By David Pontier
The Art of Being Entreri is the property of the author, David Pontier and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email David with any comments and feedback on The Art of Being Entreri and visit his website at: http://www.geocities.com/piqsid/stories.html.
Chapter 4: Garrilport
Garrilport was not a huge city. It was maybe half the population of Karenstoch but twice the size. It had not started to grow up like the northern capitol. Trees did not hinder its expansion and the city planners took full advantage of this. There were mountains to the west, but only the foothills slowed growth. The actual mountains were half a day further away.
Garrilport was named such because it sat at the headwaters for the largest river on the entire continent. The Garril River was named after the man who had discovered it, and it was the lifeblood of the southern half of the continent. The river came through the foothills and was barely more than a stream most of the year. It gained most of its size and furry downstream as it was joined by many different tributaries. That had all changed when civilization moved in.
A brilliant scholar had designed a series of locks to bring the river out of the foothills under control. The locks brought the river down over 100 feet. They did two things that transformed the formerly small town of Garril into the bustling city of Garrilport. What had been swift rapids coming out of the hills in the spring and half of the summer, turned into a calm and very consistent river. Also, by backing up the spring floods and releasing them slowly throughout the rest of the year, a huge man-made lake was created nestled in the hill valleys.
Industry sprouted along the lake over night. Someone had the bright idea of filling the lake with fish and they flourished. There was a lumber mill on the northern edge of the city before, but now with shipbuilders setting up shop around the lake, two more mills sprang up within a week. Now, farmers, prospectors, trappers, and all other sorts of traders no longer had to travel south to deliver their goods to the rest of the continent, but could use this man made port.
The locks operated twice a week, lowering ships into the river for a modest fee. Most of the ships were brand new and were sent down the river to another city for purchase. Some were already loaded with goods, and some were both. With the prosperity and business the locks brought, the rest of the city expanded on its own.
Blacksmiths, tanners, carpenters, butchers, and others were needed to change the raw goods brought in by the traders into finished products that were sent down river. Taverns and gaming houses made an effort to skim a bit of the money being made by offering visitors and residents alike a chance to spend their money on pleasure. Respectable restaurants and hotels were also needed.
Government had moved into the city of Garrilport also. Garril, the city's founder had died of old age several decades ago and there had been many mayors since. One bright mayor had set up a city council. Together they set up a tax and tariff system. The people nearly tore the city apart as a result, but when the council began to hire city guards to keep the crime rate down, the people understood the wisdom of the tax. The council also offered low interest loans to businessmen who wanted to set up shop and add a new commodity to the city.
The council organized city fairs and celebrations a few times a year. They held contests and honored prominent members of the city. In the end, the citizens willingly paid their taxes, for they hardly needed all the money they made.
A few dozen years after the initial boom, the city slowly separated into two distinct sections. There was the northwestern half of the city, which was rough and dirty. This was where the lumbermills, shipyards, refineries, slaughterhouses, and fishhouses were. The southern portion of the city was more residential. It sold the goods made in the northern half, but wanted nothing more to do with it.
The taverns and inns in the north half were rough and always rowdy. Death was not uncommon, though it was not too frequent. The industries in the foothills and lower forests were hard and dirty, and the men who worked in them reflected this. The guardhouses were quickly moved to the center of the city in an attempt to keep the north half of the city in the north half. Few people worked in one and lived in the other, and they were not always accepted when they came back home. After a while, people began to accept the fact that the northerns, as they were called, were not going to refine their ways. They also realized that without them, the city would crumble in financial ruin.
Not only did they build the ships that were the backbone of the community, they also made a much larger tax contribution than the rest of the city, for they more often frequented the heavily taxed gaming houses and brothels that densely populated the north half. In the end, though, it was the northerns that kept the city from growing into capitol city status. Instead of setting up shop in the city, one could make two trips a week and still make the ships south.
Entreri thought this would be as good a place as any. He had crossed the waterfall after leaving the ranger, but instead of continuing southeast, he had hugged the river back west and stopped for a short while in Mastin. There he had supplied himself for the mountains, changed horses, and set out.
He had seen several towns like Elliorn had described, rough and struggling to survive. While they had not found goblins yet, they had found precious minerals. They were pulling gold, copper, and silver as well as traditional iron ore. Entreri could see little use for such metal up in the mountain communities. When he asked the question he always got the same answer: "We take it to Garrilport."
Entreri reached the city ten days after he had left Elliorn by he river. Several times he had almost turned around to find her and kill her, but each time he had stopped himself. He had to stop some time. Now as he walked into a new city, probably the most diverse he had found yet, he realized he did not have any marketable skills.
Everything he knew how to do related to his dark trade. He could work for a locksmith and design an unpickable lock. We could work for the circus and dazzle people with his juggling and tight-wire acts. He could try to be the weapon master for the city guards. He supposed there were a lot of things he could do, but only one of his skills allowed him to work independently: killing.
This city was the roughest he had found, at least half of it was, but the action in the northern half was not based in anything rational. Calimport had been dangerous because guild-houses struggled for power. They laid claim to sections of the city. The more they controlled the more taxes they could pull. The more money they had the more killers they could hire. The more killers they had the more area they could claim and defend.
The northern half of Garrilport was not like this at all. They did not get into fights and kill each other for power or money. They killed each other because they were drunk. They killed each other because they had the same IQ's as the fish and cattle they killed and cleaned. They killed each other because one of them looked at the other in the wrong way. Entreri wanted no part of that. Besides while the northerns made the city all its money, the northerns themselves had very little and none would be able to afford the assassin.
The city planning office was located in the southern half in a very clean section of the city. There were no homeless or beggars in the city. If you tried to settle on the outskirts without registering with the city, you were driven away or forced to pay a penalty. Everyone was taxed. In order to maintain this fairly, everyone had to register.
The council was proud of the city they had created and would not put up with anyone leeching off the system. You did not have to have a business, although it was encouraged, and those who maintained a taxable business got a break on their personal taxes. Once a week, beggars and peasants were rounded up and either escorted out of the city, or, and more frequently, they were escorted to the northern half. There they either absorbed the drunken furry of the rowdies, sparing a contributing member of the city, or they became a contributing member by filling a job position vacated by someone who had met with an unfortunate end. Anyone was allowed into the northern half, but to return to the southern half you had to be registered with the city guards and have good reason.
Entreri stepped into the city planning office and looked around, wondering if this was all just a big mistake. The majority of the office consisted of a lavish waiting room with comfortable couches and serving girls. Entreri took a number and a drink and then sat down to wait his turn. There was a very well drawn and painted city map that took up one entire wall of the waiting room.
Entreri also took notice of the rest of the people in the room. There was a young couple who spoke more in snickers and giggles than actual words. The assassin guessed they were newlyweds and were looking for a new home away from their parents. There was a man who was dressed much nicer than Entreri, but who looked like he did not have half as much money as he wanted people to think. He looked nervous and was probably hoping this city of opportunity had a place for someone with his skills, whatever those skills might be.
It took half an hour, but Entreri was finally ushered into the planner's office. The man had just dealt with the giddy couple and was happy to see someone his own age and apparent demeanor. The man rose from behind his desk and shook Entreri's hand. "Welcome to Garrilport, my name is Leron. What can I do for you today?"
Entreri decided to play this easy. His normal business style probably would not work too well. "I'm looking for a place to settle down. I've been through the northland and have heard good things about your city."
"I see," Leron said, still trying to figure this man out. He talked to dozens of people everyday, and he was pretty good at identifying them. Businessmen were all the same. The first words out of their mouths were always, "I make the finest wooden sculptures in all the realms," or "My candles burn longer and brighter than any you've ever seen."
Entreri was well dressed, his goatee well kept and his shoulder-length hair tied together behind him under his black bolero. His handshake had been strong and his gate sure. His posture was perfect and his face relaxed. He was either insanely rich or he was a mercenary on the run. Either way, as long as he paid his taxes and did not cause trouble, he was welcome in Garrilport.
"What kind of place were you looking for?"
"What kind of places do you have?" Entreri asked, not really knowing how to go about this. He had always just lived in a room in a guild house. He did not know anything about buying a place for himself.
"Well, a few shops just opened up. Their former owners either left or went out of business. Two of them are in a very good location right-" Leron began to turn around to motion to a map of the city behind him, but Entreri cut him off.
"Yes," Leron replied turning back to look at his guest. "Are you a merchant? Do you have a trade?"
Yes, thought Entreri, but I don't need a shop. I mostly make house calls. "I thought I would just find a place to live first. I have many talents and just want to live quietly for a while before I set up shop."
"Well can you give me an idea of what you plan to do? Location is everything in this town. Perhaps I can reserve a place for you."
Entreri shook his head. "I'm just looking for a place to live."
Leron shrugged. He had tried anyway. "I have several nice apartments in the center of town. The rent runs a bit high in some, but they are well furnished and some have added luxuries."
"I kind of like my privacy, do you have anything on the edge of town?"
Leron raised his eyes. Maybe he had judged this man wrong. "Yes, but they aren't all very nice." He pulled out a rolled up map from under his desk. He only had the main section of town on the map behind him on the wall. "There are a few small cottages on the edge of the commercial district," Leron said, not sounding very enthusiastic about it, "but if you get much further away, you begin to get into the poor section of-"
"What about here?" Entreri pointed to a lot that was on the very edge of the map.
Leron nearly fell over. "No, I don't think you want to live there. Why, the streets aren't paved. There are no sewers. It smells, and you will be surrounded by peasants just scraping to get by. I'm sure you'd prefer to live-"
"Sounds fine by me," Entreri said. "Like I said, I like my privacy."
Leron was sure he had him pegged now. This man was dirt poor. He had probably stolen the clothes he wore and thought that if he could just get into the "glorious" city of Garrilport he might be able make his fortune in the gaming houses. Maybe he planed to steal his way to a fortune. Whatever his ploy, Leron doubted he would last thirty days.
The lot Entreri had chosen did not even have a number. Leron scribbled one in. He got out the paperwork and began to fill it out. Entreri spelled his name for the man and answered a few other trivial pieces of information such as age, family size, and so forth. "There is a fee involved," Leron said, hoping that he would be able to throw away the deed he had just written up and get to more important customers.
Entreri reached behind his back and pulled out a coin bag that was easily twice as big as any bag Leron had ever carried himself. Leron's mouth hung open as Entreri set it on his desk and then produced a twin bag to sit next to it. "M-m-more than enough," Leron muttered. "Much more. Are you sure you don't want an apartment? Or maybe even a river front chateau? I have a very nice house available. It has its own dock, sixteen rooms, servant quarters, seven-"
"The plot I chose will be fine for now. Remember I just want to get a feel for the town."
"Right. Right! Of course, sir! I understand." The rest of process went smoothly and quickly.
* * *
Entreri took one look at his new home and wondered if he should go back to the planner and get the chateau he had talked about. And why not? Entreri had the gold. Entreri had never wanted to live as a pasha, though. He had despised and then killed Dondon for giving into pleasure and luxury; he would not do the same.
The shack, for it could not be called a house, was made of two rooms. There was a tiny outhouse in the back with an only slightly bigger shed next to it. All of the windows had been broken, and dust and dirt lay thicker on the floor inside than on the ground outside. There was no furniture to speak of, and neither were there doors. Loren had given him the plot and everything on it for 20 gold pieces. Entreri had eaten meals in Calimport worth twice that. At the time he thought Loren was giving him a deal, but now having seen the place, Entreri realized if someone had swindled him like this a year ago, the man would have spent the last ten seconds of his life looking for his small intestines.
The city should pay him for taking this off their hands. It was noon, and Entreri had little to do. He rode back into town and bought a small cart for his horse. He then filled it with windows, doors, straw, sheets, a broom, nails, and a hammer. Three hours later his shack had doors, windows, very little dirt inside, and a small straw bed. The rest of the day was spent pounding nails into the floor every time it squeaked.
That night he lay on his scratchy bed wondering what he was doing. He was the most deadly man alive and he had decided to live a peasant's life on the edge of a very wealthy town. Entreri had always known he would have to stop killing eventually, but he had thought it would result from someone else's blade and not from boredom.
Entreri knew what kind of fighters lived in this new land. Elliorn had been good, but Entreri felt confident he would continue to come out on top if she refrained from shooting him in the back with her longbow. There were others like her, but Entreri knew they were in the minority. Most of these people had never faced mortal combat. Sure, some of them had killed, or been involved in fights where someone had died. But walking into a one-on-one fight knowing only one will walk away is a completely different thing.
So what was he going to do? The only thing he did not want was to grow weak with age. Dondon had done that. The halfling knew he could never go outside and that he was done being a thief. His answer was to gorge himself. Entreri knew he was done being an assassin, but that did not mean he had to loose his edge.
Entreri did not shy away from hard labor like some killers he had known. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty and realized the physical benefits that came from a hard day's work. This place needed plenty of work. That's what he would do. He would spend the next ten days working on this shack until it resembled a home, not because this is where he was going to spend the rest of his life, but because he needed something to do.
Working on the house would give him a chance to meet several merchants and get a good feel for the rest of the city. He would talk to his neighbors and see what they felt about this area. Maybe Elliorn was wrong and this city did have a use for his skills. He would never find out unless he stayed. If he stayed he needed something to do, and working on this place was as good a task as any.
The next five days went by quickly, and Entreri almost forgot who he was. He worked on the property first. He did not have a lot of land at his disposal, but he set up a fence around all of it. Cool breezes came off the mountains, but it was summer, and the sun beat down on him. Back in Calimport, if anyone had told him that when he turned 40, he would spend his days driving fence posts, he probably would have killed them. Now he enjoyed it.
The assassin's body had been honed to be as efficient as possible in everything it did, and it did not take long before he was driving in each post with only three shots from his sledge. It took him all of one morning to do one side of his square lot. He finished the rest of the posts in half the time that afternoon. The rest of the day involved nailing the slats to the posts that made up the actual fence. He added a small corral for his horse and then built a hay loft and water trough.
There was a well a hundred yards from his house that fed the entire eastern edge of the city. He purchased a water tight wooden tank that could hold fifty gallons. He propped it up on a wooden stand on the edge of his house, and used a pulley system to fill it. It took an entire morning to fill, but by piping a faucet into his house, he had running water that only needed to be filled once a week. He sowed grass into his dirty, weedy property and watered it sparingly.
While working outside, he had a chance to meet his neighbors. The closest house to his stood sixty feet away. They were a poor family with a young son about eight years old. They had a small garden that the mother tended. The father disappeared each morning and returned late each night. Entreri figured he worked in one of the northern industries. The son tried to sell his mother's vegetables in front of their house, but this was not a high traffic area.
Entreri saw few other people. No one came out to the area unless they lived there and few were poor enough to do so. There were trees growing around the houses, and there might have been more families past them, but Entreri did not check.
The inside of his house took more work. He coated and sealed the floor and did the same to the walls. Now that he had running water, he spent a few coins on a new wash-sink and sprang for a new wood-stove. He got curtains for the windows and half a dozen rugs to cover the ugly spots in the floor. The house was open to the ceiling, and Entreri installed a full loft.
Entreri did not spend too much on furniture, buying only what was necessary. Still he got looks from those living in squalor around him as he hauled in a bed, a few chairs, a table, and a few lamps. These people had practically nothing, but what they did have, they built for themselves. Here was a man living in the most rundown house in the most rundown section of the city, and he appeared to have money to burn.
On the morning of the fifth day, Entreri was ready to do some real work. He took a small amount of pride in what he had done thus far and almost laughed when he saw other peasants following his lead by hauling fencing posts and wood sealant down the dusty road. He had spent the days so far repairing or improving, now he wanted to build.
The two rooms of the house were barely enough hold the few pieces of furniture he had, and there was plenty of room on his property for more. He also wanted to get another horse and needed a bigger shed.
He awoke early, but before he could get out of the house, a rap on the door brought him to attention. He walked slowly toward the new door, a hand reaching into his vest for the jeweled dagger. Old habits die hard. The man at the door wore a Garrilport crest on his coat and had a pleasant smile on his face. "I like what you've done with the place."
"What do you want?"
"Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Entreri." The man took a step back and saluted. "I am here representing the city council to collect the monthly tax." The man laughed at his own absurdity. "I talked with Leron, and he told me about you. Said you would have little trouble paying."
Entreri handed over the pitifully small sum. "Is there something wrong?" Entreri asked. The man seemed almost drunk.
"It's a beautiful summer morning," the man replied, a huge smile on his face, "the birds are singing, the cool breeze is blowing, and I have to collect taxes from the poorest section of town. Things couldn't be better. I figured I'd start my day with you and work my way downhill. Good day."
Entreri watched the man walk to his neighbors and turned to lock his door. "Like anyone's going to rob me," he thought as he snapped the lock closed. He went around back to get his horse, but then thought better off it. He was going to buy much more wood than his small cart could carry and not from the same cheep wood-yard half a mile away. He was going to need quality wood if it he was going to build an addition to the house that would last.
As he walked down the street to town he could not help but overhear the taxman talking to the poor wife next door. "What?!"
"I'm sorry ma'am, but the local official assigned to this section saw your son set up shop on your property. We've been over the city regulations with you several times before, and I've been ordered to enforce the rules this time."
"But we can't afford a merchant's tax, we are too poor. My husband barely makes enough to put food on our table."
"Well maybe instead of breaking city zoning laws by setting up a store outside of the commercial district, you should keep your vegetables for when you husband can't provide for you."
"But my son didn't even sell anything!"
"The system is not based on profitability, only on availability. It is not our fault your son did not sell anything, you still broke the law. I should be evicting you, but I do ha-" Entreri sighed as he moved out of earshot.
The money meant nothing to the city. Entreri knew how much these people had to pay in taxes, and it would take a thousand such payments before the total tax amounted to anything. They said they were being kind in not evicting them, but in actuality, that was exactly what they were doing.
These people did not contribute to the city, but were not worth the trouble to bring the city guards out to toss them. Instead the city bled them dry until they had to leave on their own. Soon, as the taxes got high enough, the entire poor section would be evacuated and the city could expand its upper and middle class sections.
By removing the peasants, you removed a large part of the northerns' work force. This would force them to clean up the city to attracted more respectable workers. It was a nice plan, but Entreri had lived long enough to know there was always a bottom rung to every ladder. It did not matter how many rungs you broke off; you still had a bottom one. The only solution was to have one rung. Then you had a monarchy.
Despite the city's treatment of his neighbors, Entreri had to admit they had done a nice job with the rest of the city. As he moved into the wealthier sections, the streets were clean and smell-free. The buildings were well kept, for if a merchant let his building go, the city would force him to fix it up or evict him so someone else could.
Entreri was a student of the people. He watched as a woman hung laundry on top of a three-story building. Another woman swept off the porch to a lamp shop. Two men were busy loading kegs of something out of a building and into the back of an open cart. There was a small boy standing on a ladder nailing a new rain gutter onto the front of another building.
Entreri saw them all and tried to imagine that he was back in Calimport. He tried to imagine that the woman hanging clothes was really a guild house lookout, and as soon as the target man exited the shop across the street, she would give the signal to the men loading the kegs. They would in turn stop what they were doing, pull out daggers, and follow the target into a dark alley, from which only two of the three would exit.
The woman sweeping was also a lookout. She was watching for a particular buyer to come down the street. When she saw him or her, she would signal inside for her partner to get the illegal merchandise out of the safe and ready so their valued customer could be on their way quickly.
Entreri enjoyed this fantasy for a while but could not think of anything for the boy on the ladder. He walked close to young worker. The boy turned on his ladder to look at Entreri also. As he turned, his hand slipped, and he lost his balance. He suddenly stood straight up on the ladder, his arms waiving in circles beside him. It looked like he might be able to save his balance but leaned one inch too far back and fell.
Entreri had been ready to catch him the whole time, seeing the hand slip as the boy had originally turned. The boy fell into his arms, and he quickly lowered him to the ground. "Boy," he reprimanded, "you need to be more careful."
The child was badly frightened and nodded his head.
"What's your name?" Entreri asked.
"B-B-Billy," he responded.
"Well, Billy, if I hadn't been here you could have had a serious accident." The boy continued to nod frantically. "Do you promise to be more careful now?" Entreri had his hands on the boy's shoulders as he spoke down to him. The boy nodded some more. "Good."
Billy watched Entreri turn away from him and start down the street. He smiled. Turning away from the street and stepping up onto the porch, Billy slowly pulled his right hand out of his jacket. It held Entreri's heavy gold pouch. "That was too easy," he thought. "You'd think he'd miss something this heavy."
It had been a good morning so far. He had taken four other coin pouches, but this was by far the richest. He reached around under his jacket to his belt where the other four pouches hung and looped his new prize through a belt loop. He was a little concerned his pants would not be able to stay up under all the weight. If that were the case he wou-
Billy stopped. The other pouches were not there. He patted himself down, wondering where they could have gone. He turned around and looked at the ground where he had almost fallen. The ground was empty. He looked up. Entreri stood there holding the four pouches in one hand. "Looking for something?"
The kid thought about trying to grab the pouches from this strange man, but turned to run instead. Entreri was too quick, his free hand snaking out and grabbing the Billy by the wrist. The assassin hauled him off the porch and into the street next to him. He crouched down in front of him and grabbed onto the kid's collar.
"None of these bags are yours, are they?"
The boy shook his head.
"N-n-no, sir," Billy stuttered.
The kid had been acting before, but now he was truly frightened. Entreri had just beat him at his own game so badly it was like a man off the street out performing a circus diver and then emerging from the pool with dry clothes.
"Stealing is not a very safe profession if you are not good at it, and you are not good at it. I don't know what blind cripples you took these off of," Entreri raised the four pouches, "but they probably are so stupid they still haven't realized they've lost them."
Entreri watched a small puddle begin to form under his captive, and he repositioned his feet to keep his boots dry. "I'm going to tell you what I'm going to do. I don't usually like to spill blood this early in the day, so I'm going to let you go, but only if you bring these four bags out to the eastern edge of town. Pick four run-down houses and give a bag to each. In particular, search out a gray shack with a garden out back sitting next to a house with a new fence. Tell them a wealthy merchant in town died, and his will said that a small portion of his money was to be given to some poor families because that is how he started in this city."
The boy nodded quickly. Too quickly for Entreri's liking. "I will check up on you." Entreri stared death at the boy now. "I will check to see if you've done this, and if I find that you have lied to me as well as trying to rob me, I will punish you."
"B-b-but, s-sir, m-my m-master will k-kill me."
"Better him than me. Trust me, for your sake, better him than me." Entreri tossed the four pouches into a dry spot on the street and turned around, though not before reclaiming his own pouch. The kid would do as he was told; Entreri had faith in his skills of persuasion. Across the street, unseen by either of the two, a city guard smiled at the exchange that occurred and stepped out from behind a parked wagon. He watched Entreri briefly, but decided to follow the boy instead.
The lumber store was just down the street. Entreri placed his order and paid to have the wood delivered to his house as soon as it was ready. He took an early lunch in a nice restaurant while the order was being filled and then rode down with the delivery boy back to his house. The boy affirmed the address with Entreri and then said he did not know why anyone would want to spend money on a house out there.
Entreri ignored the comments, and the two of them unloaded the wagon once they reached his house. Entreri took particular notice of the cries from his neighbors. They were very happy about something, and Entreri was glad he would not have to hunt down the young thief. Entreri thanked the delivery boy and then went to work.
* * *
Quinton Palluge heard the snap of the whip and boyish scream through two closed doors. "What is going on now?" he muttered to himself as he got up from behind his desk.
Quinton pushed his office door open and walked quickly down the hall, taking time to look out the hallway window at his latest ship going down the Garril River. The sound was coming from one of the rec rooms. He opened the door and saw one of his lieutenants whipping a boy.
"What's going on here, Draick?"
The lieutenant quickly turned around at his master's words. "Sir," he said, surprised he had not heard Quinton enter, "Billy here has robbed us."
Quinton squinted at the young pickpocket he employed. The boy had tears coming from his eyes and several welts along his back, though none of them looked serious yet. "Is that true?"
Billy shook his head furiously, still sniffling too hard to speak. Quinton turned back to Draick for his side of the story. "We sent him out as usual with ten gold pieces and he returned just a few minutes ago with nothing."
Quinton turned back to Billy, his eyes demanding a verbal answer this time. The young boy inhaled deeply, trying to remove the jerky breathing of his sobs. "I didn't steal it, honest. I paid the people on the street so they would look the other way, like you said, like I always do. They never call the guards on me if I give them a few coins."
"You know not to return unless you have made a successful pick and at least doubled the money we gave you," Quinton said sternly, waiting for the rest of the story.
"I got way more than double," Billy said quickly. "Four full pouches and almost a fifth." Quinton frowned. Billy saw the frown and quickly explained. "This guy caught me and took all of the coins I had gotten so far."
Quinton stood up scowling, both at the man who had robbed his boy and for his best lieutenant beating the boy for it. "What did he look like?" Quinton asked Billy, though he looked at Draick. Draick understood that he wanted the man found.
Billy understood the look also. "Oh, no, he gave the bags back to me, except for his, of course."
That was the wrong thing to say, and Billy realized it as Quinton leveled an evil gaze on him. "Where is my money?"
"Th-th-the man made me give it all back," Billy was close to sobbing again.
"He made you track down all the people you picked and return the money?"
"N-no, he made me give it to the poor people on the eastern edge of town."
Quinton found this even harder to believe. "He brought you to the peasants and forced you to give the money to them?"
"Oh, no, he didn't follow m-"
"He let you go, and you did it anyway! You stupid rat child! Why did you do it?!"
"H-h-he s-said he would ch-check up on m-m-me," but Quinton was not listening.
He turned back to Draick and nodded. "You may continue." Draick smiled and raised the whip for a strike. As he swung forward, Quinton caught his arm and held it fast. Despite his master's age, Draick was always surprised at his strength. "But work on your follow through," Quinton said. He glanced over his shoulder at Billy's red back. "You'll never become captain of the guards if you can't bring blood from a child's back."
Draick smiled and nodded. Quinton left the room and closed the door as Draick continued his punishment and Billy continued his screaming. The older man paused outside the closed the door, listening to the pitiful cries for a moment and then moved back toward his office.
He stopped at his window again, his ship just disappearing from view behind another section of his large river front residence. He had built quite a fortune for himself in this town, and it kept growing larger. He had a piece in just about every northern industry, yet still held respect and favor amongst the people in the more civilized section of the city. He dealt in gems and precious metals, buying them and trading them with the southern cities along the river. He owned several ships of his own and rented the extra space on them to several other merchants who wanted to send their cargo down river.
Besides his honest business ventures, though even they were scandalous at best, he had half a dozen children roaming the streets, picking pockets and stealing jewelry. Billy was one of his best, and if he learned his lesson today, he would become even better. Quinton also had several city guards drawing pay from him, though the city knew nothing about it. These guards were very apt at looking the other way when Quinton's other men made a hit on a less than cooperative business partners.
Quinton sighed and walked away from the window. If only he was on the city council. Several of the men on the council were near death, Quinton suspected, for they had been in the ruling body for decades and had to be weak with age. The ambitious entrepreneur had often thought about taking measures into his own hands and bringing those members of the council even closer to death, but he had stayed his hand thus far.
Quinton would gain the position honestly, with no questions asked. That was the only way he would be able to do what he wanted. Once on the council he could rewrite the trading laws in his favor. He could create tax loopholes for himself, and burden others so they would be forced to use his ships. He would then buy even more vessels, and soon, he would control all trade that left Garrilport.
Until that time came, he would have to continue to throw parties in his lavish home, inviting all the influential merchants who had voting privileges to elect new council members. He would continue to attend their parties and continue to deal with their businesses at a loss to gain their favor.
"Any day now," Quinton said as he opened the door to his office. Two men were inside, one was howling in pain, grabbing his right hand. His entire limb looked like it had been dragged through a fire very slowly. "Parnid, Trevor," Quinton said, addressing his two best thieves, "what's going on and why does it need to take place in my office."
"It's that cursed magician," Parnid, the uninjured one, said.
"He nearly burned my whole arm off!"
"What did you do to him?" Quinton asked. Nothing was ever as it seemed among his men.
"He's locked himself up in that room of his for almost a week," Parnid explained. "We thought he might be hurt or gone or-"
"Up to no good!" Trevor had to throw in.
"His lock looked easy enough to pick," Parnid said.
"The bolt of lightening nearly killed me!"
"Bolt of lightening?" Quinton wished Trevor would shut up and let his partner tell the story without interruption.
"Trevor hadn't been working on the lock for more than a few seconds, when this bolt of energy - it looked like lightening - came shooting out of the key hole, traveled the length of his forearm, and then blasted into the wall behind him."
Quinton stood in silence. He had hired the magician several months ago for entertainment purposes only. The man was a big hit at his parties, making eggs disappear in a puff of smoke, lighting candles with his fingers, and several other slight of hand tricks. Quinton had never gotten the man to tell him how he did it. Reillon, the magician, insisted that it was magic.
Quinton suffered the eccentric man because he entertained the voting merchants. If he started hurting his best men for no reason, something would have to be done. Besides that - a lock that could shoot out lightening! - Quinton had never thought Reillon capable of such a feat. If the magician really had magic about him and was hiding his true power from Quinton, there would be hell to pay.
"Let's go pay him a visit," Quinton said.
The three men walked back down the hallway, down a flight of stairs, and stopped in front of the infamous locked door. Quinton could see the charred section of the wall opposite the door lock clearly enough. "Reillon! Open this door!" No response. "Parnid, knock on the door."
"With all due respect sir, I am not touching that door."
Quinton expected as much; he was not touching the door either. A dinning room was just down the hall, and Quinton quickly retrieved a wooden chair. The two thieves backed away, and Quinton banged on the door with the legs of the chair. A jet of flame shot out of the peephole in the center of the door, igniting the bottom of the chair.
Quinton furiously banged the chair to pieces on the floor and stamped out the flames. Now there was a much bigger burn mark across from the door. "Reillon, you will open this door right now, or so help me, I will get an axe and break it down myself!"
Quinton waited, coughing a little on the smoke. The door slowly opened, snapping the chain lock tight after it had swung only a few inches. Reillon was a frail man, and having spent a week inside his room, he looked very haggard and pale. His beady little eyes peered at his angry master through the barely opened door. "Yes?"
"Open this door, magician! I want an explanation from you!"
"I'm sorry, sir, but it will have to wait. I'm in the middle of something."
Behind him, Quinton's thieves blanched at the magician's boldness. "It will have to wait?" Quinton repeated in quiet furry and then exploded. "You nearly burned down my entire house and did destroy my best thief's hand! What good are you if you do more harm than good?! And what kind of tricks are you hiding from me? If I had doors equipped my like yours, I wouldn't need half the guards I employ. I want an answer now!"
"Sorry, sir, but this interruption alone has cost me six hours of preparation. I need peace and quiet. If no one touches my door, no one will get hurt. You will have all your answers and much, much more in two days time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."
Before Quinton could scream in outrage, the magician closed the door and locked it again. "Do you want me to get an axe?" Parnid asked.
Quinton shook his head. "We'll give him his two days, after which, if I still don't have an answer . . ." he left the threat hanging.
They turned to go, but the door behind them opened suddenly and then quickly closed before they could turn all the way back around. On the floor, just outside the door, was a small vile filled with a pink salve. Quinton picked up the glass container and read the label on the outside. "Apply twice a day for five days. Heals burns." Quinton smiled, handed the healing salve to Trevor, and went back to his office.
* * *
Jerathon Alexander read the report and frowned. The southern portion of the city along the river was becoming too crowded. It was the widest section of the river below the locks and had the most extensive dock network. It was, therefore, the best place to load and unload ships, but the section had originally been built as residential long before ship trade became the most important commodity.
A few prominent traders had been pushing for several months now to have the apartments and houses torn down and turned into warehouses. This would make it easier for merchants to bring their items to the docks for shipment. Right now, ships only left twice a week because it was too difficult to operate the locks on a full time basis. This meant all the merchants had to come to the docks at the same time to get their items on the ship. This was way too much traffic as it was, but with all the locals roaming about their homes, it made it even more difficult.
With warehouses to store items for shipment, merchants could bring their goods down any time during the week. Plus, shipments that came up river could be stored in the warehouse also, meaning all the deliveries did not have to be made as the ship pulled in but could be done over the course of the week.
It was a very good idea, and the council supported it, especially since the traders had agreed to foot the bill for the warehouse construction. They would be able to process ships much faster and would easily make up the costs of the buildings in a few months. The council was also willing to accommodate the few hundred people that currently lived in the area by setting up another section of the city for them to live. The problem was that there was no more room.
The displaced citizens would no doubt want to stay along the river, but the further south you went the poorer and more rundown the neighborhoods became. To remodel that portion of the city to meet the needs of the wealthy citizens that were to be relocated meant lots of money. The sewers needed to be extended, street lamps needed to be installed, the streets needed to be paved, they would need to encourage more shops and markets to open in the area, and a host of other things, not the least of which was to find somewhere else to move the people already living in those poor sections.
It would cost money and it would take time. Jerathon scribbled a note to himself to meet with the traders and merchants to see if there was anyway to raise taxes for a short while until the cost of such a relocation could be recovered. Pay a little now; make a lot later. It was a simple principle, but it took a keen grasp of commerce to accept it, especially when you were the one that had to pay now.
Jerathon also penned in a meeting with Leron, the city planner. They would need to find a place to put the peasants they displaced. They could not just keep pushing them south or else they would have to move the again in five years when the riverfront property continued to expand. The eastern part of town was open, but there were trees there, and the northern lumberjacks kept pushing the limit as to how far south they were willing to go.
Jerathon knew that in time, he would have to yield to their wishes and allow them to harvest the trees in that area. It would need to be done if the city was going to expand anyway, but it meant moving the people that lived there. Maybe it was time to jump across the river. So far the entire city lay east of the river, but there was always talk about expanding west.
The problem was that there was absolutely nothing over there. It was a lot easier to upgrade the poor sections of the city than build entire new ones. They would have to dig a new sewer system, layout all new streets, set up zoning laws, and, most expensive of all, build bridges. It was not easy being the mayor of Garrilport.
Jerathon pulled a cord next to his desk that rung a bell out in the hall and would bring his page. The knock on his door came far too soon to be the result of his summons. "Enter."
The boy opened the door and walked quickly to the mayor's desk. The mayor handed him two rolled parchments one before the other. "Take this to the city planner's office. And take this one to one of my scribes and have them make enough copies to deliver to all the members of the merchant's council. I believe there are seventeen members now. You probably know their names better than I do. When the scribe is finished, deliver the notes."
The boy took the notes and waited. "Your response to my bell was very impressive. Were you avoiding your other duties and just waiting outside my door, or were you on your way to my office for another reason?"
The boy just stood there. Jerathon smiled. The boy was well disciplined. "You may speak."
"Captain Irenum is waiting down stairs."
"He is early." The boy simply nodded. "Send him up and then do as I bade you."
The boy left. John Irenum, captain of the city guards, entered the mayor's office a few moments later and closed the door behind him. "When I set times for meetings, I expect them to be upheld. I'm a busy man," Jerathon said, shuffling paper around on his desk.
John looked at the reports and notes scattered across the mayor's desk. "Can they wait?" he asked, motioning to the desk.
"Can't you?" he replied.
"I was waiting, but your mute page directed me to your office early. I assumed you were ready for me. But please, if I am intruding, I have nothing better to do but wait for your free time."
Jerathon smirked at the sarcasm. "You seem to be in a good mood, by which I mean an irreverent one."
The captain took a seat across the desk. "You should have seen it, Jerry," John started, continuing down the road of disrespect. "It was great."
Jerathon sighed, leaned back in his chair, and motioned for his guest to continue. "You know the pickpockets I've told you about?" Jerathon nodded. Some scoundrel was using children to rob the members of his city. He could not very well throw the kids in jail, but he had been unsuccessful in tracking down their master. "Well, I saw one of them get caught today. He was a young kid, maybe nine or ten. He had this great scheme going where he pretended to fall off a ladder and land on passing victims. They would catch him, and in the confusion, he slipped their purse.
"I only got to see him do it successfully once and was about to put an end to it when this stranger walked by. He made a very striking figure, as if he had an air of superiority around him. Anyway, the kid fell on him and took his coin pouch. I was about to confront the kid, when he turned around and saw this stranger holding four pouches.
"While the kid had taken his pouch, this guy took all four that the kid had picked thus far. Well the kid tried to run, but the stranger caught him and gave him a little talking to. When they parted, I followed the kid. I don't know what this stranger said to him, but that kid turned around and gave those stolen pouches to four poor families on the east edge of town."
"Did you manage to tail the kid further?" Jerathon asked.
The captain shook his head. "He went back into the city and slipped into the sewers. I don't know how those kids get their heads through the grate. Anyway, I went back to the edge of the town, and it turns out this other guy actually lives out there. He's in the process of fixing up the worst house in the area."
"So why did you tell me this story?"
"I don't know, you asked me why I was in such a good mood. Besides, I thought there must be more to this guy. I mean I've seen some of these pickpockets at work. They are very good. Some guy off the street couldn't just beat them at their own game. Besides that, he seems to be made of money by the size of his coin pouch, but he's living in the worst house in the entire city. Something's odd about him."
"John, there are over 8,000 people in this city, and most of them are odd. I can't investigate all of them. If he is not breaking any laws and he is paying his taxes, he can do whatever else he wants."
The rest of the meeting involved more serious talk about keeping the complex city of Garrilport safe from itself. At the end of the meeting, Jerathon had forgotten all about John's story.
* * *
Leron got up from his chair and began to pace back and forth behind his desk after John finished recounting the story he had told the mayor. The city planer had just finished a meeting with the mayor and the captain had shown up right after.
"I assume you met him when he registered with you. I just wondered what you thought of him."
"I remember him well," Leron said, stopping by a small liquor cabinet and pouring himself a drink. "I think his name was Artemis Entreri. Yes, I remember him."
"Well," John prompted, growing impatient, "what did you think of him?"
"I think he is hiding out in the open."
John looked confused. "That sounds like a contradiction in terms."
"Tell me, Captain, do you ever loose your keys."
John laughed, not noticing the change of topic for now. "All the time. If it wasn't for a miracle each time I find them, I'd probably never be able to lock or unlock my house, not to mention getting into any of the guardhouses."
"When you can't find them, where do you look?"
"I look everywhere," John replied, his eyes rolling back in his head as if he were reliving one of the many moments. "I look under my bed, behind by bed-stand, in all of my pants, and I've even looked in the bushes beneath my bedroom window."
"And where are they usually?"
John smirked. "On my dresser right where I always put them," the captain's smile grew, realization dawning on his face, "hiding out in the open."
"I think this Artemis is running from someone. It might be the law or it might be mercenaries, but he is running from someone. I think he feels he has a big enough lead now, that he can stop running. If whoever is chasing him stumbles upon our fair city, they will comb the taverns and gaming houses. They will look in every dark alley and search the northern section of town. These are the places where people can disappear. They might even wander through the downtown area, asking store clerks and shop owners if they've seen this man. They will doubtfully look in poor sections of the town where even the residents don't want to be there."
"Do you think he deserves any attention or am I just over-reacting?"
"Who knows? He told me he came from the northland, and he apparently still feels there is some danger from his pursuers even though he's on the other side of the Great Range. Travel through the mountains is not easy, and if he is still being chased, then he must have done something extreme enough to warrant it. If you watch him walk, you know he is a fighter. He could be dangerous or he could be an asset."
"Hire him to clean out the northerns?" John thought out loud.
"No one can clean out the northerns, but you get my point. Who knows, check him out, it can't hurt anything."
* * *
Entreri was taking the morning off. He was making some good headway on the addition to his new home, and he felt he deserved a break. He was finally calling it a home. The name meant more than just the fact he had raised the shack to a higher level of existence. It also meant he had an eerie sense of security. He had not killed anyone in over three weeks, which was approaching a record for him. People were finally leaving him alone.
Entreri walked slowly through the edge of the residential district as the houses gradually turned into shops. There was a small park that took up an entire city block and held little more than shade trees and benches. A small pavilion on the edge of the park cast shade over a farmer's market that was taking place. Entreri smiled as he saw his neighbors selling their produce. Since Billy's charitable donation to the assassin's neighbors, the mother and son now had enough money to pay the small set up fee and were easily recovering that fee and more.
All it took for some was a little nudge in the right direction to get over the hump. Entreri could see that they were doing well by the number of customers they had crowding around their table, and they would be able to expand their garden.
The former assassin did not take so much pleasure in their sudden prosperity as he did in the fact they were no longer poor. He despised poor people. Entreri so no reason to be poor, for everyone had something to offer. It was only laziness or ineptitude that held people down.
Entreri had been hired to kill several such people and always felt a small sense of satisfaction when he completed the job. If the people did not contribute to society, they had no right to exist in it. Entreri thought back to his last such job.
He had just returned to Calimport and the Basadoni guild had claimed him. They meant to demean him by giving him a job far below his capabilities. Then, like now, he had not responded with violence, but had given the poor family money to cover the fee they owed. He had not acted out of compassion, but pity. He had not wanted to waste his energy killing the poor creature, and would rather see them flourish against Basadoni's wishes. He had acted the same way now.
Entreri found a nice restaurant in the center of town and decided to eat his first good meal since leaving Calimport. He had cooked for himself mostly, and though he knew the difference between flour and sugar, he was no chef.
This restaurant was one of the richest in the city, and Entreri waited for the host to seat him. Entreri had entered this restaurant for two reasons. He wanted a good meal, but he had also noticed that someone had been following him for several blocks. It was hard to shadow someone in this type of establishment. It was Entreri's way of calling out his pursuer. And it worked.
John Irenum, Captain of the Garrilport Guard stepped into the ritzy restaurant a bit tentatively a couple minutes after Entreri. He had never been in this particular restaurant before, but he had heard stories about it. He knew the mayor frequented it and that the prices were way out of his meager range.
He was off duty at the moment, and his dress was casual so he did not stick out too much. The host recognized him. "Well, Captain Irenum. I don't believe we've ever had the privilege of serving you before. Are you here alone?"
John was too busy looking around at the lavish decorations in the foyer and needed the question repeated. "Oh, uh, no. Actually I am with the man who just entered."
The host nodded. "Ah, yes. He did say he might have a friend joining him."
"He did?" John looked behind him to see if this unknown friend was still coming. It took him a few moments to realize that he was the friend and he had underestimated his prey's abilities.
"Is something a miss, Captain?" the host asked, perplexed by John's behavior.
"No, not at all," John replied, thinking that everything was a miss.
"Will there be more members of your party coming?"
"No," John replied. At least I don't think so, he added silently. "It will just be the two of us."
"Right, then." The host picked up a menu. "If you'll follow me." The host led John through the small entryway and into the main restaurant.
The place was amazing. John was used to bars and taverns where all the tables were spread across a wide open wooden floor with a huge bar long the back wall. In here, the floor was covered with lush, blue carpeting that seemed almost too sacred to walk on. Unlike the taverns he was used to, space seemed to be cheap as each table was set up far from the other with plants, partitions, or some other obstacle to give the diners their privacy. The lighting was done by lavish lamps hung strategically over each table that seemed to only illuminate the diners, leaving the space in between the tables in a mysterious darkness.
Entreri was seated in a corner, already sipping at a delicate glass of wine. The host sat John down with a flourish. "What would you like to drink this afternoon, Captain?"
"Uh," John stammered as his eyes went from the host to Entreri, who seemed unaffected by this intrusion. "Just a glass of water will be fine."
The host looked disappointed until Entreri jumped in. "Nonsense, Captain," Entreri spoke up as if he and John were long-time friends. "Bring my friend here a glass of this exquisite wine." He raised his glass up to the candlelight above the table so he could see the bubbles filtering through the red liquid. "I'll not let him dine in squalor despite his reluctance."
The host smiled, bowing slightly toward Entreri. "As you wish."
As he walked away, Entreri lowered his glass to take another small sip and place it on the table. John was still very uncomfortable by this whole situation. He had thought he was being careful as he had followed Entreri through the city, but this man had been aware of him the whole time. He was sitting in a restaurant that made him very aware of how much money he had, or more appropriately, how much money he did not have. Yet through it all, the man sitting across from him acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
"I am going to assume you have not dined here before, Captain," Entreri spoke first. "I would ask you what is good, but you probably don't know."
John did not know what to say. His mouth opened and closed a few times as he kept thinking of and then rejecting opening lines. Entreri paid him no mind as he slowly leafed through the extensive menu. "This looks good," he said suddenly, finding something he liked in his reading. "Fresh trout. 'Only the finest filet of trout, simmered in white wine and butter sauce, served with a squirt of lemon and a side of steamed vegetables.'" Entreri put the menu down momentarily as he looked at his silent dining partner. "It's so hard to get good fresh-water fish in the dessert. We got plenty of sword fish and lobster, but I was never a big fan of anything that lived in saltwater."
John was still opening and closing his mouth as Entreri raised the menu back in front of him and continued reading. The young waitress came by with John's wine and placed it beside him. "Are you men ready to order?" she asked pleasantly.
Entreri put the menu down. "Yes. I'd like the trout. May ask how big it is?"
"About six ounces, sir."
"Right. You better give me a double portion then. Can you recommend something to drink?"
"With the lemon squirt on the fish," she explained, "you'll probably want to stay away from the traditional wines. The fruits clash. I recommend our barely ale. It is much lighter than your traditional tavern drink, and goes down very smooth."
The waitress turned to John who was still in a bad state of confusion. She saw he had not yet opened his menu. "Are you ready to order sir, or do you need a few minutes?"
"Beef," John managed. "Stew."
"Beef stew?" the waitress repeated, hoping she had heard wrong.
"Don't be ridiculous, Captain!" Entreri nearly shouted. He turned to the waitress. "My disturbed friend will have a sixteen ounce steak, medium rare, with a large mug of your best dark ale."
The waitress smiled at the correction, wondering if they even had beef stew. "Will this be one bill or two?"
Entreri put his hand beside his mouth as he whispered, though he made sure John could hear him. "You better make it one."
She giggled as Entreri winked. "Right, sir. I'll be right back with your salads." She removed the menus from the table and departed.
With nothing for Entreri to read, he placed his arms on the table and stared at his guest. John had stopped his jaw exercise by now and was beginning to come out of his perplexity. "You knew I was following you," John said, a bit of an edge creeping into his voice.
"Please," Entreri replied, noticing the edge and taking another sip of his wine. "You don't want to fight in here, do you?"
John did not know what he wanted to do. He had followed this man out of curiosity, and was now twice as curious as before. Supposed criminals were his usual targets, and since he was good at his job, he was rarely mistaken. When discovered, John invariably had to fight his prey, and they invariably ended up in jail or in coffins. This was different, and it took John a little while to realize this.
John was out of uniform and was not wearing his sword. He did have a dagger. The man across from him seemed unarmed, but he had underestimated Entreri several times already and he would not do so again. Besides, he tried not to think about fighting right now.
"So," Entreri continued, "what do you want to talk about, Captain? Have I done something wrong?"
John had not planned for this. He had wanted to follow this man, not interrogate him. He had done nothing wrong, and there was no reason for the Captain of the Guard to pay any attention to him, but he could not quite walk away from this now. "I noticed you've taken up residence on the eastern edge of town. Nice area, though I don't see too many of your neighbors around here." John gave a cursory glance around the room to let Entreri know what he was talking about.
"Oh," Entreri looked startled and concerned, "I thought you were going to pick up the tab for this meal. You think I have money?"
In the poor light of the dining room, John was momentarily taken in by Entreri's horrendous acting ability. "It had crossed my mind," he replied. "The city planner might have mentioned it."
Entreri shrugged, conceding the point. Instead of replying, he took another drink of his wine, handing the topic of conversation over to the captain.
John decided the best way to approach this now that he was caught, was to be straightforward. "I am the Captain of Garrilport's City Guards, and it is my job to make sure this city is safe for the general public. I spend most of my time chasing down criminals and exposing them to Garrilport's severe justice system. I do, however, whenever possible, like to stop crime before it happens. This means I spend some of my time simply observing the people of this city to try and predict what they will do or how they will act."
The waitress returned with the salads. Entreri covered his leafy entree with dressing and dug in. John ignored his, having never eaten a salad in his life, and continued talking. "So far I know very little about you, but everything I do know concerns me. You seem to have a lot of money, yet live in the poorest section of the city. You seem to be very sure of yourself and have made marvelous improvements to your squalid shack, yet show no signs of wishing to enter the functioning portion of society. I also was privileged enough to watch your little encounter with a young pickpocket the other day and am willing to place a bet that your past has not always taken place on the right side of the law."
Entreri took momentary pause at this, looked like he was going to say something, but drained the rest of his wine and continued eating.
"I am not accusing you of anything, yet, but men like you do not often enter this city, and when they do, they usually bring trouble with them."
"Have I brought you trouble?" Entreri asked, looking up finally. John did not respond. "As I can see it, all I've done so far is brought you money. I've spent quite a bit of gold since arriving in your precious city, yet have asked nothing in return. Here I'm even buying you lunch, and yet you accuse me of potential crime. Which reminds me, are you going to drink that?"
John looked at his untouched wineglass and shook his head. Entreri swiped it up, took a sip, and placed it next to his empty one. "You should have said so earlier. It's not as good warm."
"What are your plans?" John asked bluntly, trying to ignore Entreri's antics. "Are you on the run? Are you hiding?"
"I've been in your city for almost two weeks, so if I'm running, I'm not going very fast. And if I'm hiding, I'm not doing a very good job, seeing as how I've attracted the attention of the Captain of the City Guards."
"Do you have a trade?"
"I am an assassin that specializes in killing mages, royalty, and dark elves," Entreri said flatly.
John frowned at the reply, not enjoying Entreri's supposed sarcasm. "Where did you get your money?"
"Would you believe me if I told you I have access to a dragon's hidden treasure via a magical portal that I carry with me everywhere I go?"
"Not likely," John replied.
Entreri shrugged, pushing his empty salad plate aside. "You can't say I didn't try."
The waitress arrived with the main course. She took one look at John's untouched salad and cleared it before she set down his succulent steak. Despite his unwillingness to touch anything that had been set in front of him thus far, John's willpower evaporated as he inhaled the steak's rich aroma. He took a deep swig from his ale and began to cut into his meal. "And where do you come from?"
"I come from across the great sea, about 15,000 miles away, from a land that is filled with trolls, goblins, and halflings."
"They are quite remarkable," Entreri explained. "They grow to about four feet tall, and are unusually plump. They are extremely good thieves, and surprisingly dexterous. Oh, and don't forget the giants. There are lots of them were I come from too."
"And dark elves," John added to this fantastic tale.
"Ah, yes, the dark elves," Entreri repeated, his voice falling away as if recalling some distant memory. "I never did like them. But they were nothing compared to the ilithids."
"Haven't heard of that one," John remarked, his mouth half full of steak.
"And a good think too. They are hideous creatures with squid-like heads. They are extremely telepathic, and know exactly what you are thinking. They can paralyze you with a mental blast, and then eat your brains by sucking them out of your ear."
"Not really," Entreri countered, getting a laugh from John. John cut his chuckle short as he peered into his companion's eyes, wondering for the first time if Entreri was telling the truth. He shook his head.
"So," John started, wishing to change subjects, "with such an interesting past behind you, what do you plan to do with your time now?"
"Right now," Entreri answered in between mouthfuls of fish, "I plan on continuing to work on my house and keeping out of trouble. I wouldn't want you and your men to worry about what I was doing. I like to keep a low profile. Actually, I'm getting to a point in my work where I need a good blacksmith. I've seen several shops around the city, but you know as well as I do, anyone can set up shop, but the good ones are in few supply."
John nodded, an idea slowly forming in his head. "I know a very good one, actually. His name is Buster. He does all the work for the city guards and a few of the wealthier merchants. What did you need?"
"I'm adding on to my house and I'd like to give the floor a metal framework so it lasts longer. Where is your blacksmith located?"
John gave Entreri directions. They continued to eat in silence for a while, occasionally commenting on the weather or the different aspects of the trade that went down the river. Entreri asked a few questions about the northerns that peaked John's interest, but all in all, the captain learned very little about the man he had been following.
At the end of the meal, Entreri paid for it and left a healthy tip. He thanked John for his conversation and departed. John stayed at the table for a while as the waitress came buy to clear the dishes. "Who was that?" she asked innocently.
"His name is Artemis Entreri," John responded.
The waitress shrugged. "He was very interesting."
"That he was. That he was."
John left the table and walked out of the restaurant. Entreri was nowhere in sight, but the captain had no intention of following him further. Instead he set off in the direction of the blacksmith he had recommended. Buster had come to Garrilport several years ago from a monastery in the Great Range, the mountains to the north. John had never questioned the former monk on why he had left his religion, but was glad he had.
The large man was a great blacksmith. He also had a few other interesting talents. One of which was determining a man's moral disposition with surprising accuracy. Buster claimed it was a priestly talent, but John had never been a big believer in magic of any kind. He marked the ability up to just a good awareness and common sense. Either way, Buster had helped him with several investigations by identifying criminals or by telling John he was barking up the wrong tree and the man he was chasing was as pure as the wind driven snow.
John figured Buster would have a good time with Artemis. The man was definitely hiding something and John hoped the blacksmith would be able to say if it was a good secret or a bad one.
The captain pushed open the door to the blacksmith's shop and triggered a small bell that hung above the door. "I'll be right there," a voice called from a back room.
John looked at the small entry portion of the shop. The walls were covered with dozens of common items that you could buy and a few examples of custom made tools to show the customer what Buster was capable of. John walked across the floor toward the counter and winced as the floor creaked loudly beneath him.
"I really got to get that fixed," Buster said as he came through a door behind the counter. "Customers are beginning to think my floor is an example of my work. I try to let them know I did not build the place, and it is almost older than I am, but some don't listen."
John finished his walk across the noisy floor and nodded. "Yes, you do need to get that fixed. Tell me, what makes a floor squeak?"
"Loose nails, bad wood, or both. The noise comes from the wood pivoting on the metal nails. If the nails are tight or the board doesn't flex, it won't creak. But I doubt that's what you came here to ask."
John shook his head. "No. I just recommended a customer to you." John gave the big man a brief description of Entreri.
"A customer or a suspect?" Buster asked, ever cautious.
"Hopefully the former," John replied. "This one's got me baffled. Everything about him tells me he's trouble, but I just got done having lunch with him, and he seems like the nicest guy I've ever met. I just don't know. He's not a suspect in the fact there's a crime I'm trying to tie him to. I just want to know if I should consider him for future investigations. You understand."
"And he's got a lot of money," John continued. "So give me a favorable report and do a good job on what he asks of you, and we'll both be happy."
"I'll do what I can."
"That's all I ask," John said and turned to leave. He tried to tip toe across the floor back to the exit but made more noise than he had when he entered.
* * *
"What are we doing down here in the sewer?!" Parnid cursed. "You know I hate it down here."
Quinton Palluge looked at Draick and then at Parnid. The two men had accompanied him through the lower basement of his riverside chateau and into the sewer. Reillon, Quinton's magician had promised an explanation to explain his odd behavior two days ago, and Quinton was eager to get answers. The prominent merchant had asked his two best men to accompany him so they could all judge what Reillon had to show.
The magician stood in front of them, looking even paler than normal. He had a willowy frame to begin with, but having spent the better part of the last two weeks locked in his room with little if anything to eat did not help matters. He wore a billowing, dark blue robe, which hid the majority of his slight frame, but his bonny hands and slight neck stuck out, reminding anyone who knew him that this man was not one who inspired fear. Reillon was about to change that.
The area in which the four men stood had been hollowed out by Quinton's men and was relatively dry. Reillon stood facing the other three men across the twenty-foot hollow.
"Okay, Reillon," Quinton finally addressed the man who had led them down here, "what is this about?"
"Three weeks ago," Reillon started, his speech coming as a raspy whisper, "your men returned from a prosperous raid with a very valuable chest. You took from it all the gold and valuable jewels and, at my request, let me have the rest. Inside were over a dozen scrolls that belonged to Charistim Kwoll, a renowned battle mage who lived over a hundred years ago.
"I have spent the last two weeks studying those scrolls, teaching myself the ways of the mighty Kwoll. I now stand before you as the most powerful man in all of Garrilport, and maybe the world."
Quinton did not know if he should laugh or be appalled at such an outrageous claim. His men did both for him. Draick was a member of the city guard, Quinton's best fighter, and likely, one of the best fighters in the city. He laughed long and hard.
Parnid, Quinton's head thief now that Trevor was recovering from his failed pick attempt on Reillon's door, was beside himself with anger. "That's preposterous. I hope you have more tricks up your sleeve than just rigged doors, because I could run you through in a heart beat, scarecrow."
Reillon shook his right hand free from his huge sleeve and snapped his fingers. In the middle of his emaciated palm hovered a small flame. Parnid had seen Reillon's parlor tricks before and was not impressed by this. "You'll have to do bett-"
Before Parnid could even finish his accusation, Reillon twirled his wrist, turned away from his audience, and hurled a huge fireball down the corridor of the sewer. The ball disappeared from view, but the three onlookers heard it explode against the wall, and the expanding flames licked hungrily at the edge of their hollow. The flames dissipated quickly and the men could see all the water had been evaporated and the walls scorched black.
Draick had stopped laughing by now, but Parnid was still agitated. He turned back to look at the magician who had his index finger extended in front of his face with the small flame still dancing. He blew it out, and a small wisp of smoke trailed from his finger.
"I can do the same thing with a jar of oil, a rag, and flint, and my flames will last longer."
"Perhaps you would prefer a more frontal attack," Reillon bated.
Without asking permission, Parnid charged the weaponless magician turned battle mage. With his right hand still poised in front of his face, Reillon shook his left hand free of his robes and hurled three tiny magic missiles at the rushing thief.
All three projectiles took Parnid in the chest and sent him sprawling backwards. Draick and Quinton looked on as Parnid lay on the dirty ground, sparks of energy jumping from his arms and legs as he went through a few moments of spasms, before laying still. A groan came out of his mouth to let the two men behind him know he was still alive.
This groan shook Draick out of his amazed trance, and he pulled his sword to charge the mage. Quinton grabbed his lieutenant's shoulder, holding him back as he spoke to Reillon. "Promise me you won't kill them."
Reillon stood with his arms crossed in front of him and nodded.
Quinton accepted this answer and turned to his fighter. "Kill him."
Draick did not need any more encouragement and rushed the mage. Reillon did not move a muscle as Draick approached him with his sword upraised. The prone form did not hinder Draick's aggression, and the city guard swung full into the wizard.
Draick was executing his fourth strike on the mage before he realized he was doing no damage. There was a faint shimmering around Reillon, and the stone skin was preventing any of Draick's attacks from getting through.
The protection spell could only absorb so many hits, so while Draick was dispelling the stone skin with his fifth and then sixth attack, Reillon reached out and touched the occupied fighter on the forehead with a glowing red hand.
Draick's entire body went rigid by the stun touch as if he had just been dropped in a tank of freezing water. With the fighter motionless in front of him, Reillon summoned a magical war hammer with his right hand and slugged the man in the chest, sending him flying backwards.
Parnid watched the display from the ground, recovering from the magical attack that had been cast against him. Seeing that the mage now held a weapon, the quick thief leaped to his feet to attack. Reillon was not a fighter and hurled the hammer at Parnid to free up his hands. Parnid rolled under the throw and continued his charge.
Quinton winced as the hammer exploded against the stone wall of the hollow, sending rock fragments flying. He had asked his magician not to kill his men, but if Parnid had not ducked, Quinton did not think the thief would be drawing breath, much less have a head to draw breath with.
Reillon had already begun another attack with his left hand as his right had thrown the hammer, and as Parnid came out of his roll the mage unleashed a prismatic spray at the thief. Five colorful bursts of energy flew from the fingers of his left hand, one of which took Parnid in the shoulder, spinning him to the ground.
The thief was not badly hurt this time, for the spell was only used to knock down a group of attackers while the mage prepared a better spell. Parnid jumped back up and saw a circle of blue flame dancing around Reillon's feet. He was a little hesitant approaching the mysterious flames, but as Reillon's left arm coiled back to unleash another spell, Parnid had to strike.
He leaped forward and sliced his short sword across the wizard's chest. Instead of cutting up Reillon, Parnid felt a searing pain in his own side as if someone had scraped a red-hot poker across his side. Reillon held his next spell in check as Parnid, doubled-over in pain, foolishly attacked again, shoving his blade straight forward at the mage's chest.
As the tip of the blade struck home, Parnid howled in pain again, dropping his sword and clutching his chest. The fire shield only reflected the pain of the attempted attacks, and not the actual wounds or Parnid would be vainly attempting to stem a fountain of blood from his chest. The thief quickly realized this, but was too weak to do anything but wave his arms in a pathetic means of defense as he lay on his back in front of the casting mage.
Reillon finally unleashed his hold spell and watched as Parnid's frantic arms ceased their motion, his mouth paused in mid scream. Reillon walked out of his protective fire shield, the spell disappearing without him, and moved over to Draick who lay moaning on the ground. The mage stood over the prone fighter, no spells prepared and no protection, but Draick did not dream of attacking, instead his eyes kept glancing over at Parnid whose body was frozen in a frightful position. Fear and pain were plastered across the face of the thief as his body was locked in place by the mage's spell.
"Enough," Quinton said before Reillon could begin a new onslaught. "Will he be okay?" he asked, motioning to his petrified thief.
"I did as you wished and withheld my killing spells. Everything I used here was meant to stun or paralyze. I am much more powerful than what you just saw."
Quinton was not so sure he liked this new ego that came with Reillon's skills, but he could not deny the claims. "Will you still serve under me?" Quinton knew if any of his other men had this kind of power, they would want to be in command or at least break away on their own.
"It is not the mage's calling to rule. If it were not for you, I would have no home, no money, and no men to back my abilities. If it were not for you, I would have never had the opportunity to gain these powers. You are in command, though I would like a bigger room."
A sudden yelp came from Quinton's left and he turn to see Parnid coming out of the hold spell, finishing the scream he had started several minutes ago. There were no lasting wounds on his body and the pain had faded to a dull throb. He sprang up looking for his enemy, but Quinton stopped him with a word.
Draick and Parnid collected their weapons, and came back to stand next to their master, giving Reillon evil looks the whole time. Quinton knew they would hold a grudge for a while, but from now on they would be working beside the mage and not against him. They would get over it.
"I think it is time I joined the council," Quinton said, laughing as he turned to leave the sewer and return to his office to plan his rise to power.
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