After the meal and dessert was finished, the men retired to another room and the women went home. The giant followed the men and sat in a couch with Hugh.
“You know,” said Herbert, “It would be a scandal if it was discovered that we drank with a woman.”
Walker moved to the middle of the room to dilute the wine with water. “Who don’t you trust, your people, or mine?”
Herbert shook his head.
“What should be the topic of discussion?” asked Walker, as he took a seat and motioned to servants to begin pouring cups for everyone.
One of Walker’s advisors coughed. “Sir, might I suggest we determine names for our two anonymous guests?”
Walker reached over and slapped him on the shoulder. “Perfect, and what luck? We are in the presence of a great poet. If anyone knows a lot of names, and what they mean, it’s Mercurius.”
Mercurius looked into his wine cup and swirled it around. “I suppose I am an expert… after all, women are always asking me to give their child a name, but this time they don’t want my name.”
“What about a strong name for her, like Hippolyta, Athena, or Artemis?” asked Herbert.
“I don’t like those,” said the giant.
“What about Minerva or Selena?” asked someone sitting near Herbert.
“Selena isn’t bad,” said the giant.
“It means moon,” said Mercurius. “And as you all know, the moon is a cunning warrior. She can shine bright or she can disappear from sight into complete darkness. She has many strong qualities, yet as the moon, she is the very symbol of the female fertility cycle.”
“On second thought,” said the giant, “While it’s a pretty name, I don’t think I want my name to remind me of… my cycle.”
“What about a name that means tall?” asked Walker.
“A female name that means tall…” Mercuius trailed off. He took a big gulp of wine and strained his face in thought. “Well, I suppose… the people up north, where everyone is much taller, have a name that means tall and is gender neutral: Lang.”
“Hmm…” hummed the giant.
Walker clapped his hands. “You,” he said and pointed at the dwarf. “How do you feel about ‘Kane?’”
The dwarf shrugged. Some around the circle laughed.
“What?” asked the dwarf.
“There are stories about a pair named ‘Kane and Lang,’ and it would be amusing if the two of you shared their names,” said Mercurius.
“What was Kane like?” asked the dwarf.
“Oh, he was a brave warrior,” said Mercurius, smiling. “He killed a dragon with just a stick. A twig, even.” A few people stifled chuckles.
“What about Lang?” asked the giant.
“Well, Lang was a male hill giant, but the name Lang is gender neutral,” said Mercurius. “The Sun fell in love with a tall woman named Lang, and she hid from his advances, finally being turned into the Lang tree, which is known for being extremely tall and flowering only at night.”
The giant looked to the dwarf. “What do you think?”
The dwarf cocked his head a bit, took a drink, and said, “I guess it’s fine.”
Walker nodded to his advisor, who promptly left the room.
“Don’t worry too much about it,” said Walker. “It’s just for administrative purposes. You can always add names later. Some people have five or six names. How many are you up to, Herbert?”
“Five,” said Herbert. “Six after tomorrow, if the Fates are willing.”
“It’s quite a shame you have such bad luck with fate,” said Walker.
Hebert turned to Walker and set his cup down. “I find if I work hard enough, I can make my own fate.”
“Drink up,” said Walker. “Stop treading water for just one night and drown your sorrows.”
“One of us should be sober to make sure we all get home safe tonight.”
“Suit yourself,” said Walker, finishing his cup and holding it up to be refilled.
The night ended after several more rounds and some songs. At one point, servants came out and played reed pipes and lutes. A few drinkers remained passed out in the couches. Hugh carried the dwarf in his arms on the walk home with the giant and a stumbling drunk Walker.
The next morning, they were awoken early. The dwarf and giant were each handed silver engraved tablets. Hugh turned over his bronze tablet in his hands, feeling the weight of it.
Walker approached them with Hank in tow. “Hank here will escort you two to the polls,” said Walker. “After that, you’ll help us buy some more votes.” Walker threw a bag at Hugh’s chest, which he caught by holding it against himself with the table. He lowered the tablet to look at the bag, which had small coins inside.
“Silver, and it’s your job to hand them out to people, I’ll show you how.” Walker walked up to Hugh, and mimes handing Hugh a coin. “Vote for Walker, he’s the choice of prosperity. Now you try, only say something else inspirational and persuasive.”
Hugh digs a coin out of the bag and hands it to Walker, then stands for a second before saying, “Vote for Walker, he’s a generous guy.”
Walker laughed. “I like it, only don’t let go of the coin until you’re done talking. I find that usually has the most effect. I like the generosity angle. It’s refreshingly honest.”
“If you’ll follow me,” said Hank. The giant and dwarf left, but as Hugh started to follow them, Walker held him back.
“I want to talk to you first, it won’t take long,” said Walker, motioning Hugh to his room. Walker picked up the bent nail and squinted at it.
“I’m so sorry about that,” said Hugh.
“So you did do this?” asked Walker.
“I’ll pay for it,” said Hugh.
“I doubt you could afford it, but I don’t care about that. I’m more interested in how you did it.”
“What do you mean?” asked Hugh.
“You didn’t use any tools? No pliers or anything to pry it?”
“No,” said Hugh. “Just my bare hands.”
“Prove it,” said Walker, handing him the other bent nail. “If you can bend that nail nearly straight, I’ll give you… you know what, Hugh? I don’t have any clue what it is you want. Most people, I can just tell within minutes, if not seconds, what they desire, but you… I imagine you could take just about anything you wanted, and yet you have so little. So tell me, what is it you want?”
Hugh thought for a moment. No one had ever asked him anything like that before.
“I thought that melon soup was really good last night,” said Hugh.
Walker smiled and shook his head. “I’ll tell you what, then. If you can bend that nail completely straight, I’ll not only get you the recipe, I’ll make sure someone will make it for you for every meal as long as you’re here. And they’ll make anything else for you to eat, as well, just in case you get tired of melon soup, though perhaps you never will.”
Hugh looked down at the nail, and with great effort managed to bend it like the other, then after struggling to get a grip on both ends, he managed to slowly work the tear drop shape into a U, then nearly a right angle, and before long it was getting close to straightened out. Hugh panted with effort, and Walker stopped him.
“That’s good enough, Hugh. That’s really good. Have you ever given much thought to becoming a blacksmith?” Walker asked.
“Not really, no,” said Hugh. “I know it’s a common profession for my race, though.”
“With strength like that, you could forge metals that human smiths can’t even work with. That would really give our armies an edge. You’d not only be helping me, you’d be helping the whole city, if not the whole empire.”
“Okay, I guess,” said Hugh.
“Gee, don’t be too enthusiastic,” said Walker, smirking. “Don’t worry, if you hate it, I’m sure there’s no shortage of other ways we can utilize your strength. It would just be a shame to let it go to waste, though. You could be a major asset to us all, and we’d be forever grateful for your efforts.”
“I’ll try my best,” Hugh said.
“And I’m about to try my best to win an election, so come on. I’ll take you to the corner I want you to stand at. Oh, and remember only to give a coin to adults, and only one per person, so get a good look at their face.”
Walker continued to talk to Hugh as he walked with him. As they exited the property, a few cheers were heard by those in the street, and Walker turned to wave to them. Walker continued to advise Hugh.
“And don’t be afraid to tell them what they want to hear. You just represent me, you aren’t me. Anything you promise is not something I’m bound to, so feel free to promise anything. If they demand the sun and moon for their vote, tell them I’ll give them the stars, as well. And go for the wealthy while avoiding the poor, because slaves and most laborers can’t vote…”
They moved briskly through a small market and came to a four-way intersection. “This will be the perfect place to showcase your size and simple eloquence. I’ll have someone sent to you with some breakfast in a bit, and we’ll reconvene for lunch before making the final push this afternoon. Good luck, and if you run out of coins, feel free to start dancing or something.”
Hugh looked around. He was surrounded by people moving quickly around him. He looked for a set of eyes to look his way. For the first time in his life, Hugh was in a crowd that he felt was not looking at him. Hugh dug into the coin purse he had put into his pocket, pulled out a small silver piece, and he scanned the crowd again.
He saw a face look up to him, a young man bent over carrying a large basket. “Here you go, vote for Walker,” said Hugh, trying to hand him a coin.
“Can’t you see my hands are full?” said the man.
Hugh lifted the basket with one hand and the man’s eyes went wide. He dropped the coin into the man’s now empty hands. “Do you need some help carrying this?” asked Hugh.
“Sure, I’m going two blocks this way,” said the man. Hugh followed him, carrying the basket in one hand above his shoulder, resting it slightly against his head.
They arrived at a small home, and Hugh set the basket down. “Be sure to vote for Walker, he’s a helpful guy.”
“I can’t vote, unfortunately, but I’ll be sure to tell all I know about the help you gave me,” said the man.
“We appreciate it,” said Hugh. He walked back to the corner.
He looked around again, hoping to make eye contact with someone. While looking around, he saw a man talking to a statue. Hugh walked toward him and saw that it was a poor man, clad in a tattered cloak, holding a bowl up to the statue. As he got closer, Hugh could hear the man pleading with the statue for some food.
The man would ask, “Can you spare something to eat?” then wait a few seconds, as if he expected a reply, before asking again. Hugh approached him and put a coin in the man’s bowl.
“Vote for Walker, he’ll feed the poor,” said Hugh.
The man looked in his bowl, took out the coin and put it in a satchel under his cloak. “Tell me,” asked the beggar, “Why would becoming an elected official make Walker more likely to part with his money?”
Hugh blinked a few times, unsure of what to say. The man sighed and went back to begging from the statue. Hugh walked back to the corner and continued handing coins to those he could. A short while later, a man came up to him with a large piece of bread and a bowl with soup in it. Hugh sat down next to a water fountain as he ate, then continued handing out coins until lunch.
Lunch was a rushed affair, with people darting in and out of the property. Food was set up just inside the entrance, and most people stood as they ate bread, cheese, dried fish and cut fruit. Hugh arrived just in time to see the dwarf depart, who said he had seen the giant head back out moments before Hugh got there.
After he was done eating, Hugh’s purse was refilled and he went back out, with instructions to return just before sunset. At one point, he held a crying baby for a woman as she purchased fish and spices, but otherwise his afternoon was largely uneventful. As he walked back into the property, there was celebrating going on all around him. He saw the heads of the giant and dwarf popping out above everyone else, and he hurried to them.
“Hey guys,” said Hugh.
“He won,” said the giant. “Unless the impossible happens, Walker’s so far ahead that he’s already won.”
To be continued…