I swore quietly. I was torn between sneaking back down and mingling into the crowd or staying where I was. A bustling crowd would make it easy to move around town in safety and unquestioned but a crowd of men could turn violent and if relations between the elves and men in this town were poor, it might not be wise. On the roof I had a good view and I was in relative safety but I couldn’t really hear what was being said. I dithered between choices as the crows pushed Durston into the centre of town. I knew that he was strong but I was not sure if he had the emotional strength to defend himself properly. The crowd was only getting noisier but there was no signs of violence yet aside from the guns pointed at Durston.
A man led a horse pulling a flat four wheeled cart through the crowd and in front of the drinking house. Shortly after four men were assisted on to the cart so they could stand above the crowd. One man was tall and balding and had a large grey moustache but no beard. He was dressed in black. Two younger men stood either side of him. Neither man wore armour or carried a sword but they stood with an aggressive watchfulness that marked them out as bodyguards for the tall man in black. The fourth man was shorter and of a similar age to the man in black. He wore a waistcoat on which was a silver metal star. All but the man in black wore broad brimmed hats.
The man with the star badge pulled something from his belt, pointed it upwards and then made it emit three loud bangs. BANG BANG BANG. I was so startled that I nearly lost my footing. This must have been a smaller kind of gun that could be more easily carried than a rifle.
The crowd became silent and turned towards the men on the cart. Durston was pushed forward until he stood near the cart.
“Somebody bring Pastor Birchall.” called out the man in black.
A few people darted off from the crowd, presumably to search for this pastor. The chatter of the crowd began to increase again until the man with the star stood at the edge of the crowd and called to quiet.
“Mayor Hardy has some words to say to you all. So you listen to the boss now all of you.” he said with the tone of a man borrowing somebody else authority.
“Thank you Sheriff,” said the man in black who I now knew was Mayor Hardy. “People of Bridge Town. You know me and you know what I’ve done for you all. When I came here eight years ago there was little more than the ramshackle huts of the natives and Polk’s Tavern here was half its size. I’ve given your work and I’ve paid you well.” The crowd murmured assent. I looked around and could see some of the light elves standing off to one side – listening but staying slightly separate from the crowd.
“Now what I expect from you all is hard work and respect for my authority. That is your duty towards me. In return I have a duty towards you. That duty is to keep this town prosperous and to protect you all from the threats all around us. We are surrounded, good people. We are surrounded by ungodly creatures. Elves, dwarfs, savage natives and demonic forces – they all wish us ill. My job is to stand between you and those threats – to keep a steady watch against the evil forces arraigned against us.” One of Mayor Hardy’s bodyguards touched his arm and whispered something to him.
“Good people!” called out Mayor Hardy “here is your pastor! Come on up Pastor Birchall! Come on…help him up somebody.”
Onto the cart clambered ungracefully a thin nervous man of an age I couldn’t determine. He was also dressed largely in black but wore no hat. Mayor Hardy put an arm around his shoulder and pulled him to the front of the cart.
“Not six months ago the pastor came to me – didn’t you Pastor Birchall?” the nervous man nodded but seemed to nervous to speak. “And do you know what he told me? He told me that a threat was on its way – a terrible threat of a kind we had never seen. The Pastor is a man of god and he saw… he saw this in a vision good people! He saw in a vision that some foul demonic power of the ungrateful dwarfs had summoned a new monster to attack our town.” The Mayor paused as the murmuring among the crowd had become louder as the news of this demonic threat sank in.
“BE QUIET!!!” roared the Sheriff and then nodded at the Mayor to continue.
“As I was saying.” The Mayor said more softly. “Pastor Birchall warned me of a supernatural threat to our town, our families, our way of life. A threat that would sneak up on our town while we were all unawares so that those lazy greedy dwarfs could steal our hard earned silver from us. Now do you all think I would let that stand?” The crowd murmured in response. “I said did you ALL think I would let that STAND?” Now the crowd replied with a more hearty “NO!”
“You are right. I did not stand by idly waiting for this ungodly threat to sneak up on us like a snake. You all remember what happened before, when we let our vigilance drop? You remember the names of the children that we lost? Well this time I would NOT let innocents die. I set my men to watch out for strangers and odd happenings and sure enough tonight they found the strangest stranger you could imagine. Look at this thing gentlemen! Have you ever seen such a perfidious creation? Look how the clumsy handed dwarfs have tried to shape something into the god given form of man and yet created this metal insult to everything that is right and true in the human form.’
I became even more worried for Durston as this speech went on as it seemed to be increasing the fear and hatred in the crowd. Yet I could see no way of intervening that could possibly help Durston. I would need some kind of substantial distraction and more luck than I could possibly hope for.
“Bring the creature forward!” called out the Mayor.
The men guarding Durston pushed him closer to the cart.
“Look upon this thing, good people! Do we not see all the trickery and perfidy of the dwarfish race exemplified in this aping of the human form? Know that it is only our god that can truly create life and that to attempt to do so is heresy of the worst order. Is that not true Pastor.” The mayor turned towards the obviously terrified priest, who nodded nervously as if he feared that it was he who was on trial.
“:Excuse me.” Durston’s voice was loud but he spoke in a quite gentle tone. The crowd went silent and all heads turned toward Durston. “:I am sorry to be a bother but I believe you may be labouring under a ~ misapprehension.”
“Well it seems the creature has a voice. No! Do not fear my friends. His words cannot harm the righteous!” The Mayor reassured the crowd, although to my eyes many in the crowd looked more like drunk ruffians than the righteous. “Speak then creature, before we decide on what to do with you.”
“:oh, well um thank you. Good evening, Mr Mayor sir, ladies and gentlemen of Bridge Town, Mr Sheriff and Pastor Birchall and the two nice gentlemen on the cart whose names I didn’t hear. ~ Firstly let me say I very much admire you hats. ~ I think your town is most charming and I hope you do not find it condescending if I say that it is ‘quaint’ ~ and an excellent example of nineteenth century frontier architecture. I’d like to thank you all for inviting me into your town ~ and coming out in such numbers to say, if I may, ‘howdy’. Please let me say a most gracious ‘howdy you all’ back. Now onto the matters raised by your good mayor. As you can see I am actual made from a range of composite materials and my inner workings are quasi-photonic/electronic and fundamentally digital in nature. ~ I have little experience with the technology of the dwarfs but I assure you I am not of dwarfish manufacture. Rather I simply a being who got lost in what was apparently part of some major temporal clatacysm, sorry I mean to say: ’cataclysm’, that this region underwent at some point that was both recent and some hundred years ago depending on one’s perspective and relative position in the meta-timeline.”
The crowd and the men on the cart looked as flabbergasted as I suppose I did after listening to Durston’s semi-intelligible polite ramblings. However, after that initial pause some man in the crowd shouted out “KILL IT!” and the crowd broke into shouting – some in favour and some against.
The Sheriff stepped forward and once again shot three times into the air with his small gun. BANG BANG BANG. The crowd quieted themselves and the Mayor spoke again.
“I have heard that some Occidental queen had a mechanical man that can play chess. I have also heard of automatons on display in the big east coast cities. Are you saying that you are a mechanical man of that kind?” said the Mayor.
“:Well strictly speaking not the same ~ but I think the comparison is a reasonable one within the parameters of this conversation. What I really need though is to speak with a priest dedicated to Embran or perhaps a blacksmith?” Durston cocked his head slightly as he spoke as if this would make him see less threatening.
The Mayor roared with laughter in response. “You’ll not find a human priest of Embran for the past 500 years. The old ways and the old gods are long gone. See good people!” the Mayor now looked up from Durston and addressed the crowd. “See how even from his own mouth he admits to be a tool of the demonic powers that or pagan ancestors once worshipped as gods. Once the world of men was enthralled to the words of the elves and the dwarfs. We followed their gods and their religions. We tried to speak their languages and use their writing. BUT NO MORE. Good people this is the age of mankind and we do not bow to the threats and pleadings of any elf or any dwarf. It was god who gave us dominion over the whole land and is our duty to exercise our authority over it because when we do so we do the work of god himself.” The Mayor looked back down at Durston. “Well it seems you are in luck. I want to see how you work, you want to meet a blacksmith and I bet the dwarfs are wetting their britches in desperation to see their saviour come to rescue them. Now there is no blacksmith in town – no need for one is there! We’ve got plenty dwarfish blacksmiths just over the canyon.” The mayor gestured down the road leading the opposite way to which Durston had entered. “Boys!” called out the Mayor “Take this well spoken barrel of heresy to the mines. Tell those lazy bearded bastards to pull it apart screw by screw and then bring the pieces back to me. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! The tavern is open go and enjoy yourselves. Bridge Town is safe!”