A Wardstone Short
Copyright 2012 by Michael Robb Mathias Jr.
All rights reserved
The map of the Mainland Kingdoms can be viewed at www.mrmathias.com
Loudin Drake’s horse huffed and pawed at the side of the hard packed dirt road he was lingering beside. He was on the Wildermont side of the Leif Greyn River. It was almost Summer’s Day and the festival grounds, two days to the north, were populating quickly. There were scores and scores of travelers coming through Wildermont’s magnificent capital. People from Dakahn, Westland, and Valleya flooded Castlemont on their way to the annual competition and trade event. Loudin didn’t mind. The roads outside of Castlemont were ripe with opportunity all summer long. He didn’t have to try and find a mark, because there was a line of them slowly trundling past. He did have to keep an eye out for a certain Dakaneese Overlord that was undoubtedly going to be coming through to attend the festival, though.
“Debts unpaid, add up to naught but sleepless nights,” Loudin repeated the saying that one of his ship captains used to spout off to the men.
It was the truth.
This was Loudin’s third Summer’s Day Festival in a row. After several years of marching in Seaward, and a few hundred sea voyages, on a score of different ships, he’d tried to make a go as a gambler in the huge port city of O’Dakahn. He was skilled enough to keep from going hungry. And his tattoos, which covered his whole upper torso, including reaching over his bald head to form the sharp beak of a fierce predator bird at his brow, kept most all of the unsavory gamers at a distance. Tattoo covered Seawardsmen weren’t rare, but all of them, to a man, were fit, trained, and willing to fight. He was suited for a gambler’s life, but the crowded city just didn’t agree with his demeanor.
Even when Loudin won twenty pieces of gold from a merchant in the slave fighting pits, enough to live healthy for half a year, he found he couldn’t stand the crowds and the filth. He’d been squatting at a hidden camp in the Reyhall Forest, just across the river, since the snow melted. He’d been hunting bark skin lizards around the Swell and trading their prized skins in Lokar, and Castlemont, but he’d just been warned that some Westland Lord, or Warden, called Fairchild, had started looking for poachers over there. He wasn’t too concerned about it, but it was one more thing for him to worry about. He didn’t plan on staying in the Reyhall forever, just until after this year’s annual Brawl.
Loudin always had a knack for picking fighters. After seeing this year’s contestant from Valleya destroy a veteran Blacksword Soldier from Xwarda in an exposition bout last night, he was sure the man would win. They called him the Valleyan Stallion. If he bet on the Valleyan to win the whole competition before it even started, he could get three, four, maybe even five coins to one. He had to get to the festival and make his bet before everyone there heard about the big bastard though. The Valleyan fighter was supposedly staying in Castlemont for another five days, so Loudin wasn’t feeling rushed. He still had to come up with some coins to gamble.
Loudin figured that they had to keep the huge man away from the festival, lest the other contestants back out. Once the big Valleyan started pounding his way through the preliminary fights, Loudin knew the wagering would all but stop. Brave men would make excuses, or place wagers against themselves and take the beating. It was the way of things. Luckily for Loudin, he saw exactly what he’d hoped to see. Even better, his mark was already being harassed by some ill kept young sword who had the same sort of idea, but not the where withal to pull it off.
“You’ll be sorry, ya haughty old snoot,” the lad said up to the elderly man and woman riding the bench atop their huge, garishly-painted trade wagon. “There be thieves, bandits, filchers, and worse around here. And that’s just on the road to Summer’s Day. Once you get there, you got the same kind of scavengers from Highwander, and Westland, and Seawa--”
“That’s enough, lad,” Loudin said as his dagger tip found the young man’s throat. In his other hand he’d gathered up the reins of his horse. They were close enough that Loudin smelled radishes mixed with the steamy fear on the young man’s breath. “I won’t have you talking bad about us Seawardsmen like that. If you’d find a wash tub, people might quit thinking you’re a beggar. Now get along.”