Slippery John would probably have some money, I thought. If he was reluctant to part with it I could always stand within smelling range until he changed his mind.
"Name," said a voice.
I turned. An elven hunter was staring at a point just to the side of my head with the unmoving intensity of an obvious Syndrome victim. Absolutely nothing about his manner indicated that he was addressing me, so I attempted to walk away before we caught something horrible from each other.
He wasn't to be dissuaded. He burst momentarily into a dramatic sprint until he'd closed the four yards between us and pressed his nose against my forehead. "Name," he said again.
"Jim," I admitted. I'd made the mistake of getting backed into the fountain, and now there was no path of escape. "How do you do?"
His voice had no emotion or intelligence behind it. It was less like communication and more like expressionless throat noise that coincidentally formed words, like a dog saying "roof." "Freelance," I said eventually. "If I could just get out of your way, I'm a little bit freaked out ..."
"Quests?" An ever-so-slight upturning of pitch towards the end of the statement led me to conclude that it was a question.
My gaze immediately swung over to a nearby sign that I'd noticed earlier and been somewhat baffled by. It read, "NON-ADVENTURERS WITHOUT QUESTS ARE ADVISED TO NOT STAND IN ONE PLACE FOR LONG PERIODS."
Now that I knew what to look for, I saw them dotted throughout the crowd. Questgivers. Armored knights in the pay of lords and barons stood around the areas of highest traffic, soliciting cheap muscle for dirty jobs, shoulder to shoulder with farm workers looking for someone to shoo the gnolls off the pumpkin patches. I'd stumbled into some kind of quest exchange.
My first thought was to shrug him off and leave, which was backed up by my second, third and fourth thought. But it was my fifth thought that somehow got control of my voice.
"Yes, I have a quest for you," I said, placing two fingertips on his sternum and gently pushing him out of my personal space. "Lend me fifty talans."
Our gaze met for a few seconds, or rather, I looked into his eyes and he focused vaguely on something behind my head. Then he produced an understated but roomy purse from his britches, shook out five freshly-minted coins, and thrust them forwards.
"Your quest is complete," I announced, jingling them in my palm. "Well done. You are truly a hero."
The tiniest glimmer of understanding flashed momentarily in the center of his dead eyes, then he turned a smooth 180 degrees and jogged off into the crowd, swinging his hips.
Fifteen minutes later I emerged from the tailor in an inexpensive but hard-wearing outdoor robe intended for long-distance trekking and battle magic. My old robe had already been peeled off, wadded up into a foul-smelling blob and dropped down the deepest storm drain the tailor's assistant could find. With my own personal quest completed, I headed back towards the Street of Inns.
Something was going on in the town square. The elf I'd "hired" for my "quest" was being interrogated by a small throng of adventurers. I wondered if I should be concerned until the elf saw me and removed all doubt by pointing a stiff, accusing finger in my direction.
The head of the little group, a blonde dwarf, bore down on me with anger bristling to the ends of his absurd mustache.