Schattenlander - The Darklands
Leipzig was a huge, sprawling city, one of the greatest in the Holy Roman Empire, with sprawling structures, the massive cathedrals and great manors making a skyline that was a marvel to see, particularly at sunset. To many, it represented a show of the strength of the Holy Roman Empire, a vision of Christendom.
To William, it represented home. He had arrived two days previous - the roads were hazardous enough, even in this more civilized day, that it was best to leave early, although sometimes it resulted in long waits. But it was pleasant not to spend a day tracking a group of deer through the forests for his daily bread. Some might call it slothful, but his days bringing down deer and boar for finely-dressed nobles hardly lined his purse with enough to save.
He'd been setting spare pfennigs aside since before he had left. Fortunately, the Rosengarten wasn't particularly expensive. He had gotten what he had paid for, for eight pfennigs a night. At an inn for the more well-heeled, he might be paying ten times as much. He shook his head as he drank another mouthful of the bitter ale. They weren't much of an improvement anyway, the rats just tended to be more numerous in cheap inns.
Still, despite the rats and the odd stenches from the kitchen, his friends should be arriving soon. It wasn't unlike most of them to not pad their travel times properly for delays or detours - he hadn't even most of them for five years, and he hadn't seen any recently, for all he knew they'd been traveling from Jerusalem. That's not very likely, though.
He wasn't concerned about them not coming - they'd come. If they didn't, they were in serious trouble or dead. A pact isn't broken lightly, and he hadn't been a fool when it came to selecting friends.
He tilted back his glass of stout beer, letting the bitter fluid run down his throat, and leaned back in his chair. They'd be here, no doubt about that.
Though Christoph Alden had traveled all day to reach Leipzig, he did not immediately enter the Rosengarten once he came to it. After all, a man carrying nothing with which to pay for room and board would be turned away in a heartbeat. And so, the draftsman settled himself into a comfortable (more or less) spot against the wall across the street and took out a sheet of paper and several pencils.
It took an hour before a rough sketch of the inn was complete, and then Christoph began experimenting with shading and other elements to make the inn seem more... appealing. After all, what self-respecting inn owner wouldn't want his inn portrayed in a far better light than anyone would ever see it. And as Christoph had learned, if you knew how to sell something to someone who didn't want it, you could have almost anything you wanted... and someone who did want it was far easier.
Two hours passed and Christoph decided the work was as complete as it needed to be. Standing slowly and stretching out, he glanced at the image on the page critically once more and murmured, "What I wouldn't give for some color..." But that was another issue altogether. Shrugging it off, Christoph finally entered the inn.
"May I help you, sir?" the weary man inside greeted him. Christoph was instantly cheerful.
"I simply must compliment this fine establishment on the general look of things!" he exclaimed. The man was taken slightly aback, for he'd been hearing almost nonstop how horrible the Rosengarten was.
"Err... what?" he stammered.
"No, really!" Christoph insisted. "I admit, I've been traveling a while, but to come here and find my way to this... it's amazing! I must have a higher authority looking after my well-being... this place is magnificent! Surely, you must charge sixty pfennigs a night!"
Flattered and confused, the owner admitted, "Well, it's... I-we charge eight."
Christoph gaped. "Eight! You must be out of your mind!" He dropped his sketch of the inn on the counter. "Surely you must reconsider your prices. I was so taken by the Rosengarten that I sat across the street for near four hours to get this right."
The owner's jaw dropped. The sketch certainly did portray the inn in a remarkably favorable light. Was this what this strange young man saw in his inn? Astonishing. He simply had to have the sketch.
"How much will you take for that sketch?" he asked breathlessly. Christoph glanced down at the sketch.
"You want to buy it?" he asked, adopting a slightly skeptical tone. "Really? Well, to be honest, I don't think I quite got the essence of the place right... what I could do with a good bit of color..."
"I'll pay you thirty pfennigs for it!" the man exclaimed hurriedly. Christoph laughed and shook his head.
"I'd scarce take more than fifteen for it," he replied.
"No, it's brilliant!" the owner protested. "I shan't give you less than thirty."
"Give me fifteen," Christoph countered, "and give me a room for the night."
"And whatever you like in the way of food and drink!" the owner exclaimed, positively delighted that he was going to get his hands on the sketch.
"Well in that case, give me ten pfennigs," Christoph said. The owner was practically hopping in his excitement.
"Done!" he shrieked, handing over ten pfennigs to Christoph. The young draftsman smirked and handed the sketch over.
"A key then, sir?" he asked. The owner nodded and handed over a key to a vacant room. Satisfied, Christoph pocketed the ten pfennigs and moved further into the Rosengarten. After depositing his pack in his room, he descended to the common room and glanced about. It was not long before his eyes fell on William and a great grin broke out on his face.
"William!" he exclaimed, crossing the room to greet his friend.
William tilted back his glass as the door into the common room swung open and Cristoph strode in. He stood up, a broad grin crossing his face as he crossed the room, catching the other man's hand in his. "Cristoph, old man, good to see you again!"
He caught the bartender's eye. "A drink for me and my friend. What're you having, Cristoph?" He lowered his voice. "Just don't expect much. You get what you pay for when it's eight a night."
He led Cristoph back to the large table he had gotten for them as his ale and Cristoph's drink was brought out. "You're the first one to get here, besides me. I always seem to get everywhere early. So, what have you been doing with yourself over the past five years? Everyone seemed to leave Leipzig and then drop off the map, I've heard hardly anything about any of us in the past five years. Still doing the drawings?"
Christoph nodded and grinned, gesturing to the owner as he scurried forward and whispered to the bartender and glanced at Christoph. The bartender's eyes drifted over to the young draftsman with an air of skepticism, but he nodded and returned to his business. Christoph chuckled and turned to William.
"The owner of the Rosengarten paid me ten pfennigs plus room and board in exchange for a rather favorable sketch of his inn," he said, his eyes sparkling with laughter.
"As to where I've been..." He shrugged. "I think it would be easier to say where I haven't been... I went wherever my legs could carry me... so long as I could get back here with ease by the five year mark." He grinned. "And as for hearing anything about me, well, I'm not surprised you haven't. Sketchwork like mine has its audience and some of that audience are rather wealthy... but don't expect a draftsman's work to rise to fame until he is long passed from this earth."
He smiled and shrugged. "So long as my work can earn me the things I need for survival, I care little for what happens to it when I am gone."
"And you?" he asked, looking to his old friend. "Still hunting, I guess?"
Two Days Prior
Jachen Meinhard trudged down an old dirt road, a great determination in his gait. His eyes, and most of the upper portion of his face were covered by the brimmed hat he wore, which he held on his head with his left hand, as the speed at which he was walking and the the amount the wind that was blowing would make it fly off, other words.
In his right hand was a thick shafted rod, or staff, taller than himself, considering he himself was rather tall; and of unique beauty. Normally as he walked he'd use it in the same fashion as a walking staff, but as he was in a hurry he held it to his side horizontally. Jachen hummed to himself as he tramped along.
'It's been awhile since I last spoke German, guess I should refresh my memory before I get there,' Jachen reminded himself, still humming his tune.
"Wie geht," he began in German. "Keine," he mumbled to himself as he went along.
'It was right, but still not good enough,' he thought to himself in chastisement.
"Da suchen schön," he continued, but he only sighed and shook his head. 'The girls would kill me if I said it like that.'
But as he traveled on he continued to reteach himself German, and continually he rebuked himself.
Jachen stood looking at his surroundings as he admired the great city he once lived in, he observed the houses, cathedrals and other various buildings. They were all such old memories being relived to him, and yet they seemed oh so new, as if they were entirely new wonders to him. It had been a great deal of time since he'd been in Leipzig, and while it seemed the same, it was in fact quite different from what he remembered, but all things in memory are different than what people originally perceive, or so Jachen believed.
He took a deep breath and turning on a dime, went at a rigorous pace down the street, his long hair billowing and furling behind him like a cape. He hadn't been to the Rasengarten in a long while, and he wasn't sure if he could find the way, especially with how the layout of the city must have changed while he was gone. But after turning a couple corners, and looking at a couple shop signs, he found himself looking at the sign of a very familiar place. A smile spread across his seemingly stone face.
With another deep breath and a sigh that contained both weariness and excitement, Jachen entered the old establishment. He looked around, finding the owner almost immediately he approached him with a disarming smile.
"Verzeihung," he spoke in almost perfect German. The man turned and looked at him, and to his keen eyes the man seemed to be in high spirits. "How much is room and board?" He asked, the man smiled, and replied almost too cheerily, "from this day forward, ten pfennigs."
Jachen's brow furrowed as he thought of this, he only had sixteen pfennigs, the rest of his money was foreign. "It used to be eight pfennigs, what happened?" He asked curiously.
"I had a-a, um, revelation, my inn is a place of...of..." but Jachen cut him off. "What is that in your hand my friend?" He interrupted, not wanting to hear the man's stuttering dreams of grandeur any more than he had to.
"Why it's a wonderful picture this fellow drew for me, it's beautiful, it's the reason I've decided to raise the price," he told Jachen, showing him the picture. Jachen's eyes half closed with annoyed realization as he almost immediately knew who drew the picture.
"My good sir, do you not give discounts to men of the clergy, for you see I am tired and sore, and have little in the way of money to pay for a room, won't you help me out?" He asked the man in a very convincing manner, as he leaned wearily on his Icon. From all appearances he seemed like a poor man of the cloth, his clothes were caked with dirt, as well as his Holy Icon, his face oily and his hat soggy, this was all due to almost nonstop travel for two days. Jachen even coughed, though most would see this as a ploy, if Jachen were the kind of guy to be sneaky and deceitful, but he wasn't, he was an honest man, and one of the few priests you would find that weren't corrupt or underhanded.
A look of pity came upon the owner's face as he looked upon Jachen, "my good priest, you are welcome at the inn for free, here's a key, go and rest my good man."
"No, I must pay something, here, six pfennigs," Jachen said, taking the keys to the room, and almost forcing the money into the man's hand. Before he could say anything further Jachen was up the stairs to his room.
When Jachen got in the room he threw most of his things on the bed, and sat down on a chair to get a breather. A few minutes later he emerged from the room, his face clean, though he still appeared a bit tired, and his clothes were still just as dirty as before. His stuff, including his Holy Icon, was left in his room, the only thing he carried was a sack of unknown items.
He entered the common room of the inn and began walking slowly, observing people from under his round brimmed hat, his eyes hidden from view. His eyes settled on two fellows sitting at a rather large table. He could make out their conversation.
"So long as my work can earn me the things I need for survival, I care little for what happens to it when I am gone."
"And you? Still hunting, I guess?" He heard one man say.
He approached them, walking up behind the man speaking. Jachen leaned over, the man totally oblivious to his existence as he got right up next to the man's ear.
'"And I guess you're survival includes weaseling your way out of things and making sure others suffer for it, right Christoph?"' he whispered into his ear.
((Sorry for the weird German phrases, don't worry about them, I'll put a key at the bottom of this post later. Though I'm not sure if they're entirely correct myself.))
Christoph was just putting his drink to his lips again when Jachen whispered in his ear. The surprise was enough to make him jump and consequently to choke on his drink. In the midst of his coughing, he managed a faint, "Mein Gott!" Finally managing to clear his throat, he turned and clapped Jachen on the shoulder.
"Jachen!" he exclaimed, completely ignoring the other man's whispered comment. "So good to see you again... but really, did you absolutely need to sneak up on me like that?" He cleared his throat again to emphasize his point.
Her boots - a little heavy and a little large, especially for a woman such as herself - clopped along on the stairs as she descended from the upper level. A yawn pulled from her mouth as she stretched an arm over her head, coming down into the reception, just next to where the innkeeper stood at his post at the desk. She was quite aware that her tunic shirt was lifted slightly at the side due to the position of her arms, revealing a slice of creamy smooth skin - but she didn't seem to care. As she dropped her arms to her sides again, her eyes flashed to where the inn keeper stood, staring at her helplessly...and she tossed him a quick wink, flashing a smile. When you were a girl like Jezebel, it was only too easy to charm the pants off a rough old fat man such as him. He simply smiled dumbly in return, but she said nothing as she quickly turned into the common room, shutting him out of her vision.
The minute she was out of his sight, the smile turned to a scowl. "Damn lumpy mattresses..." she grumbled under her breath, "I get a practically free room, perform for the guy and his customers for a full night, and you think he could at least give me one of the more decent rooms? No, of course not! I'm just a woman, what would I care how soft my mattress is? Ugh, it's going to take weeks to work these kinks out. I should've just slept outside the city - laying on the ground under the stars would've been nicer than--"
Her voice dropped off as she picked up the sound of others conversing, and her eyes flashed as her gaze shot to a small group gathered in the room. It took her a few seconds...but the changed faces gave away hints of what they used to look like, the voices and speech having hardly changed after years of being separated. A smile played across her lips as she crossed to join them. "Weaseling my way out of things? Isn't that my job?" she said, smiling at the men as she came to stand behind Jachen. "Hey, boys."
"Are you sure you won't stay the night here, dear?"
Vreni Schultze smiled at the kindly old lady's plea. "I would love to, Rike, but I made a pact and I intend to honor it," she said gently, but firmly.
"Oh, Claus will be so sad he missed you, Verena," Frederike Autenburg sighed, looking wistfully at the young woman as she toweled her wet, blonde hair dry.
"I know," Vreni replied, reaching a hand out to pat Frederike's arm. "I should be in Leipzig for a few days, so if he returns early, let me know and I will be glad to swing by again."
Frederike nodded, then held out Vreni's hooded cloak for her to slip into. "I do hope he returns soon, then."
"As do I," Vreni agreed, snapping the clasp to her hood, then bending down to kiss Frederike on both cheeks. "Let him know about those jigs I've made for him; they're in the fourth cabinet on the left."
"I will, I will."
Vreni held Frederike's hands in her own as she stepped halfway out the door. "I will be staying at the Rosengarten, so please come get me if Claus returns." She gave the blacksmith's wife's hands one last squeeze, then trotted out into the street and started walking down the gravel pathway. She turned to wave at Frederike one last time before slipping down a side street towards the dark city of Leipzig.
It had been five long years since Vreni was last in this part of her homeland, but it had seemed much longer than that. Just getting into the area had been tricky enough, as she had gotten lost quite a number of times on the way. She eventually did make it back to Leipzig and to the blacksmith's shop she had apprenticed with for so long. Claus Autenburg was away on business somewhere in Bavaria, but his wife Frederike had welcomed Vreni back with open arms and a warm meal, comforts the young female blacksmith had not experienced in quite a long time. During her time abroad, she had sought to make ends meet with her chosen profession, often being the object of scorn, ridicule and harassment since there just were not that many women who did what she did, a man's job. She loved her work, however, and Claus had instilled that love in her from a very early age, giving her her first hammer at age three. Since then, she had grown by the heated forge, banging, molding, shaping and branding her life's work through the metal in her hands. Claus had constantly praised her handiwork, however, most others did not share his opinion, their prejudices not allowing them to see past Vreni's gender. It was the unfortunate result of this that she had struggled to make ends meet during her travels abroad.
"No matter," she breathed to herself as she walked down towards the familiar glow of the Rosengarten Inn. She had come back to Leipzig with a mere five pfennigs in her purse, but after working at the Autenburg's forge, had nearly quintupled that amount in earnings. She had wanted to leave most of it for Claus, but it was Frederike who had insisted she take the bulk of it. 'Wars will be won with the iron and steel forged by your mädchen's hands, Vreni', Rike had told her. Vreni shook her head at the thought as she came upon the door to the inn and pushed it open with her shoulder.
She was surprised to find the innkeeper had raised his rate to ten pfennigs, but she paid the price with a smile. Hiking her pack up onto her shoulder, she was about to head up the stairs when she passed the common room door and spotted a familiar face. Doffing her hood, she slipped through the doorway and approached the table where two men sat surrounded by another man and a younger woman. "Jachen, Jezebel," she called to them. "You do know there are seats next to William and Christoph you may take, unless you've both developed a fondness for standing in the years since we last met."
The door seemed to swing open repeatedly, each time sending out one of William's friends from the old days. He grinned. It always seemed to be like this. He got there extremely early, and then they all arrived in the nick of time, within seconds of each other.
His smile broadened at Jezebel's comment. "Weaseling always was what you were best at. Bartender!"
He gestured to the group. "Drinks for my friends. And one more, he's late." He lowered his voice. "Might be better to get our own bottle. They water down this swill, half their stock comes straight from the well." He gestured to the other chairs. "Have a seat, all of you. Drinks are on me, until I go broke. Any of you run into Manfred? Late as usual, I assume?"
He raised his glass at Vreni's comment. "Well, I imagine they've had to get used to it. You're still playing the flute, right, Jezebel? I'm surprised you managed to make it, Jachen. Your duties as a priest must make a journey difficult to work in."
"Why can't the ground just keep still" Manfred muttered to himself as he tried to apear sober in front of the inn.
He should have known it was a bad idea to celebrate his freedom, but the temptation after staying in places without alcohol had been too much. He hoped Vren hadn't arived yet, her nasty habit of turning three years into a century was the last thing he needed now.
Oppening the door, he saw he was the last one, sighed, aimed for the remaining chair, and prayed he would be able to stop before knocking over jez.
Vreni was about to take a seat of her own at the table when she spotted another familiar figure trudging towards her and her friends. Even after five years away, it wasn't hard to recognize Manfred's lanky frame and disheveled hair. She dropped her pack next to her chair and strode over to her staggering friend. "Manfred," she said by way of greeting, pushing up on his shoulders to straighted him up, then taking an arm and steadying him as he loped towards the table.
She looked over her shoulder and caught the eye of the bartender. "May I have a pitcher of water as well?" The bartender nodded, arching an eyebrow at Manfred.
Vreni finally succeeded in getting Manfred to the table and settled into a seat. "And now we're all here," she announced.
"So good to see you again... but really, did you absolutely need to sneak up on me like that?" Christoph asked clearing his throat.
"To teach a lesson? Yes, I think I did," Jachen replied with a smirk.
"Weaseling my way out of things? Isn't that my job?" Came a familiar voice, Jachen turned to see a beautiful young woman's smiling face, as she came to stand behind him. "Hey, boys."
Before he could reply another woman approached them. "Jachen, Jezebel," she called to them. "You do know there are seats next to William and Christoph you may take, unless you've both developed a fondness for standing in the years since we last met."
"I guess I have," Jachen teased, taking off his brimmed hat out of courtesy to the women.
"Drinks for my friends. And one more, he's late." William called out. "Might be better to get our own bottle. They water down this swill, half their stock comes straight from the well." Jachen shook his head at William, "Please, no alcohol for me."
William gestured to the other chairs. "Have a seat, all of you. Drinks are on me, until I go broke. Any of you run into Manfred? Late as usual, I assume?"
Jachen smiled, "yes, seats, it's been awhile since I actually sat down for a casual occasion." Jachen moved over to a couple seats, pulling two back, he looked over at the two women; considering Manfred just arrived, and had to be seated by Vreni, Jachen only shook his head at his drunken friend. "Miladies, if you please?" He said with a nod of his head to the chairs, and a friendly smile.
"I'm surprised you managed to make it, Jachen. Your duties as a priest must make a journey difficult to work in," William said.
"It can be that way sometimes, but if you keep a good idea of your location and time constraints you can make it anywhere in a short amount of time. Then again, traveling from the Middle East is no easy task," he replied with knowing grin, still politely holding the seats for the two women.
"Vren, the only ones alowed to do that are my ex-ma and whoever insane enough to become my wife." Seeing her expression he added "And of course you, though there is no need, my head is clear, only my body refusing to aknowledge that." Why did she always have to "sencify" him, and not Jez?
"And here I thought I was the only one who had been to the scorching east. Perfect for you I guess Jace, probably the only place where everyone keeps their urges under lock and key. I am a bit surprised you made it back, your *chivalry* is the sort of thing they like to reward by slitting throats. Lets hope you didn't get the same souvenirs as returning theese will be hard"
He reached out to get a drink, but one look from Verena made him change it to a friendly punch directed at Jachen.
Pretending to be surprised he turned to Jezebel "You here? I thought after five years you would have gotten a high nosed noble, especially considering your *ahem* tallent." Just as he said that, he remembered that he haid said he would do the same, though with the other sex. The curses that folowed would have scared inquistors, had they not been kept low to awoid being heard by Vren and Jace.
Trying to change the subject he put up his not-too-sucsessfull-angry-face "Cristoph, I swear if you [/B]ever[/B] draw anything for a noble again I'll spitt you myself. Do you have any idea how much time I have wasted carrying your stuff around?" Maybe Jez had become a considerate, diplomatic Vren-copy, and would not embarass him. Sure, and maybe pigs fly.
He was ranting now, even he realized it, though he wasn't sure if it was the alcohol or the joy of seeing his friends again.
William had been taking a nice long draft of his ale. Then Jachen spoke. He spewed the beer back into his cup, then composed himself and set the tankard down.
"You went to the Holy Land? Either you went crazy, or you're a lot more bold than I ever gave you credit for. The heathen Kings of those lands are still quite hostile to most Christians, or so I've been given to understand. How did that turn out? I'm surprised you managed to get there and back within five years."
Had it been anyone else, he'd have been more inclined to suspect lying, but he trusted Jachen to be honest, even above most of his other friends. He'd trust them all with his life, but Jachen also had the implicit trust given to men of the cloth.
Then Manfred stumbled in, drunk, just like in the old days. Typical. He chuckled slightly at the reproach shown by Vreni and Jachen. His grin widened at his comment towards Jezebel - if he knew her at all, Manfred was in for a devastating retort. Then he goes and taunts Cristoph...he tilted his drink back again, trying to prevent from bursting into laughter. It'd go over badly, especially if anyone took offense. He leaned back, waiting for the response.
Christoph merely laughed at Manfred's complaint and replied, "Of course you carried a few, Manfred," he teased. "You're a courier... it's your job to carry things."
He nodded a greeting to Vreni and Jezebel and said, "And so we're all here. One big happy friend-group-thing..." He frowned thoughtfully and then laughed. "No one ever said I was good with words... just drawing!"
As the night went on, the drinks kept coming, thus making the stories come faster. William chuckled. He had been relating a story about his brief tenure working for a minor lord south of Worms.
"He had hired me to take care of a wolf pack that had been harassing the local flocks, not to mention taking down some of his favorite game. Biggest wolves I've ever seen. Vicious beasts, too. They didn't isolate all their attacks to animals, too. Nobody had died yet, but it was only a matter of time. Bigger problem was, 'Lord' Frederick wanted to accompany the hunters when I tracked down the pack. So it was me, three others, and Fred. Well, Lord Fred's a fine knight, I'm sure, but he's not much of an archer."
He winced and reached under his shirt, rubbing his shoulder.
"The pack ran for it when we came upon them. I had the faster horse, so I ran on ahead and tried to intercept them. Well, Fred couldn't tell the sound between a wolf running and a horse trotting. Not exactly scribe material. Surprisingly good shot. Fired through the trees, nailed me right here." He thumped his shoulder, just below the bone. "Fortunately, my luck outweighed his lucky shot, or I'd be a cripple. It wasn't as funny at the time, but it taught me a valuable lesson - nobles are imbeciles, and pity the poor fool who works for one."
He tilted back his drink, chuckling. "Of course, as you can imagine, Lord Fred took that as an excuse to take back my pay, as I failed to properly assist in taking down the pack. He was nice enough to burn the wound closed, though. Bastard."
Vreni chuckled softly at William's story of woe. "At least you were able to find employment in your chosen line of work, Will," she told him, tucking a stray strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "Try being a female blacksmith."
She paused, the corners of her lips curved upward in a small, rueful smile. "I found work as a cook in a small in just outside of Strasbourg," she began. "I also did some smithing on the side, though no one knew it was I who was crafting the good weaponry and armor. One day, this noble from England comes to abed at the inn. Says he has some important jousting tournament to attend in the city proper. He's managed to misplace his chestpiece, however, so he is inquiring for a new one.
"The innkeeper lends him a piece from my own forge, not telling the noble who had crafted it. The noble uses it in the tournament the next day and is apparently immensely successful. He comes back to the inn that night and demands to know who created the chestpiece, so that he may thank the smith and perhaps request a custom piece. The innkeeper brings me out from the kitchen and introduces me to the noble. Blasted Englishman took one look at me and laughed, then asked the innkeeper to be serious. The innkeeper, bless his soul, was earnest in his assertions that I was a most excellent smith, but the Englishman would have none of it. He threw the borrowed chestpiece down to the ground and stomped off."
Vreni stopped again, taking a small sip of water before continuing. "I heard the next day he had found a different smith to craft him up a new chestpiece. Unfortunately, the material wasn't very good and the craftsmanship was shoddy, since it buckled upon the third impact of a lance and crushed the poor sod's chest to mush. Oh well."
William grinned. "Every time I or anyone else has dealt with nobles, they've shown themselves to be, at best, complete idiots, and remind me how blessed I am by the Lord to be a freeman. The blissful middle between servitude and stupidity." He laughed.
The night wore on as they exchanged stories, and some went rather deep into their cups. Finally, near Midnight, William rose, eyeing Manfred with a pitying look. "It's getting fairly late, and if we drink any more, some of us might not wake up." He winced. I'll be feeling this in the morning. Should have gone dry... He went to the bar to pay their tab. "How much?"
It was rather steep, but there wasn't a lot William could do, particularly with a clouded mind. He counted it out and dropped it on the bar. His mind felt surprisingly clear, though. He rubbed his chin, then headed for the door up to the rooms.
"Unless any of you have somehow got as much money as Jez's future husband, I'll find myself a nice attic to sleep in. Freedom from high noses dosen't come cheap, neither the gifts I'll give you when the world stops spinning." A minnor lie, the world wheren't spinning, it was having party inside his skull.
"And I seem to remember something about discussing the future, and I would like to know when. Unless it was only an excuse to get us together to drink and remember old times, in which case I better hit the road, before someone hits me."
"Manfred," Vreni said, looking over at the blonde man. She loved all her friends and all their unique qualities; Manfred's just took a little more effort to get used to. "We've not seen each other in five years, so I hope you're not seriously thinking of leaving." She reached for the small purse at her hip. "If it's money that's an issue, I will pay for your room tonight, all right?"
"Money isn't an issue, it's surprisingly easy to break into mansion attics, warehouses and stables to catch some sleep." He was about to "remind" Vren that she wasn't his mother and had no right to act like it. Since she would claim innosence, and he wasn't in the mood for an argument, he let it drop.
"As for me leaving, I have my reasons. Unlike you guys I can only find work ocasionally unless I tie myself to a noble, something I have had enough off. That means I have to earn a living playing cards, which makes staying in one place long not very healthy, especially after somenone figures out where my *luck* comes from." He kept his voice low, a cheaters life depended secrecy.
"That, and I managed to piss off my ex-lordy, which could cause me to get arested for anything."
Jachen listened throughout the night to his friends talking, only speaking where he knew his words were wanted. He had no stories to tell, or at least he thought so, he was a priest, so he only speculated that most of his stories weren't going to be interesting to his friends, so he told none.
When it got late and William decided to retire for the night, he also believed it was time to catch some sleep, but not before bidding his friends a friendly goodnight, and a quick wash of his clothes.
"I guess I should be getting some sleep too," he said getting up from the table. Jachen heard Manfred speak of angering his ex-lord, and he turned to his old friend. "If you're ex-lord comes by, or any of his crones, come and get me, I'll gladly talk to them. I do have a way with words after all," he offered his friend.
"Now if you'll all excuse me. I say goodnight," he said politely with a slight bow to his friends, and then turning to head off to his room. As he was leaving the common room he paused looking over his shoulder at his friends.
"Oh, and if any of you happen to need me tonight, don't barge into my room please, unless you want to see me half naked. I'm washing the only clothes I have after all. I suggest you knock," he told them with a teasing grin and one last goodnight wave over his shoulder.
He ascended the stairs with a weary gait that he'd hidden from his friends, after all, he didn't need them worrying, besides, he only needed some sleep, since he'd gone without any for quite awhile, that was about the only reason he was so haggard. After going to and fro cleaning his garments, he finally got settled into his room, laying face down in his bed he sighed lazily, "sleeep."
And he was out like a light.
Vreni sighed at Manfred's antics; even five years later, some things never changed. As Jachen and William made their exits, she too rose from her seat, a little wobblier than she would have liked. Turning to her remaining friends, she said, "Well, it's getting rather late and I'm not getting any younger, so it's off to bed with me." She moved around the table, hugging each of them in turn. "It was wonderful seeing you all again and I do hope that you will be staying in Leipzig for a while. Being in the company of good friends is a commodity I've sorely been lacking these past few years." She gave them all one last tired smile, then retreated up the stairs.
"I guess I'll see you tomorrow, my wallet is hungry, and this place seems to need some help with robbing people off their earnings."
Walking to the back of the stable, he used his bill as an ice-axe, and climbed unto the roof. Once up, he used the bill to remove a few planks before dropping into the hayloft. Burrying himself in the far end, he hoped no-one would notice him before dozing off.
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