Candur handed me off to a fellow named Shapdar to show me around the palace and get me set up with everything. At the time I didn’t know where all I was going; he was leading me up this corridor and down that staircase and I got completely lost almost immediately. I have a better sense of the place now. But I’ll get to that.
Anyway, Shapdar and I were going down this one corridor. He was a stocky middle-aged man, large mustache. “Ybel,” he said. “Y-bel. What kind of name is that?”
“I was born in the Boltmarch,” I said.
“Oh? Sounds a little like a woman’s name. Ybel.”
“Sometimes it is.”
“Well, Ybel from the Boltmarch. What brings you to the Rosolla Guard?”
“Lots of things. The captain asked me. I need the money. You need people. Things like that.”
“Ahh,” he said. “Well, we do need people, that’s a fact. Here, stop here a moment.” We were in a dark stony passage, halfway between two lighted doorways. Nobody was around. “We do need people. But we need the right people. We need people who know how things work here at the palace. You need the money? We all do. We all do. And it’s the people who know how things work who can get it. Can you hear me?”
“I hear you very well.”
“Good, that’s good. So, the captain. He’s new to us.”
“I knew him from before,” I said. “At Sugarside.”
“Was that it? Close friends, are you?”
I knew how to answer this one. “Someday I’ll show you the scar on my leg I got because of him. He could get me a hundred jobs and that wouldn’t make up for what I went through.” It wasn’t even that untrue.
“Well, well. If you stick around here, it could be that I’ll introduce you to a couple of fellows who’ll show you some interesting things about being a Rosolla Guard.”
“I’d like that,” I said. “I like to be friendly. Not one of these types who shows up to work and never talks to anybody. After all, we’re a team, right?”
“Good man,” he said. “You’ll want a uniform first. That’s through here.”
He took me through a door and up some stairs and so on and eventually we found ourselves in a little tailor’s room. There were Rosolla uniforms hanging on both sides of the room. A young golden-haired man sitting on a desk rubbed his nose, grinned, and said, “Shap the tap!”
“Day, Crell. This is our new friend, Ybel from the Boltmarch. Needs a uniform.”
“Day,” I said.
“Oh, sure, a uniform. Pleased to meet you, Ybar. Are you going to be paying for the uniform all at once, or have the cost deducted from your pay every swing?”
“Are there different uniforms for formal occasions, or does the same one do for all situations?” I countered.
“There’s a sash for formal occasions,” Crell said. “It’s cheaper to pay up front, of course, only ten silver cups, but not everyone can afford that. If you have two cups deducted every swing, you’ll have it paid off in ten swings.”
I think Shapdar had the idea that I was a young kid who was in the big city for the first time and still ate radishes for luck. I turned to him. “Did you bring me here to get a uniform, or to watch a comedy?”
He grinned, but Crell said, “Hey, Ybar. You need a–“
“It’s Ybel. I need three uniforms to start with. I don’t mind if the first two were stripped off of dead guards, as long as they’ve been properly cleaned and repaired, but the third one has to be brand new. One sash. One set of arms. Two pairs of boots. I’ll change into one uniform now and pick up the rest at the end of the day. And if you think I’m paying for any of it, you’re more foolish than you thought I was.”
He spread his hands. “Ybel, sorry. Ybel, these uniforms aren’t free.”
“I’ve been in the army. Uniforms are provided. And I’m not arguing.”
“This isn’t the army,” he said, but he reached me a uniform off of a rack beside him. It took a couple of minutes to find three that satisfied me. He obviously wasn’t happy. “And you, you shithat,” he said to Shapdar. “Couldn’t say anything to back me up?”
Shapdar laughed. I put my spare uniforms on a guest hook to retrieve on my way home.
“I would have given you a couple of pennies for your trouble,” I told Crell, “if you hadn’t tried to cheat me from moon to moon.”
“You’re never going to last in the Rosollas like that,” he said. “I promise.”
“But,” I continued, “as a guard, I know how hard you work all the time, job like this, and how little appreciation you get for it. So here’s this as a sign of respect.” And I put a silver cup down on his desk.
Crell hadn’t expected that at all. Hostility gone, he frowned at me, trying to figure me out. Shapdar was similarly puzzled.
“What’s the next thing?” I asked Shapdar.