Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chapter Nine, Scene 3

Ah, money, the idolatrous desire for which is the root of all kinds of evil. And yet, we can't live without it - such a conundrum! I have found that simply earning one's keep can be a full-time venture. How much more so for the intrepid hero on a grand quest, with little coin and few ways to earn more. But somehow, I have a feeling that Balfrith will manage...

* * *

Balfrith surveyed the dwindling coins in his purse while they walked. He muttered under his breath, “Securing employment will definitely be the first order of business - after a decent meal, anyway.”

Eldamir apparently heard him, for he said, “I have heard that Men in the west commonly employ free-lances to guard their merchant houses and trading caravans. Do you think we might find work doing something like that?”

Balfrith nodded. “Aye, that’s exactly what I had in mind. There’s a guild of free-lancers, with guild halls in all the major cities on the continent. We should be able to find employment there, especially in a city of Castor’s size.”

“Well, then I suppose we should start there, and see what opportunities are to be found. The meal can wait another hour or two.”

Balfrith sighed. “Aye, I suppose you have the right of it. Of course, we’ll still have to do some exploring - I don’t know where the guild hall is.”

“It might not be as difficult as finding a good inn.” Looking about, Eldamir started walking quickly at an angle to their previous wanderings, and Balfrith watched for a moment, then ran to catch up.

They approached a pair of well-armed bravos, standing at the entrance of a jeweler’s shop. But rather than enter, Eldamir said to one, “Greetings goodmen. Can you tell us where the free-lance guild hall is?” A brief exchange of words later, and Eldamir had directions to the Guild Quarter, and the street where they would find the hall.

It only took half an hour to get there, and they immediately checked in at the entrance, asking to see the deacon in order to register themselves. While they waited, Balfrith explained, “I don’t know a lot about the free-lancers guild, but what I have heard is that they will accept anyone who can prove their fighting ability. They have a training hall that can be used by any members in good standing, and also doubles as the initiation hall for new applicants. We will each need to fight, with a chosen practice weapon, someone of journeyman status in the guild. I don’t know the specifics of how the duel is judged, but it’s obviously not intended to be deadly, else what good would it do? Anyway, that is everything I know about it.”

“Let us hope that what you have heard is somewhat true,” said Eldamir. “Especially about the open membership. Not all Men are particularly friendly towards my race.”

Balfrith noticed then that Eldamir still wore the hood of his cloak up, even though it was a warm summer day. This wasn’t something he’d even considered. Even in Nûmidëa, where Men lived in close proximity to Illithëon, he knew that the Elefdar were sometimes mistrusted or even feared. How much worse would it be in a nation where the Elefdar may only be a legend? “Aye, let us hope that indeed,” he said.

The deacon arrived shortly thereafter, and took them back to his office. He offered them seats, then took his own behind a small desk. Pulling out a book and opening it to a marked page, he said, “Greetings goodmen, I am deacon Diarmid. Before we begin, I’ll need one silver double-eagle for each of you.”

Balfrith’s brow shot up, but the deacon merely looked at him, waiting. He opened his purse, pulled out two small silver coins, and said, “These are Nûmidëan capitals. I’m afraid we don’t have any Sildaran coin yet, having just arrived by ship earlier today.” Diarmid began reaching for the coins, but Balfrith pulled his hand back just a little and continued, “Deacon Diarmid, these are worth more than a double-eagle by a fair amount. I’ll be happy to take the change in Sildaran coin - shall we say, two silver eagles? I believe that will let us both break even.”

Deacon Diarmid looked annoyed for a moment, but he reached under his desk and opened a locked drawer, pulling out two smaller silver coins. After the exchange, he put their Nûmidëan coins back in the same drawer and locked it once again. He said, “Fortunately for you, I haven’t gone to the money-changers yet today, so we had some petty coin available to make change. Now, I’ll need your names for the register, and then we can discuss membership. Yours first?” he pointed at Balfrith.

“Balfrith, son of duke Osric, of house Aethelred, Nûmidëa.”

“We don’t stand on titles in the free-lancers guild. Your common name, Balfrith, is all that will be recorded. Your rank will be decided by your skill and experience. Now then, your name?” he gestured to Eldamir.

The Elefdar paused for a moment, then drew back his hood and said, “Eldamir.”

The deacon stared at him for a moment, obviously shocked. Eldamir merely smiled, and waited.

Balfrith cleared his throat, which seemed to break the deacon’s reverie. “Ah, yes, Eldamir, was it? Very well. Given that neither of you are members, I shall explain the rules for joining the guild first. There are far too many rumors about us, for me to assume that anything you’ve heard is true. The first thing you need to know is, you will be required to fight a duel with practice weapons, against one of our journeymen. It will be a simple fight to the first touch, but I will warn you that unless you’re already an experienced fighter, the journeyman will not make it easy for you, nor will he simply end the duel with a quick strike of his own. He will be testing your skill, observing how you move, attack and defend yourself. You may take your time in the duel - there is no requirement for speed, although if it drags on too long, the journeyman will get bored and end it. Since there are two of you, I will try to find two volunteers for the duel. That way, one of you won’t wear him out in the first duel and leave the second one with a poor test.” He gave a wan smile, apparently to show that the last comment was intended to be humorous.

The deacon continued, “Assuming you pass the test, you shall be initiated tomorrow into the guild as apprentices. In many ways, our guild works the same as any other craft guild. The only difference is, advancement tends to be quicker - or not to happen at all.” No smile this time; he was deadly serious. “Since you’re not members yet, you won’t be able to join us in the hall this evening for drinks. The test will be after supper. Try to arrive before it gets too late, else the volunteers may not be in any condition to give you a proper test. I will have more to say about the guild, after you pass. Until this evening, then, I bid you both a good day. Now if you will excuse me, I have other duties to attend.”

He stood then, and gestured toward the door, walking around his desk as he did so. The deacon escorted them to the exit, and bid them farewell one more time before closing the door.

Balfrith said, “That was simple enough. And I can’t imagine that this evening’s test will present much of a challenge for either of us.”

Eldamir said, “Aye, but just the same, let’s not be foolhardy. We have time to find an inn and get a meal, then we should rest before returning tonight. No strong drink tonight, unless we first pass the test.”

Balfrith stopped then and said, “I just realized, we could ask someone in the guild hall where would be a good place to stay. I’m sure they can make a recommendation.”

They turned back to the hall, and went in to speak with the door clerk who had allowed them entrance the first time. After asking questions about their budget, he directed them to the Frost Giant’s Beard, only a few streets away from the hall. It was frequented by bravos looking for work, and as such, the taproom was often full of potential clients as well.

It only took a short while to walk there, and they found it easily enough by the great white beard made of hay, mounted on the sign hanging out front. Upon entering the main door, Balfrith looked around and muttered, “Well, he did warn us this place could be a bit rough. Best to keep your hood up for now.”

Eldamir nodded. “At least it’s a roof over our heads and a meal in our bellies. Once we have a bit more coin, we can see about finding some place better.”