We spent the rest of the week exploring Fengarad. There were various interesting places in the lanes and side streets, including a red light district any red-blooded male would have investigated fully. Needless to say, the three of us got horribly embarrassed at the first sight of a scantily clad woman giving us the come hither, and we swiftly came up with excuses to head off to some other part of the city.
Of course, we might not have acted quite so scared if she hadn’t looked like Steve Buscemi in drag. Who am I kidding? Of course we would.
The girls, oblivious as ever, had no idea why the woman wanted to speak to us in private. The only thing of interest to them was where she’d purchased her bikini top.
I eventually convinced the others we should split up, or at least, I should split up from them. We were familiar enough with the layout of the city that I didn’t think they’d get lost, and as long as they were together they wouldn’t get into too much trouble. Probably. I just needed a little time off from playing Dad.
They were a bit nervous going off on their own, mainly because of the problem with reading signs and street names. Out of the group, I was by far the best at reading. This was because on our journey to Fengarad, while they had been chatting and getting to know each other, I had spent my time studying the book Grayson had given us.
I could now recognise most words without having to spell them out phonetically. They, on the other hand, knew each other’s favourite colours.
Having to rely on themselves would be good for them, and it wasn’t like they would face any danger in the middle of the city. Our main goal was just to learn where everything was and to dig up any cool places that might be worth further investigation. We were basically tourists. Even they couldn’t get themselves killed sightseeing.
My routine was to wake up early and go to the public baths which I had discovered. No, it wasn’t a pickup joint for gays. Or maybe it was, but no one propositioned me—which was both a relief and very depressing. I looked forward to encountering elves and dwarves so they could reject me, too.
After my nice long soak (alone), I’d go to the Emporium and spend an hour or so shooting arrows.
After a couple of days, I had to make a booking for these sessions, as others had started to want to use the alleyway. The bow salesman, whose name was Temel, had started a side business in archery training, bringing in a cousin who was a soldier to offer guidance, and business was booming. I got a lesson for free, seeing as how I was the one that made this lucrative new venture possible, and was informed that pretty much everything I was doing was wrong.
Can’t say I was surprised. He corrected my poor posture and grip and my aim improved. Slightly.
I would spend the rest of the day poking about in the city, returning to the inn in the evening. Over dinner, we’d exchange information. A lot of Flossie’s and Claire’s reports revolved around where to find the best bargains, and I could see the will to live slowly being drained from Maurice and Dudley—rather them than me.
If you think my portrayal of Claire and Flossie as obsessed with shopping seems a little unfair, you could be right. After the intense pressure of trying to survive in a crazy fantasy world where death was around every corner, perhaps it was just their way of relaxing. Or, maybe they were a couple of shopping-mad bimbos. Hard to say.
Before going to bed, I did my exercises. Sit ups, push ups, squats and lunges. I was determined to be at least fit enough to run away properly. Then I practiced with the sword, but I didn’t feel very confident with what I was doing. At some point I would need to hire someone to train me.
A blacksmith on the outskirts of the city made me a spike like the one I’d given up. He was a bit baffled by my request and I had to talk him through how to make it for me, but in the end I got something pretty close to the original. It felt good to have my trusty spike back.
I also bought a large piece of lead from him. The sap I’d tried to make using bits of old metal had never felt right. This time I got a professional seamstress to sew the lead into some leather and the whole construction was a lot more solid.
I returned to the Municipal Directory to try and figure out what the place was for, and how I could use it to my advantage. Master Nevin had shown us the window where we could get our money and other items, but I still had no idea what all the other windows were for.
My plan was to hang around and see if I could pick up any information, but trying to inconspicuously stand next to people in an attempt to overhear their conversations did not go down well. I got some threatening looks and had to quickly make myself scarce.
In the end, I just joined the longest queue and waited until I got to the front. It took about two hours.
The woman behind the window looked like her family had just been murdered, and she was the one responsible. If you’ve ever been to a post office, you’ll know the look.
“Yes?” she demanded.
“Oh, is it my turn?” I was stalling, trying to figure out what she did. She was in a small office with nothing in it, as far as I could tell.
She glared at me. “What service do you require?”
“What services have you got?”
This earned me a look at her teeth, which she bared at me. “Do you have something to hand in or not?”
“Maybe later.” I could feel every person in the line behind me staring as I walked away.
It took me another two days to discover the stairs leading to the basement. Down there I discovered a throng of people, all of them armed to the hilt, milling about. The walls were covered with posters offering bounties on various monsters, like the ones Grayson had in Probet. There were dozens of them. And these had a lot more details about each creature.
There was also a map on one wall, but unlike the one in Probet, this one was being constantly updated with information on where targets could be found.
We still had lots of money, but it had started to noticeably go down. Eventually, we would have to find a way to make more, and claiming bounties was the obvious way to do it. But I was very reluctant to go down that route again. I needed another method.
But there was one poster that caught my interest.
“I want to head out to the marshlands tomorrow,” I told the others over a dinner of roast chicken and potatoes. The meat wasn’t chicken and I’m pretty sure potatoes aren’t blue, but that’s what it tasted like, and I had learned not to ask questions I didn’t want to know the answer to.
“Why?” said Claire. “What’s in the marshlands?”
“Frogmen. It’s about time we got back into the adventuring business.”
The other stopped eating and looked at each other somewhat apprehensively.
“You can calm down,” I said. “There won’t be any killing. Maurice, what did you write down about the frogmen in your notes?”
Maurice took out his notebook and flipped through it. “Ah, frogman, uses basic beast magic.”
“Exactly. It’s the only mention of actual magic I’ve come across. So, we’re going to find some frogmen and we’re going to learn magic.”
The following morning we got up early and prepared to leave. We were fully geared up, with bags stuffed full, clothes that actually fit, and weapons all sharpened. We looked like a bunch of nerds going rambling, but we were prepared for every eventuality. Monsters, injuries, dangerous terrain, light showers—we had an answer for them all.
Claire handed me an envelope which was addressed to Commander Ducane. I opened it and read the letter inside. It was an anonymous tip off about the farmboys we had encountered and how they were responsible for the kidnapped girls and not the mouse warriors as people had assumed. She’d been careful not to reveal who the letter was from.
“I know we don’t have any real proof,” she said, “but perhaps Ducane will look into it. At least, if more girls go missing, they’ll think to question those boys.”
I nodded. “Sure. But you can’t send this.” I put the letter back in the envelope.
“Why not?” she demanded, her voice ramping up as she laid into me. “If they hurt more girls, it’ll be on us. This is the least we can do, and it’s not like he’ll know who sent it. I know it’s a longshot, but we can’t just do nothing. We can’t!”
I waited for her to finish her tirade before speaking. “I agree. We should do something. But you can’t send this because you wrote it in English.” I handed the letter back to her.
“Oh,” she said.
We waited the half hour it took for her to translate the letter, and then headed out.
“How exactly are you going to get the letter to Ducane without him seeing you?” I asked. The others looked at me like I must be joking.
We were headed to the Municipal Directory, for some reason. They seemed to know what they were doing so I just followed.
It was quite early and the place was a lot less busy than usual. Claire immediately got in line and reached the window in about five minutes. The woman serving was the same one I’d spoken to the other day.
Claire handed over the letter. “I’d like this delivered today, please.”
The woman took the letter. “Two chobs.”
Claire paid and that was that.
“So, this is where you send mail?” I was stunned they knew this. “What about the other windows?”
“That’s for handing in bounties, that’s for paying taxes, that’s for reporting problems with public roads and buildings, that one’s for requesting help with rogue monsters…” Maurice went round the room pointing to each window.
“When…? How did you figure this all out?”
Maurice pointed at the one window that had no line. “We asked at the information desk.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me this?” That’s what the evening meets were supposed to be for, not the latest prices of blusher and lipstick.
Claire shrugged. “We thought you knew.”
That was the problem with acting like you were smarter than everyone—sometimes they actually believed you.