Lake Merrin: Chapter One.

Twenty-third of Harvest, 1007 FK

Within two weeks I will be on the front line. How has it come to this? I have made a name for myself in the Hall, and now we are heading to war to end all wars. Looking back at my life, it would be best for me to write it down, as it could help people understand. I regret so many things: friends dying, losing the love of my life, and most of all, meeting that monster Zlata!

Well, the best thing to do is start when it all began, just two years ago, when I came to Lake Merrin. Back then I was a nobody and all I cared about was money, women, and grog. How things change …

Five years as a conscript, five years of patrols, five years of marching, five years of beans and gruel. Now I am free to live my life, free to live how I want. Oh Mela, what am I going to do?

My real dilemma is that I am being cornered on a daily basis by a large local gang, demanding my money. Then they turn around and lend me money so I can survive. Not much I can do. Unless you are a knight, in the military, or a registered Adventurer, the law doesn’t protect you. They are the only ones allowed to carry arms or wear armour.

What are my options? Become a registered Adventurer? Then I could head west to the Western City States, or I could find work with the University of Engineers or even the College of Magi—that’s where the real money is. I could make a name for myself and have a reputation as good as one of those famous bands, like the Travellers of the Road or the Thief-takers.

My mind is made up—off to the Hall!

I move down Dock Street, which leads onto Fish Lane. Love the imagination of this town. Being right on the docks, of course it is called Dock Street. At least this morning there is no rotten fish smell. That’s usually what you get living here in Lake Merrin.

As I turn into Fish Lane, there was Malik and his Dock Boys. Damn it, I still owe him money. When you fantasise about making soup out of your boots, any money from any source is acceptable. You accept ‘help’ and damn the consequences.

If I make a run for Route Street, they might not notice me.

“Look what we have here, boys.”

Malik, that son of a thankless goat! Even with his steel grey hair and stubbled face, he is still a young-looking man.

“Where you be going, me boyo? Don’t you owe me boys some money, and interest to boot? Jimmy, how many slips does this fine gentleman owe us?”

Jimmy is Malik’s second, and as black hearted as his rotting teeth. I’m not sure what sewage pipe he spawned from but he smells like he looks.

Jimmy starts to speak and I am nearly knocked out by his putrid breath. “Boss-man, this white-bred owes you three gold slips, eight silver, and five copper, plus forty percent,” he says, smiling at Malik.

Damn, damn, damn! That’s everything I have on me. Most of it was going to pay for my registration in the Hall today.

“Come on, boyo, cough up now or … well, I don’t need to tell you what will happen.”

Surrounded by these grinning fools, my stomach rebels at the rancid smell of their tightly packed bodies. Need room to think. Wish I was a more quick-witted person. Just need some more breathing room. Where, where?

Looking around, I see a Watch patrol walking towards me. Oh, what luck! The Trinity smiles upon me today!

Starting to slowly move toward the patrol. “Malik, I understand that you might have felt that I have been giving you the slip on paying my dues, but as you can see I am a poor man and do not wish for any trouble—”

With that, I do what army men call a ‘tactical retreat’, which in layman’s terms is running away.

The closer I am to the patrol, the quicker Malik isn’t a problem. Now they come into sight. Oh no, it was Zlata Madyson! Such a corrupt bitch! She would pin me down, allow these lads to kick me within an inch of my life, then throw me in jail and call me a public nuisance.

Being a half-breed like Zlata, I can understand what it feels like to be hated by your non-Elven parent. My father was a merc who knocked up my mother during those magical two weeks of fertility with Elves—and voila, me.

Zlata is a half-breed I don’t easily recognise. She is broad, tall, and tanned, with a ‘cute’ upturned nose. I wish she wouldn’t take her aggression out on me all the time—we are both half-breeds!

Saying a quick prayer to the Trinity, I turn left, jump a fence, run down an alley, turn right, and cross another street into—damn it—a dead end. Should this be called Dead-End Place?

When will it be my lucky day?

Three Dock Boys have been close on my tail. I am not sure of their names. They run down the side street and corner me. The grinning brute in the middle is first to speak. “It seems you took a wrong turn!” This gets a laugh out of the other two.

“Come on, dung-head, give us your money and we’ll let you off with just a beating!”

A beating? “And if I don’t?”

I leave the question hanging. Another of the Dock Boys responds, with a warbling voice to match his pinched rat-like face, “Well, you see, we might just kill you a bit.”

Another laugh.

Help me, Trinity, these thugs are some sort of street jesters.

“So you are saying that if I give you money, I get a beating. If I don’t, you are going to kill me a little bit. I know this is a stupid question, but how do you kill someone a bit?”

They look at me and draw their knives. Lucky me, they will just go ahead and show me. Such a fortuitous day!

“Okay, okay, let’s slow this down. I really don’t need to see what being killed a little bit looks like,” I laugh nervously. “I have some of the money. I’m heading off—”

The last one interrupts. He is about as pretty as my morning movement. (Yes, now they have all spoken. I wonder if I win a prize … I hope it’s not a stabbing.) “Well, dung-head, I don’t think Malik would be happy with a part payment. We will have to bring him your ear, nose, and … say, one of your hands as well. How does that sound?”

With the other two drawing knives, I think to myself, I’m such a dead man! This dead end is hopefully not my end.

A glint of metal—I sense it more than I see it. Throwing myself out of the way, the brute still manages to stab me! Not feeling the trickle of blood or light of head, I realise it must have been blocked by the Jack of Plate—my wonderful armour!

The brute boasts, “See, boys, he is quaking in his boots! Dung-head, you got lucky that time—”

Seeing an opening, I lunge, smashing the side of his head with a hammer-like strike. He falls to the ground in a stunned heap. Seeing the other two, I growl at them, hoping to scare them off. They counter my growl with more intimidating noises, akin to alley cats fighting over a five-day-old fish.

Drawing my knife. No time to think. It is time for me to go on the attack. Ratface jumps over his comrade at me! Foolish. Something the Sergeant taught me flashes in my mind: ‘Always have your feet on the ground!’

Moving forward, I take his attack on my forearm and return a straight stab to his gut. That’s right, piggy, squeal!

Standing over the two fallen foes, I point my knife at the last. Heart racing but my knife hand is steady. I show no apparent weakness. I ask him, “So, are you going to use that or just stand there pissing yourself?” I see his raw anger. I don’t care, if he accepts the bluff!

Backing off, he says, “Okay, dung-head, you win this one. But next time I won’t go easy on you!” He quickly turns and runs away.

That was close. So this is what luck feels like. I assess the cut on my forearm. Need to patch this up. It’s not too deep, that’s good. Just a piece of cloth to tie it off.

Looking at the two on the ground, I wonder what they have on their persons. Rubbing my hands together. Spoils of war and all. Two good knives and some slips. Such a lucky day. Enough to pay off Malik and a little more to get a room so I’m not stabbed while I sleep. Just have to figure out a way to pay Malik without being killed in the process.

At least I’m not too far away from Route Street, so I can get back onto Market. My heart is racing too much for me to go into the idiotic naming of the streets. I mean, really! Market to Route, then Fish, and finally Dock. Oh well.

Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Glossary 

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