A few weeks after the ball, Rob took Zev to the palace library on a fund-raising mission for his run-down castle.
"Honey?" Wilhelm the librarian asked as he handed them hot cups of tea. "A dash of milk?"
"No," Rob said as he stuck his nose over the cup. "At least not yet. I just want to breathe it in for a minute. I haven't had tea in ages."
"It's hard to get, but the King and I would be lost without it," Wilhelm said. "Stop by anytime if you'd like to share a cup and some conversation with an old man like myself. However! Your note suggested that today's visit extends beyond the purely social."
Rob couldn't hold back any longer; he took a sip, reveling as the tea hot waxed his esophagus. It wasn't coffee, but after so many months without caffeinated products, the tea was more than enough. "I did. I mean, we do. Have a question. Do you remember that cloth merchant, Lawrence Dixon? He was sitting with you and the Chancellor at the Harvest Ball."
"Of course. How could I forget a man like that?"
"He generously offered to help fund a teaching hospital here in town. But I was hoping to talk to him about a new project. You see, my cousin recently came into possession of—well, I haven't seen it yet, but he calls it a castle."
Zev snorted. "It is so a castle, dude."
"Ah, yes, you're the new prince!" Wilhelm said. "You're also the one who broke a few of his instruments during the musical performance at the ball."
"We also play private parties," Zev said. "Any chance to earn some green."
"Being a prince can be a costly privilege," Wilhelm said.
"Tell me about it," Zev said. "I got a bunch of people starving on what turns out is my land, and I need some quick cash to fix up the castle and get my economic balls rolling."
"Indeed," Wilhelm said. "It's said that it takes money to make money, especially in large endeavors such as the one you're proposing."
Rob held out his cup for Wilhelm to refill. "That's why I asked about Dixon. If he's funding the hospital, I thought he might invest in Zev's castle project. But I don't know how to get in touch with him."
"Shouldn't you ask the Chancellor?" Wilhelm said. "I barely know the man."
Rob chose his words carefully. "The Chancellor and I have a tricky relationship. I thought I'd try you first."
The librarian shook his head sadly. "This Dixon fellow comes and goes on his own schedule. Have you tried the Fair Godmother? I expect any castle rebuilding would employ a number of guild members."
"Jobs for the guild," Rob mused. "I hadn't considered that."
"I'll warn you that she doesn't believe in loans. Don't expect any money up front for a project that has yet to prove itself."
"Fuck that noise," Zev said.
"Be patient," Rob said. "This was never going to happen overnight."
Zev folded his arms across his chest. "Dude, it's been ages already. There's a lot of people out there not eating, and patience isn't filling their bellies."
"You think I don't know that? I'm trying to help."
"How about selling that can you found? I bet dollars to doughnuts this library dude knows somebody who'd buy it."
"I told you we're not doing that!"
"Sure, you're already loaded from pawning your watch, what the fuck do you care?"
"For Christ's sake, what's gotten into you?"
Wilhelm interrupted their argument by loudly clearing his throat. "If I may offer a suggestion?"
"First, would either of you care for more tea? No? Very well, we're down to the soupy leaves anyway. Now. I know of a quest, the completion of which comes with a sizable reward. Perhaps sizable enough for you to being rebuilding your castle. There's no guarantee of success, of course, but—"
"I'll take it!" Zev said. "What do I have to do?"
"It's rather simple, actually," Wilhelm said. "All you have to do is locate seven silver miners who went missing some months ago."
"Dude, when can I start?"
Wilhelm stood. "You can begin right now. The princess offering the reward is visiting the palace today, and I'm certain she'd be pleased by such an enthusiastic response."
"Whoa, cowboy," Zev said. "If you're talking about Cynda, then I'm out of luck. See, I've fallen madly in love with this girl Greta, and after a period of healthy skepticism, she even might love me back. But Cynda and I have this weird history."
"Yes," Wilhelm said, glancing disapprovingly at his empty tea cup. "Word does get around. But this isn't for the Princess Cynda. I speak of the princess my brother has designated as his heir."
"Wait a minute," Rob said. "I thought Cynda was next in line for the throne."
"That's not my understanding," Wilhelm said.
Rob scratched his beard. "Okay, I guess you'd know. But Cynda sure makes it sound like she's going to be in charge one of these days."
"I suppose anything's possible." Wilhelm pursed his lips. "But I don't believe that woman would ever be my brother's first choice. Come along, then. Sadly, this princess suffers from digestive ailments, but she may be feeling well enough for visitors."
Zev hesitated. "You guys want to go on ahead to make sure a certain you-know-who isn't around?"
"Cynda is traveling today," Wilhelm said. "Rest assured the palace will rouse itself upon her return, giving you plenty of time to absent yourself."
"Awesome," Zev said. "Let's go meet this other chick. Her quest sounds easy-peasy."
"One would think." Wilhelm slowly but confidently led Zev and Rob through the maze-like stacks of the palace library. "It's not as if others haven't tried and failed. Which is strange, given that the seven miners are such a distinctive group."
"What do you mean?" Rob asked.
"Didn't you know?" the librarian said. "They're all dwarfs."
YOU ARE READING
After an accident strands Dr. Robert Henry Lang in a medieval land without surgical supplies, medicines, or even hot running water, all he wants to do is find a way home to present-day Seattle. But Rob can't ignore the medical needs all around him...