It didn't take long for Baldric to realize I couldn't talk. That didn't stop him for speaking enough for the both of us. In fact, I felt it encouraged him. He regaled me with his various escapades in the dimly lit private areas of Nellies--he had chuckled when he realized that that phrase could've meant the rooms or the women--as well as a few drinking stories he knew. I listened with half-interest, hoping that between the boasts I might find a nugget of useful information. None surfaced, however, and I had to suffer the Hound's claims of "efficiency" the entire way to the Bazaar. Thankfully once we were there, Baldric was all business.
It didn't take much asking around before we were directed to the outer ring of the marketplace. It seemed Baldric, or at least The Kennel, had some sway among those who frequented the stalls; had I been alone, I might've been misled and sent in circles just for the laughs.
Kale, I quickly realized as we drew up to his stall, was a woodcarver. He had on display several of his larger pieces--replacement legs to furniture, mortar and pestle sets, and a few other knick-knacks--on the front table while some of his smaller items were stored in crates at his feet. Perhaps he kept the larger objects on the front because they were less likely to be pocketed by a thief walking by the table. "Can I help you gentlemen?"
"We're from The Kennel," Baldric replied. "He's here to deliver the special order you've been holding for us." He gestured to me with a thumb as he spoke.
"Of course," Kale said, reaching underneath the stall table. He retrieved a knapsack, the top tied shut with a bit of rope, and handed it to me. There was a slight weight to it and there was a few visible bulges but I couldn't quite figure out the shape of the objects within the bag. Not that I needed to. I opened the top of my bag and stuck the sack into the largest pocket.
"Don't forget, Kale," Baldric added as we turned to make our exit, "part of your pay was for your discretion."
Kale waved his hand dismissively, "It ain't the first time I've working for The Kennels. I just pity the poor boy who can't do as well as what those little guys'll do."
I thought that Baldric would berate the woodcarver for referencing the package. Instead, The Hound barked a laugh. "Aye, pity the incapable."
We parted ways with Kale after that, making our way to the closest exit of the Bazaar. I procured the address Dana had written down for me to plan my route while Baldric whistled to himself, mirth behind his emerald eyes. More unspoken jokes, I imagined, pertaining to the package I carried. I didn't press him to share any of his thoughts, thankful for the silent respite.
"I assume you can manage the rest of the way on your own, pup?" The Hound said to me as we exited the Bazaar. I nodded, shaking my hand that still gripped the slip of paper. "Alright then, stop by The Kennel when you're done. To report. Or, I guess, stand there and wave an empty sack around." Baldric shrugged and left without another word. Not the most awe-inspiring departure, but I felt it fit the man.
Neither of us noticed the man who began to tail me.
Not for a time, at least. I finally picked up on my shadow when I turned a corner and spotted him a ways back in my periphery. A squat, stocky fellow with his hands in his pocket. I couldn't make out any weapons on his body, but that wasn't exactly a skill I possessed. He was plain, someone who would not have raised my suspicion save for the fact that it just after the noon bell, the hottest part of the trial, and he was out in the Ymiden heat for what looked like a stroll. Not to mention his clothing, which was as plain as my own. We were nearing the wealthier parts of Almund, where men like he and I did not look like we belonged. And, finally, his tangle bled with determination, an emotion the felt odd given the circumstances. Yes, my follower was after me. Or, at least, he was after the package I delivered.
Spotting an alley ahead, I diverted my path to duck down it. A few moments later, I heard footsteps follow me into the side street. The quickened to what sounded like a full sprint.
I dropped to my stomach.
My assailant hadn't expected the unorthodox defense and couldn't bring himself to a stop in time. I felt his shins collide against my right side before the man tripped over me, cartwheeling in the air and crashing to the dirt ahead of me. Sucking in breath that had been driven out of my lungs, I pushed myself to my feet. My attacked had rolled to his back and threw a kick in my direction from his guard, forcing me to back-peddle a step. The newfound space allowed my attacker to find his feet again. A thin trickle of blood ran down his cheek where he had scraped his face on the landing.
The man wiped at his face with the back of his hand, staring at me. "Hand over the package you're carrying and I'll forgive you of that. I'll let you walk out of this alley alive."
Well that truly was a trade that I would be interested in; I believed my life to be more important than anything else in this world. At the same time, I didn't truly believe my attacker would uphold his end of the bargain. No, I needed to rely on myself some more.
So I turned to run away.
The man had predicted my flight and closed the gap, grabbing at the top of my bag and yanking. I was thrown off balance, falling backwards with the mans momentum to hit the ground. My bag flew open in my tumble and the knapsack dumped its contents out onto the alley floor. Three wooden objects, long and straight, each with a pair of rounded orbs at one end. They glistened with oil that had been rubbed into the wood. The man and I stared at the pieces in silent shock; we both had expected me to be carrying something else. I overcame my surprise first and reached out to snatch up for one the objects by the the hilt--oh immortals, the double entende--and whacked my assailant as stiffly as I could across his knee. He hopped away for me with a muttered cry.
Hard wood, I thought to myself. Despite the situation, I couldn't help but smile.
I lunged upward, slamming the twin balls of my bludgeon underneath the chin of the man, stunning him. I threw a clumsy knee between his legs, doubling him over, and then hammered the block of wood as hard as I could down on the back of his head. His body gave out beneath him and he fell face first onto the alley floor and didn't move again. I had not killed him, I realized after a moment. I could see his torso moving with each breath. I imagined he would have quite a headache when he woke up, but I had no intentions of being there when he did.
I finally noticed the slimy feelings in my hands. Whatever had been applied to the wood didn't allow for a tight grip. The object was just asking to be slid about. Retrieving the knapsack, I wiped my hands off on the shirt of the unconscious man and dropped the object back into its container. I did the same with the other two, but not before wiping the dirt that had been picked up in the oil on the man as well. Tying the sack back together, I finally returned it to my bag. Sparing one last glance at my assialant, one had pressed against my ribs where his legs had struck them, I exited the alley and continued on my way.
I was accosted no further.
The recipient of the package met me at the door. A woman wearing little more than a bed shift despite the time of day. In one hand was a glass of red wine and in the other a book. I could just make out the title. An Immortal's Lust. Well, I guess she had been waiting patiently for my delivery. Reaching into my bag, I handed it over without flourish. If she noticed that both it and I were covered in a slight layer of dirt, she didn't voice it. The faster I left, the faster she could satisfy the emotions that dominated her tangle. It was lust and desire, not wealth and class, that guided her to-trial, forced her to look for the aid of other to provide the tool to which she could satisfy herself. Complex drives that I could see but not relate to.
I'll stick to the pride of a job completed.
Later, when I reported back to Dana, I did exactly as Baldric had suggested. I waved the dirt-covered knapsack in the air like it was a trophy sliced off of a fresh kill. The Kennel Master had only nodded. It seemed he had already known about the job's completion, as well as the attack in the alley. I couldn't quite figure out how he had heard about both before I was able to return. So I left The Kennel, my bag a bit heavier. My mind, too, with questions unanswered about the giant and his yet unseen partner.
Bag, Large, Waterproof Leather with shoulder straps -- .4gn + 1.2gn for Waterproof, Heavy Duty Canvas + .2gn for shoulder straps = 1.8gn