A Wednesday funny for you.
Every writer has an inner Gollum. When they start a book, it’s all nice and Smeagol-like. “Look at this shiny idea! Isn’t it the greatest?”
But sooner or later, Gollum comes out.
“We hates the booksy! We hates it!”
Why don’t you work on something else-
“No! Our precious!”
Here is a tiny bit of my precious for you.
“Why are we doing this in a courtyard?” I asked.
I was seated in a chair by the wine tree. Clover was to my left, standing, her hands folded before her, and Raynald was to my right. It was early afternoon and Kadin had run to the door to let Gort and his sons in.
“Because this is how it’s done,” Raynald told me.
“That explains nothing.”
“You’re the head of the household,” Clover said. “Entering your house is privilege. One they don’t get until they are accepted into your service.”
“Don’t smile. Try to look like you own the place and mean business,” Raynald told me.
“I know what I’m doing,” I told him.
“Yes, just like that.”
Kadin pulled the door open.
Gort’s name meant shield in the old language. The man looked exactly as you would imagine a human shield would look like. He was tall and broad and built like a football defensive end who gave up cardio and decided to become the strength straining coach: 6 foot 5 inches tall, 310 lbs, burly shoulders, huge biceps, thick neck, and a scowl on his face. Naturally pale, he’d acquired a permanent tan over the years, and the sun reflected slightly from his freshly shaved scalp as he walked into our courtyard.
Two younger versions of him followed. Gort 2.0 was my age, an inch taller than his father and about 30 lbs lighter. His ash blond hair was cut short, and a two-day stubble sheathed his square jaw. Gort 2.1 was probably around twenty or twenty-two, as tall as the original Gort, with longer, slightly darker blond hair and a clean-shaven face.
All three wore brown pants tucked into sturdy boots, dark short-sleeved tunics over thinner shirts, and thick belts. All three were armed. Gort and Gort 2.0 carried battle axes on their belts. Gort 2.1 bucked the trend and went with a sword.
“A human wall is walking toward us,” I murmured.
“That’s why we’re hiring them,” Raynald said next to me.
Gort crashed to a halt in front of me and gave me a mean stare.
“I’m Gort. This is Willem.” He pointed to his oldest son. “That’s Lutren.” He pointed to his youngest son.
Otherwise known as Will and Lute.
“I’m Maggie,” I told him.
“Raynald says you can be trusted. If you’re good enough for Raynald, you’re good enough for me. I’ll work for you, but I won’t trust you. You have to earn that.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “Did Raynald explain what we are doing?”
“More or less. You’re going after Hreban.” He spat the name like it was slime.
“Is that going to be a problem?” I asked.
“No problem,” Gort said. “The Rabid Dog owes me for my leg.”
Rabid Dog. Hreban got that nickname during the siege of a border town that several years ago decided to secede from the kingdom. The town had triple walls, each higher than the next. It was said that it couldn’t be breached, only starved. Hreban didn’t want to wait, so he hired mercenaries and threw them against those walls again and again, until the defenders literally ran out of arrows. It was said that 11 out of every 12 mercenaries died in that siege.
“If you need a man to piss in his ale, I’m it,” Gort said.
“Good to know.”
I opened the small box in front of me on the table and placed a stack of silver nomas on the table. “We offer a sign on bonus of 1 noma each, room and board, and daily pay of 8 dens for you, 6 dens for each of your sons, and 4 dens for your wife, if she chooses to work as our cook.”
Gort’s eyebrows crept up. He glanced at Raynald. “Those are war rates. Generous war rates.”
“There is a reason for that,” Raynald said.
“If you’re injured on the job, we will cover the cost of your medical care,” I said. “If you are permanently maimed and lose a limb on the job, you will get a one-time payout of 3 gold grests to compensate you. If you die on the job, your heirs will receive a one-time payout of 5 gold grests.”
Gort’s eyebrows rose again. “Death bonus?”
“That’s the way she does things,” Raynard said.
He and I had bickered over the workers compensation clause for over an hour. Raynard maintained that this was foolish, and no army ever paid soldiers money for dying. I finally asked him if he thought Gort might kill himself for 5 grests or if he thought the kids would do their father in to get their inheritance, at which point he gave up.
I looked Gort in the eye and gave him my best serious stare. “If Hreban finds out what we’re doing, he won’t be pissing into your ale. He’ll try to murder you and everyone you love. He will kill you, your wife, your sons, your dog, your cat, and then he will set your house on fire.”
“You don’t need to tell me that,” Gort growled.
“Think long and hard before you take this job,” I said. “No amount of gold is worth dying.”