Chapter 15 Part Two: I'm Gonna Steal the Declaration of Independence
Clandestine didn't know what to do with herself.
She stood outside the Ruddlan gate for a few minutes, blankly staring into the city, through the gate, where James had already disappeared.
He really left.
She knew she shouldn't have expected him to stay. She knew it was foolish to expect anyone to want to stay with her, and she knew it was more complicated than that because James was wanted or whatever. She still didn't really know what for. Treason could mean a handful of things. Did he try to murder the king? Did he kill somebody else important?
She stopped herself, gripping Billy's lead rope a little tighter.
Those were all questions she would never get to ask, and for a moment, she wished she'd been brave enough to ask them earlier. Even if he didn't give thorough answers, at least she could've said she tried.
Biting her lip, Clandestine looked down at the dirt.
She didn't think she could picture James doing some heinous deed. When she tried to, it just seemed... wrong.
Billy nudged her in the shoulder. The bubble of Clandestine's thoughts burst and all the noises of the city flooded in again, washing her worried thoughts back into her subconscious. A wagon was coming up from behind and passed by her, going into the city. On first glance, out of the corner of her eye, she thought it was Diamond's wagon, but quickly realized it wasn't when she saw it was neither painted nor advertising questionable medical service.
She blew out a sigh through pressed lips, and Billy imitated the sound. A smile turned up the corner of her mouth and she reached back to pat his head.
"Okay," she said. "Let's go exploring, I guess. Maybe we'll actually run into Diamond again and I can ask him what he's doing with an egg."
The suggestion came out as a joke, but it suddenly occurred to her that she really could do that. The thought of a griffin's egg in the hands of a medicine maker made her nervous. She wasn't too caught up on the current attitude about griffins but judging from the griffin-fight arena and the general griffin imagery around the city gates, she wasn't sure if griffins were treated with respect, superstition, or a mix of both.
She couldn't imagine a griffin in captivity, nevermind one trained or conditioned for fighting for entertainment. Sure, griffins fought one another over food or mates or whatever, but... the Griffin Games was still weird to her, even though she'd overheard people mention it before.
Of course, when she heard them say Griffin Games back then, she thought maybe it was just named after griffins 'cause griffins were cool... not because real griffins were actually involved. In hindsight, it seemed like a dumb assumption to make.
What she knew about griffins was that they were very strong, noble beasts who were best left alone. That was the case with a lot of monsters, and like most monstrous creatures, griffins usually kept to themselves. They never went of their way to interfere with humans, and if they did it was usually because humans pushed into their turf, or because food sources had migrated, or some environmental circumstances outside of their control. Times like that would be when a monster hunter might step in to slay the beast, but they wouldn't usually go out of their way to hunt them just for sport. Monster hunting was about getting paid, as much as it was about adventure.
Of course, there were some beasts she'd really like to see... but not fight. Clandestine shook her head and finally hopped on Billy.
As interesting as looking for Diamond and his egg sounded, she felt like the responsible thing to do would be to look for work first. She didn't know what she'd do if she found him anyways, so she felt she should at least try to see if anyone was in need of a monster hunter. So she followed the main routes of the city looking in and out of stores, checking signs and walls for posters or notes that said people were hiring. She asked people if there was any monster hunting work, but everyone just seemed to point her to one place that would point her to the next, and the next, and the next...
She found herself going in circles, from one tavern and one shop to the next, no one seemed interested in her services. Was the town really that safe and secure? Did their partial walls keep all of the troubles out?
After enough wandering around the inner city, she felt like she was beginning to see a recurring pattern.
All of the places she was visiting seemed to be patrolled by the city guards. No wonder people didn't need the outside help of a freelancer. They already had people holding down the fort.
Clandestine found herself reaching this conclusion as she was wandering into the outer city. After three hours of running around town, she was feeling really discouraged. She hadn't realized how quickly she'd grown accustomed to having a partner. Doing everything and thinking of everything herself was exhausting, especially when all she was reaching were dead ends.
She led Billy through streets at a slow pace, keeping an eye open for any inns and stables with cheap fare. That, and somewhere with food that wouldn't give her the runs. She'd had... a few unpleasant experiences. She'd learned to sniff food before she ate it and taste a little before she tasted a lot.
Clandestine shook her head. She wasn't trying to relive that memory.
"Okay, Billy," she whispered softly to her horse beside her. "Let me know if you smell anything tasty." She smiled at him, but then her smile fell. "Uh, on second thought, maybe not. You'd probably just lead me to hay bales or something."
She came to a stop and stared out into the street. The roads were starting to clear more of traffic, and she realized not a lot of people ran around this part of town - nevermind travelers. The buildings had gotten a little shorter and a little smaller, and they looked older. The tall, pointed roofs were replaced by flat tin tiling at low angles. The fun mix of smells was replaced with one single smell she could recognize - some kind of meat being cooked in a place a few buildings down to the right.
The only thing that seemed to stay the same was the level of chatter, but judging from how many people were walking on the street, it wasn't coming from them. It was more distant and secluded. She looked over to Billy for permission to explore, and he just looked at her like he always did. Like a horse who didn't know what she was thinking. She grinned and hurried on light feet with him towards the source of the chatter.
The chatter led her through an alleyway, behind what looked like a small inn. One voice seemed to carry over the rest, and as she saw the edge of the crowd, she realized it was a voice she knew. And the guy on the little platform in front of the small crowd of people was someone she [i]knew...[/i] as much as someone could know a sketchy medicine salesman.
It was Mr.Diamond. People from the small crowd were calling out numbers, going higher and higher, and Diamond enthusiastically called out from one to the next, until finally, someone said "four thousand," and everyone fell quiet.
Diamond searched the crowd for more bets, but the silence only stretched out like an uncomfortable, scratchy blanket.
Finally, he broke it.
"That's it then! One one-of-a-kind, pearly white, genuine, fertilized griffin egg for the fellow in the red striped shirt!" He gestured a hand for the burly man to follow. He walked on heavy feet up towards Diamond. Diamond looked at the remaining people in the crowd. "Now everyone else, scram!"
Clandestine didn't scram. She stayed frozen at the edge of the crowd, halfway in the alleyway. She was so confused.
People sold griffin eggs? What for? Was someone going to eat it? Was it some bizarre kind of delicacy?
Diamond and the burly man didn't seem to notice or acknowledge Clandestine's existence as they exchanged hushed words and what had to be a sack of money. She could see the other Diamond brother standing next to that same, painted wagon behind the small platform of a stage, looking as if he was as bored with life as he'd ever been.
Diamond - no, Sir William Diamond, if she could recall - pointed over to his brother, and the burly man walked behind the stage to meet him.
Clandestine couldn't wait any longer.
She hurried forward to meed William Diamond the moment he stepped off the stage.
"Pack up the wagon after-" He started to call out to his brother, but cut himself off. He must have sensed her coming up behind him, because, before even turning around, he began a whole shpiel.
"Ah yes I can always sense the approach of a customer!" he said without turning towards her, but instead striking a pose with his hands on his hips, apparently trying to impress, but all it did was make Clandestine feel awkward.
"Sadly I am all out of wares to sell!" he continued. "But perhaps you can tell me what you desire and the great Sir William Diamond may find it for you, at a reasonable price even!" He finally spun around on his feet with a wide grin, showing off his pretty spectacularly white teeth, but the moment he saw Clanny, the show was over. The smile faded and he just looked more annoyed than anything.
"Of course I would waste energy on you again," he said bitterly, all shows of friendliness gone. He stood up straight and patted the sides of his white suit to straighten it out. Clandestine was honestly relieved he dropped the act. "What do you want this time?"
"I'm surprised you even remember me, first off," she said.
"Of course I would, I never forget the faces of non-customers wanting handouts," he said, looking her up and down with a look of disappointment. Clandestine looked down at herself, suddenly aware of her appearance.
She didn't look bad, did she? James would've mentioned if her hair was really messy or something, right?
He tapped his foot, clearly getting impatient with her. She brushed a stray hair behind her ear.
"Right, uh, I just wanted to know more about that egg you were selling? And why there are griffins... everywhere, I guess."
His eyes perked up a little bit and his grin started to creep back as if shifting back into his sales pitch mode. Clandestine internally groaned.
"You mean to tell me, you've never heard of this amazing city? Why this is the city where dreams can be made reality! Or crushed into fine dust," he said, his voice even altering in tone as if he were trying to sound fancier than he was. He walked around her in circles, and every time she looked at him he had a different smiling expression. It was unsettling.
"Riches! Glory beyond imagination could be claimed by the simplest of beggar here! And it all starts at the griffin games!" He finished with his arms wide open, before settling down into a casual pose while rubbing his chin.
"I could, of course, help you on your adventure to riches for a small service fee. You see, I do fancy myself a bit of an expert in the griffin arena. I could let you in on some secrets on who to bet on, and I always have a keen eye for the most vicious griffins that are sure to stand proud in glorious victory!" He held his pose as if he expected her to melt with excitement at his offer of riches. When he finally looked at Clandestine, he jumped back a little. "Wh- What's with that look!?"
Clandestine hadn't realized her frown was so prominent and stern. Her frown only deepened. When James mentioned the griffin games, she wasn't sure what to picture, but William's description only burned in her gut. She was not entertained by the thought at all. As a monster hunter, it was her job to kill wild beasts, but it was only out of necessity or if they were hurting innocent people. She never did it for sport or pleasure, and she definitely didn't force monsters to fight each other for amusement.
She took a step towards William. "So you're telling me people force griffins to fight here... for entertainment?"
"Well, yes," Diamond said flatly, regaining his composure and returning to his annoyed state. He sighed. "Well, that was all a big waste of time, and time is money, so it's time I said goodbye."
Without further adieu, Diamond turned on his heels and began to walk off, snapping at his brother to ready the wagon. His brother hesitated, looking over at Clandestine curiously, but another stern look from William sent him back to work.
Clandestine watched as the wagon and the horses kicked up dust behind them. As their wagon pulled away, she could see the burly man close the back of his own wagon and hurry off after them.
That guy now had a griffin egg, and if he didn't kill the baby griffin first, the griffin was probably going to end up in the games...
Clandestine glared at the two wagons. That egg didn’t deserve to pass through their hands... it deserved to grow up among its own kind. She gripped Billy's lead with a face set in determination. It looked like she finally found a job.
She was going to steal the egg.