8: Thieves and Cut-throats
At the first sight of the walls of Luxton, Alyssa and the dog halted among the bushes near the walls. It was easy to approach Luxton unseen and if there ever was a town more disapproving towards travelers this was it. The dog looked up at Alyssa. “Are you sure you want to stay here tonight? I think we should circle the town and reconnect with the path to the Flame-Eaters Shrine on the other side.” argued the dog.
“No.” insisted Alyssa. “I have been following you for weeks now. I am tired and hungry! I haven’t slept or eaten properly in days. So we are going.”
The dog bent its ears back, annoyed. “I told you what Luxton was Alyssa. It’s a town for scum, rapists and brigands. I don’t want anything to happen to you.” explained the dog.
“I know, but I can’t be afraid of those kinds of people anymore. It’s like you said ‘I am needed for far greater things.’ and I can’t be afraid of every bandit that crosses our path. That’s why we are going to Luxton and I will find myself a suitable weapon for our journey.” she stated.
The dog sighed and bowed its head. “Very well.” submitted the dog.
Alyssa giggled and wrapped her arms around the dog. “Thank you. Thank you. And besides, if we get in trouble I still have you to protect Me.” she grinned.
Luxton had once been a sacred city that served to protect the path way connecting Luxton to the Flame-Eater Shrine. Its majestic stone walls could hold off any foe but deception is a weed that never stops growing. In recent years, attacks in the streets of Luxton had grown and the source couldn’t be contained. Spies and brigands would scale the walls of Luxton at night undetected and raid the streets at night. But as time went by the attacks became less frequent and the masters of Luxton believed they had the source of deception contained. But what they didn’t know was, the brigands had formed a secret counsel and planned to torch the city in flames, destroy the ancient walls and kill the masters of Luxton. The brigand’s were successful. Later, the people of Luxton rebuilt their town into what it is today, a log-walled town of bandits, cut-throats and thieves.
This was the reason for Alyssa’s unordinary travels through the forest. It is because the northern road out of Ruinpine was now watched by bandits alike. Today, Luxton has become a far less welcoming town and was frequently exposed to nightly attacks and murders.
They were greeted by a cloudy sky as they emerged from the trees outside the city. The clouds were grey and getting darker. It was going to rain.
As they made their way towards the main gates, Alyssa couldn’t help but noticed how dirty she was. Her hair was in tangles and her clothes were stained and tore in places. Her hands were grimy and unendurably sticky. Whenever Alyssa closed her hands, her fingers would stick together because of all tree sap she touched while she made her way through the forest. “Dog, the first thing we are going to do is find an inn or pub and get a room. I haven’t bathed in days!” complained Alyssa.
“Don’t call me that.” scolded the dog.
The large wooden gates of Luxton were always closed and only the people who knew the password were permitted to enter. As Alyssa and the dog stood in front of the gates and waited, the dog turned towards Alyssa. “It’s not too late to go around child.” he insisted.
Alyssa squatted down beside the dog and whispered. “What are you afraid of? No one will touch me if you’re there. So we are going in and that’s final.” ordered Alyssa.
“Fine! Fine! Fine! Be stubborn.” The dog sighed loudly. “Just knock on the gates and stand back. I need to give them the password.” Alyssa stood back up and gave a hard knock on the gate then stepped aside. Moments after, a man popped his head out from atop the ramparts above the gates with a bow in his hands and an arrow drawn at the ready. “What do you want!?” he snapped.
“We would like to have access to the city.” stated the dog.
“Password?” demanded the guard.
“The Masters shall never raise again.” responded the dog.
The guard eyed them both curiously at first and then smiled. “Wait right there.” said the guard and then he disappeared behind the wall. Seconds later, they heard shuffling behind the gates. The gate opened and the Guard walked out to greet them. “Rothaide! You flee bitten shit! How have you been?” The guard laughed and patted the dog on the head. “You know the boss will want to see you.”
“Don’t do that!” snapped the dog.
Alyssa cut in. “How does he know my name?” Alyssa asked the dog with a voice that yelled surprise.
Moments passed and neither the dog nor the guard answered her. Then finally, the guard spoke up. “I’m sorry my child. But is your name Rothaide too?” The guard was confused and scratched his head.
Alyssa turned to the dog. “What does he mean?”
“Shit! I knew we shouldn’t have come here.” the dog thought to himself. But the only words he could say were: “Ummm…” The guard and the dog exchanged looks, the guard was as confused as ever and the dog looked a bit flustered.
Alyssa kept her eyes on the dog. “Well?” She raised her voice.
The dog looked deep into Alyssa’s eyes. “Alyssa, child, I…” The dog hesitated. “…This is one of those times where you really need to listen to me well.”
Alyssa’s heart began beating faster. She swallowed her spit but before the dog could speak, a sudden rage struck Alyssa. “Why are you lying to me?” she yelled and stormed off back down the dirt road.
The reaction the dog got from Alyssa came as a complete surprise. “Alyssa, where are you going?” the dog cried after her.
“I’m going home.” she yelled back.
A few seconds passed like this before the dog called back after her. “Wait!” cried the dog. Only, the dog’s voice had changed.
Alyssa stopped and stood there facing the tree line with her back facing the dog. She knew the voice that came out of the dog’s mouth.
“Alyssa, my dear, come back here. Please.” pleaded the dog.But when Alyssa turned around, it wasn’t the cute little dog she saw standing there. Her eyes squinted in disbelief. “Father?” But before she could get a better look at him, she fainted and fell forward, crashing to the ground.
She dreamt that she was standing in a grassy field again with the sea far at her back, only this time the woods that stood in front of her were burnt and there was no green left. She wore her plated armor, dragon-bone shield and steel sword. Again, the ground began to shake and the tree line came rushing up to her. The glowing purple eyes watched her every move. A ball of purple fire came searing towards and in the blink of an eye, Alyssa reached for her shield, slid her left arm into the straps and deflected the fire. A thunderous scream came from the skies and before she had the time look up, a dragon hit the ground in front of her. The force that came with the dragon knocked Alyssa off her feet. When she regained her momentum, Alyssa couldn’t believe what she was looking at. The dragon of legend, Drakroth, lay there dead. She walked up to it and stood beside its head, she knew it was dead. But suddenly, one of its eyes opened and Alyssa woke up kicking and screaming. Her mind raced as though she was still stuck in her dream and for half a heartbeat, the bed under Alyssa shook and her eye’s glowed purple. Then it stopped and Alyssa lay in her bed exhausted and covered in suet.
Moments later, Alyssa heard running outside the door and then a knock at her door. Then came another harder knock at the door. “Alyssa!” cried the person behind the door. Suddenly the door burst open and a man that looked like her father came running in. The man made a move to comfort Alyssa but she scurried out of bed in fear and kept the bed in between the two of them. The man faintly reached out over the bed. “Alyssa, please. I mean you no harm. It’s me, father.” he declared in a hopeful tone. But the response he got wasn’t as he expected.
Alyssa face went blank and then a sudden disappointment emerged. “My father is dead. How can you be him when he is dead?” she yelled out as tears welled in her eyes.
He frowned and then tried again. “Alyssa, my dear, I swear it is I Grimald Rothaide, your father.”
The man that stood opposite Alyssa was but a shade of the man she once knew. He was tall but skinny and worn. His clothes were rags. His once fair face was now grim and unpleasant. He had scars and burns stretched across his face and chest. His hair and beard had grown long and wiry, as though he had aged a hundred years over night.
She could hold her tears back no more. “If you are really my father, where have you been all this time?” she sobbed.
Grimald sighed. “I guess that is the only question.” He paused a moment. “I was going to tell you everything at Flame-Eaters Shrine but it is a little late for that.” He beckoned her. “Please come with me. I’ll explain everything over supper. I will go get ready and I’ll have one of the assistants bring you fresh clothes and things to wash with. I’ll meet you downstairs in an hour my dear.” He left before Alyssa had time to respond.
She didn’t know what to do or think. Alyssa had grown used to the fact that her father was gone. But after standing alone beside her bed for a while, she started doubting her father was dead. As she bathed in the tub in the next room over, Alyssa grew more and more curious to see what her shade of a father had to say. The hour passed by faster than she thought. Alyssa walked back into her room and was happy to see fresh clothes laid out on the bed for her. The clothes looked similar to the stuffy clothes she had been wearing for many days. But when she bent down to try them on, she realized that it was the same clothes only clean and fresh, even her boots had been washed for her.
Her hour was up and one of the assistants summoned her for supper. She made her way left down the hall. Alyssa’s thoughts were elsewhere and she hardly noticed the history around her until now. The inn used to be one of the finest places in Luxton when the masters ran the city. It had never been touched by the raids or the onslaughts of war. The floor was made of fine grey marble and the walls of carved stone. Every room, hall and chamber was perfectly illuminated which gave the marble and stone a beautiful glowing contrast.
As Alyssa was being escorted into the dinning chamber, her eyes and mouth opened wide with amazement. The ceiling was so high that it made her feel dizzy, yet the beauty of this hall was undeniable. Nearly one hundred feet high, the support beams were made of marble as well and they stretched out across the ceiling like the roots of a tree. Dozens and dozens of tables stood across the floor. A man sat at one of the tables on the far end of the chamber just below the dais.
The table was set with a red velvet dinning cloth, silver forks and knives, even the plates were made of silver. As Alyssa approached, the man stood up to greet her. It was her father as she knew him, bathed, washed and clothed properly. Her eyes brimmed with tears. “Father?” she hesitated.
Grimald smiled and nodded. He turned towards the assistant. “You may leave, thank you.” The man bowed and took his leave as Grimald sat back down in his chair and gestured towards the seat in front of him. “Please.”
Alyssa quickly sat down, giving in to her curiosity once again. But she was anxious as well which resulted in impatience. “Alright, I’m ready to hear what you have to say.” she urged.
Grimald did not seem surprised. “Ah. Straight to the point, I see.” He picked up the flagon of wine and poured himself a drink and offered some to Alyssa. “Drink?” he gestured with the cup in his hand.
She shook her head. “No. I don’t like the taste. I thought you would know that.”
“Apologies, things change in time and as does my memory and not entirely for the better. But I will get back to that in a moment.” Grimald took a deep breath and exhaled. “No…I suppose I will start at the beginning. When you were just a babe, I would go hunting to feed our family. But one day, I ventured too far into the pine forest surrounding Ruinpine. I had walked too far north. When I came face to face with men from Luxton while I was hunting, I did the only thing I could to insure my life would be safe. I told them I have been seeking the men of Luxton and that I wished to join their ranks...” He took another sip of wine.
“Why would you join these creeps!?” shouted Alyssa.
Grimald hushed his daughter. “Quiet!” he whispered. “I am breaking every rule just telling you this. Please keep your voice down.”
Grimald frowned. His face was shaved and his hair trimmed short. But the days of running the wild showed. His face was more wrinkled then the last time Alyssa saw him at his best. “…as I was saying, I told them I wished to join the men of Luxton. But the only response I got was an arrow in my leg, a piece of cloth tied around my mouth and a bag thrown over my head. I did not struggle because I wanted them to think I was on their side.” He took another sip and continued whispering. “After three days of walking in blindness with searing pain in my leg where the arrow stuck out, the men removed my bindings and I was amazed to see myself standing in front of gates of Luxton. I was given a room much like yours and my wounds were treated by the medics. I was fed and cared for many days. I was even given fresh clothes. I was treated like a high lord and I didn’t understand why.” As Grimald paused, a man in a white apron approached the table with their food. Grimald thanked the man and sent him on his way once the table was set.
Both their plates were filled with delicious food. They both had half a roasted chicken, string beans, and whole boiled garden carrots with boiled baby potatoes. Since Alyssa didn’t drink wine she stuck to water. She took a sip and then poked her fork through a carrot and took a bit. The food was rich and full of flavor and Alyssa savored the flavor with every bite. She had not eaten proper food in many weeks, but to taste this now was like eating food blessed by Melingra. “What happened next?” she asked with curiosity as she finished the rest of her carrot.
Grimald took a bite of his chicken and washed it down with some wine. “The reason they kept me there like that was simply a test. The bandit lord of the city visited me one day and told me ‘You have eaten my food and taken advantage of our hospitality. It is a debt that demands payment. I was told that you wish to join our ranks. You must prove yourself in the next few days.’” He cut a piece of chicken breast and forked a potato as well and then put it in his mouth. Grimald looked at Alyssa with eyes filled with pain and regret. “The things they made me do were unspeakable. They were things I would never do. But I had to stay alive and find a way back home. So, I did what they asked me, reluctantly. After those days, I was permitted to come and go as I pleased but every once in a while I was to report back the lord of bandits. To this day I have been under cover, slowly gaining their trust and attaining higher ranks with these people. But my heart has always been with you and Mylene.” He put his fork and knife down and then leaned forward. “I’m not going to lie to you. I told you before that we came to a dangerous place. Many people will ask questions. You are my daughter, yes. But so long as we are in Luxton we shall not speak of Flame-eater shrine. Is that understood?” he whispered cautiously.
Alyssa nodded quickly. “Yes.” she replied with a more than worried face. “There is still one thing I don’t understand. The reports, a year ago, said you were dead. But you are alive and well.” She picked up a few string beans and ate them.
Her father smiled and ate a carrot. “That is another story entirely, my dear. It is a story far too dangerous to tell here. How about I tell you that one after we find you proper attire for our journey? My standing with these people is well met. Finish up your meal and meet me in your room in a few minutes. I will go gather some coins from my chest at the bankers in front.” He took a few more bites and washed it down with some more wine as Alyssa sat there savoring every bit of her meal. He laughed when he saw his daughter’s plate. It was almost empty. “Traveling affects us all differently. Soon you will be able to eat less and last longer. I am off. I shouldn’t be long.” He got up, circled the table and squeezed his daughter’s shoulder and smiled. Alyssa didn’t know how she should react to that gesture, so in the end she just smiled back and Grimald took his leave.
When Alyssa finally finished her meal, she was stuffed and decided it was time to go back up to her room and await her father. When she got to the room, she closed the door and patiently waited on her bed. “I can’t wait to see how I look with a sword and armor.” she thought to herself.
Only a few minutes passed before her father was at her door. “Alyssa, may I come in?”
“It is open.” she replied. When her father entered the room, Alyssa took notice of his clothes straight away. “Why are you in your traveling gear?” she asked confused.
“Because we are set to leave after we have found you what you require.” he explained. “Everything is packed and ready. We will be traveling light. I have also packed your bag with some food as well as mine. Now, let’s go find you something proper for the road.” he smiled.
Their trip to the smiths was a short one. As they made their way out of the towering halls of the inn and into the city, Alyssa’s good first impression of Luxton quickly diminished. The dirt streets were ridden with bumps and holes. What had been rebuilt since the war had truthfully only been repaired enough to hold the structures together. Even now, years later, the old homes, houses and shops were all burnt and their walls were ridden with ash. Now she understood why Luxton wasn’t very welcoming.
Their business led them to one of her father’s favorite’s smith shops, The Able Arm, who’s sign depicted a muscular man’s arm swinging a hammer down towards an anvil. They paused in front of the shop for a moment. “That is one of the best shops in Luxton. Nothing to rival the Capital’s forges I grant you but still they make some very sturdy equipment.” he laughed and opened the front door and Alyssa quickly followed.
Once inside, Alyssa couldn’t believe her eyes. The shop was far larger then she pictured it from the outside. The store was of normal size to her but the forges and working men stretched back in to the shop for hundreds and hundreds of feet. There were so many forges and craftsmen that she couldn’t even begin to count them. The walls were made of thick-cut boulders to keep the suffocating heat isolated. The massive room didn’t require any light or torches because of the number of forges there were. The forges lit the room in a beautiful luminous red glow. The smells in that shop were familiar to Alyssa and it immediately began to make her think of the Smith’s Way in Ruinpine where she loved to walk by and peek into the stores.
As they approached the service counter a women with a battle scarred cheek came out to greet them. She looked to be in her forties and strangely she reminded Alyssa of her mother. “Can I help you two?” asked the tenant. Grimald reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folder piece of paper and then handed it to the woman. The woman carefully examined the paper and then examined Alyssa for a moment, then turned back to Grimald. “You are certain of this?” she asked in a bitter tone.
Grimald only nodded.
The woman gave Alyssa a snarky look before she told them to follow her. “This way and keep up.” The woman walked down between the rows of smiths to the far end of the shop with Grimald and Alyssa right behind. A lone door stood on the far wall and they paused in front of it. The woman stopped and turned around. “These are very costly items my lord. You very certain of this?” cautioned the woman once more.
Grimald nodded again. “I understand that. Please lead on.”
The tenant bowed her head. “Very well.” she replied and then opened the door behind her. Inside the back room were hundreds of weapons, armor and other kinds of equipment. But something about these items was different to the equipment Alyssa window shopped for. The weapons and armor weren’t all shiny. The blades almost looked like they were made of wood. “What is wrong with this stuff?” asked Alyssa. But the only answer she got was a cold hard stare from the tenant and a hush from her father.
The back room was small and everything in it was sorted and placed nicely in its proper place. The women turned away from Alyssa and Grimald for a moment and started shuffling through weapons and armor. When the woman turned back to them, her arms were filled with assorted items, weapons and armor. “Try these on.” she told Alyssa.
Alyssa did not question the woman’s request. She simply took what the woman set in front of her without question. “Alright then.” she replied.
She was given steel chain-mail and an ancient sword and shield made of dragon bone all forged in dragon fire long ago. The sword wasn’t too long or too short. It was a simple sword with a hilt made of dragon bone and wrapped with leather bindings for a better grip. The shield was simple as well. It was made of the same material as the sword but it looked more like an oversized scale than a shield and yet it was lighter and stronger than any metal. The chain-mail was made of the finest steel and was forged in the ancient days when dragons roamed the earth. “Everything is so light.” observed Alyssa.
The tenant crossed her arms and shook her head in disapproval. “I should hope so. You are wearing some the finest fire resistant armor and weapons money can buy.” She turned to Grimald. “I believe my payment is in order.”
Grimald eyed the woman coolly as he reached into his pocket and pull out a small bag of coins. But before he tossed over the coins, Grimald took one last quick look at his purchase and then gave the woman her money. The woman caught the bag with one hand and took a look inside. “Everything is in order.” she giggled. “Now be gone and tell no one of what you saw today.”
“Thank you.” said Alyssa as she gave the woman a quick bow.
Grimald only grunted at her before they father took their leave.
They made their way back to the inn and gathered their belongings. All packed and ready to go, they made their way out of Luxton the same way they entered, through the main gate. They chose the main gate to avoid any suspicion they would have gotten if they left by the Flame-Eater’s gate. They spent nearly an hour circling Luxton trying to remain unseen and luckily they were successful, for not long after the road began to rise and rise. Finally, emits the heights of the western mountains, Alyssa and her father reconnected with the trail that led to Flame-Eaters Shrine and the histories beyond.