The Task is a novel of medieval politics, espionage and combat on multiple levels. Locals search their inner selves while our heroes fight hand to hand with monsters that curse the area with their very presence
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The TaskChronicles of Jaffar Book 1
By Randy Fasig
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Randy Fasig
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Task
10/27/1024 TY [ Eoayous the 27th of Oekau year 1024 Tyracin calendar]
It had been a great Eoayous and if the rest of the weekend was the same it would be a good one. The snow had kept most barges off the river. Sailors and shore men with nothing better to do had flocked into the tavern. The night ran through Corimalin's mind while walking the five squares to his room, "If I had made a few more wagers I really could have cleaned up!"
Darrel, the inn keep, called as Cori entered, "I hear you made a few extra coin this eve."
"Yeah some new river rats up from the capital couldn't follow a pea if I had used clear mugs." He jokingly replied as he headed up the steps.
Corpo, the northern most city of Dacia, settled almost four centuries earlier was a mix of the old, the new, and everything in between. King Corrigan had commissioned the original outpost here as a first line of defense from the humanoid barbarian tribes of the north. Existing right on the edge of the badlands leading into the mountains of the north and the fertile fields of the southern plain, it grew. The farmers who wanted the security of being near a fortress and the free spirited independent types who thought they could make a name for themselves fighting the humanoid bands were all welcome, and of course the men who brought in the goods that allowed the place to survive, they were all here.
The original stonewall of the castle fortress was still there, in desperate need of repair. The city wall replaced the castles main defense two hundred years ago. Of course, since that time, the cities walls had been expanded three times. The first of these along the northern quarter were mostly prospectors and free swords for hire. It was not very successful.
The next expansion moved into the northeast. This was the local governors attempt to show the docks and warehouses that he was willing to protect their interests, saying in effect that it was his interest too. This was more successful, probably because the governor's comfy furniture came in through those docks, or perhaps because these people paid their taxes.
The most recent expansion was built about forty years ago and connected the two previous walled in areas. This created a new bow like arc connecting the dilapidated knob of the northwest, where most of the workers lived and tried to raise their families, to the well-maintained northeast.
The majority of the roofs here were tile rather than the more common thatch of the southern farming communities. The clay of the badlands, once you ground the clumps, produced a pinkish tint rather than the traditional deep red, giving the area its own unique flavor. The tiles tended to blend into the brick or give an accent to whitewashed wood, it even made the stonework somehow seem bright.
Corpo looked like a jewel. Lawbreakers were not jailed except in extreme cases They instead carried buckets of water from the river to others who swept the refuse from the streets and of course into the river. They did whitewashing or whatever civic improvement the new governor decided on next. He was going to keep his jewel clean.
The newest law forbid the carrying of swords in the city. This had boosted dagger sales. The idea was to keep the local free swords in check, and give the city guard an advantage.
It seemed to be working this was the first night in months that nobody had been beaten with a blade in the tavern. Dockmans Tavern of course was near the docks and attracted the rougher sailors off the river. This was why Corimalin had hesitated on those few extra bets. Better to go away a little light than be carried away dead.
As he placed his hand on the latch to his room a chill ran through his body. He pulled his hand away, quickly and carefully examining the door. The chill was instantly replaced by a feeling of dread. The door seemed fine the only tracks in the hall were from the snow on his boots. "I'm getting paranoid," he mused, and opened the door, acutely aware of the total darkness inside.
"Are you coming in?" A deep voice echoed in the small room.
Darrel would have told him if someone had come to see him, so this guy had come in through the window. Cori was thinking quickly running through all the possibilities he could think of. "You'll have to work for this bounty," He replied as a knife dropped from his sleeve into his hand.
"I mean you no harm, in fact I might just save you," the voice returned.
"Save me? How?"
"Enter and we will speak."
"How about a little light first?"
"As you wish," the shutters opened allowing the nearly full moon to shine in.
Cori could now see a tall figure in a dark cowl hooded flowing robe, standing near the window. This was belted at the waist and adorned with a bright platinum buckle. Not sure whether to run or face this stranger he stepped into the room leaving the door open behind him.
"I want you to do something for me."
"Who are you?" Cori tried to put more authority in his voice than he felt.
"Who I am is not important, for I am only a messenger. You just happened to be near and ready to leave town, so this small task serves us both."
Cori was now curious. Curiosity mixed with fear is strange enough but to feel compelled to hear this man out, that was just lunacy, wasn't it? "Well suppose you tell me why I would leave town in the middle of a snow storm?" His curiosity won out.
"Because an assassin from the Iron Fist was in the tavern tonight and he recognized you."
"How do you know that?"
Laughter bellowed throughout the room.
Cori jumped and closed the door, forgetting his escape route. "I don't see what could be so funny!" he snapped.
"You are so little worried for your life that you only care how I came upon my information."
"It is not that I do not care for my life, but being sure before I risk it on an open trail in the snow seems like a good idea to me!" Cori's voice rose as he spoke till it was almost a yell.
The stranger's voice lost all signs of amusement. "If not for my masters need of you I would kill you for speaking to me like that!"
"Now we are getting somewhere. Who is your master?" Cori tried to make it sound like a demand over the rising fear inside him, at the same time wishing he hadn't closed the door.
"Do as you will. My advice is that you leave here now and go to the temple founded by Jaffar Ibn Ravi. Once you arrive give him this message...."
Chapter TwoTime To go
10/27/1024 TY [Eoayous 27th of Oekau year 1024 Tyracin calendar]
Cori had packed everything quickly when the stranger left, if you could call fading away leaving. He was now carrying all his worldly belongings to the stables.
Willard proved to be his usual self, asleep in a pile of hay. From the smell of him he was drunk too, so much the better. Cori took two horses out the back and hitched them to a wagon. This accomplished, he threw a sack and his pack in the back. After climbing up he suddenly realized there were three crates in the wagon. "Oh well oops is the word for tonight." A smile crept across his lips.
After brushing the snow from the seat a quiet trip across the yard and out the gate this was almost too easy. Next stop Dockmans Tavern.
With the snow the wagon made little noise but Cori stopped at the corner before the tavern anyway, just to be safe. A short walk brought him to the tavern door, its lock yielded easily to his touch. Grabbing as much food as he could carry in his sack, without forgetting the days profits, he slipped back out the way he had come. Placing the sack of food in the back and two flasks of wine under the seat, he was off.
Taking the long way to the east gate Cori found what he was looking for, a boy about twelve or thirteen trying to hide from the cold in a narrow gap between buildings. He stopped.
"Hey boy, come here."
"Why it cold out dere?"
"Because I'm gonna get you warm and out of the snow. Unless you'd rather stay in there till the thaw comes."
The boy came out still cautious, "Why you wanna help me?"
"Because I can, and maybe I just don't want you to die of cold in there. Climb on." The boy obliged and Cori got the wagon moving again. "There's a blanket in the back wrap yourself up for now." As the boy reached back to find the offered blanket Cori asked, "What's your name? Unless you want me to call you boy till the thaw."
"Arturo," he blurted "and I gonna be a great wizard some day!"
Cori smiled. "Well now wizard Arturo, you're in luck. I just happen to be going to the city with the largest wizards college in all of Dacia."
"Dracor! You goin to Dracor?" Arturo could barely hold back his excitement.
"Yes I am. Would you like to come along?"
"Wow! Yeah! ... I mean yes sir."
As they approached the gate Cori instructed young Artuto, "Don't mention Dracor to the guard it is a secret. As a future wizard you know how to keep a secret, right?"
Before Arturo could reply the guard approached. "Oh Cori it's you. What brings you out on a night like this?"
"I gotta run supplies out to the old mans daughter." Cori lied easily, "You know how he is. Do it his way or no way."
"Yeah, but you know the gate is closed for the night. Who's your friend?" He tried to change the topic.
"This is the future wizard Arturo." Cori winked.
"Yeah we get a lot of future wizards here." The guard joked.
Arturo blurted urgently, "But he gonna help me find a master an become a real wizard."
The guard smiled at Arturo. "You know I can't let you out till morning, wizard finder." He looked up at Cori.
"Even if I have something to help keep you warm tonight?" Cori played innocent. The boy, Arturo was distracting the guard as he had hoped.
"Oh?" The guard's interest suddenly changed as he glanced toward the gate.
"Arturo hand me that red flask from under the seat." Cori smiled at the guard. "You know the old man doesn't water down the wine in the red flasks."
"I get the whole flask?"
"Ok. But make it quick. I want no trouble with the sergeant."
Cori handed over the flask and the gate was opened.
The wagon rolled east heading out of Corpo with its two occupants.
Chapter ThreeTravel Time?
10/28/1024 TY [Nyios 28th of Oekau year 1024 Tyracin calendar]
By morning Arturo was asleep in the back, the snow had stopped, leaving behind a foot of white powder covering everything. Cori couldn't tell where the trail was but he kept on going. His head ached from looking at the pure white landscape he was hungry and tired. Knowing that the horses needed a rest, he decided to go on for about an hour then take a break.
Coming to a small grove of trees he stopped using the trees to provide a windbreak for the horses. He dug down into the snow to find grass for them to eat. His efforts were poorly rewarded, the horses ate what they could but it wasn't much considering he was taking them on such a long trip.
He began to wonder what was in those crates. Climbing back into the wagon he pried open the first crate. Between the three crates he had a full set of porcelain dinnerware for twelve. He was relieved it was worth about twelve hundred golden crowns. It just might buy Arturo his apprenticeship with a wizard. As he closed the third crate the boy woke.
"There's food in the sack, if you're hungry." He told the boy. "Eat while I hitch the horses up. Then you drive while I get some sleep."
When they were ready to leave Cori told him to move toward the distant mountains and wake him if anybody was on the road. Then he drifted off into a disturbed dream filled sleep.
To Arturo even the mountains appeared white.The road was unknown to him for he had never traveled it. He was willing to do anything to get to Dracor and the wizards college.
Chapter FourDon't Get Comfortable
11/5/1024 TY [Owtia the 5th of Evtev year 1024 Tyracin calendar]
It took six days to reach Dracor. The horses were both in bad shape. The snow, the wind and the lack of food had taken their toll. The wagon itself was showing signs that it would not last much longer. Repeated treks off the trail and through ruts and holes had loosened axles and even a few boards. Cori knew he would be lucky to trade all three for one good horse. With this in mind Cori felt like he was looking at a divine grace when Dracor came into sight.
"Well my young companion, tonight we eat well, sleep in warmth and enjoy all the comforts of a city."
"When will I meet da wizard to train me?" Arturo could not hold back his youthful anxious curiosity
Cori laughed, "Perhaps tomorrow, for now look upon the wonders of magic." Cori pointed out the temple of Death sitting atop a hill, the fact that the road had no snow on it even though the banks on either side of it were two and a half feet deep, the governors mansion high upon a cliff overlooking the city and finally the clear dome that protected the cities residents from the harsh snows. Of that he had not believed until now seeing it with his own eyes! He wondered was there really a twelve-story inn? Did the college of magic really float in midair? Were there really eight other schools floating around it? Could all of these things really be possible? He could see the wonder in his companion's eyes and could only hope it did not show in his own.
At the gate Cori got the names of two good inns and directions to the personal residence of the dean of the college, a woman the guard named Mistress Shellengar.
As they pulled away from the gate Arturo asked "We goin to da school now?"
"First things first my young friend. We check in at one of the inns and have a meal. Then we get you some clothes to make you presentable to a high-class lady. Tomorrow morning we shall present you to her, and then the rest is up to you." Cori instructed Arturo. "So which do you think Dracor Heights with its full services or Thjolstaff's Guest House where we will be comfortable and anonymous?" He knew the answer before he asked.
"Dracor Heighs! People can wait on us for once."
Cori could not argue with the boy's logic, he preferred the anonymity but he agreed. He could always move when Arturo entered his apprenticeship tomorrow.
When they got to the inn Cori was indeed impressed. The place was indeed twelve stories and seemed to be carved from a single polished stone! A boy about Arturo's age came over and told them that he would send in their belongings and care for the wagon and horses. Cori thanked him asking if the three crates could be kept in a secure place. Cori presented the boy with five silver coins and told him that there would be five more if everything was in order when it was collected tomorrow. It was readily agreed and they went inside.
If Cori had been impressed outside then the inside left him in awe. The entrance filled the first two stories of height with a central garden that contained paths, benches and fountains! There was a large desk about eight feet long that had two women behind it. As they approached the desk the dark haired one greeted them in Diminic, a common language in his homeland.
"Hello madam. We would like to secure lodging for tonight." He tried not to sound like he was new to this.
"Good day sir. I'm Gabriel I'll take care of getting you set up." She never stopped smiling and continued, "Since this is your first time here, would you like a room, a suite or an apartment?"
"I think a suite."
"Excellent sir, your name?"
Cori forgot to lie, "Corimalin Lightfoot."
She continued asking questions and directed him to several shops.The laundry and bathing services were explained (he knew they looked bad after six days in a wagon but had never had it put so politely before). He explained the crates when they arrived, and she assured him they would be well taken care of. Gabriel called over a boy similar to the one outside, and he showed them to their suite.
After bathing and changing they ate a hearty lunch in one of the inn's dining establishments.
Cori realized that this place accommodated everybody. The eateries served various cuisines from around the world, the shops had a similar selection of styles, and people spoke native languages wherever you went. This was a pampering house for rich visitors.
Lunch was finished and it was time to find Arturo a suitable set of clothes for tomorrow morning. These shops would be exclusive and raise the price of admittance beyond Cori's reach. After leaving the inn, they settled on a small shop with above average quality but without the flair of the rich. The effect was precisely what they were looking for, now for shoes and a haircut.
When everything was done the boy looked like he belonged to the fringes of society but, not quite rich enough to join in. This would get Cori's price accepted. The rest was up to Arturo.
He chose an up scale establishment for the evening meal. Arturo dressed in his new clothes, Cori was watching the patrons for a reaction. None seemed to object, perfect.
Excerpted from The Task by Randy Fasig Copyright © 2012 by Randy Fasig. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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