Chapter 8 - Disturbing News
Bask. With a population of seven thousand people, it was the bustling and prosperous center of our remote province. This place had a completely different impression from the humble village we came from. Large stone buildings, armored guards patrolling the streets, merchants loudly hawking their wares... this was city life, or as close as you could get to it in a medieval world. All of the villages in the province did business here, so there was always a steady flow of people coming and going. If I ever get tired of living in Southcreek, this town would be a good place to stay too.
The Merchant's Guild was located near the town's central plaza. It was one of the largest and most impressive structures in Bask, being five stories high and three times as wide as any of the buildings in the immediate area. That's not even counting the numerous auxiliary warehouses they had scattered throughout the town. As far as I've heard, there were only two structures bigger than the guild's headquarters: the local church to the God of Light, and Baron Humfort's mansion in the northern district.
After stabling the horses and their carts at the Merchant’s Guild (we would negotiate the sales tomorrow), our group headed over to the usual inn Southcreek villagers stay at whenever they visit Bask: The Three Legged Pony, an establishment run by a former resident of our village.
“Evening Tom. Do you have enough rooms for us?” Hans asked as we entered.
“I always do, my friends.” Tom, the elderly innkeeper, answered with a chuckle.
After determining who would stay in which rooms (I would be sharing one with Gina and the three women in our group), we proceeded to have dinner at the inn's dining area. A single bite of the roast boar and I was in heaven. The vegetable soup didn't lose out either, with a rich variety of flavors from freshly harvested ingredients. But being totally exhausted, we all went straight to bed right after eating.
I was looking forward to the comfort of a soft, warm bed after two days of rough travel.
But there was an unexpected problem. Or should I say opportunity? The room only had three beds, so Gina would be sleeping with Hyacinth. There wasn't enough room for me to squeeze in with them. While I was standing there not knowing what to do, one of the two other women walked up to me then crouched to meet my eye level. She was a curvy blonde, and I think one of Southcreek's bowyers.
"I'm sorry, little Thomas, but there aren't enough beds. Would you mind sleeping with me tonight?" The well-endowed blonde asked while smiling sweetly.
When life gives you a gift, faking modesty or pretending to be shy is never the answer. Instead, be as honest as possible.
"No, I wouldn't mind at all!" I answered immediately. Maybe that was too eager; I could see Hyacinth facepalming out of the corner of my eye.
"Great~!" She said happily, taking me by the hand.
"If he touches anything weird, Amanda, I don't mind if you make him sleep on the floor." Hyacinth smirked.
The bowyer giggled. "Oh hush, don't worry so much. Thomas is still just a kid."
And so my first night in Bask ended on a high note, wrapped in the affectionate embrace of a beauty. The trip was worth it just for this.
Man, I've missed this feeling. It's been what, four or five years since my last relationship ended? The luxury of going to sleep and waking up next to someone every day is something your body never forgets. My ex was more petite than this lady, but I definitely enjoyed her company while it lasted. I wonder how she's doing back on Earth?
Well then, no point in reminiscing. I should get some shuteye.
"Ahh... what a great body pillow..." Amanda murmured while falling asleep. "...So waa~aarm..."
* * *
The following morning I woke up completely refreshed. Amanda was still fast asleep, though her grip on me had loosened considerably. Not wanting to get out of bed, I just stayed like that for a while longer and indulged in the warmth.
"Get up, cheeky brat." My teacher's amused voice knocked me out of my reverie.
"Five more minutes please?" I asked, pretending to still be drowsy.
She simply grabbed the collar of my shirt and lifted me out of the bed. Damn, Hyacinth's got some pretty good arm strength.
"Noooooo..." I did my best to sound heartbroken. Hyacinth just laughed.
"We're leaving town at noon, so we need to hurry up and get our business done at the guild." She explained.
I noticed that Gina was still asleep too. "Just the two of us?"
"Yep. Gina wants to look at the town's weapon shop, so the two hunters volunteered to take her with them later."
Why am I not even surprised at this point?
After a quick breakfast downstairs, Hyacinth and I left the inn. Our purpose at the Merchant's Guild was simple: negotiate a good price for the crates of medicinal items we made. This was easier said than done, since the Guild had a strict monopoly on most goods within Bask. They purchased every shipment brought by the villagers wholesale, then distributed these items to various shops within the town (with a generous markup, of course). We couldn't sell to any specific merchant, nor could we set up our own stall in the market unless we paid a hefty license fee.
Fortunately Hyacinth had been dealing with them for years, and had a trusted representative within the guild named Lucas. He greatly respected my teacher's skill, so he always paid well for the items she made. Those potions would then be sold as premium items to elite adventurers, army officers, young nobles in other territories, and other people who can afford to splurge on their consumables.
As we walked along Bask's streets, I enjoyed the gentle warmth of the morning sun. But the tranquility was soon broken; a troublesome scene was happening outside one of the shops we passed by. Two guards were tying up a young boy's arms with rope. Was he being arrested? The kid was really scrawny and dressed in dirty rags. A merchant (who I assume owned the store) was watching it happen with his arms crossed, and there was also a frail looking, shabbily dressed old man trying to persuade the guards.
"Hands off! I didn't steal anything." The boy glared at the two guards accosting him.
"Lies! What was this doing in your pocket then?" The merchant brandished an expensive looking gold necklace studded with gems. The child didn't say anything and just looked away.
"Please, forgive my grandson." The old man in tattered clothing bowed deeply to the store owner and guards. "Let me take responsibility..."
"I'm sorry, but the law's the law." One of the guards said in a firm voice. "We can't overlook this since the stolen item is so valuable."
Ugh, this gives me a bad taste in my mouth. The grandfather and child both looked terribly gaunt, like they haven't eaten a proper meal in weeks. I'm sure that the kid was driven to steal by desperation. Instead of locking him up, shouldn't you be giving them a proper meal? Hyacinth was gripping my hand tightly as she watched. Her expression was no less displeased than mine.
"...refugees...staying in Lumor lands is suicide... been getting worse..."
"Can't really blame them. Even Fernsworth town burned... hundreds dead..."
I overheard snippets of conversation from two nearby adults who were watching the commotion as well.
"So this is what Lucas was talking about." Hyacinth said, frowning.
"Are they really from outside Elswain?" I asked her.
"Yeah. Thousands of people have fled from the Lumor Kingdom in the past half year. Something is riling up the monsters there... attacks have become much more frequent and vicious. It doesn't help that the army can't even retaliate."
I stared at her in shock. "What? You mean Lumor's army isn't strong enough to subjugate them?"
"No, they can't even find the damn creatures." Hyacinth shook her head. "All of the known dens, nesting grounds, burrows - emptied out. It seems like they are constantly migrating now, slipping past the soldiers to strike at vulnerable settlements or small patrols."
I shuddered. The implication was clear. I've read in Hyacinth's books that monsters have incredibly high birth rates, strong bodies, and dangerous special abilities. An orc can tear you in half if you let one grab you. Hellfowl can fly for short bursts, spit corrosive bile, and even use primitive bows. Goblins are weak, but tunnel through the earth and easily fight in the dark. Now if these monsters had grown smart enough to employ hit and run tactics...
"Monsters are sometimes rallied by a highly intelligent leader of their race, but for it to happen to so many different species at the same time? Unheard of. Casualties are rising every month, and the people of Lumor take it as a terrible omen. Other than the major cities or heavily fortified towns and forts, I don't think any place there is safe any more..."
"And now countless people are running away." I finished her sentence in realization. "How bad is it that there are refugees all the way here?"
Hyacinth just shook her head.
The guards had finished binding the boy. His grandfather was kneeling, forehead pressed to the ground while begging them to have mercy.
Ah, screw this.
I can't just sit here and watch.
My moral code is simple: I'm no hero of justice. There's a lot of pain and suffering in this world that I can't do anything about, such as the monster epidemic in Lumor. I have no delusions of going out into the world to right its many wrongs. But when something is happening right in front of me, I will do my best to help. This meddling nature of mine is what got me killed in my previous life though...
Letting go of Hyacinth's hand, I strode forward with determination. To my surprise, she didn't call out or try to stop me.
"Excuse me." I walked up to one of the guards and tugged on his chainmail sleeve.
"What is it kid? We're a bit busy right now." The man said in annoyance.
"Can you please let that child go this time? He's young and hungry; most people would steal if they were starving. I'm sure that he's learned his lesson." I said in a polite voice. Let's conveniently ignore the fact that I'm even younger than the kid they're arresting.
"Fuck off boy." His partner said, glaring at me. "This is none of your business."
"Wait, can you just-"
"I said fuck off!" The guard snarled, raising his fist in a threatening gesture.
Sigh. I guess just talking won't get us anywhere. While praying that Uncle Whitelaw hadn't just been messing with me, I unstrapped the short sword from my belt and drew it halfway out of its scabbard.
"Can you reconsider?" I asked coldly, displaying the sword in a way that showed off the hilt.
"Are you drawing a weapon at us, runt!? I sh-"
"No problem at all, sir." The first guard immediately slapped a hand over the other's mouth. "Please forgive us for our rudeness."
"It's fine. But in return..."
"Of course, sir." The guard immediately responded, bowing. "It's a minor matter, as long as the boy promises not to do it again."
"Very good. Please carry on then." I beamed.
I watched in satisfaction as the two guards untied the child and walked away. One of them looked baffled, but knew better than to speak up and ask why his partner was being so servile all of a sudden. The merchant left too; with the stolen necklace back in his possession, he didn't really care too much about what happened to the young thief. When all three of them were out of sight, I heaved a sigh of relief. What if that gamble didn't work?
"Um, thank you." The freed boy finally spoke up.
"We will never forget your kindness, young lord. I don't know how we can repay this favor." His grandfather spoke as well, bowing to me.
I hastily waved my hands. "Please don't worry, I was just passing by. And I'm not a noble either."
There were whispers coming from the nearby people. Looks like I've caused a bit of a scene. Better wrap this up quickly.
"Don't steal again, okay? The guards won't be as forgiving next time." I said to the boy. "Oh, and take this."
I untied a small leather pouch from my belt and handed it to the child. That pouch contained all of the pocket money I had brought for this trip; it held a total of twelve silvers and a few coppers. Since five silvers was enough for a family to live on for a month, this should solve their immediate food problems. What happens after... well, I can't really do anything about that except wish them the best.
The grandfather continued to thank me profusely. I just waved goodbye to them and then briskly walked away, grabbing Hyacinth's hand. She had stood there the entire time, watching my little act with a relaxed smile.
"You handled that decently. Abusing the royal sigil... I didn't know you had the guts." Hyacinth chuckled as we continued on our way to the guild.
"That was scary, you know? I was hoping you would help." I sighed, looking up at her reproachfully.
"If that oaf had actually tried to hit you, I would have stabbed him." My teacher answered lazily. "But I wanted to see if you could resolve it on your own. Good job."
Oy, that's a bit of an overreaction, isn't it? Stabbing a town guard would have gotten us thrown in jail too. I really hope she was just joking.
* * *
"What the hell was that all about?"
"Idiot, didn't you recognize the symbol on his sword hilt? And the moonsteel? You almost hit a child with a connection to the crown."
"Eh!? You're shitting me."
"I thought my heart would give out there. You owe me a beer for saving your dumb ass."
"Damn, we need to report this to the captain and Baron Humfort."
"Yeah. Also, don't you think there was something... strange... about the woman behind him?"
"No. Wasn't she just his mother?"
"Hmm. Must have been my imagination then..."