I arrived at the Compass River today. I’ve had bad luck with river crossings what with the pirates and monsters and undead beasts, so I was not looking forward to the ferry but when I got there I saw that a brand new bridge was ready and waiting for me. I guess because of the all the troops moving through here (you know the war and all) they decided it made sense to toss up a bridge. It’s startling when presented with actual proof that the government can accomplish things when they want to. And building a bridge is no easy task – they must have really busted the asses of some indentured servants to get this completed so quickly. I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that slavery is illegal in the Kingdom.
It wasn’t some rickety little country affair either – this was a Hells of a bridge. I mean if you like bridges. You could have marched a whole platoon (I have no idea how many people are in a platoon) across it with room to spare for their train of cooks, laundresses, bootleggers, nurses, prostitutes, and war profiteers. Truth be told it was far more bridge than you would ever need on the road to a place like Graltontown but fighting wars is mostly about building bridges I’m pretty sure. The ferryman’s little shack was still nearby but the ferryman himself was nowhere to be found. I assumed he hanged himself once the bridge was completed and now haunts it at night, strangling travelers unlucky enough to be crossing under the light of the moon with the very ropes with once he made his livelihood.
As I crossed over this new construction I passed a man pushing an overburdened cartful of cabbages accompanied by a girl dressed in boy’s clothing stooped under a pack bigger than her. I think it wasn’t just dressed, I think it was supposed to be a disguise, probably as an attempt to dissuade potential rapists. Surely they couldn’t have been planning on taking those cabbages all the way to Ardint but where else would there be to take them? I was almost curious enough to ask them. Almost.
Aside from cabbages the other thing I wondered about was how I crossed this river the first time. Five hundred and twenty seven days ago I woke up in that garbage-strewed alley in Graltontown being molested by a diseased mongrel. What happened before that? Was I whisked there by magic? Was I bound and gagged and drugged the entire time, did the ferryman watch as the Duke’s goons manhandled by unconscious form onto his skiff? Was my mind overthrown by enchantment and I was going there “willingly”? I suppose before I finally kill the Duke I’ll wring that answer out of him, just for my own curiosity.
On the other side of the river a man was waiting for me, leaning against the bridgehead (is that a thing?) the kind of lean where you need support rather than want it. He was mostly dressed in dilapidated traveler’s garb, several layers of such in fact, but had added a few items. Some puffy culottes, a frilly light violet dressing gown, and a horribly clashing floppy red hat with a sad feather really added something to the ensemble. What that something is I’ll leave for each individual to arrive. He had a very unmasculine long neck and a disgrace of a beard. About the only thing that recommended him was the bottle of Oldlaw whiskey he was working on as he leaned at an awkward angle.
“Aren’t you hot under all those clothes?”
He peered at me from under his hat as if trying to assess if I was real “I have a skin condition.”
“And sweating your balls off makes it better?”
He took a moment to consider that “Yes?”
“You also appear to be wearing women’s trousers.”
He took a drink before corking his bottle and tucking it away without offering me any like a real asshole “No such thing madam. Women won’t wear trousers so there can be so such thing as women’s trousers, ergo and therefore all trousers are men’s trousers.”
“I’m a woman and I’m wearing trousers.”
He frowned and then leaned forward preciously to examine me for a moment “Yes . . . . it seems that you are. Hmm . . . . this changes things.”
I carefully pushed him back into a more upright position before he fell on his face “I could go on at some length about your fashion choices but in the interest of brevity let me ask what it is you need from me. It appeared you were waiting for me.”
“Yes . . .” he nodded as if he had just decided “Yes, I talked with a Shepard of the Wandering God and his disciples, he was called Dormus, and he told me of a meeting with a witch hunter by the name of Buckleuck. It’s him that I was waiting for but it appears that you are him.”
“Good eye, most people would never peg me for Buckleuck since I look nothing like him and also he doesn’t really exist.”
“Existence is not as black and white as people think. And appearances can be deceiving, I try not to rely on anything so undependable as vision if I have other options.”
“And do you?”
He nodded slowly “Oh yes, I’m quite a powerful wizard.”
“You look like a vagrant.”
“I’m that too.”
“I suppose you must be a wizard since here you are in front of me when the people you said you talked to yesterday are now far behind me.”
He looked around, confused “They are? I admit that directions and geography aren’t something I’m good with, I have the bad tendency to get turned around.”
“That’s something we have in common. I have to tell you my shabby new friend, I don’t get on with wizards very well. They have a disturbing tendency to live in isolated towers where they can kidnap and torture women without being bothered by angry mobs.”
“I don’t blame you there, most wizards are real stiffs. I can assure you that I have no problem with women. I love women, why else would I pay them thirty silver to have sex with me?”
“You don’t look like you have thirty silver to spare very often.”
A sighed sadly “True enough, wizarding is not a very lucrative profession.”
“Disagree whenever I buy anything magic it costs a fortune. I feel like you’re just a bad wizard and that’s why you’re poor.”
“Maybe, but it takes a lot of money to make those things too. The overhead is substantial. And it takes forever. One measly little magic ring takes months to create. It’s crazy I tell you. Plus I never really mastered the art of crafting magic items, mine had the bad habit if not working which doesn’t do much for your reputation.”
“That is pretty strong mark against any merchant – your competitors can say mean things like ‘at least my stuff actually works’ and what can you say back?”
“Exactly. That’s why so many wizards get drawn into the tawdry and ugly world of adventuring, there’s just not a lot of other ways to get rich using your skills of setting people and things on fire at fifty paces.”
“But you can do other things with magic other than killing right?”
“You’d think so wouldn’t you?”
“We seem to have gotten sidetracked again, what is it you want from me?”
“I need a witch hunted, what reason would there be to look for a witch hunter?”
“Maybe you want one of those big hats they seem to love so much.”