We reached Glimmerton after nightfall, and I was shocked to see it. Lamps burned on the street, torches burned by shopfronts, lanterns and candles in every window. I had never seen anything so lit up before. The humans that lived in Glimmerton didn’t need to walk in darkness if they did not want to. They didn’t need to carry lights with them to show their paths. Perhaps they didn’t even need to sleep. I had thought that Enrico was foolish for having us march along in the dark, that there would be nothing waiting for us except perhaps for a single inn buried somewhere in the city, but I saw that I was wrong.
Enrico must have read my slowing pace as awe. He came up to me and clapped his hand on my back. “Tell me, what do you think, Tusk?”
“It… it shines.”
Enrico grinned. “No, friend. It glimmers.”
A low wall surrounded the city and the path leading into it passed through a gate guarded by men armed spears and clad in metal breastplates. They reminded me of the adventurers that would attack the wizard in his tower, although I could tell by the way they carried themselves that they were not as well-trained or as dedicated as even the least of those had been.
Enrico walked up to the men, smiling widely and waving in exaggerated enthusiasm. “Well met, guards! We seek entry into Glimmerton.”
“Name and occupation,” one of them said. He looked entirely bored. His companion, meanwhile, looked back at the troop as if annoyed. There were sheets of paper by them, and it seemed that they were tasked with cataloguing everyone who came through their gate.
“Enrico Enrici, showman extraordinaire. These are my friends and my family, and together, we are–”
“You’re a bard, then. I get it. What brings you and your circus to Glimmerton?”
Enrico frowned. “We aren’t a circus. We are–”
“What is the purpose of your visit, Mr. Enrici?”
Enrico paused. There was anger in his eyes, and I began to suspect that he wasn’t used to having his patter interrupted. If he was preparing to argue with the guards or trying to decide what it was they wanted to hear, I couldn’t say. Maybe even he didn’t know. Maybe, for once in his life, Enrico Enrici had met someone who’d rendered him speechless.
One of the guards sighed. “Look, Mr. Enrici. The High Prelate has ordered that all people seeking entry into Glimmerton have to declare their names, their jobs, their intentions, and the expected duration of their visit.”
“How the Hell am I supposed to know what’s going through the High Prelate’s head? They just give me the armor and the spear and tell me, ‘Stop everyone and write down what they tell you.’ Now, are you going to tell me anything useful, or am I going to have to turn you away.”
Enrico grunted and looked away for a moment. “We’re looking to perform in the city and attract some patrons. We’ll be here indefinitely.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Fifteen, counting the little ones.”
“Anything to declare?”
“What would be a good public space to perform in?”
“Try the city square,” the guard said. He was furiously scribbling on his sheet of paper with a metal-nibbed stick he dipped in ink. “That’s where everyone goes to proselytize and perform and try to hawk their wares.” With that, the guard waved us in. The members of the troupe were quiet as they marched past the guards, who were already busying themselves with other matters and paid them no mind.
Once we were in the streets of Glimmerton itself, conversation started up again amongst members of the troupe. I heard them asking where they would be staying the night, what acts they would begin with the next day, how best to attract crowds, and so on. I barely paid them any attention. I was too busy taking in the wonders of Glimmerton. People walking the streets at night. Clothes unlike any I had seen in the countryside. Roads made of rounded stones instead of packed dirt. As we had traveled in the dark, I got the sense that we were passing through acres and acres of farmland. Did all of the farms exist just to feed the people who lived in Glimmerton? How many lived in Glimmerton, anyway? Was there anyone who knew for certain?
I shook my head. It was all to much to consider, and there would be no answers for me that night. What I really wanted, more than anything, was a bit of stew and an ale. That would have done nicely.
* * *
When I awoke the next morning, many members of the troupe were already up and about preparing their things for the day’s performances. The city square itself was crowded with people setting up stalls and coming and going. It felt like I was already surrounded by more humans than I had ever seen before in my life, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I remembered when the entire town of Quail’s Leap had gathered as Sir Perceval accused me of being an inhuman monster. If they had sided with him, I wouldn’t have been able to fight them all of. If this city were to decide that I was a monster to be driven away, what could I hope to do?
I was lost in thought when Enrico’s boy, Francesco, came running up to me and tugging at my robe. “Mr. Willvic! Mr. Willvic! Papa says that we should go take a walk around Glimmerton, and that you should come with me to protect me?”
I snorted, but behind my mask, I was smirking. Francesco was an active boy, always running and always excited. He reminded me of Victoria, although he was a few years younger. “Did he now?”
“He did,” said a soft, feminine voice from behind me. It was Sylvia, Enrico’s daughter. Where Francesco was younger than Victoria would have been, Sylvia was a few years older. She looked more like a woman than Victoria had, although she could still carry herself as a child at times. “You don’t have to, of course, but I think it would be good exposure.”
She smiled. “We want people to know about the Mad Monk before his big debut, don’t we? It’ll draw a bigger crowd.”
I stared at Sylvia in silence for a moment before shaking my head. “Truly you are your father’s child.”
If Glimmerton was a shining jewel at night, it was a madhouse by day. Everywhere there were people and buildings and animals. Folks were coming and going, some ignoring each other completely, some stopping to have conversations. Some of them wore shabby clothing, little better than the rags I myself wore, and some of them wore fine clothing dyed fantastic colors and almost shimmering as it moved. The differences between the people went on and on, and as we walked, I noticed that for every human dressed in finery and walking with their head held high, there seemed to be five who were dirty and wore the look of a cowed dog.
It was too much. I had no idea what to think or how to feel about anything I was seeing, and so I walked along in silence, the children leading me.
Hours passed by the time we returned to the city square. As we explored Glimmerton, the children told all who would listen that there was a grand performance awaiting them in the city square. They all do what they can to attract a crowd, I thought, be it through charm or innocence or seduction. And to the troupe’s credit, there was a sizeable crowd awaiting our return. A makeshift stage had been assembled and on it, one of the women in the troupe danced to a song played by a band made up of other troupe members. Separate from the stage but still within the bounds of the city square, I saw other members of the troupe tumbling, telling fortunes, playing games of chance. I couldn’t say how well any of them were doing at keeping a crowd and taking in money, but judging from the sour expressions of some of the other peddlers and performers, I guessed that Enrico’s company had proven themselves a hit.
The dancing onstage stopped, and Enrico stepped up to address the crowd. “Thank you, thank you! It is wonderful to see you all here,” he said, his voice booming even above the din of the city square. “Long have I dreamed of seeing the great Glimmerton in person. Even in far off Fieri, we hear tales of–”
“Go back to Fieri, swine!” a voice echoed from the crowd. The happy expression instantly left Enrico’s face, but after only a second, it returned. There was no humor in his eyes, though. “As I was saying, stories of Glimmerton travel far and wide. In fact, I have a companion with me today from the distant land of–”
“Stay in your own godforsaken country, Fieran! Why don’t you go home and stop polluting our city?”
My eyes narrowed to slits and I began scanning the crowd for signs of the heckler. I had not known Enrico for very long, but I would not stand idly by while someone who had treated me with such kindness was spoken too with such anger and ignorance.
“Leave, and take your verminous children with you! We don’t want you here!”
I saw the man. About my height and stoutly built, albeit with an ample gut. He was dressed in the style of the finer clothes I had seen on the streets of Glimmerton, and I reasoned that he was one of the city’s wealthier citizens. Perhaps he was a soldier who had found his fortune somehow. It didn’t matter. I began pushing my way through the crowd to confront him, at which point I caught Enrico’s eye. A grin spread across his face, and he took a deep breath to speak again.
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I have a companion who hails from the distant land of… of Willvic. Born and raised in the dark and unforgiving jungle, he has all the strength of wild beasts. Six feet tall and over two-hundred pounds of muscle! Strong enough to tear a horse limb from limb! Raised by strange mystics and ascetics to be the greatest warrior the world has ever known! Driven half-insane by the harshness of life! He is the Mad Monk!” Enrico’s grin got a bit wider, his eyes a bit crueler, and he pointed at the man who had been heckling him. “And you, you rotter, he’s coming to have a word with you.”
“Hah! Let him!” The man looked around, his eyes finally settling upon me, and to his credit, there was no fear or intimidation on his face. He raised his fists and I drew closer. The crowd pulled back, and soon we were standing just a few feet apart, encircled by strangers of all walks of life.
A thrill ran through me. Oh, I’d missed the fight.
The man seemed to stink of ale and wine, but I paid it no mind. There was fluidity to his movement, as if he were a practiced fighter operating off of instinct more than conscious thought. I studied him carefully. He didn’t look stronger than me, and I didn’t think he’d be able to outlast my own stamina, but he looked strong enough to take advantage of any mistakes I might make.
He moved. He drew back his right arm, preparing to throw all of his might into his punch.
I stepped forward into him and headbutted the fool between the eyes. He crumbled to the ground like a strawman taken off of its pole.
The crowd gasped. They didn’t know what to expect, but they hadn’t expected the fight to end in a matter of seconds. On the stage, Enrico was laughing uproariously. I was dimly aware that some of Enrico’s troupes were cheering and shouting my name, but all too suddenly I became aware that I was surrounded. The Glimmertonians had me trapped, and if they decided to pile in, there would be no escape.
I felt like I should say something. Some showman’s patter, like Enrico would say. Or else something ominous and threatening, like the wizard would have said. Or maybe even something calm and rational, like Willem. But no words came.
The crowd watched me in stunned silence. Beneath me, the rambunctious Glimmertonian groaned and stirred. I smiled as he tried to crawl away, his bravado beaten out of him with a single strike. I took a deep breath and I shouted, “I am Tusk Willvic, and I’m the strongest feller around! Now who’s next?”