Chapter Nineteen "A Casual Onlooker"
They weren't sure what to think of the fox, and what he just said. He looked to be normal or at least more normal than some of the other people they've seen.
"Who are you?" Serena asked.
With a flourish of his hat, the fox gave a half bow before twirling the hat back up to his head, "Captain McMillen Reno at your service, my dear. I happened to hear your exchange with Burt over at the registrar, and wanted to make you an offer so you can participate."
"We were looking for information rather than a fight, Mr. Reno."
"Captain, if you'd indulge me."
Fredrik got up from the bench and stood next to Serena, "Would we be able to barter for information if we take your offer, Captain Reno?"
"I suppose that depends on what you had in mind, my dear otter," Captain Reno replied.
"If we could discuss it in private, rather than out here, then I would prefer that. Also, I am a mongoose, not an otter."
Captain Reno gave him a short nod and motioned for them to follow him. The rest of them were hesitant to just walk off with someone they just met, but he didn't appear to be near as gruff as some of the others walking around. Still concerned for their wellbeing, the group followed him through the city outskirts.
As they rounded the corner of another building, they found themselves staring at a relatively small ship compared to some of the others docked in the harbor. The yellowing sails were riddled with patches, but they were stowed neatly and the wood still contained a healthy hue. There was someone at the foot of the mast yelling something at another as they swung from one rope to another.
"Port, Eion, port!"
"My port or your port?"
"THERE'S ONLY ONE PORT!"
Captain Reno climbed the gangplank that had been extended to the pier from the ship, and stomped the heel of a boot against the main deck.
"Stow your jabbering you two, and gather around for a special meeting! Markus, see if you can find Peace for me."
"Righto, Captain Reno!"
A sea otter clopped away as his boots resounded across the wood. A capuchin slid a part of the way down a free rope before letting go. With an agile roll, he stood up and straightened the bandana tied around his head.
"What's the meeting about, Captain Reno? Are these four joining us on our next outing? Do you think that Markus will be able to get along with the other otter?"
Captain Reno waved his hands, "Not quite, Eion, but we'll get to that. I'll explain the circumstance of this when Markus returns with Peace."
Fredrik and his group weren't sure what to expect, but the two people they had seen looked to be just as normal as Captain Reno. There were distant calls of sea birds above them as they waited for the otter to return. From what looked to be the main cabin, the otter emerged with a white wolf following behind him.
He wore a similar hat to Captain Reno, but his had a flatter and rounder top with a black band. His shirt wasn't as flowy as his either, but looked to be more like a tunic from what they could see outside of the leather jerkin. He had on black pants that only slightly billowed around the top of the black boots as well.
The wolf had on a light blue blouse with a bandolier going down from her left shoulder. Tight brown pants were held up by a leather belt that had a rapier to her left, and a pair of dark brown boots reached up to the base of her knees.
"What's the word about the land, Captain?"
"Gather around, and I'll let you know what I've heard. My friends, here, were looking to get some information from that scoundrel Burt that's running the registration for the sparring tournament. I couldn't help but over hear them, and wanted to offer them a chance to get the information they were looking for."
Peace slapped a hand to her face, "You're not thinking of doing the same thing we did with the group last year, are you?"
"That's exactly what I'm thinking of doing, my love. Before I offer them the honorary position, though, I'd like to hear what our young fellow here has to say. He wanted to discuss the proposition in private before making any decisions."
He offered the floor to Fredrik, who had recovered more of his natural movements, "Thank you, Captain Reno. I wanted to know if we could barter for information on a cartographer that may have or know where we can get a map to the north. My friends and I are looking for one that specifically goes to one of the strongholds in the mountains."
"I see," Captain Reno paced the deck and wagged his finger, "I think I can recommend a friend of ours that gives us a good deal on maps, but he may or may not have a map like that. I'll tell you everything you'd like to know, but only if you agree to what I wanted to ask."
Fredrik wasn't sure what he was thinking of, but he had a sinking suspicion it wasn't a simple errand run.
"I wanted to ask if you'd help us out in the sparring tournament that's being held. We're a little short on funds to repair the ship and restock our supplies, but we're not professional fighters."
"Aren't you pirates or privateers, though?" Ashe commented.
"We prefer to be called seafaring entertainers that happen to have cannons and swords," Markus replied, "and sadly we don't bring in as much loot as others in the business."
"Exactly," Captain Reno continued, "That's why I wanted to ask if you'd lend your manpower to the crew to increase the chances that we'll win the prize money. We'd only take a small portion of it to cover the expenses, and the rest would be yours to do with as you wish."
"There's no guarantee that we'll win, of course," Eion chimed in, "It's more to beat out quality with quantity."
Fredrik turned to face the rest of his group, "What do you guys think? It's not a bad offer, but it would require at least one of us to compete."
"I say do what you want," Serena said, "I didn't want to get involved with the tournament, but it's unlikely that we'll find a better offer when comparing it to the rest we've had. That and Chi-tai did make a point about bolstering the funds available to us on our trek. I'm not sure about everyone else, but I only have about ten gold left to my name."
Chi-tai's eyes practically gleamed with excitement at the prospect of being able to compete. It was more for the fact of wanting to let loose and let off some steam with the mundane scenery they had seen for the past week.
"If you're willing to fight, Chi-tai, then I'll lend a hand as well," Fredrik said.
"Oh I'm willing to fight!" It may give me a chance to exchange some punches with you if that's the case, he thought.
He turned back to address Captain Reno, "Chi-tai and I will accept your offer, if you'll stick to the terms you proposed."
"Excellent!" he extended his hand and gave Fredrik a vigorous handshake, "All that's left is to make you honorary crew members of the Sea Lotus' Pearl."
"Okay, now swing your left arm around as if to strike someone in the neck before snapping your right arm to land a blow to their chest."
Morgan was doing her best to guide Madeline through the Trojeimian Arts taught to many of the inhabitants of Trojeim. Being part of the head family, Fredrik was the only one conscripted at an early age to increase his future potential as the next leader when the time came.
That's why she never even learned the most basic of moves herself; everything she was teaching Madeline was from observing Fredrik's training sessions. She didn't expect Fredrik would teach anyone about Trojeimian Arts, but the minimal exposure did help her progress. Morgan watched Madeline proceed through the routine, and thought about how things might have been if she and Fredrik were still in Trojeim.
"Hey Morgan," Madeline started during a pause, "What's the training like in Trojeim? You said that you watched, but never started."
She flipped to the next page in her tome, "It depends on how high up you are in the social rankings. In Fredrik's case, he started his training around the time he was four-years-old. The overall training is very rigorous and can last for most of the morning and early afternoon every day."
Madeline let out a short breath with the last strike, "Even when he was four?"
"Even when he was four; however, our father took it easy on him and didn't treat him as just another continuation of the family line. That's why Fredrik's personality isn't like that of a stone's."
"What purpose did Trojeim have in creating a form of combat like this? They cut themselves off from the world during the Elementalist War, so why work on such a lethal technique for engaging someone?" Madeline asked.
"That is a good question," Morgan replied, "Our city did cut ties during the war, but they did take part in it during the earlier encounters. The main sect of future Trojeimians were composed mostly of Pyria branch members and mongooses. They believed in a way to further hone their branch powers through their own power. Through practice, rigorous training, and failed attempts they found the way to utilize their own aura."
She stepped down from the pile of rocks she was sitting on allowing the tome to disappear into the arcane realm. Morgan nodded to Madeline to signal the end of their training session. Madeline let her body relax as the strain on her developing muscles became apparent.
"They were some of the most feared warriors on the battlefield because of the technique they developed. Even those without a tie to a council branch could fight on par with the elementalists using their aura alone."
Madeline pulled her canteen from her pack, and undid the cap, "It's still hard to believe that a place like Trojeim exists. For the past few decades it's been a place of legend or a term for where warriors went when they died."
"I could see that," Morgan said with a light laugh, "Trojeim would certainly be a surprise to those that have never seen it. The entire city is at the foot of a great, stone building nestled within a mountain bowl. A great forest spans the rest of the area not inhabited by the people, and a massive waterfall flows out of a carved tunnel past towering sculptures of the city's founders."
Madeline used a little water from the canteen to dowse her face before returning it to her pack. She wondered what it'd be like to visit the lost city, and if Fredrik had made it there yet. In the time they left Hollowridge, she had received a few more letters from him updating her on how he was doing. They found out Morgan could track the magic from the stamp, but it didn't give an exact location with how little magic was used.
There were still some things that surprised her about Morgan, like how her magic abilities allowed her to sense whether someone was lying or what their emotional state was like. Being able to track a stamp and tell the general position was one of these abilities that Madeline still couldn't grasp yet.
"It's a little off topic, but when you first mentioned Fredrik in Oak-tree I thought you were some long lost girlfriend. It was a bit odd, since he arrived when he was ten, but I didn't want to say anything if that was the case. I don't know much about Trojeim's customs."
She was caught off guard by how Morgan snorted. She doubled over holding her sides, and held a hand up to give her a second to recover.
"Excuse me for laughing," she said with a shaky breath, "but as nice as a guy Fredrik is, I wouldn't have any interest in dating him. I haven't given dating any thought considering I've been in a magic induced coma for seven years, so he's all yours."
"Thank you," Madeline paused as she began to process what Morgan said. "Wait! I didn't mean it like that! I mean it wouldn't be a bad thing, but that was besides the purpose of my comment."
"Come on, lovebird, let's go track down your boyfriend, my idiot brother."
She forgot what it was like to have light conversations with people. Lady Nightshade was strictly about business, so it was refreshing to talk with Madeline like this.