Grimm Tidings

By Doctor B

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 14

The next morning the three men from Seatorn parted from Voltag and Yolanthe to continue their survey of the Finger of Torn. The dwarf and half-elf took the road to Tzanasport. They walked through rich farmland punctuated with small stands of trees. They saw no people. It was as if the entire population of the countryside was in hiding.

By mid-day they could see the walls of a small city. It was a port, and they caught glimpses of the flashing blue sea behind it whenever the ground was high enough. Although the city was walled, many buildings had been built outside the walls. It looked as thought the city had spilled over onto the countryside. On the far right corner of the wall was a castle. It was three sided, and at each of the three corners was a tower. The tallest one was closest to the sea

“That is Tzanasport,” said Yolanthe. “Baltrog lives in the castle.”

“Might be people who know you there,” said the dwarf.

Yolanthe nodded in agreement. She stopped walking, took off her pack, and pulled out a cloak that she had borrowed from Kerimos. She put it on and pulled its hood over her head.

“How do I look?” she asked.

“Like yourself in a hood,” grunted Voltag. “You’ll need something else.”

Yolanthe searched her pack but could find nothing else for a disguise. Voltag’s small pack contained even less.

“Your hair,” said Yolanthe.

“What about it?” asked Voltag, suspicious.

“Let me cut a piece off, from the back.”

Voltag eyed her suspiciously but did not say no. Yolanthe produced her knife and cut a piece of the dwarf’s hair about six inches in length. She then cut the strands in half and spread them out in her hand. “This might work,” she said.

She handed the hair to Voltag and reached into her quiver. From the bottom she pulled up a small cloth that contained her arrow-making tools: a special plane, arrow heads, fine binding string, feathers for the flights, and a small block of hard glue.

Half an hour later she placed the glue into a small pot of water that they had boiled over a fire. It quickly dissolved and formed a jelly-like substance. She lifted the pot off the fire with her knife, and waited for it to cool. When she could touch it, she smeared a line of it on her chin and another on her upper lip. Then she carefully pressed the dwarf’s hair into the glue.

“By Moradin’s corns and bunions,” said the dwarf. “You look like a lad.”

Yolanthe examined herself in a small steel mirror. “Not bad,” she said. “We’ll say I’m your page. My name will be Chuck.”

“Chuck? What kind of name is that?” asked Voltag.

“It was the name of my ferret,” she said.

The dwarf grunted, then hoisted his pack onto his shoulder and slipped his axe into the sling on his back. “Well, Chuck,” he said, “It’s time to pay a visit.”

As they followed the main road towards the stone buildings of the town, Voltag and Yolanthe found themselves walking through a slum-like tent city that spread out from the road into the surrounding countryside. The denizens of this makeshift suburb were furtive and suspicious, casting black glances at the travellers from where they sat hunched over smoky fires or peering from tattered tents made of animal skins. Dirty urchins wrestled in the dust and chased each other between the flimsy structures. Tired women with heavy make-up gestured listlessly from tents lit by red lanterns. Hard-looking men of various races tossed dice in the dirt, sharpened blades, or sat drinking themselves into sullen stupors.

“It wasn’t like this before,” whispered Yolanthe to Voltag.

The dwarf said nothing but cast a wary eye on the larger men who watched them from the side of the road. They radiated the menace of the bored. Voltag was glad that none of them seemed organized into any sort of collective.

A hugely fat man stepped into the road in front of them. He was heavily perfumed and wore ostentatious jewelry. As Voltag stopped he wondered how the man managed to keep such ornaments in this dangerous setting. The speculation was answered when two hulking and heavily armed men fell in behind the fat man. Bodyguards, obviously, Voltag took them to be ex-professional fighters. They bore scars and crooked noses on their faces. Both held weapons, the one to the right a spiked club, the other what looked like a giant meat cleaver.

“How much for the boy?” asked the fat man.

At first Voltag didn’t understand the question, but then he realized that this man had been totally fooled by Yolanthe’s disguise.

“Ain’t for sale,” grunted the dwarf.

“Everything’s for sale,” said the man. “It’s all about negotiating a price.”

The man reached into a purse and pulled out some coins.

“Two gold coins,” he said. “More than fair.”

“Ain’t selling,” said Voltag. “Period.”

“Ah,” said the man. “I love to barter.” He gestured at the hulking men behind them. “These are my negotiators.”

The two fighters tightened their grips on their weapons. The one with the cleaver smiled toothlessly.

Voltag did a quick calculation. He could take out the fat man before the fighters had stepped forward, but he won’t be able to get around the corpse to get at those men efficiently. He couldn’t count on Yolanthe using her bow since she had it hidden under her cloak. Even if he got to one of the thugs the other would be sure to flank him. These men had the look of seasoned street fighters. And he couldn’t be sure that some of the other men on the side of the road watching this encounter with interest wouldn’t enter a fight too. He could get his axe swinging to defend himself, but where would that leave Yolanthe? There was nowhere to bury her and, besides, these weren’t brainless undead adversaries.

Before he could come to a decision Yolanthe spoke up in an imitation of a boy’s voice.

“Then they had better negotiate with the Lord Baltrog, for I am his nephew and this is my guard,” she said.

“Nephew?” asked the fat man, worried.

“Ask him yourself, if you don’t believe me,” continued Yolanthe. “Or ask his friend Grimestoke. He used to babysit me.”

The fat man considered. “My apologies, young master,” he said finally. “May I offer you my services? I am Reffie of the Plains, a dealer in, um, exotic merchandise.”

Yolanthe bowed. “Thank you Reffie,” she said. “There is nothing I need now except safe passage to the town, but I will be sure to mention your kindness to my uncle.”

“Thank you, young master,” replied Reffie, bowing low. When he came up he clapped his hands at his bodyguards. “Fools!” he shouted. “Run ahead and clear the street. The lord’s nephew is here.”

Reffie stepped to the side and bowed again, sweeping his hand to indicate that the way was now clear. And indeed, the two bodyguards were jogging down the road kicking and pushing people out of the way. Yolanthe nodded her head in appreciation, and began to walk with lordly gate towards the town. Voltag followed, acting the part of guard. As he passed Reffie, their eyes met briefly in an exchange of mutual suspicion. Voltag nodded and walked on.

The slum by the side of the road became more densely populated the closer Voltag and Volathe got to the town proper. The tents were more crowded together, the smell of garbage and human waster became stronger, and smoke from the many small fires filled the air. The two bodyguards had so many people to clear from the street that they stopped pushing and shoving and began to prod people back with their weapons.

Finally they reached the one of the gates in the city walls. A line up of people was waiting to talk to a guard armed with a halberd. Reffie’s bodyguards simply pushed and prodded the people in line out of the way until Voltage and Yolanthe stood before the guard, a tall man who seemed amused at the spectacle of people scrambling before the two massive guards.

Yolanthe turned to the two guards. “Thank you, kind sirs,” she said. She reached into her purse, pulled out a coin, and flicked it in the air. The toothless guard went to grab the coin while it was still in flight but his companion pushed him out of the way. The coin fell on the ground and rolled away from the city. In seconds the two guards were wrestling on the cobblestones for it.

The guard smiled at the fight, then turned his attention to the dwarf and boy.

”Friends of Reffie?” he asked with a knowing smile.

“Aye,” said the dwarf. “I am Voltag Grimm, looking to book passage to south. This is my ensign, Chuck.”

“Chuck?” Sneered the guard. “Stupid name.”

He lifted his halberd. “See the passage agent at the red dock,” he said. “And stay out of trouble.”

The dwarf nodded and the two of them entered the city.

Tzanasport was a town of narrow, dark streets and furtive people, but it was as clean and orderly as its suburbs were filthy and chaotic. The cobblestones had been newly scrubbed, buildings were freshly whitewashed, and no waste littered the streets. Even the laundry strung hung on lines strung between the second stories of the houses was organized by colour and gender of the owner.

The few people that the travellers saw avoided their glances and scurried behind their freshly painted doors as soon as the could.

They quickly came to the central square of the town, an open plaza surrounded on all four sides by two-story buildings. Like the rest of the town, it was scrupulously clean and sparsely populated. The few people in the square who noticed Voltag and Yolanthe quickly ducked down side streets. In a minute the square was deserted except for a woman filling a jug at the water fountain. Wrapped in her business she did not see them or hear them approach behind her.

“Excuse me,” said Yolanthe.

The woman jumped as though stung, spun around and dropped her water jug. It shattered on the cobblestones.

“Oh no!” she cried. “Oh no! Look what you’ve made me done.”

“I’ll pay for it,” began Voltag, but the woman ignored him, dropping to her knees and frantically picking up the pieces of the broken jug.

“Oh, the mess!” she wept as she cleaned.

Sensing her distress, Yolanthe bent down beside her and helped her pick up the pieces.

“Was it special?” she asked as she cleaned.

“No, no,” said woman. “But he’s coming soon and he mustn’t see the mess.”

“Who’s coming?” she asked.

“Him. The little man who works for the lord,” said the woman, putting the last pieces of the jug into her apron. She used her sleeve to wipe up the spilled water.

Yolanthe stood up as the woman scurried off. The little man could only be Grimestoke. Yolanthe remembered what a fastidious little monster he had been. He would arrange all his mechanical toys and pieces in elaborate shelves; he would only eat if the table and room were spotless; he had his clothes laundered every day. Now he was imposing his bizarre fastidiousness on a whole town.

“What was that about?” asked Voltag.

“Baltrog’s partner, the gnome. He seems to be running the town. I guess he makes rounds everyday and doesn’t like to see a mess.”

“No mess?” said Voltag. “Hmm.”

He surveyed the square. “There’s got to be a place where you can buy food round here,” he said. “Let’s take a look.


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