Dinobar Voorman known to his friends as Dingbat frowned at the representative of the lawyer’s guild who was currently seated in front of his imposing polished oaken desk. He blinked in bemusement and was having trouble paying attention to anything but the fact that the representative was a woman.
Meerina Alagarina hid her smile of triumph. Uncle Doon had been right, this reactionary old fogey had been thrown completely off his balance and he seemed to have been rendered incapable of using his truth reader’s abilities. The young bronze collared stenographer had been recording everything she had said, and as the old fossil hadn’t objected to anything she had said so far, it had all been accepter as true.
‘So now to use our diversion to throw the old fossil and his guild off the scent, not that this matter is not unimportant of itself. We don’t want to come up against truth readers by surprise.’ she thought.
“So master Voorman, what say you to this matter of unregistered truth readers?”
‘What? What did she say? Unregistered? How dare those benighted lawyers send a woman!’ thought the indignant master of the truth reader’s guild.
“What unregistered truth reader? Even if you meet one he isn’t allowed to use his abilities.”
“Well master Voorman, two of our guild members were involved in negotiating contracts yesterday in which an unregistered truth reader participated. His presence impacted on both contracts.”
Dinobar looked confused. “Who is this renegade and why did your members not refuse their service? I believe this is the standard procedure.”
“The man appears to be a foreign nobleman. He carries a knight’s sword and wears armour in addition to carrying the more usual pistol. His name is Rich Burton. He is not a resident and has obtained a month’s pass from the city guard.”
Diobar looked at Meerina for a few seconds. “So he’ll be gone shortly. I don’t see the problem.”
Meerina narrowed her eyes at the old fidget. “The problem is that he is wealthy, arrogant, arranging contracts and buying a substantial staff. He needs to be registered so as not to surprise any more of our members.”
‘So that’s it, the damn lawyers are getting out of hand again. But they do have a weak argument here. If this nobleman is working for himself...’ Voorman suppressed a smile, ‘...then we just have to talk to the noble gentleman. As a truth reader, if he is one that is, he’ll undoubtedly be sympathetic and we, the guild could benefit greatly. I don’t like that he is buying slaves...’
“Very well, we will speak with the man. Now is there anything else?”
“No master Voorman. Please let us know the results of your discussion.” Meerina stood, curtseyed briefly and left the room.
= = O = =
Rich tapped the folded letter against his thumb and tried to think. He thought he was planning to do the right thing. Mother had been frustrating, but when it came down to it, he actually agreed with her. He could still hear the answer to his prayer. ‘if you want me to I’ll tell you what to do. But Rich, we’ll both be better served if you did as you thought best—’
Rich rose from his chair and headed for the exit of the dungeon. Minnow was currently exploring the saltwater cavern lake, Sorenar was tending to his clothes and equipment. Rich shook his head bemused, he could understand Minnow’s joy in the miniature fake sea but not Sorenar’s deep joy in looking after his clothes and equipment. Eldaan was sprawled out on a couch fast asleep, that too he could understand.
Sorenar looked up from his self imposed task as his master headed for the door. “Master, if you’re heading for the emporium you should buy a bodyguard. There are always some former gladiators available. Also a messenger or two would be useful if you intend to persuade people that you are a nobleman. And you need a livery of your own.”
Rich stopped as he was about to leave their apartment in Lewis’ dungeon and turned to face Sorenar. “Honestly Sorenar, how safe can I be with an armed slave at my back? And I, and you, are entitled to use Mother’s unif—ah livery.”
“Safe. Here in Conimbriga, well slavery is... it is slavery or death master.”
Rich winced slightly at the ‘master’ but shrugged it off. “I’ll think about it. Now are you recommending anyone?”
“No—” Sorenar remembering the faint wince on his master’s face hesitated slightly before concluding with, “—Sir, but if there are any dwarves buying them with mithril will make us loyal.”
Eldaan who had woken when Sorenar had started speaking stirred, “Gladiators, especially those with orc or ogre blood are popular but I suspect that would be a bad choice. I would advise avoiding ex-gladiators. The really good ones will not be found for sale at somewhere like the emporium.”
Rich nodded thoughtfully and headed out, he glanced back at Eldaan who was now trotting at his heels. “I didn’t ask you to accompany me.”
Eldaan grinned showing a disturbing multitude of needle sharp teeth, “But it is not good for your image not to be accompanied now you own slaves. Nobs use slaves like me as their purse carriers so they don’t have to soil their hands with money. And Sorenar is right, you need a bodyguard, maybe not in fact but certainly for your image. While it might not be safe for most, I think you should visit the Adventurer’s Guild. It’s almost defunct but as you’re a truth reader it should be safe enough.”
Rich sighed as he made his way out of the dungeon. “I find it hard to believe some of the bastards I’ve met since my arrival in this dump would trust a slave with their money.”
Eldaan kept a wary eye on the snakes coiled in the branches of the mangrove he was passing under and sobered. “Well boss, they don’t, not really. They only let their purse bearers carry copper and some silver.”
“Ah, incidentals. Pay for cabs and the like?” Rich stopped and plucked a ring that he spotted hanging from a thin branch. He checked the storage device’s contents and grinned wryly. “My thanks Lewis, Alice. Here,” he passed the engraved bronze ring to Eldaan. “You’ll need this then to perform your new, self imposed, duties.”
« You’re welcome Rich. » Lewis said smugly in the back of his mind.
Eldaan slipped the ring on his finger and fumblingly inspected the contents. He was staggered at the amount contained therein. Mostly copper but also six of the largest silver coins he had ever seen.
= = O = =
Darintus Galeontar climbed into his gilded and overly decorated litter. He really would have preferred a comfortably spacious firewagon but as one of the owners of the Caradix Emporium he had to show off his stock. He felt the click as the liftwood slats were turned. Then his bearers were off at a trot pushing and pulling him along barely needing to lift the now almost weightless litter.
With four guards leading the way and four fetching up the rear Darintus Galeontar moved through the streets of Conimbriga. Streets that emptied themselves as he approached and filled again as he passed.
His destination appeared to be a half buried featureless low granite cube. As the litter and its guards approached part of the wall sank into the ground with a muted rumble. The little procession trotted into the gap and as soon as they passed inside the disguised stone door rumbled back into place.
* * *
Dingus Iornfounder examined the coin in his hands. He had already tested it for purity and he just couldn’t resist running his fingers over it. Finally he looked up at his unwelcome visitor. Dingus despised the slaver but his face and attitude showed nothing but polite interest. He well knew he and his race needed this snake’s good will.
“I’ve never come across these Royals before but the metal is extremely pure. I believe it is worth a bit less than twenty-seven Guineas. Will you accept twenty-seven for it?”
Dingus was startled, he hadn’t expected that much. He gazed at the coin in the big red haired dwarf’s hands with speculation. “Certainly ambassador Iornfounder. That would be entirely acceptable. But, if you don’t mind explaining, how do you know what it is called if you’ve never seen one before.”
Dingus counted out twenty-seven guineas and shoved them across the table with a pang of regret. “We have a specialised translation spell.” He held up the coin showing the fish tailed bearded man holding a trident and weird looking trumpet. “The script clearly states ‘One Royal’, damn cheek.” Dingus turned the coin showing one of the almost extinct dolphins. “And on this side we just have ‘Blue Lagoon’. So whoever minted this calls it a Royal.”
Dingus sat back and produced three gold coins, all of them bigger than a local Guiney. He passed one across, “And what about these? And before you ask, the same foreign knight who bought a half dwarf with that Royal bought two other slaves with those.”
“A half-dwarf you say. With Mithril. Umm.” Danilus picked up the coin. Same pictures.” He dropped the coin in the bronze ring set into his desk. “Very pure, ‘Blue Lagoon’ again and ‘One Imperial’. Interesting.”
“If you see this man again please let him know we would appreciate a word with him.”
= = O = =
Rich alighted from the hansom cab and looked at the ramshackle half ruined building that occupied the entire frontage of a small block. “Really? This is the Adventurer’s Guild?”
“Yes boss, I did say they are near bankrupt,” explained Eldaan.
Rich turned to the cabbie, “can you wait? I don’t think I will be long.”
The cabbie looked round apprehensively, “Sorry boss, this place isn’t safe, that’ll be a tanner boss.”
Eldaan grinned and passed the cabby six grimy copper coins, hesitated and passed him a seventh. The cabbie touched his whip to the bill of his hat and started his cab.
“Tanner?” enquired Rich.
“Smallest silver coin boss, also called a bender,” replied Eldaan as he followed Rich into the near derelict building.
Rich was not impressed. The large reception room was nearly deserted, not surprisingly as the air was strongly tainted with the pollution prevalent in the city. As he strode towards the reception desk at the end of the room a big brute of a man lurched to his feet and lunged at him sword in hand. Rich drew his revolver and when the man didn’t stop, he shot him. Twice.
* * *
Cinders cursed. She rose from her seat behind the reception desk and while making sure her hands were in plain sight pressed the alert button with her foot, though she strongly doubted anyone would be there to respond. Woofie looked to be dead. It had taken the well dressed stranger about a second to produce that strange pistol and drop Woofie.
She approached the stranger warily making sure to keep her hands in sight. The big fellow obviously had a hair trigger and she had no desire to take a shot. And the way the big fellow had still not dropped his single barrelled pistol made her suspected it still had at least one shot available. That and the way Greenie just stood there radiating confidence in his new master.
“With apologies for Woofie, he was getting more erratic by the day.” Cinders glanced down. Yep Woofie wouldn’t be getting up again. One bullet had gone through his chest, punching through his armour, and the other had hit him between the eyes and blown the back of his head off.
She watched with wary eyes as the stranger turned a cylinder on his strange weapon and lowered the hammer before replacing in a holster that was tied to his leg. This action did not reassure her much as she already knew he could produce that peculiar pistol and fire it in under a second. And the damn thing was enchanted against fire magics. Then too, his broadsword’s hilt looked well used. “So what can the adventurer’s guild do for you sir?”
“I’m looking to hire a bodyguard or two for a year and a day. For pay and a share of the loot. But they’ll have to satisfy me. And I’m a truth reader.”
“I might be interested. But it doesn’t look like you need a bodyguard.”
“Cinders is a real mean fire mage boss. And the boss needs bodyguards for his image Cinders. Can’t have a nob, err, noble without bodyguards,” explained Eldaan.
The big man regarded her measuringly, then he said. “If I hire you will you be loyal to me and my goddess. The pay will be a Royal per fortnight paid in advance.”
Cinders felt slightly insulted, “I am loyal to who hires me. And what’s a Royal.”
Her potential employer narrowed his eyes, “Truth. But not good enough. The question was, will YOU be loyal to ME and MY GODDESS. Not to whomever hires you.” He then produced a large silvery coin from his pocket and held it up.
Cinders felt her mouth drying. ‘That is a Mithril coin! The dwarves will have hissy fits!’ She licked her lips. “If you hire me I will be loyal to you and... and your goddess. But I will need to know who your goddess is. Um, and what should I call you?”
His smile looked somehow, malicious. “My name’s Rich Burton, a knight in the service of Mother, Mary Silvestre, the Mother of Monsters and Blackbeard’s Bane. You may call me Rich.”
Cinders licked her lips again. “I’ve never heard of that goddess. What does she rule over?”
* * *
Rich swayed as he was buffeted internally. He grabbed Eldaan’s shoulder to steady himself. His consciousness was dragged into the godsrealm in the wake of Mary and the Spider Queen. Luckily for him the fight had already occurred on Parthia but Blackbeard was also present on this world. The Spider Queen and Mary had work to do. For a few endless seconds he watched and was duly rewarded as the Spider Queen put her house in order and Mary chose her people.
* * *
Cinders cringed. Here was proof positive, Sir Rich Burton had been pulled into the Godsrealm in front of her eyes. That aura was unmistakable. Then less than a minute later he was back. And hovering over his shoulder was a spectral blue eyed dolphin that she just knew was Rich’s Mother of Monsters. And behind and above the Mother of Monsters stood the Spider Queen in all her ghastly glory.
« Little Fish is the lesser Goddess of my children the Drow and Occidon’s consort, Goddess of the octopi sapiens, the sea humans and she is gaining the beastfolk and shifters. Monsters for the Mother of Monsters. » Hissed the dry voice of the Spider Queen throughout the adventurer’s guild building and for a kilometre all around.
« Really dearheart, did you have to announce it to all and sundry like that. »
« Yes sweetie, I did. » then the Spider Queen’s laughter filled the minds of all in range slowly fading away until it was gone. As was the Spider Queen herself.
Cinders felt like crying. She suspected that she had wet herself. She looked up at Rich. “You want me to be loyal to the goddesses of the drow? And worse still they have seen me. I am now KNOWN to them, and gods never forget something like that. And poor Greenie is too.”
“No, just to me and Mother,” the exasperating man replied.
“Very well, I’ll take your coin. Better be hung as a wolf than a lamb.”
= = O = =
Rich was thankful when they finally stepped down in front of the Caradix Emporium. It had been difficult locating a cab. Then the journey had been slow as wild rumours were flying around town causing worried crowds to congregate in odd corners.
Rich noted a subtle improvement in the way he was greeted this time, whether it was because of his previous visit or the use of an attendant and bodyguard he didn’t know. He suspected it was both. Then there was this itch in the back of his head and he just knew he had to be very careful how he asked for this. He knew Mother agreed.
He recognised the salesman from his previous visit. Sales VII if he wasn’t mistaken. He hated the way these people dehumanised their slaves not even granting them the dignity of a name. Mother’s distaste was at heart intellectual and he knew she truly opposed the idea of slavery. His objections however were becoming visceral.
“I have a few more needs Sales VII. I also bought the two breather masks Mr Darintus Galeontar mentioned he wished to obtain. I find myself in need of a few messengers or runners, nothing specialised you understand. And one of my previous purchases mentioned a skilled carver. Finally I would like to obtain an exotic. I have heard rumours you have a drow? And considering the wild rumours that are making the rounds at the moment...” Rich shrugged.
Sales VII thought for a moment. He wondered who had been the blabbermouth but he understood the noble’s interest under the circumstances. It would be a coup for him to be able to parade a drow about.
“Runners are easy enough master, we have three items that would suit. The carver I believe the girl mentioned isn’t that skilled, we have better. The drow, well it is very dangerous. It is not resigned to its fate yet. It was destined for one of the arenas.”
Rich smiled. “I’m not worried, I just need to display it not take it round to show off. As for the carver, I’ll look at him and maybe one or two of the better ones. Maybe a sample of their work.”
Sales VII bowed low. “Certainly sir. And the Drow?”
“I’ll take it or them sight unseen, put them in a wheeled cage and I’ll hire it for the day.”
Sales VII fought to hide a grin of satisfaction as he bowed again. The last statement allowed him to rid the Emporium of another long running problem. He’d have to clear it but— Sales VII bowed again and led the way to one of the display rooms.
Rich had to fight to keep his emotions in check. They were offering him children! Intellectually he had known runners would be young but seeing how young was another thing altogether.
“Fine, looks good I’ll take the lot. I suppose their collars should be upgraded if they’re going to be delivering messages. See to it, whatever’s usual in this town. Now how about the carvers.”
Rich was surprised at the quality of the carvings on show. He also could see why Sales VII disparaged the sea elf’s skill. He fingered his Talisman, he knew it was a new name for the marble but it fit it like a glove.
‘Mother, please look through my eyes. Will you allow me to spend your money to free this degree of talent?’
He felt Mother settle in the back of his mind and sensed her use his senses.
« Yes, and get the males daughter too. I can see the link between them. It’s the right thing to do. »
Rich picked up the carving of a small bird. “This isn’t his, but it holds promise.”
“That is the work of that one’s child. We can throw it in for a small consideration.”
“Do so. I’ll take them both. And now for the elf.” Rich moved in front of the sea elf, “Not accustomed to these land creatures are you. Can you carve fish spears and fishing hooks suitable for enchanting. Floats for nets and could you carve a dolphin such as the one engraved on the hilt of my sword?”
The Elf’s eyes widened in surprise as he looked at the engraving, “Yes naturally master.”
Sales VII closed his eyes briefly. ‘Damn it we missed it again. So now we know this foreigner comes from one of the coastal or island states. One that hasn’t taken wholly to the skies as yet. And we can’t calibrate the price correctly because we don’t truly how skilled this slave is.’
Sales VII drew in a calming breath. He suspected that the next thing he been ordered to offer might be dangerous but orders were orders.
“We have one last thing to offer. You asked about exotics and runners. Well we have a few pixies that you could still use a few times before they died. They are very sick but they should last for a few weeks.”
Rich felt Mother freeze his rage. « Buy. Send them through to Maui. We may be in time. Don’t get yourself killed or enslaved by these true children of Vortexius Blackbeard. We need information to take them, and him down. Hard. And I want those drow. Be ready to fork out two or three Royals. Even four would be cheap as we will get them back. »
“What do I want with dying pixies? Surely I can’t get much use out of them in less than a month?”
“You misunderstand the merchants and nobles of this town. It will enhance your reputation that you are willing to spend on slaves just to impress.”
Rich did his best to look unconvinced and finally allowed himself to be convinced.
Finally it came time to pay. Sales VII looked at him calculatingly. Rich produced two Royals, placed them on the table by the locked cashbox. Sales VII looked torn. Rich added five imperials. Sales VII nodded and bowed low.