May 13, 2000
"So - how big's my bar tab?" asked Rapscallion.
Griselda the head barmaid, mistress of all she surveyed and not a lady to cross lightly, shrugged and wandered over to the bar. She reached over, took a large slate from the far side and started to scritch at it with a stub of chalk. She scratched at her head slightly and recounted the total, frowning from the unaccustomed concentration. Eventually she presented the final bill to Rapscallion who blanched as he read the figures.
"Hrmmm, you sure about this?" Griselda nodded. "Damn - going to have do another trade run to pay that off." Griselda nodded. "Hmm, must have built up over quite a time. Didn't think I ever drank that much..."
"Well, there's the time you invited your entire town round for a swift half," she reminded him, pursing her lips with the effort of having to think. "Then there was that Demon Lord you offered a drink to..."
"Well - it was either that or fight, and you know how I feel about that sort of thing. How was I supposed to know he had so many dogs? They just kept on coming!"
"Then there was that Avatar party you had, and you had to invite all of the newbie clan as well..."
"I'll admit I never thought newbies could drink so much. I'd forgotten it was double xp day as well - there were hundreds of them. That said, they didn't keep it all down..."
"Cleaning was included on the bill. And then you asked a few Gods round after hours."
"I'm an Avatar - some things are expected. I thought they'd be creating their own drinks. How much does nectar cost, anyway?" Griselda told him. He blanched again.
"Going to need a catastrophe for that, then," he sighed.
"Be careful what you wish for - I'm still wringing out the beds from the last one we had round here," Griselda admonished. "I'm all in favour of being at the mercy of the gods, but don't invite it, huh? Same again?" she asked, attempting to saunter her sizable bulk to the bar.
Rapscallion nodded slowly. He needed something to get him some cash, and pounding the roads of the continent really did not appeal. It was dangerous, for one thing - the roads were full of people doing the same, but just as full of people trying to take it off you. Too much like hard work.
Maybe he could come to make a deal with some of the cash laden heroes hanging around, they were often trying out those romantic things. Maybe some of them would want some romantic poetry, pay per line sort of thing. That would be easy enough, probably a five minute job - he'd be able to get hold of some lovelorn hero and sell him something he could send to his intended. Smirking slightly, he conjured a quill and paper from thin air, and set to work.
"Hey - no magic in here, remember the rules?" said Griselda, planting a foaming tankard on the table, splashing the contents liberally. Rapscallion shrugged and sucked at his quill thoughtfully, trying to cudgel his brain into work. After a minute's thought he started to scrawl on the slightly beer soaked paper, spitting out a little feathery frond.
"My love I fondly think so long
Of the days we had our frolics,
When I think back upon those days,
I tingle in my..."
Griselda read over his shoulder as he worked and coughed meaningfully. Rapscallion paused, reread the work so far, and sacrificed it. That one was something to risk the wrath of the gods, if ever he read it. Taking a deep draft of ale, he made a pause for enlightenment, and began again.
"I went deep in the Catacombs,
I delved so long for eggs,
And when I found the light once more,
I sought out your..."
This one raised only one of Griselda's eyebrows which meant it was dubious at best. Sighing, he laid his quill down and destroyed the paper again. Perhaps another tankard or two would provide decent inspiration for something he could use, unless that was his problem? "Provokes the desire yet takes away the performance," as a sage once said. Rapscallion wasn't too certain the sage had the same thing in mind, but it was a risk worth taking. With the practiced eye of a veteran, Griselda summed this up with a quick glance and left to do the honours.
Feeling a touch petulant, he gathered his robes around him and sat in the corner of the saloon, glaring at other people as he tried to think. The average client was cheerfully ignoring him, chatting to their companions and ordering more drinks, usually with full gold pouches at their sides. Each one was dressed in their various adventuring gear, draped in bits and pieces of looted equipment from all over the world. A sudden thought struck him as he watched a group of heroes playing cards - just how many hands did Vecna have? One enterprising fellow had placed one of Vecna's eyes in a wall sconce, all the better to see his opponents' hands. "Rather undignified, really," thought Rapscallion sourly, wishing he'd thought of the idea.
"Hail to the conquerors," came the cry from the doorway as another group of heroes sauntered in, bearing with them a fresh and dripping dragon's head.
"You can take that thing out, right now. I only just refreshed the rushes on the floor last week," shouted Griselda. Sheepishly, the two heroes carrying the head took it back outside and rested it against the door. Smoke rose from the few drops that had managed to soil the floor, leaving an acrid smell in the air.
"Table for eighteen," said the leading hero, a warrior from the assortment of weapons he carried, striding up to the bar and leaning heavily on it. Griselda glanced at his party, each scratched and bruised but generally happy, evaluating their mental state and likely wealth.
"That's two thousand gold deposit first," she declared.
"Two thousand? That's robbery!"
"That's how much the last lot of dragon hunters cost me in damages. You get it back if you're good boys," she said firmly, hands on ample hips, adding, "And you pay for your drinks when they arrive at the table. No pinching the barmaids either, I've had revellers like you in here before." Grumbling, the warrior paid from a bulging purse, blinking carefully as he counted the coins out.
"We'd best start with seventy two beers," he said with a grin. "Then we'll decide if we're thirsty or not. Oh - and a bowl of orc scratchings." Griselda made her way to the kegs, glancing meaningfully at Rapscallion who was sat nursing an inch of ale. Why there wasn't a "create beer" spell he'd never know, although he had to admit the inns would go out of business pretty quickly. Church attendance would be far more popular as well, he mused to himself.
The evening continued in a less than pleasant fashion, with Rapscallion's attempts at concentration broken by the rising noise from the party across the room. After scribbling the latest failed verse out, he lost his temper and strode across the saloon to berate the heroes.
"I say - you fellows..." he began, faltering as he realised every eye of every hero around the table was upon him. The leader of the group stood up.
Rapscallion gazed up at the fellow's chin and started to panic slightly.
"Yes?" inquired the burly warrior. No wonder this guy was famous for dealing death to dragons (a small part of Rapscallion bravely thought he may be able to manage this just by using his face, but he wisely kept this thought to himself). A crowded and smoky room did really bad things to one's perspective, not to mention the ale he'd consumed. Rapscallion could have sworn the man was taller than he had any right to be.
"Er- I've come about your celebration..." he started. The warrior looked down at him, nostrils flaring.
"You wanting to gatecrash?" he growled menacingly.
"Er, not quite, it's just that..."
"No-one here who hasn't helped destroy a dragon," he declared, flatly. "You done that, boy?" The room started to recede into the far distance.
"Not as such, no...."
"Hey," called one of the other heroes, "I know that guy." The hero, a cleric by his vestments, peered owlishly at Rapscallion, swaying slightly in his seat.
"Ermmmm, you do?" asked 'that guy', grateful for the distraction.
"Yeah, you do them things in the paper - them rhyme things." The cleric gazed into his empty stein and bellowed for another round, a cry that was met with a great cheer. The warrior was less than impressed.
"I recognise the name now. Best field latrine paper I ever... used," he said, choosing his words with malicious care. Griselda placed a tray of ale down with little grace, scooping up a pile of coins as she left. She exchanged a brief glance with Rapscallion, one suggesting that any trouble meant he was on his own.
"Hey - c'mon boss - what's a celebration without a bard?" called the cleric, hoisting a brimming tankard to his lips. A bard? Rapscallion paled heavily - being beaten to within an inch of his life might be preferable to this...
"Excellent idea. We've heard enough of our own voices, let's hear yours singing our praises," said the warrior, in a tone that wasn't taking "No" for an answer. Rapscallion swallowed hard. "Barmaid?" called the warrior, "Another tankard for our 'friend' here. I think he's going to be rather thirsty very soon." Rapscallion brightened at that statement, perhaps it wouldn't be that bad after all. Griselda had an unreadable expression as she brought the spare tankard, but she avoided looking at Rapscallion this time. As she left, he thought he could hear a slight giggle.
With a sonorous voice, or at least as sonorous as he could manage, he began a saga of excessive proportions. Extemporaneously scanning his verses, pausing for a quick quaff to compose his next few lines, he soon found himself to be enjoying the experience. He had heard from people who had ventured into dragon lairs before and used this knowledge, along with shouted suggestions from the far end of the table, to weave a tale of heroism, bloodthirstiness and general violence.
"Do a verse about me!" cried the cleric, sloshing his flagon around with reckless abandon. Rapscallion obliged, thinking furiously.
"The dragon struck most fiercely,
Wrenching the thief from this life,
The Priest incanted mighty prayers,
Returning him back to the strife..." he started obligingly.
"That's it - that's how it happened," declared the cleric, happily quaffing with gusto. The thief next to him fingered a tender sore and glowered slightly.
And so the evening went, with cheering heroes, nineteen bulging egos, some rather impromptu verse and a significant amount of ale being consumed. Griselda was continuously ferrying drinks, but the looks she cast at her unbroken furnsihings suggested she was glad that something was taking the attention of the heroes.
"The heroes carried home their trophy,
The head, no less, of the dragon.
Then they went out to have a drink,
Ordering yet another flagon,"
prompted Rapscallion hopefully, being rewarded by yet another free drink at someone elses' expense. Happily winding up the tale, he sat on a stool the leading warrior had snatched from under some unsuspecting customer.
"So - how did you like the saga?" he asked cheerfully.
"Grand job, indeed," said a less than sober mage, head nodding on his shoulders.
"Well, I happen to know a couple of scribes in the Mudslinger printing offices. You guys want a copy of this saga? Properly illuminated on vellum? Reasonable cost, of course..." he asked, the germ of an idea coming to the front of his mind.
"Hmmm," said the warrior, trying to focus on Rapscallion, and failing slightly. "Just how much are you talking?"
"Well, it would have to be decent amount as it's a long piece. Something to show your grandchildren, your very own personal saga. Say, half a million per copy?"
"Not a bad price," mused the warrior, "Bound in dragon hide of course, nothing else would do it justice."
"Nothing else indeed," agreed Rapscallion. "I'd like this deal witnessed by a god, of course..." he added, to general agreement.
The next day dawned bright and cheerful, though Rapscallion was ignorant of this, comatose as he was from alcoholic consumption. Indeed, it was nearly the middle of the afternoon before his eyelids began to open. About an hour later he woke up, wincing as he did. "Forget the 'create beer' spell," he mumbled, "How about a 'dispel hangover' spell instead?"
Peeling himself from the ground, his body protesting in every reluctant muscle, he looked around to find himself in the back yard of the inn. At least he hadn't gone too far this time. The last time he'd been that drunk he'd woken to find himself in Trellor's town square, wearing the armour of a Medievian Guardsman, holding a bunch of wildflowers and a large bloodstained axe. People had *stared*. A familiar face was looking out of a window at him, accompanied by a familiar voice.
"Ah - you're alive," called Griselda with what Rapscallion considered to be unwarranted cheerfulness, although if she'd have sounded disappointed he'd have been rather hurt. "You'd best shake a leg and get yourself busy, you've got that agreement to live up to." Rapscallion looked blankly at her for a moment, and then began to remember the previous night. Had he really asked for three gods to witness the deal with the heroes? And bought them drinks on his tab as well?
Spying the horse trough he staggered across, cast a short spell and plunged his head under the cold water for a good ten minutes. Refreshed, he surfaced, shaking his head dry and mentally coming to grips with his destiny. A trip to the Mudslinger offices was definitely in order, and off he went, dripping copiously.
The offices of the Mudslinger paper in the City of Medievia were a hive of industry as always, though not always very productive. Tasks certainly were performed in there, but not always the ones that were needed, nor ones that hadn't been done before. Rapscallion always rather liked the place, it had his sense of style. Casting an eye around the room of busy scribes, he found the chap he was looking for. "Jollelan! Just the fellow!" A scribe looked up slightly startled, hiding the piece of paper he had been surreptitiously writing on.
"Oh - it's you again," he eventually ventured. "What's the problem this time?" A small imp on his shoulder looked up at Rapscallion chittered briefly before baring its fangs at him.
"Oh, no problem, old bean. I just need some paying work done, and you're the guy I need to do it. Wouldn't trust anyone else, in fact." The Imp started to snigger nastily and Rapscallion eyed it with suspicion.
"You'd better get me the details," sighed Jollelan, grabbing a sheet of fresh parchment. Rapscallion sat down opposite him and began to describe the printing job he needed, all the while being scrutinised by the imp. At one point the imp wandered off for a tiny cup of coffee. When he returned he clambered onto Rapscallion's shoulder and began drinking noisily next to his ear. Rapscallion gave him a look and was met by an impudent and toothsome grin. He shuddered and went back to dictating what he could remember of the saga from the previous evening.
"So, how long do you reckon it will be before I can pick it up?" asked Rapscallion, after finishing talking. Jollelan shuffled his papers together and looked up.
"Oh - give it about three days. I reckon I'll be able to slip it in before we get the next edition out. I'll be needing cash on delivery of course." Rapscallion nodded slightly, hoping not to dislodge the Imp who was now doing *something* on his head. He wasn't certain what he was doing, but it involved gripping onto his scalp with tiny claws.
"Fair enough. Um - just what are these Imps doing here?" he asked, indicating his scalp with a thumb.
"Motivational devices, one of the boss's bright ideas," sighed Jollelan.
"Do they work?"
"Certainly do - if you ever feel without motivation, he assigns you an extra one," Jollelan replied with a grimace. "Seems to do the trick. Come here Mank," he called to the Imp who turned around a few, totally unecessary, times and leapt onto the desk. The Imp scampered up onto Jollelan's shoulder and sat there, sniggering nastily at Rapscallion who left rather hastily.
The next few days went by rather peacefully, with Rapscallion's bar tab increasing steadily. Confidently he ordered full meals with side orders of everything, especially the dishes he didn't like just to show off. Griselda watched him a careful eye.
"You're cheerful, but don't forget you're only able to run this extra tab up because of the cash you have coming soon," she admonished, placing a large plate of Banelar steaks on the table in front of him.
"No problem at all," mumbled Rapscallion round a large bite of grilled Banelar steak. "The deal's struck and it's witnessed. The scribes are almost done, what could go wrong? I'll be plenty in front after this, keep me going for weeks. Think I'd better have another plate of onion rings, hmm?" Griselda gave him what could only be described as a 'look' and stalked off to bully her cook. Rapscallion grinned as she left then eyed up another steak carefully, wondering if he should get another portion or two of those as well.
Nearing the end of the week Rapscallion ventured once more to the Mudslinger offices, always happy to check up on the work. Spying Jollelan he sauntered over and sat on the edge of his desk. The scribe looked up briefly, nearly dislodging the prile of Imps that were perched on his head.
"Feeling motivated?" he inquired with slightly malicious glee.
"I'm trying for the full set," sighed Jollelan. "No-one's survived that yet, but I'm trying to immunise myself. There's an office sweepstake, you see, and I stand to make some serious gold if I live. Anyway, the work's nearly done. I take it you're wanting a look?" Rapscallion nodded and the scribe led the way to the back of the office where several piles of books and papers rested, awaiting collection.
"Very nice illumination indeed. A fine and dandy specimen of the calligraphist's art," Rapscallion complimented graciously, having a good nose through.
"All we need now is to sort out the covers for the final binding," agreed the scribe, manfully ignoring the Imps who had begun a game of tag on the top of his head. Rapscallion nodded thoughtfully.
"I'll just go and sort that aspect out," he said with a smile. He concentrated briefly and found his surroundings shimmering and merging, changing their shape until he found himself in the unearthly realm known as Medlink. He sent out a mental summons and sat down to wait. Before too long a familiar, burly shape winked into Medlink, dripping ichor onto the furnishings.
"Don't mind me," said the warrior, "You know how it is with demons, they burst so easily." Rapscallion blinked a couple of times but managed to stand up and give his news.
"Good tidings - the scribes have almost completed the sagas," he said happily, trying not to wrinkle his nose at the smell.
"Fine news indeed," agreed the warrior. "Just how long before I get my copy?"
"Well - all you need to do is drop off the dragon hide at the Mudslinger Offices and the job's just another day or so..."
"So - how big is this dragon," Rapscallion asked, hoping the answer would be something to do with diminuitive. He knew it wouldn't be. It never was. Ahead of him the massive warrior stopped and quivered with rage.
"I said no talking - we want to catch this beggar unawares. And you sneak like a four hundred pound tap dancer wearing iron combat boots - shhhh!" he whispered back furiously. He scanned the dark tunnels ahead, watching carefully for any sight of movement.
"But I'm not cut out for this sort of work," Rapscallion whined. "I'm a writer, not a fighter..." The warrior rounded on him.
"Look," he hissed, "The deal said you provided the books but nothing about us providing the hide for the covers. That's your responsibility and that's why you're here. You're lucky my regular mage caught a bad cold. The share that he should have been getting should be big enough for the books, but we won't be getting that if you let the dragon know we're coming. Now be silent, or you're in the front ranks... the beggar's around here somewhere." He turned back to the fore, peering into the gloom.
"He probably already knows you're here."
"Right you - at the front..."
"That wasn't me!" protested Rapscallion, with a squeal.
Beside him, the wall parted horizontally into a large, double row of jagged teeth. Rapscallion could swear they were formed into a nasty grin.
The screaming continued for a long, long time.