Dawn in Duldrus

“We have about… half an hour, perhaps, until daybreak,” the fighter said, bundling his robes up close. A sudden burst of heat issued forth from the roaring fireplace, sending a chill down his spine, and making him briskly aware of just how cold he really was after that midnight trek back from town. He walked over to the fire and reached for the kettle. “Anyone for tea?”

Ron, whose head had been slumped down on the meeting table, perked up slightly. “What kind?”

“Ginseng, of course.”

“Ah yes please.”

The fighter stole a quick glance back at the table, finding only blank stares and, as expected, a look of visible revulsion from Sul. With a laugh, he placed the kettle on the old iron crane and swung it back over the fire, hinges creaking and groaning as it turned. It had been fifteen years, now, that the old crane had stood beside the fireplace. It was a fine piece of metalwork, ornately wrought with interlacing swirls and serpentine patterns that bespoke its northwestern provenance. No doubt, it would have many more years of service ahead of it, given a bit more dutiful maintenance and greasing on the part of the cooks. But if that day ever did come, when it would be rusted beyond all repair, he would have to insist on keeping it around, if only as a decorative piece for another room. How easy it was to get lost in those sinuous lines – lines that seemed to suggest the form of a lion’s mane here, a bird’s head there, and two slithering serpents there, wrapping around themselves in such a way that you could never really tell where one line ended and where another began.

hv1.png

All at once, he realized the water had come to a rolling boil. With utmost care, he removed the kettle and poured into the teapot, sending the energizing and piquant aromas of the ginseng up into the air. “Five minutes, precisely. Any more and the flavors will be overextracted and overly bitter.”

“I trust your judgment,” Ron said, taking a deep breath as the aromas washed over the room, a breath which soon turned into a yawn. “Quick game of speed chess?”

Sul, who had been nibbling on a slice of rum cake, jumped right up and marched to the chessboard, followed closely behind by Ron.

“You two go right ahead,” said the fighter. “In the meantime, I will preface this meeting, on the… fifty-fourth day of the waking moon, year four hundred and fifty-four, with the roll call. Starting with absences.” He sat down at the end of the table, picked up an old sheet of parchment that was beginning to tear around the edges, dusted it off, and began to read. “Snowons, currently on sabbatical in the remote city of Marali. Luroth, currently on patrol in the lizard island. Rudiga… still under deep cover. I think. And then, missing in action: Siegal and Claius.”

He paused for a moment, thinking back to the last time he’d seen either of those two. At least a decade, in both cases. With some effort, he banished the thought from his mind and turned back to the list. This next line had been crossed out, twice, and a new name had been written in the margins with much fresher ink. “The Great Rondino?”

“Present!” Ron shouted from behind, over the furious clicking and clacking of the ivory chess pieces.

“Sir Sulovir Lichslayer the Second!”

“Yeep!”

Just then, the clacking chess pieces came to a halt, and the fighter heard the grating scrape, scrape, scrape of a chair sliding across the floor, and suddenly Ron was right beside him. “Err, actually,” the wizard whispered, “It’s Lord now.”

“Ah err!” Jedd coughed. “Lord! I mean Lord! I’m using an old sheet. Barely even legible anymore.”

“Mhm.” Sul leaned back in his chair, which squeaked loudly. “Business has been good.”

“I see.” The fighter grinned. “Dame Annabel!”

The ranger, who had been sleeping soundly a couple seats away, suddenly shot up with cat-like agility. “Here!” Her eyes narrowed at the piece of parchment in Jedd’s hands. “Oh goodness!” she said. “We’re real formal today eh?”

“Apparently,” said Sul as he made his way back to the meeting table.

The fighter cleared his throat. “And to finish up: currently on leave, on other assignments, or… still asleep… we have Ryen, Lans, Cirilla, Clare, Ruxem, Kanan, Amayza, Siradar, Rinaldo….” he paused to take a deep breath. “Lord Peku of Mirith, Tolba… and I believe that should cover it.”

“Sounds about right,” said Ron. “Oh and Yin and Yang of course!”

“Oh, how could I forget!” Jedd scratched in the names of the spiders on the bottom of the page, tearing a new hole into it as he wrote. “Now then - let us begin! We are gathered here today to discuss a new proposition of funding improvements for our beloved town of Duldrus.”

A murmur of approval rose from the room.

“Dame Annabel,” said the fighter, “you have a proposition in mind, is that correct?”

“Oh yes. I think, if we can manage the funds… we could commit to putting guards in place, by paying one-hundred thousand pieces of gold per year, per guard.”

“Where?” asked Ron. “In Duldrus?”

“Yes, Duldrus.”

Jedd began to write hastily in his logbook, repeating Anna’s words softly as he wrote. “One-hundred… thousand pieces of gold… per year, per guard…Duldrus…”

“Ooooh.” Sul leaned forward in his seat. “That sounds like a pretty solid salary for a guard.”

“I’ll say!” Jedd put down his pen. “That’d be the entire lifetime earnings of an average guard… once each year!”

“Well,” said Anna, “they are protecting an entire town. And all those stone golems… I think it’s worth more than the average guild hall duty.”

“Aye…” said Jedd, as he began to pour from the teapot into the two mugs on the table. The sun was beginning to creep in through the eastern windows, and as it cast a faint light into the dimly-lit hall, Jedd realized all too late that the mug he was pouring for Ron had a chip in it. “Bah,” the fighter said. “This one is beginning to crack, I’m terribly sorry. Someone…” he paused, making a pointed glance toward Ryen’s quarters, “is hoarding all of the dirty ones.”

“It’s fine!” said the wizard. “Thank you!”

Jedd brought his own mug to his nose, and let the invigorating aromas wash over him. “Yes… I see it now… any reasonable guardsperson would surely jump at such a lucrative job opportunity. I believe we’re on to something here!”

Sul laughed. “Maybe we should request that they wear slate robes… but I’m not picky about a uniform.”

“Duly noted.” Jedd traded his mug for his pen and continued to write.

The rogue shrugged. “At least represent where their wages are coming from.”

“That aside,” said the fighter, “this is a fairly high rate. How many would we be willing to afford?”

“Right now,” said Anna, “the idea is that we would finance just two, assuming we want to maintain that for the next fifty years or so.”

“That sounds like a good start,” said Sul. “With GYPSY to the north, that leaves the south and east ends open.”

“The north is well protected, yes.” Jedd felt his gaze being drawn to the open window, and the brilliant, flaming oranges and blues and yellows of the fast-approaching dawn. “The north wasn’t the half that burned down, during the war…”

“Snap out of it Jeddy boy.”

“Yes.” said the fighter, shaking himself back to attention. “We won the war. And we must do what we can to ensure we continue winning.”

“We win war!” Ron blurted out, causing Jedd to smile in spite of the painful memories lingering just beyond the foggy reach of his concentration.

“Yes,” said Sul. “Though, I think Peku is scared another war is coming. Or something.”

“Oh? Lord Peku?” Jedd tensed up. “Oh. Yes… I recall that evening on the peak, not long ago.”

“Yeah, that.”

“Hmm.” Jedd made a conscious effort to relax his shoulders, and took a sip from his mug. The ginseng was surprisingly good, even for Brigobaen crop, with a satisfying rustic earthiness that he hadn’t ever tasted from that region before. “Well… it just goes to show the urgency of our mission.”

“And,” said Sul, “a couple of guards would, at the least, make a good precautionary effort.”

“Indeed, indeed,” said the fighter. “But, hmm… finding willing guardspeople has proven difficult in the past.”

“Aye,” said Ron. “Especially up here.”

“But!” said Anna. “I think the coin will draw interest.”

“I suppose you are right. And what’s more… ” The fighter stole another glance at the window. “I believe the timing is now ideal. With the annual philanthropic pilgrimage about to take place… we may have the perfect opportunity at our fingertips. In years past, we donated a fair amount. Food, supplies, robes, weapons… all chump change compared to this. But if we direct our funding through this avenue, and earmark it for defense purposes… we might be able to speed this along!”

“Perfect!” said the ranger.

“Great idea, Annabel!” said Ron.

“I was inspired by a friend. I can’t take all the credit!”

“Now then,” said the fighter. “One last problem… for the matter of acquiring that funding, I must say I am at a loss. Recent Vale expenditures have been, er, unprecedentedly high.” He cupped his hands intentionally around his mug, so that the two brand new rings of greater protection were visible to the rest of the meeting’s participants.

“Well ya see,” said Anna, “I’ve got the money, actually. To get us started.”

“That’d be quite the contribution, to make all on one’s own!”

Ron nodded. “Would you pay for the whole salary? Up front?”

“Yeah! Well, I haven’t made a lot of monetary contributions to the guild. Even my chest was donated to me. So, don’t worry about it!”

“I… I… don’t know what to say,” said the fighter. “Thank you, I suppose.”

“No problem, silly. Nothing compared to Ron’s rings…”

A laugh went around the room, and then the fighter leaned back to stretch. He hadn’t even finished with Sul’s rings from last year, either. “Shall we put it to a vote, then? It would be good to have this on the record.”

“A vote, yes!”

“And should this work,” said Sul, “next year’s salary will be paid for by the hall. And we can plan some excursions to collect the gold.”

Jedd cleared his throat. “All in favor of adopting Resolution HV1, penned by Dame Annabel, say ‘aye’.”

An enthusiastic “aye” arose unanimously from the table.

“All in favor of adopting Resolution HV2, submitted by Si—Lord Sulovir Lichslayer the Second just now, say ‘aye’!”

The “ayes” echoed again through the hall.

“Then this meeting of the Mystic Order of the Hidden Vale is hereby adjourned.”

And with that, Jedd hoisted up his blacksmith hammer and slammed it down hard on the table, eliciting a collective gasp from the room.

hv2.png

“Thanks for waking us up,” said the ranger.

“My… tea…”

Jedd turned his head over to the wizard, whose cracked cup was now thoroughly shattered, with its steaming hot liquid spreading all over the table… and right onto Ron’s exquisite garment.

“Oh no!” the fighter rushed over, grabbing a cloth, and began to dab up the spill. “Not your plum robe!”

“My… robe… ginseng tea doesn’t stain does it?”

“Oh it’ll come out!” said the ranger, chuckling in her seat. “Boys…”

The wizard and fighter breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Indeed… “ the fighter laughed. “Well, while we’re up… how’s about we take lunch on the road?”

“All in favor!” shouted Ron, prompting a knee-jerk “aye” from everyone in the room.

“Very good!” The fighter moved toward the food box by the fireplace. “Today, chirashizushi. I prepared this one with tuna, eels, and lotus and ginseng. The raw tuna was fresh caught at the docks very early this morning. Not, I confess, by me. And then, to commemorate the occasion of our first meeting this year… I picked up something else while I was in town.” He unearthed a massive, sturdy glass bottle in a pale green hue. “Hayate’s Sake. The Ferrite Lounge never disappoints.”

“Oooh.”

“Mm!”

“Cheers!”

“Now then… do we have everything?”

“Yes, I believe so,” said Anna, who was now hauling a cumbersome sack of gold coins. “To Brigo!”

“Then, there’s no point wasting any more time - southward bound! We’ll take the secret entrance, as any good member of the Vale should.”

“The hidden entrance,” said Ron.

“The veiled entrance!” said Sul.

“Brilliant.” Jedd stepped over to the the gates and gazed over the broad, thickly forested valley sloping downwards towards Mirith, the canopy reflecting the rich, early morning sunlight. ‘Brilliant’ was the only word that could describe it, really. “Yes, brilliant… let us move, then… for the dawn has arrived!”

—————

editedhv3.png

A note is left with a large deposit at the warehouse outside of Brigobaen.

”These funds, provided by The Hidden Vale, are for the purposes of employing two guards to protect Duldrus, whose hardworking residents live in constant danger, for the duration of this year. We look forward to being able to assist in the implementation of these funds accordingly, be it in the search for personnel, or in whichever way might be most helpful during this busy pilgrimage season. Furthermore, we also look forward to repeating our donation on an annual basis, indefinitely, to ensure the continued safety of all the noble residents of that noble town. We shall be in touch. For the Goddess!”
Sign In or Register to comment.