Chapter 7 – Town Offices and Shops
Flummox shook his head and raised his hand. “Sorry, no!” They beat a hasty retreat.
The next building in the row along the west of the castle was designated ‘Town Offices’. Taking a deep breath, they opened the door and stepped in, almost colliding with an energetic you man with a huge canvas bag slung over his shoulder. It was Scooter.
Flummox and D-Stract looked around. The office was split up into a number of cubicles, with a table in the central area. Around it sat the 4 men that had been called the town engineers. They looked awfully glum, and barely looked up as the two approached.
Flummox raised a hand in greeting. “Hi there! That was a pretty grim report you gave this morning. Anything we can be doing to help?”
“Are you two road engineers?”
Flummox shook his head. “Sadly, no. I gather the Lord is expecting to ‘summon’ a crew of yellow brick road experts tomorrow. How does that work?”
The big one shook his head and shrugged. “We’ll see. What we really need is some way to lift heavy stone. This is no pick-and-shovel job.”
Flummox smiled brightly. “Well then, we’ll just have to see what the Lord provides. But I’m being rude. My name is Flummox and this fair lady is D-Stract.”
The crew looked a little more lively and scrambled to introduce themselves, each briefly nodding over D-Stract’s hand in turn.
The big one was first. “I’m Roddy. I run the lumberyard, or leastwise would be doing that if all this road nonsense hadn’t come up. Earl says he needs a mechanic to work on the machines, but there aren’t any machines to work on, so there’s nothing I can do.”
D-Stract frowned slightly. “Earl…?”
The short one elbowed him aside. “Go fix somebody’s roof, you charlatan. I’m Plunkett, aquatics specialist.” He patted the swim fins and snorkel hanging from his belt. “My job is to keep the aqueduct clear and the mill wheel turning. That’s going to be quite a chore with the big hole in the dam.”
D-Stract bit her lip. “You’ve inspected it up close then?”
The wiry one stepped forward. “Me and Roddy went up to the dam. I’m Hound, the geologist. We only went to the base of it, but we saw where there was a gaping hole in the dam, and the water was spilling over well below the intake of the aqueduct. We would have gone further but….” He stopped and looked at Roddy, who nodded. “I guess it’s no secret – that was no ordinary storm last night. It’s still going on inside the valley above the dam. And there’s lightning playing around the peaks. We were afraid to get any closer.”
D-Stract’s jaw dropped. “Wow. Has anybody ever seen anything like this before?”
Hound shook his head. “Nope. I checked with the Trogs and they don’t know a thing either.”
Flummox, who had been watching everyone with an eagle eye, leapt forward. “Trogs? What do you mean Trogs?”
Hound looked taken aback. “Trogs. The cave dwellers up in the mountains. You know, trolls, orcs, goblins. Them.”
Flummox stepped closer. “And you spoke with them?”
“Well, sure. They don’t come out much since the wolf attacks started. More’s the pity, since their trade has dried up.”
“Yeah. The gem trade. This town was founded on the gem trade out of the mountains. I’m the local agent. Most of the trade passes through my hands, and I do the appraisals and such. Didn’t you know that?”
“So you talk to these … Trogs … often?”
“Nah, usually they trade with the farmers for food and stuff, and the farmers bring the stones to me. But, used to, I’d go up and do some spelunking with the Trogs. The caves up there are a real marvel.”
Flummox looked thoughtful. “So these Trogs, they live in the mountains above the farmland? Perhaps we should visit them.”
“Well if you do, look out for wolves now.”
A deep voice came from one of the cubicles. “And mind you be careful with your campfires.” A large fellow in a yellow overcoat stepped out where he could be seen. “I’m Chief Ash, the local fire marshal. I know it’s been raining but there have been some mysterious fires around here too. You be real careful now, ya hear?”
Flummox and D-Stract nodded and bowed their way out.
The last building in the row was designated ‘Bank’.” They proceeded inside. A bald old man sat behind a counter. A placard on his desk read ‘Master S., Bank Manager’. “Hello. Can I help you?”
Master S. shook his head. “No, that would be Master Hound next door. I do provide safe storage services though.” He gestured at a chest of drawers beside him.
Flummox frowned. “How safe is that?”
Master S. smiled and chuckled evilly. “You’d be surprised. The last unauthorized person to try sticking an arm in there … lost it.”
Flummox’s mouth made a little circle. “Oh. I see. Well, perhaps we will have need of your services a little later.”
“Are you just passing through like the rest of them, or are you the entrepreneurial sort? I’m always looking for a well-thought-out venture to invest in.”
“We’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”
Flummox shook his hand, as a cloud of white powder rose around them. “We heard about the flour shortage. Are you feeling the effects yet?”
The baker wrung his hands and looked around. “I haven’t felt much of anything since I lost my wife. Way too busy. But you’re talking about the flour. I’ll have to stop making up a daily batch now, just ‘make to order’ I think. Yes. I’ve plenty of flour to last a good while if I’m careful, but I have this bread here from this morning… Would you like to buy a loaf for your supper?”
He looked so woebegone that they bought a loaf before departing.
Outside, D-Stract turned to Flummox. “We should have asked about his wife.”
Flummox nodded. “Next time.”
As they walked back toward the center of town they passed a warehouse, then came to ‘The House of Ironborg, Tailor’. The back and sides were surrounded by a picket fence and gardens, but they stepped right up to the front door and went in.
Their attention was immediately drawn to a woman with a babe in arms and a howling infant in the back, near a huge loom. A dapper gentleman in a yellow silk suit and tall feathered hat shook a bolt of blue cloth at them. “Woman! I can’t hear myself think. Take those children outside!” He put his hand to his forehead and sighed dramatically. “Lord, the things I put up with.” He then rounded on Flummox and D-Stract, looking them up and down, in their rough blue leathers, as if they were something the cat had dragged in. “Well, I suppose I can help you. Improve that is. But don’t let my other clients think I had anything to do with your current outfits, I have my reputation uptown to think about. Unless, of course, you’re looking for a total makeover?” He bit his lip and shook his head. “You probably don’t have that much money, do you?”
Flummox rose to the bait. “You dress the families uptown, do you?”
Ironborg rocked back his shoulders. “Of course I do. Who else could manage their costumes and frippery, I ask you? They have very high standards. Are you heading up that way?”
“Um, which ones specifically do you serve? You don’t know them all, do you?”
Ironborg frowned. “Well, all of them uptown. The houses of Oolong, Cardigan, Longbottom, Tomes, Montecristo, Exchequers, and of course D’Or, all depend on me. Which are you visiting? Perhaps I could give you a few tips on their particular tastes in fashion…?”
Flummox gave a conspiratory wink. “I really can’t say, we’re traveling incognito. But I’m sure we’ll be back … later.”
“Yes of course, master. The House of Ironborg stands ready to serve.” Ironborg gave a deep bow. Flummox and D-Stract took the opportunity to depart.
Continuing south they came to the ‘General Store and Apothecary’. Immediately upon entering they were confronted by an old crone with a walking stick. She was, to put it mildly, quite pungent.
Flummox and D-Stract wrinkled their noses, and gasped for breath. “Um, yes.”
“Then you’ll be wanting some of my ointment, so’s you can smell like me.”
Flummox wrinkled his brow. “And why would we want that?”
“It’s the best defense.” The crone extended her hand in front of Flummox’s nose. “This will ward off all the troubles in the Valley.”
Flummox jerked his head back. “And everyone else here, too, I imagine.”
D-Stract laid a hand on his arm, and addressed the crone. “Pray tell, which troubles are targeted by your ointment?”
The crone threw back her head and cackled. “A smart one! Why the wolves and vampires, of course. I make this stuff from wolfsbane and garlic myself, and you can get it from Olivia at the back counter. You’ll stock up if you’re smart.” She sat down at a bench near the front window, put her hands and chin on her walking stick and smiled, then called out in a loud voice, “They’re all yours now, Olivia.”
The adventurers moved towards the back of the store, if only to get some fresher air. The shelves were heavily stocked with all manner of dry goods: tools, rope, tarps, crockery, and cloth, dried foods and preserves, herbs and roots, powders and vials, and slimy things in jars.
Flummox stepped to the counter. “An impressive store you have here. My compliments.”
Olivia blushed. “Why thank you.”
“I did notice a lack of fresh foods, though. Is the shortage already affecting you?”
Olivia shook her head. “Oh no, we only carry non-perishables. Makes good business sense if you’re going to stock up the way we do. No, fresh meat is available at the butcher, bread at the bakery, fish you can get from Bonnie at the market, and fresh vegetables, poultry and dairy you can get on market days when the farmers come in.”
Olivia nodded. “Yes, that’s Saturday. Of course if you need something already prepared, you can always brave Spamwich’s cooking at the Inn.”
Flummox nodded. “Ah yes, we’ve, uh … had that delight.”
“Oh, and there is a milk delivery at the inn every morning; you could probably get in on that, if you want a share. Talk to Beryl.”
D-Stract stepped up. “About this ointment the, um … lady at the front spoke of…?”
“Yes, I have Dahlia’s ointment here. A silver coin’s worth will last you the time between two baths.”
“We’ll take a half dozen then.”
The old crone cackled and waved as they exited the store. They paused a moment at the fountain to clear their heads of the fumes. They looked at the little vials, then each other and said at the same time, “Not until absolutely necessary.” They laughed as they stowed the vials in their backpacks.
The next building was the Butcher’s shop. As they approached the door, a voice inside screamed, “If you set one hairy paw in these premises again, I will chop you into tiny little pieces and feed you to the hogs!”
The adventures looked at each other. “Let’s pass,” said D-Stract. Flummox nodded and they continued down the street. They passed a pig-pen and came to the brewery. Past that they could see a large warehouse and, further on, they saw Sapphire and Grace entering the building beyond that.
“Last stop before supper,” said Flummox, holding the door for D-Stract.
The brewery was huge, but very full of barrels and crates. In the back were large brewing vats and tanks with copper tubing running everywhere.
Flummox stuck out his hand. “Just looking around. I’m Flummox and this is D-Stract”.
The dwarf shook his hand, looking up at Flummox’s chin. “I’m Grog. Maybe you met my brother Gorbag, the butcher.” He then stepped back and leaned on a barrel.
Flummox shook his head. “No we haven’t had the pleasure. Have you got anything special on these days?”
Grog smiled and waved his hand about. “Of course I’ve got all manner of wines, ales, and spirits. I recommend the cherry brandy, it came out especially good this last time. But right now, I’m working on something different.”
D-Stract cocked her head and gave him a silky smile. “And what would that be?”
Grog gave her a conspiratory wink. “Well, you heard what they said about shortages, this morning? Well, I’ve got all the equipment here to make – you’ll never guess – clean drinking water!” He stuck out his chest, smiled hugely and nodded.
D-Stract suppressed a smirk. “You don’t say. Can you really supply the entire town with drinking water?”
Grog looked a little hurt. “Of course I can. Them’s that can pay, anyway. Just pipe it in from the river and run it through the still. It’ll be pure as snowmelt from the highest mountains in the springtime. I expect people will be willing to pay a pretty penny for it.”
Flummox stepped up. “How about some of that cherry brandy, and a pony keg of your brown ale for dinner? I think it’s time we be getting back to the inn.”