Robert and Pear arrive at the Hunters’ Guild in Rand. It’s a fairly large building with a banner bearing a cross-lining between a snake and a sword, as though the snake is pierced by the sword. All Hunters’ Guilds in all regions of Lore use this symbol to show the wide network and excellent management system they have. So it is possible that several jobs can come from other cities – but those sorts of jobs must be the difficult ones that require extra skill and experience that are few among the hunters in the job commissioner’s region.
Many hunters of different sorts: swordsmen, warriors, assassins, archers and mages; men and women are there – it seems that the hunting job attracts more talented people than being a soldier, a mercenary, a bodyguard or even a thug. Some even wear clean robes and shiny armors – to show that they are distinguished hunters that are more trustworthy than the shabby ones. Of course, most of them crowd near job posters hanging on walls and message boards, and queue near job counters. The clerks are usually fine maidens with attractive uniforms – another proof of the excellent management of the guild.
Pear guides Robert to a poster on the right wall – the one that no hunters are seen around it. It bears a poorly drawn picture of an orc’s face, and Robert sees the notice:
A’bong the Orc
Extra 50 Florins for
every kobold’s head in A’bong’s gang
For crimes against the
Banditry, Robbery, Murder
Robert reacts, ‘Well, it seems the reward is slightly higher than usual.’
A voice comes from behind.
‘That’s because this is not any stray Gremion orc or common ones – this guy is intelligent. He can even round up kobolds and lead a band. Of course the reward is fitting.’
Robert turns around to see the speaker – Hulferd, the Guild Master. Hulferd is a 43-years old man with beautifully-trimmed moustache and beard, and well-built. Traces of his handsome face can still be found on him. It seems that he is a former well known hunter and now runs his own guild. Robert greets him in his usual, cold but polite manner.
‘Good afternoon, Sir Hulferd.’
‘So, are you interested, Rob? I got the details right here.’
‘You don’t have to ask me that. Just tell me the details straightaway.’
‘Hahaha, don’t be like that, Rob, my friend. You know I always remember you every time I get jobs like this. It’s just no other hunters here ever want to take orc-hunting jobs. They think it’s too risky and dangerous for them, and I don’t have to send the posters to other cities when you’re around.’
‘And I specialize in orcs, highly dangerous monsters, and bandits.’
‘Right. Well then, shall we move to a quiet place for a quick briefing?’
Then Robert takes out three zennies and hands them to Pear, touching his head affectionately as though Pear is Robert’s own son.
‘Here, Pear. Now stay out of trouble. There are so much bandits and monsters around with these many posters. Don’t let your parents worried.’
‘I will, sir. Thank you, sir.’
Pear walks away joyfully. Robert and Hulferd walk to the office rooms in the second floor.
The second floor consists of several office cabins and Hulferd’s own compartments. Hulferd enters a room – his office. Robert follows him in, and inside he sees a simple table with three chairs, with piles of parchments stored in racks. The wall is full of job posters – almost all with ‘X’ in a ‘O’ stamps that signifies that the jobs are complete. Robert takes notice of a new, unstamped poster with a picture of a fearsome, mysterious looking assassin on it and asks Hulferd.
‘Hulferd, who is the guy in that poster? Why didn’t you put it on the boards?’
‘Oh boy, haven’t you heard, Rob? Tsk, tsk, a person by your trade…’
‘Well, I’m not actually THAT sociable, you know.’
‘Hahaha… By the way, that guy is called MacLair. Oliver MacLair, a rogue assassin. He has killed several high-rank officials in Wardstone, not to mention the prime minister’s daughter, rest her soul. Who hired him, we don’t know. And it’s not quite an accurate drawing either. He moves real damn quick so none of the “survivors” can see his actual looks – and he seldom leaves any “witnesses”. If anyone tries to chase him or even takes a glimpse of his face – that guy will end up dead before he can even blink. And I’m damn sure that none of the hunters here can match him…’
‘… Even me?’
‘… Even you. Don’t get insulted – that’s for your own good. It takes someone who can match his speed to take him down. The poster was sent to me a fortnight ago from the capital, and I decided to keep it down low until I have a chance to meet Kyflynn.’
Robert is curious. ‘Kyflynn?’
‘A night elf assassin – don’t tell me you don’t know him too.’
‘Only by reputation. I once overheard people talking in the tavern about the assassin who never killed good people – only monsters and criminals. And his speed is legendary too.’
‘Yeah. I believe he’s the only one who can match MacLair. Ah, shall we get on the business now?’
Hulferd moistens his lips then talks on.
‘Now this A’bong and his kobold gang are nomads, they came here about three months ago and they raid villages, caravans and ambush travellers – kill and pillage like bandits do. Only bandits sometimes spare people’s lives so they can rob them again in the future. By the way, our spies have found their lair in the cave in the West Harper Hills. Here’s a copy of the map, and you can find the location accurately drawn in it. A’bong uses a broad battle axe and well-armoured – I think he’s a veteran from The Gremion Wars that deserted his army after Gremion was forced to share its territory with Bresconnor. And the kobolds are eight – two large ones and six small ones – including two females.’
Hulferd pauses for a while, staring at Robert with concern. Then he sighs.
‘I know you always get excited when it comes to orcs, but as your friend and mentor I warn you – be extra careful this time. A’bong is not an ordinary orc. He is intelligent and has leadership qualities – real different than the orcs you hunted all these times. I think he used to be a captain or even a general. Better take a party with you along, don’t act alone.’
Robert replies in a calm, polite voice.
‘I understand, teacher. You always have been my helper and guide since I’m a greenhorn and only a bit skilled in the battlefield. You even saved my life several times. You taught me your sword moves and treated me like your son. I will never forget that.
But as always, I work alone. I always had this difficulty to deal with people, you know. And I bet no one will join me even though I tell them to handle the kobolds only and let me deal with the orc. For this once, teacher, let me handle this alone. If I can’t overcome this difficulty, I will never improve and I will be no different than others who only content themselves hunting jelly slugs, petty monsters and petty bandits.’
‘I see. But you surely won’t mind if I send one of my spies to keep an eye of you, so he can collect the heads and the proofs of your work – standard guild procedure.’
Robert nods. It seems that he doesn’t mind at all, because the guild usually send novice hunters as spies – an extra job – to learn from the experienced ones. Robert used to be a spy to assist Hulferd these three years.
Then Hulferd’s wife, Charlotte comes in. She’s 39, a plump lady but still pretty. Although never experienced real education, she has a keen judgment and a kind heart. She has two kids, Helen, 16, quite pretty just like her, and her younger brother, Pearce, 10 years old. Apparently Pearce is the same Pear that called Robert earlier. Pear has great intuition and a keen sense upon anything, just like his mother and great determination to improve himself just like his father. No wonder he immediately searched for Robert as he saw the poster before his father told him not to. Maybe someday he can become a great hunter just like his father.
Charlotte greets Robert enthusiastically – she also wants Robert to marry Helen someday, but apparently Helen already has a lover somewhere… and Robert too…
‘Oh, Robert! What a surprise!’
‘Good day, ma’am. Long time no see.’
‘A long time, indeed. Two months! Where have you been? Helen has been asking for you.’
Robert snorts and shows his rare, cold smile. How can that be, he thinks. Helen already has Albert, the bookworm. She must be in the library with him now. She is only interested in poetry and writing, and Robert doesn’t even have an interest in it – or even in her.
‘Really? Tell her I said hello. Oh yes, about Pear, just tell him to stay out of trouble. I’ve been staying in the tavern these days, and it’s getting rowdier each and every day.’
‘WHAT? Ah, Pear! That overactive son of yours, Ferdy. Give him a word or two once in a while, will you? What kind of father are you, letting him prowling around, huh?’
‘Aw, honey, don’t be like that. Just let him taste a bit of the real world, it’s good for him. He’s smart, and I’m sure he will be a good hunter one day, just like dear Rob here. Anyway I’m too busy with the guild and things…’
‘But at least a warning, so he can learn to be cautious – like dear Rob here.’
‘…. Perhaps too cautious.’
‘… Or too rash.’
Charlotte and Hulferd stare at Robert at the corner of their eyes with their strange faces. Robert stares at them with a puzzled face. He replies…
‘Hey, hey, don’t get angry, old fellas. I promise you I will keep an eye on Pear whenever I’m not at a job. Is that okay with you?’
Hulferd lands a slow jab on Robert’s shoulder.
‘Now that’s the spirit. Don’t let your cool hides who you really are.’
But THIS is who I REALLY am, Robert thinks.
Charlotte is not satisfied yet with Robert’s answer, and contorts…
‘And MOVE OUT from that smelly, flea-ridden Golden Ram Inn! And buy yourself a REAL house! I don’t want to see Pear play with you in that god-forsaken place every day! Gambling? Vadis forbids!’
Robert replies, ‘I’ll work something out, ma’am. I will.’
But a different thought comes into Robert’s mind.
Aw, we hunters still have to eat when there’s no job. And honest jobs will keep us out of monster-hunting. And I don’t have enough money to buy a proper house, either. Later, ma’am. Much later.
Charlotte snorts. She knows her bidding won’t be fulfilled in the near future, knowing very well of the hunters’ nature – namely her husband’s. But she finally resigns and goes to the kitchen to make some tea for Robert, Hulferd and herself.
‘All right then. Don’t leave yet, Robert. I still want to talk to you over a cup of tea.’
Robert nods. Although he knows that a talk with ‘Chatty’ Charlotte will be a boring one, but their kindness tops over anything in the world for him so he compels himself to stay a little longer – preparing his spirit for the most difficult job he has taken until now… with some pep talks and a healthy cup of tea.
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