Chapter Two Hundred and Forty-Six - Paladin Business
I realized that I was going to have a slight but persistent problem if I spent any amount of time in sylph cities.
The sylphs were small, so they built things according to their own sizes, which made perfect sense. Unfortunately, that meant whenever I followed Bastion into a room, I had to duck my head down or I’d risk bashing it into the doorframe.
Bastion looked at me with a perfectly straight face, but there was no hiding the way his eyes were crinkled up at the corners and the suppressed chuckles he was holding back.
I pouted as I rubbed my forehead. “No fair,” I muttered.
“I suppose you’ll grow used to it. I certainly learned to live with everything being just a little too tall for me outside of Sylphfree.”
That was... probably fair. It would be hard to build a building that was accessible to every species on Dirt, I imagined. Though it wouldn’t have hurt if they made the doors just a bit taller. My ears were getting sore from getting whapped all over.
Bastion and I both turned.
We were in the offices of a company called Snapdragon Transportation. They had, according to what I’d picked up, a whole fleet of ships that travelled from one city to another within Sylphfree and delivered goods and transported people around. Their lobby was near, with little model ships in glass cases, and a few plaques on the walls, but they didn’t have a big waiting area or anything, so I figured they mostly did business with other businesses, not normal people off the street.
Not that Bastion seemed to count as normal. “Hello,” Bastion said. He extended a hand to the sylph who had just walked in, and they shook. The secretary seemed a little nervous.
“Is there any way I can help you, Paladin Bastion?” he asked.
Bastion nodded. “We’re looking for passage to the capital,” he said. “Myself, the captain here, as well as two others.”
“I see, of course, Snapdragon Transportation would be honoured to serve the nation by providing our services at no cost,” he said with a bow.
“No, no, while my own business does draw me back to the capital, I believe the captain and the others with her will want to pay for their fare. I imagine that there won’t be any difficulty housing a human and a harpy all the way to the capital?” Bastion asked.
The secretary blinked. “A harpy? I mean, yes, of course. We would never discriminate. But, ah, is this harpy... civil?”
“Most of the time,” I said. “She’s a harpy noble, though, which I think she uses as an excuse to act up a bit.”
“Ah, yes,” the secretary said with the tone of someone who didn’t know what he was agreeing to. “In either case, we have a ship leaving for the capital in the morning, the Little Atlas. The captain will be informed of your arrival.”
“Thank you,” Bastion said.
We picked up some papers, including an invoice that I’d have to give to Amaryllis for her to take care of, then Bastion wished the secretary a good afternoon.
“Where to next?” I asked as I remembered to duck under the doorway.
“Back to the ship,” Bastion said. “Or maybe not.”
I blinked, then looked down. There was a small group standing before the business, some five sylphs, all of them in armour. Thick leather covered their chest and shoulders, fitted snugly over chainmail with what looked like thin gambesons underneath. They had hard-leather helmets, and little spears by their side, all except for the one at the fore.
Bastion nodded to them. “Greetings,” he said.
“Sir Paladin,” the one at the front of the group said. His helmet had a red band around it, and he had a similarly red ring around both forearms; otherwise his armour was identical to the others’. “Please, forgive us for the intrusion, but we heard that a paladin was in Granite Springs, and we wished to confirm it.”
“I am, in fact, here,” Bastion said. “Is there anything I can assist you with, guard captain...”
“Captain Ward, sir,” the sylph said with a bow of his head. “And, well, I wouldn’t want to impose upon the time of a paladin.”
I fidgeted. I kinda wanted to say hi and introduce myself, but there was a very official tone to things, and it would be rude to just barge into the conversation.
“I have some time, “Bastion said. “I’m leaving Granite Springs in the morning, but if there’s anything that requires a paladin between now and then, I can look into it.”
“That would be wonderful, sir,” Guard Captain Ward said. “We have a small issue right now. Nothing that’s big enough to call for a paladin from the capital, and certainly not big enough to call in the army, but, it’s an issue all the same.”
Bastion nodded. “Tell me about it, then,” he said.
Captain Ward looked past Bastion and to me. I waved. “Can we talk about it in... current company?”
One of Bastion’s eyebrows rose. “You mean Captain Bunch here? I trust her, for what it’s worth. Is the issue that sensitive?”
“No, sir,” Guard Captain Ward said. “It’s nothing of great worry, but it is... somewhat complicated. I’m certain we could take care of it on our own, given some time and effort, but, well, you’re a paladin.”
I looked past the five guards and noticed that a lot of people were looking our way. Some of them seemed very curious about me, so I smiled their way, and made faces at any kid sylph whose eyes I caught.
Bastion nodded. “Very well then, what’s the nature of the issue?”
“We have a large number of moles living nearby. A small colony of them. They’ve never been problematic before, no more than usual at least. Some of the local farmers are even on friendly terms with them,” the Guard Captain said.
“That’s rather common,” Bastion said. “They’re helpful people, in their own way. Though they have caused trouble elsewhere before.”
Captain Ward nodded. “They’ve started doing just that here. Their leader is threatening to dam the river running through the centre of the town. We can’t have that.”
“That’s strangely antagonistic,” Bastion said. “Do you know why?”
“Can’t understand what they’re saying at the best of times, sir,” Ward said. “We were thinking of gathering up a group of guards to go knock some sense into them, scare them away from the edges of the river before they cause any actual damage.”
“What are moles?” I asked.
The Guard Captain jumped, but Bastion didn’t seem to mind the question.
“The molefolk are a people who are native to the region, as are the sylph. They live at the base of the Sylphfree mountains while the sylph commonly live nearer to the peaks. For the most part, our relations have been peaceful. They have underground farms, are largely self-sufficient, and are rarely seen too far from their burrows.”
“They sound like nice neighbours,” I said.
“Usually, yes. We’ve traded with them before. They are better miners than most sylph, and can sniff out mineral deposits. In exchange we give them tools and equipment they can’t manufacture. Nevertheless, our societies are separate. The sylph don’t do underground living well, and the molefolk don’t like spending too much time in the open. They have too many natural predators and poor eyesight.”
I nodded. “Well, if all you need to do to help the molefolk around here is a chat, then maybe I can help.”
“Forgive me for asking, Captain... Bunch?” Ward asked. I nodded when he got my name right. “But how would you assist?”
“I’ve got a knack for languages,” I said.
“The good captain here speaks and picks up languages easily,” Bastion said. “I don’t speak the molefolk’s common tongue, though I can likely communicate a little. Captain Ward, would you be willing to lead me to the river that they're damming? Maybe I can assist.”
“I’ll come too,” I said. “I don’t think I have anything else to do until tomorrow anyway.”
“If you wish,” Bastion said.
The guards seemed pretty happy to have a paladin aboard, and so with Guard Captain Ward in the lead, we were escorted across town and towards the northern end, past the airship docks and towards the walls.
“So, being a paladin is a big deal, huh?” I asked.
“I imagine it is,” Bastion said. “There aren’t that many paladins in Sylphfree, mostly owing to the difficulty in the training and the methods by which potential recruits are chosen. A lot of soldiers apply to become paladins, but maybe one in every thousand earn the rank.”
“That’s impressive,” I said.
“Thank you,” Bastion said.
“What about the nine-hundred ninety-nine who fail? I bet they feel terrible.”
“I imagine there’s some disappointment, but most of those fail early. Even failing out of the course isn’t a bad thing. The training looks good on a young sylph’s training chart. If they plan on becoming officers, or obtaining a more prestigious role, then the initiative to become a paladin is a mark in their favour.”
“Huh,” I said. I wasn’t used to that kind of thing, but it sounded reasonable. I wasn’t sure if I'd manage in that kind of environment though. I didn’t like competitive things all that much.
Guard Captain Ward stopped at a gatehouse next to an opening in the wall leading out into the countryside, and we waited for a moment as he ran in and spoke to someone. Soon enough, the gate was rattling as it rose off the ground.
“Are there any procedures you want us to follow, sir?” the guard captain asked. “I can get some more men to follow us out. I doubt the moles will try anything, but if they do, it would be better to have more wings at our back.”
“I suspect we’ll be fine,” Bastion said. “This is just a little detour. Though... perhaps inform the garrison? If we do run into trouble, it would be nice to know that help isn’t too far away. A bit of caution never hurts.”
“Yes, sir,” Ward snapped with a quick salute. He moved off, sending some of the guards scurrying around the gates with quick orders.
A wagon rolled up nearby, just a flat-bed with some benches in the centre, the wheels small and the entire thing fairly low to the ground. It was obviously meant to carry people, not stuff.
The sylph directing the wagon behind two small ponies hooked the reins on a stirrup on his bench, then jumped off, letting a guard take his place. “Are we going to ride over?” I asked.
“Seems that way,” Bastion said. “Guards have armour that’s encumbering and often heavy enough to make flight somewhat difficult. It’s meant to be easy to remove, in case of a chase, but that doesn’t always help. So for a long trek, a wagon is a nice luxury.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “I’m going to go say hi to the ponies.”
“I... yes, sure,” Bastion said.
The ponies were called--according to the sylph that had led them over--Red Five and Red Seven. I found those to be rather boring names for small horses, but they were very nice, and let me pat their noses after sniffing at my hand a bit.
“Broccoli,” Bastion said as he jumped onto the wagon. A few more guards were climbing aboard, and the guard captain was sitting at the front.
“Coming,” I said before hopping up and taking a seat next to Bastion.
“I hope you don’t mind the little detour,” Bastion said.
I snorted. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “Bastion, you know I live for adventures like this. Besides, it’ll just be a few minutes. A bit of talking and some meeting the locals. Nothing hard, I bet!”