Author Interview: Will Hahn on "Fencing Reputation"

Ana: Today we have Will Hahn introducing their novel, "Fencing Reputation". Will tells me that he taught Ancient-Medieval History for years and he also says that he married his lovely wife Dorie after she gave him a halberd for his birthday. (There's a birthday idea for you readers out there!)

Will: It’s true! You can see it in the background of my photo online. But I didn’t ask her right after; I waited a decent interval so she wouldn’t think I was cheap.

Ana: Probably prudent of you. I haven't read this book myself, but Will was kind enough to agree to guest blog about their book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. Will, how would you describe your novel to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your novel about?

Will: My latest tale is heroic fantasy with a flavor of the detective noir! In “Fencing Reputation”, Feldspar is a stealthic - not a thief, mind you - pursuing his craft in Cryssigens, one of the most exotic and wealthy cities of the Lands of Hope. While all the other elves in town are trying their best to display themselves - declare their power, their associations, become famous - Feldspar is a master of disguise, adopting many characters to keep even his wealthy patrons in the dark as to his true identity. As he becomes embroiled in high intrigue around the succession to the throne of the North Mark, Feldspar finds that trying to live a normal life is more difficult than it appears, and becomes a bit torn about who he really is. He also makes some enemies who would like to leave him torn in a more literal sense.

Ana: Nice pun, ha. What themes does your novel explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your novel will mean to a reader?

Will: The way I see it, the people of the Lands are not very different from us - they have magic and miracles, bizarre beasts and all the trappings of the world we call “fantasy”. But in the end, they are living in exciting times; questioning the here and now, worrying about the future. Feldspar has to face some difficult decisions between the so-called greater good and what I refer to as “the good you can see”. To me, that’s the heart of the heroic character, these two great paths. I don’t think there’s a wrong choice, but these paths are very different. All good people walk them, I believe, choosing one or the other, and I’m hoping the reader will be interested in what Feldspar chooses, and how it turns out.

Ana: It's nice to see a fantasy novel break away from the Lawful/Chaotic rigmarole. What prompted you to write this novel and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book?

Will: You forgot to mention groupies. I don’t have those either! I wish I had something more complicated to say. I love doing this. It makes me happy to get the story out, to know it’s underway or that it’s finally done. Anyone who’s taken critique, or rejections from agents and publishers, knows deep down that whenever you don’t give up, you get better. For me, there was plenty of room! I used to tell the tales only with my mouth - onstage, around the gaming table, or just with any group of people unlucky enough to be caught in my crosshairs. But putting it on paper is a wonderful challenge, one which I feel very sure I will pursue all my remaining years. Also a lucky break for my audience because you can’t put a bookmark in my mouth and close me. Well you could, but it’s considered rude.

Ana: That's true, I didn't mention groupies, but what's a dozen groupies compared to a spouse who buys you halberds? If you could compare your novel to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your novel is their cup of tea?

Will: Hmm, well how about this - if I give you a list of everything I’ve read and watched, you could write the story yourself! It’s truly tough, because I’ve been influenced (read: stolen from) so many in my life. For this story, I was powerfully reminded of the intimate voice and (I hope) humor of Robert Parker’s Spenser novels. The fantasy setting with its wizardry and monsters is new - but the thugs, police, femme fatales and local tavern would translate to the present day without blinking. Feldspar is both confident and skillful, and he changes out new personae like you and I pick an outfit. But he gets in over his head- probably because he’s so confident and having a bit of an internal war over who he is.

Ana: Nothing wrong with learning from the best out there! Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other novels? If you have published other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

Will: OK, embarrassing confession time. You keep saying “writing” and I keep letting you. The truth is... I’ve been, um, watching and listening to the Lands of Hope for over thirty years. A fantasy writer makes stuff up and that’s incredible- me, I just watch, and listen and there it is. I am a chronicler, and I blogged about it when I first started publishing last month.

Ana: So you're not making up the stories out of whole cloth, but rather distilling the stories you observe into a cohesive whole? Would that make you a "bard" in the classic sense? Do you have any more chronicling planned, either as a follow-up to this tale, or in a completely different genre?

Will: My friends have constantly encouraged me to tell about the Lands, but I only started recording events there about three years ago. Since then I have one large unpublished novel (who doesn’t!), parts of two more, and three shorter tales from the Lands of Hope that have been published online.

Fencing Reputation” is the second story in my series Shards of Light. The series also includes a novella “The Ring and the Flag”, the tale of Captain Justin, a soldier being sent to the city Feldspar lives in, to try and defuse a civil war. But you don’t need to start with Justin. Both tales happen simultaneously, and I designed the series so you could begin with either one. Each tale stands alone- no cliffhangers in either story, I promise!

The third tale “Perilous Embraces” focuses on a new character (who appears in each of the first two stories) and will take the plot in another direction. I hope to have that done soon. Finally, I have a sword-and-sorcery novelette online entitled “Three Minutes to Midnight” which features another stealthic named Trekelny. It’s set roughly ten years earlier in a very different part of the Lands, and I won’t give away the ending, but Trekelny has become famous by Feldspar’s day.

Ana: Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next novel comes available?

Will: My books are available at Apple, Barnes and Noble, and many other major retailers: just search under my name and they should come right up. But the easiest way to buy the books, I think, is at Smashwords. You can see all my titles there, sample them and leave a review if you like (or don’t like) what you see. I maintain a Facebook page for updates and would welcome any friends there for news or comments of any kind on what they’ve read and seen. And maybe best of all, I’m a member of an indie book site where I’ve stashed lots of detailed information on the Lands of Hope, including history and maps. It’s all free and you can also keep up with the other great authors on The Independent Bookworm - something for everyone.

Ana: Thank you, Will. I understand you have the first chapter of your novel available as an excerpt for interested readers? And is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

Will: Thanks for your time, Ana. The first chapter of “Fencing Reputation” is right here and I hope you enjoy it! As we say in the Lands, “Ar Aralte!” {Hope Forever}.

Fencing Reputation (excerpt)
A Lands of Hope Story

By Wm. L. Hahn
Copyright 2011 Wm. L. Hahn

“No man can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Only my first day to try existing, and already it wasn’t going well. My face constantly prickled, out in full view. I kept putting my hand up to adjust a slipped eyebrow, or a chin-piece peeling loose, it was automatic. Air on my face, on all parts of my face? That meant something had gone wrong with my disguise. Only now I was the disguise- the face no one in Cryssigens had ever seen was on display. Feldspar the infamous stealthic, just sauntering down The Boards in the city’s poorer quarter, taking in the air and daring any soul here to recognize me.

But what else could I do? Being a ghost just hadn’t worked out.

I came to the end of Altair Way, the main thoroughfare of the dazzling, urbane new city and up till now the precinct of my former life. Here the cobbled boulevard emptied into The Boards, a street literally made of wood; I turned right along the wide planks bordering the river to my left. Within twenty steps the crowd around me changed its character along with the altered sound of boots on wood, as I plunged among the lower classes.

I felt my neck muscles loosen bit by bit, and wondered why people here were not staring at me. In the center of Cryssigens, the idle wealthy and their plotting followers scrutinized everything that moved. In the center mall, how much red, how many in blue? That one there, the tall one, he’s new; more soldiers than usual, I wonder what will happen. I did it all the time myself. My world, the one I had known for years was at my back. Everyone knew me there, though no one had ever seen me. I worked in the newer city, and would return to it soon, but only in one of my many disguises. That’s where I’m needed; I’m a stealthic.

But folks here- that hopping fellow rolling the barrel over his own foot, the inn-keep adjusting his sign again as the children run laughing, the maiden looking for her sister. A trio of curses, one of them new to my ear. Everyone is... busy. With work! They labor! No time to plot, even less to suspect. As I reflected while strolling, I realized they did indeed look at me, all the time. But I simply met their gaze, we both nodded, and there an end. No one was looking for me.

And if a stranger merited a moment’s glance, I had taken pains to be sure it was only one moment. My greatest weapon in avoiding discovery, without doubt, was my face itself. A nose not too straight, hair not very full, ears and eyes and mouth so plain and small and colorless- I had always been able to defy recollection. During my early days at the theater I found I could add any kind of prosthetic, new hair, pigments, wrinkles, and it all seemed natural because my face, by itself, was so lacking. My fellow actors called me The Mannequin, and addressed me while talking to their costume dummies in jest. Merely fifteen years later I had enough wealth to own the theater itself if I wanted: one of them passed by on the street last week and never recognized me. Of course, I was a woman at the time.

But clothing also made this man. A plain brown tunic, with dull green breeks, and covered sandals gave no clue to any House affiliation, any guild status, certainly showed no sign of wealth. And all my pockets are on the inside, easily reached behind the sash. Among these folk, who bent under loads, smelled of sweat, had a lot to do, and couldn’t say what they were wearing without a glance down, I could relax. I had lost count of the turnings for my new house, but it didn’t matter. I strolled along, taking note of landmarks, drinking in the view, feeling a touch of wonder at what it might mean, not to matter, not to hide.

I turned the corner and almost ran into the guardsman who had been seeking me for two weeks. Beirill, who worked for the Fire Grip, had been on duty when I slipped in and out of his master’s house. Never mind I was invited. Guards like to think they do their jobs well, and this one had publicly sworn to bring me in.

With no time to react, I had to decide. Fight, out of the question- no merchant beats up a city guardsman with his bare hands. And flight, here in broad daylight, was a sure way to become news, and create dozens of suspicious people. Beirill loomed over me, shield on his back and spear leaning casually on a shoulder as he chatted with his partner. I had not wanted to test my new self so soon. This fellow had actually seen me- my form at a distance, anyway, outside the palace. There was nothing to do, except hope that nothing would be enough. I kept my pace and stride the same, held my course, met his gaze a moment, nodded at them both congenially.

Suddenly, nothing happened. The pair passed by, as if I were- nobody! The next instant, as my smile grew behind their backs, nothing continued to happen. The eatery near me had a few chairs and tables for patrons set outside. I had to sit, my legs felt a bit watery; I breathed deep and chuckled to myself,  glancing only once or twice at Beirill’s back. The man would have run a maze of knives to get half as close to the notorious Feldspar as he had come just now. Years of habit don’t dissolve overnight- I still could not make my body understand that no cover was the best disguise.

The innkeeper came to ask me if I would eat, and I decided that I would. I asked breezily to see the bill of fare, and watched his thin face widen a bit with the effort of understanding me. Evidently most of his customers did not pose challenges.

“My bills, they’re always fair.”

“I mean, good sir, what have you to eat here?”

“My wife, she’s made a fish stew today.”

“Charming. And the choice?”

“Well,” he said with some effort to be polite, “you can eat it. Or not.”

“Very good!” I declared, “And do you have ale as well, by chance?”

I didn’t expect him to catch my mood, but suddenly he got a grin on his face. “Truthfully no, sir; we have ale because I planned it that way.” I laughed just a bit harder than I would have on my own, and waved my arm that he should bring it all. As the innkeep bustled off, I returned to watching the traffic of The Boards, my new neighbors. My heart was still beating quickly, as much from having such a normal conversation as meeting Beirill. The young lady was still seeking her sister, and I decided to spot the child if I could, though I had only a vague idea she would be younger and smaller. But the gaggle of kids playing a combination of tag, chase, and catch swirled about in plain sight, mostly boys; the rest were all adults as far as I could see.

“Your stew and ale, sir,” said the innkeep and I extended my hand for him to clasp. “I am new to your precinct, my name is Simith.” He quickly wiped his hands on his apron and returned my grip, which sent a click through me. I had heard about handshakes. “Noudhal, citizen Simith, and very pleased to meet you. Welcome to the Grog’s Lees.”

I took a gold piece from my inner pocket and snapped it down on the table; it had his undivided attention as I spoke. “I won’t need change for this- in fact,” I said trying my best to sound light and unconcerned, “I would rather set up a tab, if you follow me.”

Noudhal wanted to follow me, I could tell, but was no better acquainted with modern finance than most of his fellow citizens. Still I was determined- carrying money was to be avoided at all costs, even the dozen or so coins I had with me today made me nervous. “Perhaps I can explain- won’t you get an ale for yourself and sit with me?”

The thin man looked quickly around at his empty establishment and eagerly nodded. “I don’t mind if I do, sir!” He ran off again, leaving the gold piece. Good. An honest man, at least.

“Keilee!” the young woman’s yell was nothing new, she’d been calling for her sister constantly. But this one was aimed across the street in my direction, and I looked up. In one moment, I saw enough to raise Feldspar within me. Around the woman the wooden street, over her shoulder the outer railing of the Boards, and the dark fetid river beyond and below. Abandoned dock pilings and shreds of the ruined bridge led the eye toward the abandoned old lower city. And atop a piling near that far side, behind the calling woman, a small figure teetered. Risk, in the service of Hope. Before I could think, the stealthic took over.

The entire scene blurred; in a moment I had crossed the crowded street, avoided a half-dozen people and stood on the rail over the river below. I was stuck; glancing back over my shoulder I could see the young woman - quite stunning, how could I not have noticed that- turning my way along with several others. They caught sight of the child now too, and their various useless shouts were spiced with more than normal concern. I had never before in my life looked on the old city across the river, but now I felt a twinge of something ancient and wrong. Everyone knew the stories.

“Can you help her, sir?” the young woman was frantic, and I cursed Feldspar’s reflexes even as I dredged up Simith from wherever he’d been dunked. Trying to maintain a mask of inane geniality, I put myself back in the shoes of a normal everyday merchant of uninteresting stone, who somehow found himself in the ludicrous position of rescuing hero.

“Well, I hardly know, but will do my best, mistress,” and with that I tried to look the fumblefoot as I leaped heavily but somewhat quickly from piling to piling along the path the child must have used. No good delaying- I needed to move fast to be of any use, and I could not do that while making myself seem inept. Stooping briefly I grabbed up a thin rod of driftwood leaning against a piling, and waved it about erratically as a balance-pole to explain my good fortune.

Clods of gulls hunching on any surface I wanted to use squawked at me and cleared away only at the last moment- I cursed their idiocy aloud and silently thanked them for adding to the chaos that could cover my actions. All the while the stealthic roiled inside me, chuckling at the minor difficulty of the acrobatics and cackling at the fraying of my scheme to conceal him from the world. Feldspar was famous, or rather infamous, and he wanted the credit no matter how it hashed my effort at disguise. In an instant I recalled the abandoned warehouse, and my attempt at the ghostly life, which came to such an abrupt halt just last week.

Life in the upper city had definitely been more comfortable. The warehouse stored my changing things, extra supplies, and some of my wealth. Plenty of room to practice acrobatics, or to measure out spaces for other feats I had in mind; praise Astor, the secret rooms were never discovered. If it hadn’t been for my theatric habits, I might still be there. But scaring off the guards who came at night to drink and gamble seemed a good idea at the time.

Now I was in for it, one way or another. I stepped and half-leaped from stone pile to driven timber, holding a beat or two to make it seem difficult, and came closer to the little girl. She had finally realized the danger of her position, so close to the haunted ancient city and unable to make out the return path. She stood frozen, with no escape. I empathized with her plight, and just as I might have laughed at that irony, I slipped.

It happens to the best of us. Feldspar almost righted me before I could assert a clumsier self- waving the stick, I teetered and slowly fell with a helpless cry through a cloud of outraged gulls and into the dark, slow-moving stream. Under the water, I briefly reviewed my options.

The ability to swim is quite rare, and I certainly could not afford to add that level of attention to what I had already drawn. I had serious doubts that Simith would survive this day, no matter what- it might be best to let him drown. But through the murky water I could see the girl crouching down now on top of her piling, looking for me. Couldn’t let her stay here, Feldspar forbade cowardice. No wonder I kept him for the night.

Wildly thrashing, I let the stick in my hand flail into view, and the girl did her part catching it as it swung by her piling. Careful not to tug on it with my full weight, I kicked under the surface and righted myself enough so that I could make a show of coming up, spitting water and clinging ridiculously to the timber she was on. Shouts and laughter from the Boards- another command performance.

I looked up at the child, perhaps eight by her face, a little scuffed and dressed poorly. What does a floundering, well-meaning stone merchant say to an adventurous scamp so close to the edge of nightmares? What would anyone say? I found I could barely speak to this urchin, certainly I could not lie. We were sharing risk, there were sacred obligations in play.

“I’m glad you caught the stick.”

“You could get hurt doing that, mister.” The girl seemed very serious, and I had to smile.

“You are absolutely right. But what are you doing here? Your sister has been looking for you.”

The child shrugged, as if to say “that is why I’m over here”, but said only “I’m Keilee”.

I clawed my way to the top of the piling, and parked half my seat on it next to her. “Yes, I have heard your name today. I am-”

“You’re the stone merchant,” she interrupted, still so young for an elf and as hasty as a human. “You’re moving in next door to us. You’re citizen Simith,” she said like an accusation. I smiled again and held out my hand.

“I hope you will call me Jonn.” She solemnly took my hand and once again I felt a charge at the contact, and for telling the truth so far. Whatever else I showed the world, Jonn was indeed the name my parents had given me.

“Were you trying to reach the old city?”

She shook her head and hunched her shoulders as if to further block out the view. “Not at first, I was just exploring.” I could see some real fear on her face now. She peered at me, a little suspicious. “Would you go there?”

I looked around behind us, and saw the old stone storage piers and the dry-dock lying empty as they had for centuries. Behind them further away from the river, buildings piled higher and thicker blocking the view of the grand municipal structures everyone said were at the interior. All deserted, plague-ridden, vermin-infested or haunted, depending on who you asked. Inside me the spirit of my evenings tingled with adventure. I still could not lie to that straight even face next to mine. “Well, that would be quite the expedition,” I managed, gesturing weakly to one side, “that’s pure porphyry there, unless I miss my guess, and for an outbuilding no less. I wonder why not limestone... though of course it would no longer stand if so.” I let my knowledge of building stone take me safely into territory too boring for a child to follow. And she seemed suitably dulled by my speech, though I could see lights in her eyes still, not easily extinguished.

The crowd back on the Boards was discussing the matter in loud but indiscernible tones; some men had extended planks across to the first three pilings. Guards would drift by soon, and I did not want that. Gesturing to Keilee, I stood and took her on my back. She was alarmingly light; I have carried three treasures that weighed more. Still holding the useless stick, I made a show of measuring the distance, and carefully hopped from pile to pile. Gulls had of course reoccupied every perch I cleared on the way over, and were just as scandalized as before to move again. Behind us, the abandoned old city seemed to silently watch, and I felt a tingle in the base of my back that spoke of peril. Feldspar purred with delight, but I throttled him.

I gave the crowd a little show of losing my balance once; to my surprise the girl did not panic and kept her weight still, just as I would have asked. I heard her murmur in my ear, “That wasn’t very hard.”

I looked Keilee in the eyes as she loomed over my shoulder, and once again I could not keep truth from her. I nodded, saying “No, it seems we will make it after all.” With this, she seemed oddly satisfied.

Keilee jumped down as soon as we reached the planks and jogged ahead of me to the railing. Her sister alternated hugging her head and slapping her wrist as I accepted some hands to negotiate the final barrier. My soaking-wet shoulders got thoroughly pounded by men who lifted heavy things for a living; I had planned to faint, but it wasn’t going to be hard to fake with so little air in my lungs. The crowd cleared and Keilee’s sister stood before me, one hand gripping the child’s with white knuckles and her face simply beaming as she spoke words of gratitude in a fair, educated tone. I saw the symbol of the moon and star on her tunic, and realized she was an acolyte of the Stargazer temple. Her beauty began to make sense. Holding my breath to heighten the effect, I nodded, started to speak, then let my eyes roll up and fell straight to the Boards heedless of catching arms.

When people think you cannot hear they speak the truth of you.

“Astor’s loins, what a fool, should have been killed.”

“Is he alright? Keilee, get water from the Lees, hurry!”

“Who is this scatterhead anyway?” With a shock I recognized Beirill’s deep voice.

“Haven’t seen him-”

“He’s the new fellow living on Byview, right behind my inn. Name’s Simith.”

“Never heard such a queer family. Be hard to forget that, even if he hadn’t put on a show.”

“He’ll never forget today either, look at him, poor spineless little runt, he hasn’t had such excitement in his life I’ll bet.”

“Citizen Simith? Can you hear me, are you alright?”

“Here’s the water, can I go now?”

“You scamp, nearly the death of me, you won’t leave my sight until I get you home to mother-”

“Lashi! I have to-”

“Not another word. And you will visit citizen Simith to offer your services at chores for a week.”

“A week!”

“A month then, you demon minus a leg! Stay right here or I, I’ll cook you.”

The images I had in my mind of that fresh-faced child’s outrage, or the radiant sister trying to twist her features into a fearsome scold, were too much. I had to laugh, but managed to turn it into a cough. As everyone turned back to me, I rolled to face down and went into the racking, meaty hack I used as the elderly beggar, just to indulge myself a little. Then a long breath, while I slowly turned to sit and brought the boring businessman back out to see if his life could still be salvaged.

“Oh, my,” I said as if dazed, “how embarrassing- did I miss, er, was I gone long?”

A few minutes later, I had received introductions all around to a baker, brick-hauler, dock loaders and sailors, mothers, seamstresses and laundresses. Even the guardsman Beirill checked me over amiably, as I resisted the urge to touch my face. He patted his whistle and warned me to let the trained professionals handle the job from now on, and I agreed I would. I returned to the table to finish discussing the idea of a tab with Noudhal, while a part of my mind chose which names to remember, others to forget. Incredibly, it seemed folks were accepting what I had done- unusual yes, but not a flicker of suspicion from anyone. Except Keilee; I sensed in her a child as bright as curious. But she didn’t know what to make of me- with luck she would live many years before putting two and two together. For the rest of the neighborhood, the chance broke fortunately- I could almost feel the way they would reason in the future. That fellow, Feldspar? Nonsense, I saw him myself- fell in the river.

I left Noudhal with a letter of credit, painfully explained, and promised to return that evening to meet all the regulars. He directed me to my address, just the next right beyond his inn as it happened; an alley adjoined us back to back. I walked up the quiet, surprisingly clean street to the front door and produced my key, along with a letter from the precinct scribe who had arranged the sale.

The Twelfth of the Dolphin, 2002 ADR
Citizen Simith,
In accordance with your instructions, I have secured the lease on a very suitable domicile in the northern quadrant of the city, just overlooking The Boards. This sturdy two-and-one-half floor house is well-appointed, spacious, secure, and an excellent opportunity for the aspiring professional business man such as yourself. The neighborhood is a family one, located in the rustic and entertaining docks quarter of the old northern district, actually within a short walk of the Tepid River, affording a view of mysterious Old Cryss, site of the supposed horrors and lawless men whose stories no doubt thrilled you as a boy! Rest assured, however, that no danger from the abandoned Older City threatens your home; the Overlord’s agents avow no one lives there, due to sanitary hazards predating more recent advances. At all events, the City guards are always within call, day or night, and pride themselves in responding to any warning bell sounded in the precinct within ten minutes.

I looked up and down the row of houses facing each other, small, dingy, identical. Poor people on all sides, by my standards at least frighteningly poor. And the quality of the city guards I already knew first-hand- I felt no fear that they would ever be on the scene when truly needed. Ten minutes in my business was an eternity. I insisted on a neighborhood like this, so that I could be free to come and go. And I also wanted workers around me, because they would be more likely than others to take their sleep. Unlocking the door, I stepped into the antechamber of Simith’s new home.

Being next to The Boards, your home is in a still-active port neighborhood, where the sounds of merchant traffic and sailor-songs add a quaint touch to the neat, uniform houses of your street. The solid wall at the end of your row was erected to facilitate the off-loading of cargo, especially barrels, from the docks. It serves as an effective barrier against the actual intrusion of sea traffic onto your street, and makes it quiet as well.

I laughed aloud, in my solitude, to read the man squirm and trample the truth. I might have told him I was going to take the place at once, but I didn’t want to seem too eager. A ship had pulled into quay just as I left the tavern. Even inside I could hear the rumble of rolling wood, the shouts and curses of the crew as they bashed their goods around on the docks beyond the wall. The racket was startling; it sounded to me as if they were competing to break the most containers during the walloping process. Perhaps they had a prize at stake. But it served my purpose. Elves don’t need to sleep unless ill or hurt- but most of them love to, all the same. Any folks who could sleep through that thunder would never awaken at the passing of the lightest feet in the city.

The Grog’s Lees tavern around the corner actually abuts your house-row at the mutual privy areas, and this too serves to deaden the pleasant roister of the sailor folk who frequent it. It is of course most convenient to your own custom as well, and will certainly facilitate your early welcome into this neighborhood. The other businesses of the immediate area are of completely approbationary nature, and of no concern in terms of references. Droke Staveshaver, for example, represents the finest in Cryssigensian barrelmakers as his family has been in the business for over three hundred years. The presence of such established and respectable businessmen as Droke contributes to the value of your home and the safety and comfort of the precinct. Your other neighbors will no doubt introduce themselves soon.

Soon indeed, I thought as I perused the downstairs dining room, study and kitchen- none of which I had ever used before- and then climbed the central stair to the second level. Droke had been one of those taking my hand after my half-intentional rescue; strapping fellow, fiery red hair and I saw on his worn work tunic a bright crimson button. The others had all since been replaced, but there was no mistaking the original. Droke Staveshaver was a House man then, low level or he’d have been given a new suit, but not out of membership or he wouldn’t dare to keep the button. And the bricklayer, Giurid I think it was, wore a blue sash for a belt around his waist. Colors like that could never be copied. The stealthic inside me wondered if the day would come, when one House asked me to steal from his rival the best guarded secret in the empire. And I wondered, in turn, if I would say yes.

I poked into the first bedrooms upstairs, to the left, and thought they were too big. When I realized these must be for guests, or servants, I shook my head smiling. Back to the south of the staircase, the entire half-level was taken up by my own sleeping chamber. Now I laughed- I could practice fencing in here if I moved a few chairs. Come to think of it, there must have been a dozen of those in the house; did people visit one another at all hours? I sat in one and heard the relative silence on this end of my new house. Then my eye wandered back to the agent’s letter in my hand.

No description of your home could be complete without mention of the amazing sanitation system provided for this district by the wisdom of His Eminence and Radiance, the Overlord Toll’k’r over four hundred years ago. Your home, like every one in this district, is supplied with a faultless and extraordinary system for the removal of waste. Simply enter the clean, secluded privy room on either floor, deposit whatever undesirable waste you may wish, and leave. Within moments, the detritus is miraculously taken out of your life forever! No more wading through filth, risking new clothing and one’s delicate sensibilities in the distasteful traffic of the common herd; the cleanness this system brings to the neighborhood is a major point of its attractiveness and value, and I’m sure you’ll agree after only a short stay. One warning: it is recommended that no one ever be in the privy-room at the stroke of midnight on a full lower moon. The wisdom of the builders no doubt requires this simple precaution.

There was more in the letter, but this I had to see for myself. I ran to the back-side of the house and on the wall, just to one side of the stair landing there stood a small door, like a closet. Inside, I saw a place to sit with the hole you would expect- here, in my house, a garderobe like a castle! I sniffed strongly but nothing came to me. Too good to be true? I tested it out, and my butt twitched every second I sat there. I almost couldn’t produce anything but after laughing harder and harder I finally relaxed. Hitching my breeks, I checked again for any scent- nothing. Incredible!

I examined the boards of the seat and the back wall, and finally the roof above the seat. Suitable, might be the best place to insert the hatch. But that was some way into the future: chimneys, windows, the roof itself and any basement space still had to be inspected. Within three days, I estimated, I could make this place secure and able to house the man with endless faces. The marked crate from my old warehouse should arrive tomorrow. Tonight, it only remained to frequent the bar and meet more locals.

The knock on the door brought me to myself instantly. I expected no one, and my home was not nearly ready for any number of people Feldspar had met in his adventures. I saw the thick bolt and he urged me to throw it closed, then flee. With an effort, I reminded myself that no stealthic lived here; I put on my stone-seller’s face and opened. Keilee stood on the first step, arms akimbo and a face filled with future misery.

“Well hello there,” I said as blandly as I could manage, “won’t you come in and sit? I seem to have plenty of chairs.”

“I am to apologize, citizen Simith, for the trouble I caused you today.” Keilee recited well enough, but I took a quick glance up and down the street to see if there was another audience. “I am to offer to work for you all of next week-” clever urchin!-“that is, if you need me.” Ah, too greedy there.

“I am just glad that you are well. As for work, well, ahm...” I tried to imagine some smooth answer, a chore that would derail her natural curiosity. No use- I saw the intelligence in her face, could practically feel the energy coursing through her slim frame, and felt helpless to lie. Covering for my own confusion, I turned back into the house and waved vaguely at the furniture in my study. Keilee climbed up into a pillowed armchair and her hips nearly disappeared. I sat on a wooden one next to her and let my eyes wander as if I were thinking of chores rather than a solution to the problem of her presence. She kicked her feet and pretended not to be interested in every facet of the room. How did her parents put up with her every hour? Could anyone be so foolish as to ignore such a bright spark? No wonder she got in trouble.

“I need... say, are you hungry?” I said before I could think. Keilee blinked back at me- at least I had surprised her. “Yes, I feel hungry- the fish stew, em, notwithstanding. Shall we see what I have- why, of course I have nothing!”

I walked with her back to the kitchen, though I knew I had left no instructions with the agent regarding food. I ate very little myself, but that would never do now that I would be normal. The cupboards were bare, and I faced Keilee with a seed sprouting in my mind. “Perhaps you could shop for me?”

“Me?” Keilee was honestly stunned, which made us even. Obviously no one had entrusted her with a task so important. I warmed to the argument.

“Why not? I’m sure you are aware of all the grocers, who has the finest meat, and, em, flour, things like that.”

“I do!” she crowed, then subsided a bit, “but then, I don’t have any money.”

“Oh that,” I said dismissively, and drew out a handful of coins from my sash. Time for another honesty test. I laid a row of silver on the cutting counter, followed by two gold. “Now, I want you to select a good variety of things; spices as well as, well, flour and you know, things you can cook a meal with... hire the boys at the grocers to carry it all back here, can you arrange that?” Keilee’s mouth fell open as she thought of fellows twice her age who would be following her and the money. “Perhaps your sister can help you pick out some things?”

“She’s at temple, they were all called to a big meeting.” Oho- the Stargazers were always in the thick of any developments in the city, and something in my gut twinged. Another reason to visit the inn tonight- I might get the signal of another patron to hire me.

“Well then, you will have to make the important decisions on your own.”

Keilee was thoroughly engaged in the idea of bossing her neighbors with money. She eyed the coins and hesitated. I prompted her, saying, “You bring back whatever you don’t spend, I will tip the carriers.”

That was enough for her- she swept the entire pile into her hands, not large enough to carry them hidden, and stared at the treasure. It was probably as much as her father made in half a year, not that he’d be paid in coin anyway. I was tempting her sorely, but she knew it. Looking up, then around at the kitchen, she said, “You don’t know how to cook, do you?”

Another lie I could not tell. “I tend to eat in the inns most often.”

“I can cook. I help mother all the time.”

“Do you want to cook for me?” I asked with a sour jangle in my heart. Keilee thought about it, then nodded. “Well, we shall try it out,” I said trying to sound doubtful instead of afraid. “Not breakfast, thanks, I’ll manage on my own for that. But dinner, if your parents allow you- it might be best if I drop by and speak to them.”

“They won’t mind!” she cried almost desperately. “I have to work for you anyway, and they- they will know where I am!” I laughed at that and nodded. “Indeed, but I shall stop in tonight and check with them to be certain.”

“You just want to meet my sister,” she accused. I hadn’t considered that, and indeed it wasn’t so at all.

“I’m sure she is a very, ahm, good person,” I temporized, and my reluctance was still the truth.

Since I saw her temple badge, I reflected that ‘Lashi’ probably had some miraculous power, and might have used it without knowing. The higher priestesses had the ability to enchant others to do their bidding- they said some could make one fall in love. Keilee’s sister might be learning something of that ability, and in her desperate need for help triggered me to action. Until I knew better, I wanted to be circumspect around her. And her little sister. I really had not expected Simith to get himself in so much trouble; that was supposed to be Feldspar’s job.

Keilee took her dismissal with eagerness, running off to shop as fast as she could with her hands clutched together on the treasure at her waist. I rubbed my hair with one hand, then closed the door and went upstairs to prepare for the tavern. By then it would be night, and holding off Feldspar would be more difficult than ever.


Katharina Gerlach said...

Lovely interview. I wonder who else will get a halberd after reading this story.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Post a Comment