The sun had begun to take its leave by the time that I reached Martelli’s manor. I was now in the company of a clear, starry night and the incessant chirping of crickets. As I approached the door, I lagged for a moment to enjoy the beauty of Hoffgorod’s skies. Ijatia, though beautiful, lacked the backdrop of a bountiful civilization that Alaxi was steeped in. I took a deep breath and brought my hand upward to pound on the door. I felt a tingle go through my spine, and it suddenly felt apparent that the freedom which I had been enjoying in Hoffgorod would be left behind once I stepped into Martelli’s home. However, I had already taken far too long to complete my assignment and I knew that I could not linger any longer. I knocked heavily upon the door, and was once again greeted by the strangely formal man. He nodded and then silently led me to where Dominic and Martelli were chatting and drinking from ostentatious goblets. As I entered the room, the chatting ceased and Dominic turned to face with me a look of frustration.
“Yes, Lord Dominic.” I replied as I do so.
“Where have you been? What took you so long?” Martelli spoke quickly and passionately.
“I am sorry, Lord Dominic.”
“I have no use for your apologies, Mastiff.” He barked. “At attention.” I stood up straight. “Where is the money?”
Wordlessly, I raised the bag toward his face and his frustration quickly evaporated as a big smile overtook his face. “Oh my.”
Martelli spoke up, facing Dominic: “He must be a smooth talker to get a deal like that from Hidalgo. He is a fine blacksmith, but he must be the stingiest man in all of Alaxi. Typical.”
Dominic laughed. “Do not underestimate the power of intimidation, Martelli.”
Martelli nodded in approval. “Not a mistake that I will make again.” Dominic handed the bag to Martelli. Martelli poured the coins onto the table and divided them into two roughly equal piles, though Dominic’s pile retained a distinct superiority.
Dominic yawned, “Shall we retire for the night, then?”
“Here?” Martelli’s eyebrows shot up with such quickness that it seemed that they would puncture the ceiling. “I think that you are mistaken. I said that board was your responsibility, Dominic. I remember it quite distinctly.”
“Yes, here. Where am I to stay; that rat hole in Nakovan?”
Martelli laughed. “Well, you are not staying in Hoffgorod this week, not during Turnover. Best of luck finding vacancy.”
Dominic plunged his hand into the pile of coins on the table in front of him. He lifted some of them from the pile. “Certainly the right man can find me a room?”
Martelli scratched his chin. “Likely not this late into the night. My carriage can bring you to Nakovan.” Dominic slammed his fist upon the table, spurring Martelli into an almost maniacal fit of laughter.
Dominic very clearly did not see the humour in the situation. “Cease your idiocy, Martelli. I will not stay in Nakovan again.”
We arrived in Nakovan late into the night. Though it was a short number of hours beyond midnight, Nakovan’s inn was still crowded and loud. Dominic walked almost ten paces ahead of me, storming about with clear frustration. The woman who tended the counter spared no time in giving Martelli his room key, and Martelli rushed toward his room with a similar wordless haste. I continued to follow some paces behind Dominic but lost ground to him quickly. Once he had reached the end of the hallway, he entered his room and loudly slammed the door behind him. Going at a far easier pace, I reached the room that I had slept in during the previous night but realized that I could not enter because I did not have a key. I momentarily considered knocking on Dominic’s door to plead for his assistance in speaking with the innkeeper, but I decided that it was a better idea not to bother him.
I turned around and faced toward the direction of the bar. I remembered the hostility from yesterday night and I did not expect this night to be any different, especially with Dominic absent. I made my way back to the innkeeper, but I did so slowly. Once I was in the presence of the bar’s patrons, I felt their eyes immediately upon me. I approached the innkeeper.
“I am with Martelli. I need a key.”
The innkeeper gave me a light smile, but it faded quickly. She rummaged under the counter and pulled out a key. She extended her arm as far as it could go and handed the key to me from a distance. With another short-lived but polite smile she whispered to me: “Here is your key. Maybe you should go to sleep now.”
I recognized that she was probably correct. With every passing moment, the stares from the other patrons felt heavier on my back. However, I did not yet want to sleep. My mind continued to race as I thought about the strange conversation that I had enjoyed with Elisabetta earlier. I wondered to myself why a stranger would want to teach an orc how to read. It was not only the conversation itself that I considered, however. The pale woman had been very kind, if a bit erratic, and she had revealed to me a side of humanity that was uncommon for me to see. Never in my life had someone made idle conversation with me without making some form of demand afterward. The feeling that I had when thinking about Elisabetta was pleasant and, though the thought brought a smile to my face, the strangeness of it left me feeling antsy. The idea of going to sleep seem futile. I nodded with appreciation at the innkeeper’s advice, but I instead took a seat at an empty table. I remained there, contemplating my unique day, until the drunken man from the previous night noticed me again.
Dmitri stood up from his table, clearly against the advice of the people he was sitting with. They pleaded with him in Seltsi, presumably asking him to sit back down. As he approached, my body began to feel warm and tense. Previously, Dominic had been there to stop me from making any uninformed decisions, and I found myself worried now that he wasn’t there. Despite all the of the dangers, Dmitri nonetheless shambled drunkenly over to me and took a seat across the table. He sat there, saying nothing, and simply stared at me for a while.
“Why you come to Nakovan? What is here?” He finally broke the awkward silence. Of course, even I knew that this man had no business knowing of Dominic and Martelli’s arrangement. As such, I gave no response.
“You no ignore me in my country, ogre.” Dmitri said, his temper flaring. One of his friends stood up and began to walk over. I continued to simply stare at Dmitri, desperately hoping that he would leave. “What say you?”
Dimitri’s friend arrived at the table and rested a hand on Dmitri’s shoulder. He brought his head close to Dimitri and whispered something into his ear. In a disproportionate display, Dmitri responded by turning his head toward his friend and shouting at the top of his lungs in Seltsi. At this point, Dmitri’s friend grabbed him forcefully and began trying to forcefully remove him from the table. Dimitri responded by flailing violently, hitting his friend in the face. That small spark of violence seemed to set the inn ablaze. The conversations in the tavern erupted into wild shouting, none of which I could understand at all. Before I could make any sense of the situation, fighting had begun. Men swung wildly at each other, throwing fists and chairs. It was clear to me that the fighting, though sparked by Dmitri hitting his friend, was probably fueled by something else entirely. I sat still, trying to make sure that I did not hurt anyone. As chaos overtook the tavern, I regretted my decision not to sleep immediately.
The brawl continued for about fifteen minutes, and once it was complete there were several men laying on the floor either in pain or unconscious. As the heat died down, the building went eerily silent. The barmaids, perhaps having just decided that it was finally safe, began to help the injured folk to get home safely. I decided that I had witnessed enough, and went back to my room.
The sudden influx of drama in the bar left me feeling drained, and my sleeplessness was no more.
Though I had fallen asleep at a late time, I nonetheless found myself waking up early into the morning. I engaged in my morning ritual; I quickly ran my fingers along my tunic to remove any wrinkles or snags, pushed my dreadlocks down into a neat, centered bundle between my shoulder blades, and wiped my face clear of any stray hairs or stains. Within just a few minutes, I was ready and waiting outside of Dominic’s door. I remained outside of his door for about five hours before he emerged, just shortly past noon.
“Good morning, Mastiff.” He spoke with a stoic and disinterested tone, stretching his arms above his head and yawning.
“Good morning, my lord.”
Dominic began to stroll lazily down the hall toward the inn. As he walked, he mumbled aloud: “This place is a rat hole but their chickens were not terrible.” It was not clear to me whether he was speaking to himself or not. “The trip to Hoffgorod would be unpleasant if I were hungry.” He said.
We passed through the multiple sets of doorways down the long hallway. Upon pushing open the final set of doors, Dominic stopped suddenly. Dominic dropped his perpetually aristocratic tone for a moment and blurted out; “What the fuck happened here?”
Among all of the random chaos, I had not been aware of quite how damaging last night’s drunken brawl was. Tables remained littered across the floor, one of them having been almost smashed in half. The only area of the bar that seemed untouched was the small area where I had been seated, likely because even men in drunken bar fights were aware that they stood no chance against me in melee. Dominic took two steps forward into the wreckage, allowing me enough space to enter the tavern myself. Dominic glared at me for a moment, and I felt certain that he wanted to ask me whether or not I had caused this. However, he did not. Instead, he turned back toward the ruined tavern in silence and eyed the room.
Near the front entrance, an armour-clad man was speaking to the innkeeper and a number of peasants. He nodded his head as they spoke, but his countenance suggested that he cared little for what they were saying. One of the peasant men turned to face me and I saw his eyes widen. Blabbering quickly in Seltsi, he pointed toward me. The man in armour slowly turned his head to face where the peasant was pointing, and his face switched immediately from disinterest to concern. The man raised his hand toward the peasant’s face, silencing him. Dominic and I stood still and watched as the armoured man approached us cautiously, hand on his hilt.
The man stood in front of me and began to speak, but before he managed to let out a dozen words, he was interrupted by Dominic. Dominic and the man conversed in Seltsi for a moment, and then Dominic turned toward me.
“This man tells me that he is a member of the Nakovan Guard, and that you instigated a bar fight last night. Is that true?”
“No.” I said.
“Were you present when the fighting started?” Dominic began to interrogate me on behalf of the guard.
“I saw the drunk man. He started a fight.”
“Which drunken man?”
The guard’s posture changed when he heard Dimitri’s name, and suddenly he seemed very upset. He began speaking quickly to Dominic in Seltsi, and Dominic responded with a frustrated inflection. The guard began to yell, and Dominic followed suit. After a few moments of arguing, I saw the guard raise his arm and grab Dominic’s wrist.
Immediately, I sprang into action and grabbed the guard with one hand from under his armpit. Once I had grasped him, I grabbed his neck with my other hand and flung him in a circle. The guard flew through the air like a ragdoll, and Dominic jumped backward in surprise. I charged the guard who was laying on the ground, but before I managed to hit him again, I heard Dominic protest.
“Mastiff! Stop, now!” Dominic shouted with the candor of a drill sergeant.
I did so.
The guard remained on the floor, dazed and out of breath. Dominic approached me from behind.
“Mastiff, you are not to attack guards.”
“He attacked you, my lord.”
Dominic widened his eyes and flared his nostrils. “Do not talk back to me, Mastiff! You do not have permission to address me like that. We are visitors in Alaxi. I have told you this already. We do not want a reputation as foreign murderers. You will fall to your knees and you will put your hands behind your back. Now!”
I did so. Dominic immediately spoke to the guard in an apologetic tone but it was clear that the guard was not ready to accept an apology. Huffing, the guard stood and cracked his neck. He swiftly exited the building.
Dominic took a deep breath and let out a sigh. He now spoke calmly. “Listen to me well, Mastiff. The guard will return in a moment with reinforcements. They will arrest you, and you will not resist. You will do as they say, and you will wait patiently for me to settle the situation. Until then, you shall remain jailed. Do you understand?”
“I do, my lord.”
“Good.” Dominic let out another huff. There was a brief silence and he then spoke again, but hesitantly: “Thank you, Mastiff. Your reaction was swift and decisive. I know that you were only trying to protect me, but you must be careful in the future.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “Do you understand?”
“I do, my lord.”
Several identically dressed guards entered the building and formed a circle around me with their weapons drawn. I remained in the submissive position that Dominic had ordered me to assume. One of the guards walked up to me and grabbed my tunic. He pulled upward on my clothing. The guard’s pull was weak but I steered myself toward wherever he attempted to direct me. I gave a fleeting glance toward Dominic as the guards pulled me out of the tavern, and Dominic responded with a sheepish wave and a shrug.