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 Carolyn 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.
Interview with Craig Schaefer (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo) - *Official Author Website * *Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down * *Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score * *Read Fan...
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