Things quickly got out of hand and degenerated into a barroom brawl of truly inspirational proportions. Valeria and Nova backed into a corner and pulled a table in front of themselves for cover. Wirt disappeared into the melee, crawling under tables. Valeria caught a glimpse of him helping himself to an unattended purse.
Conjurer Ichabod opened a Town Portal, and he and Cain disappeared through it.
Ogden shouted in vain for order while Hrrarrgrrsh-chutt looked on with what Valeria interpreted as amused fascination.
Farnham was sound asleep on the floor.
Nova and Valeria were considering making a break for the kitchen exit when the Town Guard, led by Captain Lachdanan himself, finally arrived to restore order.
The white-armored warriors were efficient, professional and, most importantly, sober. They quickly separated the instigators from the victims from the innocent bystanders. By the time Pepin arrived to tend to the injured, they were allowing patrons to leave in small groups. Ogden stood by the door, collecting payment for drinks and damages.
"A most outstanding floor show," Hrrarrgrrsh-chutt told Ogden. He handed the innkeeper another bag of coins. "Please accept this subsidy for future performances." He lumbered out the door.
"I'd better get home myself," said Nova finally. "If Ogden sees me, he's sure to put me to work. Besides, the longer I linger here, the more likely my father is to come up with some way of pinning all this on my unladylike interest in sorcery. I'll see you in the morning."
Valeria just nodded. She was busy watching Captain Lachdanan.
Nova shrugged and smiled. She had gotten over her crush on the handsome Captain of the Town Guard years ago. She slipped out through the kitchen.
A moment later, Valeria noticed Wirt at her elbow, his pockets jingling slightly. "C'mon," he whispered, "Nova's got the right idea. Besides, Captain Wet Blanket doesn't like loiterers."
Valeria forced herself to speak. Her voice was a raspy whisper. "Who?" she asked.
"Outside," insisted Wirt.
Reluctantly, Valeria followed the boy out through the kitchen. Once outside, they worked their way around the tavern to the town square where they could watch people leaving.
"Captain 'Wet Blanket' Lachdanan," snorted Wirt. "What a stiff."
"What's wrong with him?" wrote Valeria. She was beginning to find that she shared Nova's distrust of the boy. On the other hand, he was the only one around who would tell her about Lachdanan.
"I won't say he's rigid, but if you were to stand him next to a two-handed sword, most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference," said Wirt.
Valeria shook her head.
"You know that jeweled helmet he wears? He calls it the Veil of Steel," continued Wirt. "I bet you're wondering how he can afford such fine armor on a Captain's salary."
"He won it in battle?" wrote Valeria.
|"Hah! Not hardly," laughed Wirt. "Every night before he goes to sleep, he sticks a lump of coal between his butt cheeks. When he wakes up in the morning, it's a diamond!"|
"Hah! Not hardly," laughed Wirt. "Every night before he goes to sleep, he sticks a lump of coal between his butt cheeks. When he wakes up in the morning, it's a diamond!"
Valeria had heard enough and got up to leave.
"I'm telling you the truth!" called Wirt. "You want to go see for yourself? I can get you into his house."
Valeria kept walking.
"Of course, if you're afraid," suggested Wirt, "I'll understand."
Valeria stopped. She was not afraid and she had nothing to prove to this sawed-off little runt. Still...
A half-hour later, Valeria found herself hiding under Lachdanan's bed and wondering exactly what she'd gotten herself into. She decided that, whatever happened, it would all be Wirt's fault. The longer she'd listened to that smug, obnoxious little voice, the more she wanted to show him up. Anyway, she'd never backed down on a dare in her life.
Maybe it could be Nova's fault and that rich Tristram wine she'd served her. It was a lot stronger than the Riparian stuff she was used to. Maybe it had something to do with the lower elevation and the warmer climate. Anyway, if Nova had stuck around, maybe she would have been able to talk her out of this misadventure in the making.
Every time Valeria had risen to Wirt's challenges, he'd upped the ante. She had finally drawn the line when Wirt dared her to actually stick a lump of coal between Lachdanan's buttocks. As it stood, there was 500 gold pieces riding on this dare. She had a small ball of clay. All she had to do was get the impression of Lachdanan's ring.
This was clearly a very stupid thing to be doing, and it was Sister Sylverwraithe's fault. After all, she was the reason Valeria was stuck in Tristram with no voice and no money.
Still, she was quiet enough and quick enough, and Captain Lachdanan would certainly be exhausted. She could get away with this easily. Then she'd collect Wirt's money and wipe that irritating smile off his face in one blow.
Lachdanan's house was a small two-room affair. "Spartan" would have been an understatement. The main room contained a small bookcase, a wooden table and three chairs. A small iron pot hung in the fireplace, and there was a shelf nearby that held a few dishes and utensils. The remaining furnishings consisted of a couple of large chests pushed against one wall, a wooden rack for weapons (two swords, a mace and a halberd), another rack for his armor, and a thin rectangular rug. The small bedroom contained a narrow bed with a thin mattress, a wooden nightstand, a wash basin, a third chest and a small closet.
But the place was spotless. Not only that, but every single item in the house seemed to be at a right angle to something else. The books on the bookshelf were arranged from largest to smallest, as were the dishes on the shelf by the fireplace.
When Lachdanan came home, he took off his armor and laid each piece on the table. Then he sat down and carefully cleaned and polished each piece. As he finished with one, he'd get up and place it on the armor rack. The last two pieces to be cleaned were his sword and the Veil of Steel.
Next, he sat at the table for a dinner that consisted of a couple slices of bread, a piece of cheese and a very small glass of wine. While he ate, he silently read passages from a well-thumbed copy of The Wisdom of Zakarum.
Valeria waited. Finally, he finished his meal and returned The Wisdom of Zakarum to its place in the bookcase. Between waiting for him to come home and then waiting for him to tend to his weapons and eat, Valeria had been under the bed for well over an hour-and-a-half. She had already vowed to kill Wirt and Sister Sylverwraithe, and maybe Nova, just for good measure, several times over. At least Lachdanan's obsessive tidiness extended under the bed. There was not a single speck of dust there to tickle her nose.
From the old Kurasti dialect. lach, meaning a water fowl, usually a duck or
a drake; and dananni, meaning wild, crazy or mad.
Now that Lachdanan was done eating, Valeria hoped he would go to bed so she could accomplish her mission and leave. Lachdanan wasted no time in dashing those hopes. He retrieved one of the swords from the weapons rack, stood squarely on the carpet, and began his evening exercise routine.
Each move was precise and methodical. Not a single motion was wasted. "Guard. Turn. Parry. Dodge. Spin. Ha! Thrust." Second repetition. "Guard. Turn. Parry. Dodge. Spin. Ha! Thrust." Third repetition....
Valeria found it absolutely scandalous how someone so handsome could be so boring. Then she had a thought that cheered her up slightly: Perhaps all he needed was the right woman to break him out of his rut and add some excitement to his life.
Lachdanan completed twenty-five repetitions before returning his sword to its place on the weapons rack. Then he knelt on the carpet in prayer.
Of course, thought Valeria. What'll he do next? Compose a short opera? Will this man's day never end? And Wirt is dead meat on a stick. He doesn't realize it yet, but he is.
Finally, Lachdanan rose from his knees and turned out the lantern. While Valeria's eyes were still adjusting to the dark, he disrobed, folded his clothes, put them away and climbed into bed. Efficient as ever, Lachdanan was asleep within minutes.
The cheap wooden bed sagged under Lachdanan's weight and Valeria found herself pinned to the floor with nothing between her and Captain Lachdanan but a thin straw-filled mattress. Valeria fought back a rush of panic.
She exhaled, trying to make herself as thin as possible. When Lachdanan shifted position, she scooted out from under the bed.
Lachdanan was asleep on his stomach; his arm hung over the edge of the bed and his hand rested on the wooden floor. Valeria could see the glint of his ring in the moonlight. She reached into her shirt for the lump of clay and waited until she heard Lachdanan snore. Then she carefully reached for his hand and gently pressed his ring into the soft clay.
Nothing to it, thought Valeria. She rose to a crouch and then slowly stood. It was a warm night and Lachdanan had pushed his blanket down to his ankles.
As she pocketed the clay bearing the impression of Lachdanan's ring, Valeria took a moment to admire the way the moonlight played across the muscles of his back. Regardless of Wirt's theory on the subject, she was not about to check Lachdanan's butt for diamonds, however.
Valeria smiled. The Ladies in Waiting would just die when they heard about this one. She turned to leave. Four paces, and out the window. Nothing could be easier. Just as Valeria moved to take her first step, a tomcat outside decided he was lonely.
Just perfect, thought Valeria wincing. As she leaped for the window, Captain Lachdanan lunged out of bed and caught her by the ankle. She felt like a fish on a line as he dragged her back across the floor and stood.
"What in Zakarum's name...?" began Lachdanan angrily.
|Lachdanan looked down and saw what part
of his body was at eye-level to the intruder. "For crying out loud," he
Even if Valeria had been able to speak, she would have been at an utter loss for words at that moment. Lachdanan still had her by the ankle and was holding her more-or-less at arm's length. Her ears burned and she felt the blood rushing to her cheeks. This was not entirely due to the fact that she was dangling upside-down.
Lachdanan looked down and saw what part of his body was at eye-level to the intruder. "For crying out loud," he muttered. He grabbed the blanket off his bed with his free hand.
"Who are you?" demanded Lachdanan, dropping her none too gently on the floor and wrapping the blanket around his waist.
Valeria looked up at him and he studied her face for a moment.
"I take it back," said Lachdanan. "I don't want to know. I don't care." He reached down, grabbed Valeria by the wrist and shoulder, and marched her out of his house. In short order, he handed her off to a white-armored Town Guard and instructed him to lock her up.
During Caravan, jail for small-time offenders like Valeria consisted of two outdoor pens across the river at the west end of town. The guard relieved Valeria of her bow and quiver, and locked her in the women's pen.
The accommodations consisted of a latrine in the far corner, a barrel of water, and a few blankets of dubious cleanliness. Except for a 200-pound woman sleeping off a drunk, Valeria had the pen to herself. She sat down on a rock and sighed. Seeing her locked up like this would have made Shinobi O'Hattaran's entire life.
Then a memory made her smile. Once, she and the Ladies in Waiting had sneaked into a tavern and there had been a Bard telling erotic stories for the audience. The Bard, Solo had been her name, had used a number of creative euphemisms in her telling of the adventures of a naïve young Amazon. One of them became a running joke among the Ladies in Waiting and was almost guaranteed to break the group into fits of laughter. In fact, more than a few hunts had been spoiled - the prey frightened away by girlish giggles - when one of them had uttered the phrase, "Massive Staff of Manhood."
E-mail: comments (at) theboojum.com