Authors: Gary Gygax
The man was big, much bigger than Leena, so undoubtedly he could hit very hard. His laugh was nice, though, not like the old hag’s. Besides, this was the same man who had saved him from a pair of bigger boys who had been pummeling him just a couple of days ago-and so far the two hadn’t come back to beat him up again. The boy was grateful to the man for that, too. He still didn’t trust him completely, but getting food was worth a risk. His large, gray eyes met the man’s merry blue ones, visible above the bushy beard.
“Yes,” the boy said after a moment’s hesitation.
The man walked off. The little boy had to hurry to keep up, and this fact was reassuring to him. He reasoned that if he had to work to get where they were going, the hairy-faced man wasn’t setting a trap for him. They went into a small, narrow building through a stout door the man opened with a key. Not many places in this part of the city were so guarded, but there were a few. Leena had told him to watch such places closely, because if he ever found one left unguarded, vast treasures would be found inside. But he had never before been inside such a place, and the little lad was instantly impressed.
“What’s your name?”
“Don’t know,” the lad said without thinking too hard about the question. His eyes were busy roaming over the place. It was a treasure trove. There was a real rug on the floor, dishes on a table, all sorts of wondrous things.
“Sure you do,” the fellow countered. “Everyone is called something. Now, I’m called Bru, see? That’s my name. What are you called?”
He thought for a moment, then said the first thing that came to mind. “Dirty little bastard.”
“Nope, that’s not a name. Think some more.”
It seemed evident that the man would keep at it until he had a name from him, and then perhaps he’d give him more to eat, so the little boy thought carefully. Almost everything that old Leena called him was like “dirty little bastard,” not really names but nasty things. That much the lad had understood down deep for a long time. Then something came to him. “Leena always says she’ll thump me… gourd!” It was an exclamation of near triumph.
“Gord… Well, then, that must be your name. Glad to make your acquaintance, Gord. Sit down on this stool here, and I’ll ladle up a bowl of soup for you.”
The lad’s big eyes grew bigger when he saw chunks of meat drop from the ladle into the big wooden bowl. “You got meat?”
“Sure, lad… I mean, Gord. A hunk of bread to soak in the soup, too. Now eat that up, and we can talk a bit. See, I been looking ’round for someone like you to talk to. There aren’t many folks in these parts who are worth talking to, of course.”
“Why me?” the newly named boy managed to ask through a food-stuffed mouth. Nobody ever wanted to do anything with him except pick on him or make him work. Maybe this hairy-faced man was a crazy-a dangerous man after all! He wanted to get out quickly-but not so quickly that he would leave any of this wonderful soup behind. Eyes darting from the bowl to the man and back again, he began shoveling the stuff into his mouth as fast as he could.
Bru noticed the sudden tension in the skinny little body, the suspicion plain in the child’s eyes. The big man let the child eat in silence for a couple of minutes, then got up slowly and went over to his cupboard. “That’s it for the soup, Gord, but I think you’re about filled to the top anyway. I’ll give you a piece of cheese to take with you when you leave,” he said slowly as he pulled a package off a shelf.
Gord was relaxing more with each passing moment. If the man meant to do him harm, he wouldn’t have let him fill his stomach first. As hard as it was to accept, Gord had to admit to himself that maybe this bearded stranger really did want to talk to him.
“I guess I like talking to you, lad, because I’ve got a sharp eye-’most as magical as that pippin I let you gobble up.”
Now that was just too much for Gord to pass up. “That old apple wasn’t magic!”
“Look at how blue my eyes are,” Bru countered. “Ever seen anything like that?”
“No,” the boy admitted slowly, “but I don’t see hardly anybody. Does a sharp eye hurt?”
That made the man laugh. “Hah! Good question, though, Gord m’lad. See how much you’re talking? That proves the apple was magic, I think. And see how good your question was? That’s what my sharp eyes spotted! Not everyone can tell a good lad who can talk so well and ask sharp questions. That’s sharp thinking, a sharp mind. Like my sharp eye, it means it gets to the point of things.”
Gord belched contentedly and gave a small smile. This was kind of fun. Not the eating-although that was enjoyable, it was done more as a matter of survival. The fun was in having someone like the hairy-faced man… Bru…to talk to.
“Do I really have a sharp thinker?” Gord asked, not quite convinced of what Bru was saying. “Leena tells me I’m a-”
“Never mind her-not for the time at least. Poor old woman is a little off her noodle,” Bru explained, tapping the side of his head to enable the boy to understand what he meant. “Maybe you’ll want to give her some of your cheese when you get home.”
“No! Anyway, maybe I could stay here with you, Bru. I’m pretty sharp at finding stuff.”
The big man shook his head ponderously. “Love to have you for company, Gord, but I’m not around most of the time. Tell you what, though-I’ll make a point of looking for you whenever I am about. Then we can have eats and a good talk. There are many things I can show you, and you’ll think It’s all fun, too.”
That seemed like a lot of empty promising to the boy, but he was too accustomed to disappointment to bother trying to argue. Things were as they were, and he had learned long ago that someone as small and weak as he was had to accept the pain and sadness that came along with lack of size and a shortage of strength. “Sure… I’ll go now.”
“Not just yet, Gord. I have to put my knife to the cheese for you. What were you looking for when I saw you, anyway? Something I can help with?”
That brought Leena’s warning back to mind. “Shit! I gotta find some wood in a big hurry!”
“Hold on, Gord, hold on. Here’s your cheese,” he said, handing over a hunk of the stuff as he finished wrapping it in a bit of cloth. The piece was bigger than the small boy’s fist. “Well, look at that, will you? You’ve no pocket to carry this back in, and I daresay you wouldn’t get far holding it out in the open. Say, would you maybe like a little sack to use? That way I could dump in a few bits of charcoal and some splinters of wood, too. That would sort of take care of things for you, I suppose.” He looked at Gord with his kindly, blue eyes, and the boy was happy.
“That would be…”
“Great! You got a deal, Gord. Now, just say ‘Thank you’ and that’ll make us even. Then we can be true friends.”
“Thank you,” Gord said quietly, humbly. He knew the word “friends,” but he had never heard it used to refer to himself before. Then it occurred to him that friends should help each other, and he became more animated. “Can I get the sack for you? I’m good at getting things.”
The big man considered the offer for a moment. “Well, you gather up some of the charcoal there in that box by the fire, and I’ll fetch the sack. Look around for the kindling wood-the broken stuff that’s in small pieces. You can take as much of that as you like.”
Bru produced a bag from the bottom of his cupboard. It was old and had several holes, but it was a prize nonetheless. They loaded the black sticks of charcoal into it, added handfuls of wood bits and ends, and then plopped the chunk of hard cheese atop the lot.
While all this work was going on, Gord kept thinking about something that puzzled him. Just as the cheese went into the sack, he looked at Bru and asked, “Was that apple really magic?”
“Do you feel any different?”
Gord smiled and nodded. He felt far, far different. He even had a name now. “It was magic…”
“Magic is funny stuff, Gord. It isn’t anything to talk about, and what’s magical for one might be something different for another. Let’s you and I keep the secret of the apple magic to ourselves, and that way it will stay magic.” Then Bru picked up the sack, hefting it to determine how heavy it was. “I’d say you can just about carry this halfway to your place. I’ll tote the load that far for you, but then I’m heading off for a while.”
“Will you be off a long time?”
“Not a chance, Gord my friend, not a chance. In a day or two or three I’ll be bumping into you again. You keep a sharp eye out meanwhile for stuff you and old Leena need to stay alive-and for the dangers hereabouts too, right?”
A double wall encircled the city. All of Greyhawk-Old City, the larger area called New Town, and the Citadel too-were within it. The outer curtain was some twenty-five feet high. This wall splayed out at the base where it met a ditch, or moat, or some other watercourse, and was topped with serried merlons and crenels to protect defenders in time of war.
Between the outer and inner walls was a relatively level sward a hundred or more feet broad!, The outside edge of this strip of grass was level with the battlements that topped the outer wall. The crowning stone of the inner wall was much higher. The city had been built on a large hill-not especially high, but large in area. Those on the sward between the walls could look upward forty feet to where machicolated battlements stood topping the massively thick curtains of the inner wall. At intervals there were bastions on the outer wall, and matching them on the inside one were tall towers.
Wherever the walls were pierced by gates, the sward was broken. Every way that led into the city resembled a road at the bottom of a canyon. Travelers from the outside would pass through a gatehouse first, then a long passage, open above, but flanked by walls on either hand; then a tunnel that bored through another, bigger tower. Only then was one actually considered to be within the city of Greyhawk. The place was thus well protected. If a portion of the outer wall fell into enemy hands, the other segments could still be defended, and there was still, of course, the great inner wall as well.
The eastern curve of the metropolis followed the slope of the hill and the bank of the Grey Run. When Old City was the extent of Greyhawk, an island that stood opposite the stretch from Hillgate to Midgate was fortified as a first line of defense against attack. As the city expanded, the works of the island were strengthened. Eventually it became the Bastion, a fortress so strong that a major siege would have to be mounted to take it before the city could be assaulted. The Bastion was connected to Greyhawk by a pair of causeways, with appropriate bridges, and was both a garrison and a village in itself.
New Town was built to link the military fortress that overlooked the Selintan River to Old City, while in the process sufficient additional land was enclosed to provide for a larger population. There were villages there already, and eventually the engineers made the rambling walls follow the entire complex of ridges and hills that rolled from the northern tip of Old City to where the Grey Run and the Selintan flowed together. The walls that hemmed in the original city were left standing. They were not, of course, nearly so vast as the new outer wall that was built around both Old City and New Town, but they would serve to divide the place and help protect it too, just as the walls encompassing the Foreign Quarter were kept in place when it was the lower third of the entire city. The military fortress was strengthened and became the governmental heart of Greyhawk, the Citadel, while the old moat became a canal, with new ones added, for barge traffic up, down, and across the city.
As Hutsham and The Shacks huddled at the base of the outer wall along the broad Selintan, so too did buildings abut the inner works. The inner structures, however, were tall and substantial places of brick or masonry. The hovels outside Greyhawk were quite the opposite. Thus the whole place was defined and segregated. Old City from New Town, outside from in.
Each portion of Greyhawk was clearly defined and relatively ordered. This was especially true of the original part of the metropolis. There, because that part was made of older buildings crowded closely together, the less desirable elements of Greyhawk’s population were confined.
Old City’s southern third was, as it had long been, the Foreign Quarter of Greyhawk. This area was connected to the rest of the world by four gates, one going to the outside, two leading into New Town, one northward into the northern portion of Old City.
Two great gates led from the northern two-thirds of Old City to the outside, and two others gave access westward into New Town. Because Old City was quartered into sections for thieves, beggars, laborers, and brewers, and one portion known as the Slums, the whole place was shut up fast after dark. Walls can be used to keep enemies out, or undesirables in… at least in theory. Passages under the wall were numerous, from aqueducts and sewers that were part of common knowledge to those built for escape or more nefarious purposes. So too were there forgotten postern gates now masked by one building or another, and carefully made ways to allow a route between New Town and Old City after the gates were closed and barred. Yet if a thief or an adventurer could move about with relative freedom, not so the ordinary residents of Old City-especially not denizens of the Slum Quarter, and certainly not small urchins dwelling therein.
“What are all those horses doing here?” Gord’s eyes were big at the sight of a herd of about two score of the animals.
Bru explained. “Those are the mounts of a troop of the Greyhawk Guards, lad. There aren’t many cavalrymen in the city, of course, because mounted men aren’t very useful inside a crowded place.”
That made sense to Gord. He’d seen the carts and wagons typical of the place, vehicles drawn by massive draught horses or broken-down old nags. Mules and donkeys there were aplenty, as well as the occasional riding horse of some well-to-do visitor to the quarter. Someone on foot could easily elude a mounted man, thanks to narrow gangways, walls to scramble over, steep steps and narrow catwalks, and more. “Why have any… cavvary-men… at all?”
“Well, here on the Green they can be useful-no buildings. If an enemy got over the outer wall and up here, the cavalry would be used to drive them back. Every section of the Green has a troop or two of mounted men. If enemy troops ever actually got inside the city, all the cavalry would be withdrawn to defend the threatened part. See?”
They approached the big horses, and as the two did so Gord was pondering what he’d just been told. “Uncle Bru, if horses are not good inside the city, then why take them inside? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The big man laughed as he often did when Gord questioned him. The boy was used to it by now, and knew It was not meant as an insult. After all, he and the man he now called Uncle Bru had been good pals for a long time-about a year, he reckoned, although his childish mind didn’t keep track of time very closely. Bru helped to make sense of a lot of things for Gord. “There are places where the cavalry can be used. Along with men on foot, they can be a big help in defeating an invader.”
“When will we be attacked?”
“Never, I hope. Everyone should hope the same, because in wars there is a lot of suffering and people get killed.”
“But lots of people are pretty miserable now, Uncle Bru, and I’ve seen big fights where people get killed-like when the gangs fight each other,” the small boy explained.
“Those fights are like wars, Gord, but very little wars. Put ’em all together, every one you’ve ever seen, and that’s just a bit of what a real war is like.” Bru went on to explain why wars were fought, doing so in simple terms.
“Then we are free here in Greyhawk?”
“Pretty much so, Gord.”
“Then how come I can’t go anyplace?” That was phrased as an accusation and objection, not really a question. “Every time I try to go somewhere I get chased by someone, or the soldiers at the gate tell me to go away back home.”
“There are things about freedom, Gord m’boy, which you will understand only when you’re older. Let’s see if we can’t talk the soldiers into letting us climb up to the top of the big tower there now. Won’t it be fun to be able to see all over the city?”
The big man led him over to the little gate they had passed through to get to the strip of grassland between the walls. There was a guard slouched there, and after the exchange of a few words and a coin, the two were permitted to climb to the top of the tall structure that loomed over the gate. Gord had never seen anything like that view. Bru pointed out where they lived, the inside wall that bounded Old City, and the distant places beyond. Wind tousling his dark hair, the little lad gazed off into the distance for a long time.
“When I’m as old as you are, Uncle Bru, I’ll live way over there,” he finally said, pointing to a place where big trees and a park could be seen.
“You just might at that, Gord. You just might.”
Leena hardly ever bothered him anymore, thanks to his friend. All the old woman ever wanted from him was food or some similar commodity. Scavenging for sustenance was the fate of the poor of Old City, especially in the decaying slums. Garbage and refuse were the mainstays of life for such folk. Occasionally something of worth would be found, and then it could be sold and the money gained used to purchase the stuff of dreams-beer, wine, and the like usually, but sometimes real food, a warm coat, or something else worthwhile.
The smallest coin used in the city, the iron drab, was a treasure to Gord. It would buy a stale bun, a turnip, or something of similar worth. Four drabs together equaled a brass bit. Uncle Bru had taught him that. A bit would buy a sweet, a juicy red apple of monstrous size, even a thick tallow candle. Next came a coin called a zee. Gord had found one once, and with It he had hoped to buy a pair of old shoes at the ragman’s shop. Leena had found the bronze disc, taken it, and beaten Gord soundly for trying to conceal it from her and keep it all for himself. Of course, she then used the whole thing for her own benefit.
He still had to scavenge, but not as much as before. If his friend was around, then Gord didn’t have to crawl around in garbage piles or put himself in danger to get loot, and Leena never cared where the stuff came from anyway. If he brought home fuel, food, or some old shirt, all she expected was to have most or all of the booty. Uncle Bru made him do work for him, or else Gord had to learn things-that was sometimes a lot harder than the chores his friend gave him.
In return for his efforts, Gord would get to eat wonderful stuff and sometimes have something else bestowed upon him too. The old clothing didn’t fit well, but it helped keep the skinny lad warm and dry.
Uncle Bru even taught Gord to wash himself and his garments occasionally. “Why bother?” the boy had asked his friend.
“Because if you ever want to get out of this place,” Bru had told Gord, “you’ll have to look like something other than a guttersnipe.” Thereafter, Bru had given him a lesson on language, including what the word “guttersnipe” meant and what one of that sort of boy was like. Gord knew from Bru’s description that the boys in the Slum Quarter were all guttersnipes, or worse. He feared them and hated the way they were, so he then and there determined that he would never grow up to be one.
Without his knowing it, the young boy’s reckoning of time was very accurate. The big man who called himself Bru had been Gord’s friend for almost exactly a year before they went out on the Green and up to the tower top to view the city from a bird’s perspective. After that, the two saw each other pretty frequently as well. Sometimes his friend would be there every day for a week, then again Uncle Bru might be gone for twice that long before coming back and searching out the urchin within the twisting streets and narrow alleys of the slums. Once Gord wondered aloud why, if Bru knew he was going to be gone a long time, his friend didn’t give him extra food and maybe a few small coins so that Gord wouldn’t have to search and scavenge to stay alive.
“That wouldn’t be fair to either of us, Gord,” the big man had said. “Don’t you have to earn what I hand over to you?” Gord admitted that was the way of things. “Then how would you be earning it if I just gave you things because I was going to be away?”
“Weil, who says you have to earn stuff?” Gord was cross and quarrelsome. “You’ve got lots and lots of food and money and everything else too. If you can’t be my father and let me live with you, then you could at least give me enough so that old bag Leena doesn’t hit me and be mean to me. You could give me stuff to eat so I wasn’t hungry all the time until you came back.” After the last accusation, Gord could restrain himself no longer, and he burst out in tears.
Bru turned away so that the boy couldn’t see the tears in his own eyes. “Maybe I could, boy, maybe I couldn’t. That’s not really the meat of the matter. I’m your friend, and I’m your teacher too. I say that everything anyone gets he earns, or he pays for. Sometimes earning means working the way you work for me, doing little tasks I give you. Other times it means giving up something to have to learn a trade, working at it, and then collecting earnings. And sometimes people earn what they don’t want to get.”
“What does that mean?”
“You’ve seen the gangs of prisoners from the workhouse, haven’t you? Bet you’ve seen the gallows there by the prison, too.” Little Gord murmured his assent, but he seemed uncertain what that had to do with earning. “Well, lad, we don’t always get the right wage for what we do, and sometimes folks collect a lot for doing wrong things. Then again, there are those bad folk who finally earn what was coming to them.”
Bru’s eyes were sparkling again, and he smiled at his small friend. “So, you see, you have to be able to earn a living here, no two ways about that. What’s more, Gord, you can’t count on me either. Not because I don’t want to be a friend and help you,” Bru went on with a rush, “but because you and I don’t know for sure that I’ll be here tomorrow and all the days after that.”
There was still doubt in Gord’s eyes. “You can do whatever you like.”
“I would that were true, little friend, but it isn’t so. Think of it this way. What if a runaway wagon ran over me? I’d be dead and gone. Suppose bandits attacked and killed me? That is hard for a lad to think on, I know, but you have to be hard inside and deal with the world as it is.” At this last part, Bru took the small boy by his hand and grinned. “We’ve had more than enough of that sort of talk for a long time! Let’s you and I take a prowl around the neighborhood, and we can see if there are any interesting prospects for you to go back and investigate later.”