Jack submerged his head in the public baths and blew bubbles. The water was warm and scented with rosewater which didn’t seem particularly manly to him, but what fragrance would be, pine needles? What must the women’s baths be like? He wondered, blushing slightly.
A trip to the baths was three copper, his tiny room at the inn was five copper a night probably two copper for dinner meaning he would have forty-five left over, maybe he could buy some protection. While he liked the blue and burgundy linens they wouldn’t so much as deflect a bee sting. He couldn’t take his ax into the baths which made it one of the few times he could get some peace and quiet. He was starting to prune up and his clothes were ready so it was time to get out, even though it was only men around he still did his best to make a seamless transition from water to towel.
“Now you smell like the prettiest rat in all the land” His ax said, Jack was pretty sure the ax couldn’t actually smell anything but he gave himself a sniff for reassurance anyway.
At the inn he sat there with his free ale, and a bowl of brown, a soup whose ingredients were of dubious origin, though the fact the tavern keep didn’t want the bag of rats was at least a good sign. It was the cheapest thing available and made him feel like a hearty tough adventurer. This town was much larger than the little village he had come from, there was so much more activity, so many more riches, and oh so very much more poverty.
He started to watch a little orphan girl sitting there in her rags looking down, she hadn’t even bothered to beg, she probably lived off of refuse and slept in alleyways. When was the last time she had a good meal?
“Do you know anything about that girl?” Jack asked the innkeeper.
“Yeah know her whole life story like I do all the filthy street urchins that dig through my bins. Like a child to me she is, really.”
“He is being sarcastic Jack” His ax said helpfully.
Thinking about the money he would have left over Jack asked “how much a loaf of good bread would be?”
“Wasting it on orphans, got some lovely stale bread I serve with the brown for one copper, if you want a loaf of fresh bread that’ll be three coppers.”
Grudgingly he placed the coppers on the table and took the bread loaf outside.
“Here you go” he said handing it to the little girl “Don’t worry, I just wanted to give this to you.” How could it be the case that the town just allows children to be in such a state.
The little girl looked up, tears in her eyes “For me sir? I dunno what to say, you’re so kind” She started to break into a full sob “all the bread tha’ we get is full of maggots.”
Jack crouched down to be at her eye level, he awkwardly placed his hand on her shoulder “It’s alright, it will be alright” he felt good, awkward but good, how much extra armor could he get with three copper anyway? It was then he felt a tug at his belt, glancing down he saw his coinpurse was gone and a little boy was running off with it. The little girl was chasing after him, bread in hand laughing. “Thanks!” She shouted out to him.
He considered the optics of chasing orphans through the street, thought about how likely he was to catch them in their own town and then slumped back to the inn.
“Orphans.” The innkeeper said with a shrug.
“Orphans.” Said his ax as if it had known the whole time.
“Orphans.” Jack said with a sig “Do you happen to know where they went?”
“Dammit Jim I’m an innkeeper, not some orphan cartographer. Remind me, did you already pay for your room for the night?”
Next time should probably pay in advance Jack thought to himself.
“Well then” Jack stood up straightening his shirt and putting on his pack and ax.
Luckily he had a charm on the pouch of money, in truth he had the minor charm on virtually everything he owned, not for situations like these, just because he constantly lost or misplaced everything. The charms were tied to his ax, the one thing he could be fairly certain he would never lose, even when he really wanted to.
“Okay so where is it?” He asked he ax in a muffled voice.
“About an oak and a half north east as the dragon flies.”
“Yes so that would be…” It wasn’t exactly like they were in an open field, and with the sun down but the stars not yet out it was hard to tell direction.
“Let’s just play hot cold” how could an ax be so condescending? Jack thought.
“Winter on the third moon of Escor”
Jack kept on, the ax droning in his head until finally “The fires of Mount Magdor”.
He stood in front of an alleyway, large cargo boxes blocked the way save for a small gap in the bottom a gap only a child could go through.
Boxes I’ve meant to say it from the start
Boxes I know it will break your heart
Boxes I think now you should part
He made a parting gesture with his hands and the boxes each moved a few inches, perhaps enough for him to fit through, though it would be a tight fit.
Taking out a long white rope he incanted
Rope rope you are a snare
Rope rope stay aware
Rope rope until little ones come
Rope then go entangle the bums
He left the rope on the ground and then crawled under and between the boxes. There was a little shanty town of children all living in stacks of sideways cargo boxes. It was dirty with makeshift toys nailed together crudely out of bits of wood cluttered amongst the grit and grime. He could see his bread had been shared amongst them, at least that was something. All eyes were instantly on him as he got up and brushed himself off.
His ax said “First a den of rats, now orphans, you better watch yourself before you become too famous.”
As he walked forward the boy and the girl from before ran for the exit, he reached for them but they slid under his grasp. Yelping ensued and Jack sighed crawling back under the crates to the image of the two wriggling children bound by rope.
His ax said “You managed to ensnare two whole orphans! Such a powerful mage, should I tell the bards yet?”
He took his coin pouch from the boy and counted it, what remained was still there.
“Whatcha gonna do to us, huh mister?” The boy said.
“Are you going to do something bad?” The girl said innocently.
Jack’s face blushed “Just answer me this question, why steal from someone who would buy you bread?”
The boy looked at the girl and said “Someone who gives us bread is an easy target, not to mention less likely to beat us.”
Ax “The boy does make a measure of sense”
“But don’t you think” Jack said “that will make people more distrustful in the future?”
“Look, we do what we gotta do to get by me an’ him, the tourists only stay a bit an’ you either get ‘ard or ya die stupid.”
Jack put both palms to his mouth and blew a raspberry, they laughed. “That’s what I think of that theory, look, I know you have had hard lives and all, but the world isn’t like that, all like that anyway” He fumbled through the bag deciding on thirty copper. He mentally commanded the ropes to loosen and handed them to the children, they needed it more than him, besides he was going to be a great hero in the end a few copper were just a pittance. “What are your names?”
“So you can cast some dark magics on us mister?” The little girl said with exaggerated outrage.
“Just your public names” Each person had three names, public names carried the least power, then family names, but if someone had all three of your names, the power of what they could do was practically limitless.
“I’m Luke and she is Phoebe.” The little boy said counting the coppers.
“Well then Luke and Phoebe” he gave a mock bow “I am Jack Dragonslayer in the future I would greatly appreciate that you don’t steal from me. I am going to be a great hero someday, so you can ask me anything and I promise to do my best.”
At this the quickly took their coppers and crawled back into their little child warren.
Boxes Boxes time to close
Make an entrance through only a child could go
He pushed his hands together and the boxes returned to their previous state.
“What about that armor you wanted to buy? But yes when you are impaled on an ogre’s spear you will know you did it all for the children” His ax spoke.
“You know the more vulnerable you are the more powerful your spells.”
“Oh is that why all the Wizards walk around half nude, well in that case maybe you should consider losing a few garments.”
“Oh shut up, let’s go shopping and then I’ll finish my ale.”
At the armory he was amazed. On one side there were full suites of plate armor, chain mail shirts of all materials from common steel to mithril and adamantium. On the other weapons of all types, though he was only interested in the glimmering swords hanging on the wall. If his sword could talk it would probably be feeling emasculated. He walked up to one called Dragonsbane it was a huge two-handed great sword the color of ebony with a fire red hilt. As he studied it the owner said, “Great sword that, Ilfin the dwarfs finest work, once wielded by Agan the brutalizer, at a thousand gold it is quite the steal.”
Ax said “Well I bet it couldn’t talk anyway. When are you going to give up on this sword obsession of yours?”
“Well I was thinking more about defense, in the range of 12 copper if possible.”
The blacksmith did his best not to laugh “yeah I think we might have something in the extra discounted bin” rummaging through he picked out an old shield barely larger than a hand.
“Isn’t that a bit small?”
“It’s a fencing buckler, should pair well with that rapier to your side, no?”
“Yes of course, but what about armor?”
“For that money, I could maybe do you for a leather codpiece, but that’s more about fashion if you ask me”
The city sure is expensive “I’ll take the buckler”
Returning back to the inn finishing his cold brown stew and his flat warm ale the innkeeper said “Those urchins stopped by and left ya something, oh champion of rats and great subduer of orphans.” He opened it up the enclosed note was very badly spelled but he thought it meant “Thanks Hero, here are two things we didn’t manage to fence”
Some blue cloth armor and a book entitled How to Speak With Goblinoids.
His ax said “Well someone is moving up in the world.”