Pumpkin King

Chapter 9

Erk, Dante, and Julio were sitting on their knees with their heads bowed. In front of them stood an angry Master Jack. The moment they told him about the job, he had gone into an angry tirade. Next to him sat Bertrand, who was sitting on a table top with his legs crossed and nodding his head in approval as Jack yelled. The rest of their guild mates were either watching in amusement or grimacing in sympathy.

"How could you screw up so badly during your first job?" Jack yelled at Erk. The face on the jack-o-lantern wasn't a happy one. "What kind of wizard gets kidnapped by their target? You should feel happy that I'm even going to allow you to take more jobs in the future."

Erk tried to make himself as small as possible. "Sorry, Master." He reached up to adjust his goggles in an attempt to hide his embarrassed blush.

Bertrand nodded again. "Good. A youngster like you should know when to apologize to your elders."

Julio couldn't stop himself from snickering at Erk's scolding, but that brought Jack's attention to him.

"And you two!" He said, pointing at both him and Dante. "I sent you off with Erk to make sure something like this wouldn't happen. Don't think you'll be escaping punishment either."

Dante gulped. "Punishment?"

"That a boy Jack." Bertrand said approvingly. "You need to show these kids their place."

Jack ignored his friends as an evil grin spread across his face. He raised an arm dramatically and pointed out the window. "One week on the pumpkin patch!"

The three went white while some of their guild mates winced in sympathy. They glanced at each other and Dante nodded ever so slightly. They had an escape plan ready for just such an emergency.

Julio jumped to his feet and pointed at the empty bar. "It that Rosemary stripping?"

Jack and Bertrand whirled around, a camera suddenly appearing in Jack's hand. "Where?" They shouted in unison, looking around fervently.

While they were distracted, the three friends turned to make a run for the door. But they stopped dead in their tracks as they saw Rosemary standing behind them.

She popped her knuckles threateningly and blew a strand of white hair from her face. "I'm doing what exactly?"

Erk struggled to find his voice as the blood drained from his face. Behind him, Dante and Julio were holding onto each other in fear. If there was one thing that scared them more than pumpkin patch duty, it was an angry Rosemary.

Together, they could only let out one scream before she was on them.

The next day, Erk groaned as he trudged up the path to the guild. His whole body ached and he had his fair share of bruises. Luckily, he and the others had been spared from pumpkin patch duty. Jack thought a beating from Rose was enough punishment.

As he got close, he heard a lot of noise coming from inside. Deciding that he didn't want to deal with the noise just yet, he went around to sit in the shade of the building. When he got to the back, he saw Crest crouched over something. He was wearing a white apron that had small splashes of mud on it and a green watering can in one hand.

Behind Pumpkin King, Jack had set aside a small garden for Crest to grow melons. Despite the man's tough look, he enjoyed growing them. Besides, they were delicious. Crest had let him try one once and it was the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted. During weekends, he set up a small stand on the road to the guild. He made almost as much money selling melons than he did with jobs.

"Hey Crest." Erk greeted with a wave. He looked over his shoulder. "What are you looking at?"

Crest looked up and smiled. "Ah. Good morning, Erk." He gestured at a small pile of random junk. There were small coins, screws, nails, and other shiny things. "I'm just looking at what the crows brought me."

Erk raised an eyebrow. "The crows?"

Crest nodded and pointed a thumb at where a murder of crows was perched on top of the guild building. "They bring me things from time to time." He brushed aside a few dusty coins and picked up a gold hairpin in the shape of a key. It looked a lot like one of the celestial keys Erk saw Charlotte carried. "And if I find something I like, I give them a melon." He picked up a melon and held it up high. The crows gave a triumphant caw and flew down from their perch. The biggest of them grabbed the melon with its claws and then the crows flew off away from view.

Erk stared at them with a confused expression. "And how exactly are you making deals with crows? I expect crap like that from the Master."

Crest let out a loud laugh and started walking towards the guild. "A few years back, those crows kept on stealing the melons from my patch." He explained as they walked. "So to keep them away, I stood in my patch for two weeks straight and batted them off whenever they came close." He grinned. "After that, they gave up. Not too long after, I started my melon stand." He started laughing. "And wouldn't you know it, the birds watched my customers and started mimicking them. Now they bring me shiny stuff in exchange for melons."

Erk gawked at him. "How did you manage to stand there for two weeks?" He finally asked. Then he shook his head. "Actually, I don't even want to know."

Crest let out another chuckle as the two walked into the guild. The noise hadn't died down any and Erk could see why. Lucinda and Dante were clutching their sides and laughing at Julio…who was tied up and hanging from the rafters.

Erk started laughing while Crest shook his head in amusement. He scanned the room until he found Charlotte sitting at the bar with Saraphina, sewing a stuffed bear together.

"Hey Charlotte." He said as he and Erk walked up to her Erk still had his back turned, laughing at Julio who was waving his arms around angrily and yelling for someone to get him down. Crest held up the hairpin. "I have something you might like."

Charlotte's eyes widened slightly as she gingerly picked up the hairpin. She gave Crest a small smile. "Thank you." She said softly.

Erk stopped laughing at Julio and whirled around. It was the first time he'd ever heard her talk.

Charlotte didn't acknowledge Erk, but she took the pin and put it in the hair on the bear's head. She stared at it for a few moments, the air all around her and the others seemed to have gone still. As she stared, one of her hands went to the pocket where she kept her keychain. Then suddenly, to the shock of the others, tears began welling in her eyes before they slowly ran down her cheeks. She didn't make a sound as she wiped the tears away, only for more to take their place. Soon her vision got blurry.

Erk was looking around frantically, trying to figure out something to do. But all around him, he noticed that the entire guild had gone quiet. Everyone was looking away from the scene with sad and pained looks on their faces. Julio had stopped yelling and instead was just hanging with his eyes tightly closed and his teeth grit together. Even Rosemary had a sad look on her face. It was almost, dare he think it, sympathetic. Not even Val up in the rafters was making a sound in his sleep.

Charlotte slowly got to her feet, setting the repaired stuffed animal on the bar counter. She sniffed and hiccupped once before running for the door.

Erk was about to run after her, but Crest grabbed his shoulder tightly. Erk looked up at him and was shocked to see a pained look on even his face. His grip was so tight that Erk almost shouted out in pain. Then suddenly, he let go. It was only then that Erk noticed that Crest was shaking. Before he could ask any questions though, Crest silently walked to the door with a dark air around him.

As the door shut with a thud, Erk turned to Sara. "What…just happened?" He asked quietly.

For the first time, Saraphina looked him straight in the eye. "A wound from the past. One that may never heal."

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