Captain Auristen and five of his best watchmen stood in the square, waiting to see if the crazy old man would come. They wore neither helmet nor breastplate. Breastplates were for palace guards, paladins, and anyone else who didn't have to worry about chasing a thief halfway across town. Auristen's people wore fitted leather armor, light enough not to get in the way, comfortable enough to wear on a day-to-day basis. On each chestplate was emblazoned the seal of Manderia: A white rose intertwined with a broadsword. The only exception was Auristen's own armor, which was much fancier. It had been tooled and decorated, and it fitted his body exactly. Silver plates were worked into the shoulders, denoting his rank. He hated it.
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Behind him, the fountain burbled away, unconcerned with the petty worries of a rank-and-file captain and his thief-takers. Auristen whistled a snatch of an old song, and resisted an urge to cadge another smoke off one of his men.
And there was the old man himself, ambling down Main Street with all the casual and unconcerned ease of an aged statesman taking a morning stroll. Auristen felt curiously disappointed. This was the one they were all talking about. The one people whispered about in back rooms. The one who had beat a powerful, sword-trained youth within an inch of his life. He looked...like an old man.
Merrick had been worried about intimidating the captain and his officers. What Auristen saw, as he stood with his hands clasped behind him, was:
A fit but aging man
A tall female elf
A small man in ranger's kit
A tall, regal young man
A teenage boy, not long out of childhood
Under the circumstances, he was less than intimidated.
Merrick stopped at the edge of the square, and his regiment, rag-tag and mismatched crew that they were, spread out in an honor guard around him. Auristen watched with approval. Even the guttersnipe boy in the back seemed to know what he was doing. The honor guard fell back, and Merrick walked out alone into the empty square. Auristen recognized this as his cue, and stepped forward himself, gesturing to his men to hold back unless he gave signal. They met in the middle, a scraggly man of indeterminate, advanced age, and an iron-gray man with the straight back of a trained soldier.
Merrick raised a hand in formal greeting. "Hail, Captain Auristen."
Auristen raised his own hand in return. "Hail, stranger."
"Are we well met, then, Captain?"
"Aye," Auristen said. "We are well met."
They spent a long moment looking around the square, looking at their soldiers, looking at passers-by, looking at the sky. Finally, Auristen said:
"Ah. Yes. I get that a lot. Look-" Merrick crossed his arms and stepped in close. "We stay here, and we're going to draw a crowd. If nothing else, they'll think we're a couple of street performers. Now, that pub down the way-" He pointed past the fountain, toward the front of the Block and Barrel- serves a particularly fine bitter. What say you and I discuss this matter over a pint, like reasonable people who aren't going to attack one another."
Auristen put a hand to his chin and scratched at the day's growth of stubble along his neck.
"You know," he said. "I do believe that's the most sensible thing anyone's said to me all morning. What about our accomplices?" He nodded at Merrick's assembled watchmen, then at his own.
"I'm sure they can play nice for a few minutes."
Auristen chuckled. "That they can. Very well, then, sir. You've convinced me."
The two men headed for the pub across the way, talking in low, quiet voices, and ignoring the confused stares of their soldiers. They disappeared under the hanging barrel-shaped sign, into the front door, and were gone.
There was an uneasy silence as everyone tried to avoid looking at one another.
Lunice sighed. "Right, then. Who wants first go at strangling their commanding officer?"
When Merrick sat down again, Auristen said: "About the matter of Lieutenant Ganthor..."
"I thought we'd come to that. Are you planning to arrest me."
Auristen looked mildly surprised. "No, actually. Were you afraid of that?"
Merrick shook his head. "Not really. This didn't have the feel of an arrest."
The captain sat back and sipped at his drink. "Good. If I had wanted to arrest you-"
"You'd have come to the guild with about thirty watchmen and demanded they give me up?"
"Something like that, yes. Auristen wiped the foam away from his moustache with one knuckle, and took another sip. "Say, this is good."
"You seem to know something of city watch procedure, Mr.- uh-"
"Merrick. And no, not Mr. Merrick. Just Merrick." The old man reached into a vest pocket and withdrew his pipe. "And yes, I know a bit. You can't live as long as I have without picking things up here and there."
Merrick looked up from filling his pipe, one eyebrow raised. "Do you?"
Auristen said nothing.
"Captain, maybe it would help out if you could tell me what you DID bring me here for."
Auristen leaned back in his chair and took another sip of his bitter. "A couple reasons, actually," he said. "Partially, I wanted to get your end of the story on what happened with young Ganthor. I feel that's only fair. Partially, I want to know exactly how you did it. I didn't sign Ganthor through for his position, but I did see him practice, and the boy was phenomenally talented, if nothing else."
Merrick shrugged. "I'm old and wise. He was young and stupid. I have a trick or two at hand when I need them. Is that all, Cap-" Merrick broke off. "You say you didn't sign Ganthor in to be a lieutenant. Is there another Captain in this city?"
"Then wh-" Merrick broke off again. "How long have you been Captain of the Watch?"
"About a month now."
Merrick started grinning and tried to hide it behind a cough. "I see..."
"Do you think you could do better?"
The old man blinked. "Pardon?"
"I saw your smile. Do you think you have the skills necessary to perform this duty better than I myself could?"
Merrick shrugged. "I don't know that, do I? I've only just met you."
"Based on what you've seen of me so far."
"Honestly?" Merrick met the man's cloudy gray eyes. "Probably."
"Wonderful." Auristen set down his glass. "Good to hear it."
Merrick said nothing. He gave, he thought later, a very convincing impression of playing his cards close. At the time, he just couldn't think of anything to say."
"The third thing," Auristen said, filling in the gap where Merrick should have been asking what the hell he was talking about. "I brought you here to discuss is the state of the city. It is very big, as you may have noticed." Merrick could see the intelligence sparkling behind the captain's bland demeanor now. He realized the man had been playing with him, all the while leading him to believe it was the other way around.
"Therefore," Auristen continued. "I have decided, based on all known reports concerning you and your knowledge, physical fitness, calm reaction to calamity, and the fact that I like you, to officially offer you the position of Captain of the Manderia City Watch. Before you ask, no, I am not retiring. I have decided the Watch needs to be expanded, and this includes the addition of a second captain to oversee affairs in the areas I'm not familiar with. By all rights, I should be offering this job to the most skilled of my lieutenants, but there's not a one of them who won't run this city into the ground in the name of following the laws. Now, you'll recieve full status once the Council approves you, and you'll have the freedom to deputize a regiment of thirty Watchmen of your choosing. We can start the procedures tomorrow, if you're free and willing, and we can put this nasty- and slightly illegal- business of Ganthor- whom I was planning to get rid of anyway- behind us. What do you think?"
"I'm sorry," said Merrick. "Could you go over all that again?"
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.