"Bang! Bang! Bang!" Three sharp knocks sounded on a thick wooden door.
Within the thatched house, lying under his worn-out quilts, Grimm was pulled out of his sleep with a start. The numbing coldness made him gulp. Without any further delay, he called out at the door, "Coming."
Ignoring his frozen feet, he quickly threw on some ragged clothes. He then snatched a coat from his bed, which served as his second quilt and answered the door. He shuddered the moment he opened the door as the chilling winter winds filled with ice chippings struck against him.
At the door stood a horse-drawn coach and Old Ham was sitting on it. He had curled himself up into a tight ball at the time and was smoking a pipe with one hand and had a whip in the other. Two long furrows left behind by the coach could be seen on the snow-coated road.
"Come on, it's a bumpy road. We're gonna get punished for being late." Old Ham puffed deeply on his pipe and grumbled.
"In a second." Grimm locked the wooden door and adroitly climbed into the coach. Ever since Grimm had landed this regular job with Old Ham, the grievance of "come on, it's a bumpy road" had never ceased to follow him, and he had grown accustomed to it.
Without adding another word, Old Ham took another puff of his pipe and whipped the horse with great force. The old horse snorted and proceeded on its journey in the pothole-ridden snowfield.
While looking up at the dim and gray sky, Grimm reposed himself against the rail on one side of the coach and nodded off. Based on his previous commutes, he knew that it would take more than half an hourglass of time to get to the viscount's residence in this snowy weather and by then, it would be nearly dawn.
Grimm felt a sense of familiarity with the smell of the tobacco that Old Ham was smoking and was grateful for Old Ham's help. Grimm's oldest memory was of himself in Bi Seer City during a blizzard. He could not remember anything prior to that day, and no one knew him; it was as if he had come from a different world. From that day on, he loafed around with a bunch of orphans in the city, while his begging could barely satisfy his hunger, until the childless Old Ham had met and adopted him, thinking of him as a boy of intelligence.
Old Ham chuckled. "When I die, the house and this horse would be yours." Truth be told, the two-roomed thatched house in the countryside and this old horse would not be worth a dime, but it still reinforced Grimm's gratitude toward the old man beside him.
The business they were engaged in was to go to the viscount's residence and clean up the considerable amount of leftovers and other waste produced from the binge drinking and eating of the nobles at the residence from the night before. They were asked to complete the cleaning by dawn, dispose of the trash outside of the city and purchase supplies for that evening's carnival. The commute would take almost a day.
About half an hour later, sounds of clip-clopping were heard as the horse trod onto a smooth pavement. The drowsy Grimm woke up to the sounds of the horse's hooves, sparing the old man from having to wake him up. Knowing that he had been in Bi Seer City and would soon be at the viscount's residence, Grimm shook the snow off his coat, in an effort to make himself look less sloppy.
To dress up would make no difference, though. Most of the nobles at the feast had already fallen asleep by the time Grimm and Old Ham arrived at the Residence in the early morning. For the one or two nobles who were still awake, they would not lower their head and bother to look at the two lousy servants.
The old butler of the residence, however, was someone hard to deal with. He ripped off Old Ham, Grimm and the other servants regularly, and his lame excuse for taking bribes from them was for their sloppiness; not to mention he'd used the excuse more than once.
At the front entrance of the residence, two large guards, who must have been exhausted from standing all night, were nodding off. They came around from their sleep on hearing a neigh of a horse. They then swept a look over Old Ham and Grimm who were on the coach. The two guards could not be more familiar with their faces after years of encounters, and they just ignored them.
Old Ham smiled deferentially to the two guards and jumped off the coach, and Grimm followed him closely. Both of them kept their heads low when crossing the gateway and going all the way toward the luxurious sitting room where they would do their usual cleaning.
The languid Old Ham and Grimm felt a different atmosphere in the place that day. They saw the butler standing in anxiety at the entrance of the sitting room. The butler threw a vicious glance at Old Ham and Grimm with his triangle-shaped eyes as he saw them. He then trotted up to them and snapped in a hushed voice, "Stay here! Don't listen! Don't talk!"
"Okay, Okay," they replied quickly.
The sounds of a fight were then vaguely heard coming from the sitting room. Old Ham and Grimm could discern that a girl was causing a disturbance and without thinking, they speculated that she must be a girl of high birth. Nearly half an hour had passed and it was already broad daylight. Yet it was still bitterly cold and Old Ham and Grimm were shivering. They stomped their feet in the snow-covered yard to try to keep them from being frozen.
The gloomy butler at one side of the sitting-room entrance stepped down to them.
"If you can't bear the weather, then don't come tomorrow."
The faces of Old Ham and Grimm darkened. Old Ham pulled out a silver coin out of his ragged linen coat and slipped it into the butler's hand. "We can stand the weather. We can."
The old butler dexterously plunged the coin into his pocket and left them alone. He then returned to the entrance, looking in restlessly from time to time.
Grimm couldn't help murmuring to Old Ham, "He fleeced us days ago and he is doing it again."
"Endure! This job is craved by many, and he wanted us to quit." Old Ham heaved a sigh. "As people age or near the final days of their lives, they begin to see things clearly and they no longer have the hot-bloodedness of youth."
At the moment, a girl in fancy attire ran out of the sitting room, crying. The girl suddenly stopped at the side of Old Ham. She then turned around and shouted back at the room.
"No way am I going to Lilith Sorcerer Academy, nor will I be a sorcerer, ever!" Her anger was not yet abated; she threw a book on the ground and raced out of the viscount's residence.
"You little rebel!" A nobleman with a bulging belly followed her out.
"What are you staring at?! Go get her back!" The nobleman's face turned red because of his wrath and howled at the two armored guards beside him.
What surprised Old Ham was the deference of the viscount, master of the residence. He was standing next to the nobleman and was showing a miserable expression. He then said something in a faint voice to the nobleman.
"What does she know? Sorcerers rule the world. God knows how much I have done for her sorcery test, and it is due in six months," the nobleman refuted.
The viscount followed the nobleman out of the residence in a great flurry to chase the little girl. The old butler, similarly agitated, followed on the heels of the nobleman and the viscount while calling the guards at the entrance to tag along. Nobody ever paid any attention to the existence of Old Ham and Grimm.
In the blink of an eye, the yard had become silent and empty.
Looking back and forth to make sure that no one was around, Grimm was about to pick up the book thrown on the ground by the little girl, but he was stopped by Old Ham, who had hurried up to him in one big step and slapped Grimm in his hand.
"You wanna get yourself killed?"
"I think it's all right. If we were ever asked about this, we would say that we have disposed of it as garbage. That noble girl threw it away." Grimm grimaced at the pain in his hand.
Old Ham gave it some more thought, and after making sure that there was nobody around, he acquiesced with a nod.
Grimm then lodged the book in his coat and began to help Old Ham clearing the waste in the sitting room and loaded them, as usual, into the wagon that was bridled onto the horse, pretending that nothing had ever happened. Nobody asked about the book during the process, for which Grimm was relieved. They often found things in the garbage, things they treasured that, in the nobles' eyes, were of no value.
The cleaning and loading finished, Old Ham and Grimm mounted the carriage and drove the horse along without any haste. On a coach brimful of garbage, Grimm's sleepiness had dissipated.
He then rushed to take the book out and had a quick look at it. But he frowned. People like Grimm, who had slaved a lifetime for noblemen, couldn't read. Fortunately, Old Ham had gained literacy when he was learning book-keeping for years as an apprentice in a shop, which went out of business. Thus, Old Ham had taught Grimm to read. The reason why Grimm frowned was that he'd found that the book title was composed of weird words, which were not usually seen in the real world.
"Canine Olfactory Enhancement and Odor Mapping? What could this be about?" Grimm hadn't expected it to be such a strange book. He had thought it was a biography on some kind of troubadour, the type of book that was best-selling among the sons and daughters of the noblemen. Suddenly something struck him and, as a result, Grimm's eyes dilated with excitement.
"Could it be a book about great sorcerers recording their magical powers? It was said that sorcerers were mysterious and vicious. They would massacre people, swallow up the eyes of children and do experiments with the alive. Humans were awed by these beings, for the ease with which they decimated civilians and even knights. Nearly no men had ever had the privilege of seeing one and the issue of sorcery was talk reserved for the nobility."
Grimm had pondered in his mind, many times, how the great sorcerers obtained their incredible powers and how they were chosen for learning sorcery in the first place.
"If I became a sorcerer and gained these powers, I would no longer be at the mercy of these nobles!" Excited about the idea, Grimm opened the Canine Olfactory Enhancement and Odor Mapping and began to read it word by word. It was a strenuous effort to read and he had to skip some of the words because he couldn't recognize them. Still, Grimm went wild with joy as if he had found out about a whole new world.
According to the book, ordinary human beings could smell 300 to 400 different types of odors and people with unusual sense of smell could discern up to 600 kinds. These figures were minuscule when compared to the number of scents that could be sensed by creatures like the Youthcry Fowl, a chicken that crowed like a crying baby. Based on experimental results, it could discern at least 6,500 smells. There was also the Shade Butterfly, a butterfly which fed on the odors it collected and could determine the difference between over 8,200 kinds of smells.
The creature with the strongest sense of smell, however, was the three-headed Cerberus. None of the 17,852 types of odors, or the sum of odors that sorcerers had the ability to create, could evade the dog's capture. The book also introduced how sorcerers grew stronger through connecting with animals which had keen senses of smell. However, there was a frequent word "cell" in the book, of which Grimm had no idea.
"Grimm...Grimm!" Old Ham yelled at Grimm twice before he came back to the real world. He then stored the book away and jumped off the coach to help Old Ham dispose of the waste. With the wagon emptied of rubbish, they proceeded with the purchase of the luxuries for the nobles' binge that night. They returned to the viscount's residence by dusk, and received their payment of a few bronze coins for their work before they set off back to their house in the countryside.
Grimm sat on the coach and was absorbed in the reading of the sorcery book, Canine Olfactory Enhancement and Odor Mapping.
"You little tyke. You are so into that book, hah? Is it that interesting?" Old Ham turned to Grimm.
Grimm replied with a big grin, unwilling to take his eyes off the mysteries buried in the book.
"Does the mountain that has life and can walk really exist? Are there rivers that flow from the sky? What are the foreign lands? And why is sorcery so powerful?"
All these questions were unanswered.
"You are 17. Get the house refurbished next year and land yourself a wife from the neighborhood, and I might see my "grandson" born before I die," Old Ham said to Grimm.
"What are you talking about? You will live to be a hundred," Grimm returned casually.
"Ha-ha!" Old Ham whipped the horse and continued their drive on the familiar road.