SS/Fantasy A Crystar based story
By brian francis
In the darkness, you can easily become lost in the vastness of City Crystar. The main thoroughfares are well lighted but most of the side areas are dark and shadowy. The evening fog flows in after sundown and stays thick until after sunrise every day. The royal castle’s moat of fire causes the fog, much to the liking of the professional guilds of the pouch.
It was on one of the side streets, near the noble district, that I met a man who called himself Boggs Umbish. He was a fat little man, who was being roughed up by some of the local gentry when I stumbled on the scene. I guess they didn’t like the odds or maybe I just surprised them, but they started running and disappeared into the fog. The little fat man fell to his knees and wrapped his fat clammy arms around my waist.
“Thank you, kind sir. You’ve surely saved my life,” he whimpered. It was truly a disgusting scene. Seeing a man grovel and whimper like that was embarrassing.
After I pushed him away and got him to stop groveling, he invited me to his home to take a meal with him. I accepted, being hungry and not really having anything to do but deliver a small message scroll for my Guild Master. So I decided to delay the delivery for an hour or so and have myself a meal. He told me that his house was just up the street a little way.
As we walked toward the lighted area of the noble district just east of the castle’s main entrance, I was made to endure his life story. It was the kind of self-worshiping manure most often heard coming from braggarts who’d had too much drink. How pitiful it must be to feel you must impress everyone you meet. I really didn’t hear much of what he said, just enough to know when to grunt or make some other sign pretending interest. When we arrived at his house, he asked me to wait outside while he took care of some private business. Impatiently, I stood at the foot of the steps leading to the front door, leaning on the rail post.
I saw a window brighten, as a lamp was lighted in a room off to my right. Then I heard the scattering of coins on the floor. I couldn’t resist. I went over to the window and pulled myself up to peek into the room. I couldn’t see much; the draperies allowed me only a narrow view of the room. I could see my new friend crawling around on the floor gathering numerous coins and gems into his greedy little hands. He looked like a fat little rat, scurrying around in a garbage pile.
Soon the front door opened and he invited me in as he wiped his brow with a cloth. There was one other person in the house, a servant who was preparing our dinner in the kitchen as she sang a melody that reminded me of home. The little fat man seemed nervous; he constantly wiped his brow with his sleeve.
“I’m sorry my friend, I just realized, I don’t even know your name,” he said, wiping his brow yet again.
“Merak,” I replied as he turned toward the door leading to the kitchen.
“Hurry up with that food,” he screamed. “And stop making that gnawing sound,” he added, slamming the door.
Turning back toward me he smiled and directed me to the table. I took the seat opposite the head and glanced at the fine silverware on display in the windowed cabinets that surrounded the room. He did seem to have good taste, even though he was the vulgar sort.
Again he screamed, “Where is my pipe! How many times do I have to tell you; I need to have my pipe before dinner!”
The young lady came into the room. “I’m sorry sir,” she said. “I placed it on your desk for you. I didn’t expect you to be in the dining room so soon.”
“Well hurry up and get it then,” he berated her. “It’s so hard to find good help nowadays,” he added turning his attention back to me.
He said he had been at a meeting with the city guard and some other proprietors, regarding just the sort of hooligans from whom I had saved him earlier. He told me that his carriage was being repaired to explain why he’d been walking home at such a late hour.
The girl brought him his pipe and a lighting stick on a silver tray, which she placed at his side on the table. Then she returned to the kitchen to finish preparing our meal.
“You see what I mean,” he said, picking up his pipe and the stick while shaking his head in amazement. “Now how am I supposed to light the pipe with an unlit smoking stick. You would think she would be smart enough figure that much out,” he said raising his voice so she could hear him.
He rose from the table and lit the stick in a lamp that hung on the wall by the door. Still shaking his head, he held the burning stick up to the pipe and started puffing smoke in ever increasing billows. “As you can see–I live alone here–and have since the wife died. Then, I married off my daughter, last year,” he said, pausing every few words to puff on his pipe. “I have gone through eight maids in the past year. Not one of them worth her salt.”
“She seems nice enough to me,” I replied.
He drew the pipe from his mouth and paused. “Sure, she’s nice, but it takes more than being nice to run a household. She doesn’t even compare to my sweet Lizzy,” he said looking up at the ceiling. “She would have never been stupid enough to make the mistakes that this one does.”
“Who is Lizzy?” I questioned.
“My wife, my beautiful wife,” he said in a sad and wistful tone. He shook his head and puffed on his pipe a couple of times and said, “But she is gone now, and I will just have to accept that….” He sat quietly with his head bowed.
The meal was wonderful, even though the company left something to be desired. After we finished eating, I bid him goodnight and went on my way. The person I was to deliver the message to could be found only a short distance up the street. The man who received the message told me to return the following morning for the reply. So I decided to go back to King’s Way road and find a room for the night.
Along the way, I saw Boggs’ maid leaving his house and walking up the road ahead of me. I could tell when she served the meal that she had been crying. I hurried my pace and caught her just as she was crossing King’s Way. I told her how wonderful the meal was, and invited her to have a drink with me at one of the many inns along the road. She gracefully declined and continued her trek home. I offered to accompany her and escorted her to the door of her mother’s house about a mile away. She was the most beautiful flower in the whole garden. She was gentle and kind and even defended Boggs’ rudeness as the pain of a lonely widower. She also said that he did pay her well. She also told me that he wasn’t usually as rude to her as he was this evening. She said it was the anniversary of his wife’s death that made him so moody.
During our stroll, I discovered that she would be walking back to Boggs’ at sunrise. I measured the time it took me to get to the nearest inn. Then I checked into a room and tried to sleep. I left orders with the innkeeper to be awakened half an hour before sunrise. The night passed so slowly I thought the sun would never rise.
I awoke to the innkeeper pounding at my door. I jumped out of bed and dressed as quickly as I could. The man working the counter at the foot of the steps in the bar, must have thought I was up to no good, the way I came running down the stairs. He screamed for me to stop, but by then I was already out the door and making my way up the street. It seemed that every step I took I had to dodge someone; there were people all over who just seemed to be there to slow me down.
When I arrived at her mother’s house, I waited across the street for what seemed like an eternity. When I saw the door open, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. It was only a young boy who was carrying a milking pail. He walked up the street and out of sight. I finally calmed myself down and waited for her to appear.
The second time the door opened, an older lady stuck her head out and screamed, “Jerral! Jerral, where are you! You had better hurry up or I’ll skin you alive!” She pulled her head back inside and the door closed again.
As I watched the boy returning, awkwardly carrying the pail, I wanted to approach him and inquire about my beautiful flower. But, I realized, I didn’t even know her name. I couldn’t get her image out of my head, but I had no name to attach to it.
An hour later, deciding to give up my siege of her mother’s house, I started back to the inn. Then, as I turned to walk away, I saw the door open one more time. Out came the youngster again. This time he was devouring a piece of bread; with the older lady right behind him, she was screaming and hitting him over the shoulders with the bristles of a broom.
“And don’t come back until you’ve learned some manners, you little weasel,” she screamed before returning inside and slamming the door.
The kid crossed the street and walked right past me, laughing and eating his bread. I approached him and struck up a conversation. He seemed like a nice kid, talkative and willing to let me tag along. Soon we were walking side by side, discussing the finer points of etiquette; like the safest place to relieve oneself, to avoid the watchful eye of the city guards, or how he could steal an apple from under the nose of any shopkeeper in the whole city.
I had decided that he was the best way to get to his sister. He was a little monster, but I could tell it was mostly a facade. I offered to buy him some breakfast. I could tell I’d said the right thing, by the way, his face lit up.
When he started to suggest places like Royals Tavern and The Noblemen’s Club, I knew I was in for an experience. He was about eleven or twelve going on fifty. He was still young enough to believe the bull he was dishing out, but not yet old enough to know when the pile was getting too high.
Finally, we agreed to dine at the inn where I’d spent the night. As we walked to the inn, I learned that she wasn’t his sister but his cousin, and her name was Rosey. How perfect I thought. She was even named after a beautiful flower. He said she was ugly and didn’t have the sense to quit working for the low-paying employer who had engaged her. He thought Boggs was a greedy tyrant and told me how someday when he gets bigger he would show Boggs a thing or two. He pointed out that nobody should mess with his family–he wouldn’t stand for it. He said that even though his cousin was stupid for sticking with that greedy idiot he had no right to treat her the way he did. I couldn’t have agreed more.
When we arrived at the inn he jumped right up onto a stool at the bar.
“Get out of here you little waif, before I call on the guard,” warned the barman.
“Go ahead and call the guard. If you want to lose two paying customers, that’s your business,” the boy shot back in a conceited tone. “It’s not a problem for us if you want to turn away a couple paying customers,” he continued, as he slid off the stool and started toward the door.
“Now n-now wait a minute. Why didn’t you say you was with the gentleman in the first place. I just thought you were one of those little hoodlums that’s always bothering my customers,” the man responded in a gentler voice.
The boy stopped and slowly turned back toward the barman and said, “Fine, I guess I won’t hold it against you this time. But in the future, you had better watch your tongue, or it might get it fed to you on a knuckle sandwich.” Then as he climbed back into his chair he added, “Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” the barman said turning to me and again apologizing.
“What might I be able to serve you, fine gentlemen, this morning?” he asked as he polished the counter in front of us.
We ordered our breakfast and continued our conversation about his cousin Rosey. It seems she started working for Boggs two years before Mrs. Umbish passed on. The other servants were all discharged soon after her death when some money disappeared from Boggs study. Rosey had gone on a trip with his daughter and in that way had avoided suspicion and termination. Mr. Umbish’s daughter soon married and moved away with her new husband to an estate house in the North of the kingdom. This left Rosey alone in the house most of the day while Boggs was out tending his businesses. He also confided in me that he was the one who had stolen the money in question.
I immediately checked my pouches only to discover one was missing. He must have noticed me checking, or he could have seen me looking at him out of the corner of my eye. Either way, I soon heard my pouch drop to the floor between us as he went about hurriedly finishing off his breakfast.
Having arrived in town by carriage; I suddenly felt the need, to buy a horse, for transportation. Jarrel offered to show me where to get the best deal. And I soon found myself perusing the stock of a nearby stable. After I selected and paid for a fine riding horse I noticed Jarrel disappear into the stable office. Fearing the little thief was about to get himself into some trouble. I stopped saddling my horse and peeked through the window and saw the owner of the stable handing the brat his commission. Now it was my turn!
As I finished saddling the horse, Jarrel came out and assured me that I had gotten the best deal in the whole city. He walked around the horse and patted it and told me how he envied my owning the gelding. I mounted the horse and offered him a ride back home.
On the way, I held the reins tight so the horse would falter and hesitate. Jarrel fell for it and started to give me advice on how to ride. I acted offended and told him if he could do better he should just take the reins and let me ride behind him. He couldn’t turn down the offer. On the way to his aunt’s house, I used my dagger to fray the seam in his pouch. I also kept nudging the horse’s belly with my feet. He was so busy trying to control the horse, and convince me that the horse just wasn’t used to the city, he didn’t even notice his pouch getting lighter. Two silver and eight copper pieces fell into my hands as we rounded the corner by the inn. I suggested that it might be nice to stop and get something to drink. So we did.
I stepped up to the counter and requested ale. After I paid I walked to the door and leaned against the wall and enjoyed the expression on the little devil’s face as he realized all his coins were gone. He started searching the ground frantically making his way back to the stables. I followed on the horse after I finished my ale.
When I caught up to him he was sitting on the ground near the stables, dejected and pouting with his hands covering his face.
“What’s wrong,” I questioned. He didn’t respond. “Whatever it is, it can’t be all that bad,” I said barely able to keep a straight face.
He looked up at me and told me I wouldn’t understand. What would I know, about being hungry? I swear I almost fell off the horse–I started laughing so hard. He got up and screamed something with tears running down his face, then took off running, disappearing like a rabbit with a hound on its tail. He went through fences barely wide enough to see through, between buildings, and over walls. I was truly amazed that the little brat could move so quickly.
It reminded me of someone else I used to know. He was a little thief too. He could out-brag the best of them and he knew all the secret passages through his town. He had learned to duck the guards to avoid being caught and had stolen his fair share of apples. All of a sudden it seemed not so long ago.
I went to his aunt’s house to wait for him. I suddenly remembered the return message I was supposed to pick up this morning. I rode over to the house where I had made the delivery. They had the return message ready to go. They told me that there was no time for delay. They informed me that it was important that the message is delivered within two days. Which allowed me barely enough time to make it back home.
On my way back up the road, as I passed by Mr. Umbish’s house, I heard a young man screaming. I could see Boggs standing on his porch, pipe in hand.
“I won’t have my fiancé working for the likes of you,” the young man screamed as he climbed into an open carriage.
“Well, I’ll see she doesn’t get a job anywhere! How’s that,” the little fat man yelled his voice cracking with anger.
As I rode by I could see Rosey, her arms were wrapped around the young man’s neck, and she was smiling and still as pretty as a flower. I waved down the driver and handed Rosey a pouch of coins. I asked her to give them to Jarrel. She looked puzzled for a second, then she nodded her head before laying it on the shoulder of her young man.
I sat there and watched the carriage disappear up the road into the busyness of City Crystar. Even as she disappeared from view, I knew I’d never forget Crystar’s most beautiful flower, or her cousin, the little thief.