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One Week a Month, or: Asric and Jadaar at the Faire, Chapter 4
It was, all in all, one of the pleasantest evenings he'd spent. Which was odd, because looked at objectively, he should have been miserable, His finances were so precarious that he'd been reduced to babysitting a criminal, his friendship – such as it was – with Asric was deteriorating by the hour, and he was surrounded by complete strangers ... but somehow none of this mattered so much at the moment. As he sat on a log with Griftah eating delicious roast fish, watching half a dozen children splash in the shallow water, feeling the mild twilight breezes, he was reminded him of the happier moments aboard the Exodar. Back then, in the days following an escape from the Legion, everyone tended to congregate in the common areas in gratitude and celebration, filling the ship with the movement and sound from dozens of communal clusters, warm, welcoming places to talk, laugh, sing, even flirt a little ….
"You so serious," Griftah said. "Always watchin' and weighin'. Not like dat elf. He be like a chicken wi' his foot stuck in de roof. Always flappin' and makin' noise. Can't understand how you be friends," Griftah said with a sigh.
Jadaar was puzzled. Where, exactly, was the troll going with this?
"You stick together so long, don' make no sense." Griftah smacked his lips, then began to pick his teeth with a fish bone. "Both us people should be hatin' dem scrawny chickenboys for killin' so many of our kin."
Ah. Griftah was looking to stir up trouble, was he? Trying to invent a wedge to drive between himself and Asric? Well, it wasn't going to work.
Jadaar was just about to tell Griftah so when Burth blew a small trumpet, calling attention to the boulder where Silas Darkmoon stood.
Silas held a torch in one hand and a stein in the other. "To the Faire!" he shouted, then drank.
"To the Faire!" came the response, with many glasses and bottles raised.
"I'll keep this brief," Silas said, handing his empty stein to Burth as the crowd settled down. "We've all been hearing things about what's going on ... out there." He waved one hand expansively. "Things heating up. Tensions rising." He paused until the crowd was completely silent. "Preparations for war. It's disturbing news." He waited while a murmur of assent rippled over the carnies. "What does that mean for us? Well, the way I see it, now it's more important than ever that, for one week a month, the Faire is a place where everyone can spend time in an entirely different world." He paused, and then held out his hands. "But making the Faire that kind of place – that's up to you. What do you say? Can we do that?"
This was answered with enthusiastic cheers and fist pumping. Jadaar had to admire the gnome's ability to work a crowd.
"Now I know you all have things to do tonight – work, sleep ... other pursuits." He smiled indulgently. "Or playing with what you've captured." Silas waited for the laughter and hooting to die down. "But first let's take a minute to recognize some special people." He turned toward the main cookfire, where a tauren, a human, and a worgen were still cooking for the latecomers. "Stamp, Steven, Tatia – thank you for once again providing such a delicious feast." As everyone applauded Silas continued, "I urge all of you with some spare time to help keep our cookpots full by going fishing or hunting in the countryside around the portals. Although," he said, waggling his finger like a schoolmarm, "make sure that you're hunting, not stealing. And for the record – " he added loudly over the crowd's good-natured grumbling and humorous protests of outrage, " – and I'm not just saying this because our new resident Peacekeeper Mister Jadaar is present – I'll remind you all that hunting on Goldshire farms does count as stealing."
Grinning, he then winked at Jadaar.
"Finally," Silas concluded, "I think we also all owe a round of applause to Griftah, Purveyor of Amazing Amulets, for working with Selina and the Professor to create this wonderful private beach for us to relax away from the tourists!"
Jadaar didn't have much experience reading troll expressions, but he took Griftah's sheepish smile and bowed head to mean that he was both pleased and embarrassed by the attention.
The meal and speech over, the crowd on the beach seemed to be settling down for a night of drinking and camaraderie.
Griftah slapped his knees and stood. 'Well, we best be going. Customers be waiting."
"At this hour?" Jadaar looked up at the cloudy night sky, faintly glowing with the light of at least one unseen moon.
"Ya. Plenty ask me can they come at night."
"More privacy for their questionable transactions?"
"Don' know about that," Griftah said, stretching. "S'pose some just don' like de sunshine." He pulled the Darkmoon medallion he was wearing up and over his head – and disappeared.
Jadaar, who had been wondering where the beach's exit portal was, quickly took off his tabard and found himself in the woods, not far from the invisible entrance portal.
"That's – " Jadaar said, slightly breathless, " – amazing. Where is that beach, anyhow?"
"Ya, pretty slick, if I say so me own self," Griftah said with a chuckle. "It's dis same isle, but she's a sideways dimension, mon. Almos' me best work. Almos'."
They made their way through Chronos' area – Griftah informing Jadaar that this part of the Faire was called the East Back by Faire veterans – and down the midway toward a small clot of people near the boardwalk.
"No worries, Griftah be here now," the troll said to them when he came into earshot. "Now, who be first in line?"
A half and hour later Jadaar – who had borrowed a fishing pole and lures from Tatia in order to have an excuse to sit close enough to Griftah to eavesdrop – had learned quite a bit about the troll's customers and the exact nature of his various transactions. It was, ironically, knowledge that would have been invaluable back in Shattrath, and would have led him to conduct his initial fraud investigation much differently. It might even have saved his career, but, as his grandfather used to say, most roads look different from the front of the wagon than they do from the back.
Almost all of Griftah's customers bought his "regular" items – the same ridiculous amulets the troll had been pitching in Shattrath – which were stored in a large orange barrel. Jadaar had learned the hard way that those items were technically legal, and so he did little but keep a running total of the money he needed to collect for Silas. However, once the initial crush of customers had been dealt with a suspiciously hooded figure with dark clothing melted out of the night and showed Griftah a slip of parchment, and in response the troll handed over a small satchel retrieved from beneath the tarp of the nearby Darkmoon wagon.
"What was that?" Jadaar asked after the mysterious figure had left.
"Dun know," Griftah had shrugged. "I jes' the delivery service."
He had accepted this explanation – until Griftah had delivered two more nondescript packages to two more questionable persons.
Jadaar now suspected that the "delivery service" was, as Asric had surmised, a clandestine operation for moving less-than legal merchandise, but as no money was changing hands Jadaar knew he'd have to do everything strictly by the book. In order to get ironclad evidence of Griftah's illegal activities he'd have to know exactly what was in any package he demanded to inspect. And, once he had such evidence, he intended to guard it scrupulously himself until he made the arrests.
In short, he did not intend to repeat past mistakes. Such as entrusting evidence to Asric for safekeeping.
Amazing amulets! Incredible curios! The newfangled jewelcrafters be havin' nothin' on the tried and true mystical methods of ol' Griftah! Improve yerself through these magical talismans for a bargain price!
Griftah made truly outrageous claims about the properties of his wares. Jadaar had started the evening assuming that most of the troll's customers would be gullible fools tricked by false advertising, but as the night went on he came to see that the truth was almost entirely opposite. The customers seemed to know full well that Griftah's claims were ridiculous, but bought his overpriced wares anyhow because his huckstering and colorful patter made them laugh.
Look over here, goblins! I got something for ya. Just what ya need! It's soap, right.. and it's on a rope! No offense, man, but yer a little ripe, know what I'm sayin'? Ain't been no wash-up since Kezan?
For example, the two goblins – from their affectionate insults apparently brother and sister – who bought "soap amulets" and hung them on each others' necks with cries of "Phew you stink!" and "Offend much?" They kept buying the soap and hanging it on each other with ever more raucous laughter and increasingly incoherent dialogue until, from what Jadaar could tell, they claimed that they were going to Orgrimmar to give the soap to Garrosh. Along with the suggestion to build something called a "bidet."
"Ya go do dat," Griftah said. "Here, take de las' two soaps on de house." He shooed the goblins off as two attractive women – a dark-haired human and a night elf with a long blue braid – passed by.
Ya look lovesick. Special Someone be gettin' ya down, eh? No worries, no worries. Ya get this medallion from me, ya wear it when ya see 'em, and they be all over ya!
The women stopped and snickered. The elf looked at the paper attached to the amulet. "Charm of Potent and Powerful Passions," she read. "This amulet will win over your heart's desire. Guaranteed."
The human laughed, "Pfft, Kin, you don't need to wear one of these. You could be covered with ground-up corpse paste and it wouldn't make any difference to me."
"What an image!" the elf said with a smile, setting down the amulet but leaving a coin on the barrel nevertheless.
A sudden blare of static from the concert stage made the human wrinkle her nose. "Let's find somewhere quieter."
They strolled away arm in arm.
"Sweet, dem two," Griftah said with a little chuckle, turning to his next customer, a pallid blood elf who requested one of Griftah's most popular items – a "hula."
From what Jadaar could remember from Shattrath, hulas were tiny dolls of full-bodied women dressed in flowers and bits of vegetation. He'd always assumed that they were simple child's toys, but from the urgency with which Griftah's customers asked for them – and the amount of gold they paid – Jadaar supposed that they could have a darker use. The death knight certainly acted as if this was the case, as he furtively hid his purchase from a nearby paladin who seemed to be his companion.
"Huh," Griftah said after the two had left. "Wonder what dat was about."
Jadaar shrugged and rebaited his fishing line as a Tauren accompanied by a glowing lava turtle came up to the barrel. She asked to buy twelve hulas.
"I only got five or six left," Griftah said. "Mebbe one or two in de wagon."
"But I need twelve," she said. "I have money for twelve. You have to give me twelve."
Griftah checked the barrel and then the wagon. "Nope," he said as he retied the wagon's tarp. "Seven be all, girl."
"All right." She handed Griftah a small money pouch, then took the hulas and hurried off.
Griftah poured the coins out and shook his head. "Now why she go and pay me for twelve?" He shrugged. "Well, I catch a nex' time."
A blood elf wearing a white hat and jacket hurried up, glancing around nervously every few seconds. "Protection?" he whispered urgently. "You have protection amulets? I'll take one of those. No, two. Better give me …" He brought out a small flashlight to read Griftah's item list. "Yes, I'll take Problem Solving, Treasure Tracking, and Immortality as well."
"You don't need more than – "
"Here." The blood elf pulled a handful of sparkling stones and several large gold coins from his pockets. "This is all I have. Is it enough?" He bit his lip and peered at the shadows around Griftah's wagon. "Quickly! I'm in a bit of a hurry!"
Griftah nodded. "More den enough – "
"Good." The frightened elf snatched up the amulets and ran off.
"Okey-dokey," Griftah said with a laugh. "Wonder what be chasing dat chicken?" He held one of the stones up to the glare from the spotlights above the concert stage. "I can check better in the morning, Peacekeep, but how about I give you all da gold coin from dis sale? It don' be easy knockin' off a share piece off all dese pebbles for you and Silas."
"That seems acceptable," Jadaar said, catching the coin Griftah tossed to him. It was unlike like any currency he'd ever seen, but clearly made nearly unalloyed gold, as the images of cats and spires and serpents were almost rubbed smooth.
There was a flutter of wings, and a large bird landed on – and then fell off of – Griftah's orange barrel.
"And what can I be doin' for ya, druid?" Griftah asked. "Maybe you be needin' a Stone of Stupendous Springing Strides?"
The bird flapped its ruffled wings and then transformed into a young woman with green hair and antlers. "Yes," she said weakly, grabbing the edge of the barrel to steady herself. "Please."
Once she had paid for and donned the amulet she shifted to cat form and dashed away down the boardwalk, heading straight for a bench.
Now, Jadaar had seen shapeshifting druids before, but never one with such a lack of feline grace. Both he and Griftah winced as the druid crouched, leapt – and crashed into the bench. Jadaar hurried over to see if she was hurt.
"I'm fine," she said, sounding tearful. "Mostly just embarrassed." She sniffled, then raised her head and took a deep breath. "I'll just stick to tree and raven and sea lion, I guess. Some us us just weren't meant to be furry."
And then she flew away.
As there were now no customers approaching – the number of Fairegoers in general had dwindled – Jadaar said, "Did she really think your amulet would help her?"
"Sometimes folk tryin' to buy dreams."
"Dreams? Of what?"
"What ev'ryone want," Griftah said, yawning. "Love. Success. Long life. Dey pain stop hurtin'." Griftah shook his head. "But magic not powerful enough to carry all dat wit' no help."
The Faire was at low ebb. The musicians were playing their last concert of the night, the food and drink stalls were unrolling their awnings, and the game operators were half-napping. Most of the fairegoers were nuzzling couples: Jadaar supposed that they had plans for more private versions of ring toss and cannon ride.
And then it occurred to him that that was the sort of crude comment Asric might make. He wondered when he'd become so degenerate.
Griftah announced that he was done for the night, but would like to take a quick swim before bed. The carnies' beach was itself almost empty: there was one group talking quietly and playing cards, while a scattered half-dozen others were rolled up in blankets, asleep on the soft sand. As the breeze coming in from the sea was on the chilly side Jadaar sat just inside the bath-cave – where the dim embers from the firepit were maintaining a cozy warmth – and watched Griftah wade out into the water.
"I hope you don't mind if I join you?" It was Miresha. She sat down gracefully next to him, then held out the steaming mug she carried. "I thought you could use some thistle tea. Should wake you up a little. I heard Silas say that you and your partner will be guarding Griftah round the clock."
"Thank you." Jadaar took a small sip, then set the mug down. The tea was horribly bitter.
"You don't like it?" Miresha asked, leaning against his arm.
"I need to let it cool a little," Jadaar said. "Draenei have very sensitive tongues."
"I've heard that." She took the mug and blew on the tea to cool it, and though it was difficult to say for certain in the dim light, she seemed to be looking over at him in a way that was almost seductive.
Which was ridiculous.
"You must be eager for your partner to take over so that you can get some sleep." She held the mug out to him again. "What's his name? Eric?"
Jadaar pretended to take a sip of the tea: the stuff was undrinkable, but there was no point in hurting Miresha's feelings. "Asric."
Griftah emerged from the sea and said wistfully as he trudged past the two of them, "I wish I knew where mah girl Trix be sleeping tonight." Wrapped in a towel, he curled up by the firepit.
"At least you know she's probably not having sex with Asric," Miresha said.
Jadaar didn't think that Miresha meant it maliciously, but he couldn't see how anyone could find knowing what Asric was doing at that exact moment at all comforting.
He woke up when someone poked him in the ribs.
"Great job you're doing," Asric said sourly. "Is that special Peacekeeper training? Guarding people with your eyes closed and your mouth open?"
"Where's Griftah?" Jadaar asked, rubbing his eyes. His vision was blurry, but it was definitely morning. "Is he safe?"
"Yes, no thinks to you," Asric said, turning and walking out of the cave. "He's off taking a leak."
Jadaar tilted his head and frowned: was Asric limping? "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Of course I'm all right." Asric was standing, his arms folded, glaring out to sea. Well, Jadaar couldn't actually see if Asric was glaring, but that particular stiff posture usually came with a glare.
"Didn't you sleep well?" As soon as Jadaar asked this he knew Asric would take it the wrong way, that Jadaar was trawling for details of his night with Rodney.
"The wagon wasn't very comfortable," Asric tossed back over his shoulder.
Griftah appeared from the rocks at the north end of the beach. "Oh, so de wagon be to blame for ya walkin' like ya got a flagpole up ya back door?"
Asric bared his teeth and growled.
Cackling, Griftah took off his medallion and disappeared from the beach.
Asric gave Jadaar a resentful look. "I'd like to slit that tusked pig's throat."
"Shoveling elekk dung would be more pleasant than his company."
"You're not – "
"I'd rather clean viscera from the rat traps." Asric was warming to the topic.
"But – "
"With my tongue."
"I see." Jadaar folded his arms. "Well, since I know from experience that there's no point in appealing to your professionalism, all I ask is that you fulfill your duty until I can find a replacement for you. Then youcan go wherever you want."
"Are you seriously – ? GAH!" Asric was now most definitely glaring. "I thought by now you'd – !" He made a sound of contempt. "Idiot. Complete and utter idiot." He started to take his tabard off, then stopped and said venomously, "You can sleep in the cave, it's not a bath-day. I'll meet you here at sundown."
Then he yanked his tabard off so roughly that it tore, and he disappeared
Jadaar felt inexplicably stung. What in light's name was wrong with the wretched elf? "None of my business, I suppose," he murmured, glancing around to see who might have witnessed their altercation. Unfortunately, it looked like the entire beach had, as a dozen people were either looking at him wide-eyed with shock, looking away in embarrassment, or chuckling and shaking their heads.
Well, there was nothing that could be done now. Jadaar went to the back of the cave, scooped out a shallow in the sand next to the firepit, pulled down a few clean towels to cover himself with, and let exhaustion drag him into sleep and away from shame.
From oblivion he sprang to full wakefulness.
"Mister Jadaar! Mister Jadaar! Wake up!"
He was being shaken by several sets of small hands.
"Hurry, hurry! You have to wake up! Mister Asric and Mister Griftah had a fight! And he killed him!"
~ To be continued ~
A thank you to Yukie, Wandavon, Alijah, Nagaina, and rikkafish for letting me borrow their characters.
(04) 15 April 2012