Chapter Four: Getting Dressed
I went to sit on the nearest wooden stool by the fire to take in the Sage of the Inn’s information, but he quickly stopped me. “WHOA whoa whoa, kid! No one may have a problem with nudity here in the After, but I’ll be damned if you’re gonna sit your unclothed butt on one of these stools that I personally made!” My stance was awkward, as I was crouched halfway between standing and sitting, and I didn’t immediately stand back up.
Picking up on my deer-in-the-headlights look, the Sage sighed and pointed with the still glowing-red iron rod at a man behind a table on the far end of the inn. “Go on over there to Taylor Garby. He’ll set you up with a free starter set of clothes. Get dressed, and then you can come back and hear what I have to tell you.”
He turned his attention back toward the fire in a very “That’s all this RPG’s NPC has to tell you right now!” kind of way, so I stood back up and made my way over to Mr. Garby. I passed the four tavern patrons, who all (again) raised their steel mugs in acknowledgement. I began to think that what I mistook for a welcoming atmosphere was just the affable air from four drunks “half past a buzz” into their afternoon mead.
The man behind the table set his sights on me intently as soon as I’d passed the tavern area and rubbed his clasped hands together like a used car salesman, about to make a lucrative deal. “Mr. Garby, is it?” I asked. “The Sage of the Inn told me to come and see you. He said you’d have a free starter set of clothes for me?” Even as I said the words, it sounded a little too good to be true.
“Ahhhh…. yeah,” he slowly said, like someone about to deliver bad news. “I haven’t really done that for about a half a century now, and I’ve pretty sure he knows that.” Mr. Garby leaned to his right to see around me, casting a withering glance at the Sage. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the Sage of the Inn turn his head back to the fire, smiling with a self-satisfied chuckle.
“Great,” I thought. “Just what I need – a feud between two people I need things from.” I looked down at the table in front of me to see three different outfits laid out – each with silk underclothes included. On the left, there was a full blue robe which appeared to also be silk and all of the same color material. In the middle was a linen outfit – brown drawstring pants, a tan-colored tunic, and what looked like a linen vest lined with dingy white wool. To my right was a similar linen outfit (minus the vest) with a plain breastplate and backing made of thick, hard leather that reminded me of a saddle. It also had a leather belt near it with an iron double-ring for a buckle, which had a sheath on it that bore the engraved letters: “O S F M”. The last outfit was my favorite (of course), but thanks to old bartering instincts, I didn’t make that fact obvious. In the time it took me to peruse his goods, his attention had fully returned to me.
“So, Mr. Garby…” He held up his hand to stop me. “Please. Call me Taylor,” he grinned widely, perhaps at an inside joke that I wasn’t getting. “Okay, um, Taylor, ” I made that sound one makes when uncomfortable, where you stretch your lips downward to their fullest and inhale through your teeth. “I’m… uh… naked…. and well… I don’t have a wallet or anything between my butt cheeks, so… not free?”
He laughed. “Well, not in the traditional sense, my good man. I know that newdeaths come through here fairly regularly, so I’ve worked out a way to provide you all with clothing and lessen my workload a little bit in the process.” His chipper response gave me a glimmer of hope. “So, how exactly do I pay for one of these, then?”
He pointed at me with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “I’m glad you asked.” I was sorry I had. “You see, all you need to do to get one of these fine outfits here is agree to work for me long enough to make the materials for two more just like them!” It sounded easy on its face, but most things do. He flowed smoothly into his pitch.
“The ‘Wizard Outfit’ here (as I like to call it) is made of silk from silkworms that I harvest from my orchard of mulberry trees. It’s not a very hardy outfit, but is light and cool – perfect for a pleasant stroll through the meadows around here. I wouldn’t recommend going through the forests with it, as it would likely catch on thorns or brambles – and trying to cross those mountains behind us is clear out of the question, as you’d freeze solid before you even got to the first peak.” I listened respectfully, nodding my head. “If you chose the Wizard Outfit, I’d have you work for me for three days – harvesting the silk worms from the trees in the morning hours, and boiling and separating the silk cocoons from the worms before stretching them out in the evenings. I’d have you harvesting indigo too, but I can’t seem to get those darn plants to grow in this climate.”
He looked up into my eyes. “That’s the easiest one.” He went on to tell me how I could work in his flax fields for a week for the middle outfit (I think he heard my sigh of relief when he said he didn’t have any sheep for me to shear to pay for the vest lining.), and how I could work two weeks – the last one slaughtering, skinning, and tanning cow hides – to pay for the outfit to my right. I was also relieved that he didn’t have an iron mine for me to work in to pay for the rings on the belt. It was a tough choice, but I decided that I was in this afterlife for the long haul, so I wanted the outfit that I could get the longest use out of (Plus, the middle outfit practically screamed “pauper” to me, and I didn’t want to start my new life that way.).
We shook hands in agreement and Taylor handed me the linen-leather outfit. “I’ll meet you downstairs in the morning for a ride to my place to work, okay?” “Okay!” I happily agreed, and began to get dressed. “Say…” I paused. “What exactly do these letters on this sheath mean? Are they magic runes or… something?” He snickered, “Oh, no – it just means ‘One Size Fits Most’. Most common shortswords will fit pretty snugly in that sheath.”
“Oh…” I said, looking around for the blade that I thought had surely fallen out somewhere close by. “So where’s my… sword?” He clutched at his large belly as he laughed for what seemed like a full (awkward) minute. “Yeah… that outfit doesn’t come with a sword. Even the shoddiest swords are worth a full month’s pay, and the nearest blacksmith doesn’t make deliveries here but every three months or so.” The inevitable question popped into my mind: “Well, when’s the last time…?” He knew what I was going to ask and cut me off. “He just left yesterday, chief. If you want a sword after you’ve paid for the outfit, I dare say you’ll have to either work for someone with an extra one, or try crossing the mountains unarmed. Either way, it’s not gonna be fun.”
Fully dressed, I scowled as I turned to cross the inn again to the Sage.
“Damned afterlife,” I muttered.