Saturday, February 20, 2010

Drystaff the Mercenary Fragment

Drystaff the Mercenary
©2010. Robert J. Kuntz

His decision made, Drystaff exchanged his wizard’s hat for a cap of fine haxel fur that Gandal had given him for cold nights. He pulled his tattered grey robe close about him, and with a bounce to his step and as cheery an attitude as he could summon he walked through the gate, staff in hand and a bulging sack slung over one shoulder.
Minutes after he departed a litter carried by two red-liveried man-servants appeared from the north and stopped before the gate. A man in red and black robes dismounted from it clutching at a crutch to prop himself, favoring his right leg. The man-servants stood disconsolately as the passenger regarded the area about the gate with an air of suspicion. He turned his head to and fro as if having sensed something, then, shrugging, he hopped in a tight circle by means of the crutch and confronted the litter bearers.
The foremost servant spoke, “Will you now enter the city, Lord?” The man’s toady expression masked any other purpose beyond servitude.
“Mindless fool! You shirk your instructions!” The man propelled himself haphazardly toward the servant, aiming a hand for his throat as if he meant to throttle him. The servant back-peddled out of reach and the man stopped.
“So you avoid punishment as well? So be it. Since my servants now number but two, I shall no doubt have to sustain such antics!”
The servants looked down at the ground, properly chastised.
“Now repeat the instructions I spent so many hours impressing upon your dull minds!” The man said this while throwing up his arms too far, which lost him the crutch, and he fell to the ground shouting, “Fools! Help me!”
After being righted he looked at the first servant, who said, “‘You will not mention my name in or near the city of Garnash.’” The man looked at the second servant.
“‘Avoid taking me under any conditions into the palace quarter, where the Duke’s aides now reside.’” The man looked back at the first servant.
“‘Treat me as a common merchant who has been injured, not as one of any higher or lower stature.’” The man punctuated his servant’s words by vigorously nodding his head twice, once when he said “higher” and once at the mention of “lower.” He then looked to the second servant.
“‘You will obey all my commands until released from service or until passing to that final resting place only Axallaxa dares to tread.’” 
The man looked about and then raised his free hand to his forehead in mock distress: “Now is that so hard to remember?”
The servants stared at him, mouths open as if to spur their thought processes to suitable responses. 
The man shook his head dejectedly, but said, “Shagan! Margoon! You are the cadre of my future cohorts! Remember, last in loyalty is but first in reward!” With these exaltations complete, the ex-baron Wynquyt and his two enlightened servants entered Garnash.


Garulam noted Drystaff’s look. “Ah! You recognize the Wand of Ziff? Good. I earned it from my master for many years of competent service. Prepare yourself, then, if you still hold spells, outcast!!”
Yuug intervened before spells or blows were exchanged. “Surely not in the inn! I will meet both of you out back after I convene with the innkeeper about the matter.”
And so preparations were made and minutes later the two mages faced each other across a rectangular cobbled courtyard. Drystaff was at a loss for what to do. Evoking a spell would reveal his inability to Yuug, and fighting hand-to-hand would allow Garulam his chance with the wand. Drystaff decided on his spells. They floated in his mind like apples in a tub, but every time he dunked for one he found his mouth without teeth and his jaws rubbery and thus procured none, or worse, only gained part of a power. He gritted his teeth, and turning his attention from Garulam, who stood tapping his wand on his hip, he regarded Yuug, who had just placed an hourglass near the edge of the yard. The glass had a small measure of sand in it: ten minutes worth, as had been agreed upon. The remaining mage, or the one having the advantage at the end of the allotted time, would be granted the post.
Thefol Yuug marched to the center of the yard and held up his hands, “You will begin as I lower my hands and clap my thighs.” With hands held high he walked to a side of the yard. Turning, he then brought them down with a meaty clap.
So began the shortest spell contest in unrecorded history. 
As Garulam ran forward, wand held high and a smile of victory already smeared on his face, Drystaff cast the first spell that came to mind. He intended to loosen the wand from his antagonist’s grasp, thus giving him the advantage in melee. The spell instead caused Garulam’s robes to lift above his head, blinding the mage, who then began staggering about the yard in confusion.
Drystaff was about to run forward and club his assailant when Garulam tripped and pitched forward, landing headfirst on one of the cobblestones. There was a nasty thumping sound and Garulam collapsed, unmoving. Drystaff strode up and claimed the wand. Putting one foot on Garulam’s back, he struck a statuesque pose and looked at Thefol Yuug, “Need more be said or done?”
“Indeed not,” said Thefol Yuug, his expression changing from one of utter astonishment to joviality as he came forward and regarded Garulam. “You are hired as first captain in the van. Report to the caravan outside Southgate tomorrow. I will give you orders and a monetary advance at that time.” Yuug bowed, and then with a swift motion stooped and lifted Garulam’s inert form. Yuug then disappeared into the inn.
Drystaff stood amazed but satisfied. What luck! And now with the wand he’d have a chance of defending the caravan if the need arose. As he walked to the back door, he couldn’t resist the urge to cry out, “I did it! I vanquished the mage!” He then entered the inn.
Moments later a faint light illuminated the ground as if issued from a source up high. 
The Baron had heard the voice again, and now he leaned almost fully out the window with a lamp to scan the courtyard, squinting at the shadows and feeling a chill that he did not immediately blame on the evening air. He roused his servants, but they had heard nothing. The Baron closed the window, and later as he sat drinking a glass of milk he felt the dread feeling subside like withheld gas. He looked at Margoon, who stood with ready pitcher. Margoon smiled absurdly as the Baron burped; and he shook the pitcher, offering another glassful. The Baron waved him away and then retired once again to sleep the sleep of the tortured.

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