The crowd watched in awe as the man from the Abstract picked up a stone from one of their carts and added it to the sculpture. His gloved fingers rubbed against the hard pebble, not braking but twisting and shaping it as if it were as malleable as clay.
Cyme’s eyes glanced back at the various priestesses. The women sat on the stone benches that the bartender had made from a boulder. The rock, like its brothers that sat upon the carts had been what was left over from the famers attempts to make a fence.
Frank had picked it up as if it was feather and using his hands transformed it into a place for the priestess to sit. He then provided them pillows from his magical bag to nurse their backs.
Tiered from moving large, useless amounts of pebbles and stones for the past two hours, Cyme lay on the cart while Tila sat with the priestess, both of his employees watching their boss as he gave the members of the temple a new statue.
A giggle from a fourteen year old girl caught the Orian’s attention. From the heat that was radiating from Tila’s face it appeared as if the older women were gossiping about Frank’s negotiating tactics.
The look that the younger girls gave as they watch her master work reminded the Oria of a pack of wild dogs about ready to fight over a dead rabbit. They had not seen the monster’s true face as she had. They had not seen his cloak of night, they had not felt his voice stir something within them, they had not heard the song of his eyes.
Cyme winced at the memory and crossed her legs. How had she missed it? Why did she keep forgetting what he was? Frank wasn’t normal and she now doubted that he was even human.
Frank picked up a black stone and placed it at the back of the statue’s head. His hands were encased in curious black and silver gloves which Cyme suspected gave him the ability to shape the stone. Using his technique he gave the statue hair, braiding it along with other pieces of rock.
He stepped back and admired his work. The statue of the goddess ??? Was crafted from different types of discarded stone. The carving itself was of a large, had the body and face of grandmother who enjoyed her pork, and she was holding her hands out, palms pointed downwards.
Logically, that was if logic existed when Frank was around, it should have looked like a mess. The whole thing was made out of random pebbles, boulders, a few bones, and dirt.
Frank however, had made it like he was dressing a real human. First he got the proper shape of a bald and naked woman. This he had used the largest stones. Then he picked all of brightly coloured stones and used them like dye, creating ??? Robes. For the hair he used the darker stones. The pinker stones he used for her cheeks, brown he used to decorate the undersides of her finger and toenails, green used for her eyes, anything he held onto.
“How am I doing so far?” he called out to the women behind him who jumped at his words.
“Very good, Master Frank.” Said one of the senior members. A woman who Cyme had previously seen naked and laying face first in a pillow. She wasn’t incorrect, the statue would lure in many tourists and pilgrims.
“Do you want the hair up or down?” Frank asked.
The woman thought for a moment, “Up.” she decided. She looked around at her fellow members and not finding the right style, manipulated her own hair upwards. “Maybe like this.”
Frank added more stone and in less time then it took Cyme to prepare her own hair, he had it into an attractive style of a noble woman. “What do you think? A little too formal?”
“I think it makes her look pretty.” Said a ten year old girl. A young mother had brought her children to the temple for prayer, and captivated by the magical bartender’s abilities watched him work.
“Why is she so fat?” said a young farmer’s boy who got a kick in the arse by a younger priestess.
“Earth and fertility goddesses tend to be bigger than other goddesses. Big hips, big breasts. They are supposed to give off a mother or grandmother look. The whole wisdom, prosperity feel. The trick is getting that gentle zone but allow you to imagine that it would not be a good idea to make her angry.”
“Why not give her a spear?” Cyme said. As far as she was concerned the goddesses didn’t have enough of an arsenal.
“Ever gotten slapped by an earthquake? People really underestimate mother nature. War, lightning, magic, the sea. This woman could stomp them into paste if she got angry.”
The other priestess debated over this and a few younger girls grinned. Their goddess was not somebody who you messed with casually.
Cyme’s picked up the sound of horse hooves and she turned her head to see Het’sica and Petit coming up the road in their own cart. Before going to the senator’s mansion, Frank had bought their services in gold. The sorcerer and the Senator had charged them with securing Frank’s payment, whatever that was. Knowing him it would be a handful of chickpeas.
The boy from before escaped from his mother’s side and ran to Frank who was preparing some kind of handle, “What’s that for?”
Frank gave the boy an eye brow wiggle before he pumped the handle. The boy and the other woman gasped as fresh and clean water poured out from the goddess’ hands and onto the ground.
“Magic!” a priestess called out.
The sorcerer held his hand up to settle the crowd. “It works like a well. I connect a pipe to an underground water reservoir and use pressure to send the water up to the surface.” He smiled, “After all, why make a normal boring statue when you can turn it into something useful? Care to try?” he asked gesturing to the boy.
The boy, eager to play with a new toy went to work lifting and then bringing down the handle. He laughed as the water came out of the goddess’ palms.
Turning his head back to the crowd of amazed women, Frank spoke. “This invention will allow your order a trade good. Every household and farm will want one. I know you’re not merchants but you need to need somebody in your order to think like one.”
The priestesses looked to one another. One of their concerned members spoke, “What do you see, wish one?”
As the two witches pulled up, Cyme stretched and jumped down from her cart. It was time to collect her master’s reward.
“All I can say is that I think it might be an idea to build a school for both young girls and women.” Frank said. He tapped the statue, “As for this, I’ll come back later and we can barter for the schematics.”
A fresh wave of giggles, bashful looks, and wide eyes filled the courtyard.
The first thing that hit Cyme was the smell. A stench of rot, shit, piss, anger, fear, and jealousy. For some strange reason, rather then disgust the mixture of scents agitated the Orian, though she did not know why. She had never visited a Thebe prison before.
Thebes like most of the civilized world had been built on the backs of the conquered and the desperate. In every industry slavery was in use. Labour, entertainment, teaching, war. They were the harsh backbone of a cruel society.
The prison was nothing but a way station, the men and women inside its cages were just temporary guests. Normally thieves and lesser criminals were given to the slave auctions. But there always some who did not understand the program. Murderers, the insane, the brutal, the cowardly, the ones who proved too wild and uncontrollable for civilized society.
And so, they were doomed to die a quick and painful death.
Tila and Petit had been asked to stay outside. While the animals were behind solid doors and cages, two pretty women had little defence against the appetites of those who had nothing to lose. Het’sica should have joined them but Frank had needed someone who understood these monsters.
“I do not see the logic behind this, Master.” Cyme said.
“Oh, it’s master now?” Frank said amused. “What happened to sorcerer and swine?”
Cyme looked away in shame, “I did not know who you really were.” She trembled when she recalled the god-like being who hid under that mask.
Frank leaned into his latest servant, “She’s adorable when she’s flustered, isn’t she?”
Het’sica glanced at the Orian, “If you say so, master.”
“Now don’t you start to. Both of you just call me Frank.”
The bartender rubbed his nose, “This, this right here is why I don’t show people my serious side. Suddenly people start sacrificing chickens to me and start bowing and start holy wars just because they think it would make me happy.” he pointed to each of them, “So both of you stop it.”
This was not the reaction that Cyme had expected when she started to take her employer seriously. Did he not want her respect? Had she insulted him by not insulting him? She shifted uneasily, not sure how to proceed.
The guard who was in charge of escorting the three glanced back at the exchange with a raised eyebrow, He stepped in front of the first jail cell. “This here is Pergorgarus. Murdered his master, then he raped his master’s daughter. We caught him trying to get on a boat out of the city.”
“When is he scheduled for execution?” Frank asked.
“Tomorrow morning, milord.”
“May I go inside?”
The guard removed a set of keys. “I would advise you not to get too close to the criminal, milord. These scum would try anything to get out.”
“I hope so.” Frank said and entered the room, “You can lock the door behind me.”
Frank entered the criminal’s cell, leaving his servants outside with the guard. In the distance there was the sound of a whip cracking and a following scream.
The guard rolled back and forth on his heels, his eyes landed on Cyme. “So, you an Orian then?”
Cyme could understand the boredom that came along with guard work. The sounds of your charges screaming their innocence and freedom, the need to deliver a harsh backhand when it was called for. The knowledge that one mistake could get you a knife to the stomach.
She sucked in a breath, “I used to be.”
“We had an Orian officer in here once,” sensing the anger that was bubbling in Cyme’s eyes he made his voice soft, “Easy there. Just holding her until we ransomed her back to your queen. None of us touched her or anything, I swear by the Gods.”
Cyme calmed herself. The rules of neighbouring countries were clear when it came to spies and officers. If you caught one you were allowed to ransom them back to their sovereigns. The governing body then either bought them or denied their existence. It was all politics. Sadly the Enseen Empire did not have such lenient policies.
A knock came to the door and Frank polity said, “I can come out now.”
The guard quickly unlocked the door and the bartender came out, “Go Pergo. Go. You’re free now.” he gestured for the murderer to run out as if he were a dog needing a walk.
When the criminal didn’t immediately run off and escape into the prison, Cyme, Het’scia, and their escort peeked inside.
What they found, twitching on the cold stone floor was what could have been a man about ten years ago. The poor pathetic thing was all wrinkly skin and brittle bone. His eyes were sunken holes were two terrified eyes the colour of piss were staring at the opened door. The squirming thing held out a trembling hand and there came a sharp crack as ancient bone broke under its own weight.
“What in the Gods’ name happened to him?” the guard asked.
Frank smiled, “He gave me eighty years of his life if I let him out of this cell.” he gestured to the door, “as you can see, the door is open. He just has to walk out and he is a free man.”
Cyme and Het’scia’s mouths were open but the guard was looking especially like he wanted to introduce Frank to his sword. If what they had heard was correct, Frank had just taken eighty years of the criminal’s life.
“You, you.” The guard stammered. He put his hand on his sword, the fear of magic in his prison causing him to become stupid. Before Cyme could shove the guard into a wall, his eyes went wide as Frank pulled out a gold coin.
“I think that you want to take us to the next cell.” Frank said.
The guard shut up and took the coin.
One thousand and seven hundred of semi-precious human years was what Frank had obtained from healing Urilus Marus’s mad son. The prisoners had been given the choice between staying in prison and a public decapitation, or giving Frank how many years of their life he asked for.
They had thought that they would become the giant’s slave and most of them were secretly planning how to escape their contracts and flee. Fifty years, eighty years of service. None of them believed that they would live that long, so behind false smiles they had given Frank their remaining years.
The prisoners had just not expected that their strange saviour had meant it literally.
Almost all of the prisoners had died of old age, their bones had become fragile to the point that their ribs broke from their own weight. The ones who lived were either unavailable due to various reasons or had chosen to die then be another man’s property.
The guards who had been bought off promised that the evidence would be disposed of, and they thanked Frank for creating and donating to a widows and orphans fund.
Outside of the prison, Frank turned to Het’scia and Petit. He held out his right hand where two diamonds the size of a sheep’s eyeball lay, in his other hand were two bronze rings. “Your commission,” he said.
Hesitantly, Petit and Het’scia took a diamond and a ring.
“Put the rings on,” Frank said.
Het’sica’s eyes went wide and she did a double take at the mundane piece of jewellery, “What will it do? We told you, your secrets are safe with us, Frank.”
“Don’t you trust me?” Frank asked innocently, he smirked and even Tila gave him a sceptical look. “Fine,” he said and held out a third ring. “Tila, put it on and show them that it’s safe.”
Cyme could tell from the way her co-worker’s hesitation that Tila didn’t fully trust their master. Still, she put on the ring and it was like seeing night turn to day.
There was no glow, no flash of smoke, or thundering boom. Tila turned from a thirty year old spinster into twenty year old young woman. Unaware of the change herself Tila, now a young woman, became confused as she was gasped and stared at. “What? What happened.” She frantically looked at her body, trying to locate the change.
Their master explained, “The rings contain ten percent of the time I harvested from the criminals. Each contains fifty years of youth. I have set them to eighteen. Keep them on and you will not age a day for the next twenty to thirty years. You will remain eighteen.”
Almost as if it were a race the two witches put on their rings and suffered the same fate at Tila, their rejuvenated skin lost it wrinkles, their hair became stronger, their backs straighter, and their features younger.
Cyme almost didn’t recognise the pair. Het’sica and Petit spared a moment to look at one another before running to a nearby barrel water where they let out uncharacteristic girlish squeals of delight.
Frank nodded to both Cyme and a shocked Tila. “Let’s see how the Abstract is doing.” As they walked, Tila, the now youngest member of the group took every chance to peek at a puddle or polished piece of metal.
He looked at Cyme, “Still think I’m a poor salesman?” Instead of getting an answer, the sorcerer’s eyes focused on a number of men who were talking about something unimportant.
“Shit.” He cursed, “Cyme, try not to kill anyone if you don’t have to. Remember, you’re a bodyguard.”
Cyme was confused at first until she noticed that Frank’s attention drifted to two guards that were doing everything possible not to look at the giant, the Orian, and a pretty and young Tila. Her view shifted to the crowd of men whose eyes were showing excitement.
Then one of them glanced their way and her instincts told her what she needed to know. It had to be bad. It was broad daylight, it was in the middle of the street, the prison wasn’t more than a block away, and there were guards standing right there watching everywhere.
Inwardly she groaned and began to shake her muscles to attention.
If time is money, then how much can five dollars get me?
A drunk pensioner.