The Song of Sword and Magic - Chapter 1
Chapter 1: A New Task
[Translator — Asuka]
[Proofreader — Karane]
It was the middle of fall, the weather was rather chilly. The withered leaves on the roads appeared to be even more dreary during sunset as they rustled along with the wind.
Fern Woodrow covered his face with a hood as he gazed at the other end of this seemingly endless avenue with his brown eyes. The Golden Avenue, just like its name, was the most important route that connected the wealthiest city in the Southwest of the Wallis Continent, Deville, with the outside world. Countless carriages and goods pass through the avenue every day, but traffic seemed to have reduced in the past month.
It was because of the bad news that recently came from the North of the continent. The Dark Tide, a name that had disappeared from the people’s memories, had returned to the continent, which also sent a shockwave across the wealthiest region in Southwest.
In the past, Fern could easily get a free ride into the city and even have a casual chat with the coachman. However, it wasn’t so easy now as all the coachmen galloped past him as though they couldn’t see him. Also, he noticed that those coachmen would grab their hilts when they moved past him.
The Saras, who had fled to the Southwest from the North, couldn’t get any jobs, so they had no choice but to become robbers. Since a few carriages were robbed on the Golden Avenue before, most tradesmen didn’t even dare to take a rest on the avenue, let alone giving free rides to those walking on their feet.
The sun sank lower as it cast its glow on the entire continent, and the clouds in the sky were painted as red as blood. A gust of wind forced Fern to come to his senses. After pulling his cloak closer to cover himself up, he continued trudging toward Deville City.
When the sun was about to sink into the horizon, Fern could finally see Deville City in the distance. The magnificent city was the cultural and trade center in the Southwestern or even the entire Western part of the region.
Legend has it that when Wallis was born, it was the Divine Craftsman who built the city and blessed it to be eternally wealthy. A red flag that was embroidered with a golden lion swayed with the wind on the city wall that was made of granite. Fern looked to both sides, but the wall didn’t seem to have an end. Inside the city, a few tall towers with golden sculptures shone under the sunlight.
Although Fern had seen Deville from this angle countless times, at this moment, he still couldn’t move his eyes away as he was awed by the magnificence of the city.
The smoke coming from the kitchen chimneys reminded him that it was dinner time. He could already imagine the hustle and bustle in the taverns and the markets, all of which were exciting for him. The stone road ahead of him signaled that he would reach the city in just thirty minutes, so he decided to hasten his pace.
As he always did after completing a task, he would rush to a tavern called the Queen’s Blessing first. Although the Queen’s Blessing wasn’t the largest tavern in Deville, it was definitely the busiest. It was because it was the center for people who wanted to hire other people to get their tasks done, and two thirds of such deals in the city were handled in this tavern. Fern had just completed a rather easy task; he just needed to send a letter to Canreto for a rich family and then bring it back.
“My friend, you’re finally back.” A slim old man with gray sideburns walked out of the kitchen and rubbed his hands together. “I’ve been waiting for you for two days. Did anything hold you up?”
“The coachmen haven’t been friendly.” Fern took off his hooded cloak, revealing his curly dark brown hair. His wrinkle-free face suggested that he was a young man, but his stubble made him look more mature than his age. “In the past, I wouldn’t have to walk on my feet to get into the city.”
Since it was noisy in the tavern, the man had to shout into the kitchen to tell the cooks to prepare some food. It was apparent that he was the owner of this tavern. He then led Fern to a table.
“Fern, you must have heard that things are looking bad in the North.” The man took a seat opposite Fern. “It seems that even the South has been affected, so you can’t expect those tradesmen to give you a free ride.”
Fern untied his sword from his left side and put it down on the edge of the table. “I understand Rodd, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At least for us.”
“You’re right.” Seated across the table, Rodd looked fixedly at Fern. “So, what’s your plan?”
“You should let me take a rest. I can’t work all the time like you do.” Fern shook his head with a smile.
Fern always thought that Rodd never seemed to be getting tired. Also, he was puzzled as to why Rodd could always notice him as soon as he stepped into the tavern during the day. Maybe his workers would inform him about it, he thought.
“Fern, you know what? You should get a new sword. I have the best sword in Deville.” Rodd picked up Fern’s sword from the table. It was an ordinary-looking sword with no decorations on the sheath and the hilt.
Just then, a waitress put down a jug of wine and some dishes on the table. She also poured a cup of wine for Fern.
After gulping down the cup of wine, Fern refilled it and said, “Just spill it, Rodd.”
“Alright. You’ll thank me in the future for your decision.” Rodd licked his lips and put down Fern’s sword. “Last night, a girl from Shawana came to look for me. I’m sure you can’t guess how many gold coins she’s willing to offer.”
Fern just waited for him to continue speaking. However, it seemed that Rodd wanted him to make a guess and then give him a surprise.
“What the heck! You haven’t even told me what the task is about. How am I going to make a guess? Just spill it. I’ll pretend to be surprised,” Fern said impatiently.
With a grin, Rodd replied, “Alright, alright. Make sure your jaw will not drop, or else…” He had wanted to remain mysterious for a while longer, but upon seeing the frown on Fern’s face, he decided to go straight to the main topic. “It’s a thousand gold coins.”
Fern had decided not to give him any reaction, but upon hearing the number, he still couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows. “So, what is her task about?”
“It’s simple.” Rodd shifted his attention from Fern’s face to the table. “Help her complete some missions so that she’ll pass the trial of the Magician’s Tower in Shawana.”
“That simple?” Fern wasn’t familiar with the Magician’s Tower. In fact, only a few people knew a thing or two about the Magician’s Tower in Shawana. “Do you know what the missions are about?”
“I do.” Rodd looked around and said, “Alright. I don’t know all the details, but they’re just simple missions. Look, she’s just a disciple of the Magician’s Tower, so she can’t even be considered as a magician yet. There’s no way the missions are hard.”
“Rodd, you know what?” Fern gulped down his cup of wine and continued, “You’d better change your habit of not looking people in the eyes when you’re talking to them because it’ll show that you’re lying.”
Hearing that, Rodd shifted his attention back to Fern’s face. “You think I’m lying? Alright. I have to admit that I’m being economical with the truth… but it will not affect your understanding of this matter. You have to understand that if I spread this news, countless swordsmen will surround me and beg me to give them this chance in no time.”
Upon hearing that, Fern fished out the letter he brought back from Canreto from his clothes and passed it to him. Then, he picked up his sword and said, “I’ll get my money tomorrow.”
When Fern rose from the chair and reached for the tavern’s entrance, Rodd stomped his feet and said, “Don’t let this chance slip through your fingers! Anyway, she’ll come here again tomorrow evening.”
“Got it.” Fern reached the entrance and said, “I’ll come back tomorrow.”
When the sun was high above the sky the next day, Fern languidly sat up on his bed.
“It’s another good day,” Fern mumbled to himself. “But I’ve woken up a little late.”
Fern didn’t even know why he would agree to Rodd’s request last night. Perhaps a thousand gold coins were enough to cast away his fear for the unknown, but he didn’t think he was a man who was after money. Maybe it’s because of the companions I used to have. His gaze turned dim when he thought about it. Not wanting to be bothered by this thought anymore, he slowly got out of his bed.
When Fern stepped into the Queen’s Blessing in the evening, Rodd came to greet him immediately as usual. “Fern, I knew you’d come. Oh well, you did say you’d come. Come on. That table over there.”
Fern followed him to an inconspicuous table in the corner. It’s not a table one would notice when they walk into the tavern.
A young lady, who was clad in a hooded cloak, was seated by the wall. Her hood was so large that Fern couldn’t see her face while he was standing. Judging from her figure, he reckoned that she was still very young.
“Miss Niss.” Rubbing his hands together, Rodd bent his back and said in a small voice, “I don’t mean to bother you, but I’ve found you an escort. I’m sure you’ll be happy with him.”
The young lady raised her head, but the brim of her hood blocked her from seeing the man before her eyes, so she lifted her hood a little and finally saw Fern.
After sizing him up, she lowered her head and said, “Okay. Have a seat, Sir. We have a lot to discuss.”
Fern took a seat across the table. “Hi, my honorable lady, I’m Woodrow, Fern Woodrow. As you can see, I’m a… swordsman.” Fern wasn’t used to calling himself a swordsman. “Before I decide to accept your task, I have to learn more about it from you first.”
“Sir, I’ll call you Fern from now on. My name is Niss.” The young lady pulled her hood back so that Fern could see her face clearly. “You don’t have to know my full name. Just call me Niss. I’m sure Rodd has introduced to you that I’m a disciple of the Magician’s Tower, and I need someone to help me complete some ‘missions’ so that I’ll pass the trial and become a real magician.”
Fern took a proper look at the young lady, who seemed to be younger than him by about eight years. She had ginger hair and a pair of blue eyes, which suggested that she wasn’t a Deville local. Her hair was tied into a ponytail with some strands of hair hanging loose on the sides of her face. Her petite nose and mouth made her look like a lovely lady. Judging from her fair skin, Fern reckoned that she had rarely lived in the wild.
Fern found it amusing as he stared at the young lady before his eyes. She was just an inexperienced girl, but she was trying hard to pretend to be mature. The reason she even had to look for an escort to protect her was that she wasn’t skillful enough. Nevertheless, Fern understood that if she never pretended to be mature, she might attract the attention of some ill-intentioned people.
“Of course, Miss Niss. Please allow me to call you Niss from now on.” After getting a nod from her, he went on to say, “As you can see, I’m a seasoned escort, so you can totally trust Rodd’s judgment. But…” He paused for a bit and continued, “You have to tell me what the missions are about first. Otherwise, I cannot accept your task without knowing anything.”
Niss blinked her eyes, obviously displeased with his answer. “Like I said, they’re just simple missions. For example…” She was trying not to scare away the escort before her eyes. “We’ll go to a village to investigate something.”
“A village?” Fern looked fixedly at her eyes.
Niss took a sip of tea and replied, “I don’t know where it is yet because I have to complete the missions in sequence. I’ll only get to know my next destination after I complete the mission at hand. Nevertheless, my master told me that I can ask for an escort’s help.”
Then, she looked at Fern with a smile, as though she was certain that he would never reject her.
Fern took a sip of the wine as he thought about how to reply to her. A while later, he put down the cup and said, “Got it. So, where’s the first destination?”
Excitement was written all over her face as she was satisfied with his reply. With a smile, she fished out a map from her leather bag and placed it on the table. Pointing at the Center-North of the map, she said, “It’s here.”
Fern was surprised to see such a detailed map, which was made of a high quality parchment. No ordinary people could get their hands on such an exquisite map. Looking at where her finger pointed, he mumbled, “It’s Canreto again. I just returned from that place.”
“You’ve been there? That’s wonderful.” Niss smiled happily as her pretense vanished into thin air.
“It’s not as wonderful as you think.” Fern stared at the location of Canreto on the map. “The war in the North is going to affect Canreto, so they’re preparing for the war now.”
“I don’t think that’s a problem for us.” Niss tilted her head and looked at the map. “We’re just ordinary travelers, so we won’t be dragged into this kind of trouble. Moreover, we won’t stay in the city for long as our destination is a village in the Northeast of Canreto.”
“Why didn’t you look for an escort in Canreto instead? Deville is pretty far from Shawana.” Fern dragged his finger from Shawana to Deville on the map.
Niss seemed to have prepared an answer to that question. “Everyone knows that Deville has the best mercenaries in Wallis.” Then, she pointed at the flatland in the Southeast of Canreto. “This is our final destination, Shawana, after we’ve completed all the missions… Hmm, I hope that we’ll finish all the missions in three months. After that, my master will give me a magician’s ring which symbolizes that I’ll officially be a magician, and you’ll get your reward as well.”
Upon finishing her words, she looked into Fern’s eyes. “How about that? Are you going to accept this task? I believe that you won’t get a reward as much as a thousand gold coins in Deville in half a year. I want you to give me an answer now because we have to set off on our journey tomorrow.”
After that, they fell silent for quite some time. Rodd kept cleaning an already clean table near them. Countless people passed through the door, and they were surrounded by the chatting and laughing of the tavern’s customers.
Just when Niss was starting to worry that Fern would reject her request, he said, “I’ll accept the task… even though I’m not even sure if I should.”
All of a sudden, Rodd, who was cleaning the table quietly, shouted at the customer who just stepped into the tavern, which broke the unnerving atmosphere between them and forced them to come to their senses.
“That’s great.” Relieved, Niss flashed a smile at him. “So, as an experienced escort, maybe you can tell me what we should do now.”
Having just made a difficult decision, Fern was exhausted. “We should have our dinner now, even though dinner time is over.”
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