A NEW COMPANION
‘You trying to punk me?’ said the scary red-haired warrior lady. ‘Right after I saved your sorry asses?’
Mum was speechless and so was I. We just barged into this town without even knowing its name. How unlucky were we to have our cover broken at the first stop. To make matters worse, she was just shivering with fear and doubt instead of coming up with a response which seemed to be escalating the situation.
‘Miss, we didn’t know where Kirkpod was. We were asked to use that as our cover. We don’t know anything about the world outside of our town. We’re out on an aimless mission to Braumchester and make our way back home. I’m sorry we can’t tell you where we’re from but I promise that we’ll keep our word when we get back.’ I said that to her with maximum conviction hoping that she’d agree to those terms. It was clear that we were no good at lying so blurting out the truth seemed to be the best play at hand even though I didn’t entirely know the truth about this journey. Maybe I had even compromised whatever mission we were on by telling about it to some random stranger but there weren’t many things that we could do. I felt that inaction would only bring uncertainty. It was better to choose a path and just walk it, facing whatever consequences that follow. She stared at me for an uncomfortably long time which made me itch inside. Did I piss her off or was she contemplating the stupidity of my demands?
‘Jeez. What a pain.’ She shook her head. ‘How do you guys plan on getting to Braumchester? Do you even know where it is?’ My mind stopped going haywire after her calm response. We had averted a huge disaster.
‘We were asked to just keep following the sun’ said my mother.
‘That’s almost correct but you’ll end up among the mountains if you keep following the sun strictly. Alright then. For some reason, I’m willing to gamble that you people have stacks of money lying back at home so I’ll go with the flow. I’ll take you Braumchester and keep you company till you reach home. You’ll be paying me two crowns and all the expenses I’ll bear for you till we get there given that you don’t have anything on yourselves as of now.’
‘It’s a deal!’ said my mother with a wide, genuine smile. She was probably comforted by the fact that we now had some guidance and security for the rest of our journey. Even if she didn’t have two crowns back at home, uncle Mikhail would cover it for us.
‘If you try to con me again, I’ll crack both your skulls open without thinking twice’ said the lady but my mom was still smiling like an idiot.
‘All right, let’s get a horse for you both. Make do with one for the rest of the journey. I’m not going to risk shelling too much money on you. There’s a stable at the edge of the town. Let’s head there right away’. With that, we started following her.
Me and my mother were walking behind her through the streets while holding hands. We still weren’t feeling quite safe already as we cruised through these dirty streets on foot. Not much time had passed since our encounter with that gang and so the town was still unruffled given how early in the morning it was. The houses were a fourth in size compared to the ones back in Vereen, just like I observed in Hirridunn. The streets were unkempt and smelled foul even though the day hadn’t begun yet. The market was disgusting to look at which made me wonder why anyone would shop at a place like that.
‘So, what’s your name?’ asked my mother while excitedly speeding up to the red-haired lady.
‘I’m Ravenna Summers. What about you two?’
‘I’m Mirriam and this is my Ed. Edward.’ My mom was overly excited about this conversation.
‘You’re not making up your names too right?’
‘Oh, no no. Why would we do that?’ she said to her while nervously laughing and still smiling like an idiot which made her look even more suspicious in an embarrassing way. ‘I’ve never seen a woman fight before. That was so amazing what you did back there. Are you a mercenary?’ My mother’s enthusiasm and awe was making me cringe inside.
‘Wow, you people must have never left home and no, I’m not a mercenary. Not full time anyway. I’m just a casual traveller. I love to be on the move all the time and pick up odd jobs along the way to fund my ventures.’
‘So you don’t live here?’ I asked her.
‘No, I just came here to fulfil a delivery for the thieves guild. I don’t usually do business with them but they are easy money.’
‘What’s the thieves guild?’ The excitement sapped out of my mother’s face right after I asked the question. I wondered if I had asked something really offensive.
‘I’m not surprised you don’t know. The thieves guild was an organisation formed by independent thieves across the country. They realised that banding together was more beneficial than just being small time thieves. This meant more power, more influence, a wider network and scope to pull off larger quests. The guild had been around for a couple of centuries till they were hunted and destroyed by the Knight of Wisdom about twenty five years ago. I was only a little child back then. But the guild was too big to die so easily. Thievery never stops and from the ashes of the old, a new guild was resurrected by Clovis Favere, a top guild thief who managed to stay out of the reach of the Knight of Wisdom.’ I didn’t understand a few things like who the Knight of Wisdom was and how this resurrection happened but it was still fascinating nonetheless.
‘So you’re a part of the guild now’? I asked her.
‘What? No! Didn’t I tell you that I don’t “usually do business with them”. I’m no thief. I’m a proud adventurer’ she said sparkling with pride.
‘The guild came back into the picture about 10 years ago. The whole country started crumbling after the massacre and Clovis saw this as the perfect time to bring the guild back given how busy everyone was while dealing with the repercussions. They’ve been careful enough to keep their primary operations in our kingdom and staying out of the reach of the High King and the Knight of Wisdom’ Now, I was falling in a hole of total darkness. Everything seemed to be flying over my head. We had a king? How come I was never told about it and what massacre was she talking about? What’s the High King and who is this Knight of Wisdom whose name keeps popping up again and again.
‘Um excuse me, but what do you mean by “our kingdom”?’ I asked both of them. My mother was still feeling down from the ongoing conversation but Ravenna quickly answered.
‘Which cave have you been living in boy? Jeez, I don’t even want to know. Alright.’ She stopped in her tracks and kneeled down on the ground. She started carving an unnecessarily detailed outline of a continent on the ground with her dagger. ‘This is Pangenna, the country we live in. The one of three countries in the world. There’s one on the east and another one on the south, all separated by huge oceans. The eastern country is called Cambria and the southern country is Rodrion. They’re both quite prosperous unlike us.’ I’ve always thought that we were well off but judging by the state of these places that I’ve been to in the last two days, I could see where she was coming from.
(The unnecessarily detailed outline drawn by Ravenna of their country)
‘Our country is broken into five states. The west is where we are. This is the kingdom of Bradstone. Then there’s the Rilancian Empire, the largest kingdom in the country, also known as the mainland which ruled by the High King. It spans across the centre and the north and is about five times larger than ours. The south defected from Rilance 10 years ago and has since been ruled by Lord Garius and his council of merchants. They call the place the State of Europa. Then there’s Valencia, the kingdom of the east. Separating Rilance and Valencia is the sacred forest of Jottivick, which is governed by the Elders.’ She drew out the entire country and showed me where was what while I kneeled beside her and observed carefully. How come I was never taught about this stuff and why did I never bother to even ask. I’ve read about kings in my books but I’ve never known we had one.
‘Who’s our king, the king of Bradstone?’ I asked her.
‘That’d be Horticus Bradstone. Horticus, the cowering wimp. He’s a little coward who has locked himself up inside his fort in the clouds and has forgotten about his subjects.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked her.
‘I mean that we’ve been at a cold war with the Rilancian empire for the last twenty years and we’re on the losing side. The king has basically given up on the smaller towns and settlements across the kingdom and has focused his efforts on fortifying his cities. He doesn’t even bother taxing these small places. They’re on their own and that’s why others have come picking on what remains. The thieves guild and the bandits have practically taken over these places and the Rilancian empire is always eyeing on taking over these places indirectly because they don’t want a full fledged war either. A few more years in the luxurious towers for Horticus and we’ll soon have a new king.’ She clearly seemed to hate him.
We then got back on our way while I was revising all the new information that was fed into my brain. There was a lot to process. My mother still looked pale and downcast and I was wondering which part of the conversation had disturbed her so much. The most plausible explanation seemed like the mention of thieves guild had resulted in this, but why?
Judging by the increasing gaps between structures, we were at the edge of the town already. We saw a huge ranch, far from the edge of the town which Ravenna said was the stable we were going to purchase a new horse from. We picked up our pace and I noticed something as we got closer. A short man wearing a hat was talking to two people holding two struggling mustangs.
‘Those are our horses!’ I exclaimed while I pointed to the stable.
‘Looks like it’s your lucky day’ said Ravenna. She drew her mace out and broke into a run. Me and mom were sprinted to keep up with her. Without a warning, she attacked one of the thugs from behind by pummelling the mace on his back. He screamed and fell immediately. The other thug wasted no time and broke into a run as soon as he saw his friend get wrecked, leaving both our horses behind. We went up to them to comfort them and they calmed down once they realised that they were in safe hands.
‘Stolen goods little man. They’re not for sale’ she said to the man who looked like the owner of the stable. Those thugs probably got the horses here to sell them.
‘Oh thank goodness. Randall left a purse in Dixit’s saddle.’ He did mention it when he asked us to flee. Apparently uncle Mikhail gave it to him for the journey. My mother looked inside and gave a big sigh of relief. ‘It’s a full bag of gold like mine was. Looks like there’s about 60 pieces here. I hope it’s enough.’
’60 gold!!? For real!?’ Screamed Ravenna. ‘You’re telling me you lost almost that much back there? And what’s with you carrying so much money around.’ All this seemed outrageous to her. I didn’t get what the fuss was about.
We continued or journey back into the town. I was riding with my mother on Dixit while Ravenna had borrowed Diddy for the while being. ‘Well, that saves me two gold pieces now that I don’t have to buy you a horse. I don’t have to worry about feeding and lodging you either. With that much money, our journey has gotten much more lavish.’
‘Why are you so obsessed with a crown. Is it so precious to you?’ I asked her. This time my mother looked at me as if I’d asked the wrong question. It seemed like I had switched places with her as the idiot of the trio. She also looked a little embarrassed.
‘You kidding me brat? I don’t reckon you’ve had a decent education. I’m going to have to charge you for all these classes too. They ain’t for free.’ She looked at my mother who was giggling in shame. ‘There are only a limited amount of crowns in the world. It’s made of a rare ore called Cassium. All this ore came from one single mountain in the mainland and the High King a few generations ago minted several pieces of currency out of it. Since then, no more cassium has been mined and the number of crowns remain the same. They don’t switch hands often. Even when they do, they remain in the same circles, the high class often. I’ve never seen a crown in my life. I never expected to either given how expensive it was.’
‘How much?’ I asked her, again.
‘A hundred gold. A hundred frickin gold pieces.’ She said in the most wondrous tone.
‘That’s it?’ It didn’t seem much after all that build-up. However, it seemed like my statement had offended her as if I had just slapped her on the face.
‘Do you understand gold’s worth?’ she asked me in a very serious tone. The only comforting thing about it was that my mother had the same confused reaction as me. A hundred gold actually didn’t seem like much.
‘I know. One gold is 75 silvers and one silver is 20 wittles.’ Only after answering did I feel like I had misunderstood her question.
‘Tell me Edward, how much was I going to buy a horse for?’ she asked me
‘No idea’ I told her immediately
‘One gold. A fully grown, healthy horse for one single piece of gold. You can buy a decent house for about 15 gold. A hundred gold would keep you well-fed for decades. That’s how much a crown is worth.’ I was a bit surprised. Back in Vereen, we used to buy and sell regular stuff in the market for gold. Everybody had sacks of gold. How come it’s worth so much here. ‘Don’t tell me you people are royalty. That would explain a lot though.’ She then looked to my mother. ‘Nah, you don’t look like royalty. Your hands. You’re a working woman. What do you do?’
‘I’m a farmer. A carrot farmer.’ She said with as much pride as Ravenna did when she explained her profession.
‘Yeah right.’ Said Ravenna in response to my mother’s answer. ‘It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me about your personal lives but you don’t have to make up stupid lies.’ My mother looked like she was about to retort to clarify that she indeed was a carrot farmer but she ended up not saying anything. We finally reached the inn where Ravenna was staying. She tied the horses up near hers and we went inside.
‘Hey Ed, that was a smart move back there. Calling out to me for help. Not many people put faith in others, especially around these parts. It’s also because there’s not much to depend on. Although it didn’t help you get your pouches back, at least you have your horses and a companion for your journey.’ It was strange seeing her be so nice and gentle.
‘Uhmm, Thank you’ I said with a smile. We then walked to the counter where she asked for another room for us. It only costed us 5 silvers for a day. The room wasn’t the best I could hope for but after what we’ve been through in the last two days, this was more than I could ask for. Me and my mother slept like babies till the night. We had some apple pie sent to our room for dinner after which we slept again through the night.