Outside, the road, more a dusty track, led in only one direction. Buildings ahead of us looked all the same. Wooden shacks of one storey. Noise and smells drifted towards us as we approached. It was hard to identify either.
“My name’s Claire, by the way,” said the girl with the big nose. “This is Flossie.”
I turned to look at the plump red-head. “Really?”
“Oh ah, not really,” she said in the broadest Brummie accent I’d ever heard. “Actually, it’s Victoria, but everybody’s always called me that since I were a babby.”
“I’m Colin and this is Maurice.”
“Hello, ladies.” Maurice smiled inanely.
I looked over to our fifth member, who was walking a few steps behind us with his hands behind his back and a tremendous interest in the sky. “What about you? Got a name?”
“Dudley Fenderson III.” The voice that came out of his mouth was so posh it sounded like the sort of voice you put on to mock posh people. He was quite tall, had a receding hairline even though he couldn’t be more than nineteen or twenty, and no chin to speak of, so he definitely could be a member of the aristocracy. Or, perhaps he had chosen this new stage to reinvent himself.
Introductions done, we turned a corner and the main thoroughfare appeared in front of us. The whole town couldn’t be more than a dozen shacks. Various stores lined either side of the main street.
The first was a blacksmith’s, a large open area with a roof over it and an intense fire burning in the middle. A variety of metalware hung on all sides. Weapons, armour pieces, pots and pans. A heavy-built man pounded away on an anvil with an enormous hammer.
“Go over and speak to him,” I said to Maurice.
“I don’t know, the price of stuff.”
It turned out nobody wanted to talk to the blacksmith. Having a party made up of the socially awkward and chronically shy clearly had some drawbacks. In fact, it had nothing but drawbacks.
The idea of being unable to ask a question of someone in a shop, a person who’s there to sell stuff, may seem ridiculous. But that means you’ve never experienced the fear. The inexplicable paralysis when you have to speak to someone official on the phone or attract the attention of a sales assistant in a shoe store.
You could walk up to the nearest person and say, “Hey, I’d like to try this in a size nine, please,” but you don’t. You wait to be noticed, waving a shoe about, hoping someone offers to help.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations, you’re a well-adjusted member of society.
I steeled myself to do what had to be done, went over what I would ask in my head, and then walked purposefully towards the smithy. The others followed, but at a distance where they could pretend they had nothing to do with me.
“Excuse me. Hello?” Sweat ran down the back of my neck.
The blacksmith was completely bald, but with a huge walrus moustache. He wore a heavy leather apron that made him look like he had nothing on underneath. I desperately hoped that wasn’t the case. He ignored me and continued to bang away—Pang! Pang! Pang!— red sparks flying in every direction. The hammer could have been borrowed from Thor. He picked a glowing object off the anvil with large pincers and plunged it in a bucket of water. Steam shot into the air.
“What is it?” he finally said without looking at me.
“How much for a dagger?” There were a number of daggers of varying sizes on a shelf.
“Depends.” He started banging away again. Pang! Pang! Pang!
A bit rude, you might think. How does he expect to sell anything with that attitude? Well, you have to look at it from his perspective. A sweaty young man approaches, holding up his trousers with one hand, and carrying what looks like a table leg in the other. Are you thinking, ‘Ho ho, big spender. I’ll be able to shut up shop early tonight!’? Of course not. More likely your first thought is, ‘Shit, crazy homeless guy. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact.’
“The cheapest one,” I shouted over the noise. “How much?”
“Five bits,” he shouted back, still not looking at me.
I thanked him and walked away. How much was five bits? No idea. I thought the currency would be coppers and silvers, maybe gold for expensive stuff. I had no idea if five bits would be easy to earn or not.
The other had overheard our conversation and were equally unsure.
“Hey, what weapons did you get?” I asked the others.
Claire pulled out a stick similar to mine. Dudley had two wooden balls attached to a string. Flossie looked sheepish, then put her hand down her top and took out a dagger.
“Bloody hell,” said Maurice. “Nice.”
I couldn’t really tell if he meant the dagger or the cleavage it had emerged from. Both, were quite impressive.
“Put it away,” I said. “And don’t show it to anyone.” It was the sort of thing others might want for themselves. She quickly stuffed it back in its hiding place.
Clearly, we needed better weapons and this place would sell them to us. But first we had to make money. In an RPG you killed monsters and they dropped loot. Money, potions, weapons. I looked at the stick in my hand, and wondered if the local fast food joint was hiring.
AN: Brummie refers to people from Birmingham, England. They speak in a broad regional accent that makes them sound a bit stupid.
There'll be another chapter posted later today. It's written, just need to check for typos.