Remus bought two pies before he headed for the fairgrounds, carefully tucking one away for later in the new pouch he'd bought himself with some of the money from Ori's book. He even got to spend some time working along side Frank, who noticed the slight perk in his attitude and mentioned it far more than once. And between those pennies and the money he'd earned working the docks three days in a row, he had nothing to worry about for once.
Well, expect the Tournament and the Full approaching, not to mention not getting beat to death— okay, so maybe only one issue was resolved— that being his usually starvation, but he wasn't going to complain.
He ate the other pie while he walked, licking gravy from his fingers up it dripped. Reaching the fairgrounds, he finished off the last couple of bites as he joined the crowd milling around the grounds.
He turned and smiled at Finley, who came up and lightly shoved his arm. "We've been worried about you!"
"We? Wait— Why?"
He shoved him again. "The way you are bleeding? You ran out of here the other day like you were going to die if you didn't, ignored all of us calling after you."
Who was 'all' of us? But even as Remus looked, Arthur and several other people clustered around him. Three of them were competing against him to marry the prince. "Um— I'm fine. I was injured, but a friend helped me out, and since then I've been busy working."
"You're meant to be focusing on the Tournament," Finley said, "not working."
Remus shrugged. "What competition are you in? I missed it, and then I was distracted when…"
He and Arthur and some of the others laughed. Arthur gripped his shoulder, gave it a gentle squeeze. "Oh Remus, you're face. You looked like you'd just seen Death himself. I thought you were going to pass out. How does it feel to be in the running for a prince, huh?"
"Like seeing Death himself." Remus muttered, truthfully, " So tell me already: where are you in this mess?"
Arthur laughed again and let go of his shoulder. "Im with the Earls."
"Barons," Another one said. Remus thought her name was Kelni. "Thank the Fates. The rest of them are terrifying."
Remus scowled, making most of them start laughing all over again. Finley nudged him, though it wasn't so much as a nudge as it was Remus struggling to remain upright. "We looked for you at the pub the past few nights. Ran into Kingsley and that lot, said they hadn't heard from you either."
"I really have been busy or tired," Remus said. Busy fucking Ori or falling asleep next to him, though he wasn't going to admit that. Brag about a good thing and it was guaranteed to be taken away. "I don't want to think about how much busier and more exhausted we'll all be once the challenges—" the trumpet of a horn filled the air— "begin." Remus finished.
"Royal competitors, this way!"
Remus bid a farewell to his friends before following the announcer deeper into the arena. The announcer led them across the field and behind the stage. Remus' stomach lurched, and for once he couldn't blame it on starvation. He was far too anxious than was necessary.
"Once the others have been given their challenges and sent on their way, you will take the stage to receive your first challenge. Remember: you must complete the challenge alone, with no help from another competitor or someone outside of the Tournament. If you are caught cheating, you are disqualified. If you fail to complete the challenge, you are disqualified. At the end of each challenge, the competitors with the poorest performance will be removed. By the end of the forth challenge, only two competitors will remain to face the final challenge. Any questions?"
Remus hesitantly lifted a hand, and when the clerk nodded at him, asked, "What if the reason for failure to complete the challenge is something completely out of our control? Like, I don't know, we're mugged or something like that?"
"Such matter are decided on a case-by-case basis."
Remus nodded and relaxed slightly when the clerk gave him a brief, approving smile.
"How dangerous can these challenges get?" Asked one of the others, a young, pretty, woman with short hair and dark freckles covering every bit of her visible gold-brown skin.
The clerk frowned. "If a selected challenge is considered even remotely dangerous, competitors will be issued royal guards to protect them throughout the course of it. But they will never be more than formality and over-precaution; we have no desire to risk the lives of the competitors. Other questions?" When no one spoke, he nodded briskly, "Good. Then you may relax and talk quietly amongst yourselves until you are called to the stage."
Cheers burst from the spectators as the announcer on stage bellowed something. Remus caught Ship of Fools challenge, but nothing more. He sat down on the ground, careful of the new pouch he still wasn't used to having at his right hip.
He tensed when the fancy one sat down next to him. "You're Romtayen."
"How do you know my name?" Remus asked.
The man flipped his long pale blonde hair over his shoulder, jutting his chin higher as if simply looking down cost him a great effort. "Difficult to forget a name that ridiculous, especially when they keep bellowing it."
Remus shrugged. If the man was hoping to rile him, he was going to have to try harder than picking on Remus' name. Everyone and their brother had already done that. "'Suppose yours must not be remarkable then because I can't seem to remember it, my apologies."
"Lucius Malfoy." The man replied with a sneer, as if Remus had just insulted him.
"Pleasure." Remus replied with a flash of teeth, but did not offer his hand. "You seem remarkably confident, though. None of this intimidating enough for you?"
"Why should competing for the crown intimidate me? I have just as much right to wear it as everyone here. That's the whole point of the Tournament."
"I guess. I'm just not used to the idea of it I suppose. Never thought I'd make it this far, let alone to be competing for a prince."
"What's the point of competing if you start out setting your ambitions so pathetically low?" Lucius replied. "Aim high."
Remus' mouth tightened. "Spoken like someone who's never had to worry about what happens when you fall."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Hm, strange. I thought you were the smart one and had this entire thing figured out—"
"Enough," interjected the tiny woman Remus remembered as the first one called on stage. "Save your energy for the challenges, because I assure you, you'll both need it."
Lucius immediately turned his attention on her, and Remus stood and left, moving to the edge of the stage where he could sneak a look at the crowd. Part of it, anyway. He tried to search for a familiar face, but mostly, it was all a blurry mess. A healer had once said that Remus needed spectacles, but that was not something Remus would ever be able to afford— or keep affording, since with the life he lived, they'd invariably get broken over and over again.
The spectators cheered again, and the crowd of competitors in front of the stage dispersed in a frantic rush. After that went the next group, and then the next. When Remus' group was ushered onto the stage, he almost lost his breakfast. That was becoming an alarmingly frequent feeling. Stupid, really. He had no reason to be nervous, not when he had every intention of losing.
On stage was a single table covered in purple cloth, with a man in ornate crimson and gold robes standing behind it, the symbol of the Phoenix embroidered over his heart. Whoever he was, he was important to the Realm's ultimate decision making processes. A seer, perhaps. Or maybe even the King's trusted consort. Remus had heard of him, but had never thought he'd have the opportunity to be standing so close one of the most powerful men in the Realm. Or so the legends had once said.
"Most honored competitors," the man greeted, his sparkingly blue eyes seemed to danced enthusiastically behind half-moon glasses. Remus felt his bones practically melt when they glossed over him and remained awhile longer than the on the others, his thin lips twitched beneath his long, silver beard. "I am Albus Dumbledore, The Realm Consort, but today, I offer my assistance elsewhere. It is my pleasure to present you with your first challenge, selected by His Royal Majesty King Fleamont: The Seven Merchants Challenge."
Remus had forgotten the challenges had names. Regent Charlet had devised the first ones alongside several members of the courts, and over the years, more and more had been added. In recent generation, they just reused old ones, modifying them as necessary. He knew some of them, but didn't recognize Seven Merchants.
Albus open a coin purse that had been in front of him on the table. He tipped out several coins and spread them across the table. There was at least thirty marks there. Remus couldn't breathe.
"Competitors," Albus continues. "In the city are seven merchants awaiting each of you, and mark well these locations: Illvermorny, Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, Lockhart, St. Barlow, Semora & Remma."
Remus nearly rolled his eyes; those were some of the most difficult irritating companies to work for on the docks. All of them worked in High City. A fancy bakery, three special butchers that each only focused on one meat, because rich people expected that kind of nonsense, an ale merchant, a wine merchant, and a cheese and butter shop. Lockhart practically kept their own city guards on hand to arrest anyone he thought looked at his wine barrels funny.
Albus continued. "Your challenge is to buy the following with three marks: one hundred and ten gallons of wine, two hundred and fifty gallons of ale, two hundred and fifty pounds of fish, twenty-five legs of beef, seventeen legs of pro, fifty pounds of bread, and twenty-five pounds of cheese."
That was enough food to feed hundreds. Somewhere around a thousand by Remus' reckoning, though he was by no means an expert. His mother's insistence that he was just uniquely gifted with memory probably aided to his assumption of cost, not to mention his familiarity with the companies from working at the docks. Really he was just used to moving it all and overheard merchants and customers bargaining— and sometimes flat out arguing— over price.
It could all easily be had for less than three marks. How was that a challenge? They were throwing away thirty marks just to see who could mange to be the cheapest? Did they think because they were all Low City and out-of-towners that they were too stupid to know how to shop? Fucking tossers, the lot of them. They should try to make a penny last a month. That was a fucking real challenge.
"You have five hours to venture into the city, locate the shops, and determine the best total cost for all the goods. Once you have determined them, make your purchases, and each merchant will give you a receipt for the goods and a token. Once you've completed the challenge, return here and present your receipt and tokens. The worst totals will be removed from the Tournament. Any questions?" When no one spoke, Albus said, "Come and collect your coins."
Remus frowned, falling to the back of the line as they quickly filed up to the table to collect their coins. Albus dropped three gleaming, newly minted silver marks into his hand like they were pennies. Remus' eyes darted up to the blue eyes watching him, his frown still not wavering as the man smiled knowingly back at him.
"At the sound of the horn—," Albus continued, keeping his gaze on Remus as Remus returned to his position on stage. "—the challenge begins."
He'd barley finished the words when the horn sounded, though it was nearly drowned out by the cheering of the crowds.
Remus watched the others depart, handing back, his emotions a storm in his head and a pile of rocks in his stomach. His heart thundered in his ears. He couldn't placate the rage at the mere stupidity of the challenge.
As the silence fell, he realized he probably should have at least pretended to join the others.
"Something wrong, my boy?" Albus asked, drawing his hands together within the voluminous sleeves of his robes— a robe that probably cost several shillings at least, reminding Remus of how much he couldn't stand his predicament. "Is there a reason you cannot attempt the challenge?"
Remus' temper snapped, despite the calm, knowing tone from the elderly man before him. He threw up his arms in frustration. "What is there to attempt? Shopping? Is it really that difficult to believe us Low City commoners are smart enough to know how to do that already. I'd like to see any of you try to survive on a penny and a half a day! Two pennies, if you're lucky and can get work with Semora or Remma. One penny if you're out of luck and get stuck moving barrels for Lockhart. I have better things to do with my day than exhaust myself hauling all over High City so a bunch of stingy merchants can tell me what I already know!"
And really, Remus hadn't meant to explode and say any of that, but there it was. Out now, he supposed. And that would definitely get him tossed out of the Tournament, though he would have preferred a more dignified exit, one less likely like his father would have preformed, but bullocks it all.
But instead of demanding that Remus leave, Albus' grin only twitched. He lifted his chin, mouth quirked, eyes gleaming with amusement for reasons Remus didn't even bother trying to puzzle out.
"I see, and if you wouldn't mind, sharing with me what it is you already know."
Oh, so he wanted to put him in his fucking place, did he? He felt his mind reeling with information, sorting itself before he had even decided he needed it to. Just as it had in the maze.
Remus strode across the stage and slapped the marks back down on the table. "Lockhart— 110 gallons of wine for 33 shillings. St. Barlow— 150 gallons of ale, 12 shillings 5 pennies. Remma— 250 pounds of fresh Salo fish, 1 shilling, 2 pennies. Durmstrang— 25 legs of beef, 12 shillings 5. Semora— 17 legs of pork, 5 shillings 1. Illvermorny— 50 pounds of bread, 6 pennies. Beauxbatons— 25 pounds of cheese, 1 shilling 2 pennies. That's the best price, when you can haggle them down to it. Merlin knows I've heard it all often enough."
When Remus eventually caught his breath he glanced around to see that he was no longer only addressing Albus Dumbledore, but several others he had beckoned over. One of the person being a slightly frazzled woman with large round spectacles and a frantic set in her demeanor. She was glancing at the sheet of paper and back at Remus several times over in disbelief.
Reaching into his robes, pulled out his own copy of the list and read over it for a moment. Everyone around him was watching him, intent on not missing his response to Remus' outburst. Then, the smallest of quirks to his mouth became a full-fledged smile. When he spoke, his voice rang out across the field of lingering spectators.
"Challenged exceeded!" He lifted the papers high and rattled them, eyeing some direction behind Remus as he added, "Most Honored Majesties, your first victory!"
The horns sounded a victory call that should have not been a cause for rapidly inducing panic. "What—?" Remus stumbled back from the table, from every set of eyes lingering on him, stunned expression died with amused grins. "But— I didn't— I didn't do anything except yell at everybody. I don't have receipts or tokens or—"
Albus cut him of with a simple lift of his hand.
"I have the final say in who successfully completes each task, my boy, and it is not your place to argue." Albus lowered his gaze to peer deeper into Remus soul. "Unless, that is, you wish not to accept the victory."
Remus opened his mouth and then closed it. Completely at a loss for how to respond in a way that made sense. Of course he didn't want the victory, but how did he say that when people were still applauding and Albus looked so approving as if what he had just done was mind numbingly impressive.
"I don't understand." Remus settled on, because it was the truth, and also— what the fuck?
"The challenge was to show competence," Albus explained more gently, setting the papers on the table. He glanced toward the stands, brow furrowing for a moment and then clearing. His mouth opened as he nodded in acknowledgment at whatever suggestion was just made to him from the stands. He picked up the marks Remus had slammed on the table with long, spindly fingers. "With money, with the items being purchased, with the whole process." He stepped around the table and took Remus hand, pressing the marks to them. He leaned forward as if to tell Remus a secret, "I'll admit, very few have ever had the gull to raise their voice to the Realm's trusted Consort. I admit I did not expect to be taken to task, but that certainly did not work against you."
Remus practically had to bite his tongue to keep from telling the batty old man that he made no fucking sense whatsoever and had his lordship gone mad? He frowned down at the marks now lying in his palm. "What am I to do with these? Go and make my purchases?"
Albus gave him a small half-grin. His eyes flashed somewhere up in the stands before telling Remus, "No. Per the wishes of His Majesty, those are yours to keep. Someone else will be sent to obtain your portion of the banquet purchases."
"I—" Remus blinked down and then into startling blue eyes. "Banquet?" Then hastily tucked the marks away in case the man changed his mind.
Chuckling, Albus replied, "The food and drink from this challenge is actually being purchased on the Realm's funds to host an end of the Tournament banquet. It's only a small measure of food that will be available, but it makes for a good challenge while attending chores."
"You're making the competitors run errands." Remus said slowly, hearing how confused he sounded with every syllable.
"Just for this challenge." Albus said and waved an arm toward the tents and tables off to the side. "Now you have a few hours before the other will return. Go enjoy food and drink. I promise the next challenge will not be so easy, so savor your leisure while you can."
Remus blinked a moment before finally turning to leave.
"And Master Romtayen… Well done. Victory, well met. Enjoy it."
Remus' shoulders stiffened at that. Master Romtayen. He could have gone his entire life without hearing those words.
"Many thanks, my lord. I, um, apologize for shouting at you."
Albus patted his shoulder. "Nonsense, no apology required. See to it to have some wine for me."
Remus couldn't help but let out a slight laugh at the man as Albus shot him a wink and turned to leave the stage. He fled to the tents in search of the promised wine or ale.
He sat down under the blue tent, relieved just to be away from the staring and the touching and the kind of nonsense that caused someone to call him Master Romtayen. His mother would spit her tea laughing.
Remus smiled as he thought of his mother, who would probably cry from excitement when he gave her one of the silver marks tucked away in his jacket. And he'd give another to Frank, Fates know he'd do well to stay out of trouble for awhile and not having to worry bout coin couldn't hurt his chances. But the last mark, the last mark was all his, and he'd coax Lucinda to break it down to pennies for him to cover several month's rent.
"Would you like something to eat?"
Remus looked up at a woman holding a plate. "Oh, yes! Thank you. I was so lost in thought that I completely forgot there was food to be had. That smells wonderful." Maybe he'd been overly harsh the other day when he'd griped about the nobles not providing suitable refreshment for competitors.
The woman smiled and set the plate down, then gestures sharply to a boy across the way, who came scurrying over with a cup of wine. White and sweet-smelling, but Remus had no real complaints. "It's not much, but it should hold you until end of challenge, and there's some sweets too."
"Sweets?" Remus perked up immediately, looking around. "Really?"
"Really," the woman replied with a laugh as she walked off.
The boy lingered and, when Remus didn't tell him to bugger off, sat down on the bench on the other side of the table. "How'd you do that with the challenge? My grandpa was saying almost no one has ever solved a challenge so fast."
Remus set his glass down, wiping residue from his chin and shrugging, "Dunno, really. I just told them how much things cost and apparently did it well enough to win. Work the docks long enough and anyone can learn that." He took a bite of his sausage just to have something to do other than ask the boy to stop gawking at him.
He sat there eating for well over an hour while the boy rambled on about the Tournament and what his father said, peppering the chatter with questions he usually didn't give Remus time enough to answer. Remus had never been so easy as a child; he'd been too busy working, helping his mother at home, or keeping out of his father's sight. If he'd dared to sit and talk endlessly at someone, he'd have gotten his ears clapped and a list of chores.
How to chat and keep conversation going was one of the hardest skills he'd been forced to learn when he'd joined Andy's brothel. Back then, he'd have been happy to avoid the lessons, but a whore who couldn't talk was pretty much useless.
Eventually the women who'd given him food returned, saw the boy had lingered, and dragged him off by the ear, blistering it the whole time. Grinning, Remus finally finished off the last couple of bites of his food and drained his wine. He definitely preferred red wine. Not that he should have a preference; he needed to stop letting Ori spoil him.
Remus stood and carried his dishes over to a group of people standing by wash bins, thanking them as they took them, slight shock on their faces that he had even bothered bringing them over. After their refusal to allow him to help, they shooed him off to the other side of the tent, encouraging him to relax. He went over to the edge of the tent, he stared at the milling crowds eating and drinking and playing games while they waited for competitors to return. He could see Albus among them, the bright crimson and red robes hard to miss, even if he was blurry. Remus watched him walk a bit, pause to talk, walk some more, pause to talk, slowly working his way to the top where a guard let him through the silk screen that cloaked the royal box.
Remus stared at it, a blur of color hiding an outcome too wild for him to believe it could actually happen. An outcome he should be running from. That he wanted to run from.
Except he'd had the chance to do exactly that, and instead he'd remained.
Because he was an idiot who wanted to die, apparently. He'd probably wouldn't even make it to the city gates before someone dragged him into a dark corner to strangle him. Remus turned away from the colorful blur of spectators and tried to figure out how he was going to waste a few more hours of time.
Except in the next moment the trumpets sounded, hailing the return of… a lot of people. He glimpsed Finley in the crowd, so this group much be part of the baron's challenges. He lingered at the edge of the tent to watch as they all approached the stage one-by-one, climbed it to present something to the clerk behind the table. Most of them looked wet, a few muddy, as they came trudging over to the tables.
Finley slowed as he saw him, dismay filling his features. "Did you lose your challenge?"
"What— um, no." Remus scratched his nose. "I won it, actually. I'm waiting for everyone else to finish."
A few blinks and then Finley was shaking his head, "Of course you did. Come. Tell me all about it."
Remus felt himself being pulled back towards the seating area, being offered another glass of sweet tasting wine he really shouldn't keep drinking, but did anyway.
"So, you're all covered in mud." Remus pointed out dryly, making Finley smile brightly, releasing a sigh as several others began joining them at the table.
"The challenge was retrieving some funny blue stones from a small lake in the woods," he explained.
"I see. And what became of the contestants who can't swim?" Remus asked, eyeing some of the others who were much more soaked than Finley.
Another man shrugged. "It wasn't really much of a lake, more like an overblown pond, and most of it was really shallow. The deeper parts meant those of us who could swim didn't have to fight the crushes in the shallow portions, but that's about it."
"I collected seventeen," Finley crowed. "Though if any of the other challenges involves climbing, I won't be so victorious. So how'd you win your challenge so fast?"
"I don't know," Remus said, feeling slightly like he was repeating himself and wondered how many more times he would be asked to do so. He felt a short jab to his ribs and then grudgingly told the story— and got the predicted gales of laughter and swats to his arms and back.
Finley shook his head. "Wish I'd been around to witness that. Never seen anyone go head to head with the greatest Consort to the Realm. I—" He broke off as the horns sounded again, similar to the way they'd sounded when Remus had been declared victor. He stood up and strode to the edge of the tent, not remotely suppressed to see Lucius returning to the stage.
A few minutes later, the victory call spilled across the field, along with more cheering, and shortly after that, Lucius strutted across the field to the tent like ultimate victory was already assured. Which, whatever Ori insisted, it probably was.
Remus was more confounded than ever that anybody thought it necessary to beat him up. "Nicely done," he offered as Lucius drew close and offered a hand.
"How did you finish so quickly?" The blonde demanded, eyeing Remus' outstretched hand with disgust. "What did you do?"
"Worked the docks." Remus said simply, withdrawing his hand and turning around—
Lucius grabbed Remus' arm and yanked him back. "Tell me what you did!"
Remus eyes where the other mans long fingers were still wrapped around his elbow and then glared daggers back at him, his voice dripping in a low, icy tone, "If you do not let me go, I will make you, and we'll both be disqualified for unfair play. You understand?"
Lucius sneered. "You'll be thrown out for starting a fight, but I won't for defending myself!"
"Just who is grabbing who right now?" Finley countered, perching a shoulder against the tent post casually, eyeing Lucius with a look of contempt. "Seems to me, as well as everyone else here, that you were the one to start the trouble. Remus tried to walk away, even."
Lucius glanced around them to see the group that Remus had just been chatting with all watching intently and dropped his grip from Remus arm, then lowered his voice to a hiss, "Tell me how you did it."
"I told you: I worked the docks." Remus said with less patience before waving a hand lazily as he added, "Oh, and there's also the fact that I'm poor. We ten to pay attention to things like how much food costs."
Lucius glared so hard, Remus could practically feel him vibrating with the effort it took not to haul back and knock Remus off his feet. Not that he actually thought someone as soft as Lucius could hit that hard. "There is no way just working the docks taught you all that."
Remus shrugged. "Well, my mother does insist that I have some kind of special brain adaptation that allows me to retain information absurdly well, but between you and me I really think she's a bit biased."
Lucius' nostrils flared, and Remus couldn't hide his smirk at the sight of the mans fists clenching at his sides. Remus decided he could, at the very least, give him a straight answer, if only to end this entire conversation.
"Look, I work around those merchants and butchers and bakers all day, almost every day. If I wasn't emptying ships or fetching livestock or grain or what'll from their warehouses, then I was delivering it to their customers. A penny and a half a day, sometimes two, to haul grain and butchered meat and barrels of wine and ale, carts of cheese and bread. Nobody pays any mind to the stupid louts moving the goods, but we have eyes and ears the same as anyone. That's how I did it."
Swearing again, glaring at him with a look so hateful Remus reared back, Lucius stormed off toward the Buffett tables that had beset out while Remus was being chattered at.
"Charming, that one." Finley said. "Who or what is he?"
"A Merchant's son, if I had to guess. Most of 'em live in Low City, the same as the rest of us, but they act like they're High City. Attend enough fancy events when they brush up against the right people. We call them propers."
Finley laughed, "We call people who act like that 'city'."
"Ouch," Remus replied, clutching at his chest. "That's harsh, country boy." He grinned at Finley's wink and then glanced toward Lucius again, and the smile faded, Greyback's warning clanging in his head. He should probably find out who exactly Lucius was, and who his family was in bed with. Might slightly improve his chance of not winding up dead.
Or he could have quit the damned Tournament like somebody with half a brain. Whatever. He would just lie low, be extra careful, and he'd probably lost the next challenge.
"You look like you could use some more wine." Finley said. "Come on. I certainly deserve all the free wine I can get after jumping into a lake full of unnamely creepy crawlies and slimey creatures that were not to keen on having their territory disrupted by the lot of us. Not to mention the haul back here was equally as unpleasant, being drenched so. Shopping sounds like a much better challenge, especially when you're all Master Brilliance with number and didn't even have to leave the stage to win."
Remus pinched his eyes shut, which made Finley laugh. "Wine is definitely sounding like a better and better idea."
Hooking their arms together, Finley dragged him over to the buffet tables for wine and more sweets than Remus had ever seen.
Hopefully, they weren't the last sweets he'd get to enjoy.