Chapter 8: Banking
Thorn the Dwarf
Darkness came quickly when the sun dropped below the western horizon. Once again the skies had clouded over, and a drizzling rain permeated the air. The buildings on Bank Street were all fortified, enclosed behind iron fences and with bars over all the doors. The lighted fountain filled most of a wide circle in the road where Band Street and Silver Street intersected. Streetlights powered by glow stones cast their shimmering auras through the rain.
Rose and her companions hugged the walls of a building on Silver Street, far enough from the fountain to be invisible in the darkness, but near enough to see anyone waiting there. They had waterproof cowls pulled up over their heads, and they were dry enough—anyone who lived in Stormgaard owned waterproof clothing, for the rains came often in this forest city. Goldhawk the banker and his four guards waited by the fountain. The fountain had been turned off for the evening—no need for a fountain in the rain. They were all Dwarves. Rose had arranged for him to meet her there. So far, there was no sign of the wizard.
“I guess I had better go out. It looks like Nam won’t appear unless I do. Keep watch and join me when the wizard gives me the money. I’ll check it, and drop a piece in the street. That’s your signal to come forward.” Everyone murmured assent.
The Rose that walked out into the light of the fountain was far different from the frilly-dressed woman who had shown up for the wrestling match. No one would have guessed that she was anything other than a stout fighting man. Beneath her hood and cape she wore leather armor over a light steel byrnie. Leather greaves reinforced with chain protected her thighs and shins. Stout boots protected her feet.
“Well met, Goldhawk. Thank you for coming out in such weather. I trust that my magical patron will arrive with the money soon.” Rose and the dwarf clasped hands and gave a brief shake. The four guards all nodded and smiled at her.
“Tis always a pleasure to do business with you, my lady Rose. Would you like an accounting while we wait for him?”
“That won’t be necessary. There are better places to count money than a rainy street in the dark.”
“So true,” agreed the Dwarf in his basso voice.
A spark of red light detached itself from one of the glowing lamp posts. It grew and began to swirl, and as it grew, a low whistle rose into a kind of windy howl. A spiral of black appeared within the glowing red light, and down that spiral walked the black-clad wizard. He held a glowing silver sigil in his hand and chanted continuously, but his words could not be heard over the howling of the portal itself. The oddest thing was that as Nam walked the spiral, he seemed to revolve. His head always pointed toward the center of the portal, but his feet pointed now to one side, then to the top, then to the other, and finally to the bottom. When he first appeared he was but a speck, but with every step he grew larger. When he reached apparent human size he stepped out of the portal onto the cobbles of the street.
“Are you alone, Rose?” The wizard’s lifeless voice introduced the first truly ominous element to this meeting. The drizzling rain did not touch him at all—the water just avoided the wizard, either shunted off to the side or magically dispersed. Rose couldn’t quite tell what happened to the water, but it didn’t hit Nam.
“My banker is with me. I want to see the coins, and I want to give them to my banker before I step into that demonic portal with you.”
Nam reached into a sleeve and pulled out a large leather purse. He handed it to Rose. She opened it and saw the glint of gold.
“Do you wish to count it, my lady?” Sarcasm crept into Nam’s voice.
“That won’t be necessary—I have a banker. Goldhawk, the counting purse, please.” The Dwarf banker reached into his sleeve and pulled out a sack of shimmering silver. Even in the rain the banker’s sack sparkled. With a flourish, Goldhawk snapped the bag open and held the brim wide.
“Pray, good wizard, pour my client’s fee into the counting sack.” Nam’s eyes widened and his lips drew back in a snarl. He dealt in magic, and frequently used it to overawe the mortals who obstructed his path. He wasn’t used to having it used against him.
“What is this? How dare you?” He started to bluster.
“Everyone must prove good faith.” Rose looked at him sharply. “Why should I trust you? What have you ever done to make me trust you? Pour out the gold, or return to your magical lair the same way you came.”
Nam looked at her with growing animosity. The last group of mercenaries had not dared to treat him so. This woman insisted on taunting him. It was as if she had no respect for her betters, or worse, perhaps she didn’t think he was her better. Grudgingly, Nam opened his purse and poured it into the banker’s shimmering sack. The golden coins cascaded down with a solid rush. The last coin fell into the sack with a clinking sound.
Rose looked at Goldhawk and quirked an eyebrow in silent question.
“A moment, my lady.” The Dwarf concentrated. “There are two hundred forty-nine coins. They are eighty-nine percent gold, ten percent copper, one percent silver. They are not the golden rocs of Stormgaard. Did you not say the contract was for two hundred fifty?”
“The full contract is for five hundred, and I begin to suspect I did not ask for enough. Tell me, Goldhawk, do we have any recourse against a wizard who enters a fraudulent contract?.”
“Being paid in advance is an excellent hedge against deception,” said the Dwarf. “Banks will often hold the second half of the payment, and a written copy of the contract. What is your name, Wizard, and what are the terms of the contract you hold with my client?” Goldhawk glared at the black-clad wizard.
“That is none of your concern, Banker,” Nam’s voice remained flat, but his face contorted in fury.
“I believe the wizard is already in breach of his contract,” said Rose with a smile. “What is the law in such cases, Goldhawk?”
“When one party breaks a contract, the other party is entitled to all the money, goods, or considerations. It would seem this money is yours, Rose, and you have no obligation to this person.”
“Wait a minute!” Nam protested.
“I believed that we had a deal for half of the five hundred gold in advance.” Rose’s voice was soft and silky, and her mouth curved in just the hint of a smile.. “And I believed it would be the pure gold of Stormgaard, not the debased coinage of Khazan. Your coins are light of true value by one ninth. Are you trying to cheat me, Nam?”
“It was just a counting error.” Nam opened a second pouch and pulled out one more coin. Rose plucked it from his fingers, but fumbled, and dropped it into the street. It lay there in a puddle.
“We did not specify the nationality of the coinage,” snarled Nam. “The Khazan coins are larger and heavier than the Stormgaard coins, and easier for me to gather. A gold piece is a gold piece. If you are satisfied, let us return to my keep. Time is of the essence, and you can start your journey from there.”
“I am not quite ready,” said Rose. “Did you really think I would come alone?”
Out of the darkness came Calyx, Petal, Thorn, and Arrth. Rose smiled and Nam fumed as her reinforcements arrived.
Calyx saluted Goldhawk and produced a hefty pouch of her own. “We also wish to deposit these monies. These should be split four ways for Rose, Petal, Thorn, and I.”
The Dwarf took the money. One of his guards handed him a small piece of parchment and a curious device. The banker stamped the parchment with the device and handed the paper to Calyx. “Your receipt, my lady. The standard fees apply.”
“This Khazani money is to be split into five equal portions,” Rose declared. The fifth portion goes to my new comrade, Arrth.”
The banker walked over to the tall mercenary. “I do not know you, sir. Is it your will to entrust your funds to me and the Bank of Goldhawk?”
Arrth looked surprised. No one had bothered to tell him that he would be coming into fifty gold pieces before the adventure even started. Nor was he used to dealing with dwarven bankers. It took him a moment to come up with an answer. “If Rose trusts you, I trust you.”
“Then let us seal our bargain with a handshake.” The Dwarf held out a meaty hand easily twice the size of the man’s. The short fingers each had a ring on them. “You must remove your gauntlet for our deal to be binding.”
Arrth pulled off his glove. “This will hurt a little.” Goldhawk squeezed Arrth’s hand. He felt a sting. When the Dwarf released his hand he looked and saw that a single drop of blood had broken the skin from a slight puncture on one finger. Goldhawk showed his hand which also showed a bit of blood. With his other hand the banker smeared the two droplets of blood together. “Do you swear to always deal fairly with the Bank of Goldhawk?”
Arrth looked a question at Rose. She nodded. “I swear it.”
“The Bank of Goldhawk swears to always deal fairly with you, Arrth.” The Dwarf put the small smear of blood into his mouth and swallowed.
Arrth started to step back. “One other thing,” said the banker. “In the event that you do not return to Stormgaard within seven years, what shall we do with your money? Do you have family or anyone that you wish to send it to?”
“No family,” said Arrth. “If I don’t return, give my money to an orphanage that needs the help.”
“It shall be done.”
Goldhawk turned and bowed to Rose. “May good fortune attend you, Lady Rose! And may it walk with all your gallant companions.” The banker turned, and surrounded by his guards, waddled away.
“If you’re done with your finances, let us get off to my tower,” sulked Nam. “I keep telling you that time is important, and you keep delaying.”
“We are bought and paid for now,” said Rose, a bit unhappily. “Lead on, Wizard.”
“Take my hand, woman, and do not let go. Everyone must hold onto another, so that the link of my magics will bring us all safely through this portal. Stay on the black path, and you should all be fine. Break contact, or wander off the path, and the magic may tear you to pieces.”
Nam held his sigil in one hand and took Rose’s hand with the other. She gripped hands with Arrth. He reached out and clasped hands with Calyx, who held hands with Petal, who held hands with Thorn.
“I don’t like this one bit,” muttered Thorn as the chanting wizard stepped into the portal and pulled the whole string of them in with him.
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