Sunday, 28 September 2014

The weekend

We were going to go to Old Trafford on Saturday. On Friday evening we went to meet my sister-in-law in Cambridge and the car broke down. The key wouldn't switch on the ignition. We had to get my brother-in- law to come out to take us to his house where we were staying overnight.
Next day we rang Mercedes roadside help and their man said the steering lock has failed. This means that when the key was put in it didn't release the lock as it normally would because it wasn't in fact locked. The car didn't know this and so said 'I'm not going anywhere with locked steering.'
We had to wait for the rescue vehicle then we went to th Botanical Gardens. We have been saying that we must visit it for many, many years.
The day was sunny and almost hot. No, it was hot. The gardens were very interesting. They have some incredible trees. There's a black walnut tree that is enormous. It must be very old indeed. The lake has a patch of gunnera and some bamboo too. However the place is so huge that it can take it and I suppose that they keep it under better control than it was in 'our' park! That part of the day was most enjoyable.
They had told us that our courtesy vehicle would be brought to us at 5o'clock. We got back to the place at 4:30 and by 5:30 there was no sign so I rang the hire company and they said they had 8:00 down. There is no way we would have agreed to that late. They then said they would have it there in 20 minutes. By 6:15 it arrived.
It is the Mercedes MPV and is like a building. The ride isn't all it could be either. It was like being in a boat on a choppy sea! We laughed all the way back to my brother-in-law's about the way it rolled.
So we didn't get to the match. We've just watched it on MUTV. Brilliant in the first half but they really struggled in the second half, but they have a terrible injury problem.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Grovelands Orchard Park Volunteers. Planting Day.

A small park near to us was looking very neglected and so I contacted the local council about it. It turned out that it was set up about 20 years ago on land donated by the owner of what was a farm. The land was an orchard, hence the name! Anyway, the council set it up and then handed it over to the community to look after. The council had a contract to cut the grass every now and again, and also to trim back the hedges a couple of times a year, but that was it.
Some of us who backed onto the park then started to tidy it up. We then learned that there was money left for its upkeep by its previous owner and so we started to buy some plants. Last Saturday we had a big planting day when several new people came along to help. We also planted a memorial pear tree to a gentleman who liked the park and used to walk his dog there. this was kindly donated by some friends of his and his widow and daughter came along for the planting ceremony.  Here are some photos that I took.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Wolf Pack Chapter 15

I apologise for not posting for a while, but I have been on holiday, then when I got back I have been rather busy. Anyway, here is the next installment of The Wolf Pack.



When they re-entered the city, Fero was immediately struck by the smells. They had seemed considerably less in the parkland of the Duke, and he could almost imagine he was back in the countryside. However, when they left the gardens and park, the stink of the city hit him again. 
‘How can people live like this?’  he thought.
When Carthinal and Asphodel left for their respective destinations, he and Basalt wandered around the city getting to know it a little better. It did not improve with the knowledge in his opinion.
‘The sooner I can get a job that takes me out of here the better,’ he grumbled to Basalt. ‘I really don’t like cities. They are crowded and they smell.’
‘Yes, well,’ replied the dwarf. ‘They do give a lot of employment to people though. There are many things that are good about them. The land could not support so many people all trying to grow food on their own small bits, or hunt the game in their own areas. It would soon be depleted, not to mention a little fact of safety. It’s safer in a city with others around and walls to protect you.’
‘I suppose you’re right, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.’
They had found themselves once more outside the walls of the Ducal Palace in the centre of the city. It divided the city into four areas, and Basalt and Fero had just come from the area known as the Warren, which was the poor quarter of the city, and was the place where the thieves, assassins, common whores, beggars and honest poor lived out their lives. It was also the reason for Fero’s complaints about the smells, for although the city now boasted a sewer system, the homes in the Warren were not connected, as the inhabitants could not afford it. That and the close proximity of the dwellings and the unwashed bodies, not to mention the piles of horse dung. This latter was not cleaned up by the road cleaners, as they did not go into this area, it being deemed not important enough. All these things went to make the Warren a very smelly place to be. So the two of them decided to return to the Golden Dragon to get cleaned up and eat a meal.
After their meal, they were sitting in the main room of the inn when Carthinal returned from the Tower. He had a scruffy and smelly boy with curly red hair with him. Carthinal answered their queries by telling them that this was the boy who had stolen his pouch and he was going to question him about the theft and get his goods back.
The other two waited as Carthinal took the boy to their room to question him. Much to their amazement, Carthinal returned with the boy saying that he was going to get his stolen things back.
‘How do you think he got the boy to agree to return the goods?’ asked Fero.
‘Search me,’ replied the dwarf, ‘But mages can do some strange things and compel you against your will, it is said. Maybe he put some sort of glamour on the boy.’
‘Didn’t think he was powerful enough for that yet,’ replied Fero. ‘Still, if he can get that figurine, Duke Rollo would be grateful I think.’
Basalt took out his pipe and ordered a couple of ales for the pair of them. They sat there enjoying each other’s company, and planning what they were going to do the next day to find work.
Eventually, Carthinal returned. Fero sniffed the air and observed that Carthinal smelled like a sewer rat, but Bas was less restrained in his comments, and so Carthinal, grinning, left to partake of a bath. When he returned, he told them of his adventure in the sewers beneath the town, and that although he had got his pouch back, the boy had already sold the figurine. However, he was prepared to try to get it back.
 ‘You amaze me, Carthinal,’ said Fero. ‘How you managed to get a thief to return his ill-gotten gains I will never guess.’
‘No, friend, I don’t suppose you will,’ was all the reply he got. ‘I’ve got a test tomorrow, and so you will excuse me if I do some work for it, won’t you?’ and Carthinal began to open a book and read it.
Eventually, the others decided to leave him to it and go to bed.
The next morning, Fero and Basalt left the Inn to go in search of work. Fero decided to first go to the hiring hall where people looking for work could meet with potential employers. There were quite a lot of people putting themselves up for hire in various capacities, the largest being agricultural workers as it would soon be time for the spring planting. Fero stood in the area where the scouts and guides stood, it being close to the end of the time of year for hunting so there were few demands for hunters. There were not many others, and so he was fairly hopeful. There would still be a number of caravans travelling, and it would be increasing as the weather improved with the advent of spring. A man who was obviously a caravan leader soon approached him.
‘Are you prepared to travel over the Mountains of Doom to the Elven lands?’ he asked Fero. ‘There are some that don’t like crossing that range, I know, but you don’t look like someone of a nervous disposition.’
‘Not much frightens me,’ replied the ranger. ‘Do you want a scout? I’m afraid that I would be of little use to guide you as I’m not from these parts.’
‘A scout and a guard,’ replied the other. ‘That is if you are willing, and the price is right. What were you asking?’
Fero was just about to reply when a man came up to the caravan leader and tapped him on the shoulder, saying, ‘Excuse me, sir. May I have a word with you?’
‘I’ll be back in a minute to complete negotiations,’ said the caravan leader, and then he withdrew with the other man. They had an animated conversation for a few minutes and then the caravan leader walked away across the square and did not return.
‘I wonder what that was all about?’ wondered Fero. 
He was not worried as there was still plenty of time to find employment. Lunchtime came and Fero bought a pie from a nearby stall and a mug of ale. He sat in the sunshine on a wall and ate it. He would be glad to get some employment if only to get out into the countryside. As the Vernal Equinox and New Year approached, he was becoming more and more restless at being in the city. He loved the spring, when the birds were beginning to sing their songs and young animals were being born. He especially loved the pale green of the new leaves on the trees, and the pleasant soft rain that fell to water the early flowers. He could hardly wait to get out.
After he had eaten, he went back to his stand, and was approached several times. Each time, it seemed that the man or woman changed their minds. Sometimes he saw someone speak to them, other times he did not.
‘This is most odd,’ he thought to himself. ‘I could almost imagine that there was someone who was trying to stop me from getting work. Why that should be I cannot imagine. I must be becoming paranoid.’
Whatever the case, he had not found employment by the eleventh hour, so he returned to the inn where he found Basalt just coming in. Bas it appeared had done no better than himself in the job-hunting. He told Fero what had happened.

After leaving Fero at the door of the inn, Basalt told him, he had decided to go straight to the barracks to try to get a job with the city guard. He did not really know where he was in respect of the barracks so he determined to ask someone. Of course, typically, the first person he spoke to was a stranger to the city and had no more idea than Basalt himself, but the next man was more helpful, and told him that the barracks was close to the Western Gate.
Basalt made his way through the streets until he came to Southgate Street, and turned north along it until he came to the gates of Duke Rollo’s palace. From there he skirted the grounds and came to Western Avenue leading to the Western Gate. Along the way he passed an inn and two taverns before he noticed a small side road leading to a large building with a high wall surrounding it. A gate, above which was a crest depicting a fish and a bale of silk; indicating that this was a town of fishing and trade, opened in the wall. Below the first crest was another that bore a sword crossed with a crossbow. Basalt took that to be the symbol of the Hambara guard. He approached the gates and pulled on the bell that was hanging there.
Shortly, a man approached the gates saying, ‘Yes! What is it you want?’
‘I am looking for work as a guard,’ explained Basalt. 
‘Oh! Come on through then,’ the man replied, opening the gate, ‘The captain’ll see you in a few minutes. He’s busy at the moment. You can wait in the common room.’
The guard showed Basalt into the common room where there were a number of off duty guards sitting around. Some were sharpening weapons, others playing cards. Some were dozing in their chairs and yet others were exchanging meaningless banter, as is the way of guards and other military personnel. Basalt wandered over to a group that was playing a game of dice. He watched for a few moments as the game proceeded. He had never seen much point in games of dice, as it was pure chance as to how the dice fell with no skill at all involved. These dice were more complicated than the simple cubic dice of the mountain dwarves. Each of the dice had eight faces and so this made more combinations possible. This particular game seemed to involve three dice as well. He then wandered over to where there were some men playing cards. They were playing a game that was very popular on Vimar, called Rond. This involved skill as well as a little luck, and it was interesting to watch the tactics of the players as they tried to bluff and counter bluff each other and to guess each other’s cards without giving away their own hand. The players were all skilled and it seemed the game would go on for a long time. Judging by the pile of money in front of him, one player, a large blond man, had already won a great deal from his fellow players. 
Basalt left the Rond game to sit near a bar in the corner. The barman struck up a conversation with him.
‘New recruit?’ he asked.
‘Hope so,’ replied Basalt. ‘I’m waiting to see the captain now. I believe he’s busy.’
The other snorted. ‘I doubt it, but he’ll pretend to be to make it seem he’s important. He’ll keep you waiting for a bit then call you in as though doing you a favour.’
‘I hope he will. Do me a favour that is. I’m getting a little short of cash and need a job.’
Just then, a young sergeant came into the room from a flight of stairs opposite the bar. He approached Basalt and told him to follow him up the stairs to see the captain. The stairs led to a small landing and the sergeant knocked on a door at the top.
‘Potential recruit to see you sir,’ he said.
A voice said, ‘Come in then.’ And the sergeant opened the door to admit Basalt.
The room was very organised with a large desk in the centre behind which sat a large man with greying hair and one of the largest moustaches that Basalt had ever seen.
‘Want to be in the Hambara guard do you?’ asked the captain. ‘Why?’
The question took Basalt by surprise. ‘I’ve got experience as a fighter and I need a job for financial reasons,’ he told the other man. ‘I don’t believe there are any wars at the moment so there are no army jobs going, so I thought of a town guard and here I am.’
‘I’d like to give you a job. You look a strong and determined man, but I’m afraid my hands are tied at the moment,’ the captain told him. ‘Duke Rollo has decreed that we are not to employ anyone not born in Hambara, or lived here for at least five years. He thinks that outsiders may not have the commitment to the town at best, and at worst be in league with smugglers and bandits. There it is. Left to me I’d give you a job right away. You look as though you’d be good, and we’re rather short staffed. If you come back in five years, having lived here all that time. I’ll be delighted to employ you.’
He stood up and offered Basalt his hand to shake, which the dwarf did, saying, ‘I doubt I’ll be here or anywhere else in five years unless I can find a job pretty soon. Where do the blacksmiths or metalworkers have their workshops? I’m pretty handy at shaping metal as well as wielding it.’
‘Yes,’ replied the captain, ‘I expect you are. After all you are a dwarf and you are all pretty good metal workers.’
After finding the way to the blacksmiths in the area, Basalt decided that he needed something to eat so he set off to the nearest tavern. There were two very close to the barracks, and he went into the nearest. Here he had a tankard of ale and a pie. The tavern was lively with guards and others who worked in the area, but Basalt was not anxious to tarry, as he wanted to get on with his job hunting.
The afternoon was spent going round the blacksmiths’ forges in the industrial area. The first one that he approached was friendly, but did not have any vacancies. He suggested another man whom he thought was possibly looking for help, so Basalt set off for the second blacksmith.
‘Hello,’ said the smith as Basalt entered his forge. ‘Can I help you?’
‘I hear you’re looking for someone to work here, and I’m looking for a job,’ replied Basalt. ‘I’ve done smith work before, and I’m strong and skilled.’
‘I’m sure you are, you being a dwarf and all,’ replied the smith. ‘However, I don’t have any work at present.’
‘I spoke to another smith and he directed me here saying that he thought that you were looking for help,’ Basalt told him.
‘Well, I was, but I found a boy this morning. Strong looking lad that I can train up. Pity you didn’t come sooner.’
‘Oh well. Thanks anyway,’ said a disappointed Basalt.
The afternoon passed in the same way and by the time the sun was setting, Basalt had still not found any work so he made his way back to the inn where he found an equally disappointed Fero waiting for him.
The two of them sat down to eat a meal and were sitting drinking when Carthinal came back. They asked him how he felt his tests had gone but he was rather brief in his answers as he said that he felt the need to go and do some work in preparation for the next day.
So Fero and Basalt decided to go and explore the taverns of Hambara. They had a lot to drink that evening, consuming quite a lot of dwarven spirits when they found an inn that could supply the “right” brand, as Basalt said. It appeared that there were many brands, which varied according to the area from which it came and the family that made it. All dwarves had their favourite and there was great rivalry between the different areas and families as to the best. Of course, all these different brands had to be sampled at various taverns and inns, and so they were in a rather happy state of mind when they arrived back at the Golden Dragon.
When they returned to the inn, they found that Carthinal was fast asleep. Even in their drunken state they knew that the next day was important for Carthinal and they tried to refrain from waking him. Fero tripped over his bed and Carthinal turned over and muttered something.
‘Sh!’ cautioned Bas, in a whisper that was louder than was needed. ‘You’ll wake the mage. Don’ want t’be turned into a frog d’you?’
Fero started laughing and nearly choked himself trying to laugh quietly. ‘Don’ think he can. ’S not good enough yet. Anyway, frogs’re OK. Jus’a bit slimy’s all.’ slurred Fero.
‘I know some folks’d be good frogs then,’ replied Bas, and then began to giggle.
He fell back onto his bed laughing at his own wit, and so the pair of them spent the next half hour laughing and shushing each other until they managed to undress after a fashion and fall into bed.

Fero woke late feeling rather ill. His head hurt and his stomach felt as though someone was stirring the contents with a spoon. He opened his eyes and immediately wished he had not as the daylight was much brighter than usual and made his head hurt more. He heard a groan from Basalt’s bed.
‘I’m dying,’ groaned the dwarf. ‘The dwarven spirits were poisoned.’
Fero realised, now that memory was returning, that the pair of them had drunk far too much the previous evening and were suffering from the mother of all hangovers.   
‘No it wasn’t,’ he told the dwarf. ‘We just had too much. It’s a hangover not poisoned spirits that’s making you feel ill.’
‘Hangover?’ roared Bas, making Fero wince as his head pounded in time to Bas’s shout. ‘Insult me will you? I—NEVER—SUFFER—FROM—HANGOVERS. Bad drink will make me ill, but I never, ever get hangovers!’
With that, he collapsed back groaning, then reached for the water jug and was violently sick into it. ‘Poisoned we were,’ he muttered as much to himself as to Fero, who was not really listening as he was feeling as sorry for himself as Basalt was. ‘Poisoned. Not a hangover at all. We were poisoned!’
Eventually, the pair made their way gingerly down the stairs into the common room where they asked for a jug of water and two tankards, much to the delight and amusement of Mabrella. She could not help but tease them with offers of cooked breakfast and ale.
‘I’m never going to drink dwarven spirits again,’ declared Basalt with such vehemence that even Fero managed a smile.
‘Until the next time I suppose,’ he said to the dwarf, and got a glare for his trouble, but Basalt could not reply further as he had to rush out of the inn to be sick once again.
Eventually, they were both feeling a little better, but as it was nearly time for the lunchtime meal, they decided to eat before going out to resume their job hunting.

After eating and washing, and feeling almost human again, Fero returned once again to the hiring halls. The afternoon passed in much the same way as the previous day, and by the time the sun was setting he still had no employment. He decided then that he must get out of the city even if for only one night. He made his way across the large square to the inn. Here he went up the stairs to the room he was sharing with Carthinal and Basalt and collected his pack. On descending the stairs, he suddenly thought that his friends might be anxious if he just disappeared. He was not used to having others to think of as well as himself. He had been alone for a long time it seemed. He had not had enough formal education to be confident in writing, although he could sign his name, but he must leave them a message.
He left the inn and eventually, after crossing Doom Road, the main road out of the city to the east, he came to another main thoroughfare. It was known as Blue Lake Street as it led to the Water Street and the docks on the lake where the fishermen plied their trade. About half way along, he saw what he was looking for. A shop with a sign representing a quill pen. Here a clerk, or perhaps several worked and, for a small fee, would write letters or read them for clients. He entered and an elderly man looked up. He had a mop of snow-white hair, which looked rather unruly, as though he had been running his fingers through it. In fact, as Fero was preparing to speak, he did just that.
He squinted through his spectacles at Fero, and said, ‘I was just about to shut up shop as soon as I’ve finished this copy. I can’t work as well as I could in candlelight nowadays. What can I do for you young man? Is it a love letter? Most young men who come in here want love letters written.’
‘No,’ replied Fero. ‘I want to leave a note for some friends. How much do you charge?’
‘That depends on how long the note is. I charge by the word. Half a royal per word.’
‘That sounds all right,’ the ranger replied. ‘Will you write this down please?’
The man did so and Fero signed the letter and handed over the fee of 1 crown and 15 royals. He thanked the clerk and made his way back to the inn where he found Keloriff cleaning the bar. He gave the note to him and asked if he would be certain to give it to Carthinal or Basalt as soon as they returned, and with that he left the inn to head off for the open countryside.
He decided to go out at the Water Gate, as he rather liked the idea of sleeping with the sound of the lake lapping at its shores, so he quickly retraced his steps along Blue Lake Street to Water Street. When he came to the gate, he was surprised to see that the guards looked rather more alert than usual. To start with, there were two guards, one on each side of the gate, with halberds, and the sergeant was also in evidence.
As he approached, the two guards prevented his passage by lowering their weapons across the gate. The sergeant approached as he was about to remonstrate with the guards.
‘You! Come with me,’ said the sergeant. ‘We have reason to suppose that you have stolen goods on you.’
‘What is this?’ queried Fero. ‘There must be some mistake. I’ve got no stolen goods.’
‘Then you won’t mind us searching you, will you, mate?’ said the sergeant as he took Fero into the guardroom next to the gate.
‘Lads,’ he called to the two guards. ‘This is the one. One of you get the lieutenant, and the other one get in here and begin the search.’
‘Hey! What are you doing?’ Fero cried, as the guard, a rough looking man with a broken nose, grabbed the pack from his back. He was just about to reach for his sword when the other guard returned with a fourth man, obviously the lieutenant.
‘Well done, boys,’ said the lieutenant. ‘He certainly answers the description of the man we were told to look out for. Open his pack and let’s see what we’ve got.’
The first guard opened Fero’s pack and emptied it out onto the table. He rummaged through the things that had fallen out, then said, ‘Looks like we were wrong, sir. Nothing here.’
The lieutenant strode forward with his hands in his pockets, looking relaxed and confident. He hitched himself onto the table, leaving one leg on the floor, and looked with disdain at Fero’s worldly goods that were spread all over the table. 
‘Now, maybe if I look. Maybe my eyesight is better than that of the guards. Perhaps I’ll find something.’
With that, he got off the table and, turning his back on Fero, began to move the contents of the pack around.
‘Aha! What is this? I knew it. Abain, you must see about some spectacles.’ This was to the guard who had searched the pack. ‘Here is the necklace that Duke Rollo said was missing. It belonged to his late wife you know. He is very attached to it.’ He held up a beautiful necklace for all to see. ‘Do you deny that you were at the Palace yesterday morning?’
‘N-no,’ stuttered Fero, unable to comprehend what was going on. That the lieutenant had planted the necklace was obvious, but why was more than Fero could work out. ‘We, that is my friends and I, went there on business and…’
‘Yes! Thieves business. Did you find out where any other valuables were? Are your friends going to return tonight to get more?’
Fero decided that arguing was not going to get him anywhere. He had to think this out. Maybe he was not mistaken in thinking that someone was trying to prevent him from getting work after all, although why was still a mystery to him. Then the two guards seized him roughly, removed his weapons from him and dragged him to the stairs in the corner of the room. They descended them and pushed Fero into a cell, locked the door and left him.
He looked round. The cell was small and damp, no more than three paces on either side. Along one wall was a shelf that Fero supposed was to serve as a bed since it had a thin blanket folded at one end and an equally thin pillow. Above the “bed” was a small barred window. Fero could see feet passing occasionally, so he knew he was on the town side of the wall. The door through which he had been thrust was opposite this window and had a small grill near the top. Fero peered through and saw a face peering through a similar grill opposite.
‘What you done?’ asked the face.
‘Nothing,’ replied Fero, unwilling to talk.
‘Then there’s nuffin’ you need worry about. The Duke’s a fair one an’ all. Me, I expect t’ be topped. Th’ man I ’it’s bought it they tells me. Still, I did do it so ’e’ll ’ave me done. I’ll not plead guilty, mind. Allus a chance.’
Fero looked puzzled.
‘“Bought it?”’ he asked. ‘What does that mean? And “Have you topped?”’
‘Oh! Yer bein’ a furriner ain’t yer!’ the man replied. ‘I mean that th’ man I ’it ’as died, and the Duke’ll send me ter th’ gallows fer it.’
‘You sound unconcerned about your death. Aren’t you afraid?’
‘Yeah! Course I am, but I’ll not let them guards know. Got some pride left, I ’ave,’ he continued. ‘Any road, I reckon that Kal'era’ll keep me there in th’ underworld for a while and then send me back on th’ Wheel ter do better. A new life can’t be worse’n this un.’
‘But suppose she thinks that you are unsaveable and destroys your soul?’ Fero continued. ‘By your own admission, you killed a man.’
‘Yeah, but t’was an accident. I’m not like one of yon assassins ’oo kills ’cos ’e enjoys it, and fer money too,’ replied the prisoner. ‘ ’E started th’ fight. I were only a thief. No evil in that is there? Any road, even Kal’era’ll giv’ a person a chance t’improve, like. Send me back on t’Wheel I ’spect.’
Fero turned away from the door and left the man. He did not feel like arguing about religion and morality or anything else at the moment. He went and sat down on the bench. How was he going to manage in this cell? His friends would not come to look for him, as they would think that he was staying out in the countryside, and justice was not quick in the towns he had heard.
He began to wonder what the punishment was for theft. He knew he was innocent, but who would take the word of a stranger against that of a lieutenant in the guard, although why the lieutenant would want to frame him he could not imagine. Whatever the punishment was, he knew that for him it would be dire. He could not stand imprisonment. That would be the worst punishment he could receive. If, however, the punishment were the removal of a hand or even fingers, this too would have severe implications, as it would mean that he would no longer be able to use his bow. 
Fero felt the blackness. He tried to fight it, but could not use his usual methods of going out into the woods or doing something else to keep himself busy. Eventually, he turned over on his bench, faced the wall and gave in to despair.
Basalt had had a similarly disappointing time while enquiring amongst the metalworkers as he had had with the Guard and the smiths. As with the blacksmiths, they all seemed to want someone with less experience than the dwarf, or did not want to employ anyone at all. In a large town such as Hambara, Basalt found this state of affairs strange in the least. He wandered back to the inn, musing to himself. 
When he arrived, Keloriff approached him with the note that Fero had left for him and Carthinal. He thanked the man, but did not open it, as it would have been a waste of time since he had never learned to read. It was not a skill that he had required in the mines as a youngster and he had not bothered to learn since. He would wait until Carthinal returned and he would ask him to read it. He did not have to wait too long before Carthinal came in through the door. He was in a buoyant mood, as he had now received the results of three tests and had passed all of them, the second with distinction, and the third with a merit. Basalt was pleased for him and after congratulating the mage, he handed him the note.
‘It’s from Fero,’ Basalt told him. ‘I think it’s telling us he’s gone out of town. He was rather restless and feeling the need for some fresh air, I think. Can’t blame the lad. I feel a bit like that myself.’
Carthinal opened the note and read,

‘Carthinal and Bas,
I have been unable to find work in the city, and I am becoming suffocated here. I cannot breathe this air or stand the press of so many people any longer. I am going out of the city and into the woods for tonight. I will return tomorrow to try my luck again in the Hiring Hall. I will come to the inn after that and eat with you at least.

Carthinal and Basalt ate their meal, fish from the lake, baked with a kind of sweet potato and tomatoes and onions. They finished the meal with goat’s cheese and bread and washed it down with ale.
‘I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep you company this evening, Bas,’ apologised Carthinal to the dwarf. Tomorrow’s test is to be the most important, the practical, and I must ensure that I have enough rest. I hope you don’t mind if I go to our room now.’
‘Of course not, laddie,’ replied the dwarf. ‘Your test is important. I’ll find someone to while away the time with.
’While Carthinal was resting, or trying to, thoughts of what might happen in the test kept passing through his mind. When he eventually fell asleep it was to dream of being bereft of his magic and pursued through impenetrable forests by horrific monsters.
Basalt was not troubled by any such thoughts. He was concentrating on a game of Rond, which he seemed to be winning.
By the end of the evening, he had a nice pile of crown pieces stacked up by his side. These he placed in his pouch and said, ‘Thank you gentlemen. Any time you’d like to play again, I’ll be pleased to join you.’
One of the three other card players grunted that he was too good for them, and maybe they should try a different game next time, and then bid him goodnight. Basalt climbed the stairs feeling a little more pleased as he now had some more money, but was still concerned as to finding a job.
The next morning, when Basalt woke, he was not looking forward to the day as he was still searching for a job. There was still a lot of options open. There were other metal workers that he had not yet approached, and he could also carve wood quite passably, so failing metalwork, he would try his hand at woodwork.
The morning passed in a similar vein to the previous day, but in the late afternoon, in a narrow back street, he came across a small metalworker’s shop. The goods in the window were of a high quality, and so he entered. A young man was there, working on an intricate piece.
‘I’ll be with you in a moment, sir,’ the young man said. ‘Just at a tricky bit. Take a look around while you wait.’
Basalt took the young man at his word and looked. The goods were of a high quality. Not quite as high as he himself could make, but if the young man was responsible, he was not very experienced yet and eventually, Basalt thought he would make a top craftsman.
‘There! That’s done,’ said the young man with feeling. ‘Now, what can I do for you? Sorry to have kept you waiting. Is it a commission, or do you want to buy something from stock?’
‘Neither,’ Bas replied. ‘I’m looking for work.’
‘Really?’ The young man looked surprised. ‘Are you any good? Do you have any examples of your work? Sorry to have to ask, but I’m new here in Hambara and have yet to make my reputation. If I take on a substandard worker, my reputation will suffer.’
‘Yes, I understand. Don’t fret yourself, my lad,’ replied the dwarf, fumbling in his backpack. ‘Now where is it? Ah! Here you are.’ He handed a piece of jewellery to the young man who took it to the window to inspect. ‘I don’t have any larger pieces on me, but I can do wrought iron work for whatever function you require.’ Basalt told him.
‘This is superb work,’ said a rather breathless young man. ‘Why has a craftsman like you come to me for work? Surely you could get a job with one of the more established shops in the town?’
‘No. It seems that no one is looking for a master craftsman at the moment, surprising as it may seem,’ replied the dwarf.
‘Well I am,’ said the young man, surprising Basalt as he was expecting the usual reply. ‘We’ll need to negotiate your pay, of course. I can’t afford the wages that are paid by most of the others in town, but I would really like to have you work for me. This work is the best I’ve seen. You’ll make my shop famous if your larger work is as good. Maybe eventually we can become partners.’ The young man's enthusiasm threatened to overwhelm him, then he said,  ‘Are you sure you want to work here?’
Basalt replied in the affirmative and the two of them negotiated the rate of pay. It was considerably less than he was hoping for, but he knew the young man (whose name turned out to be Nitormon) was in no position to pay more, and so he made a token show of bargaining so as not to embarrass Nitormon. He also knew that in the future, Nitormon was going to make his name such was the quality of his work. They agreed for Basalt to begin work the following morning at the second hour.
That evening, Basalt returned to the inn in a much more cheerful frame of mind. He had a job, and he was looking forward to seeing Fero again, hoping he had also been successful, and also Carthinal as he was sure that he also would have something to celebrate.
He ate alone. Neither of his friends had come in. The evening was spoiled for him. He was worried. Fero had said that he would return to at least dine with them, and Carthinal should have been back from his practical test by now. Basalt hoped that the worst had not happened to Carthinal. Probably he had gone out to celebrate with the other candidates and would be back late, but his worry did not go away, and he fell into an uneasy sleep.
The next morning, when he woke and saw that Carthinal’s bed had not been slept in he was even more anxious. Perhaps he should go to the Tower and find out what had happened? Then he thought that he would look foolish and like an anxious mother if Carthinal was fine and had slept off his celebrations at the Tower. He could do nothing about Fero, but he imagined all sorts of things happening out in the wilds. So he set off for Nitormon’s shop. He entered, and was greeted by Nitormon warmly, and set to work on a complex piece of wrought ironware. It was to be a serving table for a rich house, one of those on the outskirts of the city. Nitormon worked alongside of him, and chatted about himself and asked few questions of Basalt, for which the dwarf was grateful. He did not feel in the mood for talking very much. 
    Lunchtime came, and he determined to go out of the shop and so he walked as far as the nearest tavern. His footsteps did begin to stray towards the Tower, but he made himself return. After lunch, he returned to the shop to find it closed. The door was locked and there was no sign of Nitormon.
He stood there puzzling out what had happened, when a passing woman said, ‘He’s gone. Don’t know where or why. I saw two men go in and a few minutes later, Nitormon came out with them, locked the shop and they all went off down the street. Nitormon looked uneasy, as though he didn’t want to go with them, but the men were big fellows so he probably had no choice. Hope he’s all right though. Nice chap, Nitormon. If you want to buy something, try Tendex in the main street. He’s almost as good. Goodbye.’
With that, she walked off leaving a puzzled Basalt standing looking at the shop. Bas could not think what Nitormon had done to be carted off like that. He could do nothing standing there though so he spent the rest of the afternoon worrying about his friends and his job and wandering the streets of Hambara until he decided to return to the Golden Dragon.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Hello everybody.

I'm off on holiday tomorrow. I may be able to post a few comments if the local WiFi permits, but if I am off for a couple of weeks, that's where I am.

 Thought! When I learned to drive, many long years ago, I learned that when entering a roundabout it was not necessary to give a signal until the exit before the one that I was taking. This was because there is only one way to go round a roundabout! Then came mini-roundabouts and somehow they were treated as normal cross roads and people began to give a right turn if they were taking the right hand exit.

In my opinion this has led to great confusion in signalling. Many people signal right turn when they are going to take the straight on option, thus causing confusion. There is a problem with roundabouts that don't have the standard four exits too. What do you do with five or six exits. If you signal right turn for the fourth, how does anyone know you aren't taking the fifth? Another problem is for people entering the roundabout. It is not always possible to see where a vehicle has entered and so they may be taking the exit before yours, or not. What signal do you give if you are going right round and back the way you came?

 Mini roundabouts are a menace too. People often completely ignore the fact that they are roundabouts. Many folk drive right over them, and one near to where I live, people actually go the wrong way round it! It has four exits, but two of them are very close together and so if people are taking the right-hand one, they simply drive down it as though the roundabout weren't there! I don't suppose they think of it as going the wrong way round, but they are.

This signalling is now actually taught to drivers, but in my opinion it causes more confusion than it clears up.