188.8.131.52. The Worst Hunter in the World
Robert regains his full health a week later. He claims his money, and then puts most of them in the Melchior Warehouse in Rand – another branch of a continent-wide network. The Melchior Warehouse store goods in stashes, trunks and spaces and transports them when any of the goods are needed in another place outside the storage city. They employ wizards and chronomages to teleport goods magically through time and space to any place according to the owner’s request, with a quite expensive fee. They also hire hunters and escorts to transport goods of minor urgency, post wizards with flying brooms, horsemen couriers, owls and pigeons to carry personal letters at cheaper prices. But Melchior Warehouse serves mainly as a bank that keeps money into accounts. A person keeps his accounts in a small account book that records deposits and withdrawals as a copy of their own records. They also develop ways to store and transfer goods and money safely, safe from the clutches of bandits, thieves and monsters. The name ‘Melchior’ is derived from the name of a great wizard who proposed this magical teleporting system for commercial use – as a safest and quickest means of continent-wide trade in Aurelia Continent.
Robert checks his account book one more time as he moves out from Melchior Warehouse building, and heads to the Golden Ram Tavern-Inn. As he arrives there, he settles his tabs with Gumbold, and then he sits on his lonely, usual corner, thinking. As no one invites him to gamble or even a chat, and no newcomers around, Robert falls asleep at his corner. He does that for two successive days, without even thinking to go to the guild and recruit his party members. At the third day, he goes to the stable at the back of the guild, and talks to his horse, Paeldagrin.
Robert greets Paeldagrin as he steps into the stable.
‘Hello, old buddy. I dreamt of your old master again. But this time he looked so real, and I recalled almost every step of the way since I lost Tisha and met you. You do miss him, right? Well, to ease your mind, the late lord Walthorn asked me to send his ‘hi’ to you.’
Robert pauses, and strokes Paeldagrin gently like Lord Walthorn used to greet his horse.
Paeldagrin neighs in comfort.
‘And you know what? You and I will travel again. This time it’s not to the orc’s den, but we will see the wide-world. But be patient, buddy. First I have to find other members for my hunting party.’
Paeldagrin neighs in a certain tone, as though he is real happy to ride out freely again.
Robert caresses its mane lovingly and gives it a soft hug, then after a brief pause he feeds Paeldagrin and leaves it. Memories of him being a stable boy came again in his mind, and Robert unawarely kisses the ring on his left hand as he moves into a new phase of his life and new challenges on keeping a hunting party together.
As he arrives at the tavern, Robert goes to his usual corner. But as he is about to sit, Robert hears loud voices and then sees two people going into the tavern, arguing with each other – or rather a one-sided argument.
Well! Other newcomers in town! It’s GAME time! Robert thinks.
The two guests are a man and a woman. The red-haired man dresses like a traveler, his clothes are torn here and there and looks totally shabby. He wields a common long sword, and the woman looks like a sorceress with a pink hair with a magic staff. They unmistakably look like hunters – poor, inexperienced hunters. A strange creature is following the woman – It looks like a hamster with little wings and a long tail – A micha.
Before Robert can say anything to greet them, the sorceress who actually was criticizing the man and then talks to Robert loudly,
‘And YOU should learn how to be a REAL man, just like this gentleman here. Right, mister?’
Robert is perplexed, and answers, ‘Er… yeah?’
The sorceress nods firmly and talks on.
‘You see! Now here’s one man that actually worth regarding. He looks serious, focus, and responsible.’
Robert and the red-haired man respond together (every time), ‘But…’
‘Look strong, macho, and look at his skin! Hardened, sun burnt, and scarred with experience!
‘Not like you! Soft skinned, greedy, idiot, lazy and helpless boy! I should’ve never stuck around with you in the first place! Always blunders, always in trouble, and I have to save your life so many times!’
‘What? And you too, don’t start getting foolish like this chap here, mister… O-mi-gosh! Where are my manners? May I know your name, mister?’
‘SPLENDID! A quick, direct answer. I like you, Mister Robert.
Well, I’m Carolyn, the apprentice sorceress and this is my pet, Chiel the micha. Isn’t she cute?’
Chiel lets out a happy sound, ‘Chi! Chiiii!’
The red-haired guy laughs a bit and comments, ‘I think she likes you, sir.’
Carolyn continues her introduction, ‘And this helpless chap is Christopher.’
‘Just call me Chris – and I’m not helpless.’
Christopher extends his hand to shake Robert’s hand, but Robert only stands there and only reacts coolly.
‘Whoa! Whoa! Easy does it. I don’t want to interfere with anything here, but please take your arguments outside before you make any damage here.’
Carolyn gasps, ‘Holy cow! How rude! Well excuse me! But you see, this chap here was almost killed by a giant mantis and I had to save his life – again! What do you think that made me, huh? I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere with this geek!’
Chris complaints, ‘Well that’s what witches do! To give magical aids in tight spots! All right, I admit I didn’t see that leg strike, but that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Watching my back!
‘AAArgh! A PROPER swordsman could’ve detected and avoided it very easily, right, Mr. Robert?’
Robert gives them a totally puzzled look, and says
‘See! That proves my point. Anyway…’
Robert can’t stand to hear some more arguments and cuts to the point.
‘Hey kid! You want to win BIG money?’
Christopher’s greed is easily hooked with this bait, and he responds with wide-open eyes.
‘Oh, yessiree! Of course!’
But Carolyn, sensing another trouble, blocks Christopher from Robert’s sight, saying,
‘Hey, cousin! Stop that! Every time you do that, you always ended up with an empty purse and bruises all over!’
‘But this guy looks like a stone and geeky too! I’m sure I can win this time! So, what’s the game, sir?’
Robert answers coldly, ‘How about a dice game? Small or big numbers, the usual thing?’
Before Christopher can answer, Carolyn has already put her face real close to Robert’s, and scolds,
‘Listen, buster! Don’t you ever think you can cheat our money! We don’t have much left anyway!’
Carolyn takes out her purse, and pours four zennies and three florins on her hand.
‘You see? We’re dead broke! We need hunting jobs now, but this bloke here can’t kill even a jelly slug!’
Robert observes Carolyn and Christopher more closely and thinks,
Oh, yes. These two must be the worst hunters I’ve ever seen, a geek and a loudmouth. But I sense something familiar with this geek. His red hair, his face, his name… Somewhat I think these two aren’t ordinary people. But one thing for sure, they won’t stand to any challenge unless they do what novices do, like I did…
Carolyn’s face gets close to Robert’s again in a sudden. This time Chiel sits on Carolyn’s head, making a similar expression as Carolyn’s.
‘Hey, sir? What are you thinking? Daydreaming? Or…’
Suddenly Carolyn slaps Robert’s cheek.
‘How DARE you! Thinking weird things about me, huh? I thought you were a gentleman, but in fact you’re nothing but a pervert pig!’
Carolyn turns to go away from the tavern, followed by Chiel. Robert is still rubbing his painful cheek, and he tries to stop saying from going away by saying…
‘Wait, WAIT! Listen, how about another deal?’
Carolyn stops and stands there without turning back. Chiel also stops and floats in mid-air.
‘No gamble, no cheat. Just assist me in one hunting job, and you’ll get a fair share of the bounty and a solution for your financial problems.’
Suddenly Carolyn turns and moves her face very close to Robert’s.
‘Okay! We seventy, you thirty. Deal.’
‘Hey, wait! No way! Novices may not take that kind of share! You thirty, I seventy! ’
‘We are not novices, and it’s not fair! We seventy, you thirty!’
‘Hmph, okay, I sixty you forty!’
Carolyn turns to leave. Christopher was all ready to take the deal, but didn’t make a sound at all because Carolyn has already taken over all the conversation.
‘Hey, don’t try to push me, greenhorns.’ Robert pauses a bit, and then talks again.
‘Okay, Fifty-fifty. That’s my last deal. I usually work alone, so take it or leave it!’
Carolyn’s face turns cheerful because her haggling has taken her this far, and she answers,
‘Okay, deal. When can we start?’
‘After lunch. I heard Chris’ stomach is already grumbling. My treat.’
Christopher blushes like a boy, but is excited upon a treat, and so is Chiel (it likes to copy human expressions and doings, especially Carolyn, Chris and now Robert’s). Carolyn looks at Christopher and then to Robert with worry on her face.
On the streets of Rand, Carolyn and Christopher walk and chat merrily, with Robert walking behind them, making an even surlier face than usual. Chiel chooses to copy Robert’s face this time and flies around Carolyn.
Robert thinks. That geek ate like a Leviathan! Now even the bounty can’t cover up my losses!
He jiggles his purse – Not many coins are left in there. Robert bows his head as though he regrets choosing these two morons in his party.
As they arrive at the guild, Carolyn and Chris immediately browse for jobs – and arguing with each other again, while Robert goes to meet Hulferd.
Charlotte says, ‘Oh, sorry Rob. Ferdy is going out for some errands – he will come back soon. You just wait here.’
‘No thanks ma’am. I think I’ll wait outside. You see I am with friends….’
‘Friends? At last, Robert! That’s an improvement!’
‘Good day, ma’am!’
He gets out as he says that.
Then he also browses for a job himself and his party. All the jobs on the posters and boards are not satisfying enough for him: low-rate monsters, low-pay, and many competitors. Carolyn and Chris keep showing him to job posters, but their choices are nothing but jelly slugs, giant spiders, and giant rats. And Chiel excitingly looks at a poster with the picture of a wild micha and makes a love struck face. Robert almost loses his patience, overwhelmed by too many unfavorable choices. Werewolves, goblins, gnolls, giant carrion caterpillars, giant ants, fishmen, turtlemen, skeletons…
Hulferd returns at last. Robert is glad, but his expression is unchanged. He just walks right to Hulferd and talks to him.
‘Sir Hulferd, May I ask you for advice?’
‘Oh, Robert. Yes, of course. Found yourself a party, I presume?’
‘I guess so. But I still need your keen judgment to make sure that they are really dependable. That’s because if we look with our own eyes only – they aren’t.’
Hulferd reacts with a surprise.
‘Really? That’s interesting. Now bring them to my office and let me look at them.’
‘Yes, sir. Right away.’
Robert then calls Christopher and Carolyn, and they go to Hulferd’s office. Robert knocks the door. Hulferd replies, ‘Come in, come in!’
Robert comes in first and introduces,
‘These are the party members I told you about. Carolyn the witch and Christopher the swordsman. You two, this is Sir Hulferd Richardson, the guild master.’
Carolyn and Christopher say, “Pleased to meet you, Sir Hulferd.”
Hulferd is very surprised to see Christopher and Carolyn, but Chris gives him a certain kind of look and Hulferd’s expression changes in an instant. He is thoughtful for the moment.
Robert is surprised upon Hulferd’s reaction, and asks him,
‘Sir, are you all right?’
‘Oh, yes, Robert. I just want to confirm that your judgment is correct. We can’t assess someone’s potential by his appearance only. And according to Robert’s standards, I have just the right job for you three. Where is it… aha! There you go!’
Robert, Chris and Carolyn see the poster. It has a picture of a forest troll there. Then they read the contents.
The Trolls of Lumien Forest
80 Crowns per Head
Three Trolls Sighted
Same Reward for Extra Trolls
For crimes against the kingdom
Killing, Forest Plundering
Submit Right Troll Ear as proof – All have complete ears
Walthorn’s Edict : Proofs will be checked magically upon submittance
This rather detailed poster definitely isn’t a poster from Rand. Only one guild in Lore added the details in the posters beside the manuals. Hulferd speaks,
‘Just received it today from the guild in Varestine. I bet you three want to take the job, do you? And you have a chance to visit your “home” before you go overseas, Robert.’
‘Arkvale… The Walthorns… Jeland.’
Now Robert knows the meaning of his dream. In order to embrace the future, he must face his past again sooner or later. He doesn’t want to remember his bitter past, but he soon realizes that his existence and purpose is much more important than being an orc-hunter for revenge. He was spared from death for something greater, for the good of his country. Then he feels the urge to visit Arkvale. The tragedies will motivate him to go forward, not consume him with hatred and revenge. He needs to remember. His father, mother, sister, Old Duke Walthorn, and… Laetitia.
‘If I’m strong, I can do whatever I can to protect all that I love, and don’t let them get stolen from me again!’ It’s Robert’s conclusion in his mind.
‘Okay, we take it.’
Chris is overjoyed like a child, ‘Awright! A job!’
Carolyn pulls Chris’ ear. Chris whines. Hulferd clears his throat, and as he gets their attention, he continues.
‘Okay, now we’re set. I want you two to assist Robert and watch his back, and let him do the bashing. You three can kill as many monsters you can along the way – except this one.’
Hulferd points at Chiel with his chin. Chiel hops joyfully on Carolyn’s shoulder, making a sound.
‘And don’t forget to claim their special and useful body parts as proofs to be exchanged with money at the guild. You do have the list of required proofs, don’t you?’
Carolyn nods. ‘I have it anytime.’
She pats her goodie bag.
‘Good. I see you’re the observant and careful one.’
Then he continues.
‘Anyway, the last sighting of the trolls was at the western part of Lumien Forest, at the bank of the Dale River. Trolls like fish the most, although some of them eat men. Proceed with caution. These creatures are dim-witted, but they’re very brutal. And Forest Trolls can regenerate and heal their wounds. But they can only heal one wound at a time, so attack quickly and inflict fatal wound as soon as possible.’
Chris nods, ‘We understand, Sir.’
‘And,’ Hulferd stares at Chris, ‘no mistakes, No foul-ups. One slip from you, their clubs will crush your skulls like squashing a bug.’
Chris gulps. ‘Mistake’ is the ever-occurring thing in his each and every mission. Hulferd sighs and continues his explanation on trolls.
‘Attack the trolls in broad daylight, because they are the strongest at night. But they’re never weak, only dumb. If you’re not strong enough to confront them frontally, use your wit and speed.’
Robert already knew all this from his experience, but he listens attentively and seriously. Knowing that he brings along unseasoned companions, he must remind them every now and then. Carolyn copies Hulferd’s words in a notebook, and Chris just stands there with minor attention and major fright.
‘Well, all I can say is good luck. And Robert, just take your time facing your past and you’ll embrace your future with no regrets.’
Robert replies coolly, ‘Thanks, sir, and wish us luck.’
‘Yes, good luck, you three. You will need it. Oh, yes, Robert – one word with you – in private.’
Chiel, Carolyn and Chris move out from the room. Then Hulferd gives his opinion to Robert with a low voice.
‘From outside, I can see that Chris is a loser and Carolyn is over-eager. But I sense a different air in them, Robert. Just do anything you can to guide them to greatness. I know they can if they try.’
‘Thank you, Sir. That gives a rest to my worries. Well, see you again – perhaps not very soon.’
‘I’ll miss you, Robert. You’re like a son to me. I’m sure Lord Walthorn watches over you from Heaven with pride now. Good bye.’
Without further ado, Robert leaves the room. As he walks out from the room, he finds Carolyn, Christopher and Chiel eavesdropping.
With that shout, Robert makes them jump with surprise. They are flustered and look real ridiculous, but Robert doesn’t laugh.
Chris protests, ‘Careful, buster. You might rip someone’s heart out.’
‘If I intended to rip your heart out it would be done before you can say that.’
Chris gulps and goes silent. Robert talks again.
‘And that’s your first lesson. ALWAYS ready for surprises. Don’t let the enemy surprise you. You’ll meet all sorts of monsters: Goblins, for one, are sneaky bastards. They’ll ambush and kill you before you can say, “Goblins!”. Oh well, let’s prepare the provisions and we’ll be on our way.’
Carolyn looks at Chris with disdain. Then an idea comes to her, and she talks to Robert.
‘Sir Robert, will you be kind, as to teach Christopher here swordplay? I know it’s kinda hard for you, but if he doesn’t improve his skills, he will be slain before he reaches the trolls.’
‘Hmmm. I see… well, let me think about it for a while, and we’ll talk again at the tavern.’
As they walk along the posters room, some rowdy, tough-guy hunters recognize Christophe and Carolyn and then insult them.
‘Well, well, lookie here! The geek and the loudmouth!’
Robert looks at them with wide-open eyes, thinking, hey, they stole my line!
The insulting hunters are Baxter the skinny archer and Ellephar the fat pikeman. Baxter always wears a bandana covering his long hair and head like a sea pirate. His face always looks sly and intimidating, like a black mamba snake. Ellephar on the other hand, looks like a dimwit and a pushover, but he covers it by acting tough and menacing. They are known by their dirty methods and sometimes they cheat on their party members. No one wants to be part of a party with these ‘Deceptive Duo’ in it. Baxter and Ellephar continues,
‘Taking a flobber* – hunting job again huh?’ says Ellephar.
‘I bet you can’t even kill a flobber,’ says Baxter. ‘Just go home to your momma and beg for milk!’
(*Flobber is another name for Jelly Monster. A term widely used by hunters because of the jelly-ish substance they found in it – The Flob or Jelly Core. Flobber is a low level monster.)
Christopher is about to burst out and attack them, but Robert immediately blocks his way, shakes his heads and stares at him, as a sign that Chris mustn’t attack these two rogues and just ignore their insults.
‘Ooh, what’s the matter with you? Chicken, huh? Chick, chick, chick – chicken!’
‘I see you’re making friends with Orcbane now. What’d you do, kiss his butts? Or just let your pretty cousin here spending one night with him? Tsk, tsk, tsk… How low. How very-very low.’
This time Robert has to calm Carolyn too by saying in low voice,
‘Chill, you two. Don’t be provoked by them. I know them. They usually provoke wannabes and novices and challenge them into duels. Then they’ll defeat the novices and rob them. Just move along.’
Baxter is upset that Robert foiled their provocation, and provokes Robert instead.
‘Hey, Orcbane? Change lines from hunting to babysitting now, eh? Don’t interfere! We’re going to give these runts some ‘orientation’!’
Robert replies coolly, ‘Why don’t I give you an “orientation” instead? My kiliji here will teach you two a lesson of “mind your own businesses!”’
Robert has his hand on his kiliji sword and is ready to draw it and decapitate Baxter and Ellephar in split seconds – at the risk of losing his hunter license. Baxter and Ellephar loses their gut at seeing Robert’s killer determination in his air, and walks away hastily out of the building.
Robert also walks to the exit, followed by Carolyn and Christopher. They don’t talk along the way to the marketplace. Carolyn keeps her eyes on Robert with admiration. Christopher notices this and thinks that Carolyn fancies Robert and from now on she will pay more attention to Robert than to him. Christopher walks on with hopelessness and disappointment in his face. Chiel the micha flies merrily above them and lands on Chris’ shoulder, rubbing its face on Chris’ to comfort him. That gives Chris a slight smile on his face.
SNEAK PEEK: Excerpt of Chapter 2 (Merit) from Soleri by Michael Johnston (Excerpt Intro by Michael Johnston) - Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Michael Johnston to our blog. Michael Johnston is the author of *Soleri*, which will be published June 13, 20...
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