Fritz thundered off into the forest shouting, and Arkh took a moment to collect himself. He was pretty sure he had missed, but he’d just loosed his crossbow, and he was pretty sure it was at another person. He’d never done that before.
Waking Goldie was an experience, but she made enough noise that he didn’t really have to bother with anyone else. “Fritz just ran off into the forest,” he sputtered out nervously. “I think he saw something.”
“Wha’ was it?” Albin asked as he stood up. There was so much hair, Arkh genuinely couldn’t tell if the dwarf was nude or not.
“I’m not sure, but I think he thought it was a thief.”
“It was,” Beefstick interjected. “My pack is missing.”
“Aye, and a smart one, too,” agreed Albin. “Sod cut the straps on my armor. These’ll need stitching later.”
“Later?” Arkh inquired.
Beefstick bleated. “Someone took our stuff. We gotta go get ’em.” They all hefted weapons and had magic at the ready.
“Oh, alright. I’ll uh… I’ll be right with you then.” And with that, the camp was empty, save Arkh. He wanted to see what the thief took from him, if anything. “Can’t imagine anyone seeing anything valuable in my pack,” he mumbled to himself as he opened it up, “just a bunch of maps and pa—”
Arkh was four years old. He handed his mother a piece of paper she’d given him, eager to show her his work. She smiled at the drawing, and asked “is this the Abbey?” He beamed with pride as he nodded furiously.
Arkh was seven years old. His heart threatened to beat out of his chest as the Abbess hung his map on the wall, saying it was, without question, the best and most accurate depiction of the region she’d ever seen.
Arkh was nine years old. His eyes welled with tears as the Abbey passed out of view, his bottom already sore from the wooden bench of the Cartographer’s wagon. He would distract himself over the next few days by mapping their long journey to Cliffport.
Arkh was fifteen years old. He did his best to hide his embarassment as the instructor asked what the dark stain in the middle of his map was. He lied, explaining it as an ink spill that he’d cleaned up. He didn’t want to admit he’d stayed up all night perfecting his map, and had drooled a little when he’d fallen asleep on it.
Arkh was ninteen years old. He’d just been given a new master, a Cartographer named Banagama or something. No Cartographer had ever complimented his work the first time they saw it, but this new one did. Interesting.
Arkh was twenty-two years old. The other Apprentices were going into town to celebrate Apprentice Erikson’s birthday. They had pooled their money, and were going to buy him a bed at the bordello with it. Arkh wanted to go, but his Reach maps were severely lacking in quality, and he really needed to update them. He had more fun that night than any of the other Apprentices, even Erikson.
Arkh was twenty-seven years old. He held in his hands the last map Banagher had approved, before being promoted away. He had never been more proud of anything than he was of this map. Focusing as hard as he could on the map was the only way he could keep from crying, as the physicians of House Grav explained the situation to him. He’d never had many friends, but Banagher had been one of them.
Every single map was gone. All of them. His calling, his purpose. His triumphs and his failures, his achievements and his aspirations. The variegated pages of his life… stolen away in the night.
In that moment, nothing else mattered. There was no forest, there was no thief, there were no mercenaries, there was no crossbow in his hands. There was only a hammer, and a distance between hims and his maps. There was an obstacle, there was pain, and then there was nothing.
While he slept, he saw what he’d done. He saw the fury that ran in his blood, and the face of the thief that took his maps. Just a kid. He saw the fear in the kid’s face when he saw Arkh. He saw Albin in his way, and he saw how good of a warrior the dwarf was. Not just skilled, but good. They were all good. They saw a scared and desperate kid, and forgave him. Protected him. That’s what good people do.
Arkh woke to Albin’s face. “Ye were out fer a few minnits there, lad.” The other mercenaries were around, clearly positioned between Arkh and the kid. Arkh rolled over wordlessly and gathered his things.
Arkh was twenty-seven years old. He felt nothing but shame.