Oh, kids! - Editor
Goldar the Unwieldy
by Samuel Mae
Goldar the Unwieldy was waiting for the crossing light on the intersection of Bone and Marrow, on his way to Villicent’s Bruiry, when he found himself wedged in the midst of a gaggle of young people. They were all rugged up and breathing out steam, but happy nonetheless.
Goldar smiled. It was nice to see kids out and about around town. Gave the place some vim.
A girl who couldn’t have been older than fifteen, clipboard in hand, smiled back and said, “Hello sir. Do you think you’d be interested in signing our petition?”
His good cheer of a moment before vanished, Goldar dropped one hand closer to his sword. These political types could be unpredictable. “And what petition’s that?”
“It’s a very important petition,” the girl said. “It’s an appeal to the government to put a complete ban on the slaying and pillaging of the helpless monsters, perverts and niche lifestyle groupies who populate the wilds of our fair region. We’ve got nearly five thousand signatures so far.”
“You want to what?”
“Did you know that in the last decade the monster, pervert and niche lifestyle groupie populations in this area have dropped so low that without intervention they’ll all be completely extinct in another ten years?”
“Really?” Goldar couldn’t spot any easy escape routes. The kids hemmed him in like a herd of amphibious killer-sheep lining up for lunch.
A boy with flowing locks of golden hair that almost hid the terrible acne on his neck stepped forward. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to be one of those adventurer types, would you? That jacket you’re wearing looks awfully like it’s been sown together out of degenerate hides.”
A few of the other kids murmured similar things, their grins replaced by scowls. Goldar raised his hands, hoping the bloodstains on his gloves blended into the dimness. “Just a man on his way to the bruiry for a few quiet drinks. That’s all.”
“So,” the girl said, “will you be signing our petition then?”
The bruiry was empty of customers except for Goldar. Even the mutant heads mounted on the walls had a lonely gleam in their glass eyes.
“Hard day today?” Villicent, the bruid, asked. He began pouring an ale. “Lots of monsters slaughtered, bounty gathered? Maidens saved, rewards freely given?”
Goldar grunted. “’Twas a hard day all right, but not for those reasons. I’ve walked so many miles my boots have worn thin, and I only encountered a mutant weasel so tiny I’m not sure it counts as a monster. And it had no loot, either. Thing is, Villy, it’s the same every time I venture out. If I don’t pull in a haul before the cold really hits I’ll be in the gutter, begging for coins and broth.”
Villicent nodded and set Goldar’s drink in front of him. “It’s been slow for everybody, I think. It is winter, after all. I’m sure things will pick back up come spring.”
“I don’t know about that. This entire year the wilds have been emptier than I’ve ever seen them. Not so long ago you couldn’t walk three steps without encountering a skinhead wolfman or a rabid princess or a pack of murderous axolotls. And the treasure they carried! But this summer, Villy, I only made ten grand. Before tax. And now there’s talk the government’s going to institute an adventuring quota. Just imagine that. Soon, I might only be allowed to slaughter twenty roaming convicts and fifteen mutated farm animals a month. Perhaps less.”
“You’ll be all right.” Villicent nudged Goldar’s drink closer to him. “You’ve gone through tough times before. If push comes to shove you could take on some tutoring. Goodness knows we still get more than enough half-baked kids through here who think slaying monsters is the life for them.”
“Tutoring?” Goldar looked about for somewhere to spit, then remembered Villicent’s recently implemented hygiene policies and held back. “The day I’ve no options left but to take some youngster under my wing who doesn’t know which end of a dagger cuts will be the day I retire and move south to Clawrida.”
Villicent smiled and wandered off down the bar. He said over his shoulder, “We’ll laugh about this conversation come the heat. I’d wager good money on it.”
The snow reached midway up Goldar’s calves. Usually that wouldn’t have bothered a hardy man like him, used to braving all manner of inclement weather in search of riches and glory, but today he had a tiny hole in the tip of his right boot.
The hole had been there for months, he’d just never got around to fixing it. And, this being his first time out adventuring since the snows started proper, he’d forgotten it existed until now. That meant his whole foot was bathing in slush and he hadn’t felt anything from his toes for half an hour.
Unfortunately, there'd been no choice but for him to confront the elements today. He had nothing left to sell except his weaponry and the clothes on his back, and damned if he was going to part with any of them just yet. His daily calorie intake was down to a single protein bar, and that only thanks to a generous merchant who’d taken pity on him and donated several boxes of stock that was past its use-by date. Goldar had three bars left.
On the fortunate side of the equation, he'd stumbled upon a set of tracks not five minutes after he'd left civilization, and an hour later they were still easy to follow.
The webbed imprints were deep, indicating either a large creature or one weighed down with treasure. The latter would be nice. Goldar snorted. Knowing his luck, it’d be eight foot tall, armored and hungry. And poor.
The tracks turned abruptly left toward a grove of tangled, winter-whitened trees. Goldar paused and squinted. Either this was his quarry’s den, or it’d twigged to his presence.
Forests were tricky at the best of times, but especially so in these conditions. Goldar unsheathed the dagger strapped to his bicep and trudged forward. At least the snow shouldn’t be as deep within the copse. Whether or not he’d have time to ditch his snowshoes before the beast attacked him would be another matter.
He’d just finished unbuckling his left snowshoe when a voice said, “Guess you’re here to kill me, are you?”
The creature stood next to the closest tree. A flamingoan. Female, if the human face was anything to go by. She wore a frayed jacket that hung to mid-thigh, knobbly pink legs exposed below. What appeared to be a bulging swag bag dangled down her back. Goldar swallowed a joyful whoop. It’d do him no good to count his eggs too early.
Instead he said, “Guess so.”
The flamingoan sighed. “I see.”
“We could negotiate,” Goldar said. “Hand over your gold and jewelry and I’ll let you live. How’s that?”
“I don’t have any to give you.”
“Really?” Goldar pointed his dagger at her. “Then I guess that sack you’re wearing has nothing of value in it, then?”
She blinked rapidly. “Nothing you’d call valuable.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“As you wish. Do you mind if I put it down before we battle?”
“Sure.” Goldar wriggled his other snowshoe off. “Fight has to be fair.”
The flamingoan placed her bag beside the tree. It looked more like a basket covered in cloth than a typical swag bag. Perhaps the weight of the treasure meant the bag had to be reinforced. Goldar licked his lips. This might afford him hot roast meals and Villicent’s finest brews for the rest of the cold season.
After an age of kneeling beside the bag and patting it and muttering, the flamingoan stood. Even for one of her kind she was gaunt, and when she straightened she swayed for a moment. Undoubtedly a trick to lower his guard.
“Let’s get this over and done with,” she said.
“Yes, let’s.” Goldar adopted his preferred fighting crouch.
The cloth covering the basket moved. A trap! Goldar lifted his forearm to defend his chest and face and readied to hurl the dagger. Then the cloth started squealing. No, something under the cloth started squealing.
The flamingoan whirled. “I told you to be quiet. Mommy has something she has to take care of.”
“Mommy?” Goldar said.
The cloth covering the basket fell away, revealing two babies. One flapped miniature wings. Both were crying.
The flamingoan staggered to the basket. “It’s okay, darlings. Just stay quiet. Mommy will be back in a minute.”
Goldar itched his scalp. “You’ve got children?”
“Obviously,” she said.
“Why on earth did you stop to confront me?”
“You were always going to catch up. And we’re as good as dead anyway. We’ve been surviving off crushed snow for the last three days.”
“And you were going to let me kill you?”
“No.” She thrust her shoulders back and stuck her chin out. “I wasn’t going to let you do anything. But I thought if you did kill me you might take pity on the younglings.”
Goldar glared at her. Damn cheap trick. Five years ago he wouldn’t have paid it any heed. And then had nightmares about the kids for weeks. If he’d been able to sleep at all. He held the glare for a few more seconds, then growled, reached into a pocket for a protein bar and threw it to her. “Here. It’s all I have. The advertisements say this is the best condensed source of energy on the market. Ration it out and it should give you strength enough to get to Lake Andean, if that’s where you’re heading.”
She picked the bar up with her foot. “Are you sure that’s all you’ve got?”
“Don’t push it.” Goldar put his snowshoes back on and stomped out into the snowdrifts, cursing everything he could think of, and children in particular.
Ten steps towards home and it started to snow. Goldar groaned and pulled his hood as far over his face as he could.
The brochures the lady at the travel office had given him proclaimed the sun always shone in Clawrida. The place was sounding better every day.
Villicent plopped down on the seat opposite Goldar. “Look at this sunshine. How I love springtime. Why aren’t you outside, enjoying yourself? I’m sure the fields are overflowing with freshly mutated animals that have fur lined with silver.”
“What’s the point?” Goldar took a sip of his water. “Nobody I know has pulled in a worthwhile haul for months. I certainly haven’t.”
“How can you? You slink in here at first light, cloister yourself in the corner, and don’t leave until dark. And all you drink is water.”
Goldar scowled. “That’s all I can afford. You know, down in Clawrida there’s plenty of parttime work for people with my skills and life experience. Work that doesn’t involve stampeding around the countryside in search of monsters that aren’t there.”
“And Clawrida is all you’ve talked about for months,” Villicent said. “Perhaps it is time you finally hung up your boots and retired.”
“Maybe so. The lady at the travel office does have a ticket set aside for me.”
The door burst open and a man rushed in. He charged over to Goldar and Villicent and opened his mouth.
Nothing came out. He started gesturing wildly.
“Calm down, Shavan,” Goldar said. “Get some breath back before trying to tell us what’s got you so excited.”
“Wily Crossover,” Shavan the Earnest managed.
“What about it?”
“Niche lifestyle groupies.”
“Are you sure?” Goldar said. “That place has been empty of everything but carnivorous chickens for years.”
Shavan leaned on the table. “Couldn’t be surer. Turk the Delightful arrived back this morning from an overnight expedition. He was so loaded down with loot he could barely walk. He said the vein’s deep within the gorges, but it’s rich. And varied too. Reckless pagoda builders, morbid anklet lovers, dastardly water hoarders, the works.”
“Sounds like just what you need, Goldar,” Villicent said.
Goldar shifted in his chair. “Wily Crossover’s a long way on foot.”
“Brutus the Aromatic has chartered a bus,” Shavan said. “It’ll take us out to Sinew Bridge and we can trek from there. If we get the bus filled it’s only five bucks per person each way. But if you want on you’ll have to hurry, Goldar. There’s only a few spots left.”
Shavan disappeared out the door.
“Go on,” Villicent said. “You’ll enjoy it.”
“Well,” Goldar said. “I guess I could go out one last time before I head south. A farewell tour. You know, down in Clawrida--”
Villicent guided Goldar to the door.
And thus Goldar found himself creeping through the dales and hillocks of Wily Crossover, not finding a damned...
What was that sound? Rustling? Definite rustling in the cleft up ahead. He unsheathed his sword.
The rustling continued. He edged forward and jumped around the corner. “Ha! Got you, fiend. Prepare to meet death at the hands of Goldar!”
The man who’d been urinating into the bush quickly tucked himself in. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Goldar? Scared me half to death.”
“Oh.” Goldar sheathed his sword. “It’s just you, Frunc. Doesn’t look like you’re overflowing with plunder, either.”
“Nah,” Frunc the Finicky said. “Came across one small morbid anklet lover, but he fled before I could lay sword to belly. You?”
“Haven’t yet seen anything worth risking my neck for. It is nice to be roaming about, though. I’ve missed the sun on my neck and the wind tickling my ears and the whistle of my blade chopping through thick grass.”
“Yeah, I hear ya.” Frunc belched again. “Well, I better head off. Treasure to be had and all that.”
After Frunc disappeared from sight, Goldar did a few stretches. Something big was nearby, he could tell.
Something big was nearby, but it only turned out to be Tham the Speech-Impeded. And then Rigor the Flexible and then Lorskin the Untitled. And so on, until Goldar decided to call it a day and hitchhike back to town.
A trucker who liked to talk gave him a ride. Everything was, ‘I remember this, and back when that.’ It got frustrating to listen to after ten minutes.
Once in town, Goldar headed straight for the bruiry. It was still mid-afternoon, but the other adventurers would be back soon enough and it’d be fun to trade stories. All in all, it’d been a good day. Nothing beat being out in the wilds hunting that big score. Maybe he’d try another couple expeditions before heading south. If he could stretch out the finances.
He’d just nestled himself into his favorite corner when a broad-shouldered, long-haired young man strode in, wearing designer fur boots, creased hunting trousers, a girdle of pure aluminum and a shirt spun of some fabric that both glittered and gleamed. At his side hung a longsword, price-tag still attached to the hilt. Goldar chuckled. No guessing why this kid was here.
The kid thumped a fist down on the bar and yelled, “Barkeep, fetch me your strongest ale.”
Villicent looked up from his newspaper. “Money first, friend.”
The kid pulled a huge wad of cash from his pocket and peeled off a note. “Will this do?”
That was a whole lot of spoil. Goldar leaned forward. Perhaps he’d found his big score after all.
Villicent smiled. “It sure will. New in town, I take it?”
“Just arrived,” the kid boomed. “Argal’s the name. I’m looking to try my hand at the local adventuring. I hear the picking’s here are the best this side of the king’s high-chair.”
Bingo. Goldar stood and headed for the bar.
“Well,” Villicent said. “In all honesty--”
Goldar cleared his throat. “In all honesty you’re dead right, young sir.”
“Ah,” Villicent said. “Argal, you should meet my good friend Goldar. He’s a seasoned adventurer around these parts.”
Argal spun around and squeezed Goldar’s outstretched hand. “How brilliant to meet you. And perhaps this is a coincidence that will do us both well. Have you ever considered taking on an apprentice? I’m sure I could learn much of the adventuring art just by observing you.”
Goldar scratched his chin. “I’m not really the apprenticing type.”
“Oh.” Argal’s face sagged.
“But,” Goldar continued, “I have been thinking about taking on a student. Perhaps you might be interested in that.”
Argal’s face changed back to hopeful. “What’s the difference?”
“No difference, really,” Goldar said. “Just the matter of tutoring fees.”
“I see. What are your rates?”
Goldar scratched his chin some more. “Well, how about you and I take a seat and discuss this further? I’m sure we can come up with an agreeably adventuring-oriented curriculum at an affordable price.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Argal trotted off towards a table.
Villicent chuckled and regathered his newspaper. “Told you we’d be laughing come the heat, Goldar. Or that one of us would, at least.”
Goldar stared at him for a few more seconds, then pursed his lips and marched over to where his new student sat.
“Argal,” Goldar said. “Tell me, which end of a dagger cuts?”
“What a strange question,” Argal said. “The sharp end, of course.”
Goldar grinned and slapped the table. “Exactly. Now, let’s talk tutoring.”