The Belencoury brothers were arguing. Normally, Grancir ran the show and Del followed. Grancir was the elder of the two, the better archer, the more charismatic, the one the rest of the band followed, and the front man for when they were seeking work because potential employers liked him. Del got stuck with the paperwork; applying for licences and permits when they were needed, checking the terms of their contracts, and holding onto the money long enough for everyone else to get paid before Grancir went out and spent it. The argument was about money.
“You're supposed to make sure we stay in funds,” Grancir hurled across the table at his younger brother.
“I paid the men, paid the inn, and got our taxes in before the collectors came looking for us,” returned Del. “Then you bought yourself that fine new coat,” he dropped his voice to a hiss, “and a night with the finest courtesan your money could buy,” his voice returned to its normal volume, “so now there's only a few coins left. It's not there because you spent it, and if I hadn't paid the inn in advance, we'd be out on the streets. You want to know what really burns me up?” His voice rose to the volume of his brother’s, “You spent my share of the money too, not just your own. You're a lousy, kin-skinning thief, Grancir Belencoury, and I've done with you.” He stood, picked up his mug of hard beer, and stomped away towards the other side of the room.
Left sitting on his own, Grancir hurled at the departing back, “Well, it’s little enough you did for us, anyway. I can get a couple of the lads to fill your boots easily enough, but you’ll never get a job on your own, they only ever hire you because you're with me. I don’t need to tell you to rot in Hell, dear little brother, because your picked out your own path there already.”
Del ignored him, sat down at an empty table, and sipped at his hard beer. He had to make it last because, frankly, he couldn't afford another. As long as Grancir didn't convince the innkeeper to kick Del out of his room, then Del did have a roof over his head for the next two nights. After that, there was no money, no food, and no shelter, so Del needed a job. He sipped just a little harder on his drink because clients really had hired them because of Grancir, and now he didn't even have a band to offer up to potential employers - getting a job, on his own, possibly with his brother bad mouthing him, was not going to be easy.
He stayed in the tap room, emptying his mug as slowly as possible, while going over possible employers in his mind. Over at his original table, he could see his brother being generously genial, spending money like a man who wouldn't need to eat the next day. Del knew almost to the quarter copper bit how much Grancir had in his purse, and he resolved to make sure he left before the other man needed to pay his tab. Let Grancir clean up his own messes. Del drank a little more.
Del had been soberly regarding the empty bottom of his mug for five minutes when a young, female voice said, “Excuse me, are you Del Belencoury?”
He looked up to see a young woman dressed in trousers, coat and the usual accoutrements standing opposite him. She was shorter than most people, with brown hair cut short like a household drudge and skin that had a rose petal flush over yellow and cream tones. Her features suggested that her ancestors had been a mix of refugees from across the now enemy-held lowlands, and her expression was both friendly and interested. “I am. How can I help you?”
“I’m here to offer you a job. May I sit down?” She had her hand on the back of the chair.
“Of course.” Del waved a hand in what might have been a gracious manner. As she sat, he added, “Just so you know, I’ve parted company with my brother and his band. Hiring me is not hiring them, and I’ve no authority to negotiate on their behalf.”
She nodded. “That actually uncomplicates matters because it’s you I'm looking to hire, although we will wind up wanting all the archers we can get.” She nodded at someone over Del’s shoulder and added, “I took the liberty of ordering food and drink for us both. You are drinking hard beer, aren't you?”
“Ah, yes.” As Del answered one barmaid put a platter of cooked sausages, with root vegetables and bread, on the table, while another put a plate, cutlery, and another mug of hard beer in front of him.
The girl had a mug of cider along with her place setting, and after she thanked the barmaids, she turned back to Del and said, “My name’s Erima, and I’m representing my father’s interests in a temple he’s building. What he needs now are archery watch captains, and you come recommended as someone who’d do well in the job.”
“You want me because I'm an archer who does paperwork.” He speared a sausage and put it on his plate with some of the root vegetables, along with two more sausages.
“I want you because you've been running an independent archery band for years, I think you’d be good at this, and my father speaks well of you. If you’re unhappy with the way things were going with your brother, then perhaps it's time to make a change anyway.” She smiled and added, “I have references. Hopefully those will assure you that my offer is good, and that I can be trusted.”
Del had started eating. “What's the pay?” There was no guarantee of employment yet, and the sausages were real.
“Sixteen silver bits a month and two gold quarter bits a quarter, with bed and board all found on temple rations.” She filled her own plate, “Plus standard combat pay of a half copper bit per day.”
“Per day of combat?” Del ate some more, and washed it down with the hard beer.
“Per day while you're with us.” She smiled.
“So, a front-line position. If you want watch captains, then you're not just hiring me. Who else have you got on the roster?” The girl was at least feeding him to listen to her, and the sausages were very good.
“Gil Tyler, and Orratram Baanthazar. I'm hoping to be able to approach Harrandil Even, and Reth Moonstong as well, but I'm hearing some distressing rumours about Reth’s health and I might have to try prying Master Even out of the clutches of the commander of Treblesse.” She flashed him a smile, “I’m sure that there are others I can approach, if need be.”
He leant forward over his plate and jabbed his fork at her, “Prove to me that you've got Tyler and Baanthazar on board, and show me these references, then I’ll make up my mind.”
She looked at him for a moment, then put down her fork and waved her hand in the air, not taking her eyes off Del’s face. Two men at another table stood up, gathered up their food and drink, and made their way over to where Del was sitting. They were indeed men Del recognised: Gil Tyler and Orratram Baanthazar as stated. Baanthazar said, “You wanted us, ma'am?”
Erima said happily, “Master Belencoury here wanted to be satisfied that I’m truthful and in earnest, so he asked for evidence that the two of you have accepted my employment offer. You are working for me, aren't you?” She looked like a happy puppy from one to the other.
“Yes, we are," answered the black skinned Orratram Baanthazar. "Have you told him exactly who you are, ma'am?”
“I thought I’d let my references speak for me.” She shrugged.
“Oh, this is going to be good,” remarked Tyler, spearing a piece of mutton out of his stew. He watched as Erima passed Del two envelopes she'd taken out of an inner pocket of her coat. “Are they addressed to him, by any chance?”
“Of course they are,” Erimah smiled. “My cousins are very thorough.”
Del opened the letters and went straight to the signatures and seal prints at the bottom of each one. "You're seriously trying to tell me that the General of the South and Captain Norvaz are your cousins?"
“Oh, yes,” she drank some cider composedly. “On our fathers’ side of course, they’re brothers.”
“You’re not a godsson, you’re a girl!” Del blurted that out rather more emphatically than he should have.
“Yes, I have noticed that.” She drank some more cider.
“But they're never girls!”
“As far as I know, you're right.” Erima put down her mug. “All my cousins seem to be male, and you know what, I'm not going to ask my uncles or my father why. Just in case the answer is a whole lot more personal than I want to know about.”
The three men sat there for a moment, then Del said, “That seems fair.”
“When I first met ma’am here,” remarked Orratram, “she walked across the rapids at Orrinmead to talk to me, while the stream was in flood and using the wave tops as stepping stones.” He drank some of his hard beer.
“It got your attention,” replied Erima gently. “Besides, anything else would have taken days.
“So, when you said your father is building a temple, you meant that it’s a temple to him, didn't you?” Del was looking into space beyond the sausage on his fork.
Erima saw no point in denying it. “Yes.”
“So, we’re temple guards in combat positions, correct?” Del was still looking at nothing.
“Somewhere it’s possible that we will be attacked at any time.” He looked directly at Erima.
“Yes. It will be dangerous, and no we can't guarantee your safety. Demons, probably flying ones, and probably more regularly than anyone wants.” Erima cocked her head and asked, “Are you interested?”
“You know that my brother would hate this job, don't you?” Del looked steadily at the godsdaughter in front of him. “Did you have anything to do with the fight I had with him tonight?”
“No, I didn't.” Erima looked thoughtful. “I don't actually know that I could - it's not the sort of thing you want to go tampering with on a whim. I don't know whether anyone else could either.”
Del sat back in his chair, and said, “I’ll take it. The pay’s fair, and you've been as honest with me as you can be, allowing for reasonable secrecy and security. People I trust vouch for you. Shake on it?” He leaned forward over the table and offered her his hand.
Being shorter, Erima stood to take it and shake. “Done then, and welcome to our staff, Del Belencoury. Now eat your meal, we can't have you wasting away to skin and bones; we've demons to fight. Besides,” she cast an eye over at where Grancir was sitting, “we might want to be gone before your brother’s asked to settle up his tab.” The four of them glanced over at where Grancir was entertaining a table of men. “I can see the fight starting already – we don’t want to be here then.”
“Sounds good to me,” agreed Del. Then something hit him, and he pointed a fork at her, “You said that your father speaks well of me. Your father speaks well of me?”
Erima looked embarrassed. “Well, he gives me lists and things, and you’re on the ‘trust worthy, try to get this one’ list.”
“So, he gives clear directions?”
Erima considered, “Well, actually, yes, he does. But not in a mind controlling way.”
“I think I could like working for someone like that.” Del smiled and went back to eating his sausages.
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