Matilda Lyte has not been in a good mood lately.
Like her brother, she is not particularly satisfied with her current lot in life, and not content just to work for her parents. Unlike her brother, she sees no way to improve things in the immediate future — or ever, for that matter.
It’s been another day of soul-crushing indentured servitude to her parents. Matilda’s feet hurt from running back and forth between tables all day in this stupid little waitress apron. Her ears hurt from people yelling at her about getting their orders wrong. She’s been elbow-deep in cold, grimy dishwater for the last hour-and-a-half. By now, her hands look like prunes and have gone numb.
And the smell. Powers, the smell.
Matilda prides herself on taking very, very good care of her long, beautiful hair. She dotes on it like parents dote on their favourite child: exactly like Matilda’s parents don’t dote on her. She washes and combs it first thing every morning and then again before she goes to bed every night.
But even such painstaking love and attention does nothing to the dispel the stinking miasma of grease and fish that settles into her long, splendid locks every day. She spends so much time around fish-on-a-sticks that she can never escape smelling just like one. She does not deserve this!
Matilda sighs wearily as she scrubs away at a plate, trying to subdue a particularly stubborn stain. This isn’t how she expected to be spending her life when she started studying magic. Yet here she is. This is what she’s destined to do for the rest of her life.
Once a waitress, always a waitress. The realisation makes her shiver in disgust.
When they first learned that she could use magic, Matilda’s parents let her take magic lessons. As she got older, she decided she wanted to go all the way and get a degree in Magicology. But when she informed her parents about her ambitions, they just told her how much they still needed her help at the inn, so “maybe next year, dear.”
It’s been five ‘next years’ now, and she’s still stuck in this stupid little apron, running between tables full of people who just yell at her, stinking like fish-grease, and drowning herself in cold, disgusting dishwater.
“This family,” Matilda mutters. She does love her family. But sometimes, she just — ugh.
Maybe Nolan is on to something with this whole guild idea, Matilda realises. From what Matilda has seen, her brother’s efforts aren’t getting him anywhere, but at least he’s not stuck scrubbing dishes. Adventures sound like more trouble than they’re worth, but she’d be able to actually use her magic for something other than lighting stoves.
In Matilda’s own humble opinion, she is too smart, too pretty, and too talented to be stuck scrubbing greasy dishes just because it’s the family business. Besides, it’s called the Lyte Brigade; doesn’t that mean adventuring is supposed to be the family business?
Matilda decisively throws down her dishcloth. “Dad,” she calls. “I’m going on break!”
As she moves out of the kitchen, she decides to check in on her brother. Of course, she isn’t quite ready to admit to Nolan that she’s starting to think he’s had a good idea, so Matilda makes herself as inconspicuous as possible, peering from around a corner as she watches her brother’s latest attempt to restore the Lyte Brigade.
Even with all his recent efforts, Nolan is no closer to actually having a guild to lead. His posters don’t seem to be working and there’s no sign of Pela. She must have decided not to join the guild. He doesn’t blame her. Why would you join a guild run by a Captain that tripped over you?
Nolan sits glumly in his chair. He did finally decide that Pela’s advice about winning people over through their stomachs was good idea. This, coupled with the advice from his copy of The Habits of Those with the Utmost Efficient Habits about offering people something in exchange for their precious time, gave him a brilliant idea: free sandwiches.
Thus, Nolan had prepared a new batch of posters detailing the various benefits of membership in the Lyte Brigade and hung them up around the inn’s dining hall. Then, he had his mother help him make a big platter of sandwiches.
Finally, he posted a sign outside the inn proclaiming Guild Information Session, Free Sandwiches.
Looking out into an empty dining hall, Nolan decides that he didn’t quite understand what Pela was trying to tell him, and he is certain the book has misled him. He planned to lure people in with a big pile of sandwiches and have them read the posters, ingeniously placed right next to the pile of sandwiches.
What was supposed to happen was that people would come for the sandwiches and stay to join the Lyte Brigade. What is happening is that people are coming for the sandwiches, staying to eat the sandwiches, completely ignoring the posters, and then leaving — and helping themselves to a couple more sandwiches on the way out.
“Stupid book,” Nolan mutters. If it didn’t belong to the good people of the Porthaven Central Library, it would be destined for an exciting new career as a doorstop.
Nolan sighs and glances up. Even the people who were just wandering in to steal his sandwiches seem to have disappeared, and the inn is currently empty. Except for one very tall Elf woman with black hair, dressed in furry clothes that may have once been a bear — or something else similarly large and hirsute.
The Elf meanders around the inn, sceptically studying his posters, but, just like everyone else so far, makes no sign of having interest in actually joining his guild.
He sighs again and goes back to his book. When he glances back up, he flinches at the sudden appearance of the tall Elf looming over him.
The tall Elf stares down at Nolan, arms folded over her chest. “I was promised a sandwich,” she notes. She speaks with an accent, but not one that Nolan recognises.
“They’re over there,” he says, pointing to the platter.
As he watches the tall Elf stalk over to the pile of sandwiches, Nolan realises that she must be a traveller, maybe even an adventurer, and she must be a long way from home. Along with her accent, she has a deep tan, and her boots are absolutely covered in mud and dust.
He realises that she is exactly the kind of person he’d love to have as a member of the Lyte Brigade. Unfortunately, she only seems interested in his sandwiches.
The tall Elf reappears. “I would like another sandwich,” she declares, through a mouthful of the previous sandwich.
“Yeah. Take as many as you want,” Nolan answers.
She re-reappears at Nolan’s table with a sandwich in each hand. When she speaks to him, it is around a third sandwich stuffed partway into her mouth, “Also, I would like to join your guild.”
“Sure. Yeah,” Nolan mutters. “That’s —” He pauses as he begins to comprehend what she actually said. “What?”
“I would like to join your guild,” she repeats through the last mouthful of sandwich.
Nolan stares up at the woman for a long, stunned moment. “There’s, uh, there’s a form you need to sign,” he says once he recovers. He quickly begins looking around his table for the clipboard with his sign-up sheet.
“Mom!” he calls. “Where’s my clipboard?”
He scurries through the inn, checking under the tables for his wayward clipboard.
“One of the tables has a wobbly leg,” his mother calls from the kitchen. “I think your father is using it to keep it level.”
After a frantic search, Nolan reclaims the clipboard and springs out from under the table, narrowly avoiding hitting his head on his way up. He takes a seat across the table from the tall woman. To get himself into the proper mindset, he clears his throat, decides it didn’t sound nearly professional enough the first time, and clears his throat again.
This has exactly the opposite effect than he’d hoped for, sending him into a coughing fit and leaving him red-faced and gasping for breath.
“So,” the tall woman says to break the silence. “Who is supposed to talk first?”
“Sorry. I’ve never done this before,” Nolan says. “I guess —” he glances down at the forms on his clipboard “— the first thing I need is your name.”
“My name is Falcata,” the tall woman tells him. “I am from the Amazon Decapolis.”
“You’re an Amazon?” Nolan asks. “Wow! You must know all about fighting.”
Falcata nods. “I have been training since I was seven years old,” she explains. “I am proficient in the four styles of Amazon pankration and the use of seventy-four types of weaponry. I also received extensive dance lessons.”
“Dance lessons?” Nolan asks.
Falcata nods again. “Dancing teaches valuable footwork and coordination skills, as well as providing muscular and cardiovascular conditioning.”
“I see,” Nolan says. “And what was that about weaponry?”
“I can use seventy-four different kinds of it,” Falcata says.
“Seventy… four?” Nolan asks in amazement.
That can’t possibly be right, Nolan tells himself. Are there even seventy-three types of weapons? He tries to mentally count all the weapons he knows: swords, and axes, and big sticks, and… those curvy swords. And maybe kicking people? Biting?
You could probably throw a potted cactus at somebody — does that count?
“No, actually,” Falcata answers, bringing Nolan back to the matter at hand.
“Oh,” Nolan answers. “Because I didn’t think there even were —”
“I should say seventy-five. I miscounted.”
“Where did you learn to fight with seventy-five kinds of weapons?” he asks in amazement.
“Back home,” she answers. “Like I said, we begin training young.”
Images of startlingly small girls hitting each other with startlingly large weapons spring to Nolan’s mind. He clears his throat, regains his composure, and continues, “I just need your signature, then you’ll officially be a member of the Lyte Brigade.”
“Very good. When do we start?” Falcata asks.
“The guild can’t officially be reinstated until it has five members,” Nolan answers sheepishly. “And it, uh, hasn’t been going so well. You’re the first member I’ve managed to sign, and it’s been weeks already.”
He bashfully looks away.
“In that case, I will require lodgings,” Falcata says. “I will have to get my things.”
Nolan’s dad hasn’t been thrilled about Nolan’s plans for Lyte Brigade, but he should be happy that Nolan has at least managed to rent out one of the inn’s rooms for the foreseeable future.
It takes only a few short days for Falcata to make herself comfortably at home in her new room. Objectively speaking, the room is little more than merely adequate. But she has spent the last few months sleeping under trees and hedges.
That she has a proper room at all, with four walls, a roof, a floor, and an actual bona fide bed, is a marked improvement. Best of all, Falcata finally has space for her things. Such as they are.
Falcata may not have much, but in her months of travelling, she has begun to amass more than she can easily carry on her person. Since her arrival in Porthaven, she has been keeping everything in a rented storage locker. Her room is not large, but nevertheless provides her with enough space to store everything.
Falcata moves to her desk — though it isn’t so much a desk as it is a crate — she requested in exchange for help unloading ships at the docks. She pulls her makeshift chair, a barrel also acquired from the docks, closer to her equally-makeshift desk.
She unfolds and smooths out a piece of paper and begins to consider the words for the letter she plans to write.
Dear Father, she begins. A good place to start.
I, she continues, her newfound confidence promptly beginning to falter. She glowers down at the page for a long time before deciding to add am fine.
Thus, she completes the letter’s first sentence: I am fine.
Her words — all three of them — are true. She could stop here, she realises, but it wouldn’t be much of a letter. Especially not for something that needs to be delivered across most of the width and a not-insubstantial amount of the length of Realmgard.
She decides that she should update her family on everything that has happened since her last letter.
She devotes the next few minutes to recalling the events since that last letter and trying to find the words to explain those events:
I arrived safely in Porthaven several days ago. I recently joined a guild called the Lyte Brigade. The Captain is —
She stops to consider just how exactly to describe Nolan. Her contemplation is interrupted when she hears a loud clatter from Nolan’s office down the hall. From the sound of it, a cascade of mops and brooms is tumbling down on him.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!”
The clattering finally comes to a stop.
Younger than expected, Falcata writes.
This is a good start, but she is soon struggling to balance the truth with diplomacy.
However, she continues, he seems to be a nice fellow. His sincerity is remarkable. And his persistence is admirable.
She decides that this description of Nolan is sufficient, and moves on:
At present, we need three more recruits before the guild can begin operating in earnest. I hope this will happen soon. In the meantime, I have found lodging at an inn that proclaims itself home of the best fish-on-a-stick in Porthaven.
As it is the only fish-on-a-stick in Porthaven I have eaten, I must take the innkeeper at his word.
Until the guild is able to begin operating, I have taken a job helping at the inn, so I should not go hungry. I will write as often as I can.
Give Mother and the twins my love, and tell them that I miss you all very much.
Your faithful daughter,
Falcata nods with satisfaction. She knows that words are not one of her strong points, but she decides that the letter has said everything it needs to say and is ready to be delivered first thing in the morning.
As she pushes herself away from her desk crate and crosses the room to her bed, she hears another loud noise from the hall, the sound of someone falling to the floor.
“Why is there a bucket in the middle of the hallway?” she hears Nolan exclaim. “Dad!”
Falcata moves to her bed. She frowns as she lies down, ending up with her feet dangling over the end. She is not quite used to that. Clearly, the bed was never intended for a woman of Amazonian stature. She reminds herself that she should be grateful to have a mattress under herself, rather than the cold, hard ground.
And, she suspects, there will be fewer wolves indoors.