Before the day was out, Ganthor was wearing his Rogue's Guild insignia over his heart.
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Wekli came back early in the afternoon, and found Lunice in the guild common room, chatting briskly with another elf- this one male- who had a strange accent. Wekli stood just outside the range of their table, waiting patiently for a break in the conversation. While he did, he studied the accent of the raven-haired elf who held Lunice's attention. They were speaking in Low Elvish, but Wekli was a forest child, and had been raised on all the dialects of the woodland peoples. The pale, black-haired fellow was of a tribe somewhat removed from Lunice's blue-haired warrior-blood, but Wekli did not think it accounted for his curious accent. He puzzled over this, but it wasn't until Lunice addressed the strange elf as Xavious that he understood. The elf was from Mir.
"A moment, please," said Lunice in Elvish. She turned and beckoned Wekli to take a seat, which he did. "Xavious," she said in Manderian Common. "This is my travelling companion, Wekli, a ranger of the northlands."
"It is my honor to meet you," said Xavious, in less-than-perfect Manderian. "I have not visited the woods of which you are both speaking, but I am hearing well- er, good- things about them."
"Thank you. I am honored," said Wekli, in Low Elvish. He did not speak in High Elvish, as the language was expressly forbidden outside Elven royalty, but his grasp of the heathen-accepted common version was as excellent as ever it had been. Xavious raised his eyebrows.
"You honor me even further, Sir Ranger," he said. "I did not know you spoke my language so fluently. Through using it, you have saved me any embarassment my piteous grasp of Manderian might have caused." The Mir accent lay heavy in hiw words, giving the a curious, drawn-out quality. "You are most welcome at any table I should choose to occupy. So, too, are you, Lady Lunice."
Lunice scowled. "Xavious," she said, also speaking Elvish. "How many times must I ask you NOT to address me as 'Lady' anything?"
Xavious shrugged helplessly, as if Lunice had said something without point or purpose. "You are a Lady, My Lady. You are Second-In-Line of the Third-Tier Aristocracy, Princess of the Kingdom of Air. You can be naught but what you are."
"I have wrestled lions!" Lunice shouted. "I have fought trolls and giants in single combat! I have engaged in drinking contests in houses of ill repute! I have slain men! I have cut out their dripping entrails while their hearts still beat, and feasted on them in front of their eyes! Does that sound very much like the actions of a 'Lady' to you?"
The thing about Elvish, High or Low, is that no matter what one says, the phrase comes out sounding inherently beautiful. An elf could walk up to a man raised on Manderian Comm on,spew a string of profanity at him- and Elvish does have a colorful selection of profanity- and appear to be reciting epic poetry, or perhaps making a romantic overture. It is well known that Lucius II, the seventh king of Manderia, once addressed a congregation of elves in a public square and, wishing to impress them with his multicultural knowledge (of which he had little), uttered a phrase that he believed meant 'Peace is a beautiful thing', but which actually meant 'Your earlobes are like fish heads'. Elves do not like having their ears insulted.
"Being a Lady," said Xavious. "Has nothing at all to do with what you choose to do, but rather, who you choose to be. You are a Lady, Lunice, and you know this as well as I do."
"Damn it," Lunice said. It was in Elvish, so it might as well have been: "O blessed light of elegance," but she said it anyway.
"I am sorry if I have offended you," said Xavious.
"No, no," said Lunice. She crossed her arms on the table and rested her chin on them; another un-ladylike act. "You are probably right, and this is what galls me."
Xavious lifted his drink- a glass of dark ale- to his lips, and said nothing.
"But let us move away from that," Lunice said. "Wekli, what can you tell me of the city."
The ranger took off his gloves, set them down on the table, and rubbed at his eyes. "This city is insane," he said. "I can think of no better way to describe it. Streets seem to go everywhere, or nowhere, or in the opposite direction you expect them to. Some of the buildings look like they are...stacked on top of each other...there are places where they stand so tall, I cannot see the sun. If there are large, broad streets, I cannot find them." He sighed disgustedly. "If we had the money, I would beg you to hire a coach, as much as I hate them. This city is simply too large."
"We do not have the money," said Lunice. "And we are not likely to find it. The ride from the gates to the asylum cost more than it would have taken to buy a coach in the hinterlands."
"Asylum?" asked Xavious. Lunice and Wekli exchanged a look that, Elvish or Manderian, translated the same: Oh bugger.
"Er. Yes," said Lunice. "A coach. The coachman was a large, rude man who demanded a ridiculous sum of money. I was forced to barter with one of my rings- not my crest!" she added, seeing the dawning horror in the other elf's eyes. "Just a silver ring with an interlaced knot."
"Coachmen rarely serve any but the wealthy," said Xavious, visibly relieved. "If your coachman was rude to you, he almost certainly knew you for a foreigner." He sighed. "However, I am afraid his fare was very likely accurate. Only aristocrats and successful merchants can afford to ride in coaches."
"Should we spend more time here?" said Wekli, turning to Lunice. "Until we are able to navigate the city better?"
"I don't know..." said Lunice. She lapsed back into Manderian. "We should talk to Merrick."
Wekli blinked. "Why?"
"Er. I'm not sure." Lunice looked slightly embarassed. "I just thought that he could help us. Maybe he knows where we could get a map."
"Maybe..." said Wekli, doubtfully.
"At any rate," she said, switching to Elvish and changing to topic yet again. "What news do you have of Mir, Xavious? According to rumor, it is has become little more than a ghost town."
"It is true," said Xavious. "After the Purge, everyone in posession of money left the city...and left the peasants to starve, or to attempt the trek down the Northern Road on foot. Word has it the bandits on that road are profiting greatly from the exodus. Entire families, unarmed, with all of their worldly posessions on their backs..." he trailed off.
"And what of you?" said Lunice. "Were you living in Mir during those times. Did you see the Purge?"
"I saw it," said Xavious. "Or, at least, the bloody beginnings of it. Those few elves who lived in Mir had sensed the coming bloodshed, and fled for their lives."
Elves can sense large-scale murder, days- or, in the case of a few wars- even weeks before it happens. Non-elves regard this as a mighty gift, but most elves consider it to be something akin to a curse. They may be able to sense death, they say, but rare is the occasion when they can prevent it.
"I was the last to leave," Xavious said. "And as I slipped through to the surface, the soldiers were already pouring into the Lower City, killing anyone foolish enough to stand in their path. They were there to destroy the assassins, but I believe that many of them would have been happy to see every peasant dead along the way." The elf ran a hand through his hair. His long, black locks fell around his ears. "But they got what they desired," he said. He poured the last dregs of his dark ale onto the floorboards- an act equivalent to spitting in disgust. "The assassins were nearly wiped out."
"Nearly?" said Lunice.
"Well..." Xavious looked uncomfortable. "I am- was- a smuggler of rare goods, you understand. I had connections to the thieves in Mir, and they had connections to the assassins. There have been...rumors..."
"What kinds of rumors?" said Wekli.
"They tell of an assassin from Mir who escaped the Purge," he said. "They-"
There was a loud smash, followed by an unmusical tinkling sound as the tender of the bar dropped a tray of glass mugs. All three of them jumped. The barman cursed- in an entirely unmusical nature- and knelt down to pick up the shards.
Lunice relaxed. Then she wondered what had got her so tensed up in the first place. "I'm afraid we have to go," she said. "But it was a pleasure speaking with you, Xavious. Are you officially a member of the guild now?"
"Only a supporter," he said. "But they let me come in and buy their lager, so I suppose they trust me."
"Someone does," said Lunice.
"Where are you going?" asked the raven-haired ex-smuggler.
"To attempt to find a market," said Lunice, rising from her chair. "Wekli and I will need supplies, if we are to do any serious travelling."
"If you like," said Xavious. "I can guide you to Deren Market, which is large and relatively close by. I will have business near there in the afternoon, and will not be able to guide you back, but I can show you the way." He smiled. Lunice decided that he was rather younger than she had imagined- in elf terms, at least.
"Thank you," said Lunice. "We would be very grateful."
Xavious stood up, pushed back his chair, and headed for the door. Lunice made to follow him, but hung back a bit when she saw that he was not watching her.
"Do you think we can trust him?" she said to Wekli, and this time she spoke in the quiet clickings and whistlings of the forest-people.
"I do not know," Wekli replied in kind. "But the guild trusts him, and I do not think he will try to kill us in the middle of the day."
"No," Lunice clicked back. "That is unlikely."
They followed after the raven-haired elf.
The dozen or so patrons of the common room, most of them rogues, appeared not to take any notice at all.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.