Unbeknownst to me, Dana Guiscard of The Kennel had put in a good word for me among several of the minor merchants who frequently set up shop in The Bazaar. He had deemed me a reliable courier, trustworthy and dependable. The job opportunities had begun to appear shortly afterward. A trickle at first, a small job here and there, but as I began to earn the trust of more and more clients, the work became more steady. I only needed to loiter about the bazaar's main administrative office where the vendors often congregated before they set up for the trial and by mid-morning I would have a list of deliveries to make around the city. I wasn't always available, but the men knew when they saw me looming about on the outskirts of the center square, they knew that I was there to work.
"He's the quartermaster on the Gilded Goose
," the rope maker Talion said to me as he handed over the rolled parchment. "Lanky fellow with glasses, hard to miss."
I nodded, tucking the slip of paper beside the two parcels already in the bag. Wasn't often that I had multiple deliveries to make at the same time, but one of the bazaar guards wanted me to deliver a letter to a Ceressa Reyes at the Sapphire Inn and Leon the chandler had a package of candles he wanted delivered to The Merchant Guild's main offices. A fortunate, although more complex day of couriering. I waved at Talion as I slung my backpack back onto my shoulders and headed out.
While I weaved through the bazaar aisles looking for the closest exit, I mentally prepared my delivery route in my head. The docks would be my last stop of the day, given that they were the furthest away from the bazaar, which left the Merchant's Guild and the Sapphire Inn. Drawing on my memory of the city's layout, I figured it best to hit the latter first. It was in the shadier part of the city and it was safer to move about the area when the sun was at its apex. Not that I had been bothered at all besides that first time working for The Kennels. The truth was I wasn't handling any expensive deliveries these days. Until I picked up some more wealthy clients, I probably wouldn't have to worry about being molested.
At the same time, better pay would
Once I was free from the winding stalls on the bazaar, I began to rely on the street signs posted on the larger intersections. Almund's growth had been organic instead of coordinated, so navigation wasn't always the easiest. Streets varied in size and would split off randomly, like the branches of a tree, without any premeditated organization involved. Before the Pirate Lords disappeared two arcs ago, travel had been much harder. Thankfully, the Merchant Guild had installed a lot of the street signs to aid in their own transportation and movement across the city. A selfish act that still aided a larger populace. I spotted a sign that would carry me south deeper into the city. Port Diablo, where the Gilded Goose
was the southern most point of the city.
The transition into the slums of Almund was gradual. The buildings were made of a cheaper material and was ramshackle in parts, a marked contrast to the more affluent parts of the city. Even the street signs were tainted by their dark environment. Some had been painted over completely with red and brown hues that looked eerily natural. Others had inappropriate images carved into the wood; there was a subtle contest of wills when someone vandalized official structures with genitalia. Thankfully the graffiti wasn't widespread enough to completely ruin the street signs and I was able to make my way to the street on which The Scalvoris Sapphire resided.
I entered the main lobby via the staircase that opened street level. I pulled out the letter in my bag as I climbed the steps, glancing at the front of the folded slip. The woman's name was scratched across the front in a sloppy handwriting, which was fortunate; I still struggled when I needed to ask around for the recipient. If I continued in this profession, I definitely needed to design a procedure that made this easier for everyone involved.
A mustached receptionist greeted me as I moved up to the desk. "Welcome to the Sapphire. What's your business?" I held the letter up in response, the name Ceressa clearly visible. He nodded, looking back down at the book in front of me. "Cere, a letter!" he shouted, having lost interest in me once he realized I wasn't a paying customer.
Ceressa Reyes stepped around the corner,a vibrant blue dress covering her lithe frame. It wasn't often that someone caught my eye, but she really was pretty. And I think she saw my infatuation behind my eyes as well, given the grin she gave me as she snatched the letter out my hand with two fingers. "Thanks, cutie," she taunted, a twinkle in her eyes, as she disappeared as quickly as she came. The receptionist grunted nearby. I turned to leave, a red flush tainting my pale cheeks. I didn't enjoy this particular emotion, not one bit.
Outside again, I thought it best to practice a more brisk pace to my next location. The expectation was for couriers to be mobile, faster than the client in delivering the package. Although no one had complained about my speed yet, it was better to train myself a little bit before it was necessary for time-sensitive contracts. Thus, setting out at a jog, I made my way to my next destination, slowing down to a brisk walk whenever I came across a street sign.
Even with the measured jog, I felt my lungs rebelling against the exertion a few bits after I began. The necessary pains of physical advancement. I lengthened my strides, an advantage of my height, to make the most out of each one while trying as best as I could to regulate my breathing. It was a different than when he meditated, one to still my heart rate, not my thoughts. I felt a small change for the better, but by the time I reached The Merchant's Guild office in the city, I was still gasping for breath. A slick sheen of sweat covered my brow.
A guard stopped me on the front step of the building. "No entry unless you're a member of the guild," he said gruffly, hand resting on the short sword at his waist. Even when I retrieved the parcel and pointed to the front door, he shook his head no. "No entry, buddy."
I knew I could make a fuss if I wanted to, short sword or not. I didn't actually believe the man would use it since I myself was unarmed. I decided it wasn't worth the trouble, though, and gingerly set the package down right beside the front door, the side with scrawled tally of what was inside face up for everyone to see. Some people could not or did not want to be around when their deliveries were made, so the best he could do was drop it off in a visible location while handling it carefully. Other couriers might just chuck the packages, but that wasn't how I operated. Simple business etiquette demanded otherwise.
I opted for a brisk walk from The Merchant's Guild to Port Diablo since the two were so close together. It was a striking contrast, the past and the supposed future. Even in the bright daytime, I was cautious entering the harbor area. The memory of the old life lingered deep in the wood and stone of this city quarter and most avoided it unless they had pressing business there. But then, that was the entire city of Almund as well.
The Gilded Goose
was currently in the process of unloading when I arrived in the central part of the docks. Stevedores rushed to and fro across the gangplank, which was being overseen by a blonde man. Rounded spectacles were perched over his nose as he read over a stack of papers, scribbling notes and numbers in the corner as each shipped past him by. He looked to be the person that Talion had wanted me to deliver to.
I lingered near the man until he finished a conversation with one of the dock officials before moving up beside him. The rolled parchment was the only introduction I needed. He took it without a second glance, scratching the seal away with his fingernail. A quick glance was all he needed before he rolled the sheet back up and tucked it into a shirt pocket. "A timely delivery," he said before turning back to his papers. That was the usual dismissal for a messenger like me.
I had made it halfway down the dock before the quartermaster called out to me again. "Courier," he said, "are you available for another delivery?"
I glanced at the sky. I still had several breaks of sunlight left, it seemed, so I nodded and returned to his side to receive my instructions. It wasn't the most glamorous life these days, but it helped to pay the bills. And right now, what more could I really ask for?