Noun of Noun and Adjective – Chapter Three

The Interview

Chad[1] woke up on the cold stone floor of the city jail. His head felt like an anvil, and his insides lurched when he tried to negotiate verticality. After a moment of horrible wobbliness, he decided that the stone floor was comfortable enough to rest on for now. Forever, if it came to that. The stone was refreshingly cool against his cheeks and hands.

He lay there, thinking back to how his week-long journey had ended with him locked up. The journey itself had been relatively uneventful. It had started on his eighteenth birthday, when his uncle had taken him aside for a quiet word.

“Look, boy,” his uncle had said to him, quietly, “I took you in when your parents died cause your mother was my sister, but you’re a man now and there’s not a place for you here. My son, Brad, is going to inherit this farm when I die, and you can’t be hanging around complicating things, so it’s time you went out into the world to make your fortune.”

“Where will I go?” Chad asked, for he’d never been beyond the boundary of his uncle’s farm since he’d arrived there as a baby.

“I don’t really care.” His uncle had paused for a moment, as if considering something. “You could try New Merika City,” he said, sounding a little guilty about sending Chad out into the world without any kind of a plan at all.

So, Chad set off to find his fortune in the city, and spent a week walking there. Which is to say that at least some part of each day had been spent walking although, on balance, most of each day had been spent doing other things such as sleeping under hedge rows or in hay bales,[2] eating,[3] and hunting and fishing.[4] But even though more than half of each day had been spent not walking, it would not be considered a conceit to say Chad had spent a week walking to the city.

Footsteps came along the corridor, jarring the farm boy from his memories. Chad sat up woozily as they stopped outside. Keys jangled, metal scraped against metal, a key slid into the lock and turned. “You, boy,” the guard said as the door opened. “Come with me. Now.”

Chad struggled to his feet and followed the guard out of the cell.

He was taken to another room, with a table and two chairs in it. On the far side of the table James St. James sat in one of the chairs, though of course Chad didn’t know who he was yet. All Chad knew was what he saw, a dark-skinned, bald and bearded man wearing grey clothes that looked as if they had been made especially for him. Which was not that unusual. Most new clothes Chad had encountered had been made especially for the person who had been wearing them. His aunt had often made shirts for his uncle. But Chad had never seen clothes that fitted as perfectly as these.

“Have a seat.” St. James indicated the seat on Chad’s side of the table.

Chad sat. The guard left, closing the door behind him.

St. James ignored Chad for a moment, sorting through a folder of loose papers on the desk in front of him. “My name is James St. James,” he said, without looking up. “I am a lawyer. Do you know what that is?”

“No,” Chad admitted.

James St. James glanced over at Chad. The farm boy was of indeterminate height and indeterminate everything else. In fact, he was fairly average in every way.[5] His hair was the colour of coffee beans which, let’s be honest here, is a ridiculous thing to say considering that coffee beans come in a wide variety of colours, from the white of monsooned malabar, to the earthy brown of Jamaican blue mountain, from the almost red of panama geisha, to the rich, shining brown of kapen barako, from the grey of catamor to… well, his hair was red, or white, or brown, or grey, or something, depending on the light and the flavour of the bean, and his eyes were a shade of grey or green, or blue or black or brown or b’hazel. His smile, which was almost never off his face, as if he’d mastered one expression and gotten no further, was hesitant and almost shy, like he didn’t quite get the joke but was smiling anyway. The sun had darkened his skin until it was the pale brown of a freshly made milk cookie.

In short, he was young, white, handsome enough in his own homespun way, physically fit, completely on his own in the world, more than a little naïve but not simple-minded, and an absolutely perfect candidate to be some sort of hero, prophesied chosen one, lost prince, heir to a throne, or even just a really good dwarv burglar. That no wizard had roped him into a life of adventure, peril, and riches definitely seemed to be some kind of oversight.

But it was an oversight James St. James could capitalise on. “A warrior is an expert in war. A farmer is an expert in farms. A lawyer is an expert in law. I make sure dangerous criminals go to prison and stay there, and innocent people, wrongfully arrested, get set free.” Of course, he had a lawyer’s view of innocence, which was that people who could pay for his services were innocent, and the poor were always guilty of something.

“I’m innocent,” Chad said. “At least, I think I’m innocent. I’m not really sure what they arrested me for. They said I was standing illegally.”

It was a story the lawyer had heard many times before, though usually he was on the side of the guards, charging the poor unfortunate’s that made their daily quota. New Merika was the poster city of private enterprise, and its private city watch protected the rights of those citizens who could afford protection, and occasionally lethally apprehended innocent individuals in the course of arresting their daily quota of the poor. To err is human, to randomly execute innocent people without fear of reprisal is cop. St. James looked through his sheets of paper and held up one that he read from. “Loitering, vagrancy, illegal immigration, disturbing the peace, holding up the traffic trying to enter the city, arguing with an officer of the law in the execution of his duties, attempting to prevent an officer of the law from executing his duties, resisting arrest, and apparently you damaged an officer’s weapon… with your head. It’s not looking very good for you, I’m afraid. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up facing the death penalty.”

“They’d kill me for that?”

“No, of course not. They’d fine you and execute you when you can’t pay your fines. I’m assuming you can’t pay. You had no money on you when you were arrested. Do you have any property in the city? Or a job? Maybe some family who could pay it for you?”

The only family Chad had was back on the farm, a week’s walk from the city, but that didn’t matter because his uncle would never pay anyway. “I’m an orphan,” he admitted. “I came here looking for something different from farm work.” He blinked away tears. Were they really going to kill him because he didn’t have a job? “I… I can find a job, if I can get out of here. Maybe I could pay the fine up or something?”

“Hmm. You say you are a farm boy?”

“I was. Does that matter?”

James St. James considered him carefully. “Unfortunately, everything so far has been legal – the guards saw you breaking laws and arrested you – nice little bonuses they’ll get – and the processing was all above-board. You just confirmed with me that you can’t pay the fine… although, maybe…”

“What?” Chad asked, desperately seizing his only chance.

“There might be one option available to you. But before the offer can be made, I need to ask a few further questions. Now, you mentioned that you’re an orphan. I need to know, are you sure about this? There’s no chance you could be mistaken?”

Chad frowned. “Do you honestly think I could be mistaken? My parents died. It’s not the sort of thing people forget happening, right? I mean, I can’t remember it, because I was a baby, but they definitely died.”

St. James took a note of this on one of his sheets of paper. “Were there any enigmatic portents surrounding your birth such as, but not limited to, strangely shaped comets appearing in the night sky, rains of toads, two-headed lambs, the appearance of enigmatic Gods, the appearance of non-enigmatic Gods, the appearance of a star brighter than all others in the sky directly above your cradle, the sudden arrival of enigmatic, allegedly wise men who brought your mother gifts and completely ignored your father, or any other portentous, enigmatic signs?”

“I can’t actually remember being born,” Chad said, then figured this might not be enough to save him from his fines and execution. “But I’m sure I would have heard if there were, and I didn’t, so I think there wasn’t,” he finished with a rush.

St. James marked that on his paper. “Do you feature in any prophecies?”

“Not that I know of, and I’d know, right? Someone would have told me at some point, right? Wait, they would have told me, right?”

“An enigmatic orphaned farm boy should surely feature in at least one prophecy.” He marked something on his sheet of paper before looking up at Chad again. “Moving on, do you have an enigmatic crown shaped birthmark, an enigmatic always sharp sword that has been passed down for generations, or a secret enigmatic ring that can turn you invisible?”

“Why is everything you mention enigmatic?”

“It’s a mystery.”

“It really is,” Chad agreed. “My parents were tenant farmers. They passed me nothing when they died. Not even any land.”

The lawyer pursed his lips at that. “Are you trying to tell me that you are, in every way, completely and utterly normal and ordinary, and have no secret powers, hidden destinies, or unlikely allies?”

“That’s right,” Chad agreed. “None of them.”

“A completely ordinary orphaned peasant farm boy?”

“Oh, no,” Chad said, guessing what this had all been about. “If I was special, I’d get out, right?”

St. James smiled. “On the contrary, young man, if you were special, I’d send you back to your cell. Destiny doesn’t pay my wages, and trust me I’m not cheap. But it is unexpected to find a completely ordinary farm boy, not spoken for by any adventure. Well, they say there’s a first time for everything, and it was bound to happen eventually, I suppose.”

Chad blinked. “You can get me out then?”

“The company I represent may pay your fine. If they do, you’ll owe them, and they’ll give you an opportunity to work off the debt. Sound better than dying?”

Chad nodded. “It really does,” he agreed happily.

“Good.” The lawyer returned his attention to the papers before him, and put the finishing touches to the picture of a duck he’d been doodling. “Do you have any rare, communicable, foreign diseases that you may, or may not, be aware of?”

“Foreign diseases can talk?”

“That’s not what communicable means. It means that you can pass them onto others.”

“Isn’t that what contagious means?”

“That has nothing to do with this,” the lawyer said, because it was preferable to admitting he had pondered the same question. “Do you have any rare, communicable, foreign diseases that you may, or may not, be aware of, or not?”

“If I wasn’t aware of it, how would I know?”

St. James hmmd. “I’ll put that down as a yes.”

“It was a no.”

“It was a not knowing, which is the same as a maybe, so I’m putting in a yes. Now, moving on, have you ever received any military training?”

“I grew up on a farm,” Chad reminded him.

“A military farm?”

“No. How many of these questions are there?”

St. James shuffled his sheets of paper. “A few thousand. We’d get through them faster if you could answer without going off on tangents.”

[1] Let me forestall some arguments right here, okay? You’re going to say that Chad is a modern name and its use here is anachronistic, and I’m going to refer you to Chad of Mercia, the 7th Century Anglo-Saxon Saint. And then you’ll say that’s fine, but a name like Chad looks out of place in a fantasy novel, and then I’ll surprise you by agreeing that it does, because giving English names to characters who don’t speak English is weird, but if I wrote the entire book in some wonderful conlang, no one would be able to read it, so this is the compromise we have to make.
[2] 30% of each day
[3] 4.17% of each day
[4] 16.67% of each day
[5] As a white, orphaned farm boy, Chad is quite obviously the hero of this story. He’s average looking to more easily allow the reader to identify with him, and see themselves as the hero, provided, of course, that the reader is both white, and male. You don’t have to be an orphan or a farm boy, though, because that would just be silly.

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