The Book of Rahl – Chapter Thirty: A Night in Jhelom
My thirty-eighth year as CO of the Society found us in the employ of no one in particular and billeting in the city of Jhelom. Most of the expected events occurred when we arrived and started digging in: the men started getting particularly nervous about anyone and everyone, the locals started getting nervous about the men being nervous, a flood of new enlistments came through from bored locals, baddies and nasties of all sorts found out where we were and started making trouble – the usual fare.
The initial hostility we received from a few of the city’s inhabitants has died down to a distasteful grumble. I have yet to meet with any of the more influential folks in town, and I really do hope everyone can be pleasant about things, but I’m not going to put up with the haughty, rotten fare that we’ve eaten time and time again in Trinsic and Yew. There’s fifty of me and less than a dozen of them and I’m done bending over for the establishment. I sincerely hope they can appreciate that, as I said, they’re more than welcome to ride alongside us on the wave. Only time will tell.
The place truly does feel like home. The sea breeze brings a pleasant salty smell punctuated off and on by oil, steel, forges, and sweat. On a clear, cool night the city rings with the sounds of armored men trolling for work, raucous music and laughter from the inns and taverns, and iron being worked by one or more of the city’s plethora of smiths working into the night to complete a tall order. Duels aren’t fought in the streets – they’re fought in The Pit to the cheers and jeers of dozens of onlookers. The hard-packed earth of the roads leaves even our mounts in better humor. It’s a hard place, highlighted with tales of Valor and lamentations of necessity. No man in Jhelom stabs another in the back – they stab him in the front where a blow belongs – happy to take the risks that the other guy will land one in return. It’s a city of Fighters, a city of Mercenaries…
It’s a city of Soldiers.
I contemplated these things tonight as I allowed my horse to amble through town in the general direction of the Morning Star. Many of the people here seemed to know me – and for the first time ever it seemed a predominantly good thing. The odd soldier would offer a nod or the slap of weapon against shield, the tavernkeeps all seemed eager to please, even a few of the smiths put my name to my face. It’s an odd feeling for a man who’s spent his life being hated. Those that don’t know me know the badge. Mitarin’s company was a figured prominently in Lord Jhel’s consolidation of the Clan Chiefs, and even though the Society hasn’t been stationed here in the few centuries since, stories are still told and references still made. I doubt the populace in general knows I’m a descendent of Jakob the Steadfast, but they will soon enough I suppose, these things tend to get out. I found his grave in the old corner of the cemetery, somebody has been keeping it tidy – one can only guess whom.
When I finally made it to my rooms at the inn, I interrupted one of the innkeeper’s daughters turning down the bed. She’s an attractive girl – remarkable really, and getting old enough that I’m sure her father is panicking about ever being able to marry her off. I chided myself for allowing my eyes to linger on her lips and bosom as I unbuttoned my tunic. Then I chided myself for chiding myself. My first instinct was that this girl was forty years younger than me, when in fact – physically at least – the span was only about five.
“How has your stay been, General?” she asked with her quiet voice as she went about her business.
I hung my tunic neatly on the peg of the door and tossed the cloak atop it. “Quite well, thank you…umm..err..”
“Ahh, Maria. Yes, very comfortable establishment you run here.”
“Thank you sir.” She noticed my struggling to reach the cinch on the back of my jerkin and stepped behind me to help. Why do women have to smell like flowers all the time? How, in this town of all places, does this woman manage to smell like wildflowers? I found it incredibly distracting. She got the damned thing loose and I quickly pulled off the jerkin and got some cold water splashed on my face from the basin. When I had wiped my eyes I found that she was still standing there by the door, hands folded in front of her, eyes bright, but cast to the floor. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other while I was pulling off the rest of my armor. About the time I was done, she looked up and caught my eye.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, sir…anything?”
It has indeed been decades since a woman has looked at me like that. And damn she was attractive.
“No, thank you,” I said, trying to shine her as fetching a smile as I could muster, “I’m afraid I have a veritable mountain of reports I must get to.”
She nodded, curtsied, and let herself out quietly.
I spent the remainder of the night staring out the window at the jungle, listening to the sounds of the ocean.