In celebration of our successful Kickstarter campaign for Tales from the Red Dragon Inn, author and SlugFest founder Geoff Bottone has written a series of six stories about how Deirdre, Zot, Fiona and Gerki all met and started adventuring together. You can read part one, part two and part three here. Here’s part four!
Fiona marched to the entrance of the Red Dragon Inn, reached up to seize one of the door handles in both hands, and, with all her strength, swung the portal wide. As she continued into the entrance vestibule, her jaw firmly set in what she believed was an heroic line, the elderly wizard–his eyes hidden behind thick glasses–stared down at her from the other side of the host stand.
“Good afternoon, young lady.”
“Hello,” said Fiona.
Fiona suddenly realized that she had no idea what to do or say next, so she continued to keep her eyes locked on the pale eyes behind the pair of glass lenses. The man at the host stand broke first, coughing slightly in embarrassment.
“May I help you?”
“Yes,” she said. “I am here to be an adventurer!”
The man slapped his hand over his mouth as his coughing grew more acute. After a moment, he calmed himself.
“I see,” he said. “And how old are you?”
“Ten!” said Fiona. “Yesterday was my birthday!”
“A very happy birthday to you,” said the man. “Unfortunately, you’re a touch too young for me to admit you.”
Fiona had expected this argument, and had a counter ready. “Sir,” she said. “I have read a lot of heroic tales and sagas back at the orphanage, and almost all of them say that anyone can be an adventurer, no matter their age.”
“I think you’re confusing ‘adventurers’ with ‘heroes.’” The man removed his glasses and polished them with the sleeve of his robe. “There’s a difference, I promise.”
“Well, fine,” said Fiona. “I’d like to get a table for one hero, please!”
The man shook his head. “I admire your boldness, but I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do. The Red Dragon Inn is subject to the laws of the City of Greyport, and one of those laws says that I’m not allowed to admit anyone who isn’t of legal age. So, I’m afraid–”
“Wait, wait,” said Fiona, realizing that, for some reason, her voice had grown thick in her throat and her eyes were stinging with tears. “I can’t go in?”
“Not until you’re a little older, I’m afraid.”
Fiona swallowed and clenched her hands into fists.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll be back.”
The next year, Fiona didn’t have to reach up to grasp the handle, and she didn’t need to put quite as much oomph into swinging the doors open. This time, however, Fiona did notice that she received a lot of mystified looks from the people on the street, including a cluster of filthy urchins begging for coins near the front of the Red Dragon Inn.
The man was still behind the host stand. Fiona wondered if he had been standing there for an entire year. No, that seemed unlikely. Maybe they wheeled him into a broom closet to let him sleep whenever they closed the inn.
“Hello,” she said again.
“Hello,” he replied.
Again, there was a long pause.
“Oh?” said the man.
She sighed. “Yes. Fiona. I was here last year.”
The man’s magnified eyes blinked. “Oh! Yes! Yes, I remember you. Fiona. Lovely to see you again.” He extended a bony, age-spotted hand for a friendly shake. “My name is Jasper. It’s a pleasure to officially make your acquaintance.”
She took Jasper’s hand and shook it, surprised to feel the sheer strength in the mage’s grip. “So, I’m back. My birthday was two days ago, and I would like to become an adventurer, please.”
Behind her, Fiona heard the doors of the Red Dragon Inn open, but only just a crack. She glanced back long enough to see several grubby faces, eyes shining bright with curiosity, peering at her through the gap in the doors.
When she turned back, Jasper was twiddling two fingers through his wispy chin beard and giving her that patronizing expression that every adult put on whenever they weren’t going to let her do something that she wanted to do.
“I think I told you last time that you can’t come into the Red Dragon Inn until you are of age, and here you are, a girl of only twelve.”
“Eleven? My goodness, you’ve gotten quite tall in the year since I saw you last. Anyway, anyway, I’m afraid that’s still far too young for you to either enter the inn or take up a life of adventure. You’re just going to have to come back–”
“But, but,” said Fiona, feeling suddenly overwhelmed and weepy. “I’m strong, and I’m brave, and I’ve read all the stories, and I’m ready…”
Jasper shook his head. “Adventurers also need to be patient, Fiona. Especially if they want to survive their first encounter. I’m afraid you’ll have to–”
“Come back?” said Fiona, a touch too loudly. “I will!”
As she stormed out the doors, Jasper called after her.
“Thank you!” she shouted back.
Fiona stood on the sidewalk outside of the Red Dragon Inn, her face hot and wet. She felt too defeated and too embarrassed to go back to the orphanage just yet, but she didn’t know where else to go. She looked up at the sky and sighed.
Very nearby, the cluster of street urchins snickered and pointed.
She rounded on them. “What?”
As one, the urchins took a half step backward. Despite this, the oldest one, a boy with freckles and a chipped tooth, managed to smile at her.
“We’ve seen druids and wizards and pirate queens and warriors and sorcerers all come and go from this place,” he said, “but we’ve never seen a jumped up little girl who fancies herself an adventurer before. Thought you were gonna just go in there, grab a pint, and grab a quest, did you? Thought you were going to recover the Crown of Bollian-Tar and become a hero of the city?”
“I was willing to work my way up,” said Fiona, with an angry sniff. “And I don’t know what you mean by ‘little girl,’ I’m probably older than you!”
“Maybe a bit,” said the boy with the broken tooth. “But still, you gotta be an adult to be an adventurer, at least that’s the way we understand it. Judging by the clientele of this place, anyway.”
“And even if we were wrong and they did take little girls on adventures,” said a girl with matted brown hair who was definitely younger than Fiona, “Why would they take you?”
“I’m brave,” Fiona said, closing her hands into fists. “And tough. Tougher than all of you put together, I’m sure.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said the girl. “But you don’t have magic powers, do you? Or training? Or anything like that. You don’t even have a sword.”
The urchins laughed uproariously. Fiona’s face flushed.
“What do you know about it?” she hissed.
“Well, we hang around here a lot,” said the boy with the broken tooth. “And we’ve been observing these adventurous types for months, so we know a thing or two about what it takes to become an adventurer.”
Fiona narrowed her eyes skeptically. “All right,” she said. “Teach me.”
The boy with the broken tooth flashed her a smug, crooked grin.
“You go and find yourself a sword first,” he said. “Bring it back here. Then we’ll teach you.”
Fiona stomped away, the urchins’ derisive laughter ringing in her ears.
Since her most recent embarrassment at the Red Dragon Inn, Fiona had kept mostly to herself. The other orphans at the orphanage only just barely tolerated her recounting of various epic tales, and none of them would spar with her in the recess yard anymore after she had accidentally dislocated Tall Simon’s shoulder during their most recent stick fight. She was even too ashamed to hang around with Gerki, as she was worried that he, after hearing about her birthday failure, would join in the mockery, too.
Fiona spent most of her free time going on wider and wider rambles around Greyport, peeping in shop windows and trying to distract herself with the sights. She had gotten lost on her first few excursions, and had only managed to arrive back at the orphanage just at curfew, but on subsequent trips had become better at navigating the city. Today, she was following one of her favorite routes–down from the Great Temple, along the edge of the Market District, and down to the Harbor.
She paused to smell the salt air and watch the dockworkers at their labors before continuing along the harbor road to the shallow tide pools that swirled near the beach. In one of them, she saw something glinting in the noon sunshine. Excited as to what it could be, Fiona waded in after it, thoroughly soaking herself and swirling the sand into a murky cloud around her knees and ankles.
She waited for the sand to settle before taking a deep breath and submerging herself in the pool. The salt water stung her eyes and tickled her ears, but she could just make out the metal thing poking out of the sand just a few steps away. Fiona crawled forward, grabbed onto the hidden treasure, and pulled hard. She fought against a brief, sucking tension as the sand and the weight of the water held the object fast, but Fiona quickly overmastered it and pulled it, gasping, above the water.
It was a sword. A short, wide-bladed weapon all but overrun by growths of rust and seaweed. Its wooden hilt, which might have once been fine and sturdy, now had the pale and porous look of driftwood.
A more pragmatic individual would have tossed it back and carried on walking, but Fiona was too dazzled by the potential future spreading out before her to be pragmatic. Beneath the rust and ruin, she saw a perfect, pristine weapon, razor sharp and ready to separate evildoers from their lives and appendages.
With a laugh of triumph, she held the rusty sword aloft, and seawater streamed down her arm.
It took a couple of weeks of work, but Fiona at last found the people she was looking for loitering in one of Greyport’s many parks.
“Hi there,” she said, stepping out onto a shaded path to confront them.
She watched with quite a bit of satisfaction as the group of urchins slowly turned toward her, expressions of surprise and unease on their faces. They looked for all the world like they had been collectively caught with their hands inside the cookie jar.
“Hello,” said the boy with the broken tooth, warily eying the rest of his group. “What do you want?”
Fiona strode up the sidewalk toward them, her hands carefully tucked behind her back. “I’m here to talk to you about our little arrangement?”
“What arrangement?” said the boy. “What are you talking about?”
Fiona brought her right hand into view, revealing the sword that she was holding there. It was still rusty in spots and not terribly sharp, but she had painstakingly scrubbed as much of the seaweed and other signs of neglect from the blade as she could. She hoped that none of the urchins noticed the quaver in her arm as she lifted the blade–fixing it up had taken a long time, and her muscles hadn’t quite recovered.
“You threatening us?” said the matted girl who looked, if anything, even more matted down than the last time Fiona had seen her.
“No,” said Fiona, even though she knew that she was kind of threatening them, at least a little bit. After all, that was one of the things a sword was really good for. “You mean you don’t remember the deal we made? Really?”
“That’s right,” said the boy with the broken tooth. “You were meant to be finding yourself a sword, which I guess you have. Sort of. And we were going to do…what were we going to do, exactly?”
“Teach me how to be an adventurer.”
The boy smiled.
“Right, of course. If you could give me a moment to confer with my associates,” he said, gently brushing Fiona away with a gesture, “we’ll come up with a quest that won’t be too hard for you. In the meanwhile, you might want to stop waving that dirty great chopper all about the place, unless you want to get pinched by the Guard.”
Fiona did not want to get pinched, and so she nodded her agreement to the boy, stepped back a respectable distance, and tucked the sword behind her. She really wished, and not for the first time, that she could find a sheath for it. Hanging it from her belt would be much more convenient than having to hold it in one or both hands all the time.
The urchins gathered into a tight huddle, put their heads together, and began whispering to one another in earnest. A few times, one or two of the urchins would poke their head up to glare in Fiona’s direction before returning to the huddle. A short time later, the group broke up and the boy with the broken tooth stepped forward.
“Welcome to the guild,” he said, offering Fiona a filthy hand to shake. As she took it, he said, “Deetch.”
“Took us some doing, but we think we’ve winnowed down the quests we’ve got to something that’s about the right level for a girl with your abilities. It’s even got a dungeon in it.”
Fiona brightened. “Really?”
“Well.” Deetch looked a touch sheepish. “It’s more a cellar, really, but I’d imagine there’s traps and dangers in it. Maybe even a beasty or two. There’s also a treasure. A small one, but it still counts. We’ll help you get it with our adventuresome knowhow and then you can split it with us, fifty-fifty.”
Fiona was already lost in the memories of the dozens of heroic epics she had read during many a lonely night at the orphanage. Tales of demon sorcerers trapped beneath the earth, of carpets of flesh-eating bugs out in the high desert, of bandits who ruled the skies from the backs of their giant eagles, of pirates who pillaged coastal villages and acquired heaps of ill-gotten plunder. But always, always, there was someone of no importance and humble birth, but in possession of a good heart and a strong arm. And always, always, this person would somehow find their way through the deadly maze, across the frigid mountain peaks, into the ten thousand year old stronghold with cunning, and bravery, and a good sword, and was able to topple the best laid plans of even the most careful and vile of evil monsters.
In her mind’s eye, she was already in the dungeon, creeping down corridors, keeping an eye out for traps, her hands slick with sweat where they grasped the hilt of her fine blade.
“Fiona?” asked Deetch.
The rest of the urchins tittered.
“What?” said Fiona, shaking the grandiose dreams from her mind. “Right, yes, of course. Let’s do it.”
The urchins took her through various back lots and back alleys of Greyport, leading her at such a brisk and confusing pace that Fiona was no longer quite sure where she was. Eventually, they brought her to a dead end that butted up against the backs of buildings on three sides. The air stank of garbage, and puddles of mysterious moisture collected in slimy pools on the uneven paving stones.
Deetch made a great show of checking out the dead end and, when he was sure that no one was around to spot them, quickly led the rest of the urchins and Fiona over to an iron grating that sat deeply sunken in the middle of the reeking yard.
“All right, then,” said Deetch. “This is the entrance to the dungeon. Fiona, since you’re the adventurer trainee, you’re going to be going down there alone to retrieve the treasure. Maddie and Snitch will stay up here and watch for guard patrols, while the rest of us are going to hide someplace else, so that we don’t attract too much attention.”
Fiona nodded at Maddie–the girl who, unsurprisingly, had the thick head of matted hair–and to Snitch, another kid in a shapeless cap. The two urchins nodded back and bent to wrest the iron grating from out of its housing.
“Now,” said Deetch. “When you get to the bottom, you’re going to want to keep going straight. There’s plenty of things down there to trip you up, so you ought to be mindful of where you step. You may encounter some giant spiders and some giant rats–”
At these words, Fiona gripped her sword more tightly, and felt her heart begin to race.
“–but those shouldn’t be a problem for a well-prepared adventurer like yourself, right? Anyhow, you’re gonna keep going until you find a set of stairs that’ll lead you up to a secret door. Through that door, you’ll find the treasure and plenty of guards. I suppose you’ll have to decide for yourself whether you’re going to fight or flee, but the important thing is to bring the treasure back here. Snitch and Maddie will help you bring it back to our hideout, where we’ll be splitting it. And evaluating you.”
“Got it,” said Fiona.
“Right, then.” Deetch gestured downward. “Off you go.”
Maddie and Snitch had moved the grating to one side, revealing a round hole and a slimy ladder that disappeared beneath Greyport. Fiona steeled herself and, with some difficulty considering she had to keep a hold of her new sword, slowly descended into the depths.
“Don’t die,” said Maddie, her voice small and wheedling.
“Watch out for the monsters!” hollered down Snitch.
By the time Fiona splashed down into the filthy water that covered the tunnel below, the urchins had already dragged the grating back into place above her. Fiona spared a look up and saw two tiny faces peering down at her before hefting her sword and surveying the area.
Not for the first time, she found herself in one of Greyport’s storm drains. Behind her, the cylindrical hallway dipped downward slightly, making it easier for rain water to pour toward the outflow pipes near the ocean. A slender ribbon of water, likely snowmelt from the mountains, slithered down the middle of the tunnel, soaking Fiona’s feet to the ankles.
She peered up the storm drain and realized just how unprepared she really was for this dungeon adventure. The path ahead was mostly dark, except for the rare spots where the sun shone down through other gratings. Fiona cursed herself silently. She should have brought torches. And a rope. Oh, and maybe a really long pole, or something, so she could prod the area ahead of her to make sure there were no traps. She vowed to remember to bring those tools next time.
“Having second thoughts, are you, Red?” called Maddie from above.
“No,” Fiona replied, before venturing into the darkness ahead of her.
She had traveled for quite a while, stopping occasionally under gratings to soak in the sunlight and what little fresh air was able to filter down into the storm drain. Of monsters, she had seen nothing. All the spiders Fiona had encountered were the eentsy-weensty ones that couldn’t put up a decent fight if they tried, and, while the one rat she had come across was rather larger than normal, it simply squeaked irritably when she brandished her sword and scampered down the storm drain away from her.
At last, Fiona came to a Y-intersection in the storm drain. To the left, the drain continued its slow ascent. To the right, a set of cracked, damp, and moss-covered steps led up out of the drains and, presumably, toward the lair where Fiona might find monsters and the treasure. Placing her feet carefully on the steps–both to maintain her footing and to ensure she made as little sound as possible–Fiona ascended.
The sunlight from the nearest grating only barely penetrated the gloom at the top of the steps, and so Fiona was forced to wait until her eyes adjusted to the darkness. After a few moments, she could see that she was now in a makeshift hallway lined with foraged stone and brick, not dissimilar to many of the better-maintained tunnels in the Undercity. The familiar appearance of the path ahead eased her tension, but only just, and Fiona crept forward with her blood pounding in her ears.
The opening at the end of the hallway was blocked by a large slab of wood. Not daring to set down her sword, Fiona set her back against the wooden barrier and heaved, pushing herself forward with her feet. The wooden slab was heavy, and Fiona lost her footing several times on the muddy floor, but after some minutes, she was able to create a gap wide enough to squeeze through. A shimmer of afternoon sunshine poured through the gap.
Fiona mopped the sweat from her eyes, checked her grip on her sword, and stepped into the light…
Only to find a large woman, dressed in the vestments of the priesthood of Elaana, standing on the other side.
“Thought you could just sneak back in after all this time without consequences?” shouted the woman, hefting a broom. “Think again, you sneak!”
Fiona blocked the downward swinging broom with her sword, feeling her teeth rattle as the shock of the impact traveled up her arms. The woman swung back her now deeply-notched broom, and prepared to deliver another formidable blow. As she did so, Fiona thought she saw an opening, but she didn’t take it. Fighting monsters was one thing. Fighting a person in the official uniform of one of the city’s gods was quite another.
The woman, too, hesitated, though her broom was still cocked back and ready for another swing. She seemed confused for a moment as she regarded Fiona.
In the meantime, Fiona’s eyes had gotten used to the brightness of the room beyond the tunnel, and she realized that its environs were more familiar than she had expected.
“You’re not Gerki!” said the woman.
“Sister Constance!” blurted out Fiona at precisely the same time.
During the brief period of bewilderment, apologies, and hugs, Fiona’s eyes finally adjusted to the much brighter light in the chamber. She realized, rather quickly, that the “dungeon” that that gang of urchins had sent her to loot, was actually one of the back rooms of the Great Temple Orphanage. She also suspected that the locked donation box, which Sister Constance had placed on a high shelf, was, in fact, the treasure that she was meant to acquire and bring back.
Fiona bit her lip and cursed herself silently as she considered this new information. Looking at it rationally, dispassionately, it should have been obvious to her from the start that Deetch and the others were conning her. Fiona had been friends with Gerki for years, after all–she knew all about the Kobold Game, the Elvish Prisoner, The Lute Swindle, and a bunch of others. She really should have seen it coming.
That’s what she got for getting her hopes up.
While Fiona chastised herself, Sister Constance got down an earthenware jar of licorice from off one of the storeroom shelves, cracked open the lid, and let Fiona help herself to a small handful.
“Now,” said Sister Constance, as she placed the jar back on the shelf. “Let’s have it out, shall we? What were you doing creeping around with a sword, like a common bandit?”
Fiona realized that she wasn’t ready to answer the question yet, so she countered with one of her own. “Well, all right, but why did you think I was Gerki?”
“Oh.” With a look of embarrassment, Sister Constance shoved the shelving that Fiona had moved back in place over the concealed entrance. “Well, you know how he was always sneaking in and out of here when he was younger, and none of us could catch him? Well, about a year or so ago, I was cleaning in here and just happened to find that tunnel when I moved these shelves. So I thought to myself, ‘Well, that must be how young Gerki was able to slip in and out under our noses for all those years. I ought to leave it just as it is, in case he comes creeping back in one night, and then I could let him know that he’s been found out and give him the discipline that he rightly deserves.’”
“I see that,” said Fiona, studying the shelves. Now that they were back in place, it was impossible to tell that there was anything unusual about them, or that there was a secret tunnel leading to the city storm drain just behind them. “But…well…I mean you do know that Gerki is eighteen, right? I don’t think he’s going to be coming back to the orphanage, well, ever.”
“Really?!” Sister Constance scratched her head. “Has it been that long? Goodness.”
“Well, then, I suppose I ought to let someone know that the tunnel’s there, so that it can be bricked up to keep out the riff-raff.”
Fiona felt her blood freeze as Sister Constance looked down her nose at her. “Speaking of which, you never answered my question.”
Fiona thought she would be able to remain resolute in the face of Sister Constance’s judgmental expression, but she cracked the moment the priestess harrumphed in what, Fiona assumed, was confusion and disappointment. She spilled her guts, telling Sister Constance about her visits to the Red Dragon Inn, the urchins, the promise of adventurer training, the sword, and her misguided trek underneath Greyport to what she assumed was a vast and foreboding dungeon complex. By the time she was done, Fiona’s face felt hot and she was a little bit weepy.
“That’s a fine thing, those urchins taking advantage of your good nature! Why, I’m sure they would have made off with the donations and left you to catch hell for it, the little monsters.”
Fiona rubbed her eyes with hands sticky with licorice. “Yeah, I know. I figured that out, too.”
Sister Constance got down on one knee and laid a hand on Fiona’s shoulder. Fiona noticed an unusual gleam in the priestess’ eye.
“So,” said Sister Constance, her voice a conspiratorial whisper. “Would you like to get back at them?”
Fiona had scrubbed mud from the storm drain on her face and arms and had adopted quite a prominent limp as she approached the bottom of the ladder, the orphanage’s donation box hefted onto one shoulder.
As she came into the circle of light shining down from above, she carefully placed the donation box on the ground, grabbed it by the handle, and proceeded to drag it after her. Fiona made sure to throw in the occasional grunt and groan, to the fact that the empty donation box was definitely, extraordinarily, gargantuanly heavy.
She looked up to the grating. No faces peered down in her direction.
Fiona wondered if they had scattered the moment she had disappeared up the storm drain, or if they had gotten bored with their little game and had wandered away some time ago.
“Hey! You still there?” she called up, quietly.
Two grubby heads came into view.
“Hey,” said Snitch, somewhat incredulously. “You’re back!”
“Yeah,” said Fiona. She rattled the handle of the donation box. “I got the treasure, too.”
The two urchins looked at one another for a moment.
“You didn’t have any trouble?” said Maddie. “No monsters or anything?”
Fiona shook her head. “No. The place was deserted. The treasure box is really heavy, though, so it took me a while to drag it all the way back here.”
“Nice work,” said Maddie, her voice a touch flat. “Bring it on up here, then, and we can take it over to Deetch and the others.”
“I don’t think I can,” said Fiona. “It’s really heavy. Can you come down and help me carry it up?”
“It’s really that heavy?” said Snitch, his tongue coated with the honeyed tones of avarice.
“Yup!” said Fiona. For a demonstration, she squatted down, grabbed the box, and pretended to have a great deal of difficulty even lifting it up. She let out some really convincing grunting noises, and bulged out the muscles in her legs and arms for good measure. “See?”
“If it’s that heavy,” said Snitch, “I don’t know how we’re going to be able to help you with it.”
“That’s true,” said Maddie, still skeptical, but also greedy. “Deetch left us behind to watch because we’re the little ones and we’re hard to catch.”
“Well,” said Fiona. “I suppose I could open it up and carry the treasure up in stages, but that’ll take a long time, and we might get caught.”
“Point,” said Snitch. Then he snapped his filthy fingers. “Maddie, what if you went back and got Deetch and the others? Tell Deetch to bring that big old piece of rope he swiped from the harbor.”
“Yeah,” said Maddie, “with all of us pulling together, we’ll get the treasure up and out before anyone notices.”
Fiona tried to keep a smile from spreading across her face. Like Gerki had always said about cons–once the mark gets greedy enough and invested enough, you don’t need to do anything else to convince or trick them.
“Sure,” she said. “You go do that, Maddie. Me and Snitch will wait here until you get back.”
A dozen hands seized the grating and hoisted it out of the hole. A bunch of unwashed faces all crowded around the opening at once, all but blotting out the light of the midafternoon sun. Amidst whispers, commands, and angry shouts, the leading end of a salt-crusted rope was hurled down to Fiona for her to tie around the handle of the box.
“All set,” said Fiona, once she had the knot securely tied.
“On three,” said Deetch, from somewhere above her. “One…two…threeeeeeee!”
The donation box shot up into the air, rattling and banging wherever it struck the rungs of the ladder. Fiona could hear the urchins all cursing and yelling at one another. She wished she could have seen their faces. She had to content herself with imagining them all pulling in unison, putting all their combined strength into lifting the box, and then falling in a tangled heap when their efforts met with almost no resistance.
“Hoy, Red!” roared Deetch. “What are you playing at? This box doesn’t weigh hardly anything at all!”
“What box?” came another voice, which Fiona knew belonged to Sister Constance.
“Run!” shouted Deetch. “Scatter!”
Fiona, holding her sword in her right hand, slowly and carefully ascended the ladder and poked her head out of the hole. Sister Constance had brought half the total adults from the orphanage into the dead end alleyway, and, between them, the adults had managed to corral the gang of urchins. Deetch seemed to have done better than his comrades, and was a quarter of the way up one of the cracked and sagging brick walls that bordered the alley. He might have made it had not Sister Constance herself raced over to the wall and deftly plucked Deetch off of it. The urchins’ leader hung from the neck of his shirt from Sister Constance’s fist, glowering at his predicament, his arms crossed.
“There’s another one,” called Brother Tambrin, the halfling gardener, pointing dramatically in Fiona’s direction.
“Eeek!” said Fiona, as she calmly climbed out of the hole and allowed herself to be apprehended by Brother Tambrin. “Let me go. I’m innocent, I tell you. I don’t know any of these people.”
“A likely story,” said Brother Tambrin, who was smiling broadly despite the seriousness of his voice. “What should we do with them, Sister Constance?”
“Well, we are the sworn protectors of the city’s unfortunate children,” said Sister Constance as she gently lowered Deetch until his feet could touch the paving stones. “I say we get these poor waifs back to the orphanage, clean them up, get them some food, and then we can decide what we’re going to do with them.”
A few of the urchins grumbled and whined audibly at this, but Fiona noticed that one or two, including Snitch, seemed somewhat relieved.
Several days later, Fiona followed Sister Constance out of the orphanage and through the streets of Greyport. This was the first time she had been allowed out in the city since she had been “caught” by Brother Tambrin for, despite Sister Constance’s kind words and cunning aid, Fiona had still been punished for breaking into the orphanage using Gerki’s old escape tunnel. Considering what she had done, the punishment–five days of vegetable peeling duty in the orphanage’s kitchen–wasn’t too bad, but Fiona wasn’t sure that her fingers would ever stop aching, or that she would ever stop smelling faintly of raw potatoes.
Of the urchins…the other children…that had been rounded up that night, most of them were still there. They had spent the duration of Fiona’s punishment getting deloused, getting vigorously scrubbed, and being fed regular meals. A few of them had already started attending classes with Brother Fulburt, and the rest were expected to join in by week’s end.
Most were still annoyed that Fiona had conned them at their own con, but Fiona suspected that they would eventually come around. The fact that they were doing better in the orphanage than they had been on the Greyport streets surely helped, and the fact that Fiona had also been punished for her part in the gang’s shenanigans would likely help to win them over.
Deetch and Maddie, however, were among a handful of the other children who, much like Gerki, were not terribly interested in adjusting to orphanage life. They had escaped late one night out a window, tying their bedsheets together to form a makeshift rope. They had also made off with quite a bit of food. Fiona hoped that it would last them a while.
And now, after all of that, Sister Constance had asked Fiona to wash up, get dressed, and come with her out into the city. The priestess had said nothing about where they were going or what they were doing, instead progressing through the city as steadily and as surely as a great merchant ship in the harbor, carrying a longish something wrapped in cloth under her arm. Fiona, still ashamed from her recent experiences, didn’t feel confident enough to ask Sister Constance where they were going.
When they stopped at the entrance to the Red Dragon Inn, Fiona simply stared up at Sister Constance, stunned. For her part, Sister Constance simply winked, opened up the door, and ushered Fiona inside.
“My goodness,” said Jasper. “It’s you again! It can’t have been a year already? Or has it? Warthorn keeps me so busy, it’s sometimes hard to remember what day it is.”
“It hasn’t been,” said Fiona. “Hello.”
“Hello, yourself,” said Jasper, smiling brightly. “I’m afraid I still can’t let you in.”
“And thank goodness for that,” said Sister Constance, moving to stand before the host’s stand. “Fiona has told me all about you, and you seem like a sensible, level-headed sort who knows a thing or two about the adventuring…er…lifestyle. Is that the case?”
“Well, I’d like to think so,” said Jasper.
“Good,” replied Sister Constance. “Then, as a priestess of the Great Temple, I would like to ask you for a little help in keeping Fiona here on the right path. It seems she was so desperate to become an adventurer that she fell in with the wrong crowd. That’s all sorted out now, thankfully.”
Fiona nodded vigorously, glad that she had never told anyone in the orphanage about her continued association with Gerki.
“But, in order to make sure that she continues to make the right decisions, I was wondering if I could enlist your help in teaching her some of the particulars of being an adventurer. What to do. What not to do. Proper dungeon delving etiquette. How to tell whether a person is a genuine quest giver or someone just trying to get you into trouble,” and here she glanced at Fiona. “That sort of thing.”
“Well,” said Jasper, “that’s highly unusual and outside my job description, but I do know that Fiona is bound and determined to be an adventurer, and I’m happy to tell her what I know. That is, if Warthorn approves of me moonlighting just a little bit.”
“Excellent,” said Sister Constance. “Fiona, what do you think of this arrangement?”
Fiona was having trouble containing her excitement. She nodded even more vigorously than before, and tried to keep her voice from squeaking. “Yes! That sounds fantastic!”
“Good.” Sister Constance took the wrapped bundle out from under her arm and gestured pointedly at Fiona with it. “Now, I want you to pay close attention to everything Jasper tells you…”
“Because I want you to write a twenty page paper on ‘The Proper Morality of the Goodly Adventurer,’ once you’re done with him.”
Fiona sagged as much of the excitement fizzled out of her body. “Fine.”
“And,” said Sister Constance, as she unwrapped the bundle, “depending on how well you write your paper, I might be able to convince the Headmaster to give this back to you.”
Enough of the cloth had, by now, been removed that Fiona could see the dented and driftwood-accented hilt of her very first sword.
Tales from the Red Dragon Inn is live on Kickstarter until October 28, 2021!