Excerpt: A Good Deed (Pt. I)

“Here it is, milady – the receipt for the bank deposit, and the sum total of your current balance. Always a pleasure to see you, although it’s been some time!” the lizard-woman moneylender is saying as she stacks the paperwork. “Aye,” Sepultur’a acknowledges. “I appreciate you keeping such orderly and precise records, especially during my long absence!” She thanks the moneylender and tucks the receipt into her journal after jotting down the sizable number indicating her personal bank balance. She is pleased with what she has earned on her own recently, as there is much coin to be earned in many places – both on and off the battlefield. Her savior had taught her a few things that dusty books on shelves could not, and she is grateful for the knowledge imparted.

Stepping out of the banking-house, she stops on the steps, stretching in the light of the setting sun. It has been some time since she last visited the bustling city of the Dark Elves, as she had joined the caravan here not long after leaving home. The cobbled streets are clean, as usual, and townsfolk stroll along the overpasses and walkways. The small inn and tavern are just across the way from the banking-house, and she finds herself walking through the front door without really giving it much thought. She nods to the innkeeper and enters the dining area, taking a spot at the counter where she can watch everyone who comes and goes. A bottle of wine and a glass are slid over to her by the chef, who drops a sly wink as he goes back to basting a haunch of venison. Sepultur’a smiles and toasts his health after filling the glass, and leaves a few coins on the counter as a tip for his generosity. Sipping her wine, she looks around at the other patrons. One in particular gets her notice: a wood-elf wearing the garb of a merchant, sitting alone at a table with his head in his hands and an air of defeat hanging heavily over him. He heaves a sigh and shakes his head in abject misery. Curious. Taking up the bottle and an extra wine glass, she strolls over and sits at his table, pouring a generous amount into the glass and sliding it in front of him. He looks at her incredulously, removes his hands from his face and takes up the glass, smells the bouquet and sips lightly.

“I thank you for your kindness,” he says, “but I cannot pay you for the drink, and drink will not help me with my problem. When the drink is gone, the problem will still remain!” He laughs a bit too loudly, with the edge of hysteria making the laugh mirthless and shrill. Sepultur’a leans back in her chair and sips her wine. “What is your problem?” she asks simply and directly. “Perhaps I can be of assistance.” He looks at her cautiously and a bit more closely. She is young, but her eyes hold much worldly knowledge. She sits in a relaxed and easy manner, but her movements as she seated herself and poured the wine make him think of the great reptiles in the swamps to the south and in his homeland. He shakes his head in negation, stating: “You might be able to assist me, but I hold no hope that anyone other than a magister or the king himself would be able to do so successfully.” He drains his glass and puts his head in his hands again. “I’ve been approached by too many mercenaries already, and they have all demanded a far higher price to ‘solve my problem’ than it requires.” He heaves another deep sigh. “I came to these lands to start my business, but the dishonesty of my partner is ending it before it can begin. I have no money to pay anyone unless I recover some necessary items from that…piece of troll dung, and nobody will help me unless I pay them first!”

Sepultur’a refills his glass, leaning forward and staying his hand before he can pick it up again. This movement causes him to start and look up, forced to meet her gaze squarely. “I can be of assistance,” she states firmly, “and it will cost you nothing. If you choose to reward me, it shall be your choice. My services are free when I make the offer.” She releases his hand and leans back again. “If you had approached me, then I would have asked for recompense. As it is…” she trails off and sips her wine, a secretive smile playing across her lips. “Oh, well – I suppose I have nothing to lose, then!” he bursts out, taking a healthy drink. “I’ll try to be brief – my name is Canthiorn, by the by – and I came here with my business partner last week. Her name is Baghzragh – an Orc wench, obviously – and she was supposedly going to meet with some Breton to buy the building that was to be our storefront. Foolish me, I let her walk off with the coin and didn’t even think to send along a bodyguard to hold it and keep an eye on her, as I was busy with many different negotiations. That was two days ago, and here I am with no money, no partner…and, no business!” He drains the glass again, filling himself up as fast as he empties himself of words. Sepultur’a finishes her drink as she listens to his tale, refills both of their glasses, then sets the empty wine-bottle aside.

She appraises Canthiorn’s appearance. On closer inspection, he does seem to be a bit worse for wear. His clothes, while well-made and of high quality, are slightly dingy and look wrinkled, as if they haven’t been changed for two days. His face seems leaner than usual, for one of his race, and his eyes are tired and full of despair. She would wager that he is just as hungry as he is tired, as the wine has made him quite talkative in short order. The few wood-elves she has met in her travels usually hold their liquor quite well, and the standard brews of humans and the other elven races aren’t known to intoxicate them at all. A serving-girl walks past with a tray of appetizers for patrons drinking in the entry-hall, and Canthiorn’s eyes follow helplessly. Sepultur’a stands. “Wait here a moment,” she says. After a few quiet words with the chef and the inn-keeper, she returns to his table. “You have a place here for the night, as well as a hot meal tonight and a hearty breakfast in the morning.” He stares at the young woman, speechless at her generosity. She smiles, donning a cloak and pulling the cowl low over her face. “I will help you regain what has been stolen from you. Put worry out of your mind, good Canthiorn. Eat and sleep – your mind, body and soul are weary.” She turns to leave as the serving-girl places a heaping plate of wood-elf delicacies in front of Canthiorn. He is so ravenous that he doesn’t even think to ask the name of his mysterious benefactress.

Sepultur’a exits the inn and walks back towards the banking-house, but bypasses the building and enters a small gazebo behind it. There are many of these secluded seating areas and various locations around the town, but this one holds a secret known only to a few. The statue honouring the god of finance is also the doorway to an underground refuge which provides shelter for the indigent and a hiding place for those of ill-repute.

Grushtakh gro-Karzhagum starts awake at the feel of a booted toe nudging his nethers, and he scrambles out of his bedroll, ready to shred someone’s face over the indignity. The angry roar that was building in his throat fades to a squealing whisper as he sees who was doing the nudging. “Um…uh, er…I…” he stammers, realizing at the same time that he wears nothing but a thin loincloth. As he turns slightly sideways to hide his dream-excitement from the unexpected visitor, he is certain that he had at least a pair of breeches on when he had gone to sleep. Damn this so-called refuge for outlaws! The other residents would steal the clothes off of your back or arse given the opportunity and the experienced thief or cutpurse could literally do so even if their target was awake. “Uh…” he starts again, and the visitor’s throaty chuckle builds to hearty laughter. “Ah, Grush – you sleep too soundly for your own good!” Sepultur’a turns her back, tossing his breeches over her shoulder for him to catch. “Cover yourself! I have am in need of information, and you have proved to be a good source of it.”

Grushtakh hastily pulls on his breeches and a simple tunic for good measure, returning to his bedroll and sitting comfortably. “So, the Flame-Serpent returns!” He spreads his hands, gesturing for her to sit in the sole chair that he owns. “I’ll do what I can and tell you anything I know – if I’m able to, o’ course,” he finishes as she declines the chair and leans against the damp stone of the underground refuge. She takes a coin from a hidden pocket and begins to flip it idly, casually, as she frames her next question.

To Be Continued…

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