Into the Wild – Chapter 20
Mat and Devon stood in the doorway of The Dancing Hobbit with stupid grins on their faces. “Close the damn door, you’re letting rain in,” yelled one of the patrons bringing them out of their stupor.
“Oh, sorry,” commented Devon as he pushed the ragged collection of wood closed.
“The first floors of these places really are inns,” Mat said to no one in particular. This one had a shallow ceiling, just inches above their heads. The chandeliers were rusted metal on chains, each holding five candles belching black smoke, adding to the already dark atmosphere. The walls, floor, and ceiling were the same old craggy aged wood, pitted and rough like most of the bar patrons. If they’d ever seen any paint, those days had long since passed, the walls that is, not the patrons. The floor was nothing more than dead grass, which had probably been trudged in from the plains outside the city. The twenty or so candles, though lit, seemed reluctant to venture far from their wick. The only real light coming from the fireplace behind the bar which was a massive stone structure containing a large cauldron and two animals roasting on spits. The bar covered most of the far wall and was constructed of the same aged wood. The admonishment about the door caused the entire room, as well as the dwarf behind the bar, to turn their appraising eyes upon them. The dwarf, which Mat assumed was the barkeep, seemed neither welcoming nor challenging.
Most of the dozen or so tables scattered throughout the room were already occupied. Along the walls were long benches which appeared to be used mostly for coats, canes, and the occasional pet. At the bar were stools, they too were filled. This place did a good business. As Mat looked around for a place to sit, he made a point of meeting any and all eyes fixed upon them. Most of the patrons had adopted the same cool look as the Dwarf.
Walking to the bar, “A couple of ales and can we get some food. We’ll be at that table in the back,” Devon said nonchalantly to the dwarf. Without looking, he motioned to Mat with his chin as they started to work their way through the chairs. They weren’t halfway to their seat when Mat felt a hand; with lightning-quick reflexes he caught it and followed it to its owner. “Sorry mate, what’s hanging from my waist is mine.” Leaning closer in Mat added, “work on your skills, you suck.” To punctuate his point, he handed back the dagger he’d lifted from the guy’s coat.
Mat was surprised by the response, equally as quiet, “You’re new here, make sure you find the guild and check-in, or they will come looking for you when they discover you’re in town, just a warning.”
“Well, that’s mighty helpful of you. Must be my lucky day.”
The elf shrugged, “lucky or not, can’t say, I do know well-placed daggers when I see them.” Mat knew he was talking about the ones hidden in his cuff. “Sorry guy, guess you aren’t who I thought you were,” the elf said in a loud enough voice to be heard by the surrounding tables.
“What’s that about?” Asked Devon as Mat sat down.
“I think it was a test. The guy at the table tried to rob me then claimed he was part of the Thieves guild. He said he saw the daggers. He also said I needed to check in with them. I wonder if it’s just a Rogue thing or if all classes need to check-in when visiting a city, and do we have to do both if we’re multi-class?”
“No idea. It might not be a bad idea seeing how it’d give us a chance to get a look at the different professions and how they dress and act. I’m pretty sure rogues are uptight, arrogant bastards, so you could probably skip that one since you’ve already got it mastered,” Devon smirked.
Mat’s started to say something else but was interrupted when the barmaid bumped into his chair as she set down their food, again he felt a hand. “Seriously,” he barked as he caught her arm and pulled her in close. She was short, and a race he didn’t recognize. “Do you want to deliver my food or walk away wearing daggers?” he growled. Standing, still holding her by the wrist, he announced to the room in a loud voice, “Alright, your attention please, I haven’t even gotten my first drink, and already someone’s tried to rob me twice. One more time and people start losing body parts, we clear?” Looking back at the girl with a dangerous grin, he flipped her a coin. “I’ve no idea if that will cover the food. If it does and you get a tip, great, otherwise, you’ll take a loss and chalk it up to being a bitch.”
“Always good to see you exercising your people skills,” added Devon shaking his head as the girl stomped off.
Mat’s eyes followed the wench until she looked down at the coin. He could see she was impressed; turning back, she blew him a kiss. “You threatened her and got a kiss? OK, what’s the trick?” asked Devon.
“The prices are on the board above the bar. I looked while I was being pissy. She just got about ten times what the food cost. I’m hoping I’m building a reputation and not enemies. You know that ‘don’t fuck with him thing.’” Looking down at the two bowls on the tray, “Then again, they might be about to poison us, not sure what this is?”
“It’s fine I checked, I can see poisons, well the typical kinds.” Devon passed Mat a spoon, “Dig in, you first.”
“Ha, you’re hysterical,” replied Mat as he shoved a spoon full of the stew into his mouth. Devon could see he liked it. “It’s not bad. I can’t identify the meat, but then this world is full of new animals. Some might even have an intellect, just think this could be the meat of the creature who created the recipe.”
Devon stared at his friend as his spoon froze midway between the bowl and his mouth. Shaking his head, he set the spoon down and turned his attention to the ale as he gave the stew another dubious look. Grabbing the mug, he took a long sip, swallowed and started coughing uncontrollably as he spat the remainder on the floor wheezing for air, “Jesus Christ, this shit could take the paint off a car.”
Mat noticed patrons turning their attentions towards them again, “Um, let’s remember no cars and no Jesus Christ?” corrected Mat with a mouth full of food. Swallowing, he reached for his mug, “it’s that strong?” The liquid had barely hit his tongue when his eyes started to water. He took a deep breath through his nose, determined not to spit it out. Trying not to choke, he stomped his hooves a couple of times and forced his throat to relax as the foul liquid burned its way down, “Ok, yea Sweet Jesus,” he added with a cough.
“Remember no Jesus,” corrected Devon as he motioned with his chin. Mat turned to see the barkeep headed their way. When he reached them, he slid a large platter of meat across the table, “This is the rest of your meal, what with the coin and all. You’re new here right? Don’t worry I know better than to ask where you’re from, but it’s obvious what with the hooves and all. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of your kind.”
“My kind?” barked Mat causing Devon to jump in before he could continue. “Yea we’ve been on the road for a while; right now, we need a warm…SAFE…place to sleep, decent food, and some time out of the weather. The guard told us this was the best place in town. Considering we’ve almost been robbed twice. I’m starting to think he lied. Plus, you’re clearly trying to kill us with whatever’s in these mugs. I can’t help but wonder what the lesser reputed establishments must be like.”
“That’s a hell of a way to tell me my place is shit without insultin me,” barked the Dwarf in a gruff voice deeper than he was tall.
“Then he only got it half right,” snarked Matsugo.
The dwarf let out a loud belly laugh, “Oh, you two will do fine. So, you’ll be needin a room? I can promise no one will rob ya.” Seeing the skepticism in their eyes, “What can I say, this is a major rogue town, I ain’t going to stop a guy from makin a livin. But, I’m tellin ya, upstairs I ain’t putting up with no hijinx.”
“Fine, and yes, we want a room. We’re probably going to be here a while. How many rooms on the top floor?”
“Just the one, it’s big with a common area and two bedrooms, it’s even got a toilet.” Devon’s mouth dropped. Shrugging, “well, it dumps in the alley.”
“What?” barked Devon.
“Oh, don’t give me those faces laddies, ever one else uses the alley already. Why not save the walk and get a little target practice in. I mean better to be above than below if ya take my meaning.”
“Wait, so everyone pisses under the top room’s toilet?” asked Devon.
“Yup, it keeps the patrons from hangin around out back causin me troubles.” Mat laughed and took a sip from his mug, another couple of stomps and it was down.
“Then we’ll take that one,” said Devon, a bit green, as he looked over to Mat and got a shrug of agreement.
Mat leaned in, “I’m guessing you like quiet guests who stay a long time and don’t cause much trouble. I bet you like them so much you might even give those wonderful easy to live with patrons a break on the price, right?”
The dwarf laughed louder, “I can already see how you two work.” Pointing to Devon, “he’s the brains, and well, you’re the other end.”
Mat coughed, “Hey, I’ve got brains, I’ll have you know.”
“Oh, I’m sure you do, the question is, do ya remember where you put ‘em?” barked the Dwarf loud enough to get chuckles from the surrounding tables. “Fine, it’s a silver a day with meals and all the ale you can drink. The wine’s a bit more as are the specials, like this here roast kobold…” Devon choked, spitting out the bit he’d just eaten, “…servers will be glad to bring it up, just treat them well. If you need company, we can also get you girls…” pausing and raising an eyebrow “…or boys if you’re so inclined, for an extra fee.”
Devon still wiping his tongue off with his napkin, “To eat…”
“No, laddie,” answered the dwarf shaking his head. He looked at Mat, “Ok, so he ain’t so bright after all.” Standing on his toes, “Ohhhh, you look like a cleric, I guess it’d be boys then.” He laughed. “I’m Burf, owner of this here establishment. I send Bulla over with the key.”
Burf turned and headed off without another word. When he reached the bar, he started barking orders in a language neither of them knew. Soon a smaller dwarf, maybe a dwarf, rushed up the stairs.
Mat took a tentative bite of the kobold. Making an approving face, “It’s pretty good.”
“Yea, but aren’t kobolds intelligent?”
“Um, probably but remember the dream, think of it as early payback. Plus, like I said, I’m not sure that matters on this world. What do ya think?” asked Mat as he settled into his meal in earnest.
“Sounds like we have a home base. You said your source, for lack of a better word, told you we needed to check-in at our guilds, so I suggest we do that first thing tomorrow.”
“I want to find out a little more about them before we go waltzing in. Let’s try to pry some information from our new buddy Burf,” Mat added. “I’m also a little wary about splitting up; let’s plan to stay together regardless, at least until we get our feet under us. When either of us is in the guild, the other can hang around outside, keeping an eye open. I’ll have Darth ready, he can stir up a distraction if needed…but let’s worry about all that tomorrow.”
“So tonight you just want to eat kobold and get drunk, I take it?”
Making a pouty face, Mat said, “You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m wounded. After we eat kobold and get drunk, we’ll go up to our new room, in this new world and pass out. Hell, if we have enough energy we might even play a round of hitting the passersby from the john.”
He looked at Devon and raised his eyebrows and a shoulder. Devon shook his head and burst out laughing, “That would be a ‘yes’ then?”
“Pretty much, do you have a problem with that?”
“No, not at all, actually sitting here watching everyone might be an excellent way to start to get a feel for how people act.”
Shaking his head, Mat grumbled, “We need to get you drunk; this isn’t social studies class, Devon.”
With mugs filled and food on the table, they started their first night as citizens of this new world. Together they drank, laughed, and enjoyed just being in a place they’d only seen in movies or dreamed about. They watched the crowds drift in and out; the slow times allowed them to focus on individuals. When it was busier, they focused on groups and how people congregated. They looked for the hidden things, observed the obvious things, trying to figure out the strange races, clothing, and mannerisms. Mat pointed out those he thought were dangerous and why. At first, their observations were specific and well-reasoned, but as the night wore on, they became more bizarre as the two laughed and enjoyed their friendship like they’d done so many times before.
Mat watched Devon as he headed to the bar, passing people and chatting; they were becoming welcomed into the room by the regulars. He looked around and found himself briefly alone, a smile creased his cheeks. He liked this place; the lowness of the roof, the darkness, the slight fog from the pipes mixed with the ever-present smell of cooking kobold gave the inn a comfortable air. This was his kind of place, dark smoky taverns filled with secrets and dangers hidden just under the ratty cloaks of the slightly drunk strangers. He already felt at home.
What surprised him was how different this world was about gender roles. Both men and women drifted in, flirting with whatever sex they found interesting. Mat watched as this cute little girl, probably in her early 20’s, flirted with a guy. They chatted, drank, and then vanished into a curtained room under the stairs. When the barmaid passed, Mat asked, “What is the room those two just went into?”
“Privacy. Burf provides space for the rent boys and girls to ply their trade.”
Several times Mat noticed the bandit from earlier was keeping an eye on him. “He’s still watching us?” commented Devon as he noticed Mat looking over his shoulder.
Once Mat was properly drunk, he decided to see what this guy was up too. With a cold stare, he turned and watched the little rouge. When their eyes met the bandit nodded to his friends, stood, and walked over to their table. “Mind if I join you. Maybe buy you both a drink?” he asked from a respectable distance.
“Why would you do that,” asked Mat as he set a dagger on the table.
“I’m with the rouges guild. Actually, I work there.”
Mat motioned the bandit closer, “As you’ve said several times. What does that have to do with either of us?”
“I think we’re brothers of the night. Having overheard your conversation, I know you’re new in town. You’ve already proven you’re pretty good; most don’t notice me when I….ply my trade as Burf calls it.”
“You considered that subtle? It was like you tried to grab the bag and upturn it on the table,” quipped Mat.
Turning visibly redder, the bandit took a slow breath, “Nevertheless, I am Martus, chief scribe of The Guild of the Night.”
“Oh, so you’re just a scribe, not one of the members, now I understand. Well, keep working on it, you’ll get better,” Mat said sarcastically as he picked a long string of meat off the plate. Looking down at his empty mug, “You said something about buying drinks?”
Raising three fingers, Martus plowed on unfazed, “I really did just come to help, if you don’t want it, fine I’ll leave and you can figure it out at your own peril.”
Devon decided it was time for him to step in, “No, forgive my friend, he’s like most in his profession, bad people skills and the tact of a charging bull with an attitude problem. I’m Devon, and this charming fellow is Matsugo. And yes, being new to the village, we’ll take any help you might wish to offer. As long as it proves to be helpful both in words and actuality.”
Martus was a scrawny little guy with short brown hair, a mustache which looked glued on, ears too big and a mouth even larger. His face appeared to have been put together from scraps. His clothing, if examined individually or not hanging on their current wearer, might have seemed expensive at one time. Instead, they looked like they’d been left out in the rain and then stored in a drawer for several months. What was the old saying, rode hard and put away wet? His tights had holes. His boots were short and looked like they’d been stolen from an old production of Peter Pan. Overall, he was, to say the least, disheveled. “You two aren’t very trusting are you.”
The barmaid arrived with three mugs and slid them across the table. She wrinkled her nose at Martus in a seductive way as he put his arm around her, pinching her ass, she let out a squeal, then leaned in and kissed him on the head, “Behave you cheeky beast.”
Devon chuckled then turned straight-faced as the server left, leaning forward he growled, “Not trusting? Really! As you’ve pointed out, we’re new in town, we’ve been feed kobold, someone has tried to rob us twice, and now we’re being offered ale by one of those very same criminals. Please explain, if you don’t mind, where the trust might come in?”
Mat coughed his ale back into his mug as he laughed at Devon’s assessment of the situation until it registered what his friend had said, in unison both he and Martus corrected, “rouges are not criminals.”
With a long slow nod, Devon snarked, “Right, you have a guild, after all.”
“Exactly,” said Martus somewhat proudly. “A place Mat here needs to check in with tomorrow.”
“I think you’ve made that abundantly clear.”
“So then why did you let me ramble on.”
“I don’t know; you were on a roll. Actually, there is a question of which we don’t already have the answer that you could help with.” He paused, wondering if that made any sense, “If we practice more than one class do we need to check-in at both guilds?”
Looking a bit surprised, “You have more than one field of study?”
“Maybe,” answered Mat.
Martus sat back, rubbing the hint of stubble under his chin. “If you do you should probably keep that to yourself. It’s frowned upon, especially in the rouge community. Most other cities are different, but here it would most certainly cause problems.” He started to say something else then cut himself off. “The problem is I’m not sure how you’d hide such a thing. A trained magic user of any class and some non-magical classes could see the power stored inside you. I’ve heard of people with multiple professions before, but it’s rare, to say the least.” They sat sipping their beers. “It also has to do with the uniforms. The professions are so hung up on their uniforms; Mages in robes, Clerics in their vestments, Rangers in greens, Rouges hid behind black, all that sort of thing. Some cities insist all professions wear something clearly marking their craft.”
“Why so hostile towards people with enough skill to learn more than one?” asked Devon.
“Since you can’t wear two outfits, the city leaders and the high muckamucks think you’re hiding something; they don’t like that.”
Mat didn’t trust this guy, but there was no doubt he was a wealth of information. They talked well into the night until they heard snoring. Looking over, they found Devon with his head resting on his chest, asleep. “I think my friend here has given up for the night. We probably should find our room and get some rest before this whole guild thing tomorrow.” Motioning Martus closer Mat reached into his pouch and pulled out two gold coins. “Will this be enough to ensure your…. friendship…while we’re in town, as well as your silence?”
Placing his hand over the coins and pulling them closer, Martus nodded, “with our new-found friendship, let me give you some advice. Check-in and if you’re skilled enough, hide your magical energy. I’ve heard there are ways. I’d suggest you do so while here, at least until I can find out, covertly, how it would be received. You’re a very dangerous man, my friend, both of you are. Be careful…” slipping the coins into a little bag at his waist, “I’ll keep your secret.” He spat on his hand and extended it. Mat stared at him for a moment until Martus added, “Shake and we have a pact…I’m not sure where you’re from; you seem to be unfamiliar with things even a child should know to their bones. Spit on your hand and shake mine, it’s an unbreakable bond between the two parties.” Mat spat in his palm and gave their new confidant a firm handshake.
Martus stood, bowed, then headed off across the bar and out into the night. Mat turned to find Devon looking at him. “Spitting on your hand, really?”
“I know it’s like the movies.”
“No, its gross is what it is,” said Devon with a wrinkled nose. “I’ll check in with the Druids and ask some questions as well. My Bard abilities shouldn’t be as apparent. Check your magic bag and see if it has appropriate clothes. If not, we’ll need to go shopping.”
Mat nodded, “Let’s find this room we’ve heard about all night. I’ll worry about hiding my magical energy until tomorrow.