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Chapter 6: Father and Son

May 12, 2023
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All kids will eventually have to face the world on their own, but that never makes it any easier.

“Absolutely not Rom, you’re not going anywhere!” Seri’s face was flushed as he paced up and down the planks of the kitchen, gesturing wildly with his hands. “To Anchormarsh? With a brute like HIM!? Absolutely out of the question.”

“Hey, woah Seri! I’m right here.” Gontro raised his hands in a defensive gesture from his seat in the corner. While his body language feigned insult, his eyes smiled at Seri.

Seri snapped back. “I am talking with my son if you don’t mind.” Gontro nodded, but not without a small chuckle.

“Da, he’s going to take me to The Tournament.” Rom’s voice cracked mid-sentence in his excitement. “On the way, he can teach me so much about Chance. He even showed me how to use one of nan’s old tokens.”

“Rom, there’s things to learn here too.” Seri put his forehead in his hand, rubbing to relieve his pounding headache. “Chance is a part of most people’s life, but it’s just a game son.”

“How can you say that as the son of Harriet Destudo!? She was the greatest there ever was, and I want to follow in her footsteps!” Rom shouted indignantly, his hands on hips.

“Rom, I grew up with all that and–” the kettle whistling interrupted Seri. Gontro rose to pour the tea. Seri’s eyes drifted around their small cottage as his mind drifted back to his childhood — Harriet always out on a quest or on tour. “She did what she had to so we could eat. We don’t need this… you don’t need this.”

“I do need this da! It’s my destiny!”

Seri rolled his eyes. “Don’t be foolish Rom. You’ve got years ahead of you to figure out what your life is.” Gontro handed a cup of tea across to Seri. Momentarily forgetting his hatred of the orc, Seri thanked him as he took a deep sip. He looked at the teacup… fine imported porcelain from the near East. He’d built all he had without childish delusions of greatness at Chance. “At any rate, I am your father. The answer is no.”

Rom looked at his father for moment. Seri had never listened to his dreams or cared what he wanted out of life. He only wanted to get by… Rom wanted to be great. He leaned in and slammed his hand on the table. “I don’t care what you say! I’m going anyway!” He had never talked to his father this way, and he had a feeling there was no going back.

“Rom, don’t you star… start to mouth.. Off to m…” Seri swayed in his chair a bit. He swallowed deeply, then looked confusedly at the tea cup in his hands. His eyes muddied and struggled to focus around the room. Suddenly coming to his wits, his eyes squared on the orc across the table. “You!”

“No hard feelings Seri. Boy says he’s going one way or t’other. I’ll make sure he’s ok.” Gontro slung his bag over his shoulder and gestured for Rom to come with him. “Can’t argue with a kid’s destiny, right?”

Seri focused on Gontro, though with great difficulty. Head swimming now. “Don’t you… you leave my son alone.” He gripped at the burlap tablecloth, desperately trying to stay upright.

“Tell you what Seri, you just sleep off that tea and don’t worry about a thing. By the time you wake we’ll be halfway to Anchormarsh.” Gontro turned to look at the slumping Seri over his shoulder. “If it’s a problem, we can always play Chance to sort it. No? Hmph, that’s what I thought.”

Seri gazed at Rom before he closed his eyes and slumped out of his chair entirely. “Will he be ok?” asked Rom, suddenly concerned for his father.

“Ya, he’ll manage.” Gontro said with a little chuckle. “Mean headache, but he’ll be fine in a few hours. Come on kid, let’s go get that destiny.”

“I can’t understand why you allow the shop to get into this state!? Don’t you take any pride in your work at all?” Noggin filled his hands with cobwebs from the display case with only two swipes. The shop was atrocious. It looked positively ready to be condemned… even worse than normal.

“Ugggh, it’s called aesthetic father. You wouldn’t get it.” Al turned to walk away from Noggin with a huff.

Noggin clasped the young gnome by the shoulder. “Listen, your little cult isn’t an excuse to be lazy. It’s just bad business.”

Al turned suddenly, his blase attitude replaced by rage. “It’s not a cult! It’s a guild, and I’m a sworn initiate!”

Al rubbed his brow in annoyance. “Listen to yourself. A ‘sworn initiate’?” Noggin remembered his son as he was a decade or so ago… long, flowing blonde hair… now died black. Naive, childlike eyes, now lined in dark makeup. A tear came to his eye. “You change the way you dress, act, talk… feels a lot like a cult Al.”

While martial skill is largely unnecessary outside of N.O.T.E.C. sponsored exploration, there are many niche guilds that keep the traditions alive with alt fashions and strange customs.

The young gnome grabbed Noggin’s hand, wrenching it off his shoulder. “We’re a dedicated group of night blades who respect the old ways of the rogue– assassin and trickster alike.”

He pushed away Noggin and stormed towards the back door of the shop towards the forge yard, shouting behind him, “Why can’t you understand father? To discover the secrets of the darkness is my destiny!

With this Al stormed out the back door of the shop into the forge yard, leaving Noggin alone with his troubles.

Little Al was nearly 50– a grown gnome by classical tradition. Noggin knew it was time to let him choose his own path, but a life skulking around and playing spy with these death fanatics!? In these times, Noggin missed his wife. Slocka had always had a special connection with Al, and since she’d gone Noggin had never quite been able to bridge the gap between him and the boy.

With Al gone, he continued to clean cobwebs alone. He often was hard on the boy about his work around the shop instead of connecting with him about any other part of his life. Noggin didn’t know why he always made it about work — in truth, the shop had seen next to no customers in years. They were surviving at this point by doing contract duplication work for other tokensmiths in nearby towns. Was what Al wanted to do really that much more dismal than the path Noggin had put him on?

Just as he reflected on the absolute lack of traffic that had come into his place of business in years, a sudden poof of dust from the door as sunlight invaded the dingy room. CREAAAAAK. In strode that brigand Gontro. Behind him, much more timidly, came a young human boy. As he entered, he asked Gontro, “Are you sure we’re supposed to be here? It smells like something died… a while ago.”

“I am not dead yet.” Noggin shouted indignantly as he walked briskly towards the pair. “Welcome to my shop. How gracious you are to be so complimentary of my place of trade and home.”

“Hey Noggin!” Gontro clapped the gnome on the shoulder as he approached, then gestured back to the boy. “Rom, Noggin. Noggin, Rom.”

“Sorry sir, I didn’t mean to offend.” Rom cast his eyes down with embarrassment… very, very down to dodge the stare of the robed gnome who was several hooflengths shorter than he.

After a pause, Noggin sighed. “It’s ok. It is pretty rough in here. Was just talking to my son about that a minute ago.” His gaze softened as he spoke, then he looked back and forth between the two, concerned glance returning. “What are you doing traveling with this oaf? Has he hurt you?”

“What!? No!” Rom was taken aback and looked to Gontro, confused.

“Nothing like that Noggin. He wanted to come along. This is Seri’s kid.” He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head towards Noggin. Noggin immediately understood. Noggin wasn’t as old as Gontro, but he remembered Seri and Harriet well. He also remembered Seri’s attitude towards Gontro.

“Woah, woah. This is not what I thought was happening when you said you’d be back in a few days.” Noggin threw up his hands and began to back up, shaking his head. “Does Seri know he’s here?”

“Yeah, he knows. It’ll be fine.” Gontro walked after the little gnome, covering three times the distance with each stride. “Just put us up for the night, you can work tomorrow, then tomorrow night we fast travel to Anchormarsh.”

Noggin stopped in his tracks and raised his eyebrow. “For The Tournament?”

Gontro smiled and nodded. “Think of all those people who will see your craftsmanship. Every serious player in Tolkheim. The Nine themselves!”

Noggin paused for a moment. His business had crumbled, his love was gone, he was losing his only son day by day. To have his creatures stand on the in the Grand Coliseum at the great Tournament of Chance…. It could turn everything around. He looked around his crumbling shop. Empty shelves, cobwebs and broken dreams seemed to be all he had left.

He stared squarely at Gontro. “You leave tomorrow, I get paid up front.” After a pause he glanced quickly at Rom who seemed totally lost in what was transpiring. “And absolutely nobody gets hurt.”

The smile momentarily wiped off Gontro’s face before he nodded somberly. “Nobody gets hurt old friend.”

Just then Al reappeared through the back door. At first he didn’t notice the almost unheard of occurrence of actual customers in the shop. Absent-mindedly flipping a tiny dagger in his hands, he still had not noticed the two when he walked straight into Gontro’s knee.

As he gathered himself up from the dusty floor he pulled another dagger from its sheath on his belt and pointed them both up at the (relatively giant) orc with a flourish. “Cursed travelers from beyond the pale of the night realm! Stand behind me father, and take shelter in the darkness!”

Gontro cooed in glee. “Awwww!!! A real-life Night Blade? It’s been at least 100 years.” He grabbed Al by the scruff of his neck and picked him up. He proceeded to tickle the young gnome’s chin while Al swung his blades and kicked wildly.

“Gontro! Put my son down!” The gnome sounded furious, but quickly continued with a more scolding tone. “Though it does serve you right, son. We haven’t had customers in months then you pull knives on the first two!? I raised you better than that!”

Gontro dropped Al abruptly onto the dusty plank floor. “Aw come on, go easy on him. He’s just doing the Night Blade thing. Is there actually a guild here, kid?” Al nodded, rising again from the floor. “What do you even do anymore? I mean, there really aren’t assassinations and espionage these days.”

Al puffed his chest proudly. “We honor the darkness by honing our blades and our bodies to be ready for when the nightmares again return to the land beyond the — ”

Gontro cut him off. “You know what, that’s about as far as my caring goes. Still though, good on you. Night blades are cool.”

They’re going to be staying the night with us, Al.” Noggin began to walk towards the back door. He needed time in his forge yard to think. Tomorrow, he’d have to repeat three of his life’s greatest works in one day.

“We are all welcome in the night, friends, and I apologize for my impasses. Follow me to your lodgings.”

Gontro leaned down to Rom. “What a weirdo,”

“He just believes in something. What’s wrong with that?” Rom quietly retorted.

The orc laughed. “Like I said. Weirdo.”

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