James rushed toward the last official’s station to finalize the necessary documents for him to legally leave the city. So far, he’d had to travel all over the city to purchase some of the final ingredients and complete the last few trade negotiations he’d arranged before his trip.
While most citizens could travel around Natusha Kingdom without notifying the Queen, major [Craftsmen] and people of interest to the Queen generally had to follow these procedures to assure that they were properly protected and that they didn’t steal secrets sealed to Royalty and sell them while on their travels.
Walking through the Capital’s wide streets, he turned into a fancy building that had the Queen’s coat of arms emblazoned on its front. Fortunately, there were avenues to complete the documentation without actually having a conference with the Queen. The last person he wanted to meet at this point because questions about his research would undoubtedly arise, and he feared giving a testimony about his faked experiment before her |Discerning Eyes|.
Walking through the door, he waved at the portly [Receptionist]. The man grinned. “Hey Tom, need some documents? Taking a vacation with that girl who came two weeks ago?”
James chuckled. “I was actually planning to marry her in her homeland and take a few goods to sell along the way.”
“Oh my, you young people are so quick to get married these days. Back in my day…”
James patiently listened to the man’s words while glancing around the room, admiring the multiple obvious enchantments coating the room, with doubtlessly tens more beyond even his discerning sight.
The [Receptionist] closed his eyes and placed a hand on the information Artifact, checking the Kingdom’s data on James. After a few moments, he opened his eyes in worry. This time, he actually used James’s real name. “James, you know the Queen keeps close restrictions on your ability to transfer vital technologies outside of the Kingdom… I’m going to have to pass your documents through the Queen. I’m afraid you already know what the result will be though.”
James frowned. “I’m not taking any of the larger pieces of equipment… just a few gadgets to sell along the way.”
With a sigh, the man threw up his hands. “Here, I’ll write a note for the Queen’s Hands. They’ll send an official to check the stuff you’re trying to take out before you leave the city. Just a word of warning, if you don’t wait for the official, the Queen’ll probably put out a warrant for your arrest, so be sure to wait!”
James nodded in thanks, placing the certificate in a bag at his side. “Well, I’ll be seeing you around then, Tom.”
The [Receptionist] tipped his head. “Same to you. The Lake Festival was quite nice, by the way. My daughter really enjoyed it. If you want, I’ll buy you a round when you get back from your trip.”
While leaving the small building, James yelled back, “Glad to hear it! And will do.”
Once he left the more crowded streets where a pickpocket could approach him without him noticing, James checked his pouch of coins, weighing the leather bag on his palm. Hopefully, it would be enough to convince the [Stable Master] to take care of Jeffry. Whistling, James headed toward his home to drop off his acquisitions and grab some lunch before making the risky trek toward the outer reaches of the Castle. He frowned. Maybe he could get Diana to talk to the [Stable Master] instead? That way, he could avoid any chance meeting with the Queen… if the woman found out what he’d done… He sighed, quickly discarding his foolish whimsies. The girl had never even been introduced to the gruff [Stable Master]. Who knew what type of troubles she’d get up to there if he sent her alone?
Walking down the lane toward his home, James glanced at a humming man stepping in sync with himself. James paused because he recognized this person. He was the [Shephard] who lived around a half kilometer from his home and tended to a small flock of sheep. They continued in a sort of awkward silence before James finally decided to greet, “Hey, Ethan. How’re the sheep doing?”
The [Shephard] glanced at James somewhat suspiciously before asking, “Has that lizard of yours been eating my sheep again?”
A bit confused, James coughed. “What? Jeffry is fed more than enough pigs every day to not need extra sustenance. I’m sure you’re just having problems with wolves or something.”
The [Shephard] named Ethan sighed, setting down the stack of wheat he’d been lugging on his back. Dusting off his hands, Ethan cooly glanced at James, appraising the engineer. Finally, he asked, “Well, the people around here say that you’re some type of miracle worker. Can you fix my sheep problem? Something keeps on eating them at night.”
James paused. “Uh, sure. I can probably design some moving scarecrows… Actually, now that I think about it, what if Jeffry joined your flock?”
“The wyvern!? Are you crazy? He’d eat my whole flock within a week!”
Shrugging his shoulders, James said, “Well, I know you have that rare Skill to imprint animals with a herd to prevent the rams from fighting each other for dominance. Maybe you can convince Jeffry that he’s a sheep?” James laughed at the thought.
Ethan massaged the bridge of his nose. “That’s actually plausible; I can think of few things a wyvern wouldn’t be able to defend them from, but taking care of a wyvern would be far too difficult, not to mention that if this plan failed, I’d end up without a flock. Besides, what would the costs be?”
“I’ll talk to the [Stablemaster] to figure out whether it’s possible, I guess. As for costs, I’d just ask for you to keep an eye on Jeffry and the shop during the night. Nothing too serious or beyond what you’d anyway do. I figure that if he has somewhere like a barn to actually sleep in that’s maintained by someone, it’d be better than having him able to roam free at night.”
“Hmm… I guess I could try it if you can get the [Stable Master] to suggest to me that it’s a good idea.” Thanking him, Ethan split off a few hundred meters before James’s house while James went up to his front porch and handed his bag to Howard, taking only his pouch of Seedz with him to the castle. With a gentle reminder for the old [Knight] to feed Jeffry a pig for lunch, James headed toward the Castle.
A trickle of sweat dripped down his brow as James finally reached the outer levels of the Queen’s fortress where the wyvern stable was located. He’d forgotten how long this trip took because he usually just rode Jeffry to the stable’s platform, but the wyvern had been looking a bit sickly as of late, so James hadn’t wanted to push it.
James glanced around the large stable while figuring out where the [Stable Master]’s office was. Since most wyvern males of age were partnered with [Knight]s who would then become [Wyvern Rider]s, the stalls were mostly empty besides the few “relief/sterile” females resting or the stable boys slowly cleaning the inevitable messes the wyverns created because the [Knight]s were undergoing their daily training. One senior [Stablehand] kept an eye on the hen den to prevent similar incidents to the one that had produced Jeffry in the first place.
James ignored them all and made his way to the office area where the [Stable Master] was looking over some paperwork detailing reports of the total food consumption and other fees incurred by the group. What annoyed the middle-aged man the most was that one of the young dragons sired by Marximus had decided to have a snack and ate two of the young hens, costing the income of the eggs they would have otherwise produced.
He only gave James a slightly irritated look before going back to the papers to figure out how to keep their losses from further piling. While the Queen would subsidize their farm, if he ran the stable inefficiently, they’d all receive pay deductions. It was then that James dropped his pile of coins on the table with a noticeable clink.
“I am going to be gone for about six months, maybe a year. This will be for Jeffry’s upkeep. If it’s not enough, I’ll settle accounts when I return. In the hopefully unlikely event that I don’t, the Queen will reimburse you with my belongings.”
With a poignant pause, the [Stable Master] set down the paper he had been examining and counted out the coins within the Seedz pouch James had deposited. A subtle grin flashed on his face: this was more than enough to solve their immediate problems. After all, the one thing they had extra of right now was food for wyverns since the two hens had met an untimely end.
The man glanced over his papers, mentally adding up the costs using his [Basic Accounting] Skill, a staple of most Manager-like Classes. James patiently stared at the man, ignoring the various medals strewn about the room granted by the Queen for the Natusha Kingdom’s [Wyvern Rider] whose many famed exploits were known throughout much of the Northern Continent of Interst. Tapping his wooden desk, the [Stable Master] finally decided, “He can spend his days up here, but he can’t spend the nights. The [Wyvern Riders] wouldn’t have it. Space is pressed as it is for stalls. Any he sires will be split five for us and three for you. You can obviously choose to be reimbursed in coin rather than hatchlings. Is that acceptable?”
James nodded, having expected as much. Still, he needed the man’s confirmation to convince Ethan. “Well, I’ve found a job for Jeffry during the night as a sort of guard dog, which he has been trained to do with my home already. I just need some confirmation that Jeffry won’t eat the sheep he’s meant to guard…”
The [Stable Master] frowned. “Well, wyverns don’t usually eat more than what they need to be full… Still, I agree it’s not a very safe proposition. Have you considered some type of muzzle?”
“Absolutely not. I don’t believe in that sort of thing.”
Raising his hands, the [Stable Master] sighed before perking up. “Wait, you said a flock of sheep? It wouldn’t happen to be [Shepherd] Ethan’s?”
“Oh, yes, it is.”
The [Stable Master] guffawed. “Oh, you’re in luck then. Ethan’s actually the [Apprentice] to the [Royal Beast Tamer]. While he doesn’t know it, that [Imprint] Skill of his will more than handle it. The sheep’ll recognize him as their alpha, and the wyvern will, if you and Ethan order it, be very unlikely to try anything. Although you’ll want to test that first.”
With a nod of thanks at the man’s explanation, James mused on what to do for a few moments. With the protective wards and security forces he’d contracted, his home would probably be more than well enough protected without Jeffry there to guard it. A little known secret was that Jeffry’s barn with its outer pen-like enclosure was actually connected to his underground labs as a guard dog. While the wyvern had difficulty navigating through the rooms, he would still occasionally wander about the underground halls One might have thought that such a glaring security flaw would’ve caused some problems, especially during the day when the wyvern was not there, but thieves avoided the ‘dog’ entrance because the Queen’s Hands had only ever found the lower half of the last who tried to enter that way, not to mention the numerous wards that would incapacitate any organism that was not keyed to pass through. Jeffry was honestly just there to prevent corpses from rotting if they tried to invade.
James agreed, “I’ll send word so that Ethan the [Shephard] knows of our arrangements. He’s sort of house-sitting for me. He’ll release Jeffry every morning and let the wyvern perform some of the duties I’ve trained him to do. Then, he’ll guide Jeffry to here. After the first few times, the old boy will probably just follow wherever he thinks his next meal is, so you’ll have to transfer a few pigs down to the bottom of the hill for his supper every day to build up his habits.”
The [Stable Master] gave a small smile, the Seedz filling his vision. “Eh, that’ll be fine. Actually, I might just go get him myself, at least until he gets the hang of it. I’d hate to irritate a valued customer.”