I forgot this was my day to add value to the blog. Oops. Perils of being on an ‘every other week’ schedule. And I have electricians and HVAC techs coming in and out all day, to figure out what’s wrong with the air conditioning before the temperatures go back up into the high nineties this weekend.
So. Here. Have a snippet. Everyone likes monster-slaying mercenaries, right?
Except the monsters, I suppose.
The Treasure of Maimont
It was market day in Maimont. Not the entire county, just the principal town, which was also called Maimont. The planners of cities have no imagination. Or perhaps Count Fulk had taken a liking to it, and since he ruled over the place with only nominal interference from the King of Aucheletta, he could do as he pleased.
From what I’d seen, that mostly consisted of ordering merchants to travel through his little domain, and allowing his soldiers to break the head of anyone who got uppity. No one looked particularly happy with this arrangement. The day was fine; the sun was shining, and yet I’d never seen such a grumpy crowd of market-goers waiting to cross the river that separated the town from the fields and the woods beyond.
I was one of those irritated travelers. I’d slept in the hedgerow, my horse picketed on the verge beside me. Under a hawthorn hedge isn’t the worst place to sleep on a summer night in western Aucheletta, but it was hardly a proper bed at an inn, which I would have chosen if I could afford it. Alas that my purse was alarmingly thin. And now the guards at the bridge thought I should pay the same toll as a knight, if I wanted to cross.
“I’m not a knight,” I explained to the young men-at-arms collecting the tolls. They looked very stupid; I would have to use small words.
The skinny one was probably the leader. His boots had been polished in the past year, anyway, and he carried a sword instead of the usual spear. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t any smarter than the others. “You look like a knight,” he said stolidly.
“Because I’m riding a horse and carrying a sword? Saints and angels, man; haven’t you ever seen a mercenary? I’ve traveled all over the world and until you, I’d never met a man who didn’t know what a grey cloak and a plain shield meant. You’ll get a half denier and nothing more, the same as any other man on horseback would pay.” At any rate, that was what the fat miller who’d gone ahead of me had paid.
But this young man was the type to catch hold of an idea and never let it go. “No mercenary has a horse like that.”
True enough; Tiny was rather finer-bred than most of the nags an ordinary mercenary can afford. He was also an evil tempered brute who’d have been put down years ago, if I hadn’t come along and offered five pounds for him- a horse that would have been worth fifty, if anyone but me could handle him. “He’s not stolen, if that’s what you mean. I bought him off of Sir Randall of Torsburg three years ago. And I’m still not a knight, and I won’t pay toll as if I am.”
The guard opened his mouth to argue, and I wondered if it might be faster to tip him off the stone plinth he was occupying and into the river, when providence intervened in the form of a third man-at-arms wearing the red and gold of Count Fulk. “Step lively!” he bellowed. “You’re holding up the line!”
“I’ll hold up the line all day if it means I’m not cheated by these idiots!” I snapped.
The man-at-arms pushed his way through the crowd of onlookers until he was about a spear-length away, then stopped dead and looked up at me. Way up. I smiled down at him.
I’ve always been the biggest human in the room, and despite his name, Tiny was well suited to me. The bridge keepers hadn’t noticed, since they were lounging in their makeshift seats, and they were stupid, but this one couldn’t help but notice that his eyes came up to my knee and no further.
He took refuge in belligerence. “Who are you?”
“Originally? Grimsby. Now? No place in particular. What part of ‘wandering mercenary’ is confusing to you people? And don’t try to tell me that mercenaries dress differently in Aucheletta; I’ve been on these roads for the past ten years and I’ve never seen a man in a grey cloak who wasn’t one.” That wasn’t precisely true, but they didn’t need to know that. “I know I’m not exempt from paying the toll. But I’m not going to pay as if I were a knight, when I’m not,” I repeated, just in case they needed to hear it one more time.
Of course he backed down. Bullies usually do, and we were attracting a lot of attention from the rest of the travelers. “Very well, then. Half a denier. And Count Fulk will hear of this,” he said, in a valiant attempt to appear menacing.
I laughed. “Excellent; he should know that his bridge keepers are trying to cheat strangers. And if he doesn’t care, then perhaps I should mention it to King Gervase.” The King of Aucheletta probably didn’t care a whit about one little bridge in Maimont, even though he should. Small problems like that tend to become big ones if not nipped in the bud quickly.
But unless Count Fulk- or King Gervase for that matter- wanted me to kill the bridge keepers, and were willing to pay me for my trouble, it wasn’t my concern. I gave the toll collectors a little half-circle of silver and went on my way. At least the bridge was in good repair; it didn’t even sway under Tiny’s hooves as we trotted over it.