Gender: Male Age: 53 Location: Las Vegas, Nv
|Introduction: Chapter 1|
I had turned eighteen a few months ago. I was tall for my age at six feet. I had blond hair and green eyes. I moved with what seemed an unnatural grace, (the result of almost twelve years studying the martial arts). I was considered a genius, at the age of twelve, I had finished high school. I had started learning martial arts at six, mostly to protect myself from older boys.
My master was unusual in that he didn’t teach just one of the arts like karate, but many in a blend that seemed to work well together. I also thought he differed from others because he often used a form of what he called Zen. Like, “Learn to see the leaves in the forest.”
When I had corrected him by saying, “you mean see the trees.”
He had smiled at me and told me, “anyone can see a tree.”
There were others “Smell the rose while standing in a pile of manure.”
“Hear the sound of a heartbeat in a crowd.”
Or, “Feel the face of an unborn child.”
I had thought they were just Zen sayings, but knew better now. I had been given an amulet only that morning, it was a small bronze one with the symbols of yin and yang and it had a serpent around the edge, eating its own tail
The story Begins
As I woke up, I was a little disorientated. The last thing I remembered was the explosion. My parents and several of my friends, teachers and my martial arts master had been in the house talking. I remembered the car driving past me as I came back from the store.
As it had passed me, two boys had leaned out with guns pointed at my neighbor who had been in the frontyard with a couple of his friends. When they had started shooting I remembered the ball of fire that had engulfed the house and reached out for me, but everything else was blank.
I slowly sat up and looked around. I was sitting in the burned out remains of a house. I stood and made my way out of the rubble. The street in front was just as confusing, it wasn’t my street, but was full of people and it was cobbled and not paved. There were horses and wagons on the street and the people were dressed differently.
While I was trying to orientate myself, there was a commotion moving up the street toward me. When I looked, I saw six men knocking people out of the way for two riders that were following. I stepped to the side for them to pass but when one of the six got to where I was he tried to knock me to the side.
This was a mistake on his part, I stepped to the side, grasped his arm as it came down and let the his momentum do the work. The result was the man ending up on his back in the gutter. It also cleared the street as the other five started for me. They were carrying what looked like clubs and two had spear type weapons that I thought I recognized as pikes from the middle ages.
When the next two reached me, they didn’t even try to speak. The one on the left swung the pike back to strike me as the other held the club back. I stepped forward and with a front kick to the pike welder’s chest, kicking him back. He went flying back across the street, hitting a wall and sliding down the wall to land in a heap.
As soon as I kicked the first man, the other man had moved forward to strike me. I turned and grabbed the hand on the club as it was coming down. I twisted the arm and bent the wrist causing the man to drop the club and then I kick him in the stomach. Releasing the hand, I brought my right hand down in a hammer fist to the back of his head, knocking him out.
The first man was up and rushing me. I stepped to the side and tossed him into one of the other men coming at me. Stepping up to the two men still standing, I grabbed the pike as it was thrust at me and side kicked the other man sending him down vomiting in the street.
I pulled the pike out of the surprised the man’s hands, only to return the butt into his stomach making him double over before I pulled it back and brought it down on the back of his head. I stepped up to the two trying to untangle themselves and struck one on the temple and kicking the other in the head.
When I looked around all the people had moved back and the two men on horseback were looking at me. The one on the left turned to the other man, “It seems this peasant might need a lesson from his betters.”
I looked at him, he was dressed in fancy clothing compared to the people on the street with a sword that had a jewel-encrusted hilt. I shook my head, “You’re not worth the trouble.”
Turning, I dropped the pike and walked up the street. I turned at the first intersection and ended up in a large square that was packed with people. There were stalls and people everywhere. I knew I had to find out where I was and what had happened to me. I felt someone approach me and reach into my pocket.
I grabbed the hand and looked into the face of a girl of about sixteen, (If it hadn’t been for my senses I would have thought it was a boy.) A larger boy about ten feet away said in a loud voice, “What are you doing with my brother?”
As he said this the girl pulled a slim knife from her boot. I had turned, but felt her pull the knife. As I looked at the older boy I turned the hand and twisted. Her arm straightened out with the hand bent backwards. She let out a yell and dropped the knife as the boy turned and ran into the crowd. I looked back at the girl, “Well girl, what do I do with you?”
There was a large man in what looked like a uniform heading through the crowd. The girl saw him and turned white, “You can have anything you want mister, only don’t turn me in, please.”
I nodded, “Don’t run.”
I released her as the guard reached us. He looked at me, “Is there a problem?”
I looked back at him, “no.”
The guard looked at the girl but she only shook her head. Turning away with a grunt, he waded back into the crowd. Looking around I saw a spot that was clear; it was by a tall wall. Placing my hand on her shoulder, I walked her over to it. “First what is your name?”
She looked back at me and I could see her trying to think up something so I shook her. Startled she said, “Sam.”
“Well Sam, I need information. What is this place called? Tell me about it and take your time.”
She looked at me like I was crazy but when all I did was look back she started talking. The name of the city was Westford. It was named for the west most ford, of the river ebb. It was also a major city on the trade route, which meant that the large trading companies ran it. Though there were nobles here, they didn’t have a say in the running of the city unless they were part of one of the trading companies.
There were three races in the city, humans, elves and dwarves. Well, four if you counted the wizards. Right now the trading was very good. The Orc’s and goblins had started another one of their wars to the east and most of the trade goods came through here.
I had a photographic memory, which was probable why I had graduated collage at the age of sixteen. The names she was telling me seemed to be out of some book, Tolken or one of the others. I was seriously thinking I may have been hit on the head harder then I thought. It was several minutes before I stopped her.
Apparently, there was no one I could appeal too. That left how to make money so I could eat. My major had been in medicine, with several minors, one in chemistry, another in engineering and an associates degree in metallurgy. My skill in the martial arts was probable my only quick way to earn a living, perhaps as a mercenary. I looked at Sam, “You can leave.”
She was been remembering my comment when I had caught her, “Well girl, what do I do with you?”
There would be no doubt that it would have been overheard. Those in the guild only sent girls to the cribs (Houses of prostitution) and there was no way she was going there. Sam looked around and then back at me, “What are you going to do?”
I thought about it and kept coming back to the fact that I had no money. When I looked at Sam it came to him, with my skills I would be a very good thief. I smiled, “Become a thief.”
She looked at me in disbelief. I looked around at the common marketplace and then back at Sam, “Where do the wealthy shop?”
She gestured and we set off. When we entered the other marketplace, it was like night and day. There were four times the guards and it wasn’t even half as crowded. I had Sam wait by the street leading into the square and calmly walked across. When I got to the other side I stopped at a food vendors stall and bought several rolls, they were filled with sausage, cheese and cabbage.
When I got back, I smiled, “Where’s a good place to stay?”
She thought about it, “It depends on how much you want to spend.”
I moved into a covered alley and handed her two of the rolls and started bringing out the small purses, twelve in all. Sam was shocked, she had not even seen them. I had her tell me the value of the coins. Copper was the cheapest then Bronze, Silver came next and Gold was last.
Remembering my encounter earlier, I described the young noble to Sam. She nodded at my description, “Henry Shaffer. His father is part of a trade consortium.”
I nodded. “Do you know of somewhere close to where he lives that we could stay?”
Sam led the way and we ate the rolls as we walked. I could see the differences in the houses as we walked, there were walls around the houses now and a few guards walking the streets. When Sam stopped, it was in front of a large three-story house. The wall around it was twelve feet tall.
As we walked along the side of the estate I saw that the street along the side was only about fourteen feet wide. Along the side of the house and about half way down was a large tree inside the wall with limbs that reached toward the house. When Sam turned to the right, she gestured, “That was the Shaffer house.”
Four houses down was an inn, it had a sign of a lion laying on it side, (The Fallen Lion.) A room and bath for the two of us cost two silvers, which I thought was expensive until Sam reminded me that you pay for where you sleep. Once we had seen the room, (it even had a lock.) I gestured at my clothes, “I needed clothing.”
Sam shrugged and led me back to the street. While we were walking I looked at her, “Nothing too fancy, they only needed to be clean, comfortable and serviceable.”
She nodded and a little later we came to a small shop. It was on a small side street but looked like it saw regular business. I bought three changes of clothing and bought Sam a couple of sets as well. I even bought a pair of good used boots that had been resoled.
We made another stop at a shop that looked to me like it sold miscellaneous items. Sam showed me the eating utensils that I would need. I also bought a rope and large hooks that I would need for later. On our return to the inn, I looked at Sam, “Are all the houses around this area of the city occupied?”
Sam looked at me and then led me to a large house on the next street over from the inn. Its walls were maybe seven feet tall. She looked at the walls, “The owners are only here in the winter.”
I looked around and when I saw no one watching, jumped, grabbed the wall and swung over. Once on the other side of the wall I looked around and then crossed to the gate and unbarred it and wedged the bar so it would not lock. Back on the street, I closed the gate and then we returned to the inn. I led Sam to the room and sniffed at her rank smell, “We need baths.”
At first Sam was nervous about the bath until I sank down onto the floor with my legs crossed and asked if she would mind taking her bath first. The bath was a luxury for Sam but she did not want to get back into her dirty clothing so she picked up one of the newer sets I had purchased. I looked up at her and told her she might want to wear the darker set.
When she came back into the room, I was still sitting on the floor with my legs crossed. After a minute, she told me it was my turn for a bath, saying this seemed to rouse me and I stood up as if I had just sat down. When I came back from the bath I felt refreshed. I looked at Sam, “why are you staying with me?”
She shrugged, “It will be safer.”
When I looked at her, she sighed, “Now that they know I’m a girl they will try to put me in a Crib.”
I let this sink in, I knew from my history that there were cultures that believed that was all a female was good for. I smiled at Sam, “Tonight we are going to break into the Shaffer house. I will go over the roofs and you will stay in the shadow along the street. I’ll send anything I find out to you.”
We went down to eat and there was a change in the innkeeper when he saw us wearing better clothing. While we ate, I glanced at Sam, “Do you know of a place we could rent? Or better yet, a place that is in disrepair that we could fix up?”
After a few minutes, she nodded, “I know of a place. It will need a lot of work though. It burned down two weeks ago.”
After we had eaten, we took a walk. The house was above the river, it was on a small estate. There was a short granite cliff before the river reached the ford. It was twenty feet above a small sandy beach. It had been a moderately large house with a stone stable that hadn’t burned. There was also a fairly large blacksmith shop to the side that wasn’t to badly damaged.
The road in front curved so that it ran next to the drop into the river. On the other side of the estate was another granite cliff that reached up sixty feet to a long burned out stone keep. As I looked through the rubble, I found a small stream that came out of the rock and poured into what looked like a small pool. We saw steam rising off the water and when Sam saw that, she grinned, “It must have cost a small fortune.”
I looked at the small pool of warm water, “why?”
She smiled, “A mage has to open a fissure for the water. The stones in the column in the center of the small pool have fire elementals trapped in them.”
I was skeptical until I felt the water. The spring water had been cold but this was a warm pool, I could smell no sulfur in the water either. Sam looked around, “You can probably buy it for maybe five hundred gold pieces.”
Back at the inn Sam laid down in the bed with me, but seemed to be watching me to see if I was going to try something. I woke at midnight, at first, I didn’t move. I was still in the bed at the inn, so much for a bad dream.
Moving off the bed, I woke Sam and collected the things I would need. Taking the rope, I opened the window and looked around and then lowered Sam to the ground. Once she was on the ground, she untied the rope and faded into the shadows. I pulled it up and coiled it around my waist. I reached out and got a hold on an overhead beam at the edge of the roof. Once I was out, I closed the window and then pulled myself up onto the roof.
I slowly made my way up to the crown of the roof. When I reached the edge of the roof there was a gap of about twelve feet to the next house. With three running steps, I made a leap. I landed without a sound on the next roof. I knew Sam had been watching and was moving on. I repeated this until I came to the street where Shaffer lived. I bent over the edge of the roof and screwed the eye hook I had bought into the beam. I tied the rope to it and dropped it.
Standing, I looked down on the wall. Here and there was broken glass, but the area I wanted was clear. This time when I made my leap I landed on the top of the wall. Sam appeared out of the shadows and grabbed the rope and crossed to the wall, she tossed it up to me in one throw and then disappeared back into shadows.
Leaving slack in the rope, I made a small jump onto a large tree limb and then worked my way up to the edge of the house. I was at the level of the second floor, looking up I saw the vent going into the attic. Using the gaps in the stones I easily climbed up to the vent and after a minute I worked the vent open. Once it was open, I climbed in and attached the second hook into the center beam of the attic.
After tying the rope to the hook, I started looking around. I found several large piles of black velvet curtains and could think of another use for the material. I made a bundle and tied the knot on the rope. I looked out and after a minute heard Sam whisper, “Clear.”
She had been doubtful when I had explained this earlier but had agreed to try my way first. I released the curtains and they started sliding along the rope dropping as they went. I helped this even more after they cleared the wall, by putting more slack in the rope. When they were almost touching the street, Sam appeared to catch them. At first, she just looked back up at me, but when I waved her off, she untied the bundle then disappeared.
Without waiting, I tightened the rope and than moved to the access door leading down into the house. I listened and when I was sure it was clear, opened the door. The hallway was dark but I could faintly hear the sounds of sleeping people in the rooms on both sides of the hall. The rooms here were the servant’s rooms, what I wanted was on the next floor down.
When I found the hidden stairway for the servants, I went down. There were only a few rooms here and no guards. After three empty rooms, I slowly opened the door into the forth room and found the young man from my encounter the day before. He was sleeping in a large bed and I moved to the side of the bed.
I picked up his sword with the gems in the pummel. I put the belt over my shoulder and moved to the table to the side of the room. The young man’s purse was there and it seemed to be very fat indeed. After putting it in my pocket, I started to turn away. When I did, I saw a small chest in what looked like an armoire.
I opened it and saw another small chest. The first chest I opened held jewelry. I opened the next and found it was half full of coins of all types, mostly gold and silver. Placing one on top of the other, I left and made my way back up to the attic and wrapped it all in another curtain. When I looked out, Sam whispered right away.
Tying the curtain to the rope, I let it go. When Sam caught it this time she had to struggle a little to untie the knot. After she had left, I went back downstairs to the last room. This room was larger and there was an older man in the bed with what looked like a young boy and I moved a little slower, (The man was restless.)
I took the purse that was on the table and quietly opened the wardrobe to find two more small chests. I picked them up, one was very heavy. Back upstairs I tied them up in another curtain and I waited until Sam returned. She had a hard time, but managed to pick up the bundle and move off with it.
I moved down to the main floor. I decided that there were too many people still moving around on this floor and turned to leave. When I did, I saw a set of servant stairs leading down into a basement. Moving quietly, I reached the bottom and listened at the door. When it was clear, I tried the door only to find it barred from the inside.
Using my senses, I felt the door and found the bar, slowly I hardened my sense of touch and lifted the bar and opened the door. This hall was wider and it held mostly storerooms, but by the main stairs I found a door heavily barred and locked with a type of paddle lock.
Again, I used my abilities to unlock the locks and quietly opened the door. Inside the room was like something out of a pirate movie with two large chests and piles of treasure. Opening the chests, I found the first one half full of gold coins. The second only held a small amount of jewelry. There was a small chest next to the larger ones almost hidden. In it were gold bars, probable seventy pounds worth.
Looking around, I found several empty canvas bags about the size of medium sized backpacks. When I was finished, I had six bags. I took four and went back to the attic. I could only move slowly because of the weight. In the attic, I put two over the rope and stepped up so that Sam could see me.
Sam whispered right away and I let the bags slide down the rope. Sam had to struggle this time. When the bags were off the rope I put the next two on and let them go. All the packs were heavy and she would have to make several trips.
I watched as she moved the packs one at a time into hiding and then taking one, she started off down the street. I turned and made my way back to what I called the treasure room. Inside I looked at the pile of treasure and knew I could not take the whole pile but maybe the Gems in them? I saw what looked like a rack of weapons, which was strange for a treasure room.
When I reached it, none of the weapons were gem encrusted, but when I checked they seemed to be made of a silver metal that I could feel was stronger then steel. I took three of the swords and several of the knives. When I turned to head back, my foot hit the end of a bundle of something. It was a sword, long knife and a very slim dagger (almost a stiletto.)
The leather they were wrapped in was cracked and peeling, but when I pulled the sword out it was a gold metal and like nothing I had ever felt before. It was like a katana, but not. Putting the blade back in the sheath, I put the bundle in my belt like a samurai sword.
Back at the pile, I used the slim dagger to pry the gems out and put them into a bag. It took a half hour before I was done. I grabbed my own treasure of bags, swords and knives and then picked up the small chest of gold. I closed and locking the door behind myself. Back in the attic I put the bags over the rope and stepped to the vent. This time it was a minute before Sam whispered and I let the bags slide down the rope.
The next was the small chest wrapped in another curtain. Tying the weapons together with a strip of cloth cut from the curtains, I slid them down the rope. Untying the rope, I let it fall. When Sam saw the rope go slack like that, she looked up and I gestured for her to pull the rope.
When the rope was back over the wall, I removed the hook and moved back out onto the wall of the house. After closing the vent, I made my way back down to the tree. I was getting ready the jump back onto the wall when I heard Sam whisper, “Wait.”
Listening I heard someone walking down the street, after several minutes I heard them turn the corner and Sam whisper, “It’s clear.”
Jumping to the wall, I looked around and then jumped to the street. I crossed to where the rope was hanging down in the shadow of the house and climbed up. At the top, I climbed onto the roof and then I undid the rope after removing the eye hook. I made a loop in the rope and put my foot in the loop. Making sure the rope was over the beam, I swung out and lowered myself to the street. Once there, I pulled the rope off the beam and coiled it.
I grabbed the small chest and the bundle of weapons and started off after Sam. When I reached the house we were hiding everything at, I opened the gate. Closing it after I was in, I crossed to where Sam was waiting. I could see that she was very tired. After hiding everything but two bags of gold and keeping the set of swords in my belt, I led her out the gate.
Closing the gate, we quietly made our way back to the inn. I found our window and leaving the bags with Sam climbed the wall. Back in the room, I lowered the rope and raised the bags and then Sam. I closed the window and then stripped my shirt off to help cool down. When Sam saw me take the shirt off she muttered something to herself. I looked at her, “Take your shirt off.”
At first she looked at me as if I was crazy, but when I didn’t do anything but look back at her, she slowly took it off. She was standing there without a shirt, when I gestured to the bed, “Relax and lie on your stomach.”
After she had lain down, I moved to her side and slowly started massaging her arms and shoulders. It was only a couple of minutes before she was fast asleep. I lay down beside her and pulled a cover over us and drifted off myself. We were awakened a couple of hours later when a servant started banging on the doors.
After our breakfast, I led Sam out. My first goal was the burned out estate. The runner returned to the house an hour after we had sent him with a portly man following behind. It took a half hour of haggling to finely settle on a price but when we did, I paid him right then. Next on my list of things to do, was to buy a horse and wagon. With the amount of debris, we would need something to move the heavy stuff with.
At the stockyards, I bought a horse that was only two years old and trained to pull a cart or wagon. The wagon I bought surprised me, it actually had two types of springs, a type of leaf spring and coil springs. I also bought six large bundles of hay that were tied with twine and arraigned for a couple of dozen to be delivered to the house.
We took a different way out of the stockyards so that we could pick up our loot. There was an area just outside the stockyard that drew my attention though. The buildings had high walls but open fronts with nice courtyards. I nodded to one of the buildings, “What do they do here?”
Sam looked at the one we were passing, “they’re bond houses.”
When I looked at her with questioning eyes, she sighed, “We have a bond system. Usually a child can be sold into bond service, but a wage had to be paid to the servant upon the end of its bond. At the age of eighteen, the bond became void unless both the bondservant and the bond owner petitioned a magistrate. In addition, someone can be put into bond by a Liege or a court for payment of a dept or a lesser crime.”
I slowed at the last house, there were what looked like merchants going into and coming out of the building. I gestured, “What is happening here?”
Before Sam could say anything a passing merchant looked up at me, “They have a Mair.”
I looked at Sam to explain and she sighed, “A Mair is a creature that was created by a mage.”
I looked at her as if she where making it up so she gestured, “stop.”
Tying the wagon to a post, we went inside. We were directed through an arch into the back. There were several large enclosures with people in them, mostly separated by sex or age. A portly man appeared at our side almost immediately asking what service he could provide. I looked at him, “We have been informed that there is a Mair here?”
The man sighed and muttered, “lookers, always lookers.”
I smiled, “I am also looking for workers and possibly a housekeeper.”
He brightened at this, but I reminded him, “I would like to see the Mair.”
He nodded, “I’ll be right back.”
While he was gone, we started looking around. I hadn’t really been planning to buy a bondservant, but the more I looked the more I was reminded of the history of slavery in the US. I stopped at the bars of an enclosure that only had one man in it. I looked at him, “Why are you here?”
At first, it did not look like he was going to answer. He finally looked at me, “I was a blacksmith and was unable to pay the fees for my shop. The merchant that owned the shop tried to take my daughter in payment and I fought for her. I was beaten and my shop taken, my wife (He pointed to a woman that was in another enclosure across from him) and my eight year old daughter were put in bond as well.” (His gesture took in a young girl in the enclosure next to her mother.)
The Bond Master returned with what I thought was a very beautiful girl. She was maybe fifteen or sixteen, with long blond hair and blue eyes. Her eyes were strange, the pupils were slits like a cat’s and her fingernails were retractable. She was probably 5’6” and she wore very little. She seemed to be completely covered with short soft hair like a cat.
The Bond Master gestured to her, “She was trained for pleasure, but the mage died before completing the training.”
When I touched her, I could feel something that was different in her but she was as human as I was. I looked at the Bond Master, “What will happen to her?”
He smiled oily, “Eventually someone will pay my price or she will be sent to one of the high-class crib houses.”
I didn’t like the sound of that and when I looked at Sam I could see she did not like that either. I sighed, “How much?”
The Bond Master looked at me and then shook his head. “You wouldn’t have enough.”
I only repeated, “How much?”
He told me and I started to bargain. First, I brought up her age then the uncompleted training. We finally agreed on a price.”
I reminded him, “I was looking for workers too.”
The Bond Master was surprised, “I thought that had been a ploy to see the Mair.”
I looked around as if searching and then pointed out the man I had been speaking to earlier. “What about him?”
The merchant looked a little skeptical. I looked at him, “Does he have any skills?”
The Bond Master nodded, “He was a blacksmith.”
I gestured around, “I also needed a housekeeper and maybe someone to help with the chores.”
At first, he pointed out an older woman that looked to be sixty. I shook my head, “no, she is too old.”
I pointed to the blacksmiths wife, “What about her?”
The Bond Master looked at me and then agreed. The Bond Master actually pointed out the blacksmith’s child and my only comment was, “looks scrawny, but fine.”
After another round of bargaining, a price was agreed on. I went to the wagon where what was left of the two bags of gold coins were. (This would almost use it all.) When I returned and counted out the gold the merchant looked at me, “There was a robbery last night.”
I looked up at the merchant, “I only arrived in town yesterday afternoon. How did it happen?”
The Bond Master relaxed, “The thieves will be caught. The thieves guild has been paid to return what was stolen and give the thief up.”
After counting out all the money he looked at the Mair, “Go with him.”
I was told that it might be best if the others were kept in chains until I could be sure of them. I put the blacksmith’s wife and daughter on the seat of the wagon and let him walk beside them. Taking the lead for the horse, I started down the street with Sam on the other side of the horse and the Mair beside me.
At the corner I stopped and walked back to the blacksmith. Reaching out I broke the chains holding him with an ease that surprised him. I gestured for the girl and after looking at her mother, she moved over to me. Again I broke the chains and let them fall. I repeated this for the chains on the blacksmith’s wife. I turned to him as he looked at me, “Do you have somewhere to go?”
He shook his head and I nodded, “I own a house that needs a lot of work. There was a smithy there. If you want you can stay with us.”
The blacksmith looked at me and then after looking at his wife, “But you own our bond.”
I looked back at him, “The bond is yours.”
He looked at me and then slowly held out his hand, “I will accept your offer, I’m John and this is my wife Ann and our daughter Marie.”
I turned to the Mair, I didn’t really know what to do with her. Sam saved me, “What’s your name?”
She smiled, “Cat and I’m not leaving. You bought me and I will stay yours.”
Sam and I looked at one another and my shoulders slumped a little. She laughed, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
We stopped to retrieve our loot which barely fit in the wagon and was covered by the curtains and hay. Sam glanced at me, “The next stop should be for work clothes.”
The shop she took me to was different then the one we had gone to before. It had clothes, but also pots and pans and blankets. John watched the wagon while I was in the shop. It wasn’t long before I wished I were watching the wagon and John was in the shop. Finally, I gave my purse to Sam and went outside. I nodded to John, “go in and pick out some clothes.”
When they came out, it was a changed group. We started off again and reached the estate a half hour later. We unloaded the wagon and put the horse in the enclosure. The first thing I wanted to do was to get the bathroom cleaned and then the bathing pool. We would be getting dirty on a regular basis and it would be nice if we could clean up.
I was reassured to learn that there was a system in place for sanitation. Sam had explained that the merchants enforced this law very particularly, (they didn’t what an epidemic started because of some contamination.) When we finished, I helped John shore up the roof in the smithy so they could sleep there. I gave Ann and little Marie several silver pieces to get something for dinner and maybe for breakfast.
With Sam and Cat’s help I started pulling out the large beams that I thought I might be able to salvage. While I was doing this, I found a secret room. It took several minutes to realize what I had found and several more to find the entrance. When I finally opened it, I found a set of stairs leading down.
At the bottom of the stairs was a large room. The water that drained from the bathing pool dropped down in a waterfall, only to land in the shallows of another heated pool with no outlet. There was a large fireplace in the wall beside the stairs. The room had stores, mostly potables. Roots that looked like a sweet potato, flour that type of thing.
There was also bolts of cloth. That was as far as I got before Sam and Cat started calling me. At the entrance, I called them over to show them what I had found. Back in the room we looked around. Sam looked at me, “this was not something that is normal.”
I was checking the wall that was closest to the river when I found the second concealed door. When I opened it, I found myself on the small sandy beach next to the river. Closing it quietly, I was thinking that this had been a smuggler’s hideout. I looked at Sam and Cat, “This will make a nice room to sleeping in. Unless you want to sleep in the stables instead?”
They looked at each other and grinned. We brought four of the bundles of hay down into the room. It wasn’t easy but we managed. Next was the curtains with our treasure. We had just finished this when we heard a commotion by the gate, It was the rest of the hay being delivered. We put most of it in the stable and I helped John put some in the smithy so they would have something to sleep on. While I was doing this, Sam and Cat dragged a couple more bundles of hay down the stairs.
Ann and Marie returned and it looked like they had bought out the store. Sam looked at me, “how much did you give them?”
I replied, “Obviously more then they needed.”
She only shook her head. Cat gave a sudden laugh, which surprised us both because we had been getting used to her reserved way. When we looked at her, she only pointed at me, making Sam laugh. I showed them how to open and close the door into the smuggler’s room. I spent the rest of the day surveying the ruins.
I found Sam, “could you find me some paper and something to write with?”
Half an hour later, she returned and handed me what looked like a blank book and a small bottle of ink with a metal pen. I sat and started sketching; when John showed up at my side to look at what I was drawing, he looked at me, “that it won’t work.”
I looked up at him, “why?”
John shook his head, “you can’t build it that way.”
I looked at him and smiled, “John, you watch and I will teach you how to build something that will last.”
Turning I saw Sam and Cat sitting together. I gestured and called Sam. When she reached me, I asked if she could put the word out to all the street kids. She smiled, “about what?”
I smiled, “To offer a bounty for building stones of a certain size to use on the building.”
She nodded and led Cat and Marie to the gate that was still standing open. Once in the street, she stopped and looked around until she saw a boy about nine playing in the gutter down the street. She called him and he looked at her for a minute and then swaggered over. When he reached them she smiled, “Think you could spread the word about something?”
He looked at her speculatively, “how much?”
She smiled and after haggling for a minute agreed to pay him a copper, he grinned, “Who pays for the stones?”
Sam looked at Cat and Marie, “either me, Cat or Marie.”
She gave him a copper to spread the news. That afternoon I relaxed in the open space by the stables and started my stretching exercises. Sam, Cat and even Marie were watching me and finally, they prodded Sam to ask what I was doing. I smiled at the three girls, “I was stretching before doing my kata’s.”
They looked at each other and Sam looked at me again, “What is a kata?”
I relaxed. “A kata is like steps in a dance, like patterns of movements. The dance is a form of self-defense.”
They looked at each other and then rather hesitantly Sam asked, “Would you teach us?”
I looked at them and thought about the way things ran here. I motioned them to stand and started showing them how to stretch. When I was satisfied that they had stretched enough. I started on the basic forms. It was an hour before I stopped them and did a few slow stretches to relax them. When they finished, I looked at all three of them, “Do not to try to use what you have learned. It will only get you into trouble until you learn more.”
John had been dragging out the occasional pieces of lumber, but had been watching. When we were finished, he approached me, “Why are you teaching Marie?”
I looked into his face, “Don’t you want her to be able to protect herself?”
John nodded and then rather uncertainly, “Can you teach me?”
I looked at him and then remembered the way he looked at the Bond House. I sighed, “Be here tomorrow afternoon when I start.”
The dinner was what I would call a stir-fry, with a lot of greens and what I at first thought was chicken, (I was told later that it was pigeon.) When we turned in for the night, I found that Sam and Cat had put all the bundles of hay together. They had covered them with several of the black curtains and put the blankets on top of that.
I got in and when I looked over at Cat, she was removing all her clothing. I blushed, “You don’t have to get undressed.”
She smiled, “It will be easier when we make love.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, “You don’t have to do that.”
Cat moved onto the bed, “It isn’t a matter of having to but of wanting to.”
When I looked at Sam, she was also undressing and climbing into the bed. I cleared my throat, “What are you doing?”
Sam grinned, “How else am I going to learn.”
I muttered back, “I guess that makes two of us.”
It was several hours later that I slipped out of bed. I was tired and wanted to rest, but I had plans that did not include sleeping for a while yet. The girls only rolled into each other as I quietly dressed in the dark clothing. I took the slim dagger and the long knife. I had rewrapped the hilts in a piece of black stained leather that I had found here in the basement. When I left, I closed the hidden door and scaled the wall.
I made my way through the city almost like a moving shadow. When I stopped, it was at the street of the Bond Houses. I stayed in the shadows and listened, when I was sure it was clear I moved. Crossing the street and I climbed up the wall then along the wall to the house itself. Once there, I went up the wall of the house. This time I entered through a small window on the second floor.
It only took a few minutes to locate the strong room. I had come prepared, I had made several bags from the cloth found in the basement and now put them to good use. When I was finished I left the way I had come, closing the window behind me. I repeated this for each of the houses, hiding the full bags along the street.
When I was done, I again crossed the city as quietly as I had come. Back in the estate, I entered the basement undressed and climbed into bed. It was only a moment before I was asleep. Sam woke me before dawn by touching my shoulder, “Where did you go?”
I stretched and caressed her face, “I paid a visit to the Bond Houses.”
She was upset, “It’s isn’t smart to steal from the Bond Houses, they’re protected.”
I saw that Cat was awake and watching me and sighed, “It may not have been smart, but they’ll be hurting for money now.”
We got up, dressed and ate a breakfast of bread and cheese. I told John that I had to go out and if he could, to keep clearing the debris out. I took the golden sword in a harness over my shoulder along with the long knife and the small dagger. I harnessed the horse and when I started to leave, both Sam and Cat climbed into the wagon.
My stops by the Bond Houses were brief, only long enough to make sure no one watched and to put the bags in. My next stop was for several bags of grain, the grain was put on top of the bags already in the wagon. I finally asked Sam, “Where can I find where the mercenaries gather?”
She smiled, “The practice field.”
When we arrived, I saw it was a large open area. It had several rings in the ground, each ring was a practice ring where a fight took place. I watched for almost half an hour before making up my mind. I crossed to where a ring that had what I thought was a tall man. When I got closer, I saw that it was not a man.
He had pointed ears and his eyes were on a slant and his sense of feel was different. I thought he looked young but there was a feeling of age about him. Sam whispered, “His name was Samil. He’s an elf and the best fighter in the city.”
I grinned, “Wait here.”
I approached the practice ring, when I did, I was ignored. After several minutes, Samil gestured for a young man to attend to me. The youth attacked with a practice sword, I merely sidestepped, grasp a hand and struck. The young man dropped to the ground as if hit with a club.
I returned to my standing position, waiting. It was several more minutes before Samil again gestured for someone to attend to me. This time it was a competent looking man that stepped forward. He started making a small circle around me and when I did not turn to follow, he attacked from the back. I stepped back and with a back kick to his stomach, folded him neatly to the ground.
I noticed that a crowd had started to gather. Again, it was several minutes before Samil turned to face me. This time he gestured to two men standing by with staffs. They moved apart and attacked right away. I grabbed one man’s staff and spun around it in a back kick sent the man flying. The second man struck but he missed when I spun away.
When he moved in to attack again, he was met suddenly by his partner’s staff. With three quick strikes, his staff was falling and before he could move, I struck him in the head, knocking him unconscious.
A minute after they started, they were lying on the ground, one unconscious, the other with a dazed look on his face. This time there was a murmur from the crowd. Samil had watched and when I returned to my standing position, he stepped forward. He looked at me calmly, “you have some skill.”
I nodded, “I was informed that you are the best. I needed someone to practice with.”
Samil look at me and then glanced at the sword on my back, “With the sword?”
I nodded again and Samil gestured to a rack that stood nearby. We stepped over to it to pick practice swords. After picking the swords, we walked to the center of the nearest ring and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. Once at the center of the ring I bowed and opened myself to my senses. Samil returned the bow with a polite nod.
One moment we were standing there and the next we were only a blur. For thirty minutes we danced, the end came as suddenly as the beginning. Samil lunged at what he thought was an opening, only to have me grab his sword hand. With a pull and twist, I turned my back to Samil with his arm over my own shoulder.
My sword hand had reversed the sword along the arm and brought it back along the arm in a strike that would end at the junction of Samil’s head and neck. It stopped with the tip almost touching. After a pause, I stepped away, releasing him. When he was a couple of steps away, I turned and again I bowed. This time Samil looked at me and then bowed low with his arms crossed.
There was a murmur from the crowd, which Samil and I ignored. As we walked back to put the practice weapons away, Samil asked if I would be there the next day. I nodded, “I planned to be here, but with a different weapon.”
Samil smiled, “I will enjoy the experience. It as been a long time since anyone had beaten me with a weapon.”
With that we parted, I had Sam take us to where I would be able to buy a bow and possibly some light armor. When we reached the shops I found a good bow but the armor was too light or too heavy to wear. On the way home, I thought of the metal my sword was made from, (Sam had told me it was made by magic and the metal was called admantium.)
I thought that if I combined the metal with the silvery metal, (Which I now knew was mythril, I believed that it was related to Titanium.) If I then combined them with a few others it would be stronger and lighter. I knew I could reproduce the admantium, but the mythril was a natural ore and would have to be bought at a high price.
When we got home, we unloaded the wagon, hiding the money with the rest. We spent the rest of the afternoon helping to clear the debris. It was late afternoon when four men entered the gate. Three were large men and the fourth had a shifty look to him. As I went to greet them, Cat handed me my sword, which I swung over my shoulder.
When I started to greet them, the shifty one broke in, “We are here to get the girl that is our property.”
I looked at them, “what girl?”
The shifty one belligerently pointed to Sam. I thought quickly, “If she is in fact your bondservant then the bargain I made with her is void.”
I looked towards the gate, “I think we need to call the guard.”
The man looked startled, “why?”
I looked at him, “I caught her stealing from me. If she is your bondservant then she is your responsibility and you are responsible for her actions.”
(I knew this would mean a public punishment for him). The man looked at me and then turned, “get the girl.”
He looked at me, “The guard is out. Just stay out of our way.”
The three men started to pass me, as they did one turned to strike me. I kicked him in the side of the knee and then spun around with a spinning back fist. As he went flying back, I stepped towards the other two. The first I took out with a front kick to the groin and a hammer fist to the back of his head. A side kick under the third man’s chin lift him up and dropped him back to the ground unconscious.
I had just put the last one down, when I felt the shifty one pull a knife and throw it. As Sam yelled a warning I leaned to the side and turned. I caught the knife as it reached me and just as quickly threw it back. With solid thud, it struck him in the stomach. I relaxed and looked around, the three men were lying on the ground and the other had slumped down.
I thought about what I was going to do for a second and then walked to the gate and looked up and down the street. There were a couple of the city guards talking not to far down the street. I stepped out where they could see me, “Guard!”
When they walked up, I escorted them in the gate. I nodded to the men on the ground, “I’m the new owner and new to the city. I caught a girl stealing, but I had made a deal with her. She was to stay bonded to me and learn a craft for five years.”
(Sam had told me that this was a common term for a bond.) I looked at the guards, “The man with the knife wound (they were trying hard to ignore him) showed up claiming she was bonded to him.”
I looked at the man, “the other men had attacked me and I (I pointed at the wounded man) threw a knife back at him.”
The larger of the two guards started to say something but the other one stopped him with a hand on his arm, “You were at the practice yards this morning?”
I admitted I had and the smaller guard turned to the other guard, “He’s the one I told you about, he’s the one that beat Samil.”
The tall one looked back at me, “You fought Samil and won?”
I shrugged, “yes, I fought Samil.”
The three men I had fought were standing now, but they were wary with the guards there. The other man had passed out. Sam came closer and the short guard turned to her with no warning, “you were caught stealing?”
Sam admitted it cautiously and then he looked a her closely, “Were you bonded to the wounded man.”
Sam looked at the man still on the ground, “No, I was in the guild…”
Before anything else was said, the large guard turned on her quickly, “The Thieves Guild?”
Before she could answer, the smaller guard again placed his hand on the other, “You know girls are not allowed in the Thieves Guild.”
The smaller Guard faced her, “You are willing to be bonded and forgo guard justice?”
Sam nodded and the shorter guard looked at the other, “Then these were trying to steal a bondservant and are guilty of theft.”
With those words the three standing started to panic. I stepped in, “They were obeying directions from the other.”
The larger guard turned to face them, “Is that right.”
The center man stepped forward, “We were told the girl was his property and had been stolen.”
The guard jerked his head towards the gate, “leave.”
As they were going out the gate, the guards bent over the wounded man. The larger guard shook his head, “he doesn’t look to good.”
I stepped up and examined him, “he’s bleeding internally and probable won’t last more then maybe three or four hours.”
They nodded and then grabbed his arms. Lifting him, they started for the gate. I looked after them, “would you like to use my horse and wagon?”
They paused and then the smaller guard shook his head, “someone should be by in an hour or so.”
After they left, I crossed to the gate and closed it. I turned to face Sam, “Are you all right with this?”
It was a moment before she walked to me. “What is the craft you are going to teach me?”
I smiled at her, “How about medicine?”
Sam looked at me with large eyes, “You know healing?”
I nodded and she smiled back at me, “and here I thought, I would pay you with my body.”
I shook my head, “I would refuse.”
Sam stepped close to me, “I know. That’s why I joined you last night.”
I looked up, John was standing with his wife and daughter. Cat was standing to the side, I saw her slide a knife back into a sheath. “It looks like I have a new family.”
I said it quietly and then louder, “Well that’s over with. John when you have time, I need a list of the tools you will need for the smithy.”
Turning I walked over to Cat, smiling down at her; “We will talk about the knife later, but thanks.”
Before we had been interrupted by our visitors, I had been about to ask Sam how we could get some of the debris hauled away. The answer was simple, I wouldn’t let Sam do it though. I walked out the gate and waited for one of neighbor kids. It was ten minutes before a boy of about eleven or twelve showed up. When he saw me just standing there he came over, “Is what the guards said true? Did you beat Samil?”
I smiled, “We fought.”
I looked around the street, “Do you know of anyone that could haul stuff away?”
The boy grinned, “I could find out. Can I see Cat?”
I smiled, “why?”
He grinned, “She’s pretty.”
I laughed, “What’s your name?”
He smiled, “Tom.”
I gestured back into the estate, “Well Tom, we could go watch her I guess.”
Walking back inside the gate, I walked over to the horse paddock and we sat on some hay. While Tom was watching Cat, I was watching Tom. I had noticed the wet stains on his right calf and the smell of a wound gone bad. When a worried looking woman appeared at the gate I saw the way she relaxed when she saw Tom and guessed she was his mother. I looked at Tom, “I’ll be right back.”
Signaling Sam, I crossed to the gate. Cat had noticed but continued to work, picking up small things near Tom. (I knew from the way she moved, that she was keeping an eye on Tom.) At the gate, I smiled at the woman, “I’m Michael, this is my estate and this is Sam.”
Tom’s mother nodded, “I’m Margaret.”
She had been worried about Tom when she had not seen him on the street she had come to look for him. I looked at Tom, “When was he hurt?”
She looked at Tom, “A week ago and it just won’t heal right.”
I thought about how to say it and finally just looked at her, “I have some skill with medicines. Would you like me to look at Tom’s injury?”
She looked uncomfortable, “I don’t have money to pay you.”
I smiled at her, “You’re my neighbor. It would be my pleasure to help.”
We walked back to Tom who looked up as we approached. He blushed when he saw his mother who was wringing her hands nervously. I sat down next to Tom, “Can I see your leg?”
Tom gave a quick look to his mother and then slowly started rolling up the pant leg that had been cut at the seam. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the leg, it was red and swollen, there were red streaks going up the leg. There was also a yellow/green seepage from the three inch gash. I knew he didn’t have much time before it became gangrenous. I turned to Sam, “Would you get Ann please.”
I took out a silver piece and looked at Margaret, “would you go buy some grain alcohol?”
At first she looked at me with frightened eyes and then she nodded. She took the silver piece and hurried off. When Ann arrived, I looked at her, “boil as much water as you can and find me some salt.”
She looked at Tom’s leg then went to the smithy. John had been keeping a small fire going there and she started putting pots on it, filling them from a pitcher. Tom looked at me, “Am I going to be all right?”
I looked at him, “Tom, I won’t lie to you. Your leg has gone a little septic. If it’s not treated now, it will become gangrenous. If that happens the leg will have to be cut off, if not it could kill you.”
Tom looked a little scared. I patted him on the shoulder, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you.”
Sam and I walked Tom toward the bathing pool. Cat had disappeared but when we got to the bath she came walking back with several towels in her arms. I took Sam to the side, “Where can I purchase medical supplies?”
She looked at me, “I know of a place.”
I thought up a list of things I would need and told her. I handed her my purse, “Ask John if he would go get what I need.”
She started to argue, I stopped her, “Remember what happened earlier?”
After she had left, I called Marie over, “Would you go down the stairs? There are several bolts of what I thought was light linen.”
I told her where to find it, “take it to your mother and have her cut a square piece off and boil it.”
When I came back to Tom, Cat was sitting with him talking. “Alright Tom, here is what we are going to do. First, I will have to clean the leg, which means a bath. I didn’t want to do that but you are very dirty.”
He looked at Cat, “Don’t worry I’ll help.”
(I was reminded of what I had been told when we were cleaning the pool. There were no taboos about bathing.) “Next, I will have to drain the wound; that will hurt. After that, we will clean around the cut with salt water and bandage it.”
Cat helped me undress Tom and get him into the water, (which immediately darkened as the dirt on him started washing off.) Cat quickly undressed and climbed in. Tom had flinched as he was getting into the water and it looked like he was still in pain. I stripped and joined them, reaching out, I applied pressure to one of his pressure points and Tom relaxed with surprise as the pain disappeared.
Sitting in the shallow end of the pool, we gentle washed Tom and then Cat got out and held a towel for him as I helped him out. His mother was there with Marie, Sam was holding a pot of water that had been boiled. Setting the water to the side to cool, I took the bottle of clear alcohol from Margaret. She timidly offered up the coins that were my change.
Ann brought the clean linens and I poured a little alcohol over my hands and then carefully took the linens and twisted them to get the water out. I had Ann pour the water out and put the linens back in the empty pot. I glanced at Ann, “I need a small pot of water and the salt.”
She nodded and hurried back to the forge. Now we only had to wait for John to return, which wasn’t that long. When John got back, I found that he had most of what I would need, a medicine to fight infection. There was also a small yellow paper packet that had a single dose of pain medicine. When Ann came back I added the salt to the water and started cleaning around the wound.
When I finished, Tom was unconscious, but his leg looked better. His mother was a little worried, but I assured her that he would be fine. I looked at John, “Would you carry him down into our room and lay him on the bed?”
Margaret followed them down the stairs and sat with him. I smiled at Ann, “cook a broth for Tom please.”
She nodded and later Cat took it to him, making sure that his mother ate the beef stir-fry Ann had made as well. When Tom woke up, I checked him. Other then being a little shaky, he was fine. Sam and I helped him to the bathroom and then back to bed where he immediately fell back to sleep.
My exercises that night had grown to five. I kept reminding myself of what my master had once told me. “One day you will have students to teach. Start with the basics and don’t let them get ahead of themselves or you.”
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