13. The Hunter
30th of Rova – Sunday
Evening, the Rusty Dragon
Religious types consider Sunday to be a day dedicated for rest, but we were far from rested when we finally got back to the Rusty Dragon. Having sucked dry of our physical strength didn’t help, so Harsk went to his books and scrolls to find a spell that countered the effects of the ghosts’ touch. He and Vidarok both had the means to replenish our strength. A good night’s sleep would help as well.
At the tavern, I fixed my trip to Magnimar with Ameiko. The next day I would leave for the city in the early evening on a merchant ship, owned by a fellow known as Captain Jack. I was looking forward for the trip, even though I had developed a dislike of sea voyages during my long trip to Sandpoint from Korvosa. It would only take some half a day to get there, and nevertheless I’d be able to visit a city completely new to me.
Over at supper, Harsk mused aloud about founding a small chapel or temple in Sandpoint for his deity Iomedae. Ameiko, overhearing him speak told him to ask for vacant rooms and buildings from the Sandpoint Mercantile League that handled renting and selling of property in the town. Harsk was obviously starting to think about growing roots. I’d be damned if I’d ever buy any property anywhere, I thought to myself, swirling a glass of red wine and tasting cheese.
The dwarf, a beer lover and already up his nose in the local brewery business considered ventures with Deverin the brewer as well. I had heard Deverin had tragically lost his brother some years back, so Harsk’s eagerness to immerse himself in the knowledge of ale brewing and start running a business might prove a godsend to the man. I wondered how Harsk would combine his clerical responsibilities with beer brewing. Probably quite easily, given my previous knowledge of religious people and their affectations and worldly foibles. Harsk was not a hypocrite, I gave him that, but he was just a man. Or dwarf.
Vidarok and Ilori both shared their plans for the coming days as well. The half-orc would study magics and especially the preparation of magical potions under the tutelage of Nisk Tander, the flaunty if friendly potion maker. Ilori for her part had arranged to have the dubious magician/shopkeeper Vorvashali Voon mentor her in the arts of spellcraft.
As she was speaking, I noted a familiar face enter the tavern. It was Shayliss. She quickly found me in the crowd (the tavern was full, as usual) and winked at me. I excused myself, and gestured her to follow me upstairs to my room.
I couldn’t control myself, and neither did her, and we were half-naked by the time we reached my room and I slammed the door shut. All the events of the previous day – the horrors of Thistletop, the ghosts and the mystery in Chopper’s Isle – had wound me up badly, and I fucked her like there was no tomorrow. It didn’t help that she went along with it fully, seemingly enjoying every moment. Not a prude, I had the fleeting thought somewhere between.
“Is your father still angry with us”, I asked her when we had finished. I was on my back on the bed, looking at the wooden ceiling absentmindedly. She lied next to me, sideways, her long hair a mess, and was running her fingers across old scars on my sweaty chest.
“Of course. You dishonored his little girl and my father has a very long memory when it comes to people who have mistreated him or his daughters”, she answered with a serious tone but smiling anyway. I turned to face her and smiled mischievously. “Oh, you have a sister?” She laughed and hit me in the stomach. “Fuck you Alpharius!”
We slept for a while, holding each other, but before dawn she got dressed and sneaked out. I allowed myself some more rest before getting up. Afterall, I had to catch the evening ship and nothing more.
It was almost midday as I made my way down to the tavern main hall. I learned others were already gone studying, so I decided to head out to see the blacksmith. I had made my mind about my master-wrought weapon – or weapons, to be exact.
I was the first to voice my request to Korvut, so he was surprisingly lenient when I made my case for acquiring two gladius blades instead of one – as it was my style to fight with two light swords rather than with a two-handed weapon, or with a shield and a sword. When I had to resort to something else than my bow, that is.
When I promised to hand out the previous gladii blades I had purchased from the blacksmith, now battle-tested, for the new ones, Korvut promised to make the other from adamantium – the unbreakable metal. The irony was not lost to me when I remembered how easily Lyrie had shattered my blade and how Ilori had been gracious enough to mend it back together from shards. The next time an opportunistic magician would not be breaking my blade so easily, I muttered as I left.
Acting out of impulse, I stopped by Rovanky’s Tannery, given it was situated practically next door to the Red Dog Smithy. I hoped to see the strange firepelt cougar again, but there was no sign of it. A shame, I thought. The beast was intriguing to say the least, and I had sensed some sort of connection between us when we had locked eyes previously. It had been running from its kind, just like me. Growing up, I had had a pet, a wild lynx, which I had shared with my twin-brother, but after we had been captured by the slavers we hadn’t been allowed any pets in Canorate. I entertained the thought of getting one as I made my way south back to the Rusty Dragon.
I packed my backpack and said my brief farewells to everyone. Ameiko gave me some last minute instructions and the I continued to the docks. Captain Jack’s crew was already loading the last of the cargo into the merchant ship, weirdly named the ‘Tall and Handsome‘. When I approached the ship, I was greeted by the ship’s quartermaster, a balding man with long, grey whiskers. “Ready to go?” I asked the man, looking at the hustle and bustle. “Aye”, the quartermaster nodded, “we’ll sail out when we’ll finish getting Hemlock’s and Justice Iron Briar’s stuff away from the dock to storage”, he added, pointing to a few coffers sitting alone at the end of the pier. “Justice Iron Briar?” I wondered aloud. “Yeah. Not a nice fellow, that Justice. He came with Sheriff Hemlock and his recruits this morning with us. Going to interrogate and pick up a prisoner from the town garrison, I heard”, the quartermaster explained and scratched his head. Tsuto, I realized. He came for the treacherous bastard. “All right, if it is fine with you I’d board the ship”, I asked, nodding towards a plank that led to the ship. The quartermaster shrugged, “go ahead. You don’t have any items you want carried to the hold?” I shook my head and bounced the backpack I was carrying slightly as a gesture. “I travel lightly.”
I didn’t get seasick but it was the tight confines, and having to stay there for a long duration, that got on my nerves with traveling by ship. I loved the forest, the hills, the plains, even the sprawl of a city – the places where I had grown up. But being stuck in a wooden box floating on water for days, weeks even – that was not something I enjoyed.
But Magnimar was my kind of town. Reminding me of Canorate, given its grandeur and size, it offered a fugitive like me who preferred the low-profile a thousand places to hide and utilize. Sadly I had no time to properly explore the city. We had arrived in the morning and the Tall and Handsome would sail back to Sandpoint already in the afternoon, so my time was short. Captain Jack instructed me to go to the Quick Fox tavern somewhere within the Docks district – there my man, Narsius Glasblasen, would be waiting for pick-up. I thanked him for the information, disembarked and ventured into Magnimar.
It took me less than an hour to find the tavern. Inside it was like any other tavern for sailors – it smelled of fish and beer, was dark, humid and filled with sailors eating, getting drunk and making overly enthusiastic passes at barmaids. I attracted no attention whatsoever as I stalked in and to the bar.
“Whatcha want?” A bartender asked, rubbing stains off pints with a dirty cloth. “Water and something to eat”, I told him. He yelled at a barmaid, and in a moment, the girl brought me a wooden cup with something that resembled water and a plate that had bits of fish, cream and potatoes. I think.
I paid the bartender and made a passing question. “I’m here to meet Narsius, the glass master, for some business. Is he here already?” The bartender grunted and nodded at the back of the tavern. I turned around and saw who he was pointing at. A wiry, a bit hunched and very suspicious-looking man was eating his lunch over at a table alone. I nodded and offered the bartender some extra silver for his help.
While I kept my eye on the glass master, I finished the fish stew (I think it was fish stew), downed the water and started towards him. Hunched over his plate eating, he didn’t notice me until I threw my backpack on a stool and sat down opposite to him. “Narsius Glasblasen?” I asked, observing him. “Yes? Who asks”, he replied, frowning and possibly bit irritated that someone had interrupted his meal. “I am Alpharius, and I’ve been sent here by Ameiko Kaijitsu to escort you to Sandpoint”, I explained, looking him in the eye under my hood. The man snorted. “You’re all she sent? Can you even take care of yourself?” I smiled and looked around the tavern as if I hadn’t heard his insult. “Our ship, Captain Jack’s Tall and Handsome leaves for Sandpoint in three hours. I have some business in town, so can I leave you here and be sure you’ll be here when I come to pick you up?” The glass master tapped his nose and gave a sly smile. “Sure, I can wait. But not with a dry throat.” Understanding his intention, I rose and flipped him a platinum coin. “That should buy you a few rounds of beer. I’ll be back”. Grabbing my backpack, I walked out of the Quick Fox.
My business was a waste of time. I knew Aldern Foxglove had returned to Magnimar after his visit to Sandpoint, so I tried to find him or where he would happen to be living, in order to meet him. My plan, of course, was to milk him out of his valuables by using his hopeless infatuation with Ilori. But finding him proved very time-consuming and in the end, infeasible given my strict time limits. After some hours, I headed back to the Docks district, half-carried a very drunk Narsius Glasblasen with me out of the Quick Fox to the Tall and Handsome and we sailed out. I couldn’t sleep that night on the ship over the sound of Narsius throwing up and screaming for his mother.
The ship docked at first light. I pushed a weary Narsius off the ship and jumped behind him to the pier. “Welcome to Sandpoint, glass master”, I informed him dryly but couldn’t help but smile at his condition. Served him right. For some reason I got resentful looks from people when I paced from the ship with Narsius in tow. On the way to the Rusty Dragon, his condition improved quickly. He even eyed hungrily the brothel on Salmon street, but I not-so-gently pushed him forward. “Put your cock back in your trousers,Narsius. You can spend Ameiko’s money on whores later, but first we go see her.” Then I would be rid of this tiresome nuuko, I added to myself.
Over at the Rusty Dragon, Ameiko was expecting us. I introduced them to each other, got a small pouch of platinum coins for my effort and retreated to the others who were having breakfast. Bethana brought me some too, and I sat down with them.
I told them of Magnimar, and they told me what had happened on the previous day. Vidarok had been producing magical potions under the tutelage of the half-elf Nisk Tander, while Harsk had been learning the art of beer brewing, and purchased a house for his temple to Iomedae. Ilori had been reading spellbooks with Vorvashali Voon. So business as usual, I gathered.
In the afternoon I went to pick up my brand new master-wraught gladii blades from Das Korvut. We even had the time to visit Mayor Deverin – another mind-numbing discussion for me at least. We informed her of Nualia and what we had done to rid the town of another horrible threat to its existence, and in return got only disbelieve. Between my teeth, my knuckles white I reminded her of the proof we had provided to Zantus – apparently he hadn’t informed the mayor of Nualia’s documents. That made her think, I think, at least a little.
The visit to the mayor had me steaming again, so I wanted to vent some anger and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I headed out to the forest, alone.
The wild of the colonial lands of Varisia, I had come to understand, was teeming with life and the forests at the outskirts of Sandpoint were no different. I ventured south, towards the Ravenroost highlands and the forests at their feet. I quickly found very recent tracks of a herd of deers, and started to follow them silently through the thick woods.
But something was following me.
With little effort, I located the white-tailed deer family. Without a mount and knowing I would not be arsed nor able to carry a full-grown deer back to Sandpoint, I locked my eyes on a particularly vulnerable fawn. I approached them downwind, slowly and silently. The deer family was eating fresh young leaves, their treat, from a shrubbery, looking comfortable. I made my way carefully and I reached a good vantagepoint, slid an arrow from the vine, notched it and aimed. I was so focused I didn’t hear the bushes rustle far to my right and see something white and predatory move within. I let loose the arrow, and it found its mark. The fawn let out a pathetic whimper and collapsed, while the other deer stirred into frantic movement, escaping the shrubbery. I lowered the bow, satisfied with myself.
Then the beast leaped from its hiding place, growling.
I pivoted towards the threat, already drawing another arrow. But it wasn’t coming at me. It was going for my kill.
The white-grey firepelt, snowpelt, as I had called it over at the tannery, slogged to the body of the fawn and stopped. Then it turned its head straight at me and waited. Not knowing what to do, I lowered the bow and kept looking at it. It was still looking rugged and somewhat malnourished. For some reason, I shouted at it. “Go on, you can have it”. And as it had understood me, it turned to the dying fawn and sank its teeth to its neck, drawing blood.
I approached it again as it fed, but it didn’t challenge me or protect the prey. It was as if considered me as its hunting partner, part of its pack. Showing no fear, I shouldered my bow and walked right to it. I turned to regard me, its jaws covered in blood, but there was no hostility in its manner, only acceptance, and indifference. I watched there as it fed, and when it was finished, it got down on its belly and lied there, watching me. I took a swig from my water canteen. “You’re one weird beast, aren’t you.” The firepelt just yawned. I shrugged, and turned to leave. I had taken a few steps when I heard it rise and start to follow me. This is unbelievable, I just thought to myself. I turned to it again, and it was stopped in its tracks. “You want to come with me? Come on then!” And I took off running.
It ran behind me, following me. I kept running, over felled trees and streams, through bushes, across the forest. And the firepelt kept with me all the way, not making a sound. I ran for maybe thirty minutes, before I stopped to take a breath. The firepelt came to me, and jumped to sit on a nearby tree stump. It regarded me curiously, as if it was wondering what the hell was I doing running around in the forest like a madman. I started to laugh. My laughter echoed in the forest and scared a flock of birds.
Realizing the firepelt would not leave me now, I decided not to mind. It was a wild beast, and all my senses and experience screamed at me to never let my guard down nor turn my back to a beast like that, but there was something strange about the creature that made me lower my guard. I couldn’t put a finger on it but it was there.
I continued with my original plan, and quickly found another tracks of a new pack of white-tailed deer. I followed them, and found a young female standing alone next to a stream, drinking water. I crouched, looking for the rest of the pack, but it was nowhere to be seen. The firepelt, probably five feet behind me, imitated my movement and lowered itself down. I took a shot from where I was crouching and felled the young female buck. The firepelt growled deeply as it saw what I did. “No no, this one’s mine”, I said to the beast and started towards my second kill. The firepelt was at my heels.
I drained the blood off the buck and lifted it to my shoulders. The firepelt settled for licking some of the blood in the grass. “Let’s go home”, I told the beast and together, we started towards Sandpoint as the sun set to the west.
I sold the buck in the town meat market for a nice sum of gold. The reason for my payment was possibly that the butcher was stunned to see me pop in with a fresh kill on my back and a wild firepelt at my heels, and was willing to pay anything to get me out of there. I was certain my next hunt would not be as profitable but this was something I enjoyed doing. Let Ilori study her books, Harsk brew his beers and Vidarok gather his plants and berries, I loved the hunt.
Ameiko was not pleased as she saw us enter. “What the hell is that, Alpharius! Get that beast out of here, now!” She screamed at me and the firepelt. I realized it later but I actually scratched the firepelts neck for emphasis when I responded. “Ameiko, cool down. This one is not hostile to you, or anyone. We.. we have a connection.” I was lost for words for a moment. Vidarok, friend of nature, was smiling widely as he saw us. Ilori and Harsk were not as happy either. Some of the customers in the tavern shifted, some even changed seats away from us. At that moment, Bethana walked in to the hall from the kitchen. When she saw us, she screamed in terror and dropped four pints of beer on the floor. “My beer!” Harsk exclaimed, overly dramatically perhaps. The firepelt didn’t even flinch, but sat down on its hind legs.
Ameiko wasn’t yet content. “Alpharius.. I want assurance that the beast won’t break things in the tavern nor attack my customers.” I shrugged and dig into my pockets, before walking to the bar. I placed a platinum coin before her. “As assurance. And I’ll pay for any damage it inflicts, if it inflicts any. As for attacking customers”, I turned to the firepelt who was looking back at me, “well let’s say that if they attack me, it’s their fault.” Ameiko took the coin and shook her head. “All right. But if anything happens, the beast is out.” I nodded.
Vidarok came to us, still smiling at the firepelt. “I guess you have quite a story to tell how you got our little friend to come with you from the forest”, he told me, recognizing the firepelt as the same one we had found near the tannery a couple of days earlier. “And does he have a name?”
I scratched the beast from behind its ear. “No, I haven’t come up with one yet. And as for the story, well..”