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Rise of the Nightmare Crestmaster

Chapter 5 Strangers

Aldrich and Isger were well on their way to the village. Mr. Isger"s farm wasn"t far from the village though he wouldn"t call it close either. The wagon shook as the mare pulled it along the Wakefield trail.

The trail was well traveled and the wind had calmed since early morning. Mr. Isger was walking on the left side of the wagon to the front and Aldrich was on the right keeping a close eye on the woods.

To his great dismay the usually short and relaxing trip to the village felt excruciatingly long. Only when he finally stood before the village gate did he allow himself a sigh of relief.

Of course the so-called gate was little more than a wooden arch connected to a short wooden fence, there was no gate so-to-speak . Two guards greeted them at the entrance, besides the rusty spears they held and a leather helm there was no other way of distinguishing them from other villagers.

A normally amusing sight for Aldrich, this time it invoked frustration. "Couldn"t they have brought some leather vests and some better spears for the guards?!"

As he was busy complaining internally they passed by most of the houses and Mr. Isger stopped once in a while to greet some people. Sometimes Aldrich had to cough loudly to remind Isger that they had a delivery to make.

Wakefield"s tavern, it also doubled as the mayor"s house and one of two taverns in all of Wakefield, the oldest of the two definitely. The old wooden door had scratches and dents, the walls had them too and weird brownish spots big and small to boot. The inside was a little better.

The door was open of course and Aldrich and Mr. Isger walked in casually. There were few patrons in, only two men sat at a table enjoying what looked like a hearty breakfast, the smell of hot bread and fresh eggs was tantalizing. Both men turned to them at the sound of the creaking door hinges when they entered.

"Here you are, Isger! Thought you might not make it after all." Mr. Berton, got up from his seat as he shook hands with Mr. Isger.

In return Mr. Isger laughed, "I wouldn"t want to miss out on the festival, now would I?"

It was only now that Aldrich remembered the up coming spring festival tomorrow, one of the most popular days in the village. Unfortunately Aldrich didn"t find it in himself to cheer.

The mayor then looked at Aldrich and nodded "good man, Aldrich, working hard right before the festival eh?"

"Well I have to help old man Isger out in the farm, you know about his feeble back."

The mayor burst out laughing, "yeah, you do that young man," Mr. Isger had to object, "well my back is doing just alright."

They mayor stepped aside, "we have a guest today, this is the honorable Atrio Taelva, he is a representative from the imperial bank in Ado"merin, he"s here for a visit to our humble village."

The man had a shaggy beard and a gentle smile as he greeted them both.

"Mayor Berton you overpraise me, it is I who is humbled to visit such a prosperous and beautiful village. Mr. Isger, you must be a friend of the mayor"s. Please join us for breakfast." Atrio Taelva had a joyous laugh too.

After a look exchange with the mayor, Isger answered "sounds like a fine idea. Aldrich you go unload the wagon, you know where the storage is."

Aldrich made to move when he was stopped by the mayor"s hand on his shoulder. "Isger, tomorrows the festival, take it easy on the boy now will you? I"ll have the boys do it."

"Sure, have it your way. I was going to let him have the rest of the day off anyway."

Mr. Berton smile warmly, as he handed Aldrich a plate wrapped with a cloth, "here this is breakfast, go eat it with your mother, she must have missed you dearly."

Aldrich could only manage an awkward smile, "yeah, alright I will get going then." As Aldrich made his way to the door he saw the three men heading back to the table by the window.

Aldrich was still wary of this stranger, although he bore no resemblance to the dark cloaked man. Strangers were rare in Wakefield. Very rare.

So that"s how he ended up sneaking around the tavern and using the bushes to eavesdrop behind the window. From here he could hear the conversation quite clearly.

"Master Atrio, with all due respect, I must request that you discipline your captain of guards. I received several complaints that he has been aggressively harassing some girls. The next time I hear such a complaint he will be arrested and made to spend some cold nights in a cell." The mayor, spoke with a cordial but firm tone.

"Besides I Don"t see why you would need so many guards around? They make people feel a little uneasy."

"Such disrespectful behavior is, of course, over the line. I assure you I will be having some hard words with him this afternoon. You know how perilous traveling is these days, and a man of my profession needs some protection, but they are not my people so to say. I hired them from a firm." Atrio continued smoothly, "anyhow the deal I proposed is still on as I promised."

"About the paper money?" The mayor asked in mockery.

"Yes the paper money," Atrio replied as if he wasn"t bothered by the mayor"s tone, "The time of coins is over, trust me, in the big cities everybody basically uses paper. The Imperial bank is giving such great rates, this is the right time to exchange, the more you hesitate the faster the chances flee from your grasp."

Even though Aldrich couldn"t see from his hiding spot he could imaging Atrio"s animated expressions from the intensity of his voice.

"I"m not so sure, I didn"t think paper money was so popular. I think maybe I should wait a bit longer." The mayor was hesitant.

"Wait a little longer? Sure take your time. It"s just that I"m afraid you"ll miss this golden opportunity to make it big. Besides the bank offers special perks to those that exchange more than fifty gold marks, the loans you could take will be most accommodating."

"Loans benefits? Why would the bank help people get into debt?"

"This decision was made to help the imperial citizens, say for example, you might like to repair your tavern or perhaps wanted to expand it but you are just short a few coins, that"s when the bank steps in to help out in return for an insignificant interest…"

Paper money. This was not the first time Aldrich heard of it, but he hadn"t seen anyone use or accept it before. And the talks delved into boresome topics.

Atrio continued on without caring about Aldrich"s entertainment. "Do you know how your brother Tomard got the money to build his very own tavern? Haven"t you bee a little curious? this is sensitive information, but seeing as we became such good friends, I will share; he got a loan from us."

"He did?" Asked Mr. Isger in surprise.

"Indeed, he already paid off his debt, and then he took another loan, what was it—ah, yes, I heard he was running for mayor? Oops, I shouldn"t have said that, please ignore that it was but a slip of the tongue. Anyway Mayor Berton, we will be leaving on the morrow at first light. Think about my offer."

Tomard himself is indebted to the bank? This surprised Aldrich since Tomard was the man that kept selling his mother dreamshade and started this debt spiral. His goons used to beat up Aldrich every once in a while.

His mother however, had no intention to pay her own debt after all she didn"t want to do any work, her day consisted of laying in bed and smoking dreamshade. All the while, of course she didn"t forget to remind Aldrich of how useless he was, naturally, the debt fell on him.

Aldrich was beaten black and blue almost every week, this all ended when he started working for Mr. Krynt and Mr. Isger, and how he was almost done with paying it off at last.

Aldrich decided to leave lest he get caught.

Aldrich wander around the village for a bit and saw that most villagers were busily preparing for the spring festival. He heard some grumbling about the guard captain during that time he got to know that said guard is named Keld.

Aldrich didn"t feel like going home yet so he decided to pay Mr. Krynt a visit. The banker brought six guards with him, they all arrived yesterday morning, any one of them could have been the dark cloaked man.

There wasn"t much of a change to the Crestmaster of Wakefield over the past two years. Except that he wasn"t as secretive about Crestmasters anymore, Aldrich guessed that it was to caution him not repeat his past mistakes.

But it"s not like he was an open book or anything, sometimes he would say a thing or two.

"Aldrich, how was your trip to Uleq? Anything interesting happen?"

"Uh, no nothing in particular. So I hear Adera isn"t visiting this year?"

"No, she wants to find some work in Voryhrm."

Aldrich picked up the green messenger monkey and started rubbing it"s little tummy in circles.

"Did she ignite her first symbol yet?"

"Not that I know of. It depends from one person to another. Things like that better not be forced."

Although you might awaken a holy ring if you can"t ignite the first symbol on the ring then you will remain an initiate. Only after the first symbol is ignited will you become an official Crestmaster.

"We"ll do you have anything to say? Don"t tell me you came here to waste my time. I have work to do."

"Tomorrow"s the festival take a break will you?"

"I know but something came up, I will be extremely busy not just tomorrow but even for the next three days."

"Well I guess I"ll see you in three days then?"

"Yeah, yeah, get going."

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