Asbel Lhant the Tax Collector
Asbel Lhant glanced grimly between the budget paperwork and his unusually crowded office. His mother, Lady Kerri, stood with her arms crossed and stared at him with a stern expression. Sophie was sitting at the chair beside him, trying to be helpful and playing with a "calculator" device Pascal had sent to them. Even Richard had come to visit Lhant for the day, as he was reprieved from the mountains of extra paperwork that went along with tax time.
Except for Lhant's, at least.
"They're two months past due," Lady Kerri said shortly. "You're being too lenient with them, Asbel!"
"But do I really have to go collect in person…?" Asbel questioned, highly disenchanted with the idea of being the detested tax collector.
"Your father would have done it after they were two days overdue, not two months," she retorted.
"Can't we just send them letters again?" Asbel suggested hopefully.
"No. Go out and get to it," she said impatiently before pausing to bow to Richard. "Please ask Frederic if there is anything we can get for you, Your Majesty."
Asbel sighed and stared at the long list of names of citizens late on their taxes. As it was only his first year as the Lord of Lhant, tax collecting was something he lacked experience in. There was still damage to some of the homes from the monster attacks, which made him feel even worse about harassing people for money.
"How am I supposed to do this?" the young lord asked grimly.
"It really isn't so bad; the key is to be firm and to the point but still polite," Richard advised.
"But you're the king," Asbel said skeptically. "You've never gone to someone's house to collect tax money…have you?"
Richard made a sweeping gesture toward the rest of Lhant manor. He didn't have to elaborate any farther as Asbel sighed.
"This is different though," he disagreed.
"Because you don't sleep with the people you're collecting from?" the king asked casually.
"Well, ye-no! I mean no! It's different because I barely know these people and the ones who do know me still see me as a kid."
"Sleep with?" Sophie echoed cluelessly. "Asbel, why is your face red? Are you angry?"
"Don't worry about it," Asbel said dismissively as he gathered the tax paperwork.
"But what's so bad about sleeping with someone?" she asked curiously. "You let me sleep in your room whenever I have a bad dream."
"Context is everything," Richard said in an unhelpfully amused tone. "So are we ready to go?"
"You want to come?" Asbel asked warily.
"You'll probably need the help," he said knowingly while Sophie nodded in agreement.
After Richard's appearance was somewhat disguised with his hair tied back, a rather unkingly hat upon his head and his cape left behind, they departed. Sophie's suggestion that pigtails would have been a better disguise had been politely declined. Richard's additional guard kept a distance away from them as they approached the first house.
It didn't look anything like the kind of house that had financial issues or any reason to be two months late. The gardens were elegantly landscaped, the path to the house was made of cobblestones, and there wasn't a speck of dirt out of place. An older woman was adjusting the placement of her garden's centerpiece – a shining, new garden gnome with a purely frightening grin.
"…That thing is creepy," Sophie said bluntly as she paused outside the entrance.
"They're quite popular in Barona now," Richard commented. "I can't imagine why."
Asbel took a deep breath as his hand settled upon the gate. It was bright, shining silver that looked as though it were polished every week. With all the lavishness, there was nothing about the home or property that gave the impression of money problems.
"Alright, I'm going in," Asbel announced.
"Get straight to the point with them," the king said with a nod.
"Good luck," Sophie added.
Asbel nodded and pushed the gate open while his companions waited outside. The gate didn't squeak, but the woman still looked up from her gnome and smiled brightly. The gnome's pupilless eyes seemed to follow him wherever he went.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Mathis," Asbel greeted formally. "There's a matter that I need to discuss with you."
"Why, if it isn't Little Asbel!" she said with a laugh. "You've grown so much. Come on inside."
Richard and Sophie exchanged glances before the king looked back in time to see a flustered lord getting pulled into the house. The waiting was tedious and every minute that passed lowered the chances of successful collection. After seventeen minutes passed with a few random comments on Lhant's "stray" cats, Asbel finally emerged from the cats.
"Did she pay in full?" Richard asked, eyeing the small cloth bag in Asbel's hand.
"Well…" he trailed off as Sophie grabbed the bag from him. "She said they were helping their son pay some bail for his boyfriend and that they'd have the money next week."
"Did you get any money?" Richard asked, thoroughly unimpressed.
Sophie peered in the bag curious and pulled a blackened cookie out. "There isn't any money in here. Only burnt cookies."
"You can't fall for every excuse, Asbel."
"I know, but pressuring them for tax money if they have financial problems isn't fair," Asbel said defensively.
"They ordered a lawn gnome from Barona," Richard said as he motioned to the soulless creature. "They don't have real financial problems."
"Alright, alright…I'll be less lenient next time," he agreed reluctantly. "Where are we going next?"
"There's not a name, it just says…" Sophie paused as she tried to discern Asbel's handwriting. "That lady by the bridge."
"Who's on the list after that?" Asbel asked warily.
"The old man from Fendel who walks around without any clothes on," Sophie recited matter-of-factly. "He bought one of the new houses on the outskirts of town."
Asbel winced. "And after that…?"
"Asbel, what makes you so reluctant to deal with that woman?" Richard asked with suspicious curiosity.
"She's trying to marry Asbel," she answered innocently.
"Pardon?" Richard frowned.
"She's just some creepy, old woman," Asbel clarified. "She's always going on and on about how she wants a younger husband."
"And how she wants to be my mother," Sophie said blankly.
"Perhaps I should accompany you this time," the king volunteered.
"We could just wait until later…" Asbel trailed off, but his companions were already walking to the bridge.
He glanced at the bag of burnt cookies before hurrying after them. He already had a bad feeling about what awaited them.
"The captain said she was a mountain lion," Sophie said.
"Not a cougar?" Richard questioned, sounding too casual with the topic.
"Nope," she said obliviously.
Asbel caught up with them in time to hear the brief conversation. There was already no doubting it; they were setting out on a horrible idea. As soon as they were across the bridge, he started glancing around for any sign of his middle-aged stalker. She had an unnerving propensity for noticing when he was walking around town and seizing the opportunity to corner him.
"Sophie, please don't quote the captain about things like that," Asbel said tiredly.
"But aren't they just big cats?" she asked as she tilted her head slightly. "What do they have to do with people?"
"Well…" Asbel trailed off, struggling to come up with a plausible explanation.
"They're just large cats," Richard said as he patted her head. "Nothing more, I can't imagine what the captain was thinking."
Sophie didn't look completely convinced, but their real problems came bursting out the door of the small house. It happened in the most horrible and literal sense as the middle aged woman all but frolicked over to see them. She didn't even bother to close the door behind her.
"Asbel! Fancy running into you here," she cooed as she waved to him. "And Sophie too!"
"I actually have some important business to discuss with you," Asbel said stiffly. "Do you have the time?"
"Do you have the energy?" she asked with a wink.
"This is strictly a business visit," Richard interjected with a coldly formal tone.
"Then come inside," she said as she hooked her arm around Asbel's. "There's something I want you to see."
"I really don't have time for distractions," Asbel said, already sounding flustered as she tried to pull away from her grip.
"I'd really like you to see my room," she said sweetly. "Your hair color and the sheets on my bed match perfectly."
"That is quite enough," Richard said firmly. "This visit is strictly about your overdue taxes."
"Y-yeah, exactly," Asbel said as he pulled away from her. "It's been two months since they were due."
"Oh, you know how it can be…" she said as she flipped her hair with painfully blasé form. "It's hard for someone like me, all alone without a handsome, young man to take care of me…"
"Well, if you need more ti-"
"We can accept a partial payment today if that is all you can manage," Richard interrupted.
"Fine," she huffed. "Asbel, you're welcome to come inside as usual, but I'll need to do some math."
"What kind of math?" Sophie asked obliviously as they walked toward the house.
"Oh, you know…the fun kind," she said while she held the door opened.
Asbel looked wary to enter. "I don't mind waiting out here."
"There's no need to be so cold," she said with a wink as she lowered her voice. "We could add the bed, subtract the clothes, divide the legs, and multiply the fun."
"How do you multiply fun?" Sophie questioned as she watched her adoptive father take a step back, thoroughly aghast.
"We'll all wait out here," Richard said as she placed his hand over Asbel's shoulder and pulled him another step back.
She sighed and muttered something about "elitist blonds" as she returned into her den of iniquity. Sophie glanced between the two of them curiously, but neither jumped at the chance to explain. Asbel glanced at the house as though it was a nest of vipers.
"Do you understand why I didn't want to come here?" he asked, thoroughly flustered. "She's always like that."
"It would be within your legal jurisdiction to fine her for sexual harassment," the king said thoughtfully. "Mine as well, actually."
"She's still a citizen of Lhant…I don't want to be unfair," he said as he scratched the back of his head absentmindedly. "And it probably is lonely to live without anyone else…"
Richard shook his head incredulously. "Your mother may have had a good point about your leniency with these people. It's important to be a kind leader, but you are still a leader, not a part of that woman's harem."
"Harem?" Sophie echoed curiously.
"It's…not a…good group of people," Asbel explained unhelpfully, but he turned his attention back to Richard before she could ask more. "And she probably doesn't have one."
The woman sauntered out her door with a suspiciously large bag, fastened close with a red bow. She swung her hips back and forth with every step she took down the stairs. She only stopped when she was close enough for Asbel to feel like his personal space was notably invaded.
"I've got an important question for you before I hand this over," she said as she leaned closer and lowered her voice.
Asbel stepped back instinctively, though he felt like it was the umpteenth time he did it that day. "W-what?"
"How do you like your eggs, my darling?" she questioned with a wink.
"Why do you want to know?" Richard interjected.
Ignoring the blond, she grabbed his hands and pressed the bag between them. His automatic instinct was to pull away, but it took a lot of willpower to remember that the tax money was the goal. The wrinkles on her hands were glaringly clear as she clasped his hands together around the bag.
"I just wanted to know what to make you on the morning after," the old woman whispered seductively.
Richard grabbed Asbel's arm while he motioned for Sophie to grab his other. The woman huffed once again as they started pulling the young object of her affection away. Asbel looked horrified while the old lady pouted.
"How rude!" she exclaimed as she glowered at Richard. "You elitist blonds are all the same!"
"If she doesn't pay the balance next week, you should give her an eviction notice," Richard said pointedly.
"What did she mean by morning after? Asbel, what was it after?" Sophie asked inquisitively.
"She means after…well…" Asbel trailed off awkwardly.
"Just after a sleepover," Richard answered vaguely. "Although you never want to sleep over with someone that perverted."
Asbel tried to find solace in the fact that it was a halfway acceptable answer. He sighed as they trudged down the bridge, although the next destination on the list was far from inviting. While he was never one to worry about the warnings about the so-called germs on others' hands, there was one variation to that lack of thought. When it came to that woman, he genuinely worried about all the places where her hands had been.
"I guess we have to go see the old Fendelian next?" Asbel asked reluctantly.
"Yeah, the one who kept taking his clothes off in our yard," Sophie said with a nod.
"He only bought a house recently," Asbel said thoughtfully. "I didn't think he would with how often he complained about the heat."
"Lhant seems to attract very unusual residents," Richard observed as he looked over at a woman dancing with a chicken in her arms.
"She talks to that chicken too," Sophie said matter-of-factly.
"I just feel kind of bad for bothering a new citizen for money…" Asbel said warily, but didn't elaborate when both of his companions gave him the same stern stare.
The old man from Fendel had purchased a house on the outskirts of town with high, stone walls surrounding it. He had gone as far as to hire a builder from Zavhert to make it as strong as the walls from his home country. Even the metal gate was solid with heavy, engraved knockers for visitors to use.
Asbel approached the heavy knocker with notable hesitation. There was an ominous air about the house surrounded by trees. He slipped his fingers around the panther shaped protrusion and banged it against the gate.
"Excuse me, sir?" he inquired loudly. "Can we discuss something?"
The trio waited in silence for a response, but nothing came. Asbel stood at the gate and knocked again, but there was still no answer. He turned back to his companions and shrugged.
"I guess he's not here," Asbel said as he started walking away.
A second later, something made of fabric came flying over the wall. Asbel stopped abruptly when the short sleeved shirt landed directly on his head. It wouldn't have been so disturbing if it wasn't very clear that it had come straight off of the man's back. Unfortunately, it was covered in sweat stains that attested otherwise. Sophie instantly went on guard and grabbed the next projectile, an old, foul smelling shoe, right out of the air.
"You'll never take me alive!" the old Fendelian cried from behind his wall.
Asbel jumped to evade the second shoe. "I'm only here for the taxes!"
"You'll never take down my wall!" the old man screamed.
Richard ducked to avoid the pair of pants that came over the wall with alarmingly strong force. He quickly moved forward and grabbed Asbel's wrist. He stumbled and nearly tripped as the king started pulling him away from the house. Sophie was already halfway down the path and motioning them to follow her with a clear look of urgency.
"W-wait! I thought I wasn't supposed to give up on collecting so easily." Asbel objected.
Richard motioned curtly toward the pants. "Do you realize what's coming next?"
It only took another second for Asbel to put things together. At the same moment, he started running.
At the end of the day, Asbel slumped into his office chair, feeling like a very unsuccessful tax collector. The bag of burnt cookies sat on one corner of the table with only three bags of actual coin. He eyed the unusually large one from the lady by the bridge. He lifted it off the desk hesitantly before untying the ribbon and dumping the contents out.
There was money, if that was any consolation. But there was also an additional "gift" mixed in. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped into a look of horror the sight of the lacey bra sprawled out in front of him. Instantaneously, he heard a knock upon his door.
"Asbel?" Richard inquired. "May I come in?"
Asbel jumped up from his chair, knocking it back and off of its legs as he scrambled over to the fireplace. He tossed the bra into the fires and grabbed another piece of firewood to toss on top and effectively hide it. He heaved a sigh of relief as he righted his chair.
"Yeah, come in," he called back.
He glanced back to the fireplace, feeling slightly sick that the color of the lingerie had indeed matched his hair.
I felt very sad when I realized that there was quite honestly more Asbel x lady at the bridge rather than Asbel x Richard in this oneshot…
Oh well. XD If you go to Lhant and talk to that woman by the bridge near the shops, she will say some very derpy and risqué things. She really did go on about being a great mother to Sophie and how her age difference to Asbel wasn't a big deal.
Disturbingly, she expressed more interest in Richard when he was a child rather than he was an adult.
As for the old man...in the game, he was hanging out on Asbel's lawn going on about "Maybe I shouldn't wear any clothes!"
Anyway! This oneshot was supposed to be good, clean humor. But that was until one morning in June when I was working on it around 6 AM… XD
Also, the math pickup line was from my dear sister, Dr. Meh.