The Wolf Pack Chapter 9. Thad

wolfpackcover (2)CHAPTER 9


Carthinal lifted the young thief over his shoulder. He was not heavy, and so it was not difficult for him to carry the lad. Shortly after they had left the Warren, he felt the boy stirring.
‘Hey! Put me down, you bastard!’ he cried.
Carthinal did so, but did not release his grip on the boy’s arm. The boy was struggling, but was nowhere near as strong as Carthinal, and his efforts were futile.
‘If you don’t struggle, you won’t get hurt,’ said Carthinal. ‘You’ll come with me to the inn. I’ll let go of you, but if you run, remember I am a mage. I may forget I said I wouldn’t hurt you.’
‘OK, I’ll not run,’ replied the boy sulkily.
The pair walked along side by side, each watchful and distrustful of the other until they came to the square in which the Golden Dragon was situated.
‘They’ll not let me in there!’ exclaimed the boy.
‘Leave it to me,’ replied Carthinal. ‘I think I can get in with you. I’m good at talking my way out of situations, and so I think I can talk my way into the inn with you.’
As luck would have it, there were few people about, so Carthinal did not have any problems entering the inn with the young thief. As he passed through the public room, Basalt and Fero waved at him to come over to sit by the fire. He walked over with the boy in tow.
‘What have you got there… and why?’ queried Basalt while Fero raised an eyebrow at the boy’s dirty and unkempt look.
‘The thief who robbed me this morning. I spotted his red hair running away after he’d picked my pocket, and saw him again a few minutes ago,’ replied Carthinal ‘I want to get my goods back. I’m taking him upstairs and I intend to find out what he has done with his ill-gotten gains.’
‘I hope you don’t intend to hurt him,’ Fero said with an anxious look at the boy.
‘Gods! What do people think I am? Of course I won’t hurt him,’ snapped Carthinal. ‘You’re the second one to ask me that.’
‘I apologise, Carthinal,’ Fero was truly contrite, ‘but I fail to see how just talking to him will make him give up his secrets.’
‘I have my little ways,’ smiled Carthinal, tapping the side of his nose, and with that he took the boy’s arm and went up the stairs, leaving the others looking after him with bemused expressions on their faces. Fero shrugged and returned to his drink then after a few more seconds, Basalt did the same.
Once in the room, Carthinal surprised the boy by speaking to him in the language of the underworld, developed by the under-classes so that the Guard and others could not understand them when messages were passed.
‘I want my goods back. You cut my pouch this morning. You ran. You are very good, but not good enough. I saw. I recognise you now.’
‘How do you know cant?’ replied the thief, with a look of amazement in his green eyes. ‘You don’t look like one of us.’
‘No matter,’ replied Carthinal. ‘You get my pouch back and return it to me. But I don’t trust you out in the streets. You’ll run and hide. Then you’ll stay low until I leave. I’ll come with you to get it.’
‘You must be one of us if you speak cant, even if you look like one of the grollin.’  The boy used the disparaging word the thieves used for the honest population of Grosmer. ‘I’ll return your pouch. We don’t steal from our own. You come with me now.’ The boy stood and started to walk towards the door.
After a second’s hesitation, Carthinal followed. ‘I should be studying for tomorrow,’ he thought, ‘But this will probably be my only chance to get the figurine back. I must take it.’ With that thought, he followed the boy out and down the stairs, quickly catching up with him.
‘Going to get my stolen things,’ he called to Bas and Fero, leaving them gaping after him, and wondering how he had persuaded the lad to return them.
The pair of them walked through the Market Square.
‘What’s your name, boy?’ asked Carthinal.
After a second’s hesitation, the boy replied, ‘Thad, sir.’ It seemed he had a new respect for Carthinal, honouring him with a “sir”.
‘I assume that is short for Merothad. But there’s no need to call me “sir”.

I’m just another punter who has been stupid enough to be caught by a very good “dip.” My name’s Carthinal.’
‘That’s twice you said I were real good, s… er Carthinal. D’you really think so? That’s so cool.’ The boy seemed to glow in the slight praise.
‘Yes, I do. You have some things to learn yet though. Like not getting caught. One thing you could do is hide your red hair with a hood, you know. You are not very old are you? Thirteen? Fourteen?’ asked the half-elf.
‘Fifteen, Carthinal. Sixteen just after the Equinox.’
‘You’re rather small for your age. Still, there are plenty of folk who are small at your age and grow quickly after that to overtake their taller friends. You may be a giant yet!’
The boy laughed at that idea, but seemed to be warming to his captor. They came to the edge of the Warren.
‘We’re now come on my patch. We talk cant from here or we’ll be so bloody suspect,’ advised Thad. ‘There’s always people sussing out guards in disguise. Everyone speaks cant on the streets in the Warren.’
‘Done!’ replied Carthinal, and the pair relapsed into the language of thieves, assassins and other undesirable characters.

Eventually, they entered a dark, dismal and rather smelly back street. Carthinal entered with no hesitation, a fact that gained him an admiring glance from Thad.
Towards the end of the street, Thad bent down and lifted a grating in the middle of the road. ‘Down ’ere,’ he said, and Carthinal could see his grin in the dim light.
‘Down here being, I presume, the sewers.’ Carthinal peered down into the depths. ‘Smells rather, but if your hiding place is down here, who would go looking? What are we waiting for?’
Thad looked rather taken aback by the fact that Carthinal was willing to go down into the sewers. If he had had any ideas of escaping through the sewer system while Carthinal rather fastidiously waited on the surface, he had to shelve them.
The pair climbed down into the depths. Water came up to Carthinal’s knees, and he tucked the skirts of his robe up into his belt, leaving his legs bare. The water would not be so difficult to walk through then, and his robes would keep some semblance of cleanliness. He did not care to think what was in the water flowing by his legs. The smell was almost

overpowering, but Carthinal sighed, although he winced as he felt solid things bump against his legs as he walked through the noisome fluid. He followed Thad’s figure, which appeared to glow a deep red to his infra-vision. Again, if Thad had intended to escape in the dark, he was out of luck.
The young thief had no need of a light as he could find his way through the sewers as well as he could the upper streets. They twisted, turned, and took many side branches until Carthinal was completely disorientated. He half wished that he had invited Basalt to come along. Dwarves were used to being in caves and mines, and could not easily get lost, having an excellent sense of direction underground.
Eventually Thad stopped. He felt up to a ledge and pulled out a torch and a flint. Quickly lighting the torch, he pulled out a brick from the sewer wall. Reaching in, he rummaged around for a few seconds, and then pulled out a pouch.
‘This it?’ he asked Carthinal.
‘Too right it is,’ replied the other, opening it. He emptied out the coins onto his palm and counted them.
Thad quickly said, ‘I spent a few crowns on some eats at the six hour meal-time.’
‘That’s OK, Thad, but where’s the figurine?’
The boy’s face fell. ‘The figurine? You mean that gold horse thing? Yeah, well. I’m sorry, but I’ve fenced it already.’
‘What? Already?’
‘It’s always good to get goods changed to money real quick, right? Chances of being traced and all that. You know!’
‘Yes, yes, of course. But that really was quick.’
‘I’ve a good fence, like.’ said the boy dismissively. ‘Was it important?’
‘Someone I know thinks it is,’ Carthinal sighed. ‘Oh well. That’s that then.’
‘Maybe I c’d get it back for you. My fence’ll do me favours if I ask, right? ’E’s so into boys, see, (if you know what I mean) and ’e thinks if ’e does me favours, like, I’ll do him one sometime. It’s summat I don’t try very ’ard to change. It’s useful.’
‘Yes, I’m sure it is. I just hope you know what you are doing with him that’s all. That sort of game is dangerous.’
‘Don’t worry, Carthinal,’ the boy replied, cheerfully. ‘I’ve a dagger and am bloody good wi’ throwing knives.’
‘Just be careful, that’s all, Thad. Don’t go relying on weapons. That way lies the end of a rope.’
Thad looked up at Carthinal and grinned. ‘I ain’t scared of no old rope. Anyways, they’d ’ave to bloody catch me first.’
‘Anyway, if you do manage to get the figurine, you can bring it to the Golden Dragon and give it to me. Now are you going to show me the way out of here, or abandon me to wander for ever through the dark and dismal sewers, never to see the light of day again!’ This last said in a sepulchral tone.
Thad grinned and said, ‘Don’t tempt me! That’d be real cool, you comin’ up at night to scare the bleedin’ punters. All but me, o’ course. We’d be partners an’ all. You’d scare ’em away and I’d “acquire” their things. But come on, or you may end up as a zombie scaring the honest folk of ’Ambara for real, comin’ from the sewers at night to prey on the innocent townsfolk.’ He imitated Carthinal’s tone.
The pair laughed and set off back through the sewers. Carthinal found he liked the young lad and wondered what his story was—why had he ended up a thief in the Warren and not one of the honest poor?
Carthinal was surprised to find that the grating that Thad returned him to was near the edge of the Warren, in a place he recognised.
‘You don’t think I’d, like, take you straight to me bleedin’ hidin’ place, do you? Or bring you straight back? That would be so not sensible,’ grinned Thad. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get that statue thingy.’ With that, the young thief slipped back down the sewer grating and was gone.
‘Well! That was an adventure,’ muttered Carthinal to himself as he strode across the market square.
People drew away from him and held their noses, but could not make out why he smelled so bad. Some of the rich folk held pomanders to their noses as he passed. His robe had kept out of the noisome water, and now covered his legs and feet, so the filth of the sewers could not be seen, only the smell was apparent.
On entering their room, Fero and Basalt stepped away from him as though he had the plague. ‘Where have you been?’ asked Fero. ‘You smell like a sewer rat.’
‘Rather a polite way to put it, Fero. Carthinal, you smell like shit. Quite literally. Get a bath before you come anywhere near either of us, or give us any explanations.’
So Carthinal, with a grin at his friends moved off in the direction of the bath house to get clean, after which, he returned to their room ready to give the story of his trip with Thad and its results. At the end of the story, Fero expressed his surprise that Thad had been so co-operative.
‘I had certain advantages that I used,’ replied Carthinal, but did not go into any further details.
‘Now I think I’d better do some studying. Tomorrow’s the test of History of Magic—not my best or favourite subject. I always thought history was a bit of a waste of time.’
As it was obvious from his attitude that he did not want to make his remarks about his advantages any clearer, the other two left him to his studies and went into the bar for a drink.


An Interview with Mabryl, a character from The Wolf Pack.

Hi everyone.

This month has 5 Tuesdays in it and so we have an extra blog. I have decided to do an interview with Mabryl, Carthinal’s mentor in The Wolf Pack for this extra Tuesday. Those of you who are reading my installments will know who he is.

Mabryl Interview

I encountered Mabryl one day as I was walking through Bluehaven. I had heard of his adoption of the promising young mage, Carthinal and I decided to ask him a few questions for the local newssheet, The Bluehaven Herald. Here is the result of my interview.

Me: How did you come to meet with Carthinal?

Mabryl: He was part of a feral gang of children when I met him. In fact, I think he was their leader. I spotted him first watching a young mage in the market place. He was obviously looking for someone’s pocket to pick in the crowd watching the mage when he suddenly stopped and seemed quite taken by the display.

Me: I didn’t know mages gave public displays of magic.

Mabryl: It’s not usual, but sometimes if an apprentice fails the test, they will become entertainers using what little they know. It impresses the public and does no harm.

Me: Why did you take an interest in Carthinal?

Mabryl: I didn’t at the time. It was only later that I saw his potential. As I rounded a corner I spotted him in an alley. He didn’t see me, and I noticed that he was trying to copy the movements and sounds of the simple spells the mage had done. I stood watching him for a bit, not expecting anything to happen, when suddenly a flame rose from his finger. It was only fleeting, but it told me that the boy was exceptional. Very few can master anything without considerable training, and yet here was a boy who had only watched a performance yet had managed to twist the mana to make a very small, short lived flame.

Me: What did you do?

Mabryl: I approached the boy carefully; he was one of the criminal classes after all. I spoke quietly and told him I would like to train him in magic as he obviously had some talent. He backed away, believing that I was trying to capture him for the guard, swore most foully, and told me to go and leave him alone. Of course, I couldn’t leave such a talent, but to try to force him would be counterproductive and so I left him there and went on my way.

Me: When did you meet him again?

Mabryl: I sought him out after that. He was still very suspicious. Eventually I decided to let his curiosity work for me. He still tried to get the little cantrip right, but couldn’t get more than the fleeting flame I’d already seen. I told him I’d train him if he came to my house.

After a few weeks, he came and stood outside. I bided my time and didn’t approach him, but opened the door for him to enter if he wished. It was like trying to capture a shy and wild animal. However, eventually he came in and asked me to teach him.

Me: Was he a difficult pupil?
Mabryl: Difficult isn’t in it. He was wild and found the discipline necessary for the practice of magic almost beyond him. He wanted to learn everything at once too. First of all, before any magic could be learned, he had to learn to control himself. We both found that a difficult task.

Me: How long did it take to tame him?

Mabryl: I’m not sure I have, even now. He still has his temper. He’s also still too fond of the girls. He’s so attractive that they find it hard to resist him. I’ve tried to instil some sense of right and wrong in him, but I’m not sure how far it’s penetrated. I’ve told him he shouldn’t toy with the feelings of young girls though. I only hope it’s penetrated somewhat.

Me: You had high hopes for him at first. Do you still feel the same?

Mabryl: Yes I do. He must learn to control himself more, of course if he is to become as great a mage as he is capable. He has an instinct with the mana. He’s one of the rare few who can actually see it when he is weaving it.

Me: I believe you have adopted him.

Mabryl: Yes. I’ve never married and have no heirs. I’ve grown very fond of Carthinal. In spite of his faults he’s a very personable young man with plenty of charisma. He’ll inherit everything I have when Kalhera calls me and I leave this life.

Me: Thank you.

Mabryl: It was my pleasure.


Dragons Fly. A Poem by V.M.Sang

This week I’m posting one of my own poems. I hope you like it.





Dragons fly
Soaring high
Tiny specks up in the sky.

Dragons swoop
And loop the loop
Then come together in a group.

Dragons dive
Up there they thrive.
They all love to be alive.

Dragons flame.
It’s just a game
They are wild, they are not tame.

Dragons play
Above the bay.
Dangerous beauty. Do not stay!


If you liked this poem, please let me know in the comments section.

Don’t forget that I am giving away a free copy of The Wolf Pack to everyone who subscribes. When you subscribe you will get advance information about new releases as well as notification of freebies and special offers.

This offer lasts until December 25th.

My review of Winter’s Captive by June Bourgo



Recently separated from a cheating husband, a pregnant Georgia leaves her home to spend a month with a childhood friend in Yukon Territory. Her stay takes an abrupt turn when she is kidnapped by bank robbers. She escapes into a vast area of north western British Columbia, known as ‘the last frontier’. Against all odds, Georgia is forced to make decisions to endure the cold, harsh winter. Will she make the right choices to not only ensure her survival but that of her unborn child?



I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The character of Georgia captured me and I followed her every move with interest. I enjoyed watching her grow as she faced her ordeal in the wilderness.

Her husband left her pregnant and after a terrifying ordeal, Georgia finds herself faced with an even more terrifying experience—giving birth alone in the wilderness. She finds the strength to survive through a surprising means and grows both spiritually and emotionally.

This is not the kind of book I usually read, but I found that it is one of those books that you want to keep reading to know what happens next, but don’t want to finish. I am glad to se that June V. Bourgo is writing more books about Georgia. I am anxious to see how she continues her spiritual and emotional growth.

This book has a lot to teach its readers about spirituality, and I have learned a lot from reading it.

Don’t forget that there are only 10 more days to get your FREE copy of The Wolf Pack. Click here or on the Subscribe button to get advance notice of new releases, giveaways and special offers.

The Wolf Pack’ Chapter 8. Thief.

I have decided to publish another episode of the Wolf Pack even though it is not a full month. I want to try to get back to my proper schedule of publishing it on the first Tuesday of the month, since it’s got out of synch.

wolfpackcover (2)



The next morning Carthinal woke to the sounds of the inn preparing for the day. At first, he could not remember where he was, and then he realised that he was in a warm, soft bed in a warm and cosy room. He stretched, and lay back to savour the comfort, but then a voice broke his dreaming.
‘About time you woke up. There are things to do today, or have you forgotten, with this comfortable living?’
Carthinal threw a pillow at Basalt, for it was indeed he who was speaking.
‘Allow me a few moments grace to wake up properly,’ he scolded the dwarf, good-naturedly. ‘Where is Fero?’
‘Up and about long ago,’ replied the grinning dwarf, returning the pillow with an accuracy that hit Carthinal right on the nose. ‘We’re meeting Asphodel downstairs for breakfast in about ten minutes. Think you’ll manage to make it?’
Carthinal nodded, and rose out of bed. He washed quickly in the water in the jug, which was now cold, but had been hot when Fero brought it up from the bathhouse, and pulled a comb through his shoulder-length auburn hair. Then he dressed in his clean robes and made for the door.
‘Hey, wait for me!’ called Bas.
‘I thought you were the one waiting for me! Come on then.’ With that, Carthinal left the room.
Downstairs, he found Fero and Asphodel sitting at a table near the fire. They waved and beckoned the others to the table which was laden with warm rolls, butter, preserves and from a pot on the table came the delicious aroma of fresh coffee.
‘We can have something cooked if you wish. Mabrella offered it, but Asphodel and I prefer to break our fast lightly,’ Fero said as they approached the table.
‘This is just fine by me,’ replied Carthinal. ‘What about you, Bas?’
‘It looks and smells delicious. Pour some of that coffee, will you, Asphodel. It seems forever since I had a drink of such a delicious smelling beverage.’
As Asphodel poured coffee for them all, and they tucked into the homemade rolls and preserves, they discussed the plans for the day.
‘We shouldn’t go too early to see Duke Rollo,’ Asphodel said. ‘We don’t know how early he rises or what his plans are for the mornings. Maybe we’ll have to make an appointment if he’s very busy today.’
‘We can first have a look at the town. Find our bearings, and also get directions to the Duke’s residence. We, Asphodel, also need to find out how to get to our own destinations, and Fero and Basalt to theirs.’ Carthinal pointed out.
After a good breakfast, and feeling rested and full, the four set off to explore the town. The Market Square was beginning to come alive with the stallholders setting up their stalls in readiness for the day’s trade. There were already people in the square hoping to get the best of the goods on sale before everyone else came.
The four wandered around until they came to the street by which they had entered the previous evening. They walked slowly along, looking at the wares now on display in the windows of the various shops. This street seemed to be mainly hardware, with the shops selling pots and pans, cutlery, buckets, farming implements etc.

There were many dwarves among the shopkeepers, as dwarven metalwork was always of the highest quality and greatly in demand. One shop drew their attention in particular. It was selling metal goods of an ornamental design. Some things were purely decorative, while others were functional, but with such beautiful workmanship and with embossed parts that they all thought it would be a pity to use them. There were drinking vessels that were engraved with intricate designs, knives with delicately etched designs in their blades, forks with elaborate handles and many, many more.
Other streets seemed also to be dedicated to particular types of shop. There was a street full of butchers’ shops, one of bakers, another, from the smell, was the street dedicate to fishmongers. There were jewellers, grocers, haberdashers, milliners, shoe shops and clothes shops. There were shops dedicated to hunting, others to spices and herbs. One road was filled with shops selling armour and another dedicated to weapons of various kinds. It seemed that every type of goods could be bought here in Hambara.
‘Of course, we are in the merchant area,’ Basalt reminded them.
There were many people around and Fero in particular was feeling rather uncomfortable, being much happier in the wilderness. They felt the crowds were jostling them rather a lot.
Suddenly, Carthinal cried out, ‘That boy! He’s just taken my pouch,’ pointing to a quickly disappearing youth with a mop of curly red hair.
‘You won’t catch him now,’ pointed out a man who was walking past.

‘He’s no doubt passed your pouch onto his companions by now, and they will be long gone.’
‘Did you have much in it?’ asked Asphodel, concerned.
‘Not much of my money, but it did have the figurine we were taking to Duke Rollo,’ replied Carthinal. ‘Damn! That should not have happened. How did I let that happen?’
‘These things happen in cities,’ Fero laid a hand on Carthinal’s arm. ‘One reason that I don’t like to be in them for too long.’
‘I know! I know! Of all people, I know!’ Carthinal was angry with himself .
‘What’s done is done, lad,’ comforted Basalt. ‘It’s no use trying to undo it.’
‘You’re right of course, but how did I allow myself to slip like that?’
‘Come on Carthinal. At least you didn’t have all your money in it. You were sensible enough to put some elsewhere,’ said Asphodel. ‘We’ll just have to explain to Duke Rollo that you haven’t got the figurine any more, and how you lost it.’
‘But he may not believe us if we don’t have it for identification,’ argued Carthinal.
‘Maybe, but we still have the letter. It is signed, and it has a seal,’ went on Asphodel, unsure as to why Carthinal was so very angry with himself over what must be a common occurrence, especially as little of his money had gone.
‘I suppose you’re right but I’m still angry that I let my guard down so I could be robbed. Also, the Duke may think we are planning on keeping the figurine ourselves, and have made up the story of the thief,’ he replied. ‘It is made of gold after all.’
The others eventually managed to placate Carthinal, and they set about trying to find the way to Duke Rollo’s house. As it happened, it was not difficult to get directions. The first person that they asked directed them to the centre of the town, to the green parkland that they had noticed from the hill. They walked along towards the town’s centre. Basalt’s observation from the hill outside town was obviously correct, that the house in the centre of the park was the Duke’s residence.
‘I hope he’s there and not out of town,’ said Asphodel. ‘These important people sometimes have business to attend to in other places, as well as other homes in the country.’
‘I don’t think he’ll be at his country residence at this time of the year,’ replied Fero. ‘It’ll be a bit chilly. Anyway, he wouldn’t be likely to be away from his main residence for the Equinox would he?’
‘Well if he is away, we’ll leave the letter and tell someone where we can be found if he needs us,’ suggested Carthinal. ‘Come on. Let’s go. Asphodel needs to get to her temple and I need to go and report to the Tower today as well.’
Soon the four of them came to the gates in the centre of the town. They were at the northern end of a large square. The gates were closed, and a small building was situated just inside. They saw that there was a bell on the gates, and Carthinal rang it. A man came out of the building. He was a large man with greying hair and beard and he had obviously been in the army at one time for he carried a two-handed sword as though he knew how to use it and was willing to do so on any visitors.
‘State yer business,’ he said in a gruff voice.
‘We wish to see Duke Rollo,’ Asphodel told him, giving him her sweetest smile. Her charm did not work on this rough warrior though.
‘Yeah! They all do. I need to know why you want ter see ’im afore I open these ’ere gates,’ he growled.
‘We have a letter for him,’ said Carthinal. ‘It’s from Duke Danu of Bluehaven.’
‘Gi’ me th’ letter an’ I’ll send it up to th’ House,’ the other replied. ‘Jondo! There’s a letter fer ’is Lordship ’ere. Tak’ it up ter th’ House.’ The capital letter was obvious in his voice.
A boy came out of the building at the big man’s call. He was about nine years old, and bore enough of a resemblance to the old warrior that it was obvious that he was a close relative; probably his grandson.
The boy looked at the man and said, ‘I’ll run all th’ way. See how quick I c’n be this time. I bet I c’n beat me record.’
‘OK! But be sure an’ be quick. These ’ere people haven’t too much time to waste, I’m sure.’
At this, the boy set off at a run along the tree-lined drive.
‘Yer’ll have ter wait ’ere till ’e comes back if yer want a reply. May’ap th’ Duke’ll see yer, may’ap ’e won’t. Depends on what’s in yon letter,’ The old warrior said. ‘P’raps I can let yer through th’ gate so’s the young lady can sit down, but no messin’. I knows how to use me sword, an’ I’m pretty ’andy with a cross bow too.’
‘We’ll put all our weapons down if that will ease your mind,’ said Carthinal. He was rewarded by a scowl from Basalt.
‘If th’ Duke’s gonna see yer, yer’ll have ter leave yer weapons ’ere anyways,’ replied the man. ‘Don’t let no one in wi’ weapons, don’t the Duke. Afraid someone’ll harm Lady Randa, ’e is.’
‘Who’s Lady Randa?’ asked Asphodel. ‘His wife?’
‘Naw. Yer new in town ain’t yer or ye’d know. Lady Randa’s ’is daughter. Eighteen years old and spoiled rotten she is. Anyway, mustn’t talk out o’ turn. It’s the duke’s business ’ow ’e treats ’is daughter. ’E’s allus been good ter me though. Give me this job when I retired from ’is guard.’
The boy returned quickly, and was somewhat out of breath.
‘Granda,’ he panted. ‘The Duke asked they be sent up to th’ House straight away.’
‘Well, well. That is a mighty important letter,’ the old guard said. ‘Go on then. Straight along th’ drive. Can’t miss th’ House. Yer can collect yer weapons when yer returns.’
‘I feel naked,’ grumbled Basalt as they walked along the drive towards the house.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Asphodel.
‘Without my weapons. I go everywhere with them. We could be set upon from out of these trees and have no means of defending ourselves.’
‘Don’t be silly, Bas. I’d like to see anyone get past that old guard, and we needn’t fear the Duke, I’m sure,’ Asphodel reassured him, but the dwarf was still uncomfortable and rather jumpy when they reached the end of the avenue of trees and saw another set of gates before them.

As they approached, a guard in a scarlet jacket and black trousers opened the gates. He carried a sword sheathed at his hip.
When they passed through the gate, he saluted them and said, ‘Go straight to the main doors, Sirs and Sister. You are expected.’
‘A slightly different reception,’ whispered Asphodel to Carthinal.
‘Yes, but here they know we’re coming and what it’s all about. Out there we could be anyone,’ he pointed out.
They passed through formal gardens on the way to the main doors. On either side of the path were gardens with winter flowering plants whose perfume hung on the air giving a promise of the spring to come.

After about thirty yards, the path divided to go around a fountain in the centre of a pool. Golden fish swam in the pool, the like of which none of the four companions had ever seen before. The fountain was in the shape of a water nymph, and she was pouring water from a large shell into the pool, the surface of which was covered with large water lily leaves.
Beyond the pool, and after some more formal garden edged with small neatly trimmed box hedges, steps climbed up to a terrace which ran along the entire front elevation of the building. There was a low wall along the garden side of the terrace and at the top of the steps were two large urns, one on each side planted with small conifers and more of the winter flowering plants.

Large double doors stood in the centre of the House with gilding in an intricate pattern all around the edge. There were large windows to each side of the door, two on either side, and columns, holding up a stone porch to keep anyone standing at the door dry in inclement weather, flanked the door.
As they approached the door, it opened, and an elf in red and black livery stood aside to allow them to enter. He was dark-haired with the natural good looks and elegance of all elves.

He looked at them with some suspicion in his blue eyes, but bowed politely as they entered the House.

They passed under the porch and found themselves in a large and elegant entrance hall. The floor was of marble and at the far end of the room was an imposing staircase, also of marble. The staircase began in the centre of the far wall and divided half way up, each side sweeping up to the first floor. There were doors off the hall on either side, three on the left and two on the right. The third door on the left was almost hidden under the staircase. On each side of the hall was a small table. One had a bust of a young man and on the other side was an urn filled with dried grasses and seed heads, making a very elegant arrangement.
On the floor was a long golden coloured carpet, running the length of the hall and up the centre of the stairs, and on the walls were beautiful paintings, all in a colour scheme to match the room. The floor itself was a cream marble and the banisters of the stairs were gilded.
The walls were of a creamy colour that perfectly matched the marble floor, if a little deeper in tone. The impression that was given was one of understated wealth and excellent taste.
‘The Duke will see you in his study,’ the elf told them. ‘Follow me.’ He began to walk towards the third door on the left.
When he reached it, he knocked twice and then entered and announced them. ‘Your guests, sir,’ he said. ‘Should I send them in?’
A deep and musical voice replied, ‘Yes of course, and bring some wine, please, Daramissillo.’
They entered a room with two windows, making it appear very light and airy. The first window was in the wall opposite the door, and the second was on the wall to their right, opening on a garden. To their left was a fireplace with a fire burning in it and a second door at the far side of it.
Immediately opposite the door was a large wooden desk inlaid with tooled leather, but at the moment covered with books and papers.

A man was seated behind the desk. He was in his late forties or early fifties, so Carthinal estimated, and had obviously been a warrior in his youth. He looked as though he still kept himself fit, however, his physique being that of a younger man, but his age was given away by the grey in his once fair hair. He wore his hair in a fashionable style, just touching his collar at the back. His blue eyes held an intelligence that indicated that he was not easily taken in by falsehoods.
‘He must have been a very handsome man in his youth,’ thought Asphodel to herself.
‘Come in and seat yourselves by the fire. It’s rather cold today and I’m sure you want to get warm,’ the deep voice said. ‘I’m Duke Rollo although you have probably guessed that. I’ll be with you in a minute. I’ve just got to sign these last couple of papers. Always papers to read and sign running a dukedom, you know.’
There was another knock on the door, and Daramissillo returned with the promised wine. He poured out five glasses, gave one to each of them and one to the Duke and quietly withdrew, leaving the tray with the bottle on a small table near the hearth.
While the Duke finished his paperwork, the group sat down in four comfortable chairs that were arranged around the blazing fire in the hearth on the left-hand wall of the study. Over the fireplace was a painting of a beautiful young woman. She had grey eyes and long, brunette hair and the sweetest smile on her face. They found that the picture was so riveting that they could hardly tear their eyes from it.
‘Ah I see you’ve been captivated by that painting, as have all who have seen it,’ said the Duke, approaching them soon afterwards. ‘It is the work of the artist Demando, and one of his best works, but it doesn’t do justice to the original. No, nowhere near,’ he added in a very quiet voice, almost to himself.
‘Is it your daughter, sir?’ said Fero. ‘We heard you have a daughter.’
‘No, friend,’ the Duke replied sadly. ‘It’s a portrait of my wife, who died just eighteen years ago this month. In fact, the anniversary of her death and the birthday of my daughter were just two days ago.’
Carthinal voiced their sympathy for his loss as seemed proper to do. Then the Duke seemed to pull himself together and asked for introductions to the group. After they had finished giving their names, the duke held up the letter.
‘Where did you get this?’ he asked them. ‘This letter contains some rather disquieting information. I would rather not reveal it until I’ve thought about it some more, but I wanted to see you to convince myself that you’re not mischief-makers. Tell me the story as to how you came by this letter. The letter also says that you should have something to let me know that you are genuinely from Danu. I would like to see that as well.’
Carthinal told the story of how he had found the paper with the prophecy in the book that Mabryl had bought and how Mabryl had told Duke Danu about it. He went on to relate how they had been caught up in the flood on the Brundella and told of Mabryl’s death, tears coming to his eyes at the thought. He went on to explain how Basalt and Fero had come into their company, and of the kidnap of Asphodel by the orcs. He told of his disquiet that the orcs were raiding so far from their usual areas, and finally he explained how he had lost the identifying figurine.
Duke Rollo listened intently, then said, ‘If you can get the figurine back as proof of your veracity, I would be grateful. It would take away any doubts I may have that this is truly a letter from my old friend and not some trick. Your story has a ring of truth to my ears, but those whom we may be dealing with are masters of deceit. I must be sure. If you can’t find the ring, then I must think long and hard, and pray to the gods that I come to the correct decision. Meanwhile, if you let me know where I may find you if I need to ask you any more questions I would be grateful.’
Carthinal then told him that they were staying at the Golden Dragon Inn but that Asphodel would be going to the temple of Sylissa that afternoon, and some of the time he, himself, would be in the Mage Tower taking his tests.
At the mention of the Golden Dragon, Duke Rollo smiled. ‘I bet Jandi was on duty when you arrived, wasn’t he?’
When they replied in the affirmative, he replied, ‘He always sends travellers to his sister’s inn. Not that it isn’t one of the best in town, and very reasonably priced, I’m told, but she’s often over-crowded and run off her feet. Still, he means well.’
The duke then stood up, and seeing that they had all finished their wine, he rang the bell that called Daramissillo.
‘Please show our guests out,’ he told the elf, then he extended his hand to each of them in turn, and bade them farewell.

After they had left, the duke rang the bell on his desk once more, and Daramissillo entered again. The duke spoke to him. ‘I want you to find out as much as you can about those four that have just left. The letter they brought contained worrying news and I must be certain that it is genuine. Find out where they came from, and something about their backgrounds.

‘I want them stopped from leaving the city just at the moment. Nothing too obvious mind. Make sure the dwarf and the ranger can’t get work. The mage will be around for a few days at least as he told me he’s taking his tests and the elf is bound for the temple of Sylissa. Send a message to the Great Father there and ask him to come and see me as soon as he is able. I know he’s a busy man, but he may be able to help with details of the elf, and how to detain her if she plans to go anywhere else. Use whatever methods you can.’
Daramissillo began to leave, after bowing to the duke when the duke said, ‘Oh! And find out if any of the fences in the town have bought a gold figurine in the shape of a horse. That will be all,’ and he dismissed the elf with a wave of his hand.
After Daramissillo had left, the duke sat thinking deeply, a frown on his handsome face. He rubbed a hand over his hair and sighed. Why must there always be problems for him to resolve? He supposed that was what being the Duke was about—responsibility for others’ welfare.
‘What kind of ruler will Randa make when I’m gone,’ he wondered. ‘I’m afraid that I’ve indulged her too much. Ah well, too late to worry about that now. I must try to decide what to do about this current problem.’
With those thoughts he returned to his work.

When the four left the Ducal Palace, they made their way to the gates.
‘I don’t think the duke was too impressed that we didn’t have the figurine,’ observed Fero.
‘No. And that’s all my stupid fault,’ growled Carthinal in reply. ‘I know what cities are like and how thieves operate in them. I should have been more wary. Now Asphodel and I must go, she to the temple of Sylissa, and I to the Mage Tower. I’ll see you both at the inn this evening I trust?’
‘Yes, Carthinal, we’ll be at the inn,’ replied Fero with a smile. ‘I don’t expect we will find work so quickly.’
The four split up, Carthinal and Asphodel heading to the Temple area, and the others back to the inn. As they approached the temple, Carthinal felt a reluctance to say goodbye to Asphodel. He had begun to think of her as a good friend on their journey and was attracted by her delicate beauty.

They stopped at the bottom of the steps of a large white temple. A white banner with a blue triskel flew from the flagpole above the large double doors, which were in turn embossed with gold triskels, the symbol of Sylissa, and signifying life. He held out his hand, and she took it. On impulse, he dropped a swift, light kiss on the top of her black hair.
‘This looks like goodbye, then,’ he said ‘I hope all goes well. I know you will be a wonderful healer one day in spite of anything I said in anger after Mabryl’s death. I apologise for my behaviour then. It was inexcusable.’

With that, he turned and strode quickly away before Asphodel could reply. She watched for a few moments, and then turned and slowly made her way up the steps to the doors of the temple.

Carthinal, ignoring the feelings of sadness that were threatening to envelop him, continued along to the turning for the Tower. He felt he had lost another important person in his life when he said goodbye to Asphodel, and he wondered at the feeling. He hardly knew her yet he she was beginning to become important to him.

He turned right along a road that was dominated by the sight of the Tower at the end and his thoughts turned to that edifice. It was truly an impressive building. It was about ten stories tall, and if the rumours were true, there were many more floors below ground level, where research was carried out. The tower was built of a golden coloured stone, and there were windows around its circumference. The top was roofed over in grey slate, and a walkway surrounded the highest storey, giving the tower an overhang at the top.
He came to a pair of gates set in an iron fence, inside of which were grassy areas and water features, with shady walks and hidden areas where a person could sit quietly and read or just think. The whole feeling was one of calm. Carthinal felt his apprehensions drifting away as he approached the gates.

A gatekeeper saw him, and immediately saw that he was an apprentice, and probably here for the tests. He asked Carthinal his name, and then consulted a list that he had in his shelter.
‘You were expected before now, and we expected two of you, but enter,’ he said. ‘Go and report to the main entrance.’
There seemed little in the way of security, unlike at the Palace. He was obviously the last, as the gatekeeper began to pack up the papers as he walked through. Carthinal supposed that the awe and fear in which most people held mages would be enough to protect the tower and its occupants from unwelcome intruders, and he assumed that there were magical defences as well.
He entered the doors and found himself in a large round room that covered the entire ground floor. Stairs wound up the tower from the opposite side of the room, and there was also a staircase that went down, confirming the rumours that there were floors beneath the ground.

Suddenly a strange thought struck Carthinal. He was sure that this room was bigger than it should be. It seemed to be bigger than the outside. Carthinal was looking around, to try to sort out the disorientating feeling when he was approached by a man in the scarlet robes of a probationary mage, one in his first year after qualifying.
‘You must be Carthinal. My name’s Dabbock,’ he exclaimed. ‘You’re the last of the apprentices for this session. You’re just in time. The tests begin tomorrow, and you must be briefed with the others in about an hour. Where’s your Master?Apprentices rarely come alone, although strangely enough, there is one other without his master this time.’
Carthinal crushed the brief feeling of sorrow, and squeezed back the tears that threatened to come at the mention of Mabryl.
‘He met with an accident on the way here, and unfortunately, in spite of the ministrations of a novice of Sylissa, he died.’
‘I am sorry to hear it,’ Dabbock replied. ‘I heard that Mabryl was a great mage and I was looking forward to meeting him. You must come with me to Tharron. He was my Master until I passed the Tests. He was a friend of Mabryl when they were students, and they kept in touch. He asked to see you when you arrived.’
‘Yes, I’ve heard Mabryl speak of him. He regarded him very highly and said that he was one of the greatest teachers of magic alive today.’
Carthinal did not want to have to repeat the story of Mabryl’s death, but he saw that he had no choice, so he followed the other man up the stairs. They climbed three flights, and then his guide knocked on a door.
A voice called, ‘Enter.’
The pair did so. His guide introduced him to a man seated behind a desk, reading a large book and then withdrew. The man was grey-haired but youthful looking, and was wearing black robes.
He stood and held out his hand. ‘I’m Tharron,’ he said in a light tenor voice. ‘I was hoping that Mabryl would be with you. He usually comes. It must have been something important if he’s not here.’
Carthinal briefly related the news of Mabryl’s death.
Tharron was obviously taken aback by the news. ‘You’d better tell me about it,’ he said.
Carthinal began to tell him about the events that had transpired on the journey. He was telling the tale for the second time in a day, and he had to stop once during the telling, when he got to the actual death of his master. He was obviously overcome, and Tharron passed him a glass of water.
‘What a tragedy. You obviously feel his loss deeply. Please pass me the documents that he had regarding your tests.’
This Carthinal did, and Tharron read them with interest. ‘I know he’d adopted you. You’re therefore his heir, since he never married and had children of his own. You’re down on these papers as Carthinal Mabrylson. In this letter he says that he is absolutely certain that you will have no problems, and that he thinks that one day you will become one of the great mages of Vimar.’

Tharron looked up from the papers. ‘That is very high praise from a man like Mabryl, but I mustn’t keep you. My condolences on your loss. I’ll hope to speak with you again, but you must go and join the other apprentices and eat something before the briefing.’
With that, he called Dabbock back into the room and told him to take Carthinal to the dining room where he should be able to find some lunch, and then to the briefing room.
After a light lunch, Carthinal went with Dabbock to the room known as the briefing room. It was on the first floor, and was a relatively small room. Here he met the other apprentices who were thought by their masters to be ready to progress to probationer status.

There were five of them. Carthinal realised with a pang that all but one of them had their masters with them. The room seemed crowded with ten people in it, but shortly, after giving last minute instructions, the masters withdrew.
The apprentices looked at each other anxiously, until one of them said,  ‘Look, we’re going to be in each other’s company for a few days, so let us introduce ourselves. My name is Laurre.’
Laurre was a very tall young man with rather untidy, mousy brown hair, and rather prominent teeth. He was very thin and looked as though he needed a good meal.
The others then introduced themselves.
Olipeca was a human woman, rather small and retiring with brown hair tied in a tight bun away from her face in a style, which emphasised her rather pointed features. She could have been pretty if she made more effort and did her hair in a less severe way, Carthinal thought.

Hammevaro seemed to be very fond of himself and said how certain he was of doing well. He was the other apprentice whose master was not with him. He made everyone to understand that he was sure to get the best marks as well as have both the girls fall for him, and he tossed his mane of golden hair to draw everyone’s attention to it. He was undoubtedly very good looking, but his pale blue eyes were cold even when he smiled, which he seemed to do for effect rather than from genuine amusement or friendliness.

Carthinal took an instant dislike to him.

Grimmaldo was a friendly young man of medium stature and build, with light brown hair that he wore much shorter than the other men, just barely scraping the collar of his robe. He had a ready smile and a wicked sense of humour that was apparent in the twinkle in his greenish-blue eyes. Not particularly good-looking, he more than made up for this by his personality.

Finally Ebrassaria introduced herself. She was an elf with black hair. Superficially, she reminded Carthinal of Asphodel, but it was only superficial. Although she had the good looks of all elves, she spoiled it rather haughty expression. In addition, her eyes were a rather muddy brown, not the clear grey of Asphodel’s.

Carthinal thrust the thoughts of Asphodel to the back of his mind and he concentrated on listening to the others.
He noticed Olipeca looking at him and smiling shyly, and he smiled back. She came over to him, encouraged by his smile.
‘I’m a little nervous about this.’ She spoke quietly, almost apologetically. ‘My mistress says I’m ready, but I’m not too sure. It’s not the written part that worries me but the practical test. I’ve heard that they put you through dreadful things and that sometimes people…you know…die.’
This last in a whisper so quiet that Carthinal had to struggle to hear. He had heard this rumour too, but he tried to reassure her. Then the door opened and Tharron entered.
He spoke briefly to the group, who had sat down on the chairs provided, Carthinal finding himself between Olipeca and Grimmaldo.
Tharon gave them a brief summary of the procedures for the tests and then said, ‘Thank you for listening to me, ladies and gentlemen. Now your time is your own.’
Grimmaldo came up and said, ‘We’re going to go for a drink, are you coming, Carthinal?’
‘Yes, I think I will,’ he replied.
The group set off from the tower, with the exception of Ebrassaria who said that she thought she should study and that they were all rather foolish. Anyway they would be going to places where there were a lot of humans (she made it sound as though she were talking of slugs or worms or some other such revolting creatures) and she did not want to involve herself with them except when there was no alternative.
They left the confines of the tower, and as it was still only mid afternoon, they decided to go and explore the town. As they passed the temple of Sylissa, Carthinal could not help but look to see if he could catch a glimpse of Asphodel. Then he told himself not to be stupid. She was safely inside, probably worshipping her goddess at this very moment.
The group of apprentices wandered around the town aimlessly, and then suddenly they found themselves in the area known as the Warren.
‘Hey!’ cried Grimmaldo ‘This is the thieves’ quarter I think.’
Olipeca quietly drew nearer to Carthinal. ‘I wish we hadn’t come here,’ she whispered. ‘Anything could happen. I wish I’d stayed in the tower like Ebrassaria.’
Before Carthinal had time to reply to her, he became aware of a mop of unruly, curly red hair at the end of the street. He recognised the thief who had stolen his pouch with the figurine in it. He must not let him escape. He began to draw the mana into himself preparing to send a mind-influencing spell to the youth that would make him believe he was tired and must sleep.

The others were surprised at hearing the spell, and stopped in their tracks.

With a wave of his hand, Carthinal released the spell and the redheaded thief yawned and then lay down in the road to sleep.
‘What the…’ stuttered Laurre as Carthinal ran down to where the thief lay sleeping peacefully in the street. Some people had stopped to stare, but most shrugged and moved on. It was not wise to interfere with the business of others in the Warren, especially when that other was a mage. When the others arrived, Carthinal had picked up the thief, a young boy of about fourteen or fifteen.
‘He stole something from me this morning and I intend to get it back,’ he explained. ‘I’m taking him to my lodgings.’
‘You won’t hurt him will you?’ whispered Olipeca.
‘No. I think I can get my goods back without resorting to violence,’ replied Carthinal, smiling, and with that, he strode off towards the Golden Dragon Inn, the thief over his shoulder, leaving the other apprentices standing staring after him in amazement.

Please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section. I would love to hear what you think of my story.

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5 more commonly confused words





I’ve got myself all out of sync. The Wolf Pack Chapter 7 should have been today and this should have been next week. Don’t know how that happened. Still, I’ll get back to normal next month, I hope.

Since I started writing about these words, more and more are coming to my notice. I suppose it’s because I’m now looking out for them. Some can be quite amusing, like in a previous blog when I talked about vicious and viscous.
A pupil wanted to say that a liquid became more VISCOUS, i.e. thicker and less runny. In fact he said it became more VICIOUS.

Here are this week’s words.

 Advise/Advice.

Advise is a verb. It is what you do. You advise someone.
e.g. I would advise you not to put all your money in the same shares.

Advice is a noun. It is what you give.
e.g. My advice to you is not to put all your money in the same shares.

 Adieu/ado.
This one I was surprised to see. It was in a blog post and the blogger said ‘And so without further adieu…’

Anyway, just in case he isn’t the only one, here’s the difference.

Adieu is French. It means Goodbye.
e.g. Well. I guess I’ll be going, so it’s adieu.’

Ado means fuss or action.
e.g. And so without further ado, we will go over to our correspondent in Washington.

 Council/Counsel

Council is an advisory or deliberative body.
e.g. The town council has decided to impose a fine for people who drop litter.

Counsel is a barrister (Queen’s counsel) or advice given.
e.g. He counselled me to think hard about what I was about to do.

 Good/Well
Good is an adjective. It describes a noun.
e.g. Jack is a good boy.

Well is an adverb. It describes a verb.
e.g. Janice did the task we set her very well.

If someone asks you how you are, unless you are saying that you are a good person, you cannot reply ‘I’m good,’ it should be ‘I’m well.’ You are describing your state of being, and ‘being’ is a verb.

 Accept/Except

Accept is what you do when you receive a gift.
e.g. When Fred gave Janet the gift, she accepted it gratefully.

Except is to exclude.
e.g. We all went to the cinema except for Judy, who was busy that evening.

I hope you have enjoyed these five further pairs of words. I hope so because I have more to come!

Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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The Wolf Pack Chapter 7 Hambara


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The four travellers stood on a small hill overlooking the town of Hambara. It had taken almost a sixday to reach it after the rescue of Asphodel from the orcs. Those days had taken the travellers through the central mountains of Grosmer by way of deep passes. These mountains were small in comparison with the huge mountain ranges that surrounded the land, but were about two to three thousand feet in height.

During this time, the travellers had become firm friends, any lasting distrust evaporating in the camaraderie of travel.
Hambara was the largest town in the region. In fact it was the regional capital, ruling the duchy of Hambara, and second only to the capital city of Grosmer, Asperilla, in size and importance. Rolling hills through which the little party had travelled over the past few days surrounded it. There were large areas of woodland and some heath, which Fero surmised were hunting grounds. Small farms similar to that of Borolis and Elpin also studded the land around.

From their vantage point at the summit of the hill, the little group could see the town laid out before them as though they were looking at a map. The town had grown up at a crossroads where the roads which travelled north/south crossed those going east/west. It had begun as a trading post and fishing town, situated as it was on the Blue Lake, and had subsequently grown to an important merchant city. It was situated in a strategically important place in almost the centre of Grosmer.
In the centre of the town, from their vantage point, the travellers could see a large area of green with a building in it. From here, the four main roads radiated out to the cardinal points of the compass. Thus the town was divided into four main areas. There were walls around what had been the original town, with gates leading through them on the main routes, but now the town had spilled out to form a sprawling complex of buildings of various shapes and sizes.

These buildings seemed to form a number of concentric rings around the walls of the old town. It was obvious that some of them were dwellings. In the outermost ring, these dwellings were large and built in the main in squares, with gardens in the centre of the squares. The next ring in, were smaller dwellings with small gardens out at the back, but were obviously not the homes of the poor, they were just a little too fine and large for that. Maybe the people who worked for the rich merchants lived in them. Finally, there was a ring of what appeared to be warehouses and workshops just outside the walls. T

o the north, they could just glimpse the clear waters of the Blue Lake. They could not see the details inside the walls very clearly, but it seemed to be built on a different pattern, more as though the town were divided into quarters with the roads forming the borders.
‘So this is Hambara,’ stated Carthinal. He looked down on the town. ‘I suppose that area in the southwest inside the walls is the area of the temples and the mage tower. There seem to be a number of large buildings, some with spires, and I can see a tower standing up above everything else. It seems to be in some sort of green area. I think that’s where I’m going.’
‘It seems to be near the temples.’ Asphodel spoke quietly. ‘Maybe when we get to the town, we can both travel to our destinations together.

‘Where will you two go?’ she asked Basalt and Fero.
‘I’ll go to see if there are any vacancies in the town guard or the militia first,’ replied Bas. ‘They usually need some experienced fighters. After that, if I have no luck there, I’ll look for something in metalwork. What about you, Fero? Towns don’t seem to be places rangers like very much.’
‘True, friend, but a man must eat, and there are usually people who want a guide, either for hunting, or a journey. The militia sometimes employ rangers as scouts, too. I’ll see what happens when we get there. I may come with you to see if they want anyone,’ he went on, speaking to Basalt.
‘Well, standing here’s not getting us anywhere. We’d better move on. It’ll be dark in a couple of hours and I’d like to find somewhere to rest and have a bath.’ said Carthinal, ‘And I have a letter to deliver to Duke Rollo.’ he revealed, beginning to move off down the hill. The others quickly followed.
The companions soon found themselves passing through an area of fine houses. This was the area in which the nobles and very rich lived. Most of them seemed to be hidden away behind walls and gates, a sure indication that their owners considered that they needed to be away from prying eyes and safe from thieves and vagabonds.

Most were built in squares with gardens in the centre, as they had seen from the hill outside the town. These squares were paved with blocks to prevent mud from clogging up the wheels of carriages and the feet of people. Some of the houses had guards at their doors dressed in the livery of the house. All the guards seemed to be alert and ready to do their duty in preventing unwanted access.
Soon these houses gave way to houses without walls. These houses were built with their doors fronting onto the streets, but it was obvious that the people who lived there were not short of money. Finally, as the houses became less and less grand looking, they entered the area of warehouses.
They came to the gate just before the sun set. There was a nominal guard, but there was no sign of the gates being closed. When they asked if they were closed at night, the guard replied that they were not, as so many people lived outside the walls that they were forever opening and closing them to let people through.
‘It’s not as though there is a war or anything, is it? There are no enemies about to cause us problems since the country is no longer divided into separate kingdoms, and the other races such as orcs and hobgoblins don’t come near any more,’ the guard went on, leaning indolently against the wall of the guard house. ‘We always stop strangers to make sure they are not smuggling though. The merchants get angry if they think that cheap goods are coming into the town to undercut them. I suppose I’d better check your bags although you don’t look like merchants or smugglers. Must be seen to be doing the job.’
He made a very perfunctory search of their bags, simply opening them and looking inside. He did not move anything or take anything out.
‘Well, off you go then,’ he said. ‘I’ll pass you.’
‘It’s our first time in Hambara. Is there a good, reasonably priced inn you can recommend?’ asked Carthinal.
‘I’d try the Golden Dragon if I were you. It’s not far. Go down this road (called by the very imaginative name of Southgate Street!) and then take the second turning to the right, you’ll find yourself in Market Square. The Golden Dragon’s on the opposite side of the square. It’s clean, and the food’s plain, but good. You’ll get a bed there for a reasonable price. Tell the proprietor that Jandi sent you. He’s my sister’s husband and his name’s Keloriff. He’ll treat you well if he thinks you know me.’
They thanked Jandi, and walked on smiling.
‘I wonder how much custom Jandi drums up for his brother-in-law?’ said Fero. ‘It’s ideal for his brother-in-law to have a man at the gates to send strangers to him.’
The main streets in Hambara were cobbled and this made walking easier for the unpaved side streets appeared to be very muddy. It also showed the richness of the town for many towns at that time could not afford to do more than put wooden boards down to try to protect people from the ever-present mud. There was much traffic too, and they had to jump back several times to get out of the way of carts and carriages as well as some people on horseback.
They reached the second turning, and walked down the road for quite some time, until they were beginning to wonder if they had turned down the wrong street.

The street was lined with shops, all closed up for the night. They were timber framed, and had bricks between the beams in the main, but they could see a few that seemed to be wattle and daub. The roofs were all of a red tile and were all at different heights as the buildings all had different numbers of stories. Some had only two, while they saw some with as many as five or six.

Shutters were closed for the night, but occasionally a light could be seen gleaming through a crack as a shopkeeper worked late, checking his day’s takings, or an artisan was hard at work replenishing his stock.

Most of the shutters on the downstairs windows closed by pulling one shutter up and one down, the lower shutter acting as a counter during the day. Upstairs were more conventional shutters, again mainly closed against the cold of the late winter night. (Few people could afford glass for the windows.) Many houses’ upper stories overhung the cobbled street, making it gloomy in the fading light.

A channel ran down the centre to carry away waste and rainwater and occasionally there were gratings leading to the sewer tunnels below the town. This was one of the cobbled streets, which indicated that it was an important thoroughfare, and so the friends decided that they were on the right road after all.
Then they were suddenly out of the street and in a large open square. Around the sides of the square were various buildings, many of which were still open. These were obviously taverns, as evinced by their signs and the smell of ale and sounds of revelry coming from them, and in various parts of the square were stalls selling chestnuts, savoury and sweet pastries, pies, toffee apples and other candied fruits as well as hot drinks.

Some of the buildings were closed and shuttered, and these had signs of moneylenders and pawnshops hanging over them. There were two large buildings on opposite sides of the square. One had a big golden dragon painted on the sign that was swinging in the breeze, and the other was painted in bright and garish colours. Over the door it said “Madame Dopari’s Emporium.”
‘What is that building?’ queried Asphodel, looking at the reds, blues, oranges and gold that adorned it. ‘It looks truly awful with all those clashing bright colours.’
Carthinal coughed slightly and looked at Basalt, who shrugged as though to say, ‘You tell her.’
‘The colours denote that it is—how can I put it—well, a brothel, but it is a licensed one, and checked every few weeks. The girls are all checked for their health and if any are carrying infectious diseases, they are healed by the priests,’ he went on hurriedly. ‘You can tell it’s licensed by the red letter “L” in the circle at the left of the sign.’
All Asphodel could say was ‘Oh!’ and blushed. He hoped that she would not think he was well acquainted with such establishments. She would not appreciate such knowledge he was sure.
‘Let’s get to the inn,’ Fero interrupted, to try to ease the embarrassment that Asphodel was obviously suffering.
The inn was a welcoming place. From the outside, the lights shone brightly, illuminating the cold air. The door was open, and from within there came the sound of laughter and voices in eager conversation. It was obvious that the inn was a popular place in Hambara; a place where both residents and visitors came and were made welcome. The large door was in the centre of the outside wall, and there were large windows on either side. Over the door was a sign with a painting of a gold dragon, with the words ‘The Golden Dragon Inn’, and in smaller letters, ‘The Best In Town’.
It was built in a similar style to many of the other buildings, being timber-framed and brick with an overhanging upper story. This overhang had been put to good use in that a wooden veranda had been built all along the front so that in warmer weather, customers could sit and drink in the shade of the upper storey. The latter had many small windows overlooking the square.
‘Bedrooms,’ surmised Basalt to himself.
Three steps mounted to the door, and the four travellers climbed wearily up them and entered.
‘I’ll be grateful to sleep in a bed tonight,’ mused Carthinal. ‘I’ve had enough of the ground for quite a while.’
‘Me too,’ sighed Asphodel, ‘but I must go to the temple tomorrow to report.’
‘I, too, have to go to the Mage Tower to report for my tests,’ replied Carthinal, ‘I think I should first go to see this Duke Rollo, though, and give him this letter from Duke Danu.’
Carthinal had told his friends about the paper he’d found in Mabryl’s book, and they had all puzzled over its contents and what it meant. Now, after the flood and Asphodel’s capture by the orcs, they felt that it might be referring to the current time.
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Basalt. ‘I can vouch for the flood and the new arrival of orcs in the land if Rollo is sceptical.’
‘I’ll do the same,’ said Fero.
‘Thank you my friends,’ replied Carthinal, ‘but don’t you have business of your own? What about talk of finding work?’
‘That can wait for half a day, eh Fero?’ said Basalt. He turned back to the apprentice mage. ‘I’ve begun to consider you to be a friend after travelling with you these past days.’
‘Yes, we’ll come with you. Moral support and all that,’ This from Fero.
‘Thank you, I’d welcome your company.’
They entered the inn, which was very busy. There was a blazing fire in the fireplace set on the opposite wall of the inn, and there were tables and chairs scattered around the large and comfortable room. The bar was situated on the wall to the right of the entrance, and behind it was a door obviously leading to kitchens and probably the living quarters of Keloriff and Jandi’s sister. Stairs ascended from the left-hand side of the room to the rooms above. A young woman approached the group.
‘Find a seat and sit down, and I’ll be along in a moment,’ she said with a smile. ‘All right, Jolli, have some patience. I’ll be with you in a minute!’ she called to a large man who was trying to get her attention.

She turned to another man at a nearby table. ‘Now, sir, I can take your order. Did you want a meal or just a drink?’
‘There seems to be a free table over there, near the window,’ noticed Asphodel. ‘A pity it’s not nearer to the fire, but it seems to be quite warm everywhere in here.’
They took off their cloaks and went to sit down at the table. Shortly, the young woman came to them.

‘Now, what can I get you?’ she said.
‘First, we would like a meal,’ said Carthinal. ‘And a drink, then if you have any rooms, we would like a bed each.’
‘And we were told to tell you that Jandi sent us,’ added Basalt, smiling his most winning smile.
The young woman smiled back. ‘That brother of mine. Always trying to “help” us. As if we can’t get enough custom on our own. We’re nearly run off our feet every night these days. Not like it was when we took over. The inn was very run down, and we needed all the help we could get. Then Jandi’s recommendations were a godsend. Now they can make life a little too busy at times.’
‘If you don’t have any rooms, then maybe you could recommend somewhere else.’ said Asphodel.
‘Oh no. If you gentlemen don’t mind sharing, I can move a bed out one of the other rooms and the sister can have it to herself, then I can then put it into a room with two beds. I’ve only got the two rooms left. We’re very busy at the moment, and will get busier in the next few sixnights as people come into town for the celebration of spring.’
‘Of course,’ Asphodel said in surprise. ‘It’s only about three sixnights away. I’d forgotten.’
‘Yes. And the celebrations always attract a good crowd. They start a week before and culminate on the Equinox itself. If you are still here, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it immensely. There are games, dancing, entertainers and finally the Spring Procession—and the bonfires, of course. Now, I’ll go and sort out the rooms, and order your meal. We’ve got roast mutton and baked potatoes with roast vegetables if that will be to your taste?’
‘Sounds wonderful,’ a dreamy look came over Basalt’s face as he contemplated the meal. ‘I’ll have a tankard of your finest ale to go with it.’
‘For me too,’ said Carthinal  ‘What about you, Asphodel?’
Asphodel ordered a glass of white wine from the islands in the Inner Sea and Fero decided to have a red wine from the same region.
Soon the meal arrived. The simple fare seemed like feast fit for the gods themselves, so hungry were they. They ate in silence, each of them relishing the good cooking, and meat other than rabbit, pigeon or dried beef. They finished off the meal with fruit brought by the landlady, whose name turned out to be Mabrella.
‘Would you like to use the bath house?’ Mabrella asked as she came to clear away their dishes.
‘Oh yes please,’ responded Asphodel. ‘I wouldn’t like to turn up at the temple looking and smelling like this.’
‘I’ll show you to your rooms and then to the bathhouse. You’ll have to take it in turns as it has only one bath.’
With that, Mabrella turned and made her way to the stairs. As she reached the stairs, she turned to them and said, ‘You can wash your clothes, and if you leave them in there, hanging on the line, the warmth will dry them.’
‘Thank you,’ replied Carthinal ‘I’ll be glad of clean robes.’
‘Are you here to take your Apprentice Tests?’ queried Mabrella. ‘only I notice that you are an apprentice. There are some tests due to begin soon, I believe.’ Mabrella glanced at Carthinal’s tawny-red robes.
‘Yes I am,’ replied Carthinal. ‘We had a little trouble at the ford on the Brundella. There was a flood and the entire caravan was swept away except for Asphodel, Basalt and myself. Asphodel and I were very lucky to have just about got across when the flood struck, but Basalt was swept downstream. We met him later on the road, then Fero turned up, which was lucky, as I don’t think that two of us would have made it. Fero’s hunting and tracking skills are excellent, and he kept us from starving.’
They reached the landing, and Mabrella showed them to a pair of doors that stood opposite each other at the end of the corridor.
‘Sister, I’ve given you the room overlooking the square,’ Mabrella addressed Asphodel in the customary way the people addressed the clergy. ‘It is a much more interesting view. Gentlemen, your room overlooks the stable yard and the bathhouse. I hope you don’t mind, but as I said, they’re the last two rooms we have.’ apologised Mabrella.
‘Anything with a proper bed will do me,’ replied Bas. ‘Even if it is in the cellar with no view at all.’
‘I don’t think they would allow a dwarf to sleep in the cellar with all that ale stored there,’ teased Carthinal.
Basalt responded with ‘Humph!’

Asphodel entered the room and sat down on the bed with a sigh. She looked out of her window down onto the Market Square. It was going dark so she could only see from the light streaming out of the inn windows and the taverns and the brothel. The stallholders seemed to be doing a good trade from the local people. This square seemed to be a natural meeting place for the townsmen and women.

Many folk were buying their evening meal from the stall- holders and wandering around chatting to friends and neighbours whilst eating the various goodies they had bought. There were both rich and poor there, she could see, but the rich did not seem to be eating as much as the poor. They would be going home to a good meal cooked by their staff, she suspected.
Then Asphodel turned her attention to the room. It was not large, but very clean. It had pale green curtains at the windows, and the walls were painted a slightly darker green. There was, as well as the bed, a large cupboard and a chest of drawers. Someone had been in and lit a fire in the small fireplace, above which was a mantelpiece with some glass ornaments.

An oil lamp burned on a table under the window, giving off a warm, cheery glow. Asphodel sighed. It was good to be back in civilisation. She was looking forward now to getting to the temple, whatever the letter that Mother Caldo had written to accompany her said. Now to get clean.
Picking out a clean, white robe and scarlet sash from her pack, she wandered down towards the bathhouse. She found it easily enough from the steam rising from the chimney, and she entered to find again, a clean and welcoming room. There was a large copper boiler in one corner with a fire burning under it. It was filled to the brim with water, which was nearly boiling.

Standing next to it was a bucket, obviously for taking the water to the bath. In the other corner was a pump, with another bucket, for filling with cold water to cool the hot water so that it was amenable to the skin.

She took a bucket of the hot water and tipped it into the sunken bath in the centre of the room. When she had almost half-filled the bath with the hot water, she added cold from the pump until it was a cool enough to enter.

There were bars of soap in a glass pot. It was expensive soap, with a pleasant perfume. She selected one with the scent of lavender and then, after undressing, she stepped into the bath and leaned back luxuriating in the warmth of the water.

She soaped herself all over and then washed her long black hair, which she rinsed with clean water from the pump. Lying back in the bath, Asphodel almost fell asleep. She had not realised how tired she was.

Soon she decided that she had better go back to her room and sleep in the bed—oh yes! The Bed—so that the others could use the bathhouse, rather than sleeping in the bath.

She quickly washed her robe and hung it on the line, and then after towelling herself dry with the fluffy warm, white towels that were provided, she slipped into her clean robe and left the bathhouse.

It was cold outside and she hurried across the courtyard to the inn and up the stairs. Once back upstairs she knocked on the door of the room that the others were sharing and told them that she had finished and that they could use the bath house, and she slipped into her bed and within minutes was fast asleep.


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