Mystara: The Journey...
Rogue Extraordinaire (Lost in the Altan Tepes)
“So, you want to know my story?” he said, twirling his well-groomed moustache with one hand while clutching a half-drained beer mug with the other.
“Well then, I’ll tell you. I was born the youngest of five, two of whom were brothers, making me third in line to the throne. It was difficult to shine, but I knew I was meant for great things. I knew my time would come…”
“I thought you said you grew up in a fisherman’s village?”
“You said you were a fisherman’s son. Where do thrones come into it?”
Alexi assessed his audience. Three grizzled looking travelers, one of whom appeared to have already passed out. The two who were still awake didn’t look particularly impressed either, and one of them was exceptionally large. Not for the first time, he wondered if perhaps he should have joined a different table.
“I was being poetic. Now, as I was saying…life wasn’t easy for a fisherman’s son, but I was clearly meant for great things, and I knew that if I just put my head down and worked hard…”
“Fishermen don’t have thrones” muttered the big fellow, glaring at him.
“Yes, thank you, we’ve established that…”
“What’s the biggest catch you ever hauled?” said the other listener, scratching a beard that made Alexi feel itchy around the chin just by looking at it. Catch? Hauled? What was he prattling on about?
“Hauled? Well, uh, we were fishermen, you see. We hunted fish, in the sea and such”
“Yes, so you said. Just so happens I have some experience in that area. So how much fish did you haul on average?”
Why did he keep using the word ‘haul’, thought Alexi. He makes it sound like such hard work. Then again, that’s probably why I kept sneaking off into the woods whenever my father and brothers went out to sea, he reminded himself.
“Well, you see, our fishing rods were quite small, so we could only…er…‘haul’ so much. It was a hard life, but I knew that the whole village was counting on me to…”
“Rods?! What are you on about? You use nets to haul fish, you fool”
He did remember his father having a net of some kind. In fact, now that he thought about it, he could remember his father saying something about ‘hauling fish’ as well. ’We’ve been out hauling fish all day while you’ve been napping in the woods, you lazy good for nothing…’ or something along those lines, usually while chasing Alexi around the village and looking very angry. Yes, it was all starting to make sense now.
“Sorry, yes, nets. We had lots of nets. We used to haul fish all day…I can’t remember how much because, well, it was never enough, as far as I was concerned. No, never enough. My mother kept begging me to take a break and let someone else do the work for once, but not me, no. Too many people were counting on me, I couldn’t let them down.”
“I had to leave them eventually though. You know, meant for great things and all.” He downed his ale, and winked at the bar maid as she arrived with the next round.” So when the day of the shearing ceremony arrived, I left to seek fame and fortune.”
“Was it hard saying goodbye to your friends and family?” gushed the bar maid as she set the tray down on the table.
Goodbye? There was no time to say goodbye, thought Alexi. It was the bloody shearing ceremony. They were going to make me cut my hair.
“Oh, very hard. My sisters cried and cried and cried” he said. The big fellow was looking angrier by the second. “ I was the one who protected them, you see, whenever my brothers picked on them. I may have been smaller than all the other children, but I could fight like a lion when defending a damsel in distress” He tried to push the memories of being beaten up by his sisters out of his mind.
“So where did you go?”
“Well, there just so happened to be a merchant vessel in town, whose captain knew me well from all the evenings I had spent drinking with him and his crew in the dockside tavern…”
“Your father let you drink with sailors?” said the bearded one who seemed to know so much about fish. Alexi didn’t like the suspicious look those beady eyes were giving him . He decided to leave out the part about sneaking aboard the merchant vessel while its crew was passed out drunk in the tavern.
“Well, he wasn’t happy about it to be sure, but the sailors requested, nay, insisted on my presence. The captain, dazzled by my wit and intelligence, offered to take me on as an apprentice.”
“Once on board though, I discovered that the captain was not the man I thought he was. He was a ruthless, twisted individual; and he made me do things. Such terrible things” Alexi shuddered, remembering how the captain had cruelly forced him to perform manual labour. ‘Such is the fate of stowaways’ he had said, pointing at the filthy floor and handing him a cloth. The evil, evil bastard.
“Fortunately, we were intercepted by a pirate vessel. They slaughtered most of the crew, and would surely have killed me; but the pirate leader, impressed by my dazzling wit, offered to take me on board as an apprentice”. That part was at least partially true. The pirate leader had looked rather amused by how quickly Alexi had surrendered and offered to tell them where the booty was hidden. Anything was better than scrubbing floors.
“Pirate leaders don’t have apprentices…” muttered the bearded fellow. His big friend just glared even harder.
“This one was prepared to make an exception in my case, and he taught me how to fight. He knew I had it in me to be a leader of men, you see.” Alexi had quite enjoyed the pirate’s life. Lots of excitement with very little work. But Berric the Black Heart had been a rather unpredictable, scary fellow; even for a pirate. The man had brutally executed two first mates, and made the ship’s cook walk the plank because he overcooked his dinner.
“He was a good teacher, but the time finally came to part ways” Alexi continued, trying not to think about that horrible night in Specularum, when he had decided that Berric had finally gone too far. “I said my goodbyes, and the old pirate grasped my hand firmly and said ’you’ll always be welcome on the high seas, whelp’. Whelp was his affectionate nickname for me, you see”
“Do you think you’ll ever see him again?” asked the bar maid.
Hopefully not, he thought; remembering the look on Berric’s face when he realized the whelp had sold him out to law enforcement. Thankfully Alexi had managed to slip away just in time to avoid any repercussions.
The big fellow appeared to have had enough. He slammed his fist on the table and stood up. “You tell tall tales”, he said, paused for a few moments, then added, “but you’re not tall”.
Alexi got the impression the oaf had intended to say something clever, but failed. He sprung into fighting stance, extremely quickly and rather heroically, if he might say so himself. “Well, you know what they say. The bigger they are, the harder they fall” and with that, he kicked the thug hard in the shins.
The thug stared back at him, unmoved. Damn, that usually works. As he was pondering what to do next, he heard a smash, and managed to duck out of the way just as the giant pillock slumped unconscious at his feet. The bar maid stood behind him triumphantly, clutching a broken beer jug.
This was probably a good time to leave. “Thank you, darling. I really wasn’t in the mood to make some poor woman a widow tonight. Here’s for your trouble, and another round of drinks for my friends here” He tossed the wench a shiny silver coin. It flew over her head.
“Are we going now?” she said, gazing at him cow-eyed.
He must have been more drunk than he realized. It sounded almost as if the waitress had used the word ‘we’, in reference to the two of them. “Don’t you remember last night?” she said, in response to his confused expression. “You told me you’d take me with you on your adventures, and show me the world! You said you’d never met a woman like me!”
Oh, shit, thought Alexi. He heard someone snigger behind him.
“Er, yes, of course” He suddenly remembered that his room had a window, not too far from ground level. “Yes, well, let me just go collect some provisions. We have a long journey ahead of us…”
A few days later, at a different tavern…
“Alexi, I presume? So glad to finally make your acquaintance.”
Alexi was impressed. The new arrival was more well dressed than his usual contacts.
“Likewise. Fancy a drink?” He signaled one of the waitresses, but the man waved her away.
“I do, but not the watered-down sludge they serve here. Truth be told, I normally prefer to frequent higher end establishments, but we felt it best to conduct our first meeting in an environment less threatening to yourself. I assure you that our next conversation will take place in somewhat more appropriate surroundings. Assuming you accept our offer, of course”
“And what offer would that be”
“Well, I’ll be frank with you. You weren’t our first choice. We had someone entirely different in mind for your position”
“What happened to him?”
“A friend of yours knocked him unconscious with a beer jug”
Ha, small world, thought Alexi. “Sorry about that. Slight misunderstanding.”
“It certainly appeared that way. I was there, you see. We prefer to assess potential employees from a distance before making an approach, and I have to say that in this case, our subject was a massive disappointment.
“You, on the other hand, were rather impressive. Quick, cunning, with a penchant for the theatrical. All qualities that my employer appreciates. He also appreciates the ability to take an opponent off guard, and you are one who definitely invites low expectations at first glance.”
Alexi, who had been liking what he was hearing for the most part, frowned at that last bit. What the bloody hell was that supposed to mean?
“No offense intended, of course. We’ve done our research. Smallest lad in your village, picked on by your older siblings, and I dare say even your sisters would have made better fishermen. But you’ve managed to weasel your way through life nonetheless, and even become somewhat useful with a weapon in the process. My employer respects that kind of perseverance.”
Alexi leaned back and put his feet on the table. “All true, of course. But being pretty can only get you so far. At the end of the day, it’s the size of your pockets that really counts, isn’t it”
The mysterious guest grinned, leaned forwards, and extended his hand. “On that point, at least, you and my employer would be in firm agreement. So do we have a deal?”
Well, thought Alexi as he shook the man’s hand; it seemed things were about to get a lot more interesting.