Esme loved her job most days. The Posh and Turtle was a nice gig, the owner was a sweet old fellow and the patrons were polite, rarely rowdy. I might have been the aftereffects of Pesh in their systems, but Esme could hardly complain about that habit. She even liked the Turtle they kept under the glass floor, it ignored her and everyone else most days but from time to time the old reptile would give her this long thoughtful look, and her tips would be better the rest of the day. The only real complaint she had about working this bar were the damn druids that would protest outside, as if they had nothing better to do. This was one of those days.
Four of the dirty scalawags were marching up and down the avenue right in front of the Posh’s door. A pair of bored looking Korvosan Guard watched their procession sipping on complimentary hot tea from the Posh, no doubt. One of them was actually wearing a ridiculous turtle costume seemingly made from painted bark and canvas. Esme really didn’t want this so early in her day, but what is a girl to do? Half anxious and half determined Esme pulled up the collar on her coat and with lowered head pushed herself forward just hoping to get to the door. It wasn’t enough.
“How you like makin’ a livin’ off a defenseless animal – a noble beast that deserves better than being gawked at all day?” His breath was rank, a physical mist that shocked poor Esme out of her stride. His robes were ratty things, cast offs it would seem and barely covering his wiry hairy frame.
Esme’s only response was a disgusted squeak and to fall without grace onto her rear, soaking her skirt in muddy rain water. The wild haired druid did not miss his opportunity and descended on her, his arms and legs straddling her as he leaned far closer than any stranger had a right to. “Maybe we should put you in a glass bowl and watch you? Maybe you’d do well under the water for days on end soaking and bloating, naked and half forgotten?” Panicked now, Esme scrambled backwards feeling fabric and skin tear against something rough and sharp on the cobblestone road. Her eyes cast about for help but saw the guards coming to her aid were accosted by the wild man’s friends pulling sacks of some sticky filthy substance and throwing them at the men’s feet, seizing them in place.
“Let’s see what you’re like under your shell, huh?” Esme flipped onto her belly inelegantly, trying hard to push away from the man but his arms were long and fast, filled with sinuous muscle and she felt his dirty nails dig into her skin as he ripped her cloak from her back. She sobbed as she struggled away, flinging an arm back wildly, flailing and missing her attacker. The guards were shouting, telling her to run, to not fight. She didn’t think she’d be fast enough.
She struck a wall unexpectedly, and sank to her feet surrendering to whatever injustice was to be done to her. She heard a heavy cracking sound and wet spray across her back and neck, followed by the painful sobbing of someone that wasn’t herself. The wall she leaned against moved, and she realized somewhat embarrassed that it was a man, in dark weather stained robes, larger than any man had a right to be.
The druid was unconscious, just inches from her, his nose broken and blood pouring from his mouth. The others ran, diving off the boulevard into the bay; the guardsmen unable to escape their bonds in time to capture the ruffians. Unconcerned the mountainous man ambled slowly past, hardly even glancing at the soldiers stuggling to free themselves from the goo, or poor Esme who’s day was upside down.
“You saved me and you’re not even going to let me say thank you?” Esme finally managed to find her voice and shout after the man.
He paused, perhaps considering, and finally responded, “I didn’t do it for thanks”.
“Hasif doesn’t do anything for free, miss,” the older of the two guards interjected, “count yourself lucky he didn’t charge you for his time.”
“You’re right, guardsman Canetti, I don’t do anything for free,” the massive man spun on his heel, far to swift for someone of his girth and came back at the two pinned men with a certain menace in his eyes. From his robes he produced a bag of some sort, clutched between his thumb and pinky so that the remaining three fingers floated above like a spider’s appendages. His next words were in no language Esme spoke, fluttering dark syllables that strained the ears, and as the guardsmen pulled their arms back holding sap and sword the mountain, Hasif, gestured pulling the black slime from their ankles and feet and compacted the mess into a neat, perfect sphere which he gently laid upon the ground. “I’ll send a bill to Citadel Volsheyvik for your rescue, officer.”
Canetti laughed good naturedly, and Esme suspected the two knew each other in some personal way.
Esme managed to get to her feet, and hesitantly reached out to touch the man’s arm, though she was only able to reach his wrist comfortably, as if she was a child looking up at a father. He towered over the guardsmen, too large to fit in the door of the tavern if he had so desired. “Please, I don’t have much money, but maybe I could pay for a meal? Or three?” she added, realizing just how much there was to him so close.
The man looked down at her quizzically, dark eyes and sallow skin, brutish looking. A groaning wet sound came from his belly in answer, ignoring whatever his mind might have decided.
“A meal will be fine, just one,” his smile was predatory, a wolf’s grin and with a sigh he seemed to shrink in on himself, clothes and bones and muscle receding before her eyes until he was merely tall, and no longer a thing of mythic proportions. Her eyes grew as quickly as he shrank and laughing the man simply said “wizard.” As if that was enough explanation for it all.