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Captain of the Guard: Prelude to the Evenings Festivities

September 10, 2019

“What!” Emile sputtered.

Marious nodded his head, as if he had been expecting that answer.

“Don’t listen to him, Cedric.” Emile pleaded, “We’ll get him to change his mind. You rescue us and we will return the noble gesture with one of our own, we will assist you in your quest.”

“Task.” Cedric said deliberately, “It isn’t a quest.”

“Task, quest, what matter a name? We will assist you in the endeavor, we too will be a companion to heroes.”

“Assuming he is a hero, and he says he isn’t.” Marious was looking less hopeful and more resigned to the situation

Emile was not dissuaded. “That’s typical too. Heroes generally deny their role, especially at the beginning, so he might not even know he’s a hero.”

“Do I look like I’m at the beginning? I’m in my middle years.” Cedric pointed out.

“He’s going to be stringy pretty soon.” Pookie agreed.

“Not helpful, Pookie.” Marious looked at Cedric. “Look, if you are a hero, please free us, we beg you.”

“Please,” Emile looked at Cedric with soulful eyes, “no intelligent being is free, unless we are all free.”

Cedric thought about all the serfs, indentured servants and even slaves he had seen through his life, the many men that were in the pillory or a cell. No one was ever going to be free by that kind of philosophy. “I don’t know how I can.”

“If you are a true hero, you will find a way.” Emile said with certainty. Marious looked doubtful, Pookie was disgusted.

When they left the tent, Vul turned to Cedric, “So how are you going to do it?”

“Do what?” Cedric asked in irritation.

“Rescue them! Come now, my Captain, surely you have already formed a plan.”

“I haven’t and I won’t. Did it occur to you that it could be a con? I try and free the beast, or worse, I actually free it and it runs off and I get caught. What kind of money will pay for their loss? Especially for a unique item like that dog? I pay every penny I have, and then they leave and that sneaky monster joins up with them and they pull the same game in the next city.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you? Word of that kind of sham would certainly carry.” Vul suggested, but his initial enthusiasm was dampened.

Alstone laughed, “Captain, you are a wise man. You will have to find some other way to free them.”

“Not you too.” Cedric wondered if he was the only sane person around.

The Charlatan puffed up, “What man could not feel for the piteous plight of that animal?”

Cedric could think of one man immediately and he was sure that he could come up with others.

“Perhaps outsmarting the Travelers is the way to do it, for you show a cunning mind.”

“Al, in my experience, cunning men usually out smart themselves, not other people. Especially when they play another man’s game.” Cedric replied as the approached the inn.

The Disappointed Innkeeper was a large structure, having been built on repeatedly by each succeeding generation. All that truly remained of the original structure was the front room. There was a second floor and loft, a large stable out back, a kitchen and a couple out buildings where extended family lived and farmed nearby.

There were troughs of murky water along the front where people could water their horses after tying them to one of the posts. A small garden could be seen on one side. There had been several attempts, by several different wives at different times, at beautifying the place with flowers and some shrubs; all of them had met with failure. Not a complete failure where nothing grew, but the unruly failure of halfhearted success on the part of the plants. A splash of color here, a dab of blue or violet there, which was worse than no flowers at all.

Whisper was waiting for them at the low porch that extended from the Inn. “So, Captain, how was the show.”

“It was a dog.” Cedric said with no inflection in his voice.

Vul chuckled. “A magnificent animal”

Al smiled.

Whisper shrugged, “ a dog’s a dog.”

Vul laughed again. “I think you will see that dog soon enough.”

Cedric grimaced.

“Captain, the horses are stabled,” Whisper looked sidelong at a Vul’s horse which had been tied to a hitching post nearby. That was one animal that had not been tended to. “And they’re being cared for by the men, we got billets up in the loft. I’ve arranged for oats for the horses, a round of cheese for each man’s saddle bag, as well as dried meat, and hard bread.”

“Good. Have everything packed tonight.”

“Ro was through here, though he didn’t tarry long. He headed farther into the mountains.

“Alright.” Cedric glanced over at the Travelers. “Tell the men that we’re leaving at daybreak.”

“They’re going to seek entertainment.”

Cedric’s lips twisted. “If they want to lose their wages, that’s their choice. No drinking. We need to keep an eye on them though.”

Whisper grinned, “What if I wanted entertainment?”

“I suspect we’ll have some before the night is over.” Cedric felt uneasy as Whisper went off to take care of other details.

Vul went to tend his horse, which left Cedric feeling somewhat relieved, even if Al was hovering nearby sniffing the scraggly flowers. Cedric had a feeling the old fraud didn’t care one wit about the plants, but was waiting for something.

“Well?” Cedric finally asked after long moments of silence that Al attempted to fill with pregnant expectancy, but which only made the Captain consider engaging in an act of simple and straightforward violence.

Al raised his eyebrows, “Well, what, Captain?”

“There something you wanted to discuss?”

The charlatan pushed himself up from where he had been stooped down near a periwinkle colored blossom. “I don’t think so, should I want to discuss something?”

“I suppose not.”

Al pointed at the flower. “Pretty thing, don’t you think? Unexpected, among all the weeds that are choking out everything else. It is rewarding to find things that defy the odds.”
Cedric thought about what Al was saying and decided the fake was trying to pull off some attempt at a teaching lesson with mystical symbolism that sounded wise and yet didn’t teach or say anything that a person didn’t know already. He glanced at the flower before looking back at the Travelers.

Al sighed under his breath, which Cedric ignored although it gave him a brief moment of satisfaction that he had vexed the man. The mage came up beside the Captain. “Perhaps we should walk about the Traveler’s camp.”

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