Sebastian hurried down the gravel path that led down to the main road, skidding on the loose stone in his haste. The main road ran from the Great Gate down to the Baron’s statute, and then on to the docks. Turning onto the cobbled path, Sebastian thought again of the ink lady that he had seen up at the castle, and the scroll that was tucked into his jacket. The smell of baked bread wafted from a small shop to his right, the window filled with every manner of pretty decorated cakes and pastries; his mouth started to water. To his left two, men bartered over sacks of flour, one telling the other that the price was daylight robbery.
Sebastian walked further down the cobbled streets, the late autumn wind blowing into his face. He knew many of the streets from earlier outings, so he knew that if he wanted milk or cheese, he would find it in the street that sold jams and butter. The Tanner would be on the same street as the saddle maker, and the butcher would be on the same street as the poultry sellers and cattle handlers. Passing the Baron’s statue the cobbled streets started to descend towards the dock. The dockmasters had an office there where he could control the comings and goings of the trade ships. It was a busy place with men working frantically in the cold weather, readying the ships for their last voyage before the storms rolled in.
As Sebastian approached, he noticed a huge ship with three tall masts. The Baron’s ships all had a lady figurehead at the prow of his fleet, but this one had two gigantic wooden horns that swept back to either side of the stern.
Minotaur’s were loading cargo into big nets that were being lifted up to the deck. Sebastian stood dumbstruck. Sure he knew of Minotaurs; everyone did, although little was known of their culture. He had never seen one in real life before, and couldn’t wait to tell Caitlin what he had seen.
These beasts were 7 – 8 feet in height, as big as two normal men put together. One with light brown fur and a weathered mussel loaded a crate onto his immense shoulder, his arm rippling with muscle. Powerful legs drove him up the gang-plank his hoofs clacking as he climbed. Sebastian noticed dozens more on board the vessel all wearing the same light blue cotton sash and skirt that he saw on the first.
After the shock wore off he stopped a boy not much older than himself and asked where he could find the dock master. The boy told him to follow as he pushed a makeshift trolley loaded with thick fur blankets towards a warehouse.
A tall man of about 50 years stood by the warehouse, clad in dark slacks and a heavy gray woolen coat. His aged face was a deep tanned color, long salt and pepper hair was tied back by a black ribbon with red trim, the Baron’s colors. Sunken brown eyes looked at another boy pushing a similar cart as it stopped before him, the man checked off the cargo with his ringed fingers then nodded and gestured inside the tall narrow doors.
The dock master looked at the boy’s trolley who escorted Sebastian; he made a mark on his board and nodded the boy inside to follow his colleague.
Turning to Sebastian the man looked into him up and down.
“I haven’t work for ye, so best clear off.” He said in a thick Islander accent.
“Sorry sir I’m not here for work, my father sent me.” Sebastian took out the scroll and offered it to him. The dock master’s eyebrows rose as he noticed the seal.
“Ah I see, well young master; I’ll see this is taken care of.” He waggled the scroll. Sebastian didn’t move.
“Are those Minotaurs from Rothinn?” The dock master chuckled.
“Ye haven’t seen one before, have ye? Them beast has that effect every time.” He grinned. Sebastian saw the flash of a gold tooth.
“Aye, they’re from Rothinn, landoc to be true. Best take a good look now lad, last ye’ll see them til next season.”
Sebastian thanked the dock master and made his way back up the hill to the town. Setting his mind to his task, he thought that the best idea was to find the stationary, as he supplied the castle with ink and parchment. With no idea what direction to take, he chose a random street and clattered on.
The streets were filled with people buying wares. Two young boys were running after a loose chicken that had seen an escape and taken it. Sebastian caught the attention of a teenage serving lady in a white blouse and brown skirt. Smiling as she walked past, he nearly tripped over as he turned to follow her beautiful eyes.
The fresh sea breeze started to pick up and whipped his blond hair about his face; he reached back and collected his hair, with a cord from his coat; he tied it back in a warrior’s tails just like the dock master.
Having been walking the different streets for about an hour, he came to another junction. Utterly lost, he saw a stool outside an apothecary shop and gladly took a seat to rest his aching feet. The sofa leather shoes that he wore weren’t made for walking, He could feel every stone under his feet. He was sure that a blister was starting to form on his big toe. Bringing a foot onto his thigh, he started to rub the sore away, when he noticed up on the street corner, a black iron sign in the shape of a piece of parchment. A compass was at its center and where the arrow should have been, a quill was in its place pointing down the street.A little old lady was coming out of the door to the apothecary shop as he excitedly jumped up and whooped, with a small yelp, the lady lost her balance and fell back into the shop.
The first shop in the street had a massive map of kaikaria in the window. Although Kaikaria was at its center, smaller islands dotted the outer edges, Sebastian even noticed the island of Rothinn. There were also smaller maps inside, but he didn’t recognize the land masses at all. The next shop was painted a bottle green. In the window, books stood on top of each other forming the letter H. Henderson’s bookshop was painted in stylish gold letters on the glass, and the door stood ajar. As he passed, he saw a skinny lady in cherry red tights, and a green top with the letter H embroidered on it, putting a book away on a shelf. Over the other side of the street, a double-faced shop dominated, the hum of a printing press at full steam could be heard through an opened window.
Half-way down the cobblestone street, he found the shop he was looking for and stepped in off the street. The shop was brightly lit with ribbons of light streaming in through several roof windows. Rows of shelves ran the length of the shop filled with parchment, and other writing paraphernalia, some of the parchment was big and rough-looking, the type used by artists to paint portraits. There was also small, fine parchment that scribes would use for important documents. Another shelf was full of every manner of quills, from duck feathered with ornate handles, to simple wooden quills that children used to learn to write with. Approaching the counter, an aged man with hunched shoulders and a smock that was originally white, crept around a corner carrying a small tray of red inks. Sebastian cleared his throat to announce his presence, but the man just kept on going as if he hadn’t heard him.
“Excuse me, sir.”
He called out, leaning slightly over the counter. The aged man turned on arthritic knees; a splash of red ink joined his already multi-colored smock.
“Hello.” Smiled the shopkeeper as he slowly approached the counter and set the jars rattling on the surface.
“How can I help you? um.”
Feeling a little shy and slightly stupid, Sebastian asked about the ink girl.
“Jenny? she’s not here today, good girl Jenny, yes, she always makes me a nice hot brandy when she’s here.”
Nodding to himself, the old shopkeeper looked up to a clock that hung on the wall. Still nodding he turned back to Sebastian.
“She’ll be starting her shift at the cracked barrel, works two jobs you know that girl. Good girl that Jenny, always makes me a nice hot brandy when she’s here.”
Not sure if the old man was one Rune short of a spell, he asked directions to the inn where she would be working. Scratching his wispy white head a confused expression sheltered on his face, thinking that he had pushed the man’s memory too far he waited patiently.
“Ah yes, I remember now. It’s on the other side of town down by the docks.” The man pulled out a piece of parchment with lots of scribbles on and jotted down directions.
Sebastian thanked the shopkeeper and left the store.
As he walked back towards the docks, he noticed the shops closing up for the day, people on the streets started to change to the more rambunctious night dwellers. The suns were just starting to set when he arrived at a small dead ended alley. The smell of ale and garbage permeating the air. A small soot-blackened lantern hung high on a wall opposite the seedy tavern at the end of the short alley. It’s broken rickety sign swung on one hook in the evening breeze, its creek being drowned out by loud voices and laughter from within. Sebastian opened the heavy wooden door and stepped through.
The impact of the dropped step sent him crashing to the straw-strewn floor; another bout of laughter filled the tavern. Getting to his feet he brushed himself down while his face reddened with embarrassment. The patrons of the dimly light tavern still offered jeers at him, but only half heartily like they had done it too many times and didn’t really have the conviction anymore. The tavern was deceptively bigger from the inside. The bar was at the back of the room, with a big round shoulder bar keeper looking towards the newest addition to his premise. A well-occupied fire glowed at the right-hand side of the room, where a bard enraptured a crowd with his tales. Ominous looking booths filled the left-hand wall; many had men in deep whispered conversation. But what really took ever one’s attention, thankful off of Sebastian, was a loud group of humans and three big Minotaurs standing around a table at the center of the room.
A Minotaur with salt and pepper fur and a human sailor sat opposite each other with a mug full of ale by their left hands, and in their right, they both held an empty mug on top of their head. The Minotaur wore the same blue cotton skirt like the others that he had seen earlier that day, but he also wore a breastplate of dull bronze and an expensive looking dagger at his hip. The Minotaur took a coin off the table and flicked it up toward the sailor’s head. The coin sailed up and landed in the mug with a rattle. Cheers went up as the disgruntled sailor raised the full mug to his lip. Once drained, it was refilled and the sailor picked up a coin. It was apparent that the rotund sailor was used to human challenges. The minotaur’s height was clearly affecting his aim. After 6 more rounds, the man had consumed one drink for every coin he had missed, and 1 for every coin the Minotaur had scored.
Bleary-eyed the sailor cupped a coin and eyed up the throw. The coin hit the rim of the mug and dropped in. The crowd went wild, and the sailor forced a drunken smile.
The Minotaur laughed loudly, reached for his mug and drained it quickly, just as fast he picked up a coin and flicked it into the air. The aim was true, and the coin hit its mark. Laughter sprang from the merry throats of the onlookers. The sailor looking worse for wears and very bloated reached for his ale. He gulped at the amber liquid, spilling copious amounts over his bearded face, a second later, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he passed out. The assembled crowd erupted and the Minotaur jumped up to his eight-foot height, roaring his victory. Gathering up his winning into his pouch, he joined his similarly dressed companions.
The sons of Rothinn commandeer a table in the corner and shouted for more ale. A short dumpy girl bearing jugs of ale came out from behind the wooden bar and placed them on the table. Sebastian watched as a heavily shrouded figure emerged from a corner booth. The figure was draped from head to foot in cloth despite the warm tavern, not one part of his body was visible. A crude walking stick bored the hunched stranger’s weight as he shuffled around the Minotaur’s table. Just as the hooded cripple came alongside the Victorious Minotaur, it stumbled and bumped into the table, sending ale splashing over the rims of the mugs. One of the Minotaur steadied the table with one huge hand and the fragile person with the other. Everyone turned to watch as the Minotaur shouted.
“Watch where you’re going you fool, you’re wasting good ale.”
Further abused followed about his odor and personal hygiene, but nobody was paying any attention anymore as no fight was forthcoming. That was probably the reason why no one noticed the strange figures green scaly hand, it slipped out between some fabric and pour a yellowish powder into the victorious Minotaur’s drink. No one except Sebastian anyway.
As the figure bobbed its apologies, the table and tavern returned to its normal exuberant state. Sebastian had made it the half way to the Minotaur’s table, when the salt and pepper Minotaur raised his mug exclaiming something about honor, that Sebastian missed, and drained his ale. After a few minutes, the Minotaur reached for his throat and bolted to his hoofs, sending his chair backward into the table behind. The other Minotaur’s followed suit as their friend clawed at his throat. The room stood still as the huge beast went rigid and toppled backward dead.