The carriage ride back to Hoffgorod was quick and uninterrupted, but the pain in my wrist made the passage of time feel slow. Without the stresses of the jail to distract me, I became aware of quite how swollen and pained my arm and wrist had become. The Alaxian plains which were once so pleasing to my senses faded away into a blur, and I found myself in Martelli’s manor again before I could truly comprehend what was happening. Before long, I stood face to face with Dominic in Martelli’s common room.
“Are you alright, Mastiff?” Dominic asked me.
“Yes, my lord.” I told him. He nodded.
“Did they hurt you?”
“They did.” I said, extending my wrist so that Dominic could see the swelling. “My wrist was stabbed.”
Dominic shook his head. “Joint rot.” He spoke more to himself than me, as he often did. “This is not good.”
Though I had been in pain for a while, I had not felt truly concerned about it until Dominic showed his apprehension. He must have noticed that my countenance fell to a scowl at the news that I may be seriously hurt. He smiled, clearly attempting to reassure me.
“Worry not, Mastiff.” We are in the great city of Hoffgorod. If there is someone in Alaxi who can help you, I am certain that this is the place to find him. We will seek out a temple at once.”
Martelli, who had been sitting away from my conversation with Dominic approached. “Not that I was eavesdropping,” he began “but I could not help but to overhear. Will this interfere with our contract?”
“No!” Dominic blurted out, “Of course not!” Dominic’s face became flushed and he seemed to be losing composure. “Nothing can stop my Mastiff!”
Martelli appeared to grow skeptical at Dominic’s sudden urgency. “What is wrong?”
“Joint rot.” Dominic admitted.
Martelli frowned. “Oh dear. Here, come with me. Friar Azbed should be finishing a sermon soon. We can go there and have Mastiff’s wounds blessed. The Light One would not forsake our mission.” Dominic nodded in agreement and turned to me.
“There is no cause for alarm.” Dominic spoke softly in his most calming voice. “Martelli knows a man who can help us. We will go to him at once. Do you understand?”
“Good.” Dominic reached for a coat which had been hung gently upon the back of his chair. He beckoned me to follow him with a hand signal and we went immediately toward Martelli’s carriage. Martelli exchanged a few words with the carriage’s driver, who had been waiting patiently just outside of the manor, and we made haste to a nearby temple. As we made our approach, the bells atop its highest tower began to chime, signalling the end of a sermon, just as Martelli had predicted.
We entered the temple against the grain of worshippers who were exiting. As I passed by them, I felt the weight of their glares on me. I tried to pay them no mind. There were far too many churchgoers for me to process, and I was wholly interested in seeing what the friar could do for my wrist.
We took a step inside. The temple was an architecturally beautiful structure, clearly much older than the city which surrounded it. Though the church’s walls were old and cracking under the pressure of their own weight, the pews, altars, tables, and candles which decorated the interior were clearly new and well maintained. On a raised platform there proudly stood an altar, lit by a stained glass skylight which provided it with a heavenly glow. Standing at that altar was a man dressed in a priestly garb. His skintone was darker than that of Dominic or Martelli and it seemed to be accentuated by his worn, sunkissed skin which suggested that he was familiar with manual labor. As Martelli approached, the man at the altar looked up and smiled.
“Martelli!” the man gave Martelli a heartfelt greeting.
“Azbed!” Martelli approached the friar and they engaged in a warm embrace. The two men began to converse in Seltsi, smiling and laughing as they did so. Eventually, their friendly chat came to an end and they began to converse more seriously. Martelli made several gestures in my direction, which led me to believe that the conversation was about my injury. As with Dominic and Martelli, the friar’s body language suggested that my injury was severe. Eventually, the friar beckoned me and Dominic to approach him. We did so, with Dominic approaching about two paces in front of me.
The friar spoke in Seltsi, but Martelli translated for me.
“The friar says that he has encountered joint rot before, and he believes that The Light One will be able to assist you. Please stick your arm out for the friar.” I presented my arm to the friar and he began to inspect it. “Friar Azbed will give you a blessing that will allow for you to fight your disease. He says that, without his blessing, you will die.”
I nodded and looked toward the friar, who returned my gaze. After a moment, Azbed walked across the room and approached a potted plant. He inspected the plant for a few minutes before carefully selecting and clipping a leaf from it. Azbed returned to me, and began to rub the leaf on my wound. It was tremendously painful. As he rubbed the leaf into my wound, he gently sang a chant with a soft tone that might have been appropriate for singing a lullaby to a child. The ritual went on for about a minute. Once the friar had sung his song, he picked up a candle and brought it toward my wound. As the candle was brought near my wrist, the residue that had been smeared on me from the leaf ignited with a glorious flash that disappeared in a mere instant, taking with it most of the hairs on my arm. The friar’s ritual had done nothing to reduce the pain or swelling, but the friar seemed satisfied. He smiled at me, and spoke in Seltsi.
Dominic translated for me: “The friar says that you must pray now, and let The Light One know that you seek his assistance. There is a quiet prayer area near the temple’s entrance.” Dominic pointed toward a thick wooden door. I nodded and followed Dominic’s finger. As I swung open the heavy door, I was taken aback as to how dark and quiet the prayer room was by comparison to the rest of the temple. There were no windows, and the only light that entered the prayer room was from the doorway that I had just opened. Nonetheless, I stepped inside and closed the door behind me.
Once the door had been shut, I realized that there was a flaw in my plan. I had never prayed before, and I did not know what to do. Embarrassed to admit my ignorance about religion, something which seemed so important to Dominic and Martelli, I decided to sit in silence and pretend. I found myself concerned that the friar’s blessings would not work if I did not pray, but my concerns were interrupted as light began to pour into the prayer room from the doorway. Unlike the conspicuous swinging action that I had used to enter the prayer room, the door was instead opened softly and nearly silently. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I recognized the silhouette of a thin woman.
“Mastiff?” She said, whispering. I recognized the voice as that of Elisabetta.
“I am Mastiff.” I mirrored her whisper. Once I had confirmed my identity, she quietly closed the door behind her.
“Why are you here?” She asked, her tone curious rather than accusatory.
“Joint rot.” I responded.
“Who?” She asked. “You? Are you suffering from joint rot?”
“Yes.” I said.
“And so you came to a temple? Are you dying?” She whispered with building urgency.
“No.” I said. “The friar said to pray.”
“Pray for what?” She asked. “Forgiveness?”
“No. Joint rot.”
Elisabetta huffed, seemingly with relief. “Idiots. Prayer will not help your joint rot. The friar is ignorant.”
For a moment I went silent. Not only was I unsure of how to respond to Elisabetta’s claim that the friar was ignorant, but I was still unsure of what had brought Elisabetta to this room in the first place. I wanted to know why she was here, but I did not have the words to say it.
“I do not understand.” I paused for a moment. Elisabetta must have sensed that I was trying to put a sentence together, because she did not interrupt me. “You are here now.” I said.
“Yes, I am.” She said. Her cadence suggested that it was my turn to speak again.
“You.” I stammered. “There is a reason for you… To be here.”
“Yes.” She said. I could not see her, but I could hear that she spoke through a smile. “Did you want to ask me a question about that?”
“Yes.” I said.
I did not respond, as I did not know what to say. A moment passed, and Elisabetta let out a defeated sigh. However, when she spoke again, her tone remained positive.
“I saw you as I was leaving the service today. You are not exactly subtle.” I nodded, but in retrospect I am not certain that she could see me nod. “I wanted to see why you were here. I had expected you to have visited me by now, but clearly something has happened. What’s wrong?”
“Joint rot.” I said.
“Damn it, Mastiff. I know that you have joint rot.”
I did not know what to say. She took a deep breath and tried to calm her tone.
“How did you get joint rot?” She asked.
“I was stabbed.”
“Stabbed by whom?”
I thought for a moment. “Quinto.”
“Who is Quinto?”
“A man from jail.”
“Jail?” She exclaimed, breaking the whispery nature of our conversation. She took a moment to compose herself, and then continued whispering. “I have clearly missed a lot. Look, Mastiff. We don’t have much time. Those men will become suspicious that you are not praying. Return to them, and do not tell them about this conversation. We will meet again soon, trust me. I will see to it. For now, just act naturally.”
I stood in silence for another moment, still intrigued by Elisabetta’s candid and admittedly mysterious nature. “Go.” She said.
Without another word, I left the prayer room. As I approached Martelli and Dominic, my sensitive ears caught the sound of Elisabetta stealthily exiting the room behind me. It did not appear that Martelli or Dominic had noticed her exit, as their eyes were affixed to me. I took one glance back, and there was no trace of Elisabetta.
“Did you pray?” Dominic asked.
“Yes, my lord.” I responded.
“Good. The Light One shall see us through.” Dominic smiled, clearly reassured. He turned to Friar Azbed. “Thank you, Friar. You have done us a great service.” Azbed smiled, but did not respond. Dominic laughed nervously and repeated what he had just said in Seltsi. The two men shook hands, and after another hug with the Friar, Martelli led us back out of the church. Once we had stepped into the carriage again, Martelli turned to face Dominic.
“Well, Dominic, ” he began, “I am not certain that you will be welcomed back to Nakovan. Given that it is still Turnover, I do not think you will be able to find vacancy. Should you choose to reduce your bounty hunting fee by..” Martelli trailed off as he scratched his chin. “If you are willing to shave off ten per cent of your bounty hunting fee, you and the Mastiff may reside in my guest house.”
Dominic’s eyebrows furled. “You have had a guest house this whole time? And now, rather than apologizing for your lack of accommodation, you would charge me for such a basic privilege?”
Martelli let out a chuckle, clearly comfortable with his dominant role in the conversation. “The street just outside of my door is free, you know.”
“You cannot treat me like this, Martelli.” Dominic’s voice rose. “I am not some Pelik peasant, I am a nobleman of King Umberto! Do you think that he will be pleased to hear that his Alaxian kinsmen would be so petty? And after all that I have done for you!” Dominic had begun entering a full-fledged rant, and his statements grew quicker and more impassioned as time goes on. “The reason I am here is to secure your future! My few months of work will be a lifetime of results for you! My Mastiff and I ought to be demanding more, not less!”
Martelli silenced Dominic by extending a finger toward his lips, sushing him. “Dominic, do not be silly. Thus far, you have come here to pummel a few barbarians, instigate a bar fight, and give your orc joint rot. It seems to me that I am paying you to act as hooligans moreso than to secure the future of this great city.”
“I never!” Dominic responded. “This contract’s follies have thus far been accidents of circumstance resulting from your own wretched land, not from the failures of my Mastiff. We have been navigating Alaxi as though it were a battlefield of caltrops. Be a decent man for just one moment in your sad existence, Martelli, and allow me room and board as the friend you ought to be.”
Again, Martelli let out a laugh. As I grew to know Martelli, his characteristic laugh during inappropriate moments made me more uncomfortable. “Six per cent off of the contract fee. If you say no to this deal, so help me, we are no longer negotiating. The next words out of your mouth had better be ‘Yes Martelli’ or else I will not hesitate to simply drop you off here and let you handle shelter on your own.”
Dominic crossed his arms and looked away from Martelli, but Martelli simply leaned in closer to Dominic.
“Repeat after me.” Martelli said, now using an undeniably condescending tone of mockery. “Yes, Martelli.”
Dominic grumbled. “Yes, Martelli.” Dominic was barely audible as he spoke.
“Good!” Martelli exclaimed, smiling wide. “Your quarters are already set up. You can proceed to them immediately once we arrive at the manor.” Martelli leaned back and let out a satisfied sigh. Dominic and I spent the rest of the trip in silence.
Upon arriving at Martelli’s manor, Dominic and Martelli went separate ways without exchanging a goodbye. A butler of Martelli’s, the strange formal man who had answered the door on the previous day, informed us that he would be bringing us to our new quarters. He led us down a long and spacious hallway crafted from marble and stone. The sun was falling from the sky as the day pressed onward, and its orange glow was reflected by the flawlessly smooth walls and floor. Once we had reached the end of the hallway, we stepped through a doorway to the outside of the building and stood facing a guest house in the courtyard which was clearly crafted with the same care and architectural prowess that radiated from the rest of Martelli’s home. Dominic entered the guest house quickly and in a huff, but I lagged behind so that I could get a good look at it.
The layout was simple but gorgeous. The main entrance led to a common room that was dotted with comfortable chairs and tables. The furniture was all of a matching set. Each table and chair was accentuated by identical swirling patterns which had been carefully carved into the wood. The walls were decorated with tapestries that depicted Alaxian history; mostly images of aristocratic men on horses overlooking grand construction projects or fiery battles.
Leading out of the common room were four doorways. Three of the doorways led to bedrooms and the fourth led to a small dining hall. The guest house did not have any kitchen or cooking utensils, suggesting that those who resided in the guest house had full access to Martelli’s army of servants. Once I was satisfied with my inspection of the property, I entered the chamber which would be my new bedroom.
Though the inn at Nakovan had been nice, I had never been permitted to enter the sleeping chambers of a nobleman. As I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed by the quality of the room. The bed, which I could hardly grasp would be my own, was gigantic. I would not even have to curl up into a ball to fit on it. Atop the bed was a finely woven comforter, made with what seemed to be silk. The comforter was a deep purple in colour, matching the pillows. I ran my fingers along it, and felt my spine tingle as its smooth, soft texture cascaded across my fingertips. I took a deep breath, catching a light scent of lavender. I sprawled myself atop the sheets, enjoying the moment. The room, which was lit by three large windows toward the room’s ceiling, also had an armoire, an interesting luxury that I was not accustomed to. Finely crafted drawers lined the walls, granting more storage space than any one man should need, making the room truly feel complete. I stood again, feeling like a king for the first time in my life. I took notice of a large, full body mirror that was lined with solid gold.
As I approached the mirror, I came to the realization that I was too big for it, and that I could not fit entirely in the mirror without taking a large step back. As I gazed upon myself, I was suddenly reminded that I was an orc, and my excitement declined dramatically. I was in a nice room, but seeing my reflection made it obvious that the room was not mine; I was merely an orc inside of it. I frowned, and the pain in my wrist became apparent again. I let out a deep sigh, and went to sleep.
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