Rentor’s hardy cob pony skidded and stumbled down the dry, rocky and dusty slope. Rentor put most of his considerable weight into pulling on the reigns as the cliff’s edge came fearfully close to the dancing feat of his mount. The cob shared Rentor’s concern and eventually came to a panting stop leaving the merchant staring wide eyes at the drop they had narrowly avoided. As his adrenaline subsided Rentor started to feel the throbbing pain from his piles which had been jolted and bashed on the descent which added to the rich cocktail of aches and agonies from this wilderness ride which a life of hard business deals and merchant banquets resting on upholstered chaise lounges had left him ill equipped.
A harsh voice came from up the slope.
“Now then old man! Don’t be taking a tumble – there’s a fortune to collect.”
Rentor pulled his sodden felt hat from his head and mopped his brow with a silk handkerchief which had developed a thick coast of dust. The money man looked up the hill to make eye contact with the lean rider.
It was a wiry figure on a sure footed and experienced cob which skipped down the slope. He had a wide brimmed wicker hat like a shallow inverted bowl and a dusty poncho over some boiled leather armour and denims. The man had a series of throwing daggers and heavier utility knives secured on his person as well as a crossbow on the back of his cob’s saddle and short sabre on the left side. The face was the colour of burnt cork and wrinkled has like a whores bed sheet after a busy double shift. Not that Rentor would be familiar with such things given that he is responsible member of the Jelut society. Of course not.
“I’m q-quite alright Keyuk, Is the outlander on the trail?”
The words escaped between gasps – Rentor wasn’t used to the rarefied air of the hill country.
“See for yourself” – Keyluk’s hand in fingerless leather gauntlet pointed along the cliff edge.
A loin-clothed figure as dark as Keyluk, barefooted hopped and leapt on the trail ahead a spear in hand and a machete hanging from a baldric.
“I-I, still think it’s fanciful that one can track a flying creature.”
Rentor wadded his sodden handkerchief into a saddle bag and rearranged his stained hunting clothes designed for bracing trots after foxes or boars where contracts could be signed and orders made between the morning drinks and the canapé hour.
“Shall I take it through you again old man – Old Man Griffon nests on the ground, tracks on the ground – lays it’s eggs on the ground. Griffon may have a head of a Hawk but not it’s eyes – Old Man Griffon tracks by smell. Just flies for huntin’”
Keyluk spat a wad of Gulti bark he’d be chewing onto the ground. As Kayluk looked at him through wizened eyes Rentor couldn’t help feeling an abacus was totalling profits and losses, angles and advantages behind them.
Rentor prodded his Cob into a trot and followed the tracker Kayluk seeming to keep pace with a tiny proportion of the effort by both mount and rider. Rentor couldn’t help thinking what sorry affairs had brought him to this sorry state….
The bills had kept coming. Sufficient to wallpaper the villa he had rented in post martial bliss – with enough left over to make a good effort of coating the townhouse too. The mad thing was the business was making enough to cover them if it wasn’t for the loan. The bloody loan – not that anyone ever called it that.
As Erenta kept around the townhouse attending to her household chores with solemn, depressed dignity – the servants had been given their notice once the disaster had happened. Rentor couldn’t feel anything for her but worry anymore. She had inspired bull like passion in him once but now he could worry about how to provide for her.
Rentor resolved to see the creditors again. No – what was the use. The message had been clear. Pay the instalments or see them foreclose on the business. All the stock and outlets he had procured with the funds and everything he had inherited and started out with. He’d be damned if he’d see that happening.
But he was damned anyway. No one would call it a loan. Loans were forbidden by the scriptures. Of course the solution presented had seemed so simple, so attractive…
The meaty tanned figure in decorative breastplate and cap warmly grasped the Merchant round the shoulder and gave them a warm hug.
‘Why thank you Captain Thankor!’ beamed the merchant.
“Damned fined filly I suppose, expensive too no doubt.” Grinned the militia commander back.
Rentor’s fiancé was perfectly modestly dressed as she held court with him potential bridesmaids at the centre of the party.
“Oh far from it Erenta is a modest, worshipful woman,” said Rentor warmly.
Both men took a moment to appreciate the perfectly modest dress which fitted the curvaceous woman like a second skin. Even the wimple worn in deference to the Scriptures seemed positively indecent on such a radiant and sensual beauty.
“Still a shame not to keep her in a fitting style – you’ll be thinking of expanding the business no doubt?”
“Well when my capital expands I have a number of options in other cities – cousins and such like – but premises are so expensive to rent.”
“Well why not buy?”
“The sums involved Captain, they are not available in ready cash. And the City Council in consideration of scripture has forbidden usury.”
“Indeed the lending of money for interest is forbidden. Quite right too, plainly forbidden by scripture.” The captains eyebrows seemed to be dancing.
“I don’t take your meaning sir.”
“ I am a wealthy man and I know other wealthy men who ish a return. As worshipful religious men we would never break scripture. Never.”
“I’m sorry Captain I am a little at a loss…”
“However if we gave you a sum of Jelut shekels and you agreed to pay us an equal number of Uluanti shekels in instalments…”
“8 Ultanti shekels are worth 10 Jelut Shekels – and that exchange difference would be your return!” realised Rentor, free of rent the profits he should be able to negotiate manageable terms.
“Exactly we are simply selling you our money in return for some Ultanti money. No interest is being charged.”
“I will discuss terms with your consortium” Rentor felt almost wicked – the Ultani currency had been gaining against Jelut for all Rentor’s 30 years in business. The Captain’s return would shrink and Rentor’s lending become cheaper with time….
“but you must let me renegotiate !” insisted Rentor quaking in his best meeting robes.
“Why you scabrous oaf – why must I?” The Captain Thankor roared. He was all business now in his combat leathers – the dust from the morning’s patrols still caking him.
“The War with Ultanti – the exchange rate – Ultanti shekels are rare as hens teeth.”
“They’ll be plentiful enough when we breach the bastard’s walls…”
“Well maybe a payment holiday-”
Rentor was unused to being hit – the wind he expelled as the Captain’s fist thrust through his fat belly in the vague direction of his spine left him heaving on the floor.
“You signed the terms you ulcerous dog make the instalments or we’ll foreclose on the business you plump windy bladder of a bastard!”
Then casually the Captain whipped out his member and urinated on the Merchant in the middle of the parade ground. To the indifference of the various militiamen scattered around.
“Now fuck off – before I decided to ask the City Council why you’re not serving in the militia… Sometime at the front might leave your wife short of company. “ The threat was implicit – there had been rumours of that kind of behaviour before. Drenched and degraded Rantor scrabbled out of the parade ground under the scornful glances of the men called to the colours.
Rentor’s horse jolted tending another jolt of pain through the distended blood vessels resulting from too much fine living and plump cushions.
‘God’s teeth’ he mutters and he stretched his flabby calves in an attempt to find a better position on the saddle.
Keyluk smiled – a graveyard of tombstone teeth competed for Rentor’s disgust and he felt a little like a steak placed before a hungry restaurant patron.
“Horse smells old man Griffon, Hill Boys got us on a fit trail..” a he took his time spitting out another wad of Gulti bark, ‘…you’ll be making your killing soon.”
Involuntarily Rentor felt the hilt of his short sword. The sun warmed heather of the grip or cooler metal of the handguard did little to comfort him.
“Rest easy old man – we’ll do the actual killin’ – that’s what ya paying us for, we’re all friends here.”
Rentor felt his heart quicken even as his mind told him to believe the words.
Erenta came to him in the night.
That in itself was unusual since the war had started and with it his difficulties her river of tears had left him stranded in the spare bedroom. The outlook was far too frosty to brave. If he’d been some fanatic old school patriarch we would have stormed into the room and took his conjugal rights, but Erenta was his in love and he could not, would not, take her in anger.
His initial resolve to pretend to be asleep melted. “Erenta my love, I’ll-“
“Shhhh, rest easy husband and listen for I have a tale to tell – my brother has found a solution to our difficulties.”
Normally Rentor would have snorted disdain – Erenta’s borther a number-juggler and a want to be alchemist living hand to mouth giving people their fortunes for scraps, every penny going on experiments and arcane tomes what could he show?
“He is in correspondence with a Tawny Mage, the name of Annuletihoteph.”
Rentor started, technically all the cities were still at war with the old Colonial oppressors. Doing any business with a Tawny and a Tawny mage at that would be dangerous with soldiers as one’s creditors.
“Meet with him my love” she embraced him and his fears where smothered by hope…
“Here’s the letter my friend…. you’ll see everything is quite, quite above board”
Whereas Erenta was statuesque, glorious and sultry her brother was small, grubby and smutty. He ran a gnarled ink stained and calloused hand through his thinning long hair tied back in a pony tail that created thin streaks of locks over his bald pate and stage smirked to himself like a poor deluded clown.
The letter was waved in front of Rentor who snatched it of his in-law, put on his reading glasses one handed and studied it. He had of course took soundings on this correspondent a noted Tawny mage of some fortune much given to these commissions. No need to share that with runt of his mother—in-law’s litter.
“Him a healthy offer, not worth the papyrus it’s written on of course , some charlatan no doubt.”
Wide eyed Talik spluttered “No far, fro it I have much proof of his bona fides, this” he genuflected to a new looking and complicated apparatus dominating his digs, “all this has been bought from similar commissions – there are many, many vitalities of nature useful to a Tawny Mage in his studies, a Griffon’s Egg is a particularly fine example.” A cringe inducing forced grin was launched in Rentor’s direction.
Rentor sighed – true many of his creditors even had apparently commissioned similar expeditions.
“Why then have you not spoken of this to your sister before?”
“Why she has no funds of her own she is a wife, as for you res-pect-ible Ren-tor why would I your humble brother in law, your meek and mild brother in law involve you when you are so very, very respectable…”
Erenta’s brother rested his stubbly chin on a bridge of his palms his elbows poking through his worn robe resting on a work bench. Rentor felt like he was being courted by a dockside whore…not that any existed since the Revolution of course, like loans and debt. The brother leant forward all seriousness now.
“And I do want to see Erenta provided for…if you should fail then I will have to take her into my care, and I know not how I can provide for her and continue my work which is a boon to all mankind.”
The threat need no be expanded upon.
“Very well, you know adventurers which I can commission to get the item?”
“Indeed, indeed they require payment up front for supplies and the like. And my…” hand flung out again with wobbly wrists and elbows “capital is all vested in my work and essential supplies, hence my need for an investor.”
“Well for the 80% of the profits proposed it is a deal.” Rentor held rather than shook the hand of his smirking rancid relative.
Rentor agreed to meet the adventurers and picked his way out of his dear brother-in-laws digs over many emptied bottles of ‘supplies’ reeking of coarse spirit.
In his ears he could her a joyful “Many a pretty penny for a Griffon Egg Rentor.”
Back in the present, Rankor’s horse froze still. The Outlander seemed to making some pace back towards them and Keyluk who was drawing and cocking his crossbow.
Keyluk had leapt of his horse and into some bushes. The Outlander fell flat. Out of now where swept a mass of feathers and wings and fur. Rentor was whipped from his saddle and with a tear and a snap his head fell from his shoulders. The body was dropped and the Griffon gingerly touched down on a substantial if balding cactus.
After a little stillness Keyluk slowly got up. He paced crossbow not raised but ready out to face the magnificent beast while the Outlander grinned a childlike grin and sat up on his haunches.
The sly calculating machine eyes of Keyluk met and matched the amber arrogance of the Griffon’s.
“Played my friend” smiled the bounty man.
The Griffon gulped.
“Kaaaa- ssht, Kaaa-shh” it gulped again “miiiii kasssssh”
Still looking straight into the Griffon’s eyes Keyluk leant over the body of Rentor and removed the hidden purse he long know of from Erenta’s ‘brother,’ and via him Erenta herself. He threw it skyward and the chimera leapt, caught it in a talon and returned to its perch with an economy of movement.
“feeee-l liiiight” squawked the creature.
“Don’t push it friend, it’s right” spat out Keyluk with no trace of a smile. He gathered up the horses reins and walked backwards from the Griffon crossbow in hand while the Outlander was prepared to plod occasionally looking over his shoulder.
The Griffon eventually took to the wing and disappeared into the sun with more conventional prey to seek.
Keyluk saddled up and smilled at the now mounted outlander. He took Rentor’s head from the saddlebag he had stuck and smiled.
“Friend Rentor lets go and make some bankers and your widow…very, very happy.”