Chance and Christian
I had been studying with Master Wendell at the Bards College for nearly two weeks before a timid young man came to my chamber one night to talk. I answered the door to find a diminutive human with dishwater blonde hair and unremarkable blue eyes; he looked to be around eighteen years old with just a shadow of stubble on his chin. He asked if he could speak with me — "Master Paedragn" he called me, I'll not forget that for a while—and I invited him in.
When the door had closed behind him, his anxiety seemed to grow even more and I knew I had to come up with a way to ease his tension. I reached into my basket—the very same one that my mother gave me a few years ago when I first left my home to travel with my friends — and pulled out two bottles of Paedragn Ale. I offered him one and he cast his gaze downward with the reply, "I don't have any money to pay for any such."
"It'll be my treat this time. After all, that's my family's name on the bottle and call me Chance. The only 'masters' in my family are my grandpa and father," I said with a laugh. "Sit, boy. What's on your mind?" I motioned to the extra stool I had in my room next to my writing table.
"I've read your books. They were both wonderful and I thought that I might ask more about the adventures you've had," the boy scrubbed his hand through his hair nervously, but with a bit of a smile.
"Both of my books, eh? I've told the tale many times since I've come to stay here, but I don't recall seeing you at any of the tellings. What is your name? I'm not going to be calling you 'boy' for the duration of our conversation." I had to push aside my natural paranoia when meeting people that I should have noticed earlier.
"My name's Christian. I ain't got no last name cause I never knew my real folks. Been raised by the folks near the wharves since I was a babe. I learned how to read, though. I made enough money to learn from a guy that used to tell stories at the tavern that my mum worked at. I came by cause I heard that you were still around and telling your stories. I want to learn how to sing, but I still have to earn enough to join the College. I figured that if I did some adventuring, I'd have enough to join the Bards College. Nobody takes me seriously, though, when I apply for a job as a mercenary," the look in his eyes and the hunch of his shoulders told me everything.
No one took him seriously because he couldn't have been more than three inches over five feet tall. No one would take me seriously either if I didn't know how to you use my steel and my tongue.
"Well," I began, "I had heard stories all my life and wanted to be in one so that I could be one of the great storytellers. One day, my prayers were answered when the group that would soon come to be my closest friends showed up in my family's inn…"
I told him how I had spoken with Sanjian that night and how he had vouched for me with the rest of the group. I even told him how my brother had put pepper in my pony's nose the day of my departure. That got a laugh out of him for sure. We spoke well into the night about this thing or that until I realized that my writing candle was guttering out. He bid me farewell and I told him to look in on me the next day.
When he left, I donned my armor and quickly slipped out of the window to my room to follow him. I wanted to make sure that this kid was on the up and up. I followed him in the shadows for quite a while — he wasn't moving very quickly so it wasn't hard to keep up. Eventually, we were near the docks and he slipped into an alleyway rather suddenly. Slipping into the deepest shadows of the alley opening, I saw the reason why he had so quickly entered this darkened passage.
Two men — one with a long dagger and another with a crossbow — had Christian spread out against a wall and seemed to be searching him for anything of value. I hid behind a crate, picked up the broken corner of a bottle, put it in my sling and let it fly. The shot took the would-be archer in the temple and he dropped with a quiet thump to the ground. His friend whirled around, futilely searching the darkness for the source of his accomplice's condition. I threw a rock over his head so that it made noise down the opposite side of the alley and the man spun on the sound. Before he knew what hit him, I slide up behind him and whacked him in the back of the neck—he was crouched over trying to see into the gloom— with the butt of my dagger.
Once that was done, I turned to Christian and told him to be silent. I began to go through the assailant's belongings for loot, but thought better of crossing the Thieves Guild. The man I had taken in the temple was still alive, but unconscious so I tossed the boy some rope and told him to tie them both securely. I put both the crossbow and dagger under the crate that I had hidden behind and then went to find the guards. I told Christian to watch the men and, if they did anything, to knock them back out.
My search for the guard wasn't too hard. I did have a bit of a surprise when I found my friend Sir Harold leading the guards. I had forgotten that the wharves were now his area. He was equally surprised to find me within his jurisdiction well after midnight.
"What's going on, Chance? Why are you down here sneaking around?" He looked tired.
"Just because I'm down here doesn't mean that I'm sneaking. I happened to be following a kid that I thought one of my 'friends' might have sent to spy on me. Anyway, I've got two more ruffians to add to your collection. I'll give you my report tomorrow when we've both had our beauty sleep, but right now, that boy is guarding the two thugs," I had to laugh at that. "He wasn't a friend of theirs apparently, because they had him up against the wall looking through his clothes for goodies."
"Take me to these guys, Chance. This boy of yours better be there or I'm going to slap an order of public service on you for letting a thief go," the service in this shady part of town was obviously beginning to wear on him.
"Alright, alright. Let's go."
I led the three guards to the alleyway; all the while hearing the whispers of the other two guards wondering how a little guy like me could take two thugs without being scathed. They were finally silenced when Harold told them that nearly a year before, I had taken four men by myself in order to save an innkeeper his night's earnings.
We found the kid dozing on the crate and the two other men still firmly bound on the ground. Christian snapped awake when he heard the guards coming and looked worried.
"You saved this kid from these thugs?" Harold asked. "I've locked him up half a dozen times over the last couple months for petty theft. Stealing food and the occasional purse, but no other crimes that I know of. My guess that these guys're from the Guild and were letting him know that they didn't want any free agents out there."
"Be that as it may, Sir Harold, these men were caught stealing and should be punished. Armed robbery is a little more felonious than petty theft. I'll take the grunts from the Guild, I'm sure and, if that's so, I want to make sure these guys stay in jail for a while to make my lumps worth it," I barked when I found the guards looking skeptically from the boy to the bound men.
"Alright, Chance. Because I know you and because of who you're becoming, I'll see what I can do. I've heard the stories about offers from people for you and your friends and won't be the one to first doubt the 'demon-slayer' of Tel Akbar. Ha! I know you're tough, but I don't think that even you could whack two demons." Harold gave me a friendly nudge at that.
"Hey, some of the most valuable items are small ones, Harold."
"What have you got to say for yourself, boy?" One of the guards made a grab for him. I stepped between the two and told the patrolman that he ought not do that.
"What are you going to do, halfling, kick me in the shin? It's a little easier to take on two men in rags than it is to take on a man in mail," he gave the nearest thug a kick with his boot.
Harold laughed when he saw me smile. "Zak, this halfling would be feeding you your own foot before you could even draw your blade. Besides, he's a friend of mine and I'll have none of this on my watch. Is that understood, private?"
"I'll take the boy home, Sir. I'll be in to give you my report before lunch tomorrow. Perhaps we can find food after?"
"That should be entertaining my friend," Sir Harold nodded.
The patrol left us after that and I looked at the boy. He seemed shaken, but oddly used to this whole experience.
"This has happened before, Christian?"
"Yeah, a couple of times. They just take what I have and tell me to get out of town or I'll be 'dealt with.' Looks like you sure dealt with them this time, though, Chance," he gave a little hoot at that.
"Well, kid, let me tell you what just happened cause it doesn't look like you've quite comprehended it. Those thugs'll get out of the clink in a couple of days and be pretty upset that you're still walking around with your ribs intact. So, they and some of their friends will find you and see to remedy that. Also, as a bonus, they'll try feeding me a steel lunch for helping you." I took another good look at him and found what I suspected. "You're not as dim as those guards think you are. You can't be to have lived this long," that being said, I reached out and slit the sagging pocket of his ragged pants; silver and copper spilled from it amounting to perhaps as much as half a dozen gold pieces.
"They're really going to want that. I know that I'd be bent out of shape if some kid boosted that much from me. I'll have to tell you about a time when a friend of mine wasted a kid a couple years younger than you for doing as much." I thought about the situation for a minute and made a decision. "Come with me."
We moved along the streets at a good pace for about an hour until we came to a familiar building. I moved into the alley along the Laughing Frog and unlocked the door to the kitchen with the key that Neil had given me after I had spent a week telling the tale of my adventures to the common folk. As it was only a little before dawn, Neil's wife was in the kitchen putting loaves of bread in the oven. I made sure that I didn't surprise her entering and she greeted me with her typical look. Kara is a plump woman in her middle years that I'm sure was quite a find in her youth. Judging by her long auburn hair and the mischievous glint in her eyes, I would wager a month's work that she had melted many a lad's heart in her time. I told her that I was going up to my room and that I would like to be woken up around ten of the clock.
When Christian and I got up the stairs and settled, I told him what I had decided.
"I'm going to talk to my friend, Neil, that owns this place and see if he'll give you a job waiting tables. This will be your room unless I have need of it and you'll meet me in the Mercenaries Hall for training everyday beginning tomorrow. That is the only place that you have leave to go without my permission, understood?"
"Hey, I only came to you to ask you about your stories and to find out about adventuring, Chance. You're not in charge of me and you're not going to tell me how to live. I got plenty of places that I can go," Christian folded his arms across his chest and actually surprised me by showing that he did have a spirit to him. "I know how to defend myself plenty. I've lasted this far and I'll last until I make enough money to do something else."
"Listen to me, boy. You will stay here and you will meet me like I said or I'll make sure that Harold puts you in the clink with those guys. No one watches crooks in the brig."
"Why would he put me in jail? I haven't done anything wrong," he said with a shift of his feet.
"He'll put you in jail when he finds out that you took that silver candlestick of mine that you have in the small of your back," I saw his eyes grow wide his body tense at that and knew that I had him.
With a sigh, his body relaxed in a gesture of defeat and said, "Okay, I'll do it. What do you care what happens to a kid like me, anyway?"
"Because you remind me of a guy in an inn a couple of years ago that would still be there if an odd group of friends hadn't have given him a chance. Now go to sleep," I blew out the candle next to my bed and lay awake until I was sure that he had gone to bed. When I was sure he was asleep, I got my things together and went next door to my real room to find some sleep.
I met Sir Harold just before noon that day and told him what had happened. He looked like he hadn't had a lot of sleep that night—or any night recently—and I said as much. Harold sat back and rubbed his temple as he took in a deep breath.
"Let's get something to eat, my friend, and I'll tell you all about it," I said.
We went to a tavern that he knew of that has great chowder and a pleasant view onto the harbor.
"Things are just really rough down here, Chance. The crooks run this area and just feed the Watch a couple of their own once and a while to keep us happy. There's really nothing that I can do down here anymore. I've been with the Watch for nigh on twenty years and I think that I'm about to put up my badge," he shook his head and snorted in frustration. "If I retire early, I only get seventy percent of my pension, but I just don't know how long I can take this anymore." He fell silent after that and focused on his chowder.
I could tell that something else was bothering him, but I couldn't tell what. "There's something else, isn't there?"
"I…um…yes, Chance. There is," his voice was husky and I knew that he was trying to find the courage to tell me. "Remember a few months back when the demons sacked the city?" I nodded and he continued, "Well, I had been doing my rounds as usual when I saw a building across the harbor explode. For the next several hours, I did my job as best I could and tried to get as many of those demons out of the sky as I could. I took thirty archers and knocked five out of the air before finding that our losses were greater than theirs were. When we thought it was about over for us, they flew away toward where we could hear more explosions… over towards that crazy wizard's tower." He got a sad look on his face then and continued.
"I made sure that my men were okay and ran home," he took a deep breath like what he was going to say next was going to hurt. "I found my wife and son in pieces. They had been blown to bits and our home had been destroyed. Everything that I owned and had worked for was gone. My boy would've been ten last month, but now he's dead and it's my fault."
"What do you mean it's your fault, Harold?" I reached a hand across the table to console him.
"I've been a soldier for over nineteen years and a husband for fifteen," his body shook with a light sob. "In the end, it was my soldierly training that won out over the love for my family. I reacted with my gut and not with my heart." He slammed his fist down on the table in frustration. "I have nothing to love in this city now that my family is gone and I don't know why I continue to try to protect a city when I couldn't even protect my own family."
I thought about what he'd said as I had lost my appetite and then had an idea.
"Harold, I'm going to take a friend of mine to the Eastern Empire in a few months. I have some training to do here and then, I plan on going to my parents' home to do some other training and to pick up my friend. Why don't you continue your work here until I go home and then go with me? You can relax at the Rest for the few weeks we'll be there and then travel with me. I could always use a friend and a good sword at my side. A pilgrimage, you could call it, to find your place after your family. I won't let you die for doing your duty to the city when you wouldn't let me die for doing the same. What do you say?"
"Well, that's a lot to think about, Chance. Give me some time to decide. I'll get back to you on it, though. I promise," I could see a light behind his eyes that I hadn't realized was missing until that moment. I had given him something to dream about and hope for. We parted shortly after that and I caught a rickshaw back to the Bards College for my daily lesson with Wendell.
After my lesson, I went to the Laughing Frog to talk with Neil. At first he didn't really want to have someone lurking around for no good reason, but then I told him that I was looking after him and that it wasn't going to be for more than a few months. I promised that I would owe him a favor and he perked up at that.
"One full cask of Paedragn Ale. That's the favor I want."
"What!? That's going to cost near fifty gold and I'm family," I knew that he knew that he had me, though. "Alright, robber. I'll do it."
We shook on it and he looked particularly pleased with himself for having bested me at our play at words, but I got what I wanted.
I took Christian to the Mercenaries Hall and introduced him to Tanos. Tanos sized him up and gave a chuckle, "One pigmy teaching another how to fight. Ha! That's rich." He saw the smirk on my face and put his hands in front of him palm out like I was holding him up, "Okay, okay. I was just joking, Chance. Ha ha. Just sign in first."
"No worries, Tanos. Short people need tall tempers in order to keep their teeth. That's a lesson that we all should remember," I shot a glance at Christian and noted his clenched fists. "C'mon, Chris, we've got work to do."
We entered the training room and I tossed him a weighted, dagger-shaped stick.
"You know how to use that?" I asked.
"I've used one a couple of times," he made a couple of lame jabs with it and I wondered how he hadn't stabbed himself with the daggers he'd used.
"Well, I'm going to show you how to use one a little bit better." With that, I began to show him the basics of the dagger.
His height was a problem at first, but I began to adapt. After a few days, I began to break down the walls he had up and he began to tell me about his childhood. Very much like me, he had paid for his reading and writing lessons by picking pockets. He had lived on the streets fending for himself after his foster parents left him when he was ten. He did have a talent for telling stories, but loved music more. I found that he could play the flute beautifully when he wasn't studying the dagger. That practice dagger began to become a part of him and, as I taught, I found others wanting to learn, too. They offered me money and I took some of it — a couple hundred gold wouldn't hurt. I gave half to the Hall to pay for the facilities, though.
After about a month of instruction, Christian seemed ready to have his own steel. At the end of a particularly hard private workout, I handed him an oilcloth-wrapped package. He looked at me with a strange tilt of his head and asked what it was for. I told him it was for being ready. The boy unwrapped the package and found a long, curved dagger.
"This is the dagger that you took from the thug that tried to rob me. Why this?" He truly looked perplexed at the gift.
"Why this?" I mimicked. "Because, my friend, you should never forget where you began or you'll get lost along the way." I was happy when the boy nodded his head and smiled — he understood. "Well, tomorrow, I want you to meet me at the Bards College. An acquaintance of yours will be there as well so that you can learn Darini. Now get cleaned up."
The next day, Christian came as bade to my room in the Bards College for his new lessons. I'll never forget the look on his face when he saw Harold already there. I'm sure he thought that I was turning him in for something. Ha!
"Sir Harold will be learning how to speak Darini with you, Christian, just in case he decides to come with us to the Eastern Empire."
"The Eastern Empire! We're going to go to the Eastern Empire? That's great!"
"Whoa, kiddo. You might want to quiet down a little bit, there. I think that the emperor may know we're coming now," I said rubbing my ears. Harold just smiled and gave a little chuckle.
"We have work to do, gentlemen. With both of you learning the language, you'll be able to study with each other," Chris gave Harold a nervous look, but smiled. I figured it would be a good chance for them to get their differences out in the open and for both of them to feed off of each other to relieve their pains.
As I taught them Darini, they taught each other understanding, loyalty, duty and what a man might do out of desperation. Harold had spent as much time fighting the darker forces of the city as Christian had lived behind them and that was a big bump for them to chew on. They came to no easy decision on it and still have things to work out. Harold wouldn't even discuss Christian's views on crime until I took him aside and pointed out that I wouldn't have ever met him had I not pilfered enough money to start my adventuring. The guard captain didn't really understand until I pointed out that because I had no other way than that, that's what I did and that I didn't have to do it anymore. Theft was merely a means to an end. That softened things up a bit, but, by no means, solved the dispute.
Christian didn't open up much to Harold for some reason; maybe because he was "the law" or maybe because he was a man that had done nothing for him but throw him in the slammer. Chris opened to me a bit because I was doing something for him for nothing and asked nothing in return. He wanted to adventure and get off the streets; I couldn't deny him that when I had done the same thing for Earina. In the end, I was satisfied that they weren't going to kill each other and that they could come to rely on each other with time.
I also had other lessons to teach Christian. I told him that I wanted him to learn how to use the abilities he'd learned on the streets for things other than theft. Those skills might keep him alive one day. I found that he had a knack for hearing what others might not and for beating the brush to discern good rumor from bad. I set up a few trails for him to lead so that I could try to follow the steps he took to find the information.
Some of the ways that he dealt with the informers I'd hired was less than gentle but no one got hurt. I found that he liked to get information out of people even if a glib tongue failed. That was something that I was going to have to remedy because he wasn't that good with a blade. I also found that he knew more about the streets of Tel Akbar than I did. Of course, he'd grown up on them and I was a relative stranger. He was still rather ignorant of the Thieves Guild, though.
I had to find a way to train him out of roughing people up for information so, I sent him on a trail that sent him through Bolas. I knew he wasn't going to be roughing up my burly elven friend. I had told Bolas to be rough but eventually to give in to the boy's inquiries if he wasn't too obvious or obnoxious. Christian came back complaining of this oaf that wouldn't bend to his inquiries. I asked how he'd gone about it and I was amazed to hear that, just because Bolas wasn't that much bigger than him, he had tried to bully the elf. Bolas had literally thrown him out of the tavern I'd set him up in. Obviously, he has some stuff to learn about his attitude.
In order to combat Christian's problem with authority and to break through some of his mistrust, I asked Harold if he would instruct the boy in the use of the crossbow. Henceforth, the two of them conducted themselves outside the city three times per week for lessons in the crossbow. Christian threw in the twist that he would only take instructions in Darini—I had to laugh at that, but let the two of them work it out—and, subsequently, they progressed far more rapidly than I could have hoped. This also kept them out of my hair while I conducted some other business of my own on the behalf of myself and my old friends. Vacation gets boring without some kind of challenge.
Eventually, the day came when we needed a decision from Harold. I went to his offices near the wharves and told him that I the time had come to make a choice. The old guard captain threw himself back into his padded chair and let out a bark of a laugh.
"Ha ha! Chance, for all of your pride in your own capacity to find the details in a given situation, you have obviously forgotten to trust in what lays beneath your nose." He reached into his desk, withdrew a leather fold bound by a black thong and tossed it to me. "Open it, my diminutive friend. Although the language and crossbow lessons have been a great diversion from my dismay, do you really think that I would put in that much effort if I did not intend to travel with you? Of course, I'll go with you. We'll see what kind of troupe we make; a boy that barely knows which end of a dagger is the business end, a burnt-out guard captain, and a thief who would be bard. Ha! A fine beginning, my friend. A fine beginning."
"Don't forget a tavern wench whom you've not met," I said with a grin as I opened the fold and read the parchment within:
Sir Harold of Tel Akbar,
It is with a heavy heart that I grant you the request of early retirement. I know that my plea for you to finish your last five years will fall on deaf ears and, under the circumstances of the last several months, I can duly understand your reasoning. You have trained many fine men and your legacy will live on with them.
For your exemplary duty to the City of Tel Akbar without regard to personal health or well being, you are to be granted your pension—less ten percent—for having achieved twenty years tenure and as a gift of farewell from those you have honorably served. In order to grant you the freedom to travel and follow your dreams, you are to be paid in full via writs of accounting, cashable only to you, that will be honored anywhere on the eastern side of the Gulf of Beinyar.
Thank you for your valiant service, Sir Harold. The service that you began as a private manning the walls against the tides of the Black Scourge will be logged as one untarnished by fault and armored in merits too numerous to count. You will always have a home in Tel Akbar and friends among its people. Enjoy retirement, Captain. You've earned it.
Magistrate Balon ap Midrake
Secretary of Civil Peace of the Grand City of Tel Akbar
When I had finished reading the document, I looked upon Sir Harold with a newfound respect. It was then that I realized that I had come to see him as Harold the worn-out-old-man and not Sir Harold, Captain of the City Guard of Tel Akbar. He had been serving for the city when I was just learning my letters and "finding" my fortune among the pockets of my parents' patrons. In that moment, I felt honored and ashamed at the same time.
"I thought you said that you hadn't quite served for twenty years, my friend?" I asked.
"When we spoke five months ago, Chance, I hadn't. A lot can go on in five months and, if you must know, I tendered my resignation the day I got my twenty-year accommodation. Now, when do we leave?" The smile that crossed his face just then was that of a man filled with pride and for just a few moments, he forgot all his loss.
"Well, I'll tie up my loose ends and get Christian together…let's call it five days hence. Is that long enough for you?"
He inclined his head that that would be fine.
"One more thing, Captain. When did you reach twenty years?"
"Oh, about thirty six hours ago," he said with a wink.
Five days later, the three of us were in the saddle and riding toward my family's inn near Whereskalot where we would stay for a few weeks and meet with Earina—the fourth member of our little band. All we knew from there was that we were headed east on an adventure of our own.