Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chapter Ten ("Westmere"), Scene 1

My wife was kind enough to remind me that some of my names can be difficult to pronounce, or perhaps it would be better to say that they are easy to mispronounce. As I've written about before, I base almost all of my names on real historical precedents, but that doesn't always help in pronunciation. For example, the name Roidh (see below, and in previous samples) is pronounced like our modern "Roy", and not like "roid", as a modern English speaker might think.

I think I'm going to post a pronunciation guide soon, just to ensure we're all on the same page with regard to names.

I also want to comment on this scene, and really the entire journey to and from Westmere, that I'm not sure about the idea of a single merchant wagon making such a journey. From the small amount of reading that I've done, it seems that merchants tended to travel in groups rather than singularly, at least when they were going great distances or across dangerous territory. So I will probably have to re-write bits of this scene and the following several, to indicate that they traveled as part of a caravan, rather than going alone.

* * *

They arrived at the warehouse-home of Adradomir the next morning, after making a brief stop at the guild to inform the deacon of their employment. It wasn’t a strict requirement, but was considered a courtesy to keep the organization informed. That way, if a potential employer came looking for them, the deacon could at least say they were away on a different job, which was much more professional than having to say they had disappeared and may or may not reappear at any time. That would only contribute to the image of free-lancers as louts and drunkards, which the guild worked hard to refute. It was, of course, true that many armsmen, guild members or no, were drunkards and louts. But the guild tried to represent its members in a more professional manner than they sometimes (or oftentimes) presented themselves.

Roidh opened the door as they approached, obviously waiting for them, and ushered them into the same dining room as they’d seen the day before. Within waited another man, not Adradomir, dressed in leather armor and wearing a sword. Looking up, he grinned at them, and Balfrith recognized that smirk from the week before: it was Calunoth.

Before Balfrith could say anything, Calunoth said, “Balfrith, Eldamir! Well, isn’t this a surprise? I didn’t even know you’d found employment.”

“Until yesterday, we hadn’t,” said Eldamir, smiling in return.

Balfrith, feeling surly, said, “How do you know Adradomir?”

Calunoth ignored his angry tone, and replied, “Master Adradomir has hired me to guard his property a few times. I guess he’s come to trust me somewhat. And what of you? Newly arrived in Castor, I would not have expected you to meet so quickly with someone as wealthy and influential as the master merchant. Not even with Eldamir’s particular … heritage.” He smirked again, apparently feeling particularly witty at this veiled reference.

Eldamir grinned, but Balfrith growled, “Eldamir’s race had nothing to do with it. We were asked to deliver a … package to Adradomir. It was mere coincidence that they shared some connection. Anyway, he hired us because of our skills, not racial affinity.”

Calunoth’s brow rose, and he bowed slightly. “Of course, Balfrith. I intended no insult. And this will give us an interesting opportunity, for I've wanted to spar with each of you ever since your initiation. Balfrith, I’ve watched you improve greatly since I first tested you. And Eldamir, I’ve heard of the reputation you gained in only a few days, though I was unable to partake of your sparring sessions. If we have free time in the evenings, perhaps we can all practice together - and wager on the results. I could use a little extra coin.” He winked, still smiling, but Balfrith folded his arms over his chest: he wanted no part of any of this man’s foolishness.

Eldamir replied, with a hint of irony in his voice, “I was under the impression that betting against yourself was considered poor form.” Calunoth laughed out loud, and even Balfrith had to smile at that.

Adradomir walked in then, and said, “I’ve always felt that gambling of any kind was foolish, regardless of who you are betting on, or against. You are, of course, free to do as you wish, on your own time and with your own coin. But while in my employ, you’ll not gamble or wager on anything. Do we understand one another?”

All the men nodded, though Balfrith didn’t really understand the restriction. He just wanted to retain his employment, and anyway gambling to him was of no consequence, so he went along.

Adradomir continued, “Now then, I have other business to attend, and so I will leave you under the direction of Roidh. He shall give you your tasks to be completed before you depart.”

Balfrith interrupted, “Won’t you be coming with us, Adradomir?”

“Nay, Balfrith, I cannot. Though I had planned to do so, I received news this morning that requires my immediate attention. So, I’ll be departing later today, and in a different direction, to deal with that. But Roidh knows what needs to be done with this wagon load, for he has served me in this stead before. And your jobs will not change: guard my property, and protect it from brigands. Assist Roidh as needed, for setting up and taking down camp, loading and unloading, and whatever else he may request. He speaks in my name. Now then, I must go. Roidh will give you your tasks. Good day to you all, and the gods speed you on your way.”

And with that, Adradomir turned and left as quickly as he had arrived, and the three men were alone again. Roidh said, “Master Adradomir informed me that you might have some personal business to attend when we arrive in Westmere. I will leave you to that, after we have unloaded the wagon and secured my master’s property. While I am attending to my master’s business, you will be free to roam the city and do as you please. We can discuss this further while we travel. It is a journey of 21 days, so we will have plenty of time for talking.”

“And sparring, I hope,” said Calunoth.

Roidh said, “Indeed, yes. In fact I may join you in that. It will help to pass the time, and I do not have opportunity to flex my muscles as often as I once did.”

Roidh got down to business then, and proceeded to give each of them some loading instructions and other final tasks to do before they left. They were to depart within the hour, so they had no more time to waste in idle talk: it was time to work.

An hour later, they passed through the eastern gates of the city, and out onto the old Shandollëan highway that paralleled the Hale River toward the town of Westmere, on Lake Silvermere. Balfrith had learned about these highways once: they were similar to the King’s Highways in Nûmidëa, but they were thousands of years old, and yet somehow had remained in usable condition with little maintenance required of later generations. And it was a good thing, for Men had lost some of those ancient arts of stone-masonry, and they no longer knew how to fully repair breaks in the stone foundations of those roads.

Roidh noticed him observing the road, and commented, “For the first few days out of Castor, the road, and our journey, will be smooth going. But by the end of the week, we will see it begin to show its age and wear, for it is only maintained for a short distance from the city, and beyond that, it has been left largely alone. It never becomes unusable, of course - otherwise, we wouldn’t use it for the journey. But there are places where we will need to slow down, lest we risk damage to the wagon’s wheels or the horses’ shoes.”

Balfrith asked, “Is it like that for all the highways in Sildara? For in Nûmidëa, the King’s Highways are well-maintained along their full stretches. Even in the more remote areas, such as where my family manor is.”

Roidh said, “Aye, and your Nûmidëa is an island with only a few highways, while Sildara is more than three times its size and has many more highways. Still, there are some highways that are better maintained than others. For example, if we had taken the south highway out of Castor, toward Linden or Deepfall, we would find those roads to be as well-maintained as the ones in Nûmidëa. For the traffic along them is much heavier than the one which we now travel, and the king himself often uses them, so he makes sure they are kept serviceable. But this highway, such as it is, is used by few merchants and travelers. Westmere is a small town, with a small market and little to commend it save the School for Learned Studies. I know not why the Shandollëan empire originally built it, but we should consider ourselves lucky that they did.”

Balfrith nodded. He had drawn the duty of walking alongside the wagon for the morning, thus his chance to talk with Roidh, who drove the wagon. Shortly after they’d departed the city, Calunoth had run ahead a hundred paces, to keep an eye on the road before them, while Eldamir had stayed back about half that distance, to guard their rear. Both of them were still easily within sprinting distance of the wagon, should need arise.

As the sun mounted the sky, Balfrith began to sweat. He, along with Eldamir and the others, wore armor openly, having donned it just before their departure. This was the first time he’d actually put it on since his travels with the Guardians in the forests of Illithëon, even though he’d carried it with him through all the miles from Fanyamar to Castor. Eldamir had done the same, of course. In civilized lands, it was rarely necessary to wear armor - and in some places, it was actually against the law. So, for all of their travels thus far they had simply packed the armor pieces in their bags.

But now, as part of their employment, it was necessary to wear the accoutrements of an armsman, no matter how unlikely it was that they would be molested. They were paid to do a job, and part of that job required wearing armor and carrying a weapon in order to protect their employer’s property. Calunoth wore chain mail over a padded jacket, making his armor even heavier and hotter than the simple leather and cloth that Balfrith and Eldamir wore. He actually felt a bit sorry for the man, though he still didn’t like him.

Then again, Balfrith he thought, that mail will hold up far better against a solid cut than the light protection I’m wearing. What’s a little discomfort if it saves your life? He decided that as soon as he was able, he would acquire something heavier than what he had now.