Check Out Anytime You Like

Check Out Anytime You Like

Ludlam City market bustles with people all jostling to see the wares offered by the plethora of traders about the square. Shouts go up as traders try to attract potential customers with flashes of brightly coloured garments or wares.

Holding his own in the sea of people is Fergus Groffels. A stout man of no small stature, he waves richly coloured scarves in the air around him, creating something of a show with practiced hands. He soon has a small crowd about him trying to barter for his wares.

In the middle of making a sale, he notices a kerfuffle near the city gate, made visible to him by the glow of flame which lies at its heart. Distracted, he palms the scarf off on a customer,

hastily packing up his remaining merchandise and hitching his cart to the horse waiting patiently at its side.

Shouts of disagreement and anger from the gate grow ever louder as he urges the horse through the mass of people milling about the market. A cry of dismay followed by a rippling knowledge whispered through the crowd reaches his ears: no one is allowed to leave the city.

Indignant and clutching his free travel papers, Fergus dismounts the cart and barges his way down the main thoroughfare to the gate. Living flame lights up his face, seeming to outline the rage which has settled upon his features.

‘You there! Guard!’ he shouts, wafting his papers in the air.

The City Guard is a square-jawed, formidable sort of fellow, whereas Fergus is more reminiscent of an angry garden gnome.

‘Let me out at once.’

The Guard glares down at Fergus for a moment before hitting his staff to the ground. The flame of the gate roars in ferocity, the heat causing many to stumble back or flee. To his credit, Fergus holds his ground.

‘No one leaves,’ states the Guard.

‘I have my papers.’

‘So do I!’ and ‘Me too!’ several voices shout in unison.

Fergus looks about himself in dismay, the crowd momentarily engulfs him and begins to push him further from the gate. Desperate, he gets down onto his hands and knees, crawling through the jostling legs of fellow traders until he finds himself at chroma ore clad feet.

Fergus wrings his hands.

‘Please. My husband and daughter are waiting for me.’

The Guard is unmoved.

‘No one leaves.’

Fergus struggles to stand. Injustice and heartache compel him to grab at the Guard.

‘Have a heart, man! You cannot leave them to fend alone.’

The Guard is joined by another. They glance at each other, raising their staffs at the same time and bringing them crashing upon the cobbles in the same moment.

The Gate glows white hot and a blast of fire knocks everyone back, creating a perimeter about the Guards and the gate itself.

Fergus blows desperately on his papers as the edges scorch and curl in on themselves.

He fights his way back to the horse and cart, turning it with difficulty and heading away from the gate. By the City wall, in a quiet spot he hollers over the wall and out into the gathering darkness for his husband and child, desperate to hear word from the outside but to his dismay, he can hear nothing above the calamitous cries from those still fruitlessly rushing the gate.

Behind him, new shouts go up. Innkeepers taking full advantage of this lucrative turn of events begin vying with each other for custom, prices increasing by the second. He pulls some coin from his pocket and hurries towards one, bartering for a few nights' stay.

As he and his horse are welcomed in, he casts a last despairing glance towards the gate, fear for his husband and daughter etched deep on his face.

Back to blog