Uglies Bumpin Entertainments Emporium, Western Arcade, Marrowshire
Noon Bell, Payday, 17th of Postharvest, Year 1126
Part 1 — Orcish Interlude
Borik Elfhire stepped through the emporium doorway, expecting a funky smell or some kind of dank repulsive environment. To his surprise he found himself in a spotless stone chamber, the fragrance of goldwood burning in fancy gold braziers. Detailed nude paintings of males and females of every race decorated the walls. Erotic, but no worse than he’d seen in temples to Sune, Ishtar, or other love deities. Books and scrolls were arranged in neat rows beneath labeling placards. At the center of the chamber were eight round tables with peculiar tiered displays on them. On the displays were different colored globes of crystal each about twice the size of a child’s marble. Having spent summers around Aufwefkin, this seemed so unlike a place he would be involved with; what was going on?
Behind him, Borik heard a door close, and heard wood scrape on stone. A gravelly, familiar voice spoke up. “Welcome stranger, the new stuff be on da red table. Take yer time, the warez is all bestest quality.”
Borik oriented on the sound of the voice. Perched behind the ebonwood counter was a thick-bodied half-orc with a jeweled patch over his left eye. He wore a tailored leather weskit over a clean silk shirt. His long dark hair was braided and even his tusks were polished.
He blinked. Scrubbed his face and looked again. “Aufwefkin?”
The half-orc straightened up. “Eh?” He leaned forward, shading his good eye. “Hey, does I know you?”
“Feffy?” Borik said, head listing to one side.
“Hey, Bor! Goddammit, it is you!”
“Feffy, y-you…” He swallowed and blinked again. He couldn’t be getting this picture right. “You’re–” He shook his head. “Y-you’re… clean.”
The half-orc straightened up and pulled at his lapels and raised his chin. He scraped manicured claws up his neck with a rasping sand-paper sound. “Yeah,” he grinned, fully exposing his tusks. “I is re-spec-table.” He snorted. “Heh!” He gestured around the shop. “So, whaddya think?”
Borik frowned. “Not sure what to think…” He scrubbed the back of his head. “What are those globes?”
Aufwefkin came out from behind the counter nodding and grinning. “Thems is our best seller.” He grabbed a red stone off the display and held it up between his thumb and forefinger. “These is brain stones. They gots pictures in ‘em–memories. You can feel and ever’thin. This one here is our best seller, ‘Evvy Does Ivaneth’.” He put the red one down and picked up a blue one, and winked. “Endless Orifice”.
“Oookay,” Borik said with a furrowed brow. He couldn’t get over this change, not that it wasn’t a good thing. It gave him–misgivings. “But what about serving Groomish, did you give up being a cleric?”
“Heh,” Aufwefkin put the gem down and rubbed his patched over eye. “Me still serve. It like dis. Serving god is like killing. Can be quick, can be slow.” He lowered his voice. “Best killing not fast you know.” He tapped one of crystals with a claw. “Sometimes killing not even hurt.” His one dark eye glinted and he made a feral grin. “When them dead an not even know it–bestest killing ever.”
“Ah.” Borik swallowed. Okay, same Auwfwekin, just nicely dressed and far more insidious. “So, you like it here in town?”
“Town great!” the half-orc let out. “Now me clean, brothel not kick me out.” He ran a black tongue over his teeth. “Girls ask back, Feffy got good stuff. Heh.”
“Yeah,” Borik said.
Aufwefkin nudged him. “You come with Taj-vet, yes?”
“Yeah, we made the trip over together. Taj is staying with his cousin Cupric over on North Hill.”
“Heh,” the half-orc nodded. “Yeah, yeah, me knows Cupric. His shop sell good smash-water. Since me re-spec-table,” he thumped his chest. “Me afford. Me find out selling gem easier than stealing! Dem not care I green or have one eye. ‘Jus gimmie the gem,’ them says. Heh.” He shook his head and looked around the shop. “Work for me. Good food. Good bed. Even got woman. Bestest I ever live. Glad I listen to vision. Give great advice.”
A vision. This whole change in the half-orc came from a vision? That must have been quite a revelation.
“I’m glad things are working out for you,” Borik said. “We ran together for a long time and made some good coin, so I just wanted to check in with you. I hope I can be re-spec-table too.”
“Heh. You will, you will,” Aufwefkin chortled. “Not respect as much as me, but you do okay. You make good weapon. Sell good. Good time, now that monsters come.”
“Hey, yeah,” Borik said. “What do you know about that?”
“Oh,” the half-orc scratched the back of his head. “This place not like other town. Almost everybody tough guy. There big hole over east, got mostest trouble you ever heard of. Stupid tough guys from other towns try prove they have biggest boulders. Problem, dem got big stones but small brain.” He held up a small space between his fingers. “Dis group of dummies from Corwin, dey go in, get their boulders busted. Bad part, they do somethin in there, somethin bad. Now all the trouble in da hole is comin out. Smarties in town,” he tapped his temple. “They makin plans. Have meeting tonight. You come.”
“Yeah, I think I will. I better head out, I have to meet Master Redsteel.”
“You work for grouchy dwarf?”
“He’s going to apprentice me in armor smithing,” Borik said.
“Appren-tice?” Aufwefkin repeated. “Does it hurt?”
Borik laughed. “Only for a couple summers, basically I have to work for free, so now that I think of it– it is kind of painful.”
Aufwefkin frowned. “Why you work free?”
“It’s kind of a smith tradition thing, it’s how I pay for the training. I’ll be okay, I made a lot of gold on our last run, so I’ll be able to get a house and stuff.”
“You good tough guy,” Aufwefkin said. “You treat feffy fair. You ever want brain rock,” he pointed to the gems. “Me give good deal.”
“Thanks, Aufwefkin, I’ll keep that in mind.” He thumped him on the shoulder. “Stay tough.”
“Heh,” the half-orc snorted. “Always. Tough and re-spec-table. Soon, you call me, Sir. Gonna buy me title.”
“Sir Aufwefkin Eyespite, huh?”
“Dat me,” the half-orc thumped his chest. “Make snotty elf polish boots!”
“Good luck with that,” Borik said. “Okay, see ya.” He headed out of the shop.
Part 2 — Hot Iron and Red Steel
Pressing down the hill from Aufwefkin’s shop, Borik took his time and surveyed the community he had decided to be a part of. The walled town situated on four hills simply felt different from all the crowded cities he had been in prior. More relaxed, but also more focused at the same time. The people on the streets carried themselves differently, alert, confident, and capable. No sheep here, or none that he had seen.
Armed and armored men were gathered by the big temple in the northwestern corner of town; a large number of people. Knowing the skills and history of this place, that was not a trivial amount of fighting strength. The encounter he and Taj-vet had with the ashbringer was obviously not an isolated occurrence. He assumed Aufwefkin spoke true but found it hard to imagine that one small raid group could cause such a huge disturbance. Attending that meeting tonight was definitely a good plan. He was not eager to jump into another huge fight. If it came to a choice between fighting and the town getting trashed, he would fight. After all, he wasn’t even moved in yet.
He turned down the main path that swept around the base of the northwest hill. A few vendor carts and citizens were moving about, but it was obvious the incursion had people cautious.
Lost in thought, he’d only gone a few dozen steps before his danger instinct forced him to stop and look around. A scan of the brick buildings nearest and the bridge crossing the river showed no obvious threat.
“Ssss buddy a momentsss of your time,” a sibilant voice said from nearby.
Skin prickling, he oriented on the sound. A huge figure moved from between the buildings, visible as nothing but a translucent outline. As it moved toward him, glowing motes spun and flickered around its limbs with a humming sound. With each step, the figure became more opaque, resolving into a large tailed humanoid with scaly green skin. Intense golden eyes looked out a vaguely draconian face. What was a lizard man doing here?
Borik saw the creature’s nostrils dilate as it sniffed the air. It held a weapon but was holding it in a relaxed, non-threatening way. It stopped a short distance from him. “Ssss, you are new here, yesss?” it queried in a thick rasp. “You sssmell not like the othersss.”
He eyed the creature, noting the chain-shirt, shield and spear. He also noted the bolos and fetters hanging from its belt. A bounty hunter? He put a hand on his weapon. “So, if I am?”
“Ssss, you sssmell like sssellsword. I gotsss big bounty.”
He let out a breath. Should he even ask. He was getting out of the business. “How big?”
“I givesss you twenty-thousand,” the snake-man replied.
He coughed. “Twenty-thousand? What did the guy do? Kill a king?”
“My sssources sssay he isss runaway.”
“Yeah, right, my cut is twenty thousand to snatch a runaway. What’s the catch?”
“Ssss other bounty huntersss,” the reptile answered peering around. “Mussst be quick.”
He shook his head. “No way. It can’t be right. That much gold. He must be someone ridiculously dangerous. Sorry, I’m not selling anymore. I don’t need the hassle. I’d be careful if I were you. There’s a monster incursion going on… you might get confused for something that should be killed.”
“Yesss,” the bounty-hunter responded with a nod of his reptilian head. “Bad timingsss. Ssss okay I find sssomeone else.” He turned and faded from view.
Borik watched the spot where the lizardman vanished. One thing for certain, this town wouldn’t be boring. If the muscle’s cut of the bounty was twenty thousand, that must be one huge purse. He couldn’t see Ivaneth or Corwin wanting someone so bad they’d front that kind of coin. It would be cheaper to hire an assassin…
Whoever that bounty-mark was, he kinda felt sorry for them. For a pile of coin that big, the hunters would be on them like bugs on bread.
He continued down the street. Looking up at the Marrowshire fortress. When they first came to town he and Taj-vet had checked it out. Not much in it really except guest quarters for visiting diplomats and royalty. A place for the rich folk to park their carriages and horses. From what he was told, the town council didn’t use it much themselves. Apparently its only real function was to be a defense of last resort. He gazed up at the massive ten pace high walls. That was a lot of work for what amounted to a rarely used guest house.
Ahead he heard the familiar pinging of hammer on metal. That sounded like the place.
The smith’s pavillion was actually several shops working cooperatively. A section of the hillside had been dug out and a roofed over arcade served as the common area for all the craftsman. A bricked in channel brought a supply of water from the river presumably for dousing and other crafting needs. Smoke streamed from a stone stack well back on the hill. The dwarven enclave must go deep into the hillside for the forge-breach to be so far recessed.
A minimally equipped implements station sat out front with a small foot operated bellows, coal bed, and anvil. There were a few stalls for horses that needed to shoed, and bins of stock. A young dwarf not even old enough to sport a beard hammered at some patch iron. On a table nearby were several iron implements, bed-warmers, pans and other obviously broken metal wares.
“Dulgan az,” Borik greeted in dwarven. “Bairdo dun undar Moradin slaggar (Moradin’s blessings on your steel).”
The dwarf peered up at him, heavy brow furrowing. He thrust the piece he was working on into the hot coals. His blocky face broke into a smile, it probably wasn’t often he heard dwarven from somebody besides a dwarf. “Dulgan az, jhaja dul geffar strickto hondar (may your hammer strike true).” He responded with the formal reply. “Your Dwarven is very good.”
“You want to learn from the masters,” he said with a grin. “Have to speak the language of the smith lords.”
“Aye, aye,” the dwarf responded, wiping his fingers on his apron. He held out a blocky hand. “Durnik Redsteel, and you’d be me father’s new apprentice, eh?”
“Indeed,” he responded, gripping the dwarf’s hand. “Borik Elfhire.”
“Yull find father over yonder,” he pointed through a doorway. “He be expectin ya. Hope yer as sturdy as ya look, we gots ourselves a fair bit ‘o work.”
He slapped a fist into his palm and nodded. “It’s what I’m here to do.”
“Off with ya then, we’ll be seein plenty o each other I be certain.”
“Thanks,” Borik responded. “Guthag to, friend.”
“Guthag, guthag,” Durnik responded with a grin, waving him in.
Dwarves weren’t all grim hammer slammers. He’d learned early when he started smithing that just knowing the proper greetings and responses stopped most of the glowering tacturn act. A few well placed casks of ale usually fixed the rest.
He headed for the doorway. Beyond the thresh-hold was a large metal wares shoppe, racks, shelves, bins, and hangers displayed everything from pots and pans, to armor and weapons. The variety of items was actually quite amazing. At the back of the shoppe was a large counter and display with smaller items. Behind it was a doorway through which he could hear the hiss of a forge and crackle of molten metal.
Behind the counter sat an older female dwarf dressed in a black leather apron and overalls perusing the pages of book. She wore square spectacles, that looked small on her round face, and her dark blonde hair was knotted in loops. “Welcome yah,” she drawled, waving a hand at him. “If yah need any help jus gimme a holler.”
“Dulgan az,” he said with a slight bow. “I’m actually here to see master Redsteel.”
“Och!” She smiled. “So ya are.” She rose from her seat and yelled out the doorway into the back area. “Remmy, yer new hire is here!”
Master Redsteel came in from the back area wiping his hands on his apron. Big as dwarves went, with an exceptionally thick neck and shoulders, he wore his red-hair long and clamped with steel ties, and his beard and mustache trimmed down to wire thin goatee.
“Dulgan, dulgan!” the dwarf greeted, holding out a thick calloused hand. “Captain Elfhire, good to see yer!”
“Borik is fine,” he said, shaking his hand. “I haven’t been a captain in a good while. Got tired of slapping guardsman upside the head.”
“Olthum had good things to say about yer,” Remolus said. “Said you was fair and run a tight team. I looked over yer samples.”
“And?” Borik prompted.
“Ya got promise, Lad. I wouldn’t of agreed to the apprenticeship if ya didn’t. Yer work, she be real sturdy. Good dwarven function. It’s yer form, Lad. Function before form, yes, but yer joins and finish, they’re like like the leavin end of a bloody dragon.”
Borik winced and rubbed the back of his head. “That bad, huh?”
“Well, Lad, if ya didn’t need improvement what would ya be here for, right?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
The female dwarf cleared her throat.
“Oh,” Remolus smacked his forehead. “Where’s me manners?” He stepped over a patted the female’s shoulder. “Borik, I’d like ya ta meet me wife, Bennah.”
“Bairdo dun,” Borik said with a bow. He took her hand and kissed it. “I am honored, Lady Redsteel.”
The dwarf woman colored at the attention. “Well aren’t you the smooth-talking lad. I’m sure we’ll be getting along fine.”
“I’m sure we will.”
Remolus coughed and frowned at his wife. “Lemme show ya round, introduce ya to the folks yull be workin with.” He pushed Borik toward the workshop.
Master Redsteel took his time showing Borik each part of operation which was much larger than he imagined outside of dwarf colony. There were three blast furnances, one for common metal, one for weapons grade metals, and one for exotic metals. There were kilns and forms for poured projects, and many kinds of anvils and other stations for drawing wire and making sheets. There was a lot to learn, which made it all the more worthwhile.
The master walked Borik up to dwarf adding an emboss to edge of a heater shield. “This here’s my oldest son Vallin,” the master said. “Vallin, a moment, this here’s our new knockabout.”
“Greets,” Vallin said with nod. “Yah look stout, its a good thing we gots a mountain ‘o work ta do.”
The master grabbed another dwarf as he was trundling by. “Themar, hey.” As the younger dwarf stopped the master clapped him on the shoulder. “This is Vallin’s younger brother, Themar. Thems this is Borik, he’s going to be working under yah.”
“Issat so?” Themar said with a grin. He was a little taller than his father with long black hair braided and tied. He wore his face clean shaven as many serious smiths did rather than constantly fight with a burning beard. “Good to meet ya. Ya any good doing quick’n’dirty arms?”
“Not practiced at it, but I’ve done basic blade work,” Borik answered.
“Fine, fine, we got a big order for repairs and spares for the militia,” the dwarf responded. “Got monsters crawling out o every orifice out yonder, so they want ta be prepared.”
“I’ll do my best. Just show me what you need done.”
“Solid,” Themar responded with a clenched fist. “We’ll get on ‘er in the morning. They’re waiting until after the city meeting tonight to finish the order. Father, I gots to head out to the east gate to deliver them shirts.”
“Good, good,” Remolus answered. “Take care.”
Themar nodded and thumped away.
“Ya already met Durnik, my youngest out front,” Master Redsteel said. “Let’s go find my number three son, he should be kicking around the