Hargus Hurryhouse Adventures - Book 1, Chapter 1
n most nights, the Enchanted Jackal Pub is a busy, often raucous tavern, bringing together all manner of Arnathian denizens. From craftsman to the royal family, orcs to humans, all manner of patrons are welcomed and served. But every twelve weeks or so, the Jackal overflows with recent graduates of the nearby academies. From the Royal Guard Academy of Orsholon to the Legal and Medical Academies, graduates come to the Jackal to celebrate. Add in the celebration of the Ritual of the Craft at the same time, and the tavern fills to overflowing.
On this particular night, owner Elindine Raelle was preparing for the rush of students after the promotion ceremonies. It was a rare, quiet moment at the Jackal, with many of the Orsholon City folk either attending or participating in the events around the city.
Tonight would be busy. Very busy. And it would give Elindine the best opportunity to find someone to recruit for Hargus Hurryhouse.
Hargus had stopped by earlier in the week. Hargus needed a favor, and Elindine was more than happy to help, but Hargus did not elaborate. Elindine and Hargus had a long history helping each other, and many rumors had flown about regarding their relationship. These rumors suited Elindine just fine, as having a connection to Hargus could only help her.
As she checked to be sure the bar was well-stocked and the glassware ready for the coming onslaught of patrons, Fazius Argenta made his way through the front door. Fazius was a small, quiet fellow, but he exuded a confidence and air of reality that gave the impression of a much larger man. He was a close friend and companion of Hargus, and was the quickest way to get Hargus a message.
"Good afternoon, E. Preparing for the thirsty hordes?"
Elindine smiled. "E" was her nickname to virtually any who had met her. She couldn't remember a time when she hadn't been called E.
"Faz, welcome! Yes, I expect we'll see them start to straggle in within an hour or two. I have the cooks working feverishly, making pasties to feed the masses. They might have a few ready - if you'd care to do quality control..."
She laughed and was about to call out to have one brought, but Faz stopped her.
"I'd love to, but I'm here on business. Hargus requires a few adventurers, say three or four, for some jobs he needs done. One is related to the young man that was being hunted by the dwarves last week. Have any in mind?"
E was good at reading between the lines. "So, you need some muscle, but prefer they not be too well-known. Is that it?"
"In a nutshell, yes," replied Faz.
"I'm sure I can find a few 'volunteers' for you. Where's Hargus?" she asked.
"I can't say."
E laughed. "You mean you won't say."
Faz looked away, smiling. "is there a difference?"
"How should I let you know who I find?"
Faz was getting up to leave. "Convince them all that Lawcrane is where they want to be. We should be able to take it from there."
E prodded. "So Hargus is in Lawcrane, is he?"
Faz's smile grew. "I didn't say that. I said you need to convince your recruits that THEY need to go there. I'll see you later E." And with that, Faz walked out into the sunlight.
E chuckled. She knew he was the best way to connect with Hargus, but usually on something like this, Hargus came himself. He had a room upstairs, he could just scope out the potential recruits himself. She thought to herself, "He must be busy. Probably something to do with that kid."
The afternoon was moving along, and the crowd starting to build. She took her spot at the corner booth and waited to see what the cat dragged in.
It wasn't long before the first of the ceremonies had completed and the new cadets from the Royal Guard Academy started to filter in. The Jackal was located just north of the castle walls and extremely close to the Academy. It was a natural to fill up first. A small coterie of cadets were the first group to enter the pub, laughing and haranguing each other mercilessly. They took up the long table in the pub's main room, and E began to give them a look.
The group began to get louder, as a bunch of cadets are wont to do, but E's keen eye told her when the perfect time was to step up and ask "What can we get you?"
The loudest of the cadets had no problem speaking for all of them. "A round of your best ale, E! For me and my friends!"
"A round it is, then, Angus...I'll be right back." E headed to the bar to draw the ale. As she poured into blackglass steins, she watched the table. They were a boisterous bunch for the most part, but one stood out. He sat straighter, spoke less, and had a more serious look about him. This might be her first recruit.
Carrying six steins as if they were feathers, she set them down on the table. "Angus, where's your manners? Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?"
"Aw come on now, E! Ya know most of 'em. That's Stormy to my right, and ya know Harold. Then there's Caudill, and on this side is Forty and down there is Ag." Angus leans in toward E. "His name is Agnese. He hates when we call him Ag, so we do it anyway".
E looked Agnese straight in the eyes. "Congratulations Agnese."
Agnese returned the gaze. "Good evening, ma'am".
Angus roared "MA'AM???" and let out a massive laugh that shook the room. "E might as well be my sister!"
"Shush Angus!" said E chuckling. "The man has manners, something you might try sometime". This brought a laugh from the rest of the table, even a smile from Agnese. "Drink up, cadets, this round's on me!"
A look about the pub showed the other ceremonies must have been wrapping up, as the crowd was becoming more varied and greater in number. The Ritual of the Craft must have finished as the number of craft guilders was quickly outnumbering the cadets in the room. The next set of groups seemed to have attended the promotions at the Uskkalu School for Magic Arts, given the long robes and ornate symbols on their garb. Then came the Legal Academy and the Medical Academy. As expected, the Jackal was packed and rowdy, with the drink flowing, pasties flying out of the kitchen, and a good time being had in general. E had already identified one potential candidate. And now, she had plenty more to choose from.
Beivalur was proud of his achievement. The first of his tribe to attend a source of higher education, the first healer to learn the medical and magic arts. Without a doubt, his success was something to be celebrated.
Nonetheless, he felt out-of-place, a stranger among his classmates. Beivalur came from a tribe that lived in the Northern Reaches of the Rinzeremel Mountains. Before the Cataclysm, their people had been in training for high-altitude, low-temperature survival, mainly for recreational exploring. They were above the blast zone when the explosion happened, and watched the pressure wave run right up to the base of the mountains from the Muioqa Desert. The winds that came up the mountain took down many of their encampments, and killed a great number as they were literally blasted off mountains and into crevasses. The few who survived became the seed of the culture known as the Mosae. Because of the conditions, only those who were sturdier, bigger, and with higher tolerance survived. They did not have anyone else to fight, just the elements. They found high caves, built ice domes, and scaled into crevasses to create homes. They practiced fighting amongst themselves to keep fit enough to fight off any wild animals that made their way into the Mosae dwellings. Their endurance was conditioned on the thin air at high altitudes. They were exceptionally fit and formidable opponents.
But they did not desire dominance. They did not seek to annex land. They sought only to survive.
Part of that desire meant that every member of a tribe had to have a purpose, had to carry their weight. Whether a hunter who brought food back for the tribe, a builder who kept the tribes' dwellings intact, or a warrior whose job was to keep the tribe safe, your place in the tribe was based directly on your value to the tribe, what you were able to contribute.
So when Beivalur, as a young man, did not want to be a warrior, or a hunter, he struggled to find a way to serve the tribe. He was always looking to learn, to grow his intellect. And in his readings, he began to learn some of the ways of the healers. Beivalur was fascinated by the idea of bringing better health to his tribe and perhaps saving lives. He asked the tribal leader if he could go to Orsholon City to learn the higher skills of medical arts, and to Beivalur's surprise, the tribal leader agreed.
Four years later, here he was standing outside the Enchanted Jackal Pub. He had come with a group of his classmates, but he did not feel like one of them. Many of them were looking to go out and use their skills to build a fortune. But Beivalur's interest was more mundane. He was looking to increase his skills and to do so by traveling and using his healing skills until he was experienced enough to truly help his tribe. These were his classmates, but not exactly his peers.
They all entered together, but Beivalur made his way to a surprisingly empty stool at the far end of the bar. He still had the thick blood of his people, and getting too near a fireplace was uncomfortable.
He ordered a cool drink, a fermented tea that had been stored in the cellar for two weeks. It had an herbal flavor with a bit of a kick. It reminded him of the teas in his home village. He sipped quietly. A bard was playing historical celebratory tunes at the opposite end of the pub. He found himself humming the tunes along with the performer when he heard a softer voice.
"You're a long way from home, my Mosae friend. You're wearing a sash from the Medical Academy. That's rare for the tribes. Allow me to buy you that drink." E had picked him out almost immediately by his size. And the fact that he had graduated medical school might make him an even more valuable asset.
"Many thanks, kind lady. I am sorry. I have been here before but I do not know your name. I am Beivalur" he said.
"And I am Elindine Raelle. You don't seem as excited as the others for your commencement."
"I only seek to continue my learning through experience, Raelle". The Mosae called all but the closest non-Mosae by their last names as a form of respect. "My tribe deserves for me to return as the best possible healer I can be, and I do them an injustice if I do not garner more experience."
"I understand" said E. "Very honorable and admirable. Will we be able to call on you here in Orsholon? It would be good to have a healer of altruistic mindset in this city."
"Unfortunately, good Raelle, I leave in the morning. I have heard there is a need for healers in Lawcrane."
E's ears perked up. "Lawcrane? Yes, it can be kind of rough there. Do you have a position lined up there?"
Beivalur shook his head. "No, but given the need, I surmised that it would not be too difficult".
"You know, I have some acquaintances in Lawcrane that practice the healing arts. I would be happy to give you a letter of introduction. I can write one up in a few minutes. At least you'll have a head start." E was focused on recruiting Beivalur.
The big man's eyes grew imperceptibly larger. He knew of her reputation, and E had many connections around the kingdom. Her word was as good as gold. "I could not ask for such a generous favor". He couldn't believe that just came out of his mouth.
"It's no trouble at all! For someone who has obviously worked hard to achieve his commencement, it's the least I can do!"
Beivalur could barely get out a polite "Thank you." E turned and excused herself, promising to return shortly. As she did, she thought to herself "Halfway there."
E made her way into the kitchen so that she could enter the meeting room undetected. As she approached the door to the meeting room, she could hear voices. There should have been no one in the room. The doors into the pub were locked, and the VIPs who knew the back way in always let her know if they were coming for safety reasons.
She drew her dagger, a long, bejeweled, and extremely sharp weapon that she was quite adept at wielding. She unlocked the door quietly, and slowly cracked it open. She needn't have worried. In the room were a young woman and a recent craft graduate completely absorbed by each other on one of the couches. The noises she had heard were giggles and expressions of pleasure from the two of them. They hadn't even noticed E until she was well into the room and cleared her throat.
They were so startled that they fell off the sofa onto the hardwood floor, their eyes wide with shock and embarrassment, although truth be told, he looked quite a bit more embarrassed than she did.
E spoke up. "I would ask what you are doing in here, but the answer seems a bit obvious. E watched them both. The young man couldn't meet her gaze, staring at this feet. The young lady, however, had a sly smirk on her face. She had just been caught fooling around in a room that was supposed to be locked, and she thought it was funny. "I suggest you two get out, now." She realized she still had the dagger in her hand, but it helped make the point.
The young man scrambled to his feet, apologizing as he made for the door. "Yes ma'am...sorry ma'am" and he grabbed the door handle struggling with the locked door. E walked quietly to the door and unlocked it, giving him a glare as he slinked out.
The young lady, however, was in no hurry to leave. E sheathed her dagger and looked at the remaining intruder. "Courtenay, I've warned you about this."
The young lady smiled. "Yeah, well, a girl's gotta have a little fun, right?"
E shook her head. "And what have I told you about picking locks out in the open? That pub is packed right now. Anyone could have seen you."
"But they didn't. I counted on it being too crowded for anyone to notice anything. You really should get better locks." Courtenay was proud of her skills. It showed.
E shrugged. "Why, so you can learn to pick those as well?" E's tone turned more concerned. "Look, you can't keep doing risky things just for the fun of it. You're going to get hurt. I worry."
Courtenay suddenly sounded defiant."You're not my mother. You're not even related. You're just someone who has some connections and you know who can get jobs done for you."
E recognized this tone. It was the "I know you're right, but I'm going to do it anyway" tone. But Courtenay's spunk was certainly an asset on many occasions, almost as much as it could be a danger in others. "You're right. I'm sorry, I'm not your mother. But I do worry. What are you planning to do now that classes are done?"
"Not sure. I think I need to get out of Orsholon City. I feel kind of stifled here. Maybe head to the coast or see what there is in Baduhm."
E bristled at the thought. In some ways, she felt like Courtenay was like a little sister. In other ways, she felt like Courtenay was an apprentice. She had certainly learned how to charm and finagle her way into and out of trouble. "Not sure that's a good idea, but I know you won't listen anyway. Just be careful".
"Yeah, fine." And with that Courtenay walked gave a quick snap of her wrist near the door lock and opened the door. As she made her way out, she called back "You still need new locks."
E closed the door behind Courtenay as she left, relocking it. Maybe she did need new locks.
"That one's a handful." E knew the voice that came from behind her.
"I thought you were in Lawcrane," E said as she turned around to face Hargus Hurryhouse.
"No... Faz told you to send your recruits there. How goes that process?"
"I've got two, need two more." E remembered why she came into the room in the first place.
"So Courtenay and who else?"
E looked puzzled. "I'm not sending her! She'll get herself into trouble before she leaves town!"
Hargus let loose a hearty belly laugh, and took a seat in the chair at the end of the meeting table. "and you don't think I"ll get them into trouble? You know me better than that!" He laughed again. "Put her on the list. That means you only need one more."
E was not going to argue with Hargus. He always got his way, one way or another. And he was usually right. "Fine. She's on the list. Now, why are you here? You could be doing this yourself and not taking up my time on the busiest night of the season?" She had no complaints helping Hargus out, she just liked to give him a little grief for fun.
"Let's just say that I'd like to keep my involvement in this quiet. It's for the safety of everyone involved."
E nodded. "Fair enough. You going to be around long?"
Hargus shook his head. "No. Sadly, there are other parts of this endeavor that require my attention. But I wanted to see how things were going and see you. Now come here and give me a hug."
This was, without a doubt, E's favorite part of Hargus' visits. A great big bear hug from a man she knew to have the heart to match the embrace. "Be careful, you big lunk."
Hargus laughed again, shaking E while he hugged her. "Why start now?". He made his way out the door toward the kitchen, and she could see him head upstairs. When did he get here? She followed out and then remembered she needed the referral for Beivalur. She moved back to the meeting table and wrote out a recommendation and letter of introduction. Once done, she headed back to hand it to Beivalur.
They stood in the corner, watching. Waiting. For what, they weren't sure. But they were used to moving through the shadows, remaining unnoticed. Their hooded robe hid their face, their form, which suited them just fine. No one needed to know who they really were, where they were from. And when the robe was removed, they could move around others completely conspicuously, with no one the wiser.
They had heard a tale of a young man who had been whisked out of town secretly and quite suddenly when a trio of dwarves had suddenly shown up in town looking to "talk" to him. And they had heard the proprietor of the Jackal might have had a hand in getting the young man out of Orsholon. Additionally, it was looking very likely that Hargus Hurryhouse had a hand in the young man's disappearance, but his intentions were unknown. What did he want with the young man? And was the young man safe?
Many questions. Not many answers. They kept an eye on the proprietor, watching who she talked to, who she was interacting with. They noticed that she would spend very little time with any single patron, with a few exceptions. She seemed to return to the large Mosae at the end of the bar. She also kept coming back to a very serious looking cadet, at least compared to his friends.
The proprietor had a reputation for being very well-connected and very discreet in her dealings. If she was spending a disproportionate amount of time with one or two patrons, there might be something being planned. They remained in the corner, observing.
They were startled when a voice whispered in their ear.
"You seem very interested in my activities. How can I be of help?"
"I apologize. I was... observing". Ninette would have to deal with the situation differently than planned.
"Yes, I could see that." E knew that she had caught this individual spying on her. But why? She also knew that letting the question sit there would bring out a level of discomfort that could help her jar some answers loose.
Ninette decided that going with the truth might actually work better for them. "I was trying to determine why, out of all the patrons, you favored only two. There are many here. But you singled out two."
E let a sly grin show. "You are very perceptive. What is your name perceptive observer?"
"I am called Ninette. And you are Elindine Raelle."
"Very good! I see you've done some research, although my name is no secret. So why, Ninette, such an interest in the operator of a tavern? Is it for your own interest? Or has someone sent you here?"
"You are very direct, Miss Raelle. No one has sent me here. I came on my own. I have heard that you may have had a hand in helping a young boy leave the city recently. I have an interest, shall we say, in ensuring the boy's safety."
"Well, I don't know what you've heard, but if I had helped a young man out of the city, I wouldn't tell a complete stranger about." E was good at reading people, but the dark shadows and the hooded robe draped across Ninette's face made it difficult to determine anything about them. Even so, E did not sense anything nefarious about Ninette.
"Of course. I would not expect anything different," replied Ninette.
"What did you expect?" asked E. She was prodding. On the one hand, she disliked the idea of being watched or monitored. On the other, it was done so well that she almost missed it. Skills like that might be useful. And their interest in the young man created a whole new connection to Hargus.
"I am not quite sure. Perhaps a slip or admission that you had helped. Many would use their assistance as a badge of honor or for leverage against someone else."
"You are quite perceptive, Ninette. So what is your interest in the young man?" Elindine continued to prod.
"Only that he remain safe. That is all." Ninette was not giving up information. Not to someone she still did not trust. E sensed the caution in Ninette's answer. She tried a different tack.
"If I did know something about what happened to him, and who might have more information, would that be of interest?"
Ninette eyed E warily. "It might. What would I have to do to obtain it?"
"Not much really. I believe the answers you're looking for are in Lawcrane. I am putting together a group of individuals that all have interests in Lawcrane. As a group, travel is safer and motives are less in question. Interested?"
Ninette was in an interesting predicament. They needed to find out what happened to the young man. But they always worked alone. Going with a group would allow them to observe more, but they were wary of trusting strangers. "I might be interested, depending on the group. Would it include the individuals you have been giving extra attention?"
"It might. Is that a problem?"
"Not necessarily. I usually travel alone, but your suggestion may be a wise one. Where in Lawcrane would I find these answers?" Ninette wanted to keep their focus on the task of ensuring the young man's safety.
E rested her hand on Ninette's shoulder. "All in good time, Ninette. For now, feel free to observe. When I have assembled a group, I will alert you." The hook had been set. All she needed to do was bring these individuals together.
Elindine was confident this group had enough varied skills and personalities to handle whatever it was that Hargus needed them to take care of. Her guess is that it involved the young man, and having at least one person who seemed to have a similar concern could be beneficial. Now she had to bring them together.
She had asked other patrons about the soldier. Agnese Oatspell, it appeared, was a very serious, very direct individual who was at the top of the Royal Guard Academy class. He was the type who would likely be made a member of the The Royal Shield, the Royal Guard's protective group for the Royal Family. Only the best of the Guard were ever chosen for one of these posts.
He was quietly ambitious and intensely focused on his task. This often made him appear humorless. But those who knew him would trust them with their lives in a moment's notice.
She would have to give him a solid reason for joining a group. She would have to appeal to his sense of leadership. She had been trying to charm him all evening, but it just wasn't getting much traction. But his sense of duty might have more leverage.
She had the barkeep pour a large tankard of ale and made her way to the table where Agnese was sitting. He had moved away from his rowdy - and bawdy - classmates, to the end of another table alone. The crowd had thinned a bit, but the other cadets were making up for the smaller crowd with their boisterous celebrating.
"Agnese, you aren't celebrating with your mates?"
"I am not a celebratory type, ma'am. There are things to be done and they will be useless in the morning."
"And what are you doing in the morning that keeps you from celebrating," she asked.
"I need to secure my next post. If I want to move beyond the rank of cadet, I need experience and I need to be under a command that can witness my growth. There are no posts here that are not already being filled."
Elindine understood. Far more cadets than there were posts. Most would end up just being guards or town law enforcement somewhere and no real visibility to the people who could help him move up in his career. He needed something that would give him visibility. And she had found her hook.
"Have you considered Lawcrane? There is an outpost there attached to the Royal Compound, and from what I hear, they could use someone who is good with his blade."
Agnese frowned. "I hear the ranks in Lawcrane are just as crowded as they are here. What's the point."
This was E's chance. "I just so happen to know the Captain of the Guard Post very well. I'm sure that if I sent a letter of recommendation, he would be more than happy to add you to his ranks."
A flash of anger shot across Agnese's face. "I don't NEED help getting into the ranks." His tone seethed.
"My apologies, Agnese. What I meant was that I could provide you with a letter of recommendation and that would allow you to at least meet with the captain and he can then assess your suitability for an assignment at the outpost." E was quick to correct the impression. She'd gotten this far, she wasn't going to give up just yet.
"I am sorry. I mistook what you said. Of course, if you were willing to make a recommendation to the captain, It would help open a door. But why would you? You barely know me."
"Oh, dear Agnese, your simply asking that question is a perfect example of why. You are a man of honor and your reputation and skill precedes you. Such an individual deserves the opportunity to prove himself worthy of a position in the Royal Guard. My, it would not surprise me to see you as a member of the Shield at some point." E seized the moment and set the hook deeper.
Agnese softened considerably. "I don't know if I deserve such praise, ma'am, but if you are willing to offer, it would be very rude and extremely stupid of me to refuse."
"Yes it would," replied E, and they both laughed. "Do you have any companions that might want to join you? I have a few patrons that are also heading to Lawcrane in the morning. Perhaps they might accompany you? And you could keep them safe?"
"I don't know about that. I like to move quickly and with a purpose. I'd prefer not." Agnese was tightening up again.
"Well, how about if I introduce you to them and you decide. They might be of assistance. If you are still uncomfortable, you can just go on your own."
Agnese considered the offer. He had no obligation to travel with anyone. But making camp would be easier with someone else to take a watch overnight. "Perhaps," he responded.
"Then I'll bring them over one at a time and see if there is a fit." E knew she would have to introduce them carefully to not make Agnese too uncomfortable with the idea.
She had a group to send out. Now, to make sure they fit. This was going to be a long night.
E stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. Overhead, she sensed a presence. Not malevolent, but watching. And she could swear she saw a shadow fly over from the corner of her eye. What it was, she didn't know. But she was sure it would not be the last time she saw it.