What mischief have you been up to now.?
“Why father, I was just helping the Gorogorions get settled in.” Grenzelat replies sweetly.
“Oh, very well,” Quintar grumbles.
“This Gentleman is an old friend of mine. Show him to number eight and see that he has whatever he needs. Then get back to the cooking hearth and help your sister” he orders.
“The night coach is due in at anytime and there will be at least six hungry customers on board her.” And you stay away from that fellow, Jack,” he adds as an after thought.
“Did you say Jack?” Tutorious asks as he turns to look at the innkeeper.
“Why, yes, yes I did,” the fat man admits squinting at Tutorious. “Do you know him?
“Well no, not exactly, I only know of him. But if what I know about him is true you have no worries about your daughters virtue.” Tutorious assures him.
“My daughters virtue? Quintar laughs. “It’s the young mans virtue that concerns me with these wenches of mine around. Tee, hee, hee Quintar laughs again.
“So he doesn’t like girls eh?”
“Hear that Gren, he don’t like girls so just leave him alone and get back to your chores.”
“Not exactly Quin.” I may enlighten you later but your daughter is safe or more to the point, Jack is safe for now. The man in white bowed deeply and followed the girl. The sound of his staff thudding against the floor with every other step as they disappear down the dark hallway.
“Windy old fool ” Quintar mumbles to no one in particular. Then he smiles to himself recalling ancient adventures with the quirky old scholar. Maybe wizard is a more fitting term.
“I wonder who this Jack person really is” he muses.
Chapter 3, Prince Adrian Jackonia
In his room, young prince Adrian Jackonia, of the small kingdom of North Morovenda, lies on his back on the lumpy straw filled mattress. Still in his traveling cloths divested only of his weapons and boots. His long slightly curved sword lay at his side and his double barreled flint lock pistol lay on the night stand. He isn’t expecting an attack but one can never know who might be prowling about these days or who might know of his quest and be out to thwart him, be it by murder or treachery or seduction. A kingdom hangs in the balance.
A kingdom gained or lost by his actions alone.
Jack groans and rolls over on his stomach dislodging the sword and sending it clattering to the floor.
Startled by the noise, he jumps from the bed and almost upsets the night stand and candle as he grabs for the big pistol.
With his heart pounding in his chest he listens to the sounds of the inn. After a bit he relaxes.
As he sits back on the bed his foot touches the sword hilt on the floor. He looks down.
“Oh crap! he groans, it was my sword falling that scared me. I really need to relax. Maybe some food and a glass of wine. “No,” he thinks, remembering Blossoms dirty feet. Maybe a beer would help. I wonder if they are serving supper yet.”
Just then as if on cue a loud clanging noise penetrates the remotest corners of the tavern.
“Must be the dinner bell,” Jack muses.
On the floor next to the night stand sits a wash basin and pitcher of tepid water.
Jack picks the sword up and sets it on the bed behind him. Then setting the pistol next to it, he picks up the basin and puts it on the nightstand moving the candle to one corner. He carefully pours water from the pitcher into the bowl so as not to over flow and snuff out his meager light source, .
He scrubs his hands in the basin and splashes water on his face. He looks around for a towel of some sort but finding nothing, he wipes his hands and face on the inside of his traveling cloak. He peels off his smelly damp traveling clothes and slips into soft black goat skin trousers. He puts on a fine blue linen drop sleeve shirt that is open at the throat and belts it around his waste with a wide blue sash. On a gold chain around his neck hangs a ring of some kind of light weight metal. Inside the ring are three bars. One of the bars bisects the ring while the other two bars start at the middle of the first bar and join the ring at an angle. It looks more or less like a chicken foot in a circle.
The meaning of the symbol is lost to a ancient history but such medallions show up at street fairs and village marketplaces some times. Young nobles are fascinated by them and will pay a good price for one when they can find them. The medallions have become a kind of secret identification badge between young nobles throughout the country.
He puts on a tall pair of soft moccasins with a sheath on the inside of each. In each sheath he inserts a long sharp balanced blade that is as good for throwing as it is for slicing and dicing in a bar room brawl. Jack stands up and shakes each leg so that his trouser cuffs slide down over the high moccasins, hiding the knives.
Under the sash, he hides a small two barreled pistol. The cap lock Derringer is a very rare piece. Unlike most of the firearms of the time, this one is newly manufactured by a genius gunsmith in Jack’s fathers employ. The caps for the ignition are imposable to find any where outside of his home and if they were to get wet they would be useless. Fortunately, Jack brought with him, a supply of caps in small waxed tins. He also has flints, powder and ball for both the big flint lock pistol and the tiny Derringer.
He pats the Derringer at his side and running his fingers through his long hair he opens the door and steps into the gloom of the hall. He turns around and using the large rusty key that Grenzelat had given him, he locks the door and slips the key into his sash.
Feeling along the wall, Jack makes his way to the ladder and climbs down without difficulty. Soon he is standing in the doorway to the main room of the inn. After the gloom of his room and the hallway, his eyes are dazzled by the light of the many candles that have been lit on the tables and fresh torches that have been added along the walls.
There are many more people in the inn now.
Several of the tables are occupied with diners. At others, one or two people sit in quiet conversation drinking and enjoying pipes.
Grenzelat is circulating around the room serving beer or wine and delivering orders of food.
Jack looks about, searching for a place out of the way to eat in obscurity.
His eyes meet with those of an old man with bright red hair, bushy red brows and fierce looking red beard. Before Jack can look away the old man beckons for Jack to join him.
chapter 4, Supper
Jack shrugs. “Why not” he thinks. “The old man looks harmless and at least he’s not a woman.”
He approaches the table of the old man. Gives a short bow and with an exhale of breath seats himself on a bench with his back to the wall.
“A good evening to you young Prince Adrean” The red hared old man greets him.
Jack jumps back to his feet and in the same motion one of his daggers appears in his right hand.
With his back to the rest of the room holding the blade close to his side ready for a plunging thrust.
Who are you and How do you know my name he growls in a low threatening voice.
Tutorious, throws his head back and laughs as if the young man standing before him is illustrating a funny story.
“Sit down my young friend before you call more attention to your self.” Tutorious whispers conspiratorially. “Have no fear of this feeble old man. I am a fellow Morovendan and I know your quest. I am on your side.”
Jack, looks around and indeed some of the patrons are looking in his direction. He turns and slumps onto the bench and returning the blade to its sheath, he sits with his hands in his lap.
Staring down at the table top, he asks, “How did you know? No one other than my father and the king of South Morovenda is supposed to know any thing about my mission.
“First, let me introduce my self.” Tutorious speaks softly.
“I am, Tutorious Falis, lately in the employ of Mr. Whipet of Car-Lump-Dour, as a food correspondent for the Citadel Times.” he announces with a slight head bow.
“Oh no!“ Jack says incredulously.
“You don’t mean, that you are Tooty the Foody?”
“One in the same“, Tooty replies with a grin and another little bow.
The prince leans back. Resting his head against the wall he begins to chuckle. The chuckle turns into a giggle then into a belly laugh before long Jack is doubled over in uncontrollable spasms of laughter. Eventually he regains control and chuckling occasionally he leans back against the wall.
“Tooty the Foody” he says quietly, shaking his head. “Busted by a Food
“Don’t worry my young prince. I have known about your quest and its consequences for Morovenda for a long time.” Tutorious assures him.
“But how? No one knew, no one but Father, King Notoreon, Princess Nepherita and me. How could you, a gourmand and scribbler of paltry prose have found out so much.” The prince laughs incredulously.
“Well”, the old man says, sitting back against his corner of the wall and fingering his beard.
“If you spend as much time in the kitchens and around the hearths of the homes, castles and eating establishments of this country as I have and if you keep your ears open, eventually you will learn all the secrets of the realm.”
“But have no fear my friend, my specialty is food not politics. I stopped dabbling in politics before your father was born. No, I know of your plight and sympathize with you. Further more, I have taken a small step to assist you. At least while you are in this inn”
“What, do you mean, to assist me?” Jack asks suspiciously. “What have you done.”
“I just dropped a hint to the inn keeper, that you aren’t interested in girls.” Tutorious replies. with a wink at Jack.
Oh wonderful, now everyone will think I’m… He stops in mid sentence. “You know that might not be such a bad idea” he mumbles. “If the women think I’m actually not interested they may leave me alone.”
“But, what about the curse.” He cries. Then, realizing that he had almost shouted. He looks around to see if any one noticed.
Some had, but most of the diners are more interested in there bugle toad stew or the large slabs of meat and tubers on their plates.
The two Gorogorions snort and grunt a bit and make a sound that jack thinks might have been laughter. Soon, they are busy pushing their snouts into the large mound of acorn mush in the troth between them.
“Oh yes, the curse,” Tutorious repeats. “I will have to think on that for a while”
The young and beautiful Grenzelat, saunters up to their table with a large tray of foaming leather tankards on one arm and the other hand on her hip. Her hips sway as she walks causing the tankards to slop foam onto the platter.
“Hello Jack” she says in a low seductive tone.
“Are you having a good time?“ She turns on her brilliant smile.
Sweat runs down the middle of Jacks back and his sides.
“Oh yeah, a great time” he mumbles.
“Would you like… anything?” She let the question hang in the air for a heart beat then adds. “The house wine is a very good vintage and our beers are the talk of The Kings Road.”
“Beer.” Jack says grumpily.
“Ah, yes my deer, I will also have one of your renown malt beverages.” Tutorious replies.
“Excuse me sir?” The girl queried.
“Beer.” Touorious grunts, with a smile and a wink at Jack.
“Well you are in luck fore, here are too freshly drawn tankards just for you.” The girl laughs, a sound like tinkling bells.
Jack swallows a large drought of beer almost emptying the tankard.
He sets the mug down on the table top and lets out a long low belch.
“Well, young sir you had better go slowly on that tankard. The girl teases. “Our beer is full bodied and has turned some of the meanest men around here into whimpering children.”
“Don’t worry about me missy, I know how to handle my liquor.” Jack boasts.
Tutorious, watches the interplay over the rim of his tankard while slowly sipping his beer.
“I see trouble here,“ He thinks. “There is a stronger force at work here than any thing some old hag could dream up. Young jack and his quest are truly in peril.” A small smile touches the edges of his lips.
The girl laughs again, turns her back on Jack and saunters away, her hips swaying seductively.
Blossom and the two urchins were not in the great room when jack came in but presently all three of them enter through the doorway to the rear apartments.
Blossom, is freshly bathed, her hair piled high on her head with a light silver chain running around her forehead. She wares a low cut white cotton peasant blouse which fully exposed her more than ample cleavage. Her skirt is of the same material died a light shade of raspberry.
On her feet are soft dog skin slippers with bead work along the seams. She smiles brightly as she enters the room and feels the admiring eyes of the males in the room swing in her direction.
The twins, Pip and his sister Tilla, are also freshly scrubbed and dressed in clean brightly colored tunics with slippers on their feet.
Immediately upon entering the room the twins set to work removing dirty dishes and scraps from the tables where the patrons had finished their meals.
Grenzelat had been serving guests food as well as drinks while Blossom was bathing herself and the kids. Now that Blossom is back Grenzelat disappears into the rear apartments.
Blossom goes to the fire and carves several slices from the roasting gore-rat’s hind quarter, lays them in two wooden trenchers along with a small pile of blue tubers and a large chunk of dense grey bread Over the whole thing she pours a large ladle of thick gravy. She picks up the trenchers and walks directly to where Jack and Tooty are sitting.
“Would the handsome young gentleman like something to eat?” she asks looking in jacks eyes, with her rosebud mouth turned up into a teasing smile.
“Uh, I, uh, yes, thank you,” Jack stammers.
Blossom leans over very low and sets the trencher down gently before him.
Jacks breath catches in his throat as his nose is almost in her cleavage. Her large breasts miraculously don’t flow out of the blouse and onto the table but Jack can not fathom why. Slowly she rises, and from a pocket in her apron she produces two wooden spoons and places one next to Jack’s trencher.
“And you sir, Tutorious. Do you wish to dine? She asks sweetly. Her voice soft and melodic.
“I do indeed, my deer young woman, I have been entranced by the aroma of your culinary artistry this long evening and I salivate in anticipation of the repast you offer my humble self,“ Tutorious, answers with a bow of his head.
“Right,” she says and drops the trencher with the food and spoon in it onto then table, slopping a bit of gravy over the edge onto the tabletop.
“More beer,” Tutorious grunts holding up his empty tankard not looking at the girl, a grin on his face.
And you, my handsome young gentleman, would you like some? She doesn’t specify as to ‘some’ what.
Jack, drains of the last of his beer in one gulp and with out looking at her, hands Blossom the empty tankard with out reply.
As Blossom walks away, with what she obviously thinks is a sexy sway. The back of her skirt looks like to large animals are trying to escape form a tent.
Tutorious grunts a few tines, then the grunts turn into a chuckle.
He concentrates on slicing his meat with a knife that he produces from somewhere inside of his long white robe with such speed that the blade seams to just appear in his hand. He spears the piece of roast Gore-Rat on the point of the knife and slides it into his mouth. He chews slowly moaning his appreciation of the delicate flavor of the rat. A Gore-Rat is a large rodent similar to the Amazonian Capybara but with a long slender hairless tail a long thin face with long whiskers and large sensitive ears. They are vegetarians and live on a diet of sweet fruits, grasses and nuts. The flesh of the Gore-Rat is light pink in color with a sweet and somewhat spicy flavor almost like peaches and cayenne pepper.
Blossom returns shortly with a fresh beer for jack.
Jack sits hunched over his plate shoveling small tubers and red eye gravy into his mouth with the wooden spoon. With every other bite he takes a large gulp from the tankard at his elbow. About half way through the tubers, he picks up the tankard and finds that it is empty. He slams it on the table and calls out for more.
In a short time blossom wanders past with a wooden pitcher in each hand.
“Did you cal for more beer sir?” she croons sweetly.
“Yeah, more beer.” he grunts as he pushes the large mug to the edge of the table and Blossom fills it to a frothy brim.
Jack picks up the tankard, throws back a large draught and slams the tankard down hard on the tabletop slopping beer and foam over the edge and onto the floor.
Better go easy on the beer my lovely young gentleman or you won’t have a very nice evening,” Blossom warns over her shoulder as she threads her way between the tables stopping occasionally to serve beer to other diners.
“I’ll drink as much as I want,” Jack mumbles and goes back to his eating. After a bit he comes up for air and sits back against the wall.
“Well Tutorious, do you think I’ve managed to disgust our waitresses enough that they will leave me alone so I can keep my “Promise”?
Tutorious, pushes away his cleaned trencher and popping a piece of gravy
covered bread into his mouth he ruminates a bit.
“Well, maybe you have Quintar’s women fooled for the moment, but you have other admirer’s in the inn tonight. Tutorious nods toward a corner where two identically dressed women are talking excitedly behind their hands and stealing glances in Jacks direction.
By their dress, the women are obviously from the south. Probably the desert south of Baleen Lake. They are covered from head to toe in brightly colored strips of silk loosely connected together in strategic places to enhance their charms without actually reveling anything of them. Their skin is stained in strips the same colors as their “clothing” the effect will make any mans head spin when they walk or move around. The women’s beautiful faces are framed by the ribbons which are tied in a flared topknot at the top of their heads and by a black leather collar around the throat. Another black belt holds in the ribbons around the waste. From the waste the ribbons hang straight down and separate to be tied at each ankle. “Courtesans.” Jack grunts. “By the look, from the southern deserts. No northerner would ware anything that flimsy. Even inside a place as warm as this.
Jacks eyes leave the women and wander around the room.
Chapter 5, Turtle Heads
At a long table near the two southern harlots sit four large men dressed in black boiled leather vests with hardened leather amulets. Under the vest is a soft leather shirt with the large scales of a River Dragon Fish sewn onto the shirt in overlapping rows. On there arms are flint studded leather gauntlets that reach from wrist to elbow with a bone spike sticking out at the elbow. The gauntlets fit over the knuckles like cloves with no fingers. Each knuckle has a short copper spike sticking out.
Around the men’s waste is a wide leather belt that holds up a knee length leather kilt. On the belt at the left hand, is a short iron sward. At the right hand is a thin curved dagger. Between the belt and the men’s back is a long stick with a leather wrist loop. A pare of bronze hand cuffs are looped over the belt. They all ware fur lined black leather knee high boots with thick studded soles. Two of the men have leaned heavy crossbows against the wall near at hand. Sitting on the table and on the floor are the men’s helmets. They are made from the shell of a desert tortoise lined with leather and fur and held on by a leather strap that goes under the wearer’s chin. These are the men (well, more mutant than men) of The Kings Road Patrol. They are the policemen of the realm and they travel the kings road in
Vagrant drawn sleds in the winter or chariots in the summer and in the south where they have no snow.
They attempt to keep the robbers and cutthroats at bay. Occasionally they catch a bad guy or two but their job is almost imposable given how few of them are in service and how much territory they have to police. They are paid a stipend by the King but they also accept “donations” from the villages and inn’s along the road. of course if a village or inn doesn’t want to “donate” the patrol just looks the other way when trouble starts. Most Inns and villages donate.
The patrolmen are drinking a hot bitter, stimulant called “Mud” (a drink made from the bark of a tree) and playing a game of chance.
Their raucous laughter and the slamming of the dice cup on the table makes the Gorogorions a little nervous and they begin humming very quietly, the hairs along the edges of their ears vibrating imperceptivity.
The patrolmen sit back and relax sipping their mud.
Other people around the room are finishing their repasts and pushing back from the tables to light pipes and sip their wine, beer or hot mud.
A small commotion at the cook fire draws attention to where Blossom and the twins are preparing the dissert. A medium sized copper kettle sits atop a brazier filled with hot oil. Blossom is standing between a low table and the kettle where she is turning balls of yellow dough into circles with a hole in the middle and dropping them into the hot fat. The dough sizzles and steams while it puffs up into a light pastry.
Just at the right moment Pip, the young boy, dips a long stick into the fat and moving it in and out spears several of the round pastries through the hole in their center. With a deft flip of the stick Pip deposits the “Rounds” as they are called onto a platter where his sister Tilla sprinkles them with mixture granulated tree sap sugar and ground fennel seed.
The patrolmen become very excited as the aroma of sugar, anis and fresh fried dough reaches their table.
As soon as one of the trays is piled with rounds Grnezelat picks it up and begins circulating through the tables depositing fresh pastry’s on them to joyous expressions of appreciation from the patrons as they gingerly scoop up the delicious hot rounds. Some of the diners dip the rounds into their cup of mud while others nibble appreciatively at them.
Grenzelat’s, tray runs out of the treats before she reaches the table of the
patrolmen. When she turns away from them to go back for more they set up a clatter, banging their mugs on the table and good-naturedly chanting “ROUNDS!, ROUNDS!, ROUNDS!.
She looks back over her shoulder and gives them a wink, a toss of her head and her hip as she swishes away.
The patrolmen laugh loudly and slap each other on the back.
The Gorogorions hum.
Before Grenzelat reaches the fire side, Blossom is already carrying a second tray to the patrolmen’s table.
“Ah, Blossom my beauty, I knew that you would take pity on us poor “turtle heads” and bring us our own tray of hot Rounds!” the man on the outside corner of the table teases.
“Well, Filbert“, My handsome, young bravo, she replies sweetly, If you were to marry me, you could have “hot rounds every day.” She makes the words sound like they meant something very different form pastry.
The men and many of the patrons within ear shot erupted in laughter.
As she turns to leave them Filbert grabs her right buttock. By grumpen, a man could do worse he laughs, as Blossom slaps his hand free and flounces away with a smile curling her lip.
In the mean time, Grenzelat is making the rounds with another tray. When she comes to the small table in the corner where Jack and Tutorious are sitting she stops and with a very low bow to display the tray of pastry’s and lots of cleavage.
“Would, you, like, a, hot, round?” she breaths each word, seductively looking up at Jack.
“Uh! Yes, thanks” Jack replies brightly as if he had completely missed the point.
Grenzelat, looks into Jacks eyes trying to read what he is thinking and fails utterly. Finally she straightens up tosses a round on the table and turns to leave.
“Uh, one moment if you please Grenzelat“ Tutorious says softly and razes a finger. I would like to have one or two of those pastry’s if I could my deer.
Oh? Oh yes, forgive me sir Tutorious the girl stammers you may have as
many as you like.
“Two will do fine, thank you my dear.”
She gently places the two rounds on the table and with a slight curtsy to Tooty she turns and walks away between the diners, swaying her hips only slightly.
chapter 6, Plow Girls
“I think you are beginning to confuse her, Jack” Tutorious chuckles.
“At this point I am not sure who is getting confused.” Jack replies while thoughtfully chewing on a piece of pastry.”
I have been on this quest for a month now and at each stop along the way I have been subjected to every type of feminine harassment. Some have even physically attacked me when I refused them” Jack shakes head.
“Really?” Tutorious asks. “Attacked you because you would not have relations with them?”
“Well, not exactly” Jack replies. “I kind of lost my head and insulted them“.
“Oh, how so?” Tutorious asks, with an upraised, bright red, eyebrow.
“Well, it was at a small village near the foot of the Draco Mountains where I had hoped to merely procure some bread and cheese to eat along my way. As I passed a small cottage behind a stone wall I noticed an old woman hoeing in the garden. She was harvesting some kind of yellow tubers and she remained bent over as she looked up at me. Her long, thin, wrinkled, breasts were fully displayed framed in the open neck of her peasant blouse. The hag smiled a three toothed smile at me as I looked away.
She asked if she could be of service but her tone was full of lechery and the way she cackled made me think of the witch who cursed me.
“I would like to purchase or barter for some bread or cheese to eat along my way.” I replied.
She told me that she and her daughters, who were hoeing in the back field, were about to stop for a mid day meal and she invited me to dine with them.
Being but recently embarked upon my quest I felt no harm in dining with this old woman and her daughters so I, having a very empty stomach accepted her kind offer.”
Jack ceases the telling of his tale and took a long slow drink from his beer mug.
“Ahhhh,” he sighs, as he sets the mug back on the table and resumes his tail.
“The old woman called out to her daughters and lead me into the kitchen of the small cottage.
The room was small, hot and cluttered with dented and patched pots, pans,
dishes and clay jars. Drying vegetables and gourds hung from the rafters along with a joint of meat, a side of Gore-Rat bacon and ropes of sausages.
As disreputable as the interior appeared the aroma of the place was enchanting.
The scent of aging cheese and wine mixed with garlic, herbs, spices, yeast dough and smoked meat had permanently seeped into the fabric of the room.
The old woman sat me at a table, near a small barred opening that served as a window, to the left of the door and opposite the cook fire.
She then busied herself collecting what we were to eat.
She took a couple aged sausages and a cheese in a cloth bag down from the rafters. From a box near the fireplace she retrieved a partial loaf of some dark grey bread and small bole of spices and brought them to the table. She then left the room and went to a well in the rear yard where she drew up a wooden bucket of clean water and poured it into a large badly thrown pottery pitcher.
“Lina! Katia!” I heard her call in a loud scratchy voice. “ Come in and eat! We have company.”
Through the bars of the window, I could see the two girls approaching . They were twin mutant plow girls. Not as large as the ones who work the fields of the large estates but larger than a large “human” woman. They didn’t look heavy enough to pull a plow and that is no doubt why they were still at home hoeing the small acreage of their mothers. They may have even been to small for breeding plow men so they would no doubt spend the rest of their lives hoeing for their mother.
I have heard that some times farmers who have small holdings in the territories will marry one of these mutant girls so they will have help in the fields. Their offspring are often as large and strong as their mothers”
Jack reaches out, picks up his tankard and takes another sip of beer.
”Yes, yes, that is so,” Tutorious, agrees. “It is quite often a beneficial arrangement for all concerned.” I once knew an man who….. but that is another story and I would prefer to hear how yours turns out.” Tutorious says with a smile and a wink.
Jack takes another sip sets down the large mug and continues;
I could hear the women talking at the well.
One of the girls asked in a husky female voice. “Who is our visitor, Mother,”
“A young Noble, judging from his clothing and very pretty. The Mother replied.
Jack blushes, clears his throat and continues.
The other daughter asked. “is he alone?”
“Yes and he is staying to eat with us.” the crone replied.
“Now you girls get washed up and come in to eat and when you do be very nice to our young guest and perhaps we can convince him to spend the night.“ She laughed softly, then turned and walked toward the cottage.
The girls immediately removed their sacking blouses. Now stripped to only a short breach clout they poured cold water on each other. Then shivering and laughing they scrubbed each other vigorously.
Jack clears his throat wipes his upper lip and continued.
“I have to say, although those girls were large by human standards, they were not fat any ware.
They were broad shouldered and narrow wasted. Their arms were long and well muscled. They had small firm breasts and tightly muscled stomachs and as they turned and shivered in the cold water the muscles of their tanned bodies rippled. Standing in only a wet breach clout, exposed their stocky muscular legs, sinewy thighs and round firm buttock’s. Their feet were large flat and callused.
If not for their large square faces, low brows, big noses, beady eyes, sharp jagged teeth and horrible square haircuts, they might have been almost handsome.” In a healthy well formed livestock sort of way that is.” Jack, quickly qualifies.
“While I was preoccupied admiring the, a, live stock, the hag entered quietly. Apparently she had watched me for a little time before interrupting.
“Like what you see young man?” she croaked loudly with that disturbing three tooth grin.”
“I was startled by her loud voice and shouted, ‘Yes‘!”
“When I had regained control of my voice, I added, that I felt that her daughters looked very fit and strong and that I thought that they would no doubt make some small landholder a fine plow-wife.”
The old woman became agitated and began shuffling around mumbling under her breath. “Plow wives, eh! No, not plow wives no, no, True wives yes, true wives. My girls aren’t meant for the plow! She yelled. They are sweet genteel young ladies” she howled madly.
Suddenly, she tilted her head to one side and looked at me with her almost toothless mouth hanging open slightly, her tongue just showing at the corner.
Finally she straitened her head and spoke slowly in a steady voice as if she were in a trance. “Yes, now I see. You are the one. The one who I have seen in my dreams. The one who would come to mate with my lovelies and give me nice little half noble grand cubs.”
About that time, the two girls squeezed through the door and stepped to either side of it, filling the small room.
“My dear madam” I said, perhaps a bit to haughtily.
Tutorious chuckles at this.
“I am of a truly noble house and would not think to breed with such as plow girls and hoe-ers.”
Well apparently my diction was not to clear or in the heat of the moment the poor woman and her daughters misunderstood, because in unison they shouted “WHORES!!!!??” and lunged for me.
When the hag had set that bole of spices on the table I had taken the opportunity to dip my fingers into the red powder and take a taste. The spice was very hot and I noted at the time not to put any on my food.
Now, realizing that I was in mortal danger, I grabbed the bowl and swung it in an arc spreading the spice in a red defensive fan before me, hitting all three of my attackers in the face. In the mayhem that followed, I was able to grab my pack, slip through the door and make my escape. I ran as fast and as far as I could and for three days after, I watched my back trail.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” Tutorious laughs.
“Ho, ho, my boy, my boy, that was indeed a narrow escape,” the man in white laughs again .
“How humiliating it would be” he says, now in a low voice, “to fail in your quest by plowing a plow-girl.” He slaps the table top and guffaws at his little joke.
Jack shakes his head and says with a chuckle, “you wouldn’t think it so
funny if it were you in that cottage with three maddened women, two of them very large, trying to kill you.”
When Tutorious can speak again, he answers “ah, my young fellow, had it been I in that room the outcome may have been much different you see. Before I insulted the dear young ladies” Tutorious smiles and a twinkle comes to his eye “I would have had the sense to indulge myself in a good
meal. The viands that you noted just hanging around, upon entering the cottage, would have been sufficient for a delightful repast. Then, of course at my age, although the sights that you describe of the healthy, and comely young bathers, does stir some long forgotten memory. But even if the mind is willing, the body? Well, that is another story and a short one to boot.”
He laughs again.
Jack chuckles along with him. “I think that if you were facing a dragon the last thing you would think of would be food he says as he turns his head in time to see Blossom going around the end of the short wall that separates the foyer from the dining area.
Chapter 7 Cremno and Normo
As you enter the front door to the King’s Cudgel there is a short wall to your left that runs into the room a short distance and creates a foyer of sorts. Straight ahead as you enter the front door, as I have described previously, is the bar. At the right end of the bar are four high rough stools. In the fireplace in the wall is a cheery fire crackling on the hearth, large high backed, padded chairs sit in a semicircle in front of the fire. On the last stool at the bar sit’s a man of average size and average looks. He has thin graying hair, heavy eyebrows blue eyes and a cookie duster mustache that hides his upper lip above a week chin. He is wearing a light blue waist length wool coat with a coat of arms (an eagle with a scroll in its talons and a golden “RPS” in the background) embroidered on a patch sewn to the shoulder. A line of dark blue piping runs along the seams of the sleeve and along the leg seam of his matching blue wool trousers. On the back of the jacket, embroidered in large gold letters is “RPS”.
Sitting on the bar to the man’s right is a light blue wool cap with fur flaps pushed up in the front and rear and large furry ear flaps that tie with a string under the chin. On the floor next to the man is a large leather bag with scraps of parchment, envelopes with wax seals and paper items of various manufacture, protrude from gaps in the bags flap. On the flap is also the gold letters “RPS”. The man’s blue fur lined traveling cloak hangs from a peg on the wall near the door. He sits hunched over with his hands wrapped around a steaming mug of Mud.
Blossom walks in to the foyer from the main room carrying the tray of rounds and see’s the man at the end of the bar.
“Kremno!” she cries. “I almost didn’t see you hiding back there at the end of the bar.”
I came in on the coach. Kremno replies. “I had to ride on top and I still have not warmed up. It feels good back here by the fire.”
Blossom, chuckles. “I don’t understand why you are out in a storm like this anyway“.
“Well,” Kremno shrug’s “you know what they say. Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night etc. etc.”
“Is your job really that important?” Blossom asks.
“Oh, you betcha sweetie. The mail must go through you know. Well, at least that is what I was told by King Vernon when he gave me this job.”
He straightens up in his chair and proclaims proudly “I am the thread that ties the realm together.”
“Hmm” Blossom grunts. “Would you like me to spice up that mud for you before I get back to the hoard?” Blossom nods her head toward the dining area.
“Oh, no thanks Blossom, Quintar already took care of that.” Kremno replies, sipping appreciatively at the mud in his mug.
“Well how about a round then” she suggests.
Oh yah, that would be great Blossom. Thanks, ill take two if you don’t mind.
Just then the front door opens and along with a blast of snow and cold air a short round form appears looking like an ambulatory pile of snow. The form shakes from head to foot and the snow falls in pile around its feet. A pudgy gloved hand slips out from the sleeve in the heavy hooded parka and unwraps a long woolen scarf from around the neck of the hood. Having removed the scarf, the hand draws back the hood. A round head with a mass of curly brown hair on top appears. Another long scarf swaddles the face in a mask from the eyes down. The other hand appears and begins to untie the ties at the front of the parka. A pudgy man steps from the frozen article of outer clothing and hangs it on a peg near the door. He moves toward the bar unwrapping the scarf from around his face.
Kremno recognizes the pudgy little man and raises his hand in greeting. “Hi Normo” he cries.
Quintar turns at this and also cries, “Hi Normo”
“Hi Normo” Blosom says as she returns to the diners.
Woodrow A stable boy wanders in from the back hall beating snow off his cloths he looks over and waves. “Hi Normo,” he calls.
Grenzelat looks around the corner of the dining room wall. “Oh, Hi Normo
she says sweetly and disappears.
As Normo, waddles over to the bar, two voices, one female and one male call out in unison from the direction of the high backed chairs “Hi Normo” they both giggle.
Normo hops up on a stool next Kremno
“Hi, Kremno” he says in greeting, “how’s the ole “RPS” treating you.”
‘Oh I don’t know Normo, on days like this I wonder why I ever took the job.” Kremno grumbles. “How are you doing?”
“Oh, well, my friend, the life of a cipher and scribe is not a very exciting one you know, Normo replies.
Quintar walks to the end of the bar where Kremno and Normo are seated. “Hey Normo, What’ll you have?”
Just some mud right now I’m practically frozen and need something warm in side me.
“Blossom!” Quintar calls over his shoulder.
“Yeah Pop?“ Blossom answers.
“Some mud for Normo”
“And a round” Normo requests.
“And a round” Quintar repeats.
“Coming right up” Blossom replies.
“Have you finished figuring out how much I owe the King this year?” Quintar asks.
“I’ll have the figures for you tomorrow morning.” Normo replies, “I’ll come by for breakfast and we can discuss them.”
Blossom walks into the bar area and deposit’s the mug of mud and the round on the bar in front of Normo.
He gives her his thanks and she walks back into the dining room.
Chapter 8, Dwarves
Seated along the wall to Jacks right are three mutant dwarves and some thing else that looks like not much more than a mound of flesh covered in a blanket.
On closer inspection the thing looks more like another dwarf except, horribly mutated. On top of the mound of flesh sits a roughly egg shaped head, with the pointy end up. A ring of blue hair circles the head just above small pointed ears with stiff blue hairs growing out of them. The dwarfs nose is big, bulbous and wrinkled with several warts. Each wart sports a long blue hair. The nose droops down over his upper lip. Although the dwarf is un bearded the hairs that protruded from his nostrils make him look like he has a blue mustache.
He has a wide mouth with thick pouting lips. Drool and food particles slide down from the corners of its mouth. Small watery light blue eyes stare stupidly at the world around him.
His arms are so short that he can not feed his self so his mates, Normal enough looking dwarves, Take turns feeding him acorn mush, tubers and wine. Occasionally one will reach over and wipe the mutant’s mouth and face.
Jack was touched by how gentle the dwarves are toward their unfortunate brother.
The other dwarfs were pretty standard as fare as dwarves go.
Short, stocky, with long auburn beards and hair, pointed ears, rough clothing an ax in their belts. Well these dwarves didn’t have any battle axes visible. But there were several leather cases stacked near their table.
“Axes? Swards?” Jack could not decide what the cases contained.
Chapter 9, The Witches Curse
At a one of the tables in the middle of the room . Jack notices a small family. The man is obviously a successful trader or businessman. He is very thin, of average height with longish brown hair. His complexion is very pale so Jack assumes, that what ever the man does for a living it doesn’t include getting out in the sun much.
“Probably a store keeper in one of the cities” Jack thinks.
The man has a long thin face with a thin pointed nose. Dark eyebrows arch above almond shaped brown eyes. The mans lips are stretched thin across his teeth and turned down at the edges in a perpetual frown.
The wife is small and might have been pretty once but marriage and childbearing had taken it’s toll on the poor woman. Her hips are wide with short thick legs and arms. She wares a long finely made flowered cotton dress that is buttoned clear up to the top of the high neck, and long sleeves with puffy shoulders and ruffles around the cuffs that cover her arms. The waste is tied tied with a brown sash where the skirt flairs over her hips and trails to the floor.
The expression on her round chubby face is that of exhaustion. The three older children a pair of normal twins about four years old and a mutant about two with one short leg scamper in play around and under the table. The infant suckling at here breast fusses and squirms. Occasionally the poor woman grabs a child and forces a bit of food in its mouth then she lets the squirming brat go again.
Jack shakes his head.
“What is the mater“? Tutorious asks, setting his tankard down on the table.
“I was just watching that family over there” Jack indicates the couple with a wave of his hand.
“They appear to be financially well off, they are dressed well they are blessed with a bunch of kids but how unhappy they look. Is that what happens when people get married and have children?”
“Well” Tutorious hedges, It doesn’t have to happen that way but it often does.
“I suppose they were happy once” Tutorious goes on “but some times things just don’t go the way we think they should.”
“But, If they were “in love” that should have sustained them, what ever adversity they face shouldn't it?” Jack argues quietly “They don’t look too loving to me.”
“Per haps their marriage was an arranged one” Tutorious offers. “That is as you know a common practice. Take your betrothal to Princess Nepherita For instance.”
“Yes, but that’s different” Jack argues again. “Our arrangement will combine two small poor kingdoms into one large kingdom that hopefully won’t be as poor.
By our marriage we will help our people and enrich our two families. Love has nothing to do with it.”
“Ah yes of course, spoken like a loyal son and thoughtful future Monarch.” Tutorious replies.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Jack asks a bit hotly.
“Oh, I mean no offense my young prince. It is only that the speech you just gave sounded a bit formal and practiced.” Is that the argument your father gave you to convince you to take on this quest and to marry Nepherita?”
“Well, kind of” Jack admits “even so that does not alter the facts.”
“No, no, you are correct that does not alter the facts” Tutorious agrees.
Did you know that you are not the first Morovandan prince that has been sent on this same quest?
“Yes I know. I also know that none of the previous ones were successful“ Jack answers “but I am going to be the first. I am going to do it and marry the princess and join North and South Mrorvanda into one Kingdom.”
“I have been on the road for a month now and I have not failed yet” Jack boasts.”
“A month, eh? So you only have eleven more to go then” Tutouious smiles. “I believe the terms of the quest are; to travel the realm, full of lonely, horny women, for one year, visit all the nobles houses, the cities and inns and remain a, well a virgin. Am I not correct?” He asks.
“Yes I suppose so” Jack agrees, “of course there is that little thing about the curse that you forgot to mention.
“Ah yes, the curse.“ Tutorious says. “Tell me about that witch and the curse. Who is she?”
“According to the tales the peasants tell, she is a very powerful witch” Jack begins.
My father and I traveled alone for several days north of our castle until we came to the edge of the great glacier that cover’s the top of the world. We struck a rough trail to the east along the foot of the glacier and followed it for another day until we came upon an area where there was no snow. Steam rose from fishers in the ground for acres around, the rocks jutted up dark and jagged. In the distance through the steam shrouded valley we could see a high stone cliff. At the base of the cliff was a cave. We could see dark smoke issuing from above the entrance as we approached.
The entrance to the cave was large but was walled over with logs, leaning vertically over the hole with the hide of a cave bear serving as a door covering the opening at the bottom of the wall. A space left between the logs at the top acted as a chimney and dark smoke boiled from it.
We approached the cave carefully and slowly pulled back the bear hide.
Inside, the cave was dimly lit. A smoky fire of large black rocks gave off a wavering smoky orange light. Two torches burned in sconces on the wall, giving off more smoke and a dim orange glow.
There were clay jars and sacks and piles of all manner of mushrooms, herbs, and tubers of several colors scattered about.
Hanging on a hook to one side of the entrance was the partially consumed carcass of some animal that looked suspiciously like a Gorogorion but there wasn’t enough left to positively identify the species of the corpse. On lines strung across the ceiling, dead birds, bats, toads, frogs and small mammals were hung .
Sitting by the fire on a three legged stool was an incredibly old woman; her hair was thin and sprouted in patches from her skeletal head. She was robed in filthy tattered rags that left areas of skin exposed. Her skin was thin and the color of old parchment with dark blue vanes bulging at the surface. Her eyes were small and sunken deep in her bony face. Her toothless mouth was a dark gap below a long crooked nose that almost reached her turned up chin. She smelled like a combination of old socks, vomit and urine.
It was all we could do to stay in the cave with her with out becoming ill.
We informed the old hag as to who we were and what our purpose was in seeking her out.
She cackled for a while and then gathered a few herbs and powders, mixed them in a filthy cup with hot water and to our surprise she drank the cup of hot liquid in one gulp.
The witch shuddered, stood up, sat down , spun around three time on her stool, shook her head back and forth for several minutes and then sat up straight.
“Ahhh!” she breathed. “”That’s better,” she said, her voice thin and reedy.
“Now what was it you wanted from me?
Oh yes, I remember now, you are after the attraction spell. Is that right?
“Yes that’s right” my father told her.
“Well, you understand there will be a fee don’t you” she asked.
“Yes, we know about the fee” father replied. “Now, just get on with the spell.”
Tisk, tisk , tisk the witch clucks. “Kings!” she mumbles, “they are always so rude and impatient, tisk, tisk. Very well, very well, the fee first please.” She held out her bony hand palm up and Father dropped two gold coins into her palm.
The hag closely inspected the coins then removing a small piece of slate from a pouch, she drew each coin across the slate. She then removed the stopper from a small clay jug and carefully pored a small amount of the liquid contents on the streaks left on the slate. She inspected the results and with a nod placed the coins in a pouch at her side.
The crone then stood and retrieved two bags of herbs from a corner. She took a quantity of material from each bag and put them in a large mortis and crushed the herbs with a large stone pestle. All that time she was mumbling incantations. She retrieved a piece of soapstone from a pouch and drew a pentagram on the stone floor. Around the pentagram she drew a circle touching each point.
She indicated where I was to stand. I complied and stood in the circle.
Then she set a small pile of the crushed herbs at each point of the pentagram, set each pile aflame and then blew out the flames so that the herbs smoldered sending streams of vapor into the air. She then began to walk around the circle chanting in a language that I didn’t understand.
The smoke from the smoldering herbs followed her and in a short time I was enveloped in a noxious vortex of fumes so thick I could not see out. The smell of the smoke was as bad as the smell of the old woman and I retched several times before the spell was completed.
When the spell had been completed the smoke dissipated and I stepped from the circle.
I felt light headed and strangely ebullient.
“How do you feel?” the witch asked.
“I feel wonderful” I replied giggling.
“Is that it then?” father asked, is the spell complete?
“Yes the spell is complete and cannot be broken by any mortal for one full year.” The crone replied.
I don’t remember leaving the cave. Some how we made our way home although the only thing I remember of the trip were the incredibly vivid dreams I had. It was two days after we were home before I felt normal. A week later I left on the quest, and have been accosted by horny woman ever since.
“I know that witch,” They call her “Gorgonzola” Tutorious says. “She is indeed a smelly old broad and a fairly powerful witch as witches, go but her spells aren’t as strong as she likes to put on.”
“It is always a mystery to me” Tutorious continues “that these supposedly powerful witches who have the power to manipulate nature and the human mind and could have everything luxury they could think of, always live in a hovel or a cave or under a rock or some such. It does make one wonder how powerful their magic really is. Or do they just play on the gullibility and superstition of their clientele?
Remember, any technology, sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.
Trickery and subterfuge are the stock and trade of most witches.”
“You weren’t there, you don’t know what I felt then or how I felt for several days afterward” Jack insists.
“True enough, but I know a little about witches and some minor magic” Tutorious replies.
“For instance I believe that one of the herbs that she burned is from a family of cannabis that is very strong. The other I believe was a type of Datura which is so powerful that the consumption of only one seed could be fatal. The smoke from the plant can cause visual and auditory hallucinations” Tutorious instructs.
“Well, I did have some really strange dreams for several days after the visit with the witch” Jack admits.
“Now don’t misunderstand me” Tutorious goes on. I am not suggesting that Gorgonzola’s spell is not affective but I do have some reservations on that score. Unfortunately there is no way to test the spell to see if it is working.”
“Oh, it’s working, I can vouch for that“ Jack replied.
“How do you know it is the spell and not your own attractiveness and the fact that you are of noble birth which is attracting these women. Also the women of the realm are not the bashful type when it comes to coupling.”
“That’s crazy” Jack says “no one knows that I am a noble”
Oh? Tutorious asks, “I suppose that no one has seen the medallion that you wear on that gold chain around your neck.” Are you so foolish that you don’t even know that the young nobility all have such medallions?”
“Of course but only the young nobles know about the medallion” Jack insists.
“Ha, ha” Tutorious laughs. “You are indeed naïve Jack. Everyone knows about that silly chicken foot insignia that you nobles think is so secret.”
“But how do they know. It was something special that the young nobles
contrived so we could identify each other in a crowd. How could everyone know about it” Jack insists.
Tutorious shakes his head. “Servants” he says simply.
“Huh?” Jack asks “what do you mean”.
“I already told you about secrets in the kitchens” Tutorious replies, “servants know everything that goes on in their households and they aren’t
shy about gossiping.”
Chapter 10, Vagrants
The Turtle Heads with much laughing and back slapping, collected their outer gear and file out of the dining area. After some conversation with Quintar they file out the back door into the stable yard where their Vagrants and slays are waiting in the cold.
I have mentioned Vagrants a few times now so I think I should tell you a little bit about them.
There are no horses, at least no animals that you or I would recognize as a horse in the realm. What they used for draft animals in this world are actually a very good animal for the purpose.
They are called “Vagrants”. The name comes from their habit of hanging around the edges of human settlements begging for scraps. The Vagrants are intelligent and capable of mimicking human speech even to the point where they can under stand and speak simple phrases. Like piss off, etc.
They are tall animals around sixteen hands, with deep chests and big strong shoulders and hind quarters. Their legs aren’t spindly like those of a horse or mule but thick and solid with large two toed feet that spread out to allow travel over the soft sands of the southern desert as well as in the deep snows of the northern reaches. In the northern winters they grow a thick layer of hollow hair that insulates them from the cold arctic winds. They have a long neck and a head that resembles a mule with a split upper lip. They also have short horns like sheep sprouting from the top of their heads and small almost human looking ears. The Vagrants will not abide a rider. Over all, they are a fine well mannered animal but do not try to get on ones back. They can and will reach back grab you with there sharp teeth rip you from your perch and unceremoniously throw you to the ground. This always causes serious injury to anyone foolish enough to try.
They will willingly drag any great weight so are used for hauling sleds in winter and wagons in summer. They don’t like to pull a plow. They get board just going back and forth and after a couple rows they will sit down.
No amount of coercion will get them to move and you never want to anger a Vagrant for they have no compunction of using their many sharp teeth for biting or their strong legs for kicking.
They will willingly drag logs out of the forests or drag a grader blade along the road or other hauling that peaks their interest.
Most highway men don’t attempt to rob coaches drawn by Vagrants for to many robbers have encountered their feet and jaws so most brigands pick on lone foot travelers instead.
Vagrants are the perfect animal for the road patrol to use and strong bonds are formed between the animals and patrolmen.
The four officers mount their two slays one driver and one crossbowmen to each. With a word to their Vagrants they pass through the gates of the compound in a swirl of snow. One slay turns North and the other turns South as they disappear into the storm.
Chapter 11, The FloorShow
The businessman and his wife collected their offspring and disappeared into the back hall. Quintar and the stable boy came in and moved the tables in the center of the room together. By latching a latch on the ends of each table they turned them into a stage of sorts. Quintar approaches the dwarves and after a short conversation the dwarves rise, lift blob of flesh and carry it to the stage and set it in the center. They then retrieve their cases and remove musical instruments from them.
One dwarf has a string instrument that is made from a large gourd with a long neck. The gourds are grown on a flat surface to form the face of the instrument. The neck of the gourd is also flattened. Connected at a bar across the face are three strings that are tightened by pegs at the end of the neck. It is played by plucking the strings like a guitar. Another instrument is also made from an instrument gourd but has two strings that are bowed like a violin. The other instrument is a small hand drum.
The three dwarves sit on the floor in front of the stage and after tuning up they begin a sad tune in a minor key. The blob on the stage comes awake at the sound of the music and begins swaying from side to side then opening its large mouth, it begins to sing. The creatures voice is high and clear. After a short refrain another voice join in an octave lower.
Jack looks around to see where the other voice comes from but can detect no one else singing. He realized that both voices are coming from the blob.
A third voice joins the other two weaving in and out of the other voices. It is impossible to accurately describe the beauty of these voices. The song had no words but the melancholy tune carried images to the mind of the listeners of loss and despair. By the end of the song there is hardly a dry eye in the house.
After a short pause, the dwarves brake into a fast dance tune with the voice weaving light hearted patterns in the music. A young peasant couple moves into the open space in the center of the room and begins to dance. A few other couples joined in and after a few minutes many of the inns patrons, couples and singles, are capering about the room.
Even old Tutorious is tapping his staff on the floor and smiling broadly.
Jack can hardly sit still. The rhythm of the dance causing his legs to twitch.
One of the courtesans appears at his side and asks if he would dance with her.
By this time he is totally infected by the music and jumps to his feet. He takes the woman’s hand and capers onto the dance floor. They buck and grind and swivel and slink; they rub against each other and twirl away in a sensual game of cat and mouse.
With a crescendo the dance ends suddenly. Many of the dancers simply fall exhausted to the floor where they are.
Jack and the courtesan stumbl to where Jack and Tutorious’s table. Breathlessly they fall into their seats.
“OH, you are a wonderful dancer” the courtesan says breathlessly.
“You aren’t to bad yourself” Jack replies.
The dwarves begin a slow ballad and several of the people on the floor get to their feet and embracing each other and begin dancing.
The beautiful courtesan rises to her feet and offering Jack her hand, asks if he would like to dance again.
Jack is very tempted to slow dance with this beauty, but at the last moment he remembers his quest and has to refuse. He knows that if he were to hold this beautiful woman in his arms along with the magic of the dwarves music, he would be hopelessly enthralled and would loose everything.
“Oh how sad the woman” cries “you are such a fine dancer. have I done something to offend you my lord?”
“No, no,” Jack begins and stops in mid thought. What do you mean, my lord?” he asks.
“You are a prince are you not?” she replies.
“No, no, I am no prince” Jack lies “what lead you to think I was a prince?”
“My sister and I are, as you know courtesans and as such we are well acquainted with the nobility of the realm. It took us a while to decide who you are but Qwenifer (that is my sister) finally came up your name.
Are you not prince Billfornas of Beriea.” She asks.
“No, that’s not me” Jack answers.
“But we were sure that you were Prince Billfornas” She says in a confused tone. “you are obviously a noble and very handsome and you ware a chicken foot medallion around your neck that is the same as Billfornas wares.“
“Oh, the medallion, is that it then? Well, I found that at a street fair last spring and thought is was a pretty thing so I bought it.” Jack lies again.
“I am so sorry young sir, I hope I have not offended you.” she pleads.
“A simple mistake my deer think nothing of it” Jack replies magnanimously.
“What then is your name young sir” she asks.
“Jack” he answers.
“Jack? Jack what?”
“Jack, Jack“ she roles the name around her tongue. “I don’t think that I have ever heard that name before. What a strange name“
“What do they call you” Jack asks’.
“Oh, my name is Cloestra” she replies “Cloie for short.”
“Nice to meet you Cloie” Jack exclaims with a slight bow.
About then the music stops and the dancers wander off the floor returning to their seats. Some leave the room through the doorway to the apartments at the rear of the inn.
Cloie, excuses herself and returns to her sisters side. They put their heads together and converse earnestly.
The dwarves start another Jig and many patrons join in the dance.
Tutorious had been watching the interplay between the two young people with a wide grin on his face. “So” he says “the medallion is not a problem eh?”
Jack stammers “I, I didn’t think it was but I guess I was wrong.”
“I don’t think you have seen the last of Cloie” Tutorious replies “or her
sister I fear.”
A young dandy seated at a table near the sisters rises from his seat and approaches the two beauties. With a deep bow he asks Gwenifer to join him on the dance floor.
She rises to the occasion and hand in hand they stroll to the floor and begin to dance.
The dandy is tall and very handsome with long dark hair braided into a cue that hangs to the middle of his back; expressive blue eyes and a bright smile. He wares a thin mustache and short goatee only under his lower lip and above his dimpled chin.
He is dressed in tight fitting black leather pants stuffed into tall black boots that are trimmed in silver with a large silver buckle on the toe of each. He wares a dark linen shirt that is embroidered with designs in silver thread.
The shirt is belted with a wide leather belt with the jewel encrusted handle of a long dagger protruding from the top of a sheath behind the belt.
He is a good dancer and the two make an impressive couple on the floor.
Dancing with these beautiful women is one thing and very exciting but watching them dance is some thing completely different.
The ribbons of the girls clothing flash and separate as they move showing tantalizing glimpses of colorfully died flesh. A slice of buttocks a partial glimpse of a breast, a flash of thy.
Jacks head is spinning’
“I think I like watching the courtesans dance as much as dancing with them.” Jack says.
Tutorious nods his head in assent. “ Yes, they are truly fascinating creatures but that is, after all, their stock and trade“ he observes. “Be ware my young friend, a man could loose him self in their charms.”
“No doubt” Jack agrees.
The dance ends and the couples leave the floor.
The dwarves set down their Instruments and take up their tankards.
The Gorogorions leave their table and disappear through the doorway to the rooms. Some how the atmosphere in the room seams to change with the departure of the Gorogorions.
The laughter becomes louder and conversation becomes more animated.
One of the Courtesans, Cloie or Gwen it is hard to tell, approaches the dwarves and has a short conversation. She returns to her sister and they talk a bit.
A few moments later the dwarves set down their tankards, pick up their instruments and begin to play a strange and haunting tune.
The two courtesans slowly walk, in time with the music to the center of the floor. When they arrive at the center, they remove the belts from around their wastes and toss them away. Slowly the tempo of the tune increases. The women begin to turn in place. Faster and faster they rotate. The silk ribbons shimmer and balloon away from the girl’s bodies. Watching them as they spin is like watching them dance naked under a strobe light. They jump and prance and sway and spin. They move together and apart. Around and around they dance. Their apparently naked bodies flashing I and out of sight.
They finally collapse in two heaps on the floor as the music comes to a crashing halt.
Every man in the room is holding his breath and all let it out at the same time with a sound like steam escaping.
Then the room erupts in a clamber of applause, and shouts and tankards being banged on tables.
The women rise lightly and glide back to their seats.
The young dandy returns their belts to them with a deep bow.
“Whew!” Jack exhales “that was really something.”
“Yes indeed,” agrees Tutorius “They make even this old feeble body tremble.”
Chapter 12, Attempted Robbery
The front door to the inn bursts open and six men rush in from the cold.
The men are obviously brigands. They are all rough looking. One mans nose is missing another has a scar that starts at the bridge of his nose on the right side, runs down between the nose and eye, crosses under the eye and
then down the side of his face to his chin. The rest are unscarred but they are all smelly and dirty.
Their clothing is a mixture of rags, scraps of leather and bits of metal. They are carrying a variety of weapons. Two of the men have clubs, another has a a machete, another carries a dagger and the fifth carries a chain with a spiked ball attached to the end.
The largest of the men approaches Quintar at the bar as the other five spread out to cover the dining room
“Your money or your life,” they all cry at once.
The one at the bar is holding a rusty flint lock pistol with a somewhat rounded rock in the lock. The gun looks like it would explode if the man tried to fire it. He points the gun at Quintar “the cash box innkeeper,” he demands.
Quintar reaches under the bar as if he were complying with the would be robber’s demands.
He grasps the small end of the long metal bound club that he keeps under the bar just for this purpose. With amazing speed for such a large man, Quintqr comes up with the club and swinging it in a flat ark, catches the brigand on the right temple. The blow has such power behind it that the mans head splits like a melon. Blood spurts from his mouth and ears and both the mans eyes pop out on his cheeks. He falls to the floor like a dropped sack of grain.
Several things happen almost simultaneously.
The dandy, sitting at his table near the entrance, with the ease of a practiced hand, throws his knife. Its jewel encrusted handle sprouts from the throat of robber nearest him. The one with the mace.
The man claws at his throat and falls to the floor gurgling his life out as blood pools under him.
Tutorious jumps into action with blinding speed. He leaps from his stool, takes hold of the galoot head on his staff and draws a long silver blade. In a flash he is striking deadly blows at one of the brigands. The mans head is rolling on the floor, before his body knows it is dead.
The remaining robbers realizing that their plan had gone aerie, turn to make an escape. Bad choice. Quintar is between them and the door.
He breaks both arms of the first man with the club then crushes his head.
Jack finally gets into the action and throws one of his blades, piercing the
last of the felons in the back. The man stumbles and Quintar knocks him to the floor with a bash from his club.
The inn becomes absolutely silent as every one is in shock. Some of the patrons didn’t even know what happened until it was over.
“What do we do with this trash,” Tutorious asks, as he cleans his blade and slips it back into his staff.
We’ll throw them out in the snow along side the road,” Quintar says. “That’ll warn others of their ilk not to attempt to rob the Cudgel. We can burry them in the spring if the wolves leave anything behind.”
“This one isn’t dead,” Jack says as he retrieves his knife from the mans back.
“We’ll throw him out too, he won’t last long in this weather.”
Quintar walks down the rear hall, opens the door to the stable yard and calls, “Woodrow! Calvin! Come in here, we have some garbage to put out.”
The two stable boys come in to the bar and stand starring at the corpses scattered around the floor.
”Drag this scum outside and lay them on the snow bank facing the road. Put that head on a pike under the Cudgels sign board” he says, pointing to the head on the floor laying against the wall.
“Grenzillat!” Quintar yells.
“Yes father.” the girls replies behind Quintars back.
“Oh, there you are,” he says as he turns to face her. “Get a pail of water and clean up this mess.”
“Does this happen often?” Tutorious asks with an uplifted eyebrow.
“Not too often but the harder it is to make it in this world, the more things like this occur,” Quintar replies. “There are many desperate men living rough in the countryside and when men don’t have much to loose they take desperate chances. These fools just picked the wrong inn to rob tonight.”
Chapter 13, Georgio
Jack watches as the dandy retrieves his knife from the neck of his kill.
“Good knife work,” Jack compliments him.
“Thank you,” the man says with an unusual accent.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Prince Georgio Portelli of the Kingdom of Southern Catatonia.”
“Catatonia” Jack repeats. “I don’t believe that I have ever heard of that kingdom”.
Spreading his hands, Prince Georgio replies “We are just a small sleepy little
kingdom along the shores of the Warm Sea far to the south across the great desert.”
“Pleased to meet you, my name is Jack.” Jack replies. “I guess we are from opposite ends of the world. I am from Morovenda, the northern most kingdom of the realm.
What brings you so far north in winter” Jack asks.”
“I am on a diplomatic mission for my king to develop trade relations with your realm” Georgio supplies.
“Trade, eh? I didn’t think we had anything for trade. In the north we use up almost everything that we produce so there isn’t much left over,” Jack says as he wipes his knife on the back of the man he helped to kill and returns it to its sheath. “Some times there isn’t enough to get us through the winter to planting season.”
“Lets have a beer,” Jack suggests.
“I’ll have wine if you don’t mind” Georgio replies.
They sit at Georgio’s table and summon Blossom to bring beer and wine.
“Yes, I have noticed that your north country is quite poor. But you do have some mineral wealth and that is a rare thing and very tradable. I have been told that there is iron in the north and the black rocks that burn” Georgio explains.
“Well yes, there is some iron but most of it is rust and not of much use. The black rocks are very far underground and only a few brave or desperate men go underground to get them. Many die in the process. The rock’s fire is of low quality and very smoky. Most people content themselves with wood for their fires” Jack replies.
Georgio sits back in his chair as Blossom delivers their drinks.
“We in the far south have developed a process where we can reclaim the rust and make low grade iron. This we can further refine by adding a small amount of new ore that we extract from the desert sands and a bit of charcoal. In this way we can produce good steel.”
“That’s very interesting” Jack replies. “Do you produce enough for trade?
“Not yet” Georgio replies “we have only been able to produce small quantities at this time but if we can get more iron we may be able to produce enough excess that trade will be possible.”
“If you are on your way to North Morovenda I can give you a letter of introduction to my king” Jack suggests.
“That is very kind of you Jack” Georgio says “ but I am taking the morning
coach to Granite Ford to meet with your High King and bring greetings from my father King Alfonzo of Catatonia.”
“I also am bound for Granite ford and the morning coach will be much better than walking in this snow “Jack replies, “I would be glad to go along and introduce you to the High King, who is my mothers great uncle and I can still give you the letter to my king. Our country is mostly rich in scholars and schools but if there is something else that will bring wealth to our little kingdom I would be remiss if I didn’t help.“
“Scholars? Do you also have scientists?” Georgio asks.
Tutorious is standing close to the two men watching the removal of the corpses. He over hears Jack and Georgio’s discussion and invites himself to sit with them.
“Here is one of our scholars now” Jack says as Tutorious takes his seat.
Tutorious Falis, this is Prince Georgio Portelli of Southern Catatonia. Georgio meet Tutorious Falis.
“My pleasure,” Tutorious replies with a slight bow of his head.
“And mine” Georgio returnes.
“You are quite adept with that deadly staff of yours” Georgio points out.
“I don’t believe I have ever seen any one strike with such speed and accuracy, especially a scholar of such advanced age” Georgio remarks.
“I am very interested that strangely blunt tipped blade that lives in your staff. I don’t think I have ever seen one like it.”
“This blade is very ancient and was made by a process that has been lost to modern men. It’s name is Slasher and it does its job neatly” Tutorious replies. “All that I have been able to discover about the blade it self is that it was forged in an island nation far across the western sea which disappeared below the waves during the Great Calamity. I have seen only a few such blades and fortunately have never had to fight against one” Tutorious answers.
Blossom stops at the table, “would you like some beer Tutorious?” she asks.
“Oh, maybe just a half tankard if you please” he replies “ I think it is time for this old feeble body to get some sleep. The evenings entertainment has exhausted me, I am afraid.”
“I don’t wish to be to inquisitive” Georgio says “but how old are you?”
“Oh, I have lost count of the years” Tutorious replies. “But I was a man full grown when Galidon the Dark stole the crown from old King Groden in the great rebellion.
As children “Quintar, myself and a hundred or so others, all hand picked mutant children, were taken from our parents at a very young age and sent far to the east. We went by caravan to the southern end of the Barrier Mountains. Then we traveled east for many, many days across a grate salt desert. Them we crossed the Midland Steps where the grasses grow as tall as a Vagrants back and herds of Eland, Bison and Antelope blacken the land and Wolf-bears follow in their tracks feeding on the slow and week.
We were taken to a great fortress known as the academy in the land of dragons. There we were trained in all the skills of combat. We were taught to kill with the touch of a finger, a blade, a needle, a sword, a long range flint lock rifle, even poison We learned espionage and stealth. We developed whatever useful mutations we possessed. One of mine as you no doubt have noticed is the ability to move with lightning speed. Although now at my age I am not as fast as I once was and a small bit of frivolity like we had here tonight leaves me a bit tired.” Tutorious takes a sip of his beer, belches quietly and continues. “Quintar has the gift of speed as well as his massive size and great strength. He and I also have a very rare mutation that gives us long life.
They called us all the Invincible’s. A misnomer of course for as formidable as we were, many of us died in the border wars and rebellions that took place before the Gorogorions were discovered which eventually made war obsolete. Now we are as you see us, Quintar the inn keeper and I, a restaurant critic and food writer. Life continues and so do we.“ He finishes his story with a bow to the two young men.
“Will you be on the morning coach with us tomorrow?” Jack asks him.
“Oh no my friend I am returning to Car-Lump-Dour to file the stories I have written thus far.
“Stories?” Georgio asks “I don’t understand. For whom do you write stories?”
“I write for the Citadel Times in Cal-Lump-dour” Tutorious replies.
“The citadel what? I still don’t get it, what is a Citadel Times?” Georgio insists.
“The Citadel Times is a news paper” Tutorious replies proudly.
“What is a, what did you say, ‘news paper‘?” Georgio asks.
A news paper is a collection of printed sheets of paper or velum or parchment for that mater that people read to stay informed about what is going on in the world. It has local news and realm news as well as
advertising and human interest stories. The stories that I write are considered human interest since they are about where to dine and what to expect from an establishment that serves food. I critique restaurants and inns and let folks know which ones are good or not so good” Tutorious replies and takes another sip of beer.
“This all sounds very strange” Georgio says “do you northerners not have town criers?”
“Oh yes of course, the smaller hamlets and villages have town criers but they only tell of local happenings and you can’t really advertise with a town crier. Well I suppose you could but it isn’t done. Tutorious answers.
“That is the second time you have used the term ‘Advertise‘. What does that word mean.? Georgio asks.
“To advertise is to let people know that a particular merchant has a product or service for rent, sale or trade. It gives information about where the product or service can be found and some times what the price will be” Tutorious instructs.
“This is all very strange to me” Georgio says, shaking his head. “In my kingdom, if you have a product or service to trade or sell every one knows you and what you have to trade so the word gets out.”
“Oh well, yes that works fine in villages and smaller towns but when you have a city with thousands of people there is much more competition for trade so merchants want to get as much exposure as possible. Advertising accomplishes that” Tutorious answers. “Even something as simple as the sign outside this inn is a form of advertising.”
“Do you mean that the city you named, what was it, Carumpor has a population of thousands?”
“Why yes Car-Lump-Dour has in fact a population of more than two thousand.” Tutorious replies.
“That is amazing. I have never seen a city of such size” Georgio exclaims.
“The largest city in my home land is the capital and it has only a population of maybe eight hundred. Even that many are hard to supply with the necessities of life. I can’t imagine what it would take to supply a city of thousands.”
“Car-Lump-Dour is a center of learning. We have the University of Coldpalace and several other fine schools. The schools charge large tuitions to the gentry from all over the realm for educating their children which brings in much needed cash. We even educate the common people at lower
tuitions of course.
The city also has a large fresh water port on the Codswallow River where goods from all over the realm are available for trade.
“Are all your people educated?” Georgio asks.
“Oh, no, not all but many are literate at least. In north and south Morovenda we feel the an educated populace is our greatest asset. Tutorious replies.
The growing season in the far north is very short so we have little in the way of agriculture. The land holders mostly grow tubers and a few cold weather crops.
We do have a small timber industry in the Gorogo Forest and some little mineral extraction is going on way up near the Ice Sheet. The greatest detriment to all industries is the lack of a rapid means of transportation. Moving lumber or minerals or agricultural products is very slow by sled or wheeled cart pulled by teams of Vagrants. Even though the Vagrants are willing to pull large loads over great distances, they are not very fast.
Much of our industry though, is of the cottage type, peasants making small items or growing garden vegetables for sale at street fairs. Presently the Citadel Times is the largest non scholastic employer in our little kingdom” he continues. Of course the news paper needs support industries so now there are ink makers and type makers and those who convert goat skin into parchment. Of course the parchment makers will soon have to adapt to new circumstances if my employer Mr Whipet can get his paper mill working. Progress is slow but we are inching our way forward.” Tutorious drains his tankard and stands. “Gentlemen you must excuse me for I must seek my rest. I wish you a very good night. He winks at Jack. We will no doubt see each other in the morning at breakfast.
With that, he bows and moves off toward the rear apartments.
Chapter 14, Seduction
“That is one very interesting person” Georgio remarks. “I had heard legends as a child of the ‘Invincibles’ and the ‘immortals’ but never thought I would meet one of them. Just think, there are two of them in this very inn.” Georgio shakes his head in disbelief. “That’s incredible.”
“Yeah, that it pretty amazing” Jack agrees and takes a sip of his beer.
There is a sound of rustling cloth and the two young men turn to see the beautiful Gwenifer and her equally beautiful sister Cloestra approaching.
Georgio leans close to Jack and whispers “this might be our lucky night”.
Jack just grunts and watches the beauties approach.
“May we sit with” you Cloie asks in her smooth musical voice.
Both men rise and bowing to the two women slide out chares so the girls can sit.
The trio sit and talk, drink and dance until vary late, when Jack excuses him self and climbs the ladder to his room and goes to bed.
When Jack gets to the room, he is exhausted from the evenings activities.
He unlocks the door and steps inside the small cubical. The candle that he left burning on the night stand is almost gone and the flame flickers in a small pool of melted tallow. He sits down on the edge of the bed and removes his moccasins and his shirt. He stands up removes his trousers and slides naked under the rough blanket. In a few moments he is fast asleep.
Sometime later the bolt on his door slides quietly open, the door slowly opens and a figure steals into the room and quietly pushes the door closed. There is the sound of rustling fabric and the small form slides under the blanket next to Jack.
Jack mumbles in his sleep as the soft warm body of a young woman rubs against him. She begins kissing him on the neck, along the line of his jaw and finally on his mouth.
Slowly Jack crawls back to wakefulness as the girl begins caressing him. She slowly runs her hand down over his stomach to the line of hair above his groin.
Jack sigh’s and lays his head back on the pillow as she continues her downward exploration of his groin.
The girls explorations are becoming very exciting.
Suddenly Jack realizes that this is not a dream but a real girl with real hands on his very real member.
“No,” he cries sitting up on the bed. “I, You, We, cant be doing this,” He jumps from the bed, I am sworn to celibacy.
“Oh blast you and your stupid celibacy crap,“ a female voice exclaims. Come back to bed, I wont tell. Besides what have you got to loose.”
“To loose? A kingdom and a princess bride that is what I have to loose,” Jack yells. “Now get dressed and get out of my room” he orders.
The girl collects her clothing and stomps from the room shouting expletives over her shoulder at Jack.
Jack closes the door behind her locks it and wedges his sword with the hilt under the latch and the point jammed into the floor.
‘That ought to keep anyone else out,” he mumbles and returns to the bed. He falls into it and pulls the blanket to his chin. He lays there for a long time thinking about what just occurred. “How can I keep this up. I’m a normal male with normal male desires. I cant believe I just threw a beautiful woman out of my bed. This quest is going to be much harder than I at first understood. If the women further south are, as I have heard, much more sexually aggressive than northerners, I am going to be in serious trouble.”
Slowly Jack relaxes and begins to fall back to sleep. Just before drifting off he thinks, “Who was the woman, Grenzelat?”
Chapter 15, Breakfast and Departure.
At the clanging of the breakfast bell, Jack sits up in the bed and reaches for his pistol. Then he realizes what the noise is and lays back on the bed. After a short time he gets up and dresses in his traveling cloths. He straps on his sword, clips the big flint lock to the left side of his belt and hides the little two shot pistol behind the belt on his right side. He stuffs the rest of his gear in the pack, takes up his traveling cloak and leaving the key on the night stand, vacates the room.
When he enters the dining room he sees Georgio and Tutorious at a table to one side of the hearth. They are in deep conversation as Jack arrives.
“Do you really think that educating the peasantry is a good idea?” Georgio is asking.
“But of course it is” Tutorious replies. “An educated work force I believe is the best way for a kingdom to advance. An educated man will understand why he toils and can see how his labors will profit him and his lord. He will work to better himself and his children. Education gives the man the tools to become independent.
“But that is exactly the problem” Georgio cries. If you educate all the peasants they will no longer want to work. They will think that they are our equals and will be un-rule-able.”
Oh, on the contrary my dear fellow, an educated peasant can see that his labor leads to a better life. Of course the Ruler has a responsibility to see that the man is compensated fairly for his contribution to the kingdom.” Tutorious takes a thin slice of dried fish from the platter of food set before them and continues.
“Besides when a man can read and write and do computations he is more
valuable. A dullard that only does what he is told and nothing more is no more valuable that a plow-man or a milk goat. He can never be an asset to his lord, he is only overhead.”
“Good morning gents” Jack says as he joins them.
He takes a seat, reaches for the pitcher of mud that is set on the table and pours himself a mug full. What is all this serious conversation you two are in about?” he asks, reaching for a biscuit, placing it on a plate and pouring gravy over it from a bowl.
“We are just discussing the education of peasants” Georgio supplies. “Tutorious thinks that peasants should be educated but I am not sure he is correct. We, in the south, think it is unwise to educate them for if you do they will just go off and become traders or scribes or something and there will be no one to work the farms and vineyards. What do you think Jack?”
“I am afraid I have to agree with Tutorious on that score” Jack replies.
Most of the peasants in Morovenda are educated and many of them are valuable members of the kingdom, taking on responsibilities far greater than any other peasants would. For example, my father’s gunsmith is an educated peasant and is a veritable genius where gun smithing is concerned. He has developed several innovations in that field.”
Jack reaches under his wide belt, produces the tiny pistol and holds it in the palm of his hand.
Georgio stares at the little gun with eyes wide. “May I?” he asks as he reaches for the gun.
“Of course but be careful it is loaded.” Jack warns him.
“This is a very interesting little weapon and you say it was developed by an educated peasant.?”
“Quite so” Jack replies.
Pointing the gun at the ceiling, Gerrgio pulls back one of the small ornate curved hammers and inspects the little brass cap underneath. “How does it work” he asks, excitement in his voice.
“It is similar to the operation of a flint gun but instead of the large lock that is necessary to operate a flint gun, the new cap system allows the smith to make the firearm much smaller. Those tiny little brass caps have a chemical in them, developed by that very same smith, that when struck by the hammer the chemical explodes and sets off the main charge in the barrel.
The advantages are, besides the small size, if the cap is sealed with wax around the nipple it is virtually moisture proof. In addition the lock time is
much faster than the flint system and there is much less chance of a misfire which in a life or death situation can be a definite advantage.”
“Ha, your north country is full of surprises” Georgio laughs.
“Where can one purchase such a weapon” he asks excitedly.
“Well, I am afraid that this is the only one in existence at present but the smith, Henry Browncolt is training several of his apprentices to make parts for several models and hopes to have them in production by the fall.
My father is hoping that we will have a brisk trade in firearms in a year or two. Henry is developing fowling peaces as well as rifles with his new ignition system. One of the beauties of his design is that one can only purchase the caps, which are not reusable, from our gun works as well as the guns themselves. In this way we have a perpetual customer base.
If we could get a monopoly on the gun powder we would have the market cornered but alas, any alchemist can make gun powder.”
Georgio reluctantly hands the small pistol to Jack.
Jack carefully lowers the hammer to the safe position and returns the gun to its hiding place behind his wide belt.
“When I visit your father I will place an order for one of those small guns” Gerogio says enthusiastically.
“I am sure that father will be more than happy to take your order” Jack replies as he reaches across the table, puts his finger through the hole in a round and bringing it to his nose, he sniffs. “I love the smell of anis in the morning” he says as he takes a small bite of the pastry and sets it aside for later.
A large heavily clothed man comes in to the dining room and announces, “Any passengers for the north bound coach, we are boarding now and will leave as soon as you all get on board.” He turns and leaves the dining room.
“Well, my young friends” Tutorious says as he puts down his mug of mud and using his staff as a lever gets to his feet, “It appears that we must part company. I must say that I have enjoyed our conversation and I wish you both success on your missions.”
Both the young men stand and embrace the older man saying their goodbyes
They both watch as he leaves the Inn.
“There goes quite a gentleman” Georgio says.
“Yes, he sure is, I will have to look him up when I get back home next fall” Jack says.
Gwenifer and Cloestra enter the room and come to the men’s table.
“Good morning boys” they croon as one.
Georgio rises from his seat and with a bow says “good morning my lovelies, will you join us for breakfast?“
“Oh hi” Jack says as he dunks part of his round into the mug of mud, not looking up.
“My aren’t we grumpy this morning” Cloie teases. “Didn’t you get enough sleep last night?
Gwen giggles and sits at the table close to Georgio.
The girls are dressed for travel in light tan fur lined trousers, thick woolen high necked sweaters and tall fur lined boots. Over their arms they are carrying heavy fur lined hooded parkas which they hang over the backs of the chairs. Cloie sits at the seat nearest to Jack and gives a little shiver. Under the sweater, her firm large breasts wiggle like puppies in a sack. Jack is distracted for a moment as he watches the activity under the material.
“Its a little cool in here this morning” she exclaims. Rubbing her upper arms.
“Yes it sure is” Jack replies noticing her hard nipples pushing up bumps in the sweater.
Cloie picks up the pitcher of mud and finds that it is empty. Looking around she notices Grenzelat circulating around. She holds up the pitcher to get the girls attention.
Grenzelat comes to the table “More mud?” she asks.
“Yes, thank you” Cloie replies handing her the pitcher.
“And more rounds” Jack adds around a mouth full of pastry.
She takes the pitcher and wanders of to get it filled without so much as a glance at Jack.
After a few moments Grenzelat comes back with a fresh pitcher of hot mud and a small tray of rounds. She sets the carafe on the table, unceremoniously drops the plate of rounds in front of Jack and walks away without comment.
“She appears rather sullen this morning” Gwen remarks.
Well maybe she didn’t get enough, uh, sleep last night. Cloie replies, taking a piece of dried fish from the tray on the table and winking at Jack.
Gwen picks up the pitcher and pours hot mud into a mug. She reaches across the table and takes a round from the plate in front of Jack.
Maybe she is just disappointed Gwen says as she breaks the round in half and dunks the end into her mug.
Jack looks up from inspecting the bottom of his mug and stares at Gwen quizzically while he picks up the carafe and refills his cup.
Nibbling at her round, Gwen announces, “Late last night I heard a young female voice berating someone on the upper level. I heard a door slam and stomping footsteps along the catwalk, followed by several expletives. Who ever it was she was not happy with someone.”
“Your room was an upper was it not Jack?” Cloie asks with a little smirk. “Did you hear anything?”
“No, no I was so tired that I slept soundly all night” Jack lies. “I didn’t hear a thing.”
Both girls watch him curiously.
Georgio is watching the interplay sitting back in his chair.
“Any man who would turn that girl down is a fool” he says with a small smile curling is lips.
“Well, I think that whoever it was, he must be a monk or something” Gwen replies. “With all the yelling, the one phrase that I understood was
‘celibacy crap’ just before the door slammed.
Gwen, Cloie and Georgio chuckle as Jack sips his Mud trying to look casual.
Just then the driver for the west bound coach enters the inn and announces that the coach is ready to depart and all passengers should be onboard.
“Well, we had better be getting on the coach” Gerogio says as he rises to his feet, puts on his traveling cloak and picks up a small satchel.
The girls agree and follow his example.
“Aren’t you coming Jack?” Gwen asks.
“Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute Jack replies. I want to finish this round and cup of mud. We won’t get any refreshments until we arrive at the Boars Tooth Inn at the Dweezle River ferry crossing. So I am going ask Grenzelat to wrap up these rounds to take with us. Maybe she can also put this mud in a jug to take along.”
“Okay” Georgio says “we’ll se you in the coach then.”
The trio turns toward the rear door and they follow the other passengers out to the stable yard.
Jack sips his mud trying to decide whether he should get on the coach or brave the snow and travel on foot. He decides in favor of the coach. “At least that way” he reasons, “I won’t freeze to death on the road.”
He gets Grenzelat’s attention and she walks over to the table.
“Could I please have these rounds wrapped for travel?” he asks “and perhaps you could put this mud in a jug to take with us.”
She stares at him for a moment then says, “yeah I could do that” she says sarcastically.
She doesn’t move to comply with his request
“Well?” He asks.
With a sigh he goes on, “look Gren I am sorry about last night but you don’t understand. I am betrothed and as lovely as you are, I can’t break my promise for anyone.”
“Well!” she says with her fists on her hips. “you could have warned me before I made a fool of myself.”
“I tried to but you wouldn’t take the hint” Jack pleads. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you Gren. Please accept my apology.”
“Oh, I guess, since you put it that way. I accept, but you need to be more forthcoming about your situation. You are very attractive and women are drawn to you as if you have an attraction spell on you or something.”
“Thanks for the advice Gren. Now what about those rounds and the mud?
The coach is about to leave” Jack says.
Oh yeah, coming right up” Grenzelat takes the plate of rounds and pitcher of mud to the hearth where she picks up a small thick stoneware jug and fills it with the hot mud. Then she raps the rounds in a thin piece of tanned goat skin, tying the package with a string.
She brings the order back to Jack’s table and sets it before him.
Jack thanks her and hands her three small pieces of copper.
“Oh, thank you my prince” she smiles and curtsies sweetly “Your betrothed is a lucky woman” she adds.
Jack blushes, bows to her and leaves the Inn.
Jack, steps into the stable yard from the rear door of The Kings Cudgel. The storm of last night is over and a thin winter sun reflects off snow covered stables, shops and storage buildings. Shading his eyes, he looks toward the gate in the palisade that surrounds the yard and sees a large sled with long curved runners. On the bed of the sled is what appears to be a large rectangular box with a paneled door in the middle of the side straddled by two small hide covered windows.
Jack walks to where the west bound coach awaits its last passenger to board.
Last night he had decided to buy passage on the coach and travel with Georgio rather than try to get through the heavy fresh snow on foot.
The coach sits at the gate with the four vgrants straining at their harness, The driver, a huge powerful mutant is having to hold tight to the rains to keep the also powerful beasts from bolting down the road. The two Gorogorions who had spent the night at the inn sit along side the teamster, humming to the vagrants to help calm them down.
As Jack reaches the coach, the driver calls down,” better hurry and load up, I can’t hold these beasts for much longer “, Jack, salutes the man, opens the door and trows his pack inside. Looking in the door he sees Georgio, the two sisters Cloie and Gwen, the dwarves and the business man and his family all crammed into the coach on four benches He begins to climb aboard and he looks up to see the two beautiful courtesans, now dressed in their fur lined hooded parkas, move apart on their bench and with broad smiles pat the space between them in invitation.
Jack looks around the coach and notes that the only seat is between these two beauties. He hands Gerogio the jug of mud and the package of rounds and resignedly takes a breath, closes the door behind him and begins to sit in the proffered spot. Just then the coach lurches forward throwing him across the laps of both women.
The women burst into laughter as the coach leaves the Kings Cudgel for the open road in a cloud of snow.
THE END ?