Synergy - June 1998
Sage Advice - Phil
(page 13/15)

Sage Advice

Lightning flashed illuminating the city, thunder rolled in the distance, the sound deadened by the noise of the rain striking the almost transparent pane of the window. His skeletal hand worked at unfastening the small bronze clasp that held the window shut.

'And to think that these hands were once strong enough to wield a blade,' thought the grey man as he watched his hand, skin now translucent with age, finally unfasten the clasp which was all that held the pane between him and the night outside. 'Now I can hardly lift a quill. Ahhh, the refreshing rain, cleaning this city for but the briefest of moments.'

"I've been told to bring up a nice warm cup of snem. Master!" cried the boy who had just entered the room carrying a small gilded tray, "Ms. Inarga has told you before 'the night air will be the death of you'" he said mimicking the housekeepers' stern voice "Come and sit by the fire, I'll close the window."

The old man turned, sighed and moved slowly, using the ornate bone-headed cane that he had lent against the wall by the window, towards the large fireplace. The sound of the metal lip of the cane striking the finely polished wooden floor echoed around the room. The boy having put the tray down moved to and closed the window before trying to give the old man a hand.

"No thanks Simil, I can manage by myself"
"I'll get you another cloak, the one you're wearing is damp."
"I know what you're thinking, 'the old fools got himself wet again, if he keeps doing it he'll kill himself'. Well I may be 121, hut I'm no fool, the rain is no danger - It's the cold that dampness can bring that's the killer, and this room is plenty warm enough for that not to happen." he said slipping the slightly damp cloak off his shoulders now hunched forward with age.

The fire roared in the open fireplace, the flames leaping and prancing over the pieces of wood in the hearth. He watched as they danced their dance for him, he watched the smoke swirling moving ever upwards and he smiled. "You're quite lucky, Simil. When I was your age I lived in the Grimwul district" he said smiling to the boy as he lowered himself slowly into the comfy chair in front of the fire. "The district is a lot better these days, but I still would not go into there after dark. Like much of the old quarter poverty and crime is rife, I know you've probably heard terrible stories about the place - everyone there is a cut-purse or a murderer. It is on the whole not true, they are just very poor."

The cup of watery green snem was getting cold on the small rosewood table by the chair's side. 'The problem with these fine bone china cups' he thought as he sipped the refreshing, but slightly bitter drink, 'is that they don't keep their contents warm, not like the wooden mugs I used as a young man.' The boy was sitting at a nearby desk sharpening a quill for use. 'He will make a fine scribe, but he needs to see more of the world to make him a man.'

"A hundred years ago only the very rich could afford windows that did not let the rain in. In Grimwul you thought yourself lucky if you had a roof over your head. Food and warmth were the two most important things to have because without them you died." The elderly scribe finished the rest of the snem and placed the cup back onto the table.

Even though it was nearly noon on a warm summers day, Fazial was cold, cold and hungry, he had not eaten for five days. There weren't many jobs for an unskilled thirteen year old boy around Sofil's market, but then there were more than there were in neighbouring Grimwul where he came from. Like most street boys he was thin and wore what clothes he could find. His hair brown, unkempt and matted partly obscured the sun from his eyes.

His stomach started to growl again, "Oh you're wanting feeding now I suppose" he said to himself He knew of course if he did not get some food soon he would start to get weak, and he knew of too many people who had died that way. So with much effort he got up out of the bricked up doorway which had been his home for the last three days and stepped out into the alley to look for food.

The alleyway was not very wide, it could just fit two people working side by side, but then only if they had one foot in the sewage course that ran down the centre of the street away from the market and towards Grimwul. He turned and walked towards the market, maybe today he would be lucky and find some discarded food or maybe he would be able to find a job to pay for some food.

If the alley that he had stayed in had been any closer than the two streets away that it was from the market, he would have been constantly reminded how hungry he was by the smell of food from the market - the smell of it even now was making him sick with hunger. Then he saw it, a brick of toftof bread lying on the floor. His mouth watered with the anticipation as he picked the sweet bread from the floor. He quickly tore from it the corner that had ended up in the channel and threw it back into the sewage it came from.

He rushed back to his doorway to eat the bread. He sat there in the doorways and tore a piece from the bread, its taste was divine. All too quickly however it was gone, but Fazial felt happy, life had been good to him today and his stomach was filled. He leaned back against the bricked doorway, stretched out his legs and day-dreamed about having enough food to be able to eat every day.

His day-dreaming was interrupted by a boy running past and tripping over his outstretched legs. The boy looked at Fazial with a face full of anger and hatred as he scrambled to his feet and continued to run down the alley towards Grimwul. Fazial would have gone back to day-dreaming had he not seen out the corner of his eye, as he leaned back, something flash. He bent forward to see what had caught his eye, sticking out of the filth flowing down the centre of the street was a brooch. Picking it up he wiped the mess from it and held it up to the light, it was not much bigger than Fazial's right thumb, quite ornate and gold. The two entwined golden serpent's scales glittered in the sunlight as he turned the brooch in his fingers, the red gem stone eyes sparkled as the light struck them. His eyes started to water with joy, he was rich, he had more money in his hand than he could have dreamed possible, today was his lucky day.

"Hey boy!" came a cry from behind, Fazial turned and saw a Huroon knight in chain armour and a garb of white and golden yellow coming down the alley towards him. Then it struck him, the brooch was stolen, not lost and he had it, and worse of all this knight who was looking for the thief had seen him holding it.

Fazial didn't want to lose a hand or worse for a crime he had not committed and he knew what he had to do - run.

"Stop there boy!" shouted the knight behind him, although he could hardly hear him over the sound of his heart which beat faster than his feet fell. He turned left and right running blindly, not knowing where he ran, cursing his bad luck with every step. Even though he was slightly faster than the knight who was slowed by the armour he wore, the knight had more stamina and Fazial was starting to tire.

Then he turned the corner and he knew he had made a big mistake, the alley ended in a wall. The knight was too close behind him, he was too tired and could not carry on running - he was caught for sure he thought, then he saw it. Just above street level to the left of the wall at the end was a small water chute, just large enough for him to climb up. He had done this many times in Grimwul, because he knew that some of the best places to sleep were not on the streets.

He sprinted for the end of the alley, even though his legs were jelly, he reached the end and climbed the wall beside the chute - the wall beneath it was covered with damp algae which would make the climb too dangerous, one slip and he would have no second chance to climb. His fingers slid across the old brick-work feeling for small indents and holes to climb with. He knew the knight was close, too close, but he tried to pay it no heed. He climbed the wall for what to him was an eternity, his concentration devoted only to the wall, then at last he reached the chute. All he could hear was the pounding his blood made as it pumped around his head and his attempts to draw breath. Without stopping he pulled himself into the chute and wedged himself between the two walls and moving one limb at a time he worked his way slowly up the chute. The water trickling down the green floor of the chute below to where the knight must have been, Fazial did not look back. He did not have to, the knight was too big to follow him, and besides he had to get to the top before his arms and legs gave way, and so could not afford to waste any time.

The chute opened onto the roofs of the nearby buildings, he climbed up and looked around trying to find out where exactly in the city he was. He could not see much as the view was blocked by nearby buildings, to his right a taller building was adjacent to the roof, so heart still beating a mile a minute and sweat running cold down his back he climbed. When he eventually got to the top he saw the most amazing vista he had ever seen, the city lay before him no longer obscured by the buildings around Grimwul. Steeples glowing golden in the sunlight, buildings towering so high they held the sky, and the size - he had never realised how big the city was. He could see the market and on the other side Grimwul, he had run right around the market area. He stood there for many minutes speechless.

When at last his heart had stopped feeling like it was trying to break from his chest and he had stopped shaking, he started to climb down. If he was going to move out of Grimwul he would need money, which meant going back to Grimwul to fence the brooch Since he wanted a roof over his head tonight, he needed to get the money as quickly as possible, which meant that he would have to be in and out of Grimwul before dark fall and that would mean leaving right away.

As he walked towards Grimwul he held the brooch concealed in his hand, just in case someone wanted to search him - he could get rid of it easier, not that he wanted to, but because he knew that he could not run away again, he was too tired.

The market was still quite busy, even at this time of the day. The cries of men trying to persuade people to come and see their wares filled the air. The smell of food no longer making Fazial feel hungry, which brought a smile to his face, it had been, all things considering, quite an exciting day. The people bustled all around him, soon he would be just like them, a person with money, buying stuff other than food. He stopped at a nearby stall selling lamps and candles, he had only seen other people, rich people with lamps and candles, but he never paid them much attention - there were so many different types, long ones with narrow tops, short ones with wide curved bases, plain ones, ornate ones, shining ones, the different possibilities seemed endless.

"Oy! Be off with yer! We don't want none of your sort round here. Get out of here you thieving git or I'll call the market-master and his guards - I know your sort ..." bellowed the stall keeper.

Fazial knew when it was best to leave and turned to walk away when he bumped into a large well built man who reeked of pigs.

"Watch where you're going" exclaimed the pig-farmer who was obviously surprised to have someone walk into him.
"Sorry. I, I was just leaving" stammered Fazial quickly.
"Hey! What's this'?" cried the farmer as he bent down. Fazial started to look down, but he knew what he was going to find. In his attempt to not get into trouble with the man, he had forgotten he was holding the brooch, which he must have dropped as he had opened his hand. He had to get out of there, he knew that if he got caught here he would be in really deep trouble.

The farmer had finished bending down and was reaching for the brooch by the time Fazial had recovered his thoughts and started to turn, unfortunately a little too late. The pig-farmer with years of experience catching small, slippery fast moving pigs had no trouble catching Fazial's ankle as he started to run, it was almost a reflex.

"Hey! Look what I've just caught." cried the pig-farmer holding the brooch in one hand and lifting Fazial off the ground with the other. Fazial wished he was heavier and even though he knew it was no good he kicked and struggled.

It was not long before the market-master and his guards arrived to collect the 'thief'. The pig-farmer smiled, he was going to get a big reward for that expensive jewellery.

"I" started Fazial, but was silenced by a blow to the back of his head.

"Shut it thief. You're not talking your way out of this one. This is going to cast you a hand and a mark" said one of the guards.

"This looks like a piece of Irabo jewellery, I wonder if this is some of the jewellery stolen from the Irabo merchant earlier today. You check him for more stolen goods and any weapons, then escort him to the block" commanded the market- master as he turned to walk towards a nearby market stall selling jewellery.

The search found nothing of course, but then Fazial didn't have anything other than the brooch and even that he no longer had. The guards then dragged him bodily to the centre of the market where the stocks for the merchants who sold bad merchandise were pelted with rotten goods, the bell for announcements and the block for, he shuddered at the thought, the block for removal of limbs and in extreme cases, usually only murder, execution.

His right forearm was tied to the block, he tried to remain calm, but he could not. His heart pounded, cold sweat started running from his back and worse of all he was feeling like he might lose his lunch literally. Through the tears that ran down his face he could see the man stoking a nearby brazier. Then he heard the bell ring, now everyone would know he was caught.

"Now boy. If you tell us where you hide the rest, you will only lose some fingers instead of a hand, and you will not have to be held and interrogated" said the market-master quietly into Fazials ear. Fazial turned, the market-master podgy face was so close he could smell his breath which made him feel even more sick.

"I, I, I didn't do it. I didn't steal the ..."

"The boy, a thief," he shouted out interrupting Fazial, "does not admit to his crime, even though he was caught with the stolen goods. So his punishment is the punishment for all first time thefts of this magnitude who do not repent the crime, that being the punishment of mark and hand."

The crowd cheered loudly, as the announcement was made. One of the guards, the larger of the two that carried him, walked to the block, in his hand a small axe not much bigger than one which would be used for chopping logs.

"This man," continued the market-master pointing to the pig-farmer who now had a small but full purse on his belt "was the brave man who caught this thief". The last word he spat out with contempt. "On behalf of all the merchants of the market, I thank you."

The crowd cheered again, then fell silent. Fazial turned to look, and then wished he had not, the second guard had finished heating the brand and was walking over to him holding the now red hot brand. The first guard placed the head of the axe on Fazial's arm just above the wrist. Fazial held back the urge to be sick, he wished this was not happening, he wished this was just a dream and that he would wake up now, but he knew this was no dream, it was real. The guard lifted the axe above his head, Fazial closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, waiting.

"Stop! The boy is innocent!" came a loud cry from the crowd. Fazial opened his eyes and turned his head to look, to his surprise he saw the Huroon knight who had chased him earlier that day.

"Noble Sir! How can you say this, he was caught with the jewellery," exclaimed the market-master in surprise.

"The boy did not steal any jewellery, the brooch was dropped by another and picked up by this boy. I startled him and he must have thought that I would, having seen him with the brooch, think he was the thief and drag him here to he punished for the other boys crimes, so he ran. I cried out but he obviously did not hear me with all the noise he was making. Unfortunately I lost him," explained the knight "his presence here proves his innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt. The boy is obviously from Grimwul, so with the expensive brooch why did he not go back to Grimwul? Because he came back to the market to return the brooch. This lad is one of the few honest boys and yet you would punish him far a crime he did not commit. Had he been less honest he would have sold it in Grimwul and made more money than any reward you'd have given." continued the knight as he moved through the crowd over to the pig-farmer and relieved him of the reward money. "This really belongs to the boy."

The farmer was about to speak, but the market-master interrupted.

"Release the boy! It would appear that we owe you an apology, a terrible crime has been averted by this noble knight. I hope you can forgive us."

Fazial could not believe his luck, he was richer than when he had started this morning and was now considered a bit of a hero, 'Well okay maybe not a hero, but more of a person of note.' he thought. Either way he now could afford a roof over his head for the night. The crowd slowly dissipated and he and the knight were left alone.

"I am going to be buying quite a lot of equipment, I need someone to help carry it. Would you be interested in helping?" enquired the knight, "I would pay you of course."

Later that evening Fazial sat in a local tavern, where he had a room for the night paid for by the knight, drinking an ale (also paid for by the knight) with the knight.

"You know, I was not going to return it," said Fazial quietly as he looked into the mug of ale, embarrassed, "I was going to fence it. I didn't even think I would be able to return it, I didn't steal it, I ..."

"Really?" said the knight in mock surprise, "I know you did not steal it, I was wondering whether I was right about the returning. I suppose it does not matter now, it has been returned by you after all, somewhat indirectly, but nevertheless, it was you who brought it to the market. At least you are honest about it, temptation is often difficult to resist and people should be given a chance. Come on, drink up, we have to be up early tomorrow morning." And with that the knight finished his drink and rose. Fazial turned and watched the fire in the hearth. Today had been a good day.