I: Daisy recruits
I walk into Sleepy’s and find it about half empty. Something makes me stop in the doorway and look back outside, onto Beaker Street in Insmoor, two blocks from the river. Nice sunset, for November. But that wasn’t it. There’s something familiar, but not. Ah, it’s gone. Forget it. I go in, and push the big wooden door shut behind me.
I step up to the bar, and the bar lady glides over and says, “Yeah?”
“A pint of your best, please,” I pipe up.
“Pay for it in cash this time,” she says.
“Of course!” I dig a copper double-penny out of the pocket I added to my peasant dress and slap it on the bar. I turn to scan the crowd—yep, there’s Fenric, waxing witty among a group of warriors, and Janet in her casual tunic and pants watching him. A pint of ale appears, the same color as the penny, or of the other two double-pennies I have to my name. “Thanks!”
“I’m hoping you pay your past bill sometime,” says the barmaid.
“I am too!” With a smile, I turn and head for Janet and Fenric. Janet stands and waves, and Fenric half stands too. Janet is tall and red-headed, and strangely, she’s studying for the priesthood; Fenric is not quite her height but still a head above me. He kind of waves around at the knot of warriors. Fenric is about as gay as anyone I ever heard of, and these are macho young men indeed. At a distance, I have to guess he has more brain in his head than all four of his new pals.
It’s just recruiting, and they’re just recruits. We need some warriors. Everyone knows that. If we’re going to find treasure in the Catacombs and enrich ourselves beyond the dreams of avarice, we need some muscle.
I wasn’t aware I would be recruiting too, but I sense someone hurrying up behind me and I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn and find myself looking up at a tall brunette in a dark shirt and riding pants. “Archer,” I say.
“What? Yes! How did you know?”
“The bow over your shoulder,” I say. “And the quiver, which you really ought to try hanging from your belt, I’m told it’s easier.”
“You’re a wizard, aren’t you?” she asks.
I try not to roll my eyes. I’m also thinking about places to hide, in case any professors have found their way into Sleepy’s Bar & Grill. “Hush,” I say. “I’m a student at the School. Second year.”
“But you have spells. Are you going on an adventure? You guys are adventurers, aren’t you? I’d really—I could really contribute,” she finished.
I give her the once over. I’m thinking: she’s kind of an idiot, she’s likely to hit one of us rather than the dragon or whatever, she really doesn’t know poo, she seems nice and she ought to go home to her family. I’m also thinking, we need an archer, those warriors Fenric’s buddying up with don’t look terribly impressive at this range—are they now pouring beer on one another’s heads?—and here’s someone who actually wants to go with us without any mention of how we divvy the treasure. And I’m thinking that she thinks I’m a wizard. Like, five word spells. Death! Stone Figure! Maybe a familiar! And I’m thinking, what was that spell we were supposed to practice? Lil something: some kind of illusion. Sigh.
I smile at her. “What’s your name?”
“Elaine,” she says, or Eleanor, I’m not absolutely sure the first time. “I’m from North Waldo!”
“Okay,” I say. “I’m a local Insmoor girl. You’re in, Ace.”
“Oh, no, I’m just a junior scout—! Oh, yeah,” she says. Gosh, she’s pretty. She has a foot on me height-wise. I bet she has a boyfriend, unless all the boys in North Waldo are scared of her. I’m not. I feel like I could take her down with one conjured mouse. And I can do conjured mice. It was the first spell I learned, of course. So far it’s about tied for most useful. She says, “Are you going to introduce me to—?”
“Oh, yeah, of course.” I saunter over to where Janet and Fenric have pulled two tables together. The warrior recruits are gathered around, not sitting. There are four of them, and at a distance they all look like pigs in armor. “Hey, guys,” I say.
“Oh, Daisy,” says Fenric, jumping up and hugging me. It’s a thing of his: it’s so precious. I check the pockets of my dress. “Sorry,” he says, handing back my coin purse.
“Nice try,” I say. “Hey everybody, this here’s Elaine!”
“Eleanor,” says Eleanor quietly.
“Sorry. That’s my pal Fenric, he’s a thief, passed the first test and all, that’s my BFF, Janet, Janet the Red we call her, she’s a novice or something, and—!”
“Acolyte,” says Janet, for the tenth time in the past week. “Of the Virgin Goddess.” The four men around her smirk. Fenric rolls his eyes and then winks at me. “And these gentlemen,” says Janet, with great patience, “are Benvolio, Harmon, Hurcus and Ompontonius. They’re all a buncha warriors. Did I get those right?”
“I,” says Harmon, a well-groomed fellow in leather tunic and rough pants, with a white jersey over it bearing a big red cross, “am not a Warrior, technically. My application is in with the Priory of St Draic.”
“Ar,” says Hurcus, who is wearing much less of everything, “an’ I’m nae warrior, am a berserkie, I am.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Harmon.
“Warriors,” cries Benvolio. He jumps up and high fives Ompontonius.
“You’d be an archer,” says Janet.
“Yes, yes,” says Eleanor. “I’m, um, an archer.”
“Looks like a good’un,” says Hurcus. He laughs as if he’s made some sort of terribly bawdy comment. Ompontonius and Benvolio join in with sexist remarks of their own which are not worth repeating.
“So,” I say, “looks like you guys were as good as your word.”
“Word?” says Hurcus. “Is it time for swearing?”
“Only if you mean foul language,” Janet tells him. He looks like he’s about to make her a proposition, virgin or no. “Well,” she says a little louder, “once we found one, the rest sort of followed on.”
“No bull,” says Fenric. “Each can’t abide the others going on an adventure and not him.”
“Are you fellas all in the Guard?” I ask. The three who really are just warriors chorus in the affirmative and smash beer mugs into one another.
“As I indicated,” says Harmon, “I am set to join the priory.”
“What he means,” says one of the others, “is he takes the night shift in the Guard.”
“So, any need for a plan?” asks Janet, always keeping us on task.
“I don’t see why,” says Fenric. “It’s widely known that the Lapis Circlet is on the fourth level beneath.” Fenric’s voice isn’t loud, but it has a curious penetration: everyone goes silent. He looks at me and Eleanor, then down at two flimsy chairs across from him at the rectangular table. We get the message and sit. “We need to scout, so we scout. But we know what we have to do, and we know where we have to do it.”
I do a quick sweep of the faces. “Got to be better than hanging around Mom’s shop while she tries to make time with the constable so he won’t throw us out in the street for nonpayment of rent. Any chance of gold, silver? I wouldn’t mind a nice bag of copper pieces.”
“Oh, there should be plenty of gold. It’s said the Circlet once was, and possibly remains, in the keeping of the Old Order.”
“The Old Order!” the warriors mutter. “I thought it was extinct,” says Janet. Fenric shrugs.
“Something will have moved in where they were,” I point out. “We’ll have plenty of challenge.”
“Something mean and nasty,” says Janet.
“Or, they’re extinct but they’re still there, if you know what I mean,” says Fenric. “All kinds of ways that could be true. None of them nice.”
“Yes but,” says Eleanor, “Daisy is a sorceress!”
“Not yet, not yet!” I try to get in before Fenric and Janet starts giving me crap.
“She can do her magic on me,” says Benvolio, who, by the way, makes me want to retch.
“I hear ya,” says Ompontonius. Ew. He also makes me want to retch.
“Anyway,” says Fenric, as Janet and I lean over him, “I’ll meet you two here tomorrow at the fourth hour of the morning and we’ll roust these out of the upstairs rooms. Or the alley,” he adds, as we all look at Ompontonius and Hurcus trying to pour beer down each other’s mouths.