The Bard, the Monk, and the Wanderer
A Deal at the Trade Port
A bell rang from the ferry cabin as the boat approached shore; the elf stopped playing his songs on the flute tied around his neck and gazed ahead. The haze of orange lights from carried lanterns came into focus and the elf watched the lanterns moved about the docks accompanied by humanoid silhouettes. In the fog, the elf imagined that they looked gaunt like withered wraiths. The elf looked to the end of the boat and noticed the children on board leaning over the boat’s railing to observe an aggregation of manatees that swam nearby. The elf filled his lungs with the sea breeze and exhaled slowly. He thought about how his story was just beginning here on these small tides. He took out the parchment he took from a noticeboard back on the island and reread it. It was in Common tongue and block printed, so the elf knew it was indeed an official document. It read:
To those able and willing,
The emperor of the Zion Empire requests mercenaries, adventurers, and professional trackers to his domain to accept a quest of the upmost importance. Applicants must travel to the Shining City in the Zion Province and must qualify for the position. Qualifications include but are not limited to: Combat trained, the elf was proficient with a sword and had won a few tavern brawls in his day, survival skilled, he had also camped in the woods more than a few times he recalled, and familiar with unworldly powers. That was the statement that really got the elf’s attention. Whatever the emperor needed help with involved a mage, or at least someone associated with magic. He was confident that his skill in the mystic arts would surely get his foot in the door. There weren’t a lot of mages around, so the elf figured he had a standing chance to be picked for the quest.
The elf folded and put the parchment away in his coat pocket. The emperor offered a large sum of riches to whomever succeed with the quest but the elf wasn’t interested in money; this was his chance to receive a favor from a higher power and he wanted nothing more than to find his missing lover, Raven Ralohana, a harpist from Bard’s college. He went to seek opportunity on Unum Island and she joined the traveling orchestra after college. For over a year he missed her but now he may have the help he needed to find her again.
The ferry found its way into a rickety dock and the passengers waited impatiently to unload. The elf waited for the dock workers to steady the voyager between two barnacle-infested platforms, and as the boat was being moored the elf looked up at the streets above. He gazed at the massive green banners that waved in the air. These banners displayed motifs of a large tree, each with an elaborate design of roots and branches. This was the emblem of the Green Province.
Unum Island was a few kilometers south from this port and, like some of the other travelers on the boat, the elf came to travel inland. He of course was on his way to the Shining City but was at the very least days away south from his destination. The elf followed the crowd up the stairs that lead to cobblestone streets; he had with him only a pack of supplies, an elegant lute designed with beautiful elven motifs, and the flute that hung from his neck. The elf wore the type of clothing that suggested he was an entertainer, and the rapier on his side made it clear that he could defend himself from any person feeling that he was potential prey for robbing. From the streets, he saw that the tropical forest was not far from the coast. Most of the coast not occupied by ships and sailors was home to large colonies of sea lions that barked in the distance. The elf entered the congested streets with merchants, travelers, and sailors loading or unloading goods from their ships. The elf noticed that most merchants were of the ebugogo race, a small folk known for their handcraft and nomadic lifestyle. Like the common dwarf, ebugogos were shorter than the usual human. They stood about a meter tall, but unlike the dwarves, the ebugogos were nimble and usually lean. Naturally, this gave way for the common term halfling when referring to an ebugogo by larger folk.
The elf was a curious person. Though he had a mission, he took a moment to stretch his stiff legs and lingered near the bazaar which featured all sorts of things that caught his eye like brass hookahs, exotic foods, and unusual literature. However, he took an interest in a viol that sat on a stand outside a merchant tent; it was ancient which⏤to him⏤gave it an irresistible charm.
“Beautiful is it not?” the owner said coming out of his tent.
“It is,” the elf replied. “How much for it?”
“Twenty union-coins but for a bard like yourself, I will part for thirty gold coins.”
The elf smiled and said, “Thank you, but I shouldn’t,” and handed the merchant a pair of gold coins before shuffling to the left of the street where walkers corralled to get where they needed to go. To his delight, the elf came upon a family of musicians performing in front of a seaside tavern called: The Salty Sea Serpent. The elf joined the crowd that was forming and noticed that the musicians were a family of halflings; The father and mother was beating a pair of drums while their children danced about rattling jugs full of beans. The youngest of the children went around collecting coins in his cap from patrons and onlookers. The elf made for the front with coin in hand and as he dropped the coin in the child’s hat, he noticed a mysterious woman standing in front of him. She wore a beautiful green elven cloak with a deep hood that hid her face but her platinum-blonde hair flowed from the hood’s opening like a beacon.
Another elf, he thought.
This she-elf noticed him as well. When the young halfling lifted his hat to her, her body tensed because she had spent the last of her coin earlier that morning on food. Thankfully some elven man from behind her stepped forward and dropped a coin into the youngster’s cap. The she-elf glanced at the elven man beside her and it was clear that he was a member of a variant of elves called the myrkalfar. This was clear by his dusky gray skin and his ochre-blond hair. The elven man suddenly met her eyes under her cloak and gave her a grin that caught her off guard.
There is something odd about this stranger, the she-elf thought. It was the first genuine smile she had seen in a while. She certainly had lived long enough to know the difference between a fake and real smile. She kept her gaze on him as he stepped away. He was myrkalfr, and her careful eye noticed that he was halfblooded as well from the traits of human she could identify; the curvature of his pointed ears and the hair on his chin that only a human or halfblood would have. She noticed he had a lute strapped on his back; the instrument’s motifs were of a popular elven deity, the fiery Phoenix of fate and rebirth. Curious, she thought. Perhaps he was a bardic cleric or a proclaimer of the elven kingdom of Flos Sergens. As the ebugogo family concluded their song, the crowd applauded the performance and dispersed into the streets. The elven halfblood carried on down the street with his hands in his pockets as if he were walking aimlessly.
The she-elf prowled behind him trying not to draw attention to herself. There was something about this halfblood that struck her mysterious. He carried himself proudly instead of shamefully; halfbloods of any race are often out casted in many communities, especially elven ones. Halfblooded orcs would file their tusks to appear more human and halfblooded elves would shave their facial and body hair to appear more elven, but not this one, he wore hair proudly for all to see. She continued to quietly follow him but her pursuit was interrupted by the screams of a familiar voice.
“Help!” the youngster from before cried as he was being carried away by a human. The she-elf did not know what to do, but in the heat of the moment she saw that the elven halfblood gave chase after the stranger and child. Reluctantly, she too gave chase.
What are you doing? She thought to herself. You are supposed to be keeping a low profile. The kidnapper dodged and ducked into alleys and the elves hastily followed behind. The halfblood screamed and warned the kidnapper but the kidnapper ignored him and ran faster; and despite the halfblood’s cries for help, no one came to interfere with the chase. The she-elf was swift but slow enough as to not gain the halfblood’s attention ahead of her. The kidnapper soon got ahead of the elves and ducked into the slums of the settlement. The she-elf slowed her pace and considered the situation for a moment. This was not at all what she had intended for her day in the port to be, and she had promised herself that she was only going to interact with people if she needed to. Now would be a good time to walk away but her curiosity got the better of her. When she came upon the scene, the halfblood had his rapier unsheathed and was already confronting the kidnapper in an alley. The kidnapper, while holding the youngster by the collar of the shirt looked over and noticed that the she-elf had arrived.
“And who is she?” the kidnapper gestured to the she-elf and the halfblood looked back at her as if noticing her for the first-time.
“I am nobody,” she said gently.
“The two of you need to move along. You interferin’ with me bounty,” the kidnapper said while giving the ebugogo youngster a good shake with his fist.
“Bounty?” both elves questioned.
“Yea, me a bounty hunta,” the kidnapper replied. The she-elf found his speech to be irritating.
“He’s lying! He’s going to kill me!” the youngster said struggling and flailing in the air.
“This halflin’ and him family notorious local thieves. Togetha’ them ‘av swindled and pocketed hundreds of thousands of union-coins from this tradin’ port alone,” the kidnapper followed while glaring at the helpless creature in his fist. Suddenly, the she-elf noticed a frighteningly large silhouette jumping down behind the kidnapper. The kidnapper became startled and the youngster took the opportunity to slip out of his shirt and dash past the elves. The kidnapper blindly attacked the figure behind him by attempting to strike the creature with his fist but the creature dodged each swing despite its large size. The she-elf noticed the creature’s blue scaly skin and clawed hands and immediately knew what it was. Her body tensed, her eyes widened, and she wished that she had not followed these strangers. They were in the presence of a dragonkin known as the sarkany; a race humanoid reptiles descendent from dragon bloodlines.
The sarkany reached for the kidnapper and pinned him against the wall; then looked at the elves and blinked its reptilian eyes at them before saying, “I have come to rescue the child.” All that the she-elf could gather was how intimidating the sarkany was. It had large clawed hands and its voice was booming but surely feminine.
“No, you the stupid sarkany wench that owes me one-thousand union coins!” the kidnapper shouted.
“One-thousand union coins?” the elves echoed. The kidnapper took out a piece of parchment and showed it to them. It had a block print on it of a wanted ad and a picture of the ebugogo family from the port. “Yeah, two-hundred per family memba’. And that kid was goin’ to be me lead to the otha’ three.”
“What is going on here? Are you saying that that child was a criminal?” the sarkany woman asked while glancing at each person⏤trying to piece the clues together.
“It would seem so,” the halfblood replied. “Our angry friend here is a bounty hunter and his bounty just scurried away. And you my friend seemed to have jumped before you leapt,” he said gesturing to the sarkany woman.
“Yeah, and you have two options sarkany: pay me every single coin that boy did worth or go and catch him and bring him back to me,” the kidnapper threatened. The she-elf watched the halfblood get in between the kidnapper and the sarkany woman. “Whoa! Whoa! No need, I will cut you a better deal,” the halfblood said facing the kidnapper. “How about instead my friends and I help you round up the entire family for half the bounty?”
The she-elf watched kidnapper considered them for a moment. “How ’bout you take two-hundred and forty before me change me mind ’bout the deal me just offered her?” The she-elf raised an eyebrow at the negotiating men. How typical for her to find herself in a situation where people are making decisions for her, and by men no less. She did need some quick coin and this human was offering payment for help. All she would have to do was find a little halfling she already saw.
How hard can that be? She thought.
The halfblood sighed. “Deal.”
“Meet me at the fountain in the center of town at dawn. We will continue with our partnership from there,” the kidnapper said then turned away and exited the alley. The she-elf took a deep breath and took down her hood, reveling her face.
“The three of us are going to make some quick coin,” the halfblood said to the women.
“How can you be so sure of that?” the sarkany asked.
“Well, a few reasons,” the halfblood stated. “It is safe to assume that the family is more likely to pocket large crowds where halflings are often overlooked.” The sarkany woman nodded in agreement.
“They also stage as performers, so they probably hide in plain sight as they were at the port earlier,” the she-elf followed.
“Right! Easy as earning eighty union coins,” the halfblooded said with a grin.
“Your arrogance reek,” the sarkany woman commented as she looked him over.
“No, I am a bard who simply lives the bardic way,” the halfblood replied.
“And what is the bardic way?” the she-elf asked.
“A good bard lives by two beliefs,” he said holding up two fingers. “Never show your hand, and it is more important to be lucky than good. And I would say the three of us just fell into a well of luck.”
“Well sir, I doth not suppose you knoweth of any lodging to stay for the evening?” the she-elf hissed.
“That I do not,” the halfblood admitted. “I had just come into town right before this ordeal.”
“I have a place we can stay,” the sarkany woman suggested. “It is at the inn you may have passed back at the port. I had rented a room for the evening, you both can stay with me since we are to meet with the bounty hunter in the morning.”
“That is very kind of you,” The halfblood replied cheerfully and extended a hand to her but the she-elf noticed the sarkany woman flinching at his gesture then stared at him. This clearly confused the halfblood but also confused the she-elf. Had she not shaken a hand before? the she-elf thought.
“Are you alright?” the halfblood finally asked.
“Yes,” the sarkany woman hesitantly said and took his hand into her clawed one. The she-elf became perplexed by these two strangers; how could he⏤an elf⏤be so trusting of a creature like a sarkany? The dragonkin could eat the two of them alive if she desired to. Judging the sarkany’s features, she seemed to be a descendent of a dragon type that breathed lightning instead of fire. Which would be a unique way to die, though the she-elf wasn’t sure if dragonkin could breathe fire or lightning like their ancestors. Regardless, the she-elf had her guard up. Despite this, she didn’t have much else for an alternative. It was getting late and she didn’t know anybody in this region. The she-elf decided that she needed to take the risk. She needed a place to stay for the evening, and she had no money. Hopefully she wouldn’t be devoured came sunrise. It was better to take the offer than take her chances out in the streets where a group of sailors could sweep her up and take her aboard some scanty ship.
“Since I should consider the two of you associates, you may call me Riker,” the halfblood said.
“Just Riker?” the she-elf asked with an arched brow.
“Yes,” he said with a smile. “What is your name?”
The she-elf hesitated before speaking, “Llorva.” As the name escaped her mouth she regretted speaking it. He didn’t need to know her name. No one should know her name but it was too late. What I should have said was, my name is not important to you, she thought to herself before a second thought pried into her mind, I cannot risk telling them anything else. I will have to be more careful. Llorva the she-elf then observed the sarkany woman bowing before her and Riker. “It is nice to meet your acquaintance,” The sarkany said. “I am Vylasgarden of the Heavenly Province.”
Riker then bowed in response and said, “Likewise, Vylasgarden. How about we get out of the slums before the evening approaches?” He then led the way out of the alley. Llorva brought up the rear and kept a careful eye on the two of them.
They returned to the port where the inn met The Salty Sea Serpent. The fog had cleared by then and the open sky revealed a beautiful sunset the hung over the western tree line. Its fiery orange hue contrasted with the canopy’s brilliant green. The trio went inside the inn and Vylasgarden felt Llorva’s nervous eyes on her. It was a familiar feeling but these eyes, the elven eyes, burned through her scaly skin. They all entered the lobby and made over for the stairs, but before Vylasgarden could take another step the human innkeeper called out to her from behind the counter: “Stop right there you scaly wench. You rented a room for one, not three!”
“Yes, but these people need a place to stay for the evening,” Vylasgarden said to the innkeeper. He was an elderly man who wore large round glasses that seemed to weigh down on his.
“Then they can pay for the rest of the fee or rent rooms for themselves,” The innkeeper growled at the objection.
Vylasgarden watched as Riker swaggered his way to the desk and said, “Pardon me sir, but the lady and I have not enough coin to rent and we had just arrived into town. Surely you can favor us just this once.” Vylasgarden exchanged a look with Llorva and raised a brow at Riker. Was he really about to convince the man to stay in his inn rent free?
“I do not care if you are sarkany or elf. You must pay. No exceptions!” the innkeeper replied sternly.
“Very well then,” Riker said disappointed. Vylasgarden watched Riker reach into his coin purse and suddenly waving his hands into the innkeeper’s face. Her eyes widened as a deep green wisp of energy emitted from the space around his hands like vines suspended in the air. “Sleep,” Riker whispered and the wisp of energy bolted into the innkeeper’s eyes through his glasses. The innkeeper slumped over and hit his head on the counter.
Llorva gasped. “What did you do?”
“He is a mage,” Vylasgarden spoke softly. She had heard stories but never met a true mage.
“Shhh!” Riker hushed them with a finger against his lips. He chuckled as he staged the innkeeper on the counter as if he had fallen asleep during work. He then joined the women at the stairs and the trio went up to Vylasgarden’s room.
As they settled in for the night Llorva gladly claimed the full-size bed for herself. A grin peeked from her face as she thought of the rest she would get that night. The last few days had been tiring for her; she had stowed herself on two trade ships and a merchant caravan to get to the port and the satisfaction of a soft bed pleased her. She noticed Vylasgarden claiming the space on top of the wooden table. It was a small circular table, no more than a meter long, yet Vylasgarden sat on top of it comfortably. She crossed her reptilian legs, and closed her eyes as she arched her back and rested her hands on her knees. Llorva knew a little about meditation in her years. She even recalled being invited to learn how by a tribe of nomads from the Heavenly Province, but she always thought the practice to be unusual. She felt that there was too much energy within her to sit mindlessly. Llorva turned her attention to Riker and carefully watched him unpack a bedroll he had kept inside his travel pack.
“You seem like you travel often,” she said to him.
“Not really,” Riker replied. “Just a day ago I slept in a small pad back in Unum Island. It was much smaller than this room actually.”
“What brought you here?” Llorva followed.
“I am looking for someone,” Riker said plainly.
“Who?” Llorva asked.
“Someone,” he repeated not looking at her and Llorva sensed vulnerability within him.
Finally, she thought. He is not all smoke and mirrors. Whomever this “someone” was, they must mean a great deal to him one way or another. Llorva didn’t know why but she got comfort knowing that he too had secrets to keep. Riker eventually turned to her and asked, “What about you? Why are you here? This doesn’t seem like your kind of thing,” he said to change the subject.
“Traveling?” Llorva questioned. “What makes you think that?” she squinted.
“Call it a bardic hunch. I suspect you are of nobility?” he asked but she did not answer. “I ask because your speech, is…” he paused to think for a moment. “not one’s traditional way of expressing common tongue.”
“Because I am full blooded elf?” Llorva asked defensively.
“No,” Riker replied impatiently. “It’s certain words you use and your accent is from the west, meaning you are likely from The Civil Kingdoms.” He looked at her for a response but her face only revealed nervousness. The elven kingdom was one of the Civil Kingdoms of that province. “What I can’t figure out is why you are traveling alone and with no money,” Riker followed.
“That is not for you to know, so perhaps you should stop wondering,” Llorva said to him and turned away. She considered him for a moment then turned back to him. “I was not exactly happy where I am from. Let’s leave it at that.”
“That is apparent,” Riker replied. “I can tell that common is not your first tongue either,” he said coolly.
“No,” she replied in elfish. “’One of many actually,” she said proudly.
“Ooo! Impressive,” Riker sarcastically said. Llorva simply couldn’t figure him out. All she figured from him was that he was a halfblooded bard but not much else. She noticed he looked at her with a certain intrigue as if he probably recognized her. Had they met before? No, she would have remembered. The thought bounced around in her mind like a bumblebee in a jar.
She finally asked him a question. “How is it that you can do what it was you did to the innkeeper earlier?” Riker considered her question then reached for his lute.
“Music is my secret,” he replied as he tuned the instrument.
“Music?” she said skeptically and Riker chuckled.
“Yes,” he said as he began to play a soft tune. “How familiar are you with magic Llorva?”
“Before today, I only knew the magic arts to be a lost practice,” Llorva replied. “Anyone who still practices them transcend to other realms.” A smile peaked from Riker’s mouth but he did not look away from the lute’s strings, “That is only partially true,” he paused. “Only wizards and archmages powerful enough travel willingly between realms.”
Llorva became increasingly interested in the conversation. “You know this because you are one,” she asked.
“I am just a bard,” Riker replied.
Llorva said nothing. She was both annoyed by him and drawn al the same; the sound rung in her pointed ears like heaven speak. The music was truly magical and Riker was no amateur. Perhaps an experienced mentor taught him but his skill was so unique that she dared suspect he was blessed by some deity. As he continued playing, Llorva remembered that he did not answer her question directly. She knew there was something about him, call it her own hunch. She had discovered a mage and honestly, she had met mages before but that was a long time ago. Eventually, after a few minutes, Riker ended his song and laid the lute down. Without a word, he got comfortable into his bedroll and Llorva leaned over to blow out the candelabra that sat on the shelf beside her⏤darkening the room.