Journal of a Paladin
Episode VI: Confinement
By Matthew R. Fleming
A.K.A. the Cheddar Paladin
Entry #7 – Same date as previous entry.
Couldn’t sleep. I’m guessing that it’s the same day that I wrote my last entry. It doesn’t feel like it’s been more than a few hours. There are no windows here. It’s quite depressing. I have to ask someone what day it is or if it’s even daylight out. Sometimes the lantern burns out as well. A single lantern lights my vision! If I weren’t accustomed to low-light situations, I wouldn’t even be able to continue this journal.
I don’t believe I’ve disclosed the exact situation that I’m currently in, have I? As it would turn out, I’m actually on a pirate ship at the moment. I’m a prisoner in a brig with no window and one light that is fixed to the wall opposite my cell. Every now and then, a guard will check up on me, though not usually as my captors have no reason to allow comfort to a prisoner. I’m unsure why they even still feed me. I may be worth something to them, yet I cannot figure out what. Maybe they haven’t heard my entire story yet. I’m sure when they read the last chapters of this volume, they’ll reconsider my value. But once again, I’m getting far ahead of myself.
After my “glorious victory” in the tournament, I was expected at the Royal Palace in a week. With this knowledge, I did what anyone in my position would have done upon reading such news: I stayed in my apartment all day.
I knew that going outside would be a rather imprudent decision at that time. My accidental cowardice and inaction upon learning my foul was still very fresh in the minds of the people of the town. All day I could hear people out on the street talking about my incident as they passed by my sanctuary.
“Sanctuary.” It seemed like a prison for that day, a voluntary prison. I couldn’t leave, not even to inspect the middle-class home that I was given upon my graduation. I couldn’t leave to buy anything with my award either, not even for sustenance. I imagine that the merchants would overcharge me anyway out of spite.
I could only think of one person who would be more upset than the townsfolk, and he was due back anytime now. He left his poncho on the bed, so I knew he’d return sometime for it. As dusk settled in, I could only stare at it in anticipation for his inevitable arrival. I felt like a scolded child after hearing the words, “You just WAIT until your father gets home! Now go to your room!” Only the person I was in fear of wasn’t an authority at all. He was my best friend and I couldn’t bear to see his face. I couldn’t leave though. Where would I go to escape the impending doom? The streets were filled with wardens that would have driven me back into my imprisonment or killed me trying.
Guilt is its own jail cell. It prevents you from seeing people you know would forgive you, yet deep down you know that they won’t truly get over it for a long time. Guilt is the worst feeling in the world. It drives a person to assumptions and causes him to mentally break down into a fraction of the person he once was, even if he was never really great. I felt so small when Jordan opened the door.
“Hey,” he greeted me with a monotone voice, not exactly sure what to say himself.
“Evening,” I replied, just out of habit as I was certain he knows what time of day it was.
He sat down at our small circular table in the center of the apartment, and he unpacked what he acquired that day. I saw him take out of a leather pack, that he must have bought that day as I had never seen it before, a few new tunics, a fine pair of dress boots, a tailored suit coat, and two flasks of some unlabeled beverage. He handed me one of the flasks and raised his own in the air, “To your well earned victory,” he toasted.
I glanced between him and the flask in my hand. The possibility that he gave me poison briefly lit in my mind but was quickly extinguished. Impatiently, he took a swig from his, “Ahh… good tea,” he tempted at me. However, I was still reluctant, as even if he wasn’t poisoning me or bribing me for whatever reason, I sincerely couldn’t accept a gift from my good friend after what I had done to him.
“Dude, I’m not mad at you. You won. Drink,” he quickly clarified the situation. So I took a thirsty swig as I hadn’t had a drop all day, and sure enough, it was high quality, cool tea. Our trust in each other renewed, we started to talk about the fight.
I apologized, “I’m sorry, my great, great friend. I’m so sincerely sorry. I had no idea what you were doing. You saved me from a very unpleasant concussion and I didn’t notice until it was too late. I swear, if I had known…”
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said, “I know that you would have done the same for me. It’s cool. I wouldn’t have seen it if I were wearing that helm you were wearing. It was coming in your blind spot. The crowd didn’t know that.”
His understanding was one of his better qualities. “So you’re fine with all of this?” I asked to clarify one more time.
“It’s cool. Really.”
“So now I just need to convince the town that everything’s fine,” I thought aloud.
He took a swig from his flask as he thought, “Well, have you had supper yet?”
“No,” I said as I wondered how a meal would help with my situation.
“I haven’t either. Let’s go to the Black Stop for our usual. If people see us hanging out, they’ll know everything is cool.”
“That’s a good idea. Just one thing before we leave.”
I pointed at the pile of clothes on the table, “School shopping?”
He laughed and said, “No, I got a thing next week that I have to look good for.”
“You wouldn’t be going to the Palace by any chance, would you?” I presumed.
“Yeah,” he confirmed, “I got a letter this afternoon while I was out blowing some of my award on cheap street entertainment in the park. This prissy looking messenger dude walked up to me in broad daylight to give me it. Those royal guys wear this fruity makeup wherever they go. It’s weird.”
“I received one as well,” I said, “My invitation was for, well, my ‘victory’ and it looked like it was prewritten.”
“Really?” he said puzzled, “Mine looked fresh. You know, it remarked on details of the fight. I think the King heard the rumors and decided that I should be invited as well. I don’t think you’re going to be well liked when you get to the Palace next week.”
“Neither do I, but, we’ll see,” I said, my optimism renewed, “Let’s take care of the rest of the town first.”
“Cool,” Jordan said and we left for the Black Stop. I was given some temporary freedom.
On the way over, we got some looks from people who thought that we should have been strangling each other. It was a start. What we really needed to do was talk to someone that everyone sees and the perfect man to fill that need was Seamus O’Nelly, the proprietor of the Black Stop. I believe this is the perfect time to tell you what I know about him.
Seamus and his family started and ran the Black Stop several years back from that time and the hang out quickly became popular amongst the underground of Winguard City. Being regulars at the establishment during our training months, Jordan and I became close friends with Seamus, his wife Maggie, and their oldest child, Clarissa, who worked in the kitchen with her mother and sometimes served meals when the house was packed.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Seamus had great connections in Winguard City. It’s one thing to be a popular bartender, but I’m talking about anther aspect about him. Seamus was probably the nicest man I knew who worked in the public eye. He was very charismatic and he kept the place clean. He also knew much about the current events and history. All that and he was generally honest with everyone. Honest about everything except that his bar was actually a front for a substance known as dragon dust.
Dragon dust was the superdrug of the time and, though not illegal to have in most places, the only time it was legal to be used in Winguard City was for a surgical anesthetic. You see, the drug was used in small doses to numb the textile senses when applied to a wound, allowing operations to be done to the area. Yet when ingested in large quantities, it does slight damage to the entire body, though allowing the user a heavenly sense of invulnerability temporarily. Some users have shown great feats of strength as the drug doesn’t allow the user to know they’re over stressing their muscles. Soldiers in other nations are actually supplied the drug on the battlefield.
Seamus was primarily a businessman, so he jumped on the trade fairly successfully, his reputation allowing him to hide his front easily. You should see the house the substance allowed him to buy. There’s no other conceivable explanation to how he can support four kids, his wife, himself, and buy property like that with just an underground bar. He lives in the lighthouse district, not as rural or compact as the other districts of town. It has a very beautiful view of the ocean off the cliffs.
However, I found all that out later. He’s since given up the front voluntarily. His family didn’t take it too well, but the authorities just gave him a slap on the wrist on the account that he turned over his remaining inventory to the government and never started up again. He got off easy, but Winguard’s authorities are known for giving slack to “victimless” criminals who have an otherwise clean reputation. I digress though, that’s much later than where we are.
Naturally, upon entering the Black Stop, all eyes went to Jordan and I. One guy hurled a bottle at me. It missed by quite a distance, but it was an empty bottle after all and I imagine it wasn’t that man’s first empty bottle, either.
Seamus stood behind the bar in disbelief. As we approached the counter, he just stared at us without saying a word until we sat down. Without a word exchanged, he got out two small glasses, filled them with brew, and gave us the impression that they were on the house. He knew that there was no strife between us, and he was glad to see it.
The other patrons stopped staring and returned to their own affairs. There was one patron that disturbed me somewhat, though. He was going on to some man in the back of the bar about how he was at the event, how he saw it all. He told the man, who seemed rather uninterested in the drunk, that he knew the guy that threw the drumstick at me. He even claimed that Jordan hired the guy to do that. I then recognized the fool. He had a hunchback the size of a ripe watermelon, he wore tatters, and he spoke with almost a quack. Not to mention, he was one of the ugliest people I’d seen. They called him “the Delano” which means “from the anus” in the Chican language. Perhaps it’s his surname. Either way, he lives in a belfry in the church in the lower class district of the city. Those bells hardly ever ring on time if at all during the hour, and witnessing him explained a lot.
We didn’t spend a lot of time there. We accomplished what we set out to do, talking a bit with Seamus about the duel, and we had dinner as well. The grapevine out of the Black Stop ran throughout the lower and middle classes quickly. I wouldn’t have to worry about my reputation after a few more days. We spent our last night in the old apartment talking about our families, the future, and finishing the tea in our flasks.
Then next morning, we each went to each other’s new houses awarded to us for our completion of training. They were both nearly identical and within close proximity of each other. Mine had a bluestone exterior, which I enjoyed immensely, and Jordan’s was a standard gray colored stone. The district we lived in was on the river in an upper-middle class section of town. Each home had a kitchen/dining room, a queen size bedroom, a den, and a lavatory. Included within each home was a queen size bed, table, chairs, pot belly stove, cold box, loveseat, shelving & storage units, and a chamber pot, as well as essential utensils and containers. Outside of each house were a well and hand pump as well as an apple tree and a cherry tree in the back yard. They were testaments to the ideal life and they were just given to us. I was grateful. There wasn’t much else that I could want.
As we inspected Jordan’s house last, we sat at his table for lunch, open-faced hot beef sandwiches and tea, and discussed the upcoming audience with the Royal Family. “How do you think the royal gathering will go, my friend?” I asked Jordan.
“I’m not sure,” he replied, “I mean, it can’t be bad, right? Don’t they admire us for our ‘skill’ or something?”
“One could think that,” I pondered, “Assuming that the letters that they sent actually reflected their thoughts. However, while yours may be sincere, I think mine to be a standard greeting card to the victor of that annual duel. It’s hard to conclude on the motives of Our Highness. Perhaps he still thinks of me as the majority of the town did, as the word from the underground probably hasn’t reached royal ears.”
“Do you always talk like that?” my friend abruptly stated.
“Like… like what? What do you mean?”
“Y’know, like a… like some kinda…” he searched for the appropriate phrasing, “Like you’re some kinda longwinded story book, or a preacher, or something.”
“Hmmm,” I reflected on the remark, “Well, I suppose I do. Not all the time but yeah.”
“OK,” he paused, “…Why?”
Somewhat thrown off by this interjection, I had to stop to think for a moment before I regained my previous train of thought. “Anyway, you’ll probably have an easy time as your invitation was after the match and it was a clear response to your selflessness in the duel. I might not have it so easy.”
“What’s your point?”
“…Well, I may need your help.”
“How? What’re we gonna do?”
“Well… I haven’t a clue. That’s why I’m asking you. That’s the idea of conversations after all.”
“OK, well, what if we arrive together? Y’know, like a team. It’ll let them know that there’re no hard feelings about the event.”
“It’s a start, but the King is royalty. He’s not as understanding as our friend, the bartender.”
“True, but I imagine that it’ll all work itself out during the course of the visit.”
“I suppose you are right, my brilliant friend,” satisfied, I thought of a new action, “I need some new threads.”
“I know a tailor,” said Jordan.
We left his home after lunch and walked to the commercial district. The main street was bustling with activity as all of the major shops were on that street. Jordan directed me to the same tailor that he went to the other day. There was nothing particularly conspicuous about this tailor. I went in, he took all my measurements, I gave him an idea of my taste and he went in the back and reemerged with a particularly smashing ensemble that fit me like a glove.
For starters, he presented me with a shiny pair of ankle-high black riding boots with a prominent buckle on the bootstrap. Next was a pair of standard black dress trousers to be tucked into the boots. A snazzy charcoal gray vest was then shown to me and I accepted it and wore it over a somewhat more stylish, white, collared shirt than what I usually wear. He then showed me a silky blue cravat to contrast the orange-yellow of my scarf. Lastly, to finish off the look, he picked out a black soft-leather, tuxedo jacket. With my purchase he included a set of white dinner gloves at no cost. Finally, on my way out after buying my new suit, I noticed a new gentleman’s contraption: a spring-loaded, automatic umbrella. I tested it out, immediately closing it after the tailor insisted that opening it inside was bad luck, and satisfied with its performance, I purchased that as well.
As the week went on, I found myself receiving less and less harsh looks and comments from the townsfolk, even when going on solo outings. My confidence newly restored, I found myself looking at my upcoming encounter with much optimism.
When the day came, Jordan and I waited in my house in our fancy suits. At about eleven in the morning, a carriage rode down my street. It was certainly a regal cart. The horses that drew it were white and decorated with royal attire, including many colorful feathers from imported birds. The rider sat ridiculously high, it almost seemed that he was trapped on top of his driving platform atop the carriage. The cart itself was painted in white, blue, and gold, the kingdom’s royal color scheme.
The cart stopped in front of my house. Even though we could clearly see someone approaching the door, we were both frozen with anticipation. Our petrifaction broke with the sound of a firm knocking on my door. We rose in synchronous with each other. “Let’s do this,” we said in unison, nodding to each other. I walked to the door with eagerness. I composed myself, and I opened the door with my best smile on.
I was staring directly into the breast of a woman with Amazonian height and the physique of the fastest swimmer in the WNT. Quickly adjusting my horizon, I looked up into her face and noticed that she was a Fael elf, which should have meant that I’d be looking down at her. I somehow caught the idea that she was not an ordinary Fael.
A quick back story about the Fael. They are the native inhabitants of the area now politically known as Tenguard, which is on a peninsula at the mouth of the Milkrun River. The Fael are usually physically smaller than Guardians in stature, yet tend to be more athletic due to their everyday wilderness lifestyle. The Fael have a certain innate, magical control over flora. They’ve constructed their villages entirely out of magically enhanced trees and various other plants, making them grow to their design. Typically, they hold a druidic relationship with plants, never allowing any harm to come to them and always replanting everything they harvest.
The woman before me did not exactly fit the archetypical Faelean image. She wore a rather tight indigo colored leather body suit, allowing her arms to be seen, And an armored leather corset and boots. Her eyes, typical of pure Faeleans, were almost completely dark, like that of a horse, and her ears were long and pointed away from her face, rising upwards. She looked at me with little trust and in an intimidating voice she said, “I’m here for the winner of last week’s competition.”
I’m finally starting to loose control of my eyelids. I’ll stop here for today… tonight? Whatever time it happens to be, the flicker of the lantern on the wall is somewhat annoying. I think I’ll call the one guard who actually seems sympathetic to me to turn out the light. I’m unsure of his name. The other pirates call him Mr. Armen. I think his first name is Bido. I’m unsure. I don’t really want to strike up conversation either. Not tonight anyway. I need rest.