Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Day Thirteen

Not that I'm suspicious, but... darn, I got called away, and now I have no idea what I was going to write about. Maybe it will come back to me! After a lazy morning, I decided to visit the city's self-styled "underlord". If Redwall was a big enough and old enough place to have proper sewers, he'd hold court in a chamber just off the main crap-float - but as it is, you go to one of the worst taverns in town, glare nicely at the one-thumbed barman, who then lets you go into the place's back area, where, past a permanent card game featuring anything from three to nine bored-looking players, you head for the cellar. There's a half-height door at the back of the place, just past a rack of surprisingly high-quality wines (if the labels can be believed); you go in there, then descend a sturdy wooden ladder into what is probably the start of the old cave system, with a small stream trickling through it, where a single guard gives you an oil lamp, points off to the dark, and goes back to his meditations.

And so it was that I arrived at the "court" of Man Coker, a large, natural cave beneath the south of town. He himself is short, fat, bald, as pale as an albino slug, and a stranger to the art of washing, for himself or his clothes - but he gives great prices for stolen goods, knows everything about Redwall that the guardsmen don't, and is fiercely loyal to his friends, confederates, and customers.

"Hey Charolia, nice of you to drop by!" He grinned, showing his perfect white teeth, and I grinned back. "I hear you avoided a few crossbow bolts someone had tried to write your name on?"

"You hear everything, Coker - but not even you could possibly know who sent them." I sat down on a crate which, from its markings, ought to have been in a bonded warehouse three days travel away. "Ashil thinks it could be something to do with the Kreston business..."

Coker nodded. "He's sending you and your girl to rescue that gamecock from the Churmuk, and somebody might prefer him to die out there", he agreed. "I don't think it was a serious attempt, just someone taking an outside chance to shift the odds in their favour." He smiled broadly. "Do you know what it is Ashil's gone to that mage for?"

"A cure for a rather embarrassing personal ailment?"

Coker roared with laughter, which soon turned into a rather happy cough. He wiped away a tear from one eye with an unusually clean kerchief. "You are the funniest adventurer I know, Meadows, and I'm truly happy that you're a pal. But it's something for your mission, and I won't spoil Ashil's surprise for him." He stared at me for a moment, thoughtfully. "But after the mission, you come to me, will you? I give legitimate prices for legitimate items, and I always give my friends the best deals."

"I'll come and visit, certainly, but I don't expect to get any loot out of this one - and I doubt if you'd want to buy Kreston."

He chuckled. "One playboy heir, slightly used - not my sort of goods, Sera! But you bring your girl Memree with you, will you? I hear that she's a real good-looker, so I'd like a good look."

I left him still chuckling; I think someone else was waiting to see him, I'm sure there are at least three other routes to visit Coker by but I've never tracked any of them down from the outside. I'd kept him friendly, I'd confirmed that my attackers had been outsiders or he'd have known more, and it had passed some time - but it was still too early to visit the swordsmith!

Still, time passed. I told Memree about my underground visit, and we set off in search of Ashil. He was back from his trip, and confirmed that we could set out tomorrow, and that he'd ride out with us for the first few miles. I told him of what Coker had said about not spoiling his surprise, and he in turn smiled. "It's not a weapon, just a magical gimmick, a quick way to start a beacon-fire, so to speak, to let us know that you, Memree and Kreston are riding hell-for-leather towards us, with a few dozen angry Churmuk on your tails." He brought a small glass bottle out of a pocket, it looked as if it was filled with thin black ink. "Open it, don't break it, and there'll be a whole lot of magical smoke, enough to confuse the Churmuk on the ground, and rising high enough into the sky for us to spot from our rather distant camp." He passed it across. "It wasn't cheap, but I think it's worth it."

Memree took it from me, and looked at it closely, sniffing the stopper. "I don't know what's in there, but it certainly has a feeling of...potential", she remarked, and handed it back to me.

Ashil walked with us to the smithy, where our friend the swordsmith was polishing some kind of ceremonial sword, the sort that looks as if it's made out of a mirror rather than honest steel. Only he turned, and, face impassive, handed it to me! It was long, and slender as a rapier, and looked too fragile for combat. In my hand it moved well, and seemed like an extension to my arm, to my will, but I was not convinced that it was designed for serious fighting.

An apprentice tossed a more normal blade to the swordsmith, and he held it up before him. "You think it is too pretty to be honest, don't you, Sera? We'd better have a small demonstration!"

It seemed a shame to bring this shiny, unmarked blade up as defence, but I did it anyway, and the swordsmith's weapon clanged into it - hard! If there weren't a few sparks, they should have been. He advanced, whirling his sword around in a way that would have had him killed in a serious fight, and I skidded my blade down the edge of his. There was a ghastly screeching of metal on metal. He held his sword firm, then, while I batttered it - and after a few heavy blows, I could see that his weapon was starting to look battered. I stopped, and examined my new sword. Still in one piece, still ludicrously shiny, still sharp, and with no dents or dinks at all.

"You do realise that nobody will take me seriously with a blade this pretty?" The hilt was carefully wrapped in black leather, the guard, also black, curving back slightly to protect my hand.

"And that will be the last mistake many a man will make, eh?" He smiled conspiratorially, and I grinned back. I passed the old sword he'd loaned me across to an apprentice, and took the scabbard he offered me. "The scabbard should keep it polished, just try to wipe off the blood first, Sera - a brisk wipe across your late opponent's shirt should do the trick." He paused, serious for a moment. "The blade is sharp, and as near unbreakable as you're likely to find, and there is certainly some magic at its core. Nothing huge, I think, but it may enhance your natural talents a little."

I thanked him, and Ashil thanked him; Memree stayed pretty quiet, as I finally sheathed the sword in its dark leather scabbard, and attached that to my belt. I get the idea that she isn't too happy with the idea of a "magic blade", even a low-key one like this. She seems to have a slight aversion to magic in general, which, given the way she was treated by Atzmon, is hardly surprising.

But tomorrow, early tomorrow, we set off on our quest to rescue dear Kreston, the creep, from his well-deserved captivity among the Churmuk. It's not going to be an easy mission, but I expect it will have its fun bits. So an early night is called for... and I never did remember what I was not being suspicious about!

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