I’m still asleep when Gord’s giant fist booms against my door. After my adventure with the Underground Circus, I was pretty late getting in.
Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I stumble to the door and remove the board that locks it. I usher them into my room and close the door behind them. I quickly abandon all thoughts of sleep. “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night.”
The only part I leave out is the message from Valery and the expected arrival of Taryn. By the time I’m finished with my story, they are all three scowling at me.
“You left the castle with someone you didn’t know?” Ismora clenches her fist and I get the impression she wants to punch me. “After the attack at dinner? They could have taken you hostage, tortured you, killed you. How foolish are you?”
“Yeah, Chods. You is not smart. What if they takes you away?” Limery pleads with me, his bulbous eyes full of concern.
Gord snorts. “Why they put you in charge, I have no idea.”
This is definitely not the reception I was expecting. “Don’t you see the bigger picture here? We have allies. There are those who don’t hate the trolls.”
“The king doesn’t hate the trolls. We have peace. Who cares if a few puny humans want us dead?” Gord stands up and walks over to the tapestry, searching the wall for the hidden entrance. He runs his fingers along the stone, but it doesn’t open, only accessible from the inside. “We are the only allies we need. Even if they hate us, they have to follow the law or suffer the consequences.”
“It’s not that simple.” I find myself getting annoyed by his brutish behavior. Why make the world our enemy if we don’t have to? “Is it not time for breakfast?” I just had an amazing evening and they want to shit all over it. Nothing bad happened, so I don’t know why they are so worried. It’s not like I can’t take care of myself anyway.
There’s another knock on the door, and I open it to find Kassidy. His mouth is full of some berry pastry as he attempts to speak. “Breakfast,” he mumbles between chews, “is ready in the dining hall.” He takes a final bite of the pastry, and before he has fully swallowed, another one teleports into his hand.
All that power and he chooses to be a glorified fast food worker.
Warwick and several other guards stand outside the dining hall. Inside, King Favian and his family wait for us at the table. The king and his son both wear silver tunics embroidered with a blue griffin. The ladies wear silver gowns with blue ornamentation down the sleeves. They all stand as we enter. There are several empty seats along the king’s lefthand side, and his family sits to his right.
“Good morning. Please, have a seat.” He motions for us to sit. “Chod, if you would.” He says sternly. His hand stops at the seat next to him.
I take my seat in front of the glorious plates of food. Eggs, bacon, and sausage cover our half of the table. The king stares at me as I fix my plate, his blue eyes gazing deep into my soul. Is it possible that he knows I left the castle last night? Certainly not. If he knew, then why wouldn’t he try to stop me. Still, I get the feeling that something isn’t right.
My companions stuff their faces like they have been starved. Limery grunts with each bite.
“Once again, I can’t begin to apologize for last night.” The king’s face softens a bit. “An honored guest, attacked in my own home. You have no idea the shame I feel.”
“Don’t worry about it. It was another hero. I hardly blame you for the anger of someone else.” Though I appreciate his worry, my real concern is Jude. “Is there any word on his whereabouts?”
“My men combed the streets, but there is little to go on. He was staying at the Green Giant Inn, but apparently moved his belongings elsewhere yesterday before the attack.” The king stares off into the distance. “There is a warrant out for his arrest, and he will not be welcome in Vanaria or any town under my rule until he has answered for his crimes.”
Sucks for him. “What will you do if you capture him?”
“When, not if.” He corrects me. “When he is captured, he will be shown the error of his ways. Fortunately for him, you did not die, but I will make sure he knows what is and is not permissible under my rule. Hero or not, I am the king. It is my hope that I may be able to correct his behavior and put him on the path to righteousness. For as I told you before, I believe the heroes will have a part to play before all is said and done.”
Sounds like a slap on the wrist to me. Let me catch Jude out on the road and he will rue the day he ever tried to stab me in the back. I have no intention of losing any more levels, and once Taryn is in-game, I’ll finally have another hero to watch my back. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jude or Glenn or someone else, if they mess with me or my people, then they will pay.
Over breakfast, we discuss plans for our two sides now that we have negotiated peace. We are free to trade with any of the towns or villages that have need of our supplies or services.
“I don’t know how willing they will be at the start, but if you play your cards right, then you may very well find some nice propositions. It’ll take time for prices to settle as you each gather the value of the other side.” He takes a bite of a strawberry and seems lost in thought. “The forest belongs to the trolls. If I were you, I would set up a station along its boundary and sell permits to local hunters for starters.”
That’s not a bad idea. We could make money to buy goods simply by opening our borders. We could probably even sell back the weapons we’ve looted from all the soldiers who have attacked over the years. If we could transport the mana, we could even offer mana-infusion services. “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”
“If any of your people wish to train in Vanaria. Let me know and I will have our masters work out an exchange program. I would very much value an ambassador of my kingdom to go and learn more of troll customs as well.” He leans forward and looks down the table at my partners. “That goes for all of you. The trolls are entering this world and for my part, I will do what I can to make sure you do not fall behind.”
Gord, Ismora, and Limery all issue their thanks.
“What about our children?” asks Ismora. “I think it would do well for some of them to learn the ways of the world.”
“Send them and it shall be done.”
“We are grateful for everything you are offering.” This trip truly couldn’t have gone any better. “Aside from your so-called test,” at that, he laughs. “This has been the start of something good between our nations.”
“What are your plans from here, Chod?” the queen finally speaks. “We would love to show you more of the city if you have time. There is so much more than this castle to Vanaria.”
“It will have to wait for another time, I’m afraid. This trip is strictly business. Though she has already received word of the truce, I need to inform the chief of the details. The beginning stages will be the most important for ensuring that this peace lasts.” I finish off the last bit of sausage from my plate. “But once that is taken care of, I would greatly enjoy a chance to adventure once again.”
“I bet you would.” She laughs. “Take care of yourself out there. And Limery, you keep an eye on him.”
“Yes ma’ams. Limmy is on it!” He gives her his trademark demonic smile.
The rest of the meal is spent in polite small talk as we tell the royal family about life in the village. For once, Gord and Ismora do the majority of the talking, and I’m able to sit back and listen. Gord is a proud troll, and boasts of the accomplishments of the village and the other guardian trolls. Ismora talks of her training with the young trolls and her position as weapons master.
As they talk, my mind wanders for a bit and I find myself watching Kassidy as he shoves even more food into his mouth. He eats enough for two full-grown trolls. Honestly, I don’t know how he doesn’t weigh five hundred pounds. I focus on him and his level appears, still unreadable. I wonder if he or the king have noticed my newest ability or if they are able to see through Conceal just like the guards.
Is it possible that the king and Kassidy are not as powerful as I originally thought? Of course, they are powerful, but just how powerful? Warwick is level thirty and is responsible for protecting the king. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think that the king’s level isn’t too far off. If that’s the case, he has more to fear from the heroes than I originally thought.
“Are you sure you don’t want the guards to escort you out of the city?” The queen has her arm entwined with the king’s. The two children stand beside them at the top of the staircase. They look resplendent in their matching silver thread as they look down over their kingdom.
“If it’s okay with you, we’d like to enjoy the view out of the city without armed security. To see what it’s really like when people aren’t being watched.”
“Very well.” The king nods. “Take care of yourself and your people, Chod. I look forward to our paths crossing again.”
The morning sun warms my skin from above, and the pearlescent tower reflects onto the city streets below. It’s kind of freeing, walking through the city alone. Especially after my adventures last night. I do wish we could stay longer, but it’s important to get back and talk things over with the council.
The streets are alive with the early morning bustle. Workers race to their jobs while the more wealthy stroll along the cobblestone, making idle chatter. We’re given a wide berth everywhere we go and catch glances from far away, some people are even bold enough to point. A grunt from Gord is enough to put a stop to it more often than not.
The occasional child we pass is what puts it all into perspective. Not yet old enough to hate, they stare at us with wonder until they are popped on the wrist and told to look away.
“I am ready to be home,” rumbles Gord. “Two days in the city is more than enough. The stench of these people…” He fakes a cough.
“Oh, come on. You’ve got to admit that there is a certain elegance to this place. Maybe not the outer bailey, but up here, the castle. Just think of all the work that went into constructing that.”
He scoffs. “If this is elegance, then I do not care for it.”
We pass by a street vendor selling meat on a stick. Whatever the mystery meat is, it smells divine.
“Can we haves some, Chods?” Limery salivates at the meat.
The old man stares at us with wide eyes, but he holds up a meat skewer. “That’ll be three bronze.”
Shit. I don’t have any coins. We’ve been so used to providing for ourselves that we’ve never had need for money. “I’m sorry. I just realized we don’t have any money.”
The man’s wide eyes turn into slits. “Well, this ain’t a soup kitchen. We’re not giving away food for free. Go on, now. Get!”
Even though Gord can’t understand what the man is saying, he can sense his reaction and steps forward with a growl. The old man jumps back, dropping the skewer to the ground.
“It’s okay, Gord. We’re supposed to pay for things in the city. We’ll have to wait until we get back to the village to trade for coin.” I can’t believe we didn’t bring any coins with us since we knew we were going into the city. With all the humans that have died in the forest over the years, I’m sure there are coins tucked away in a chest somewhere.
We turn to leave, and I can hear the man mumbling something about ‘stupid trolls’ and ‘if this is the way things are going to be’. I try my best to tune him out.
“I’m sorry, Limery. We’ll hunt for food once we are outside the city gates.” He gives me his puppy dog eyes. “I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do until we trade for coin.”
“But Limmy has moneys.” He reaches in his small pouch and pulls out a handful of gold coins.
“Where in the hell did you get those?” I know for a fact he didn’t have any gold when we came into the city.
He bats his eyes at me sheepishly. “Limmy finds them. Can we eats now?”
I bury my head in my hand for a moment, contemplating who he managed to steal a sack of gold coins from. Certainly, someone from the party had their pouch a little lighter by the time the evening was over.
“You’re going to be the death of me. Go get your food.”
He flutters off toward the food cart. The man is about to tell him to get lost when he spots the gold coin in Limery’s hand. Then his eyes bulge with greed and he licks his lips as he listens patiently to Limery’s order. After a few minutes of talking, Limery returns, struggling to carry a large platter of meat. The man waves him off with a smile. Is there anything that a little money can’t fix?
Limery bobs and weaves through the air, the food throwing off his sense of balance.
“You bought the entire cart?” We just ate breakfast not even an hour ago. How hungry could he be?
Gord takes the platter from him, and Limery shoves a skewer in his mouth. “Limmy hungry.”
The imp has been hanging out around Kassidy too much. I’m sure the gold coin he paid for all this food was more than the man typically makes in an entire day, maybe longer.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I partake in the grilled meats as we stroll through the inner bailey. With food in hand, it almost feels like I’m watching a show as the people around us carry on with their lives. The anvil of the blacksmith and the clop of horse hooves echoes through the streets.
I come to a halt when I see a large brown building with green shutters. For it to be in a nice part of town, it has a downtrodden look about it. Dark, heavy curtains cover the windows. The logo on the door has a tall green man holding a sign that reads, “Green Giant Inn.”
The inn where Jude stayed before attempting to assassinate me.
“I want to go check it out.” They look at me like I’m crazy.
“I thought you wanted to hurry back to the village?” Ismora plants her hands on her hips. “The king will deal with Jude.”
She’s probably right, but I can’t let this opportunity pass me by. “Just give me a few minutes, I’ll be in and out before you know it.”
Inside, the curtains block out the sun and the room looks no different than it would at night. Candle chandeliers offer the only source of light, illuminating the room, but not enough to reveal anyone who might be sitting in the room’s shadows. It’s the perfect place for lowlifes and criminals to congregate. My Nightvision has no problem spotting the faces of the men with their cloaks pulled over their heads.
A balding man with a belly stands behind the bar on the far side. A few people sit at tables, eating plates filled with sausages and bread. A heavy set woman with curly blonde hair carries two mugs of ale to a group of men huddled together in the corner.
Seems a little early for drinks, but it’s none of my business.
“Can I help you?” the man behind the bar barks at me.
As I make my way over, the silence in the room tells me that the others are all watching me. Not a single fork scratches a plate. News has probably spread that a group of trolls are in the city, but I doubt any of them expected me to show up here.
“I’m looking for a man—”
“He ain’t here.” The bartender cuts me off.
“I know that, but—”
“He ain’t here.” He cuts me off again, and places both hands on the bar. He looks remarkably like a bulldog as he stares me down, one of the few humans not intimidated by my size and presence.
“Sir, if you would just give me a—”
“He. Ain’t. Here. I ain’t gonna say it again. The king’s men come here, scaring my patrons. And now you. He ain’t here. Now order a room or be off with you.”
My blood boils at the man’s response, and I have a right mind to smash my fist through his bar. But instead, I turn and stomp across the room. Ismora was right, I shouldn’t have come here. I reach for the door handle when I hear a “psst” from a cloaked man in the corner.
I focus on him and his stats appear before me.
Another criminal. And also a cleric. This seems like an awfully sketchy place for a man of faith to hang out. He motions for me to come over and I take a seat on the bench next to him. The bartender is engaged in conversation with the barmaid and doesn’t notice me when I slip to the side.
The cleric wears dark red robes, and a black chain hangs from his neck. He keeps his cloak pulled over his face, concealing all but his mouth. “You the one Jude tried to kill?” he whispers.
I nod. “Do you know where he is?”
“What’s it worth to you?”
“Are you seriously trying to hustle me for information? You’re a cleric, for gods’ sake.”
His lips curl into a devious smile. “I serve the God of Chaos. Now, what’s it gonna be?”
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- S.L. Rowland
S.L. Rowland is a nomad. Born in the South, he loves traveling and has road-tripped coast to coast three times over. He currently lives in the mountains of East Tennessee with his Shiba Inu, Lawson. When not writing, he enjoys hiking, reading, weightlifting, playing video games and having his heart broken by various Atlanta sports teams.