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Brian S. Pratt

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Category: 

Fantasy

Publisher:  Briansprattbooks ISBN-10:  1440419035 Type: 
Pages: 

176

Copyright:  March 27, 2009 ISBN-13:  9781440419034
Fiction

Two wannabe adventurers make plans to earn the right to join the reknowned Guild.

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Jaikus and Reneeke are ordinary lads whose dream in life is to become members of The Adventurer's Guild. But to become a member, they must be able to lay claim to an Adventure, and not just any adventure. To qualify, an Adventure must entail the following:

1-Have some element of risk to life and limb.
2-Successfully concluded. If the point of the Adventure was to recover a stolen silver candelabra, then you better have that candelabra in hand when all is said and done.
3-A reward must be given. For what good is an Adventure if you don't get paid for your troubles?

Jaikus and Reneeke soon realize that becoming members in the renowned Guild will prove much more difficult than they thought.  However, when they learn that a party of experienced Guild members are about to embark on an Adventure and are in need of Springers, they quickly volunteer only to later discover  that a Springer's job is to "Spring the trap."

If they survive the ensuing ordeal, membership in the Guild is assured.


Excerpt



—1—


It was a day like any other in the great city of Reakla. The hustle and bustle of everyday life continuing as it had for many a year, though in this city, what constituted everyday life could at times seem extraordinary if it were to be encountered anywhere else. But in Reakla, the sight of three trolls being led through the streets by a party of adventurers was hardly worth a second look.
Ye’s Band of Thugs, a party of five that had been adventuring together for the better part of a decade, were herding six of the great beasts toward the Adventurer’s Guild. Trolls were in demand at the Guild, being as they were very hardy and regenerated well. They gave the up and coming newbies something to practice on. Each of the three Classes that called the Guild their home had a courtyard in which they could hone and fine tune their skills between adventures. Within the courtyard, fighters fought, mages worked on spells, and thieves, well, they did what thieves always do and were not about to explain themselves to others. If you’re a thief, you know what goes on. If not, it’s best not to pry.
Below the Guild lies a network of pens which house beasts that for a price, were made available to its members. There were the usual sorts of animals one would expect, such as cows, dogs, cats, rats, etc. Then there were the more exotic beasts such as the trolls, and if the rumors could be believed, even a green dragon held in a great cavern far below the rest, but such was most likely nothing more than rumor.
Ye’s Band of Thugs tended to receive the commissions to acquire trolls for the Guild as they have had much success at it and almost always returned with good specimens that had little in the way of damage. Of course, the regenerative nature of trolls could in no small measure account for that as well.
For the lads of Reakla, those too young or not predisposed for adventuring, the sight of Trolls being marched to the Guild pens was the closest they could get to the excitement, and glory that was Adventuring.
Two of the onlookers that stood in awe of the seasoned band of adventurers herding the trolls, were relatively new to Reakla. Having arrived only the night before, they gaped at the massive beasts passing by.
“Would you look at the size of them!” Jaikus remarked.
Reneeke was much too enthralled by the sight to respond.
“Only three this time?” one onlooker shouted.
The man walking at the head of the procession glanced toward the shout. “That’s all they wanted,” responded the seasoned fighter. He bore a longsword and shield, his helm was silver with an erect bright blue plume sticking six inches straight up, while his chainmail, though looking well-worn, shone in the afternoon sun.
As the men and trolls moved on, Jaikus slapped his friend Reneeke on the back. “Just think. One of these days, that’s going to be us.”
Reneeke turned his gaze from the departing trolls to his friend. “Yup.”
“Tomorrow we’ll go down and join.”
“If they’ll have us,” countered his friend. “We don’t exactly look the adventuring type.”
Which was true. Jaikus was but five feet seven, slight of build, and not exactly muscular. Reneeke on the other hand stood a hair over six feet, had worked on a farm all his life and thus had built up a sizeable set of muscles. Chopping wood will do that to a lad. But despite his build, dressed as he was in hand-me-down homespun, he looked anything but someone ready to face the evil in the world.
“Of course they’ll have us,” asserted Jaikus. “Do you think every adventurer started out with a set of armor, swords, and all that stuff? No, of course not. They were like us. Full of energy and raring to go.”
“If you say so.” To be honest, Reneeke preferred life on the farm to that of adventuring. It was good work, you knew what each day would bring, and perhaps best of all, you weren’t risking your life on a daily basis. Jaikus had talked him into coming to Reakla to join the Guild with him. If they turned them away without so much as a how-do-you-do, that would suit him just fine. He definitely felt out of place among such company.
“Come on,” said Jaikus as he grabbed his friend’s arm. “Let’s follow them to the Guild.”
“Okay.”
They had gone to the Guild upon first arriving in town, but hadn’t worked up the nerve to approach the front door. Several rather intimidating individuals had been standing before the entrance and the two lads thought that perhaps coming the following morning would prove better.
But such had not been the case. They again lost their nerve when they went down earlier that day, Jaikus being the one to balk at approaching. For all his enthusiasm to join the Guild, he was afraid they would turn him away. And he feared such a fate.
They and others, mainly kids, tagged along behind the procession of men and trolls until the Guild came into sight. It was an impressive structure at three stories high with a box tower rising on the eastern edge that extended for another four levels. The tower, they knew, was the province of the magic users. At times, strange noises could be heard coming from the windows of the upper levels, as well as mysterious flashes of light. Arcane powers beyond the ken of the average man were manipulated within.
Ever since he was a lad sitting on the wooden floor of the inn listening to the bards spin tales of daring-do, Jaikus had his heart set on being a fighter. Back home, he and Reneeke used to practice with wooden swords they crafted from the remains of an old oak tree. It had been split in two by lightning and they imagined special properties imbuing the wood when they sparred. Jaikus could usually whomp Reneeke and felt pretty good about his prowess with a blade. Reneeke didn’t really care what he would be, he was only there so Jaikus wouldn’t have to go it alone.
There was a hunger in Jaikus’ eyes, a longing to be a part of such a close-knit society. To be an Adventurer! What greater thing could there be? “Let’s do it.”
“What?” asked Reneeke. Glancing down to his friend, he saw that look in his eyes, one he had seen before. It said his friend had found his spine. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Then, as the men and trolls disappeared around the corner of the Guild, Jaikus stalked toward the Guild’s entrance with Reneeke close behind.
A rather large individual stood near the entrance, Jaikus judged him to be a fighter by the way he was armed, one who had seen better days; the man’s left arm was missing. His eyes tracked the two lads on their approach, and as they stepped upon the bottom of three steps leading to the entrance, moved to block their entry.
“Only Guild members are allowed in, boys,” the man said in a raspy, though not entirely unfriendly, voice.
“Boys?” declared Jaikus. Coming to a stop, he stood all of his five feet seven with hands on hips. “We are not boys, but men.”
A grin spread across the man’s face. “Be that as it may, you can’t come in. Unless…you were invited by someone?”
Jaikus’ bravado began oozing away now that he stood toe to toe with a real Adventurer. A serious case of self-consciousness and doubt came over him. “No,” he replied. Being in the situation, he had no other recourse but to see it through to its end. About to continue, he was forestalled by Reneeke.
“We are here to join the Guild.”
Looking the pair up and down, the man replied, “Go home, boys. You have more the farm than fame about you. It would be a shame for your mothers to lose you so early in life.” Scoring upon Jaikus with the jab about the farm, the man saw the wannabe Adventurer’s face turn red.
“We will have you know that we are not the bumpkins you make us out to be. Reneeke and I are no strangers to the sword, and…” But he was again forestalled by laughter.
“Boys, boys, boys. Thank you. I haven’t had a good laugh like that in many a moon. No strangers to the sword. Why, you two don’t even have swords. Go home.”
“Are you turning us away?”
“It looks like it, boy. You can’t just walk up to the Guild, announce your desire to become an Adventurer, and be one.” He then gestured to the open entryway behind him. “You must earn the right to walk through this door.”
Reneeke laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Let’s go home. You tried.”
Jaikus knocked the hand from him. He would not give up so easily. “How can we earn the right?”
“Go on an Adventure, boy. Do something brave, something worthy of the Guild. Then we’ll see.”
“What kind of an Adventure?”
The man shrugged. “How about slay a dragon? The Guild’s always looking for exotic beasts for its members, go find something unique and bring it back.”
“How?” asked Reneeke.
Rolling his eyes heavenward, the man replied, “If you have to be told, then there isn’t much point in trying to join the Guild now, is there?"
“But Adventurers go on adventures all the time,” argued Jaikus. “How is it they know what is going on in the world?”
“What are you, stupid? Don’t you know anything about the Guild? People come to the Guild, or send word, of tasks that need doing. They hire out a party to resolve whatever problem or task needs to be addressed."
Before Jaikus could reply, Reneeke asked, “Are there any that we could do?”
“Sorry, kid. But those are for members only.”
Jaikus could see he was going to get nowhere with this fellow. “We’ll be back.”
“I’ll be here,” the man assured them.
Jaikus stalked off in a huff.

“Let’s go home,” stated Reneeke yet again.
Jaikus shook his head. “Rene, I simply cannot resign myself to the life of my father. Work all day long and into the night in an attempt to scratch a living off the land. Watch my youth and dreams fade as year after year passes with no change in sight. No Rene, I cannot do it.”
“But you heard what the man at the Guild said. We have to do something worthy of the Guild. And to be honest, we don’t exactly have any skills that would be useful in such an endeavor.”
“Nevertheless, I shall not give up.”
Reneeke sighed. Relaxing in the common room of the Inn of the Silver Spoon, he downed his mug of ale and signaled the barmaid for another. His friend could be headstrong at times, and to his chagrin, this was one of them.
He liked Jaikus. Being raised in the same backwater farming community of Running Brook had produced a bond between them that he could not simply ignore. But there were times when his friend was exasperating. Like the time when he thought a gnome had set up shop in Tilly’s bakery. Two weeks of sneaking about and spying were spent in watching the place only to discover the gnome to be Tilly’s baby nephew who had come to visit. Thank goodness they kept their suspicions to themselves or they would have been the laughingstocks of their village.
“He did have a point, however,” Reneeke announced.
“What was that?”
“We might want to think about getting a couple swords. Those at the Guild might take us more seriously if we were armed.”
Jaikus nodded. “Good thought.” Pulling out his coin purse, he dumped two silvers and five coppers onto the table. The seven coins represented everything he had in the world.
Without bothering to check his, Reneeke said, “I’ve another silver, two coppers.”
Meeting his friend’s eye, Jaikus asked, “Think this will be enough?”
Reneeke shrugged. “Don’t know. Never priced a sword before.”
“Well, I guess we can at least make inquiries at the local weapons dealer.”

Bright and early the following morning, the two wannabe adventurers found their way to The Keen Blade, a weapon shop reputed to be the best in town. Within they gazed upon a wide variety of weapons: battleaxes, longswords, pikes, maces, flails, and other death dealing instruments.
Jaikus’ eyes gleamed when they fell upon a longsword sporting silver filigree delicately interwoven across the face of the guard. About to reach out and touch it, he was interrupted by the emergence of a man from the back.
“Can I help you, lads?”
Five-foot four and thin as a rail, the man was one of the few Jaikus had ever encountered shorter than himself. He had fiery red hair that was neatly trimmed, and was dressed in a plain jerkin. He looked nothing like a smith should.
“We’re looking for a couple swords,” Reneeke piped up.
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Looking to join the Guild are you?”
“How did you know?” asked Jaikus.
“Every other week or so, I get one or two young folks such as you lads who think the adventuring life is for them. Let me tell you, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After long stretches of boring monotony, there’s a short duration in which your lives are hanging by a thread, then back to boring monotony. You’re better off returning to the farm.”
“No farm, thank you,” replied Jaikus. “I’ll try my luck with the Guild.”
Shrugging, the man said, “It’s your life.”
“You bet.”
Taking in the two lads before him, the man didn’t seem to think too much of them. “How much are you looking to spend?”
“Three silvers,” answered Reneeke.
“Three silvers?” asked the man with a laugh. “Three silvers won’t even get you a scabbard, and a used one at that.”
“How about a spear?” asked Reneeke. Turning to his friend, he said, “We’re pretty good with those.”
“Son, there is nothing in this shop that can be had for three silvers. Not for both of you at any rate.”
“But we need a weapon if we’re to join the Guild,” complained Jaikus.
“True.” Growing thoughtful for a moment, the man said, “You might try over at Keeler’s. He has a smithy located on the eastern edge of town. Adventurers often dump their unwanted and extra items off on him.”
“Thank you,” said Jaikus. He took another longing look at the longsword he desperately wanted before leaving the shop. One day, he vowed to himself, he was going to have a sword like that.

Keeler’s was easy to find. A quick question of a local and they were soon hearing the ringing hammer of a smith at work. Unlike the man back at The Keen Blade, the man doing the hammering had the thick arms and broad back of a smith.
When the smith noted their approach, he plunged the piece of metal he worked on into a bucket of water. Steam rose as he held it there for a second before removing it. Then he gave the metal bar a brief inspection before setting it on a worktable close to hand.
“Need a weapon?” the smith asked before the two lads had come to a stop.
“What makes you ask that?” questioned Jaikus.
Giving them a grin, the man replied, “Okay then, what can I do for you?”
“We need a weapon,” stated Reneeke.
Laughing, the smith shook his head and Jaikus grew a bit red about the ears. “Pay me no mind boys, just a jest at your expense.”
“We were told you might have weapons on the cheap,” stated Jaikus, overcoming his irritation.
“That I do. What sort are you interested in?”
“Swords.”
“Of course, how silly of me. You all want swords. Don’t even think about a mace or a halberd, or any other type of weapon. Everyone wants a sword.”
“Aren’t swords the best?” asked Reneeke.
“Not for everyone, son. It all depends on what you want to do. A good mace can pulp an opponent’s internal organs quite readily. A spear or halberd gives you reach which allows you to strike your opponent before they can come close.”
“I still want a sword,” asserted Jaikus. “And so does my friend.”
“As you wish,” shrugged the smith. Extending his hand, the man said, “Name’s Keeler. I have half a dozen or so out back that a party disposed of just yesterday.” After shaking hands and hearing their names, Keeler indicated for them to follow. He then turned about and headed for a side door, beyond which lay a room with many different weapons, swords included, displayed upon the walls and lying atop tables. One longsword within a scabbard bearing a dragon design caught Jaikus’ eye.
“How much for this one?”
“Too much I’m sure,” replied the smith. “The equipment you two can afford I keep out back.”
Bristling under the smith’s comment, Jaikus remained silent and followed him from the room. His mood didn’t improve when he saw the selection of weapons that, according to the smith, was within their means.
These weapons were hardly what one would call worthy of a member of the Guild. Perhaps that was why they had found their way to Keeler’s back room. Lying in uneven stacks upon the floor, jammed into barrels, leaning against the wall, these weapons were in a sad state of upkeep.
Many were either chipped or broken, a couple had complete holes scored through that when Reneeke asked, Keeler explained the party had run into an acid trap. “It took out two of their members and ruined most of their equipment.” Gesturing to the hodgepodge of adventuring cast-offs, he added, “What you see here are weapons no longer deemed serviceable. A few aren’t too bad.” Moving over to a barrel with a score of sword hilts sticking out the top, he inspected them for a moment before pulling out one with minimal disfigurement.
“This one is still serviceable,” he explained, bringing it over to the pair. “Not great, but it’ll only cost you a silver.”
Jaikus looked at the sword with undisguised disgust. It didn’t have a shine to it, rust covered much of its surface, and there were two nicks near the end. “Isn’t there anything better?”
“Son, fresh from the farm as you two are, I’m assuming you don’t have a great deal of coins. Am I right?”
Miserably, Jaikus had to nod affirmative.
Turning the sword over, the smith then waved it back and forth. “Though it doesn’t look first-rate, it has a good balance and can still hold an edge. It’ll take a bit of work to make it serviceable once again. But once sharpened and cleaned, it will do the job.”
“I’ll take it,” offered Reneeke. “If you will also throw in a whetstone and some oil?”
Keeler nodded. “Done.”
“But I still need something,” stated Jaikus. These were hardly the weapons of heroes.
“So you do,” agreed Keeler. He returned to the barrel and pulled forth a second blade, equally as disreputable as the first. “This one is in fair condition and will serve.”
The last thing Jaikus wanted to do was to be seen sporting such a sword. Glancing around, he saw one that looked in much better condition lying on a nearby table. The blade had a shine and the few nicks marring its surface were hardly noticeable. Not only that, but there was an archaic design engraved in the crossbar that gave it a mysterious quality. “How about this one?” Crossing over to it, he gripped the hilt and held it up.
“Nice,” said Reneeke, approvingly.
“You don’t want that one son.”
Turning to Keeler, Jaikus replied, “Why not?”
“It’s not that good.”
“Not that good? Why, this sword is much better than that pig-sticker you’re holding.” Taking out a silver, he flipped it over the smith. “I’ll take it.”
Keeler snatched the coin out of the air and slipped it into his pocket. “As you wish.”
Satisfied with his sword, Jaikus turned to go when Keeler stopped him by saying, “Just one more thing.”
“What?”
Striking out with the sword Jaikus had called a “pig-sticker”, the smith struck his newly purchased blade, and the metal shattered.
Reneeke stood amazed. The blade didn’t just break in two, it shattered into over a dozen, separate pieces. “Wow.”
“Don’t you ever ignore wisdom from one who knows better, son,” the smith said sternly. “It may just cost you your life.”
With but three inches of blade still attached to the hilt, Jaikus stared at what was left of his new sword in disbelief. “You broke my sword.”
“Yep. It sure looks that way.”
“I want my silver back.” Tossing down the stub of a blade, Jaikus stood with hand outstretched to receive his coin.
“No.”
“No?” Growing irate, Jaikus was about to shout a few choice words at the smith when the smith laughed.
“I just saved your life, boy. Days from now, or maybe a week or two if you were lucky, you'd have been in dire straits when that sword shattered during your very first fight leaving you defenseless. Let this be a lesson. When advice is given on something as important as a sword, especially when it comes from a smith such as myself, listen. Or die. In the line of work you are seeking to embark upon, life is tenuous at best.”
“Good idea,” agreed Reneeke.
Jaikus seethed, but could understand the wisdom of what Keeler was saying.
Holding out the “pig-sticker” to Jaikus, the smith asked, “Do you want this?”
He glanced at Reneeke, who nodded for him to take it. Turning his gaze back upon the “pig-sticker,” Jaikus shuddered and said, “Yes.” Taking out his last silver, he handed it to the smith and took the sword.
At no extra charge, Keeler supplied each with a scabbard as worn as the blades, then gave Reneeke the whetstone and the oil, which Reneeke promised Jaikus he would share. “Now all we need to do is find a way to join the Guild,” Reneeke told his friend.
“Yeah.”
“You’re not even part of the Guild yet?” Keeler shook his head. “How do you plan to join? You two know someone?”
Jaikus shook his head. “I wish we did, but no.”
Reneeke asked, “You wouldn’t know where we could get an exotic animal for the Guild?”
“Who told you that you needed one?”
“The man out front of the Guild we met yesterday.”
The smith eyed the two before him. Raising his hand to just above his head, he said, “About this height with only one arm?”
Reneeke nodded. “That’s him.”
“And I suppose he failed to mention the Scrolls?” Two blank looks were all the answer he needed. “Damn, Jeral. Ever since he lost his arm two years ago due to a Springer’s carelessness, he’s had it in for anyone looking to join the Guild. Though that’s probably why they stationed him outside, sort of like a first line of defense to keep away those who truly don’t have the grit to be part of the Guild.”
“What are the Scrolls?” asked Jaikus.
“Well, in case you didn’t notice, not more than ten feet to the right of where you met Jeral, are the Scrolls listing Adventures that have gone unresolved.”
“Unresolved? Why would they not be completed?” wondered Reneeke.
“Several reasons. First and foremost is the reward not being worth the risk or time invested. Most Adventurers are mercenaries at heart, and unless there is some serious gain to be had, they will pass it over. Another reason would be it is too dangerous. Once an Adventure has claimed a party or two, few are willing to sign on.”
“So, if we take on one of these Adventures and resolve it, we’re in?” asked Jaikus.
“Not being part of the Guild, I wouldn’t know for sure. But it’s your best bet. I’ve heard of some current Guild members having gone that route.”
Eyes agleam with possibilities, Jaikus said, “Thank you, master smith.” Then to Reneeke, he said, “Let’s return to the Guild and take a look at those Scrolls.” Assuredly, there must be some task considered beneath the average Guild member that they could accomplish without too much threat to life and limb. Then, they would be in!




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