DargonZine 18, Issue 2

Have You Ever Been to Northern Hope? Part 1

Yule 22, 1018 - Yule 24, 1018


This entry is part 3 of 27 in the series The Black Idol

There was no reception when Parris Dargon arrived in the city of Dargon. There was no reason for a reception — Parris was only Duke Clifton’s second cousin — but that did not keep him from feeling resentment. It was, after all, only a matter of happenstance that Clifton, and not Parris, was the duke. Parris had devoted his life to correcting that mistake of history.

All of his previous attempts to remedy the situation had failed. His idea for a coup, backed by several minor but ambitious noblemen, had never made it beyond the planning stages. He was unable to get past the fact that the king would have him killed for deposing Clifton once word reached Magnus. The wizard that Parris had paid to curse Clifton with a wasting disease had developed moral issues with doing harm to the duke. His morality apparently did not extend to the duke’s cousin; he had taken Parris’ money and fled.

After his failure with the wizard, Parris had left Dargon. He had roamed Baranur for several years searching for some secret means of removing Clifton and claiming the duchy. He had heard rumors of what he hoped was the answer during a visit to some unprofitable holdings in the south. He had returned to Dargon seeking help to unearth that solution.

Parris hated being in Dargon and having to live under Clifton’s auspices. He half-suspected that Clifton knew of his intentions, despite the fact that the duke was unfailingly polite and always welcomed him to the keep. It rankled to stay in the guest quarters when he knew he belonged in the master suite.

He arrived at the offices of an old friend, Tyrus Vage. The building was not what he expected: it was slightly shoddy looking and in need of a coat of paint. When he had last seen Tyrus, several years previously, the man had been a wealthy merchant. His fortunes had apparently faded. Parris smiled. It would serve his needs if Tyrus was desperate, as long as he wasn’t too desperate.

He entered, and smiled a bit more at the disrepair of the interior. The differences were subtle: a slightly worn carpet and brass fixtures in need of polish. Only someone who knew Tyrus’ meticulous tastes would notice.

A small man with wiry muscles and a dancer’s grace rose from a desk as Parris entered. His tone seemed polite enough when he spoke, although his hand went to a slim sword at his belt. “May I help you, sir?”

“I am here to see Tyrus Vage. Is he in?”

The guard’s eyes scanned Parris from head to toe before he replied. “He is, sir, but he has asked not to be disturbed. You can leave a message with me, and I will see that he gets it. I can write.”

Parris’ estimation of the guard rose a bit. Not only was this man literate, but he was savvy enough to offer his services without risking offense by implying that he thought Parris might not be able to write. He hoped the man was smart enough to know when to question his master’s orders.

“I think he may want to be disturbed for me. Would you please tell him that his old friend Parris Dargon is here to see him?”

Parris’ opinion of the guard rose even further; the man’s eyes only widened slightly at the mention of the Dargon surname. “I’ll speak to him. Please wait here.”

***

Tyrus Vage scowled as his office door opened. He looked up from his ledgers and glared at his secretary and bodyguard. “What is it, Edril?” he demanded, but not too harshly. He knew Edril would not disturb him without good reason. It was not the interruption that had fouled Tyrus’ mood; it was the dwindling contents of the ledgers.

“Sorry to trouble you, sir, but there is a man here who claims to be an old friend of yours. He says his name is Parris Dargon. Shall I send him away?”

Tyrus blinked and stared at Edril, wondering if he had heard correctly. What did Parris Dargon want after all these years? Money was no doubt the answer. Tyrus debated having Edril send the man away, but decided against it. The good graces of a Dargon cousin, even a worthless one like Parris, might prove advantageous. “No, send him up, Edril, and see that we are not disturbed. Come back up when we are done. You and I need to discuss the Sferina issue.” Sferina, another merchant of Dargon, had been making a considerable amount of money in the marketplace selling magical trinkets. Tyrus wanted to claim some of those profits for himself.

“Very well, sir.”

Tyrus looked thoughtfully at Edril as he turned to go. The man had proven himself invaluable time and again. In fact, Edril’s arrival had been the only good thing to happen to Tyrus since the encounter with the gypsy brat that had left him maimed.

Tyrus turned at the sound of a rasping bird cry from his balcony. The doors to the balcony were wide open as he usually kept them. Many of Tyrus’ peers kept their offices near the marketplace or in the Old City, but Tyrus preferred to stay near the docks and listen to the sounds of the ocean as he worked. He just wasn’t used to those sounds being quite so close; a screegull had alighted on the balcony and was regarding the merchant with its shiny black eyes.

After he recovered from his initial shock, Tyrus smiled and watched the bird. The gull screeched again and advanced a step toward the doorway. It was a common belief among Dargon’s sea-folk that a screegull crossing the threshold was a sign of a change in luck. Although Tyrus had once been a sailor, he put little stock in that myth; he believed that a man made his own fortunes. Still, if there was such a thing as luck, his needed changing, so he watched to see if the gull would enter.

“Hello, Tyrus.” The merchant glanced back to see Parris Dargon standing in the doorway to his office. The gull gave a final screech and flapped away. Tyrus watched the bird fly off, surprised at his own disappointment, before turning to face his guest. He was dressed well, as Tyrus remembered he always had been. The Dargon family crest was conspicuously absent from his clothing, though.

Tyrus rose and limped painfully around his desk. His right knee still ached horribly even after five years. The gypsy’s knife hadn’t cut deep enough to completely lame him, but he had never fully recovered from the wound in body or in spirit.

Parris Dargon stepped forward, his eyes going from Tyrus’ limping gait to his right cheek, where another scar from the same fight stretched from his right ear almost to his nose. “Great Ol, Tyrus, what happened to you?”

Tyrus’ finger traced the ugly scar on his face. “I surprised two thieves in one of my warehouses. They slew one of my men and did this to me, but we drove them off.” That was the story he had told to the city guard, and it would do for Parris Dargon as well.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Tyrus,” said Parris. “Maybe you should sit down?”

Tyrus scowled, frustrated at showing infirmity in front of this weak incompetent. “No. I have learned to live with it.” He clapped Parris on the shoulder. “Come. Let’s step outside and you can tell me why you have decided to visit an old drinking companion after all this time.” He deliberately chose to refer to the least of their involvements in order to distance himself from Parris. He could have said “comrade-in-arms”, or even “co-conspirator”.

Forgoing the use of his cane, Tyrus limped through the open door and out onto balcony, only allowing himself to wince once his back was turned to his guest. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the sharp tang of the sea air.

As Parris stepped up beside him, Tyrus asked, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” He could have meant the view of the coast spotted with greenery, the tall prominence of Dargon Keep standing watch over the city, or the sunlight shining on the Valenfaer Ocean. He meant none of these things. What was beautiful to Tyrus Vage was the commerce: ships being unloaded of rye flour and golden fruits from southern Baranur and dyed silk from distant Mandraka, or laden with stone from Dargon’s quarries and hardwood from the northern forests; wagons hauling the food and textiles to the marketplace or to the barge docks where they would be hauled upriver to be sold for a hefty profit; even an old sailor selling fish leftwiches from a cart. Tyrus was certain that his meaning was not lost on Parris Dargon.

“Do you remember our dreams, Tyrus?” asked Parris. When Tyrus had been a mere sailor he had eagerly befriended the young nobleman, distant cousin to the duke’s heir, hoping to improve his own station. The two had often shared their dreams over mugs of bitter ale in the seedier taverns of Dargon.

“Of course I do, Parris,” Tyrus replied, wondering if there was a point to this visit. “You were going to reclaim your birthright and take Clifton’s place as the duke. I was going to become captain of my own ship.”

“What happened to us, Tyrus? Where did our dreams go awry?”

Tyrus had to cough to suppress a chuckle. Was this man actually trying to compare their lives? He decided to dispense with subtlety and state the obvious. “You never became the duke, Parris, but I have exceeded the insignificant dreams of my youth. I may never have captained a ship, but I own almost a dozen, and their captains report to me. I don’t see how you can make the comparison.”

Parris’ face reddened at Tyrus’ blunt comments, but he quickly composed himself. “It’s true, Tyrus, that you have advanced your fortunes much more than I have. Yet I remember when your name was attached to a score of ships. What I don’t recall is a time when you would allow yourself to wear such threadbare clothes. Perhaps your misadventures with the thieves extinguished your fire.”

Tyrus grit his teeth. Parris’ barb had struck true. He could trace his decline to his encounter with the gypsy filth who had given him his scars. “What do you want here, Parris?”

The nobleman met Tyrus’ eyes. “What would you say if I told you that I had found a way to restore your fortune and make myself the duke?”

“I would say that I’ve heard you spout nonsense like this before, and that I have business to attend to.”

Parris ignored Tyrus’ dismissal, and fixed the merchant squarely with an unblinking gaze. For no reason he could fathom, Tyrus was reminded of the gull. A long moment passed before Parris spoke. “Have you ever been to Northern Hope?”

Northern Hope? Tyrus remembered the political furor at the end of the Beinison War, when refugees from Pyridain had been given land between the duchies of Dargon and Asbridge by the king. He had been unable to figure a way to turn a profit from it, though, so he had given the settlement little thought since. “No. I have had a few dealings with the town, but none were successful.”

“I’m not surprised. I have a small holding near there, and it’s never brought me a single Bit of profit. The locals all think the town is cursed. I spent enough time there that I came to believe them. Disasters are an everyday occurrence in that town.”

Tyrus felt his impatience building. “And how will this luckless town restore my riches and your title?”

“I did more than believe in the curse. I paid a small fortune to a Rhydd Pobl witch who not only confirmed the presence of a curse, but determined that it emanates from an object.”

Tyrus kept his tone neutral. “You should avoid dealing with gypsies.”

“I know, Tyrus, but I believed this one. She said that she was unable to find the object even when I offered to pay her more to do so. She could just as easily have given me any item and been gone with my money before I knew better.”

Despite his hatred for them, Tyrus did not doubt the gypsies’ magical abilities. In fact, he was certain that magic had played some part in his defeat at the hands of a gypsy child. “How does this object figure into your plans, Parris?”

“It *is* the plan, Tyrus. If I can bring the curse from Northern Hope to Dargon, it won’t be long before the city turns on Clifton when he proves unable to stop the ill luck. My problem has always been Clifton’s supporters. My dear cousin is a popular ruler; I wasn’t lucky enough to lose my arm saving the city, but if I could remove the curse after Clifton failed, all of that would change.”

Tyrus scowled again. Any plan that depended on Parris becoming the duke was doomed to failure. He doubted that anyone at Clifton’s court would support the duke’s distant cousin over a question of legitimacy generations old. “I would ask what you want from me, but the answer is quite obvious. You need money.”

Parris put his hand to his breast. “Tyrus, you wound me. I value our friendship for much more than your money. It’s true that I’m short on coin, but I could have gone to anyone with this idea.”

“What’s the money for, Parris?”

“The gypsy could not find the object, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be found. I need to find a mage. I’ll need some coin to spread around to find one, and enough to pay him to find this cursed item and bring it here. A mage that powerful won’t come cheap and he’s going to want to see some of it when I hire him. And I’ll need some to cover my expenses in Dargon while we wait for him.”

“Why not stay at the keep?”

“Tyrus, I can’t very well plot against my cousin from within his own house.”

Tyrus failed to comment that Parris had done that very thing many times in the past. There was no point in quibbling over the sum when he was about to reject the proposal in its entirety. “What of the profit from my investment? Must I wait until you become the duke for that?”

Parris smiled tightly and shook his head. “No, Tyrus. I know you’ll never believe I will be the duke until I rule from Dargon Keep. Consider what a wise merchant could do with the knowledge of when disaster would strike the city and when it would stop.”

Tyrus put a finger to his lips to suppress a gasp. Had this worthless dreamer truly produced this incredible idea? Assuming the cursed item could truly be found, it could more than restore his wealth; it could make him a fortune. The most likely outcome, though, as with all of Parris’ ideas, was complete failure. Could that failure be made to serve his needs? Tyrus thought that it could. There was no risk here, only profit to be gathered no matter the outcome.

“Straight, Parris, you have my interest. How much do you need?” Tyrus fought to keep his tone neutral.

Parris smiled again. “I knew you would share my vision, Tyrus. I estimate that I will need ten gold Marks.”

“Ten Marks! That’s ridiculous –”

Parris held up his palm. “Tyrus, I need to have enough money to pay this mage, but more importantly I need to look like I have enough to pay him or he won’t take me seriously.”

Tyrus scowled at Parris as numbers whirled in his head. He actually had that much gold available, but might need it to resolve the Sferina matter. He had a shipment of dyed cloth and spices due in a few days, and another of local wines and steel implements made from iron mined in the Darst Range due to leave that afternoon. He wondered if he could delay payment for the steel and wine until the cloth and spices arrived. He could bear a few days’ interest and still make a profit, but if the ship were significantly delayed it would cost him dearly. He decided that Parris’ idea was worth the risk.

“Very well, Parris, I will support you in this venture, but know this: should you fail, the bonds of our old friendship will not protect you. I will treat you as I do all of those who fail to pay their debts to me.”

“Of course, Tyrus. I wouldn’t expect any less, and I won’t fail.”

Tyrus wondered if Parris realized what he had just agreed to. When he was unable to pay this debt, Tyrus would be able to approach Clifton and demand restitution from the family. Parris would have to remain silent regarding Tyrus’ complicity in his plot or face execution. As far as Clifton would know, Tyrus would have financed Parris in a failed business venture. The duke would force Parris to turn over all of his holdings. Tyrus knew that Parris was so focused on becoming the duke that he failed to recognize the value of his own lands. Properly managed, they could generate considerable income. Clifton would likely banish his errant cousin, thus eliminating the possibility of Parris showing up on Tyrus’ doorstep with his hand out again.

Tyrus returned to his desk and scribbled a brief note, which he handed to Parris. “Take this down to my secretary, Edril. He will see that you get your gold.”

A few moments after Parris left, Edril knocked and poked his head into the office. “Pardon me, sir. Was that ten gold Marks?”

Far from being annoyed at the interruption, Tyrus was pleased. Edril was very thorough. He wished that he could send this man to attend to the Sferina problem, but Edril was too closely connected to Tyrus himself. His capture would immediately implicate his master. “Yes, Edril, ten Marks is correct. Make sure the note references his lands as collateral, and that he sees the gold before the note.

“When you are done with him, we need to discuss how to deal with Sferina. She’s cutting into my profits with her enchanted toys.”

A smile creased Edril’s narrow face. “I’ve given that some thought already, sir. I was thinking Rancin Fer might be a good man for the job.”

Tyrus pursed his lips. He remembered Rancin Fer. He had employed the stuttering oaf on occasion. Perhaps “oaf” was unfair. Rancin generally produced results, even if his methods were a bit brutal. “I don’t want her killed, Edril. She’s a fellow merchant of Dargon, not some gypsy slut. I just want some of the gold her mystical toys are bringing in.”

Edril nodded. “Of course not, sir. Rancin does have other skills, though, and he’s done all sorts of unpleasant work for more than a dozen of your fellow merchants.”

Tyrus returned Edril’s smile and slapped his hand on his desk. “Good man, Edril. Rancin could steal the mold for one of Sferina’s little trinkets. Even if he’s spotted, she’d never be able to prove that I was involved, unless Rancin talks.”

Edril’s grin became predatory. “He won’t say a word.” Tyrus didn’t doubt it. Most of the people who worked for him feared this dangerous little man.

“Straight, then. Have Rancin pay a late visit to Sferina’s shop to take one of the molds. Perhaps the rat-charm? No. Make it the darningfly; that’s her best seller.”

“As you wish, sir.” Edril bowed slightly and departed the office. Tyrus smiled again. His fortunes were turning, gull or not. He supposed that Parris Dargon was growing impatient downstairs, but he decided that he didn’t care.

***

Parris Dargon hurried down the Street of Travellers as the third bell of the evening sounded. After his meeting with Vage two days earlier, he had gone to see Aardvard Factotum, a local physician and purveyor of information. Parris had been more circumspect in his discussion with Aardvard than he had with Vage; the physician was known to be loyal to the duke. Parris had little fear that Aardvard would oppose him when it came time to seize power in Dargon, though. From his opulent house and rich clothing it was clear to anyone that Aardvard’s true loyalty was to his purse, and to whoever could keep it filled. Parris had disliked the man immediately.

Aardvard had demanded an exorbitant fee for the information Parris needed: a full gold Mark. Parris had been reluctant to part with the coin. He was painfully aware that his funds were limited. He still had to pay the mage he would be sending to Northern Hope, and provide for his own living expenses while he waited for the wizard to return. He dreaded the idea of returning to Vage to ask for additional funds, or worse, having to go calling on his cousin Clifton with his hat in his hand.

Parris had paid Aardvard’s price, though, because the man was the best source of information in the city. He might have searched on his own in Dargon for a month and spent twice as much without results. Two days after their meeting, a messenger from Aardvard had arrived at the house Parris had rented. He had brought word that a mage had been found, and that he would be waiting to meet Parris in the back booth of the Inn of the Serpent at the third evening bell. The messenger had even provided the name of the mage: Anarr.

As Parris turned onto Nochtur Street, he tried to recall everything he knew about Anarr. His name could be found in whispered tales that were decades old. Legend said that he had been alive for well over a century. He was known to be reclusive and cruel. Why such a powerful mage might be in Dargon, Parris could not fathom. He wished that he’d had more time before this meeting to collect his thoughts, but the messenger had arrived well after the second bell.

Outside the Inn of the Serpent, Parris paused to catch his breath and look at the statue from which the inn took its name. He admired the craftsmanship of the sculptor; the detail of the serpent was excellent. Unfortunately, the beauty of the statue had been marred by some fool who had painted the statue in bright red and green. When he was duke, Parris decided, he would have the statue restored and brought to his castle, and have the idiot who had defaced it whipped publicly.

Feeling more composed, Parris pushed open the door and entered the inn’s common room. His senses were immediately assailed by loud conversation and the stench of beer. As he stood in the doorway and surveyed the room, a heavyset man behind the bar eyed him suspiciously. The bartender spoke a word to a blonde barmaid, who approached Parris.

“Looking to join a game, are ya?”

“I, ah … what?” stammered Parris, completely taken aback by the question.

“A card game. Stranger comes in dressed as rich as you, he’s usually looking to join the carders.”

“No, I’m not looking for a card game.” Parris became even more irritated at the lateness of Aardvard’s messenger. If he’d had time, he would have changed to less conspicuous clothes before going to a common dive like this. Dressed as he was, he was vulnerable to being robbed or recognized.

“What are you looking for, then? Bit of fun?” The blonde girl winked in a way that Parris assumed the local ruffians found charming. Parris knew the Inn of the Serpent was no brothel, but he’d been propositioned by women in better places than this. He used to think it was his looks, but he’d learned that a chance to increase their station, or at least the weight of their coinpurse, was the typical motivation. It was yet another disadvantage of not having been able to change his clothes.

“No, nothing like that. I’m here to meet a man to discuss some business. In the back booth?” Parris pitched the last as a question, hoping the barmaid would point him in the right direction and then leave him be.

“Oh, him.” The girl rolled her eyes. “He’s one cold fish. Good luck dealing with that one.” She turned to walk away, and then glanced over her shoulder. “Up the steps, past the carders, all the way in the back.”

Grateful for both the barmaid’s directions and the absence of her inane conversation, Parris followed her instructions. In the last booth past the card tables sat a tall, black-haired man. A mug of ale sat on the table before him. As Parris approached the table, the man glanced up. His eyes were very dark, making the look of irritation on his face appear menacing.

“I’m Amrin Tuel,” said Parris. That was the name he had given to Aardvard Factotum. It meant “true heir” in Lederian, a language Parris had picked up in his travels. Parris had been quite pleased with the name.

“Of course you are. You’re late, Mister Tuel. Third bell rang some time ago.” As Parris got a better look at the man, he could tell that he was too young to be a powerful mage. He had to be an apprentice, or a messenger. Rather than annoyed, Parris was pleased by the situation. He had been wondering why a mage as powerful as Anarr was reputed to be would want to meet in a place such as this. This apprentice must have been sent to convey him to some secret place, where Parris and Anarr could discuss their business privately.

“Yes, I am late, but it was unavoidable. Factotum’s messenger did not arrive until after second bell. I came as soon as I could.” Parris failed to mention that he had practically run the entire way, since he had been expecting to meet a mage and not some lackey.

“That is none of my concern.” The man turned away. “I don’t see why I should do business with you at all.”

This was too much for Parris. “Why *you* should …” Biting back his fury at this underling, he reached into his pocket and fished out two silver Rounds. These he tossed onto the table. “I’ve no concern for your thoughts on the matter. Your master and I have business to discuss. I’ll thank you to stop being an ass and convey me to him.”

Rather than snatching up the coins and becoming solicitous, the dark-haired man stared at them as if Parris had thrown a live fish on the table. He looked up again. When those dark eyes met his, Parris found it difficult to breathe. “My master, mister ‘tuel’?” He placed an odd emphasis on the name, making Parris wonder if his choice of pseudonym has been as clever as he had thought. “My master has been dust for over a century. I am the man you seek. Pick up your coins and sit down. I will forgive your tardiness this once, but only because I am in need of your gold at the moment.”

As Parris sat he said, “You are Anarr? But you seem so young.” As soon as he spoke the words, he regretted them. Instead of becoming more annoyed, though, the mage’s gaze faltered for a moment and his hand went to his throat. Parris thought it looked like the wizard was trying to loosen a noose around his neck.

Anarr met Parris’ gaze again, all signs of his discomposure gone. “My magic preserves my youth, Lord Parris.” The mage managed to say “Lord” without conveying the slightest amount of respect.

Parris felt his cheeks flush at the mention of his real name. He knew Aardvard Factotum was too discreet to have given it to Anarr, so he must have revealed himself somehow. To hide his chagrin, he glanced around the bar. “I am surprised that a mage of your ability would choose to meet with me in such simple surroundings.”

Anarr shrugged. The corner of his mouth curled up and amusement danced in his dark eyes. He was clearly enjoying making Parris squirm. “Tamblebuck, the owner, has a fine selection of ale. I’m very particular about my ale.”

Parris glanced down at Anarr’s drink, eager for any opportunity to avoid the mage’s gaze. He noticed tiny drops of condensation on the outside of the earthenware mug. His estimate of the Inn of the Serpent rose considerably. He had only experienced chilled drinks outside the winter months once, during a childhood trip to Magnus. He wondered how the innkeeper was able to keep the ale cold.

“I don’t care who you are.” When Parris looked up at Anarr, all traces of amusement were gone from the mage’s face. “I only care whether or not you can pay for my services. Two silver Rounds are not sufficient to buy the time you have wasted thus far.”

Relief flooded Parris; Anarr was willing to talk business. “Have you ever been to Northern Hope?” he asked. When the mage shook his head, Parris launched into much the same explanation as he had given Tyrus Vage. He told Anarr about how ill luck seemed to plague the town, and how he had learned that the misfortune came from an object, and that he had not learned the nature of the object. He left out his plans for Clifton’s downfall, and instead said that he wished to increase the value of his holdings near the town.

Anarr listened intently throughout Parris’ explanation, taking an occasional sip of ale. As Parris finished, the mage nodded once, and said, “You want this object destroyed.”

“No!” exclaimed Parris, instantly regretting his vehemence. He wondered why he found speaking to Anarr so disconcerting. Trying to keep an even tone, he added, “I want the object brought to me, here in Dargon.”

“I’ll need to remove the curse, then. I care little for these people, but I’ll not bring such a destructive force into this city.”

“Yes, obviously not. But I will need to be able to restore the curse, if needed.”

Anarr’s voice was soft, but the undertone held menace. “And why, Lord Parris, would you need to do that?”

Parris had been prepared for this question. He hoped his lie would convince Anarr. “I wish to receive the gratitude of Northern Hope’s citizens. Without the object, and proof of what it can do, I might be unable to convince them that I saved their town.”

“By gratitude you mean, of course, payment. And I will be the one who saves their town, not you.”

“Yes, but in my service.”

“Why, then, should I enter your service, and not just claim the ‘gratitude’ of Northern Hope myself?”

“You could do that, Anarr, but Northern Hope is a very poor town at the moment. It will become prosperous once the curse is lifted, but it will be years before they can show the proper amount of gratitude. I was under the impression that you wanted payment sooner rather than later.”

Anarr nodded, apparently convinced. Parris had worked hard on that fabrication, making sure there was enough greed and selfishness in his story to allay any suspicions of his true motive. “I will do as you ask, Lord Parris, for the sum of ten gold Marks, in advance.”

Parris gulped. After renting his villa, buying his wardrobe, enlisting servants, and paying Aardvard, he had little over six Marks left. Trying to keep the tremor out of his voice, he replied, “Five now, and five when you return with the object.” While Anarr was on his mission, Parris would have time to convince Vage to part with the additional funds.

Anarr shook his head. “Five now, and eight when I return.”

Parris nodded. “Agreed.” If he was going to have to go back to Tyrus anyway, the additional gold would not matter. Parris counted out the coins onto the table. Anarr scooped them up and stood.

As the mage turned to walk away, he looked back over the table and pointed to his ale. “You’ll get that, won’t you?”

Parris watched Anarr make his way to the door. Once the mage left, he let go a sigh of relief, then leaned back in the booth and laughed. One of the most powerful mages on Cherisk had just stuck him with the bar bill. Relief flooded him now that the interview with the mage was over. He could not believe his good fortune. He had only been in Dargon for three days and already his plan was in motion. He would be duke before the first snowfall!

A shiver of doubt ran up Parris’ back. He had meant to ask Anarr for proof of his power: some display of magecraft. Aardvard had offered him no guarantees, only to put him in touch with a mage who was looking for work. Had that truly been Anarr, or some charlatan who had just walked away with most of Parris’ dwindling funds? There was that menacing gaze, but that was no proof of wizardry. Parris’ own father had favored him with a menacing look from time to time.

As he sat there pondering whether or not to pursue the man and demand proof, the blonde barmaid came to the table. “Can I get you a drink, sir?”

A drink was just what Parris needed to calm his nerves and let him think clearly. He glanced at the mug Anarr had left behind. He had always enjoyed cold drinks when he could get them. “Yes, a mug of your chilled ale, please, miss.”

The barmaid’s eyes danced, and Parris could see that she was trying hard not to laugh out loud. “Chilled ale, is it? Does his lordship think he is dining with the king himself this evening?”

“Ah, sorry. Just some wine, then, please.”

The barmaid walked away, muttering “chilled ale”. Parris was sure that she would be laughing about that for a sennight. He reached across the table. When his fingers encountered the drink Anarr had left behind, Parris smiled. Anarr was the wizard he had claimed to be. The earthenware mug was as cold as ice.

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