The following morning everyone had a terrible hangover. Apart from me, of course. They emerged from their rooms wincing and coloured various shades of green.
Gullen hadn’t reappeared since he rushed off the previous night, but Biadet was there to guide us to yet another dining room where we were served breakfast. I ravenously stuffed my face. The others nibbled a little toast.
“You should try these sausages.” I waved my fork under their noses. “Not sure what kind of meat it is, but it tastes great. So juicy and succulent.” I stuck it in my mouth and chewed sloppily. “Mmm, yum. Look.”
Flossie and Maurice both rushed off to the bathroom while Claire refused to look in the direction of my open mouth. Dudley was the only one to match me bite for bite, tucking into his plate loaded with a bit of everything.
“Oh, I say. That’s a little bit better.”
Either he had a remarkable constitution, or he had abstained from drinking too much to make sure Flossie was okay. I know which I’d put my money on.
Eventually, everyone finished eating and/or throwing up. We collected our gear and piled into the carriage. It was a bright, sunny morning with nothing too concerning on the horizon. The perfect time for misfortune to attack.
Biadet, dressed in her top hat and black velvet coat ensemble, drove us back into the city at a relaxed pace, possibly out of sympathy for the fragile condition of the party, or she didn’t fancy having to clean out the interior if it was sprayed with puke.
Our first priority was to find some digs to use as a base while we decided how to proceed. I hadn’t discussed Gullen’s offer with the others. He hadn’t pressured me into making a decision on the spot, so I probably had a little time before push came to shove. At which point there was a very good chance I would be forced to accept his offer, even though the chances of it actually turning out to be a cushy desk job far from danger were probably slim to none.
No point worrying about it now, though.
Biadet stopped the carriage outside a swanky hotel with doormen in maroon and gold jackets who rushed to help us out of the carriage, fawning and bowing like we were royalty. Which could only mean one thing.
“This looks a bit expensive,” I said to Biadet.
“With your current savings, you will be able to stay here for seven days,” said Biadet. I didn’t ask how she knew the state of our finances but there was no reason to doubt the accuracy of her figures. The question was, if Gullen only expected us to need seven days of accommodation, where did he expect us to go after that?
“I suppose the hotel staff all report back to Gullen.”
“The staff, the guests, the pigeons, the mice…”
“We need somewhere cheaper.”
Biadet took us to four other establishments, each a little less impressive than the last, until we ended up outside a small inn at the end of an alley so narrow the carriage only just managed to squeeze into. It was called the ‘Faraway Near’ and the only occupant appeared to be the ruddy-faced and mildly inebriated manager.
The rooms were small and the plumbing was dicey but it was clean and cheap. And it was out of the way, which meant less likely to attract trouble.
Biadet left us with an emotionless, “We’ll be in touch.”
After checking in, I inquired about the local Municipal Directory. The manager gave me directions, which took quite a long time because he kept getting halfway through them, forgetting his place, and starting again.
“I’m also looking for a blacksmith.”
“Oh, no problem there, young master,” said the manager. “Whole city’s chock full of ‘em. Can’t move without getting hit in the face with a shower of sparks down in the southern district.”
“It’s one guy in particular I’m looking for. He came here to claim a silver hammer.”
“Oh, right. Yes, I had heard there was a new silver hammer been awarded. If you head into the southern district, I’m sure you’ll find his place. Business’s been booming, so I been told.”
That was good news. I had thought maybe Kizwat wouldn’t have had time to set himself up with a place yet, but from what the manager said I’d be able to get some bespoke gear made straightaway.
The walk into the city centre was, as you might expect, delayed by plenty of window shopping. It was still fairly early but the streets were buzzing with people. A large proportion of them were in military uniform.
The Municipal directory was similar to the one in Fengarad; a grand building with columns and arches. It was situated in the main square, so not very hard to find. There was a stall set up by the entrance recruiting for the army.
A man in full plate armour stood in front of a large banner that read:
He kept up a non-stop barrage of bellowing. “Join up and fight to protect your family. Protect your loved ones. Protect the free world.”
The people walking past all ignored him, but that didn’t affect his enthusiasm.
“Our way of life is under threat. They hate us for our freedom and our love of peace. Help destroy the uncivilised bastards! A sword and two meals a day for all. Free shields for the first five to sign up today.”
We hurried inside trying not to catch his eye. Somehow, hawkers and street peddlers can always spot the easy mark in a group.
“You, sir,” said Sir Shout-a-lot, grabbing Dudley by the arm. “You look like a man who can handle himself in a rumble. Want to try on this helmet?”
Not wanting to be rude, Dudley stood there unable to come up with an excuse to leave. So I gave him one.
“Dudley!” I called out. “Flossie’s fallen.” He shook off the man and came running.
We opened accounts and stored all our stuff. The process was the same as back in Fengarad and didn’t take long. We had around 300 bits left plus some change, which was fine for now, but we had to figure out a way to make more money. Hunting was too laborious and going after monsters for larger rewards was out of the question. But what else was there?
We waited in the entrance until the army recruiter was facing the other way and then legged it.
The southern part of the city was even busier. The streets were narrower and people filled them from end to end and side to side. I warned the others to keep a tight grip on their belongings and not to bump into people. Pickpocket, thieves and muggers were probably eyeing us with drool hanging from their lips.
The smithy we were looking for didn’t take long to find. It had a massive billboard on top of it with the words ‘Silver Hammer’ painted in silver paint with a picture of a hammer (in silver). A little on the nose, but I guess it pays to be direct when you advertise.
Only, things turned out to be not as straightforward as I’d hoped. Once we fought our way through the crowds and could see the blacksmith at work it was obvious he wasn’t Kizwat.
The man had a bald head and a grey beard. In his fifties, at least. He did have a silver hammer in his hand which he was using to beat a sheet of metal on his anvil. I don’t know if the hammer was actually made of silver, but it was very shiny.
A young man with skinny arms, wearing a stiff leather apron that looked like it was brand new, stood at the front of the shop with a clipboard in his hand. “Place your orders here!” he called out. “Waiting time is only two months. Strike now while the iron’s hot, hot, hot. Master Akrote produces the finest weapons and armor in the city.”
No one approached him. The crowd seemed to be here to watch the blacksmith work. I pushed my way towards the young man and waved my hand in front of his face to get his attention.
“Yes, sir. What’s your order?”
“I just wanted to ask you, is he the only silver blacksmith in Dargot.”
“Indeed! One of a kind, but very reasonably priced!”
“And how did he get his silver hammer?”
The man pointed over his shoulder to a lance hanging high on the wall. “The killer of the Radiant Sea Serpent. A fearsome beast that claimed the lives of over a hundred men. But no more, thanks to that beautiful piece of workmanship. An exact duplicate can be yours for only one thousand bits.”
Yeah. Not sure there were many sea serpents in the fields and forests around Dargot. “One more thing. Is there a blacksmith’s guild around here?”
This question confused the young man. “You’ll find it in the Sheaf, down there on the right.” He was pointing further along the street. “I assure you, the lance has been verified as having slain a unique beast. We are fully guild certified.”
I thanked him and worked my way back to the others who were watching the blacksmith at work.
“He’s not here, then?” asked Maurice.
“No. Let’s try the guild. They might have heard what happened to him.”
My first thought was that he never made it to Dargot. Killed by monsters or hit by lightning or maybe lost in some woods and never found his way out. Alternatively, he may have lied to me about where he was headed, not wanting to keep his half of the deal. I didn’t really think that was likely, but you never know.
The Sheaf turned out to be a small building that housed a number of different guilds. Blacksmiths, carpenters, tailors... eighty-four in all, according to the board next to the entrance. It was a one storey building.
There was a constant stream of people going in and out. It looked to be another case of having to squeeze your way to the front.
“You lot wait for me in that pub on the corner.” I pointed at the sign with the words ‘The Pickled Gherkin’ written on it. “I assume it’s a pub. If it’s a gherkin boutique, do some browsing. I’m sure they’ll have an extensive collection.”
“There are twenty-three ways to pickle cucumbers,” said Dudley, for no reason.
I left them discussing pickling and fermenting techniques (I wish I was joking) and wormed my way through the crowded entrance. Once inside, it became a lot easier to move around. Everyone else had places to go—mainly down the broad staircase leading to the lower levels. Which made me think that maybe the reason there were no tall buildings in Dargot was because everything was underground.
Behind a reception desk sat a small man in black and green attire.
The man looked up at me with a smile. “How can I help?” He had a small goatee and slicked back hair.
“I’m looking for the blacksmith’s guild.”
“Of course. No problem.” He bent down behind the desk— “Apothecary, alchemy, ah, here we are, blacksmith” —and came back up with a large book, which he flopped open. “When would you like to make an appointment?”
“Actually, I’m trying to find a blacksmith called Kizwat. Can you tell me if he registered with the guild recently? He came here to claim a silver hammer.”
“Silver hammer?” The man’s smile remained fixed in place, but his eyes reacted in an odd way. He started blinking rapidly. “I’m afraid the name doesn’t ring a bell. Let me just check the book.”
He ran a finger down the page, turned it, did the same with the next one.
“No. No. Kizwat was it? I’m afraid no one by that name has registered recently. We do have an excellent silver blacksmith in the city, though. Master Akrote. You can find him—”
“Kizwat,” I repeated. I had been willing to accept Kizwat’s absence as just one of those things but the way the receptionist reacted made me think something wasn’t quite right here. “Are you sure he hasn’t been here?”
“It doesn’t look like it,” said the receptionist, which was kind of a vague answer.
There wasn’t much I could do even if he was lying. It wasn’t as though he’d tell me what had happened to Kizwat if I made a fuss.
“Okay. Well, thanks any—”
There was a commotion—people shouting and cursing—coming from below us.
“If there’s nothing else?”
“No. Nothing else.” I remained where I was, straining to hear what was going on.
“Good day, then.”
“Yes, not bad.” The noise was getting closer.
The people going down the stairs scrambled out of the way as a group of large men came up the stairs, pushing a smaller man ahead of them. He stumbled and fell to the ground.
“You won’t get away with this!” the fallen man screamed. “I am Kizwat, registered blacksmith. I have every right to enter the guild offices.”
I looked at the receptionist. He smiled innocently. “Oh, did you mean him? I thought you said kumquat. My mistake.”
Kizwat looked up at me. “Col-een? Col-een!” He burst into tears. He tried to speak but was too worked up to make any sense.
I helped him to his feet, which was when I noticed that his right arm was completely mangled. The wrist was bent back and the shoulder was crooked.
“What happened to you?”
“Them! Them! They stole my spike. They cheated me.” He pointed at the men at the top of the stairs. “But now you’re the ones who will suffer. Col-een is here, and he will kill you all!”
The men stared at me. They looked big. They looked unpleasant. They looked like trouble.