Markus, is a serial series of short stories following the rise of a lower-low-class boy from the slums up into a life he could never have dreamed of, into a power realm that is hidden from public view in the royal city of Mount Oryn. Mount Oryn resides in the Quantos setting's Dominnion of Kannoral.
By Rusty Knight
Autumn 53 Bear
Life is harsh when you are part of the lower-class of Mount Oryn. Add to that living in North Dock's lower area, and it down right sucks plums. Markus had to rise long before the two day-gods would even consider breaking the horizon in the east. He eats a bowl of cold left-over pottage, drink stale well-water and dresses for work, all in the dim light of a single candle. He does this every day, so he can come here to Arton’s Warehouse, where he earns a grand three dusters a day. That’s more than most labourers earn, but it goes to pay the rent and feed his family, consisting of his mother, Angeline, his eighteen-year-old sister, Terra, and five-year-old nephew, Johonna.
Mom refuses to work, saying her feet bother her. His sister is with her second child, nearly ready to pop any day now, so she is not working, and Johonna’s just too young to work. So when Arton bought Markus in a contract to pay the families year’s rent, three years ago, Angeline was more than happy to sell Markus to the rogue.
Markus wasn’t so happy. No, it was a bum deal. Now Markus has a reputation as a rogue, and damn if Arton didn’t make sure Markus received the training. They found out Markus has a knack for appraising things, so he got a promotion to the warehouse last season. And with it a regular work schedule, with the regular pay of three dusters a day, instead of the chaotic random earnings of a street rogue.
Here we go again. First, the knock on the man-door; back up ten steps and then thief cant signing, ‘safe keep’; then ‘mark easy’; then finally sign ‘mark hard’ and wait for the door to open.
There, they open the door, we quickly walk the seven steps inside and wait to be acknowledged.
Routine, but it must be followed. Hidden, watching over the entry, are five Gold Retrievers armed with poisoned-tip-quarrel loaded heavy-crossbows aimed at whoever enters. The poison kills in less than ten seconds. Markus watched the Gold Retrievers in target practice a few times; they rarely miss. With five of them aimed at you, your chances of getting past them are like surviving a mad pack of range dogs. It’s not likely.
There, the touch on the shoulder after the door closed. Markus takes a look to see which Gold Retriever signed him in. It’s always nice to know who you owe your safety to. It’s the eighteen-year-old jalfem, Gem. She’s cute, but harsh. Don’t cross her, or that bolt from her crossbow will find you, even 'accidently'. More than one errant person has found that out.
Markus simply nods, walks away, and goes to the office to report to his manager.
Entering the office, Markus finds his twenty-four-year-old ugly-as-sin jalfem manager, with an attitude to match, sitting at her desk.
Tora looks up at Markus and sneers. “Early today Markus. Looking for a bonus? I don’t pay bonuses, neither does Arton. You’re not getting a promotion this quick either. I told you. It’ll be at least a year. Now go to the far end, in bay forty-two. A shipment of crates came in from an outer. We want them sorted and appraised as soon as possible. You have two days. Get to it boy or Captain Gerris will be giving you more of those lashes, like when you broke that statue. Hurt didn’t it, and you only got ten that time. You get twenty for every day you are late on this assignment.”
“Yes, Master Tora, bay forty-two, sort and appraise in under two days. Got the assignment. How many crates?”
Tora laughs. “Sixteen, eighty pounders. Don’t know what’s in them. Get to work.”
Markus walks out of the office, muttering under his breath. “Seven Hells.”
Walking almost the entire length of the 250-foot warehouse to bay forty-two, Markus peers at the sixteen old wooden crates. ‘They’re somebodies moving crates, damn it. Some outer was moving and his load got lifted. Could be just about anything in them. Each crate is going to be different. Damn Seven Hells. Could take four days to appraise this.’
Markus takes his parchment and charcoal, to record with, setting them on one crate. Then he opens the first crate with his crowbar. “Great! Women’s clothing!” Markus snarls.
Markus proceeds well into the day, when an older teenage jalmal stops in the aisle and calls to him. “God’s grace and good fate Markus, how is your day going?”
Not really having time for chit-chat, as Markus is only on the fifth crate, and it’s a crate of small knickknacks that will take a couple hours to sort and appraise, Markus really doesn’t want to talk. He doesn’t recall who this boy is. Looking him over quickly, appraising the teenager, Markus spots the Dendar Sailors short-sword; a rare prize few can travel with. The clothing is fine, and relatively new, but upper-lower-class. He is clean, but wet from walking in today’s rain. ‘Still don’t recognize him. Though the boy is walking around the warehouse freely without an escort, so he must be important.’ “God’s grace and good fate master, I am well and yourself?”
The fellow responds quickly in reply. “Good lad. I think my day is getting even better. Will you come with me please? We are going to see Captain Gerris. I need your help with an issue. Nothing you’ve done yet.”
‘Damn! Seven Hells. He knows my name and wants my help? This will set me back on the assignment. Lashes for sure now. And to see Gerris. This aint good.’ Markus sets down the wooden carving he was appraising. Silently he hesitates, then follows the fellow the rest of the way down the central warehouse aisle to Gerris’ office.
Completing the last forty-feet they stop and the boy ponders something, while Markus also ponders what could be happening.
The stranger knocks on the office door.
Gerris calls out in clear bold jal. “Enter.”
The stranger boldly opens the door and smiling walks into the office, ushering Markus in before him.
The stranger says, “God’s grace and good fate Captain Gerris. Arton sent us to wake you and put you to work … So you are going to train Markus here one simple lesson … Then we can do business, the three of us. Seeing as you are awake, part of the instructions are carried out.”
Markus begins to shake inside. ‘What the Seven Hells is this guy doing? Who is he, that he talks to Arton, and this boldly to Gerris? No one does this!’
Gerris stands and walks over to Markus, while asking, “Can you stop this?”
‘Stop what? I don’t see anything,’ thinks Markus, still in shock at all of this.
Gerris’ fist flies out, smacking Markus’ right arm solidly. Markus tries to avoid the blow, as he just barely sees it coming. He fails to avoid the strike, receiving a bruising blow.
Gerris walks back to his desk as Markus rubs the wounded arm.
Gerris says, “I did an assessment and I feel at this time Markus does not have the skills of a fighter … There, work done. Now pour three dark ales, Blood, and let’s do business.”
This stranger, who Gerris referred to as Blood, points to a chair and says to Markus. “Take a seat, you haven’t been hurt yet … You now get an ale, for being trained.”
Blood pours three dark ales from Gerris’ special cask. One for Gerris, one for Blood, then one for Markus.
Handing one to Markus, Markus takes it while thinking, ‘I hate ale, it tastes like puke.’
Then Blood takes a seat across the desk from Gerris.
Markus sits as he was directed.
To be continued:
In the next episode two, 'Down From Here': With more news reaching Markus' ears, he is stunned into disbelief fearing for his future and discovering uncertainty. Markus undergoes even more grueling torment by both occupants of the room. Blood makes a purchase that confuses Markus, even terrifies the rogue.