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"Says he has business to attend to and leaves just like that," the bitter scribe mutters as the Lord of West Luna rides off. "What kind of important business can he have at day's end? He's probably just going to get ready for a party, and wants me to get you settled in so he doesn't have to do it himself!"
She has been through an eventful day and just wants to relax and recuperate. Instead, something else gets stacked onto her shoulders.
"Forgive me Merchant Vendor, but attending a party is important business for lords. As many deals are made at a party as at a formal gathering," the newly appointed guard captain responds.
"That may be, but he's not a lord," replies Melfina.
"Of course he's a lord."
"No, he's not. Walking around in fancy armor, carrying his fancy bow, and living in his fancy house doesn't make him a lord!" yells the exasperated Melfina. The ordeals of the day have worn away at her patience.
"Yet you, yourself, call him Lord."
"He's never told me his name. What else am I supposed to call him? Sometimes I think Lord of West Luna is his name. He believes forcing me to call him that will make me believe he really is a lord, but I know better."
"He has lands-"
"Lands! Let me show you the lands that he claims as West Luna. His shop..." Melfina points to the extremely large and well kept marble structure over in the distance.
"Manor house," the paladin can't hold back.
"...right over there," Melfina talks over Stark, ignoring him, "My shop right there, and his second shop that's right here in front of us. Three buildings! That's it. That encompasses the vastness of the great West Luna," Melfina concludes, somehow staring down at the taller paladin with her auburn eyes. Her cropped brown hair seeming to be alight in the dawning sun.
"Three shops," repeats Stark, sounding impressed. "All successful if I am not mistaken."
Melfina remains silent, dumbfounded by his stubbornness, and reminded of her plight. If only he knew how large her debt was to the Lord of West Luna. He didn't just lend her seed money for her shop, or only pay for some supplies. He paid for its entire construction. Melfina had enough goods and gold to restock her shop, but had nowhere near enough gold to build a place to sell them. And then he approached her.
Melfina used to have a shop within Luna itself. Attacks by the God of Wealth, Tal'Keesh, and her army changed all that. Lord of West Luna had been impressed with her previous shop, from its focus and depth of goods, to its fairness of price, organization, and looks. He took a gamble by funding the construction of her new home. He even had it built right next to his own. He would provide all the advertisement needed, so she would only have to focus internally in making the shop profitable. The current agreement between them gives her total control as long as she can make quarterly payments to pay off her debt, otherwise she forfeits everything she owns.
Melfina wrote out the contract herself. What else could she have done? She had lived within Luna all her life. She knew nothing about the outside world except through books. Books she lived for. Without a shop she would have had to sell them to survive, with no hope of getting them back. It had been her life's work to build up the collection she had, and slowly parting with it one book at a time was an unbearable thought. She had no choice but to take the Lord of West Luna's offer. Yet if she couldn't make the next payment, she would then lose them all at once.
"What did you do to me?" Melfina asks to change the subject.
"I cleansed you of the poison that coated the shuriken, then bandaged up your wound," Stark says.
"I know that," she looks at him angrily. "But what did you do? I remember fire," she shudders at the memory.
"There was no time to use a bandage to try to siphon off the poison. It was only a weak poison but…"
"Weak! I collapsed!"
"Only because he struck you close to the heart," he explains. "Otherwise you would have hardly felt the effects at all. That thief was quick, maybe the quickest I have ever seen, but he wasn't a killer. His bravado was just a mask for his fear. There was desperation in his eyes, not malice."
"And you were still going to kill him knowing that."
"Of course," Stark says simply. "He stole from you. The punishment is death. Weren't you trying to kill him yourself?"
"I wanted to, but..." Melfina struggles to explain, ashamed of what she is about to admit. "...it would never have happened. I'm a scribe, not a mage. I've never had to use magic in a battle. I don't have the proper reflexes. I can cast spells of the First Circle without a second thought, as well as a select few that I use regularly, but that's about it. I usually have to look up most spells... I just...," she clenches her teeth as her anger returns. "He ruined… my book!" Melfina turns and runs toward where she last saw the Tome fall.
Her heart races as she reaches out to pick up the impaled page that tore free from the Tome. Relief floods through her as she discovers her mistake. It was the cover that had kept it hidden from other shoppers, and not a page, that had ripped free as she had feared. She picks up the Tome of Lost Knowledge and flips through the pages. She searches for any significant damage, and finds none.
"It's just a spellbook. Was that worth risking your life?" Stark asks as he approaches from behind.
Melfina furiously turns around, releasing her anxiety on the paladin. "Just a spellbook! This is a Tome of Lost Knowledge! Do you have any idea what that means! It is a copy of one of the original spellbooks that were put together when Resurrection had been found! When all eight Circles had just been completed! When mages still seached for a Ninth!"
"All of that is considered obsolete these days," Melfina continues, eyes staring past Stark's shoulder, voice off in the distance. "The Eight Circles are complete, so what use is magic theory when there is nothing left to discover? For most mages, it is enough for a spellbook to be a mana focus and contain only the instructions for casting spells. This," Melfina shakes the book in his face, forcing Stark to step backwards, "is key to understanding the past and gaining insight into another time. Key to reliving what they went through. The joys and exhilaration of unlocking secrets of the magical arts itself. Discoveries that have benefited all the land! Lessons that shouldn't be forgotten. Lessons that we may need to remember for the future. This needs to be preserved for the contents within. Preserved to honor those who have come before us. Preserved before all the copies are lost! For all I know this might be the last copy!"
"I understand. My apologies Merchant Vendor. I did not realize. From the way our Lord was speaking to you, I did not know it was that valuable." Stark bows his head.
"That's because he didn't know what was stolen. And how many times do I have to tell you that he's not my lord… he's not anyone's lord because... He. Is. Not. A. Lord!"
"Repeating a statement does not make it true. He is obviously a lord. He speaks, dresses, and carries himself as one would. He owns lands and has a people…"
"I am not his people. If I was his people, shouldn't he provide me with protection?" Melfina challenges Stark as she touches her wound.
"He has provided you with a Captain of the Guard."
Melfina slightly grimaces. "He's not a lord!" she persists. "His parents aren't even of noble birth. He has common blood!"
"All noble lines start from common birth if you look far enough. They must become noble. Much like a city must begin with a single brick, a single wall, a single shop. And West Luna already has three. South Luna began from humble beginnings as well, and now it is a flourishing annex of the City of Light that Luna could not do without. So must it be with the Lord of West Luna. He may not be of noble birth, but he has noble blood. I sense a greatness in him."
Glaring at him Melfina responds, "You're a naive fool. What would you know. I've known him for two years now, while you only talked with him for two minutes before you swore your oath to him."
"The existence of greatness cannot be denied. I have faith that I am right. Just give it time. You will see. I am honored to be Guard Captain of his lands."
"Well Captain, escort me back to my library before the Tome gets stolen again.
The scribe stalks past his shoulder, and the guard captain follows.
* * *
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