Alfsonso Armstrong Part 4
Bard’s Note: Thanks to @theshapeshifter100 for writing these! Cut added for length.
It thankfully didn’t take as long to reach the hall, this queue moving a lot quicker. The queue had thinned out behind him at least, and once he got near the front he could see there were multiple desks so everyone could be seen quickly.
The large hall echoed with voices and beams crisscrossed overhead, lanterns lighting the desks and hanging on the walls. They made the otherwise dark space a bit more cosy and welcoming, even though it was still bureaucratic. Glass chutes streaked overheard with rolled up papers flying through with a pop every now and again.
Alf was called forward quickly, and handed over the form to the new person at the desk.
“Good afternoon,” they greeted quickly, and Alf nodded as they adjusted their glasses and looked it over.
“Ex Royal Guard?” they looked over their glasses. “And just looking to travel?”
“Are you aware of the rumours of the Royal Guard becoming a more country wide force?”
“I was not,” Alf admitted. “But I am an old man with old habits. The country is moving forward, and maybe it would be better without an old dog like me in it.”
“I would hardly call you old,” the clerk raised an eyebrow at his written age, “but if you insist…”
“Is there something the matter?” Alf asked as the clerk trailed off, seemingly in thought.
“I’m going to put this into review, just to be sure. Come back tomorrow and I will give you a definitive answer,” the clerk took the form and slipped another piece of paper across the counter, but Alf didn’t take it.
“Into review? Why?! I am not going to queue again!”
“Please calm down, and if you get here early enough it shouldn’t be a problem,” they responded briskly. “There is an inn across the way that regularly takes under review travellers, show them this paper and tonight’s stay and tomorrow’s breakfast is on us.”
“And what if I don’t leave?” Alf was tired, and was wondering how far he could push this.
“You won’t be getting a different answer out of me,” the clerk’s voice was cool now, speaking to Alf in a way he realised he wasn’t used to, or expecting. “And the more you kick up a fuss, the less inclined I am to put a good word in.”
Alf bristled in indignation and his hand gripped his sword hilt. How dare they-!
No. He wasn’t Alfonso anymore. He was just Alf, an ex-Guardsmen. Guardsmen were used to taking orders. If he was going to do this, then he needed to act the part.
He let out a long, calming breath.
“My apologies. I’ve been travelling all day. I lost my temper. I am sorry.”
“Understandable,” the clerk nodded, and Alf took the piece of paper on the desk, which detailed the clerk’s Chosen Name and note saying his form was under review. Turning it over revealed the name of the inn and a note saying exactly what the clerk had outlined, all stamped with an official seal.
“I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow Sharp,” the clerk bid farewell, and Alf only had a second to realise that they were using the Chosen Name and to try and respond appropriately. Before he could stammer anything out the clerk slammed down a small mallet and called out. “Next please!”
Alf stepped back a little bit as someone else came up to the desk, and hovered there for a few seconds before following the trickle of people coming out the other end. Since he didn’t have the right paperwork he slunk away, trying to work what had happened.
Had, had he been recognised? His hand went to his beard and ran through his hair. Surely not, he barely recognised himself right now. Had his behaviour given him away? Was there something else?
The sun was starting to set as he tried to calm his rampant thoughts. It didn’t matter. If it all went wrong he was still the best swordsman in the country. Even if he was rusty, he’d be fine.
Part of him, a part he wasn’t sure about touching, was oddly okay with being discovered, of being dragged back to Triti to see what kind of ruler this Thomas was.
He stopped at the top of the street and looked down it, seeing a swinging copper sign to two hands clasping at the forearms. He checked the bit of paper and matched it to the inn in front of him. The Open Arms. The right kind of cheesy for Puerta Casóm.
It was a large inn, before he even went in he could see how tall it was, a good 5 stories high and easily as wide. The front was painted white and a bit sun bleached, with blue and pale grey shutters either open to the sea air or closed against the weather.
He adjusted his cloak and went through what he assumed was the entrance. It was an open door at the front, so it made sense. After the clerk earlier he was second guessing everything he thought he knew about how people acted.
It seemed to be right, as there was a desk against a wall covered in hooks, some of them had keys, some didn’t. There were a couple of people behind the heavy wooden desk, one was already dealing with someone, while the other looked up as Alf entered.
“Well hello!” they greeted as Alf approached. “What can we do for you?”
“I have this slip from the docks,” he put it on the desk and they took it, glancing over the back of it.
“Alright my dear,” they turned away to grab a key from behind them. “This is your room key, 3rd floor. Since you’re waiting for word from the dock breakfast is included tomorrow morning, but dinner this evening is not. You can get breakfast from 6am to 10.”
“Thank you,” Alf took the room key and with a nod he disappeared off upstairs.
His room was open and spacious, with a bed which he initially thought was small, but after a minute or so he guessed was more average size. Even so, after several months on the road, any bed size was welcome.
He took the time to shed his cloak and sword before falling face first onto the bed. He sunk down into it, and felt for a moment like he was lying on clouds. He almost fell asleep right there and then. Alright, waiting for this review was concerning, but if it meant he could sleep in a bed, then he would happily take it.
Breakfast the next morning was downstairs on long trestle tables. Guests mingled on the benches and grabbed smoked fish, fresh fruit, yellow turmeric bread or kelp bread and bowls of various jellies and jams.
Alf grabbed fish and bread first, downing it with watered down fruit juice. He didn’t really want to dawdle too much here, but this was also the most food he’d had in front of him in months. He inhaled food until he felt like he might burst, and staggered back up to his room to get his papers.
He’d taken longer than he’d wanted to, so Puerta Casóm was busy when he left the inn. There was already a decent line to get back into paperwork building. Thankfully, it didn’t take as long this time and after showing the slip from yesterday, he was directed to the same clerk as yesterday.
They looked over their glasses at him as he approached.
“Ah, welcome back,” they shuffled under their desk for the right papers and placed them on the desk. “My apologies for yesterday, reviews are mostly formality. You have to understand, anyone claiming to be ex Royal Guard is going to catch some attention.”
Alf struggled to keep expression neutral. Still, ex Royal Guard would draw less attention than Alfonso Armstrong.
“I just want to clarify a few things. No family? No one to contact?”
The clerk nodded a little bit. “You left your destination blank, did you have any thoughts at all of where you want to go?”
The clerk’s face softened to sympathy. “Alright. Immediately?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Very well. There’s a ship sailing to Duilintinn later today. From Fionport you could go almost anywhere else, with less time pressure from the weather. Are you able to provide labour or would you like to pay for passage?”
Alf fished in his coin purse and dropped what he hoped was the right amount of money onto the counter. He really didn’t know how much this would cost, surely it would be more than the bread and fish he had yesterday?
The clerk eye’s widened and they pushed back half the coins. “Paying extra will not grant you extra perks. The ship only has so much space and you are a last-minute passenger.”
“Ah,” Alf let them their own conclusions about that as he scooped his money back into his pouch.
The clerk scribbled something down, stamped it and slid across yet another piece of paper before rolling up something similar and sending it through a chute.
“Show that to the crew of the Blue Rose and you’ll be good to go.”
“Thank you very much,” Alf took the paper. “And again, my apologies for my outburst yesterday.”
“It’s quite alright Sharp. The double doors at the end will take straight to the docks, then head north for the trading vessels.”
Alf nodded his head and began to walk down to the far end. He heard the clerk bark ‘Next please!’ as he walked away, and another passenger stepped up behind him.
He blinked as he stepped out into the sun again, shielding his eyes with one hand, and about a hundred metres away was the entrance to the docks. The smell of salt, which had been prevalent throughout the city, was significantly stronger here. He could hear shouting and clanging echoing, and felt oddly at home. It almost sounded like the Royal Guard Barracks.
He entered the docks main, which were massive. They curved gently with the lay of the land, and looking southwards from here Alf could see the main hub of the Fishing Guild. A large building of Waldren architecture, gleaming white. That said, there appeared to be scaffolding around it, perhaps repairs or repainting?
Given the proximity of the Fishing Guild hub, that part was mostly fisherman, so he turned to go north, as the clerk had suggested. Gulls screeched overhead as he passed and he had to be quick on his feet to dodge dock workers, who darted back and forth at great speed.
Not all the docks were occupied with ships, but most of them were, desperate to get out of Puerta Casóm before the summer storms hit. Alf glanced down at his paper to remind himself of the name, and kept an eye out for The Blue Rose.
He paused and squinted at one ship which he thought had the right name, and walked a bit closer to be sure. The Blue Rose had three masts and was made of dark wood mostly, flying Duilintinn’s flag.
People he assumed to be crew and dockworkers were loading crates of what he presumed to be goods to sell onto the boat, and he approached the person who seemed to be shouting the most at them. They were well built with a weather beaten face, bleached blonde hair tied back into a tight ponytail behind them.
“Excuse me,” Alf spoke, and they glanced at him.
“One moment. CAREFUL! IF YOU DROP THAT INTO THE WATER YOU’LL BE LOOKING FOR WORK ON ANOTHER SHIP!” their accent was definitely Duil as they shouted to a couple of people hauling one of the many crates on board. Once that on was safely aboard they turned to Alf. “Can I help ya?”
“Yes, hello, I believe I am to be travelling on this ship?” Alf held out the paper to them and they took it, glancing it over.
“Ah yeah. Heard we had a last-minute passenger. Cap’ain should have all your papers, or at least she will do soon. Passenger quarters are on the upper decks, but you will be sharin’. You got all your stuff?”
“Yes,” he hadn’t taken a lot anyway. “and sharing is fine.”
“Well it’s either that or sleepin’ on deck,” the crew member jerked their thumb towards the gangplank. “Up ya go.”
“Thank you,” Alf took his papers and went up the gangplank, feeling a little bit of nostalgia. It had been a long time since he had been on a ship. Most likely the last time he had visited Duilintinn actually, some meeting between Nereida and the new (at the time) King Sean. Such a shame all the hardship that had come to that kingdom, although given what happened maybe King Sean would like a Guard of his skill and experience.
It was an ideal thought that he didn’t put much hope into. Didn’t dare to.
He walked around the double doors in the floor of the deck, leading down to the cargo hold, and was directed through a different set of doors below deck, vertical doors this time. As he had been told immediately below decks were the passenger quarters, not that there were many passengers.
There were about half a dozen of them in all, all packed into a room with six hammocks with a table down the middle. Most of them appeared to be scholars of some kind, with one person, in overheard conversation, stating that they were going to visit extended family.
Alf took the unclaimed hammock, and mentally prepared for the voyage.
Author’s Note: the hardest bloody thing about this chapter was the ship name!
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