Aufora: Icebound Keep, Chapter 2

Ian had stood in Kingsridge Square for a few hours, and nothing all too interesting had occurred. He and his friend Brom Reinford were both city guards, although Ian had ascended to the rank of corporal, making him the technical leader of the squadron. Their assignment to the square typically meant one thing– waiting. Waiting in the milling crowd of yelling citizens. Waiting for someone, anyone to commit a crime no matter how small it may seem. It had been hours of nothing but false alarms and merchant rivalry for the previous few hours of their duty. Brom leaned on the hilt of his sword making small clicking noises with his tongue as they stood together. Ian’s head swivlied as he attempted to take in everything that was happening around him before Brom touched his shoulder lightly. Ian glanced towards his friendly boredly as Brom pointed out a scene happening just a couple of yards from where they stood. There was a small market stall that held both a citizen and a merchant next to it. The merchant seemed to be shouting and pointing towards the pockets of the man, who held a wine bottle that was clearly from his stall due to the similarities in design. The citizen looked like he was angry at the entire world, and especially at the merchant for one reason or another. He wore a cheap cotton shirt and brown pants, the kind of outfit that might be ordinary to a lowly paid laborer. The worrying part was that he held a small scabbard at his side, looking large enough to hold a dagger. Although it was not strictly against the law to hold weapons on your person in Carteria, guards typically took a special notice of you as a precaution. Brom glanced to Ian with an eyebrow raised, and they both hurried towards the stall, pushing their way through the curious crowd and towards the small, even makeshift looking stall. No city guard ever wanted a situation to end up with somebody getting stabbed, especially a merchant. As they reached the stall, the shouts could be heard more clearly now.

“You’re going to pay for your drink and you’re going to like it! Hand over the coin you owe me!” The merchant yelled, pointing an accusing finger at a bottle of his cheapest wine that the man held in his hand. The figure replied indignantly.

“I already pay, you scum! Stop taking me over!” Although the man spoke common, it was broken and had a very strong accent to it. Foreigners… Ian thought with a groan as he moved closer, placing a hand on the foreign man’s shoulder.

“Oi, you!” Ian started, but the man turned on him quickly, shoving a finger at his chest.

“What you want?” He snapped in his broken common, and Ian glared at him before continuing.

“What I want is for you to pay this merchant the money you owe him. Plus some for your attempt at swindling this honest man!” The merchant’s eyes lighted up at the appearance of the guards, and he nodded enthusiastically at the defense of his wares. He quickly straightened from the leaning position on the small, hay filled cart that he transported his wares in and shoved a finger back at the man.

“Aye! Pay what you owe me! Some of us like to make honest livings, and I’m still missing one ‘o my copper coins!” He said, suddenly spurred onto the argument against the man with two city guards taking his side. Ian inwardly smiled at the merchant calling his profession honest considering the lengths that people like them go through in order to make just a coin or two more, but continued to stare at the foreign man with a grim expression on his face. At this point, Brom had showed up, and noticed the foreign man fingering the hilt of his weapon dangerously.

“Leave it,” Brom growled to the greasy haired man, and he looked between the two armed guards, seemingly gauging his chances if a fight broke loose. As he saw that the two armored guards would easily defeat him, he reached into his pocket. Brom grasped his weapon tighter at the possibility of the man pulling out another weapon, but he simply pulled out two copper bits. He spat at the feet of the guardsmen with contempt before dropping the two copper coins on the ground and storming away, the cheap bottle of wine in tow. The merchant glared angrily after the man before his face turned to amusement as he moved to the front of the stall. With a small grimace, he stooped over and plucked up the two copper bits from the cobbled ground. As he moved back behind his stall he gave a dry laugh, reassuming his leaning position on the handcart.

“I must thank you, Guardsmen,” He said, his voice sounding grateful now as opposed to the hostile tone that he had taken on in an attempt to intimidate the would-be thief. He continued, “You don’t know how often something like this happens… Too bad all guards aren’t as attentive as you,” he said absent-mindedly. He quickly looked up to Ian and Brom, worried he’d offended either of them with his remark. Neither of them seemed to notice his deterioration of the guard force, and he continued slowly. “You get used to triple-checking the coins before you sell something to anybody, no matter how trustworthy they make themselves look. Speaking of which, I appreciate this extra coin you got for me,” the merchant continued, holding up one of the two copper coins between his thumb and forefinger. Ian opened his mouth to speak, but Brom spoke before Ian could.

“Well, that’s why we’re here,” He said cheerily, and the merchant nodded slowly.

“Yes, yes… I suppose you are,” he said, averting his eyes from the two guards in an attempt at finalizing the conversation. In his mind, even if the guards earned him an extra coin there was more money to be made from other customers rather than gossiping with members of the guard force, who tended to appear threatening when they stood afront a stall or storefront. The merchant was an older man, his hair black and graying. His face was wrinkled and it was easy to see he was not the smiling type. For being on one of the higher tiers of Carteria, the stall seemed quite makeshift. It was little more than wooden crates arranged in the pattern of a counter with four dark wooden poles holding up an uncolored canvas awning. The poles of wood appeared to be cut by an inexperienced woodsman, Ian thought, as he recalled the smooth cuts that his father made when he lived in the forest. Atop the crates, bottles of wine were placed carefully on the crates in a pre-arranged pattern that showed off the most of his wares to the public. In the handcart he leaned on, extra drinks sat in case he needed to reconfigure his displays. The bottles themselves were rather simple, but the labels that tied around them drew their attention with beautifully drawn sketches of grapes and other popular winemaking products. Strangely, the man’s clothing seemed to be exquisite for such a poorly crafted stall, and one in Kingsridge Square at that. With the square being the centralized market in the town, rents of stall space was expensive, and couldn’t be afforded by most commoners. The merchant caught Ian eyeing himself and the stall and pretended not to notice, suddenly intrigued by one of the bottles of wine that was closest to him. Brom caught Ian’s glance too, asking the merchant the question that was on the tip of Ian’s tongue.

“What’s with the shoddy appearance?” He asked without any regard for the merchant himself. The older man sighed and placed the bottle of wine he was inspecting down.

“I’ve got a winery on the outskirts of town. I only come here to sell my wine and only pay for the day I stay here,” he glanced at Brom again, and responded indignantly, as if he had only just heard his remark about the shoddy stall. “And I most deeply apologize that I’m not lugging a market stall up this hill each week.” Brom simply shrugged at this, and the merchant gave them a wave that seemed to reek of finality. Ian quickly stepped in before Brom could say anything more.

“Well then. We’d better get going now and make sure nobody else pulls the wool over some other–” He paused before saying the word ‘poor’, and reorganized his thoughts as the wine seller stared at him with narrowed eyes, “–merchants eyes,” Ian finished, and the merchant gave him a dubious harrumph before turning to watch a women who had just walked up and was scanning a selection of his brews. As they turned away from the stall, Brom’s face turned to a small frown.

“How rude! I just asked a simple question!” He said in a far-too-loud voice as they continued to walk away from the stall. Ian noticed the merchant give a withering glance towards Brom and Ian sighed. Then Brom spoke a question that was unrelated to the merchant, “What’s with this strange silence?” He asked Ian, and his friend gave a small shrug, his brow furrowed.

“I suppose we should go find out,” he replied, walking towards the most silent area of the square. Finally, they saw why the crowd had became suddenly quiet and whisper-filled. Lord Halmar had just began to walk through the square, and the crowds seemed to part as if a giant hand were guiding them. A woman and three kids walked away from the empty space in the square looking quite shaken, and Ian and Brom slowly made their way towards the front of the crowd to check for anyone who may pose a threat to the nobleman as he walked past. Ian also noted that Pat and Jake were also on the other side of the crowd performing the same duty. The crowd started closing once Lord Halmar had gone through their sector of the square, like water being drawn to a hole dug in the sand. He nodded to the citizens watching him in awe. Lord Halmar’s mouth twitched in a small smile as he saw the guardsmen watching over him, and waved politely to the groups of guards who were watching the square. Some members of the crowd turned to see the relatively unimpressive city guards, turning back to Lord Halmar nearly instantly, for he was the more interesting figure of the lot. Throughout the crowd, a light jangling noise sounded pleasantly, and Ian looked to his left and right in an attempt to pinpoint the foreign sound. Eventually, he shrugged and gave a wave back to Lord Halmar, nudging Brom to join in. Eventually, the path that Lord Halmar had cleared was filled back up as milling citizens went back to their shopping, and Lord Halmar was lost to sight in the sea of merchants, citizens, and the gentry. Ian and Brom turned back to the square without a second glance, and moved towards the usual position that they took up during guard duty in the square. They noticed another squad of guardsmen speaking to another merchant who appeared to be distraught, and shrugged. Four would most certainly be enough to handle whatever issue was occurring. They both shrugged off the encounter on the other side of the square, and continued to scan the crowd under the fluttering crest of Aedon.

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