Robert and Pear arrived at the Sansarine Hunters’ Guild in Rand. It was a fairly large building with a banner bearing a cross-lining between a snake and a sword, as though the snake was pierced by the sword.
Many hunters of different sorts: swordsmen, warriors, assassins, archers and mages; men and women were there – it seemed that the hunting job attracted more talented people than being a soldier, a mercenary, a bodyguard or even a thug. Some even wore clean robes and shiny armors – to show that they were distinguished hunters that were more trustworthy than the shabby ones. Of course, most of them crowded near job posters hanging on walls and message boards, and queued near job counters.
Pear showed Robert a poster posted on the right wall – the one that no hunter was seen around it. It bore a poorly drawn picture of an orc’s face, and Robert saw the notice:
A’bong the Orc
Extra 50 Florins for every
kobold*)’s head in A’bong’s gang
For crimes against the kingdom
Banditry, Robbery, Murder
(* Kobold = A humanoid monster with a dog’s head and tail along with human limbs and torso. It had low intelligence and had instincts like most common dogs.
Robert reacted, “Well, it seems the reward was slightly higher than usual.”
A voice came 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 turned around to see the speaker – Hulferd, the Guild Master. Hulferd was a 43-years old man with beautifully-trimmed moustache and beard, and he was well-built. Traces of his handsome face can still be found on him. It seemed that he was a former well known hunter and now ran his own guild. Robert greeted 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 took out three zennies and handed them to Pear, touching his head affectionately as though Pear was 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 walked away joyfully. Robert and Hulferd walked to the office rooms in the second floor.
The second floor consisted of two office rooms and Hulferd’s own compartments. Hulferd entered a room – his office. Robert followed him in, and inside he saw a simple table with three chairs, with piles of parchments stored in racks. The wall was full of job posters – almost all with “X” in “O” stamps that signified that the jobs were complete. Robert took notice of a new, unstamped poster with a picture of a fearsome, mysterious looking assassin on it and asked 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 saw 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 was 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 to the business now?”
Hulferd moistened his lips then talked on.
“Now this A’bong and his kobold gang are nomads, they came here about three months ago, raided villages, caravans and ambushed travelers – they 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-armored – I think he’s a veteran from the Gremion Wars who deserted his army after Gremion was forced to share its territory with Bresconnor. And the kobolds were eight – two large ones and six small ones – including two females.”
Hulferd paused for a while, staring at Robert with concern. Then he sighed.
“I know you always get excited when it came 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 along with you, don’t act alone.”
Robert replied in a calm, polite voice.
“I understood, teacher. You are always been my helper and guide since I was a greenhorn with a bit of experience in the battlefield. You even saved my life several times. You taught me your sword moved 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 on you, so he can collect the heads and the proofs of your work – standard guild procedure.”
Robert nodded. It seemed that he didn’t mind at all, because the guild usually sent novice hunters as spies – an extra job – to learn from the experienced ones. Robert used to be a spy, assisting Hulferd three years ago.
Then Hulferd’s wife, Charlotte came in. She was 39, a plump lady but still pretty. Although never experienced real education, she had a keen judgment and a kind heart. She had two kids, Helen, 16, quite pretty just like her, and her younger brother, Pearce, 10 years old. Apparently Pearce was the same Pear that called Robert earlier. Pear had 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 could become a great hunter just like his father. Charlotte wanted Robert to marry Helen someday, but apparently Helen already has a lover somewhere… and Robert too…
Charlotte greeted Robert in a motherly tone.
“Oh, Robert! What a surprise!”
“Good afternoon, ma’am. Long time no see.”
“A long time, indeed. Two months! Where have you been? Helen has been asking for you.”
Robert’s face became sulkier. How can that be, he thought. Helen already has Albert, the bookworm. She must be in the library with him now. She is only interested in poetry and writing, and you know I don’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 stared at Robert at the corner of their eyes with their strange faces. Robert stared back at them with a puzzled face. He replied…
“Hey, hey, Don’t get angry, old fellas. I promise you I will keep an eye on Pear whenever I’m not in a job. Is that okay with you?”
Hulferd landed 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 was not satisfied yet with Robert’s answer, saying,
“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 replied, “I’ll work something out, ma’am. I will.”
But a different thought came 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, anyway. Later, ma’am. Much later.
Charlotte snorted. She knew her bidding wouldn’t be fulfilled in the near future, knowing very well of the hunters’ nature – namely her husband’s. But she finally resigned and went 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 nodded. He knew that a talk with “Chatty” Charlotte would be a boring one, but their kindness topped over anything in the world for him so he compelled himself to stay a little longer – preparing his spirit for the most difficult job he has taken until now… with some pep talk and a healthy cup of tea.