Why do you bother?

“Honestly, Haspar, why do you bother? Most of these people you help aren’t going to thank you or remember you. And hauling all this junk around—“ she gestured at the huge pile of junk in the wagon behind her “—is a pain in the ass. It’s a distraction. We’re agents of the Crown, not ministers of the Temple.”

The buckboard swayed back and forth on squeaky springs. Alumnet was doing her best to keep their sturdy draft horses on course, but she was distracted by the need for draft horses and a wagon in the first place. They’d be much more efficient and effective moving quickly on individual horses or—oh how it would be divine— griffons. But Haspar insisted they carry extra goods they don’t need just so he can feel good about helping people. They were warriors and problem-solvers, not nursemaids.

For his part, Haspar was perfectly content riding in the back of the wagon, reclined on top of the junk in question. Al was right. Only a small fraction of their load was what most would consider “treasure”; a smattering of gold and other precious coins, a gem or two, and maybe some jewelry that would prove to fetch a good price in the right market. And Alumnet’s sack of wands, of course, but good luck cashing those in. She wouldn’t part with any of them.

Most of what filled the wagon, by volume, would be considered junk by any other discerning treasure-hunter or privateer. Rusted swords, coarse sackcloth, banged up, barely-usable crates, and an assortment of well-worn and crudely-fashioned iron tools.

Pushing past his natural tendency to ignore conversation, Haspar leaned up out of his repose. He selected one of the ill-used weapons, a short sword, then attacked it carefully with a coarse wire brush from his kit.

“The Crown,” his answer began.

SCRAPE

“…gave us the mandate to be the King’s representative…”

SCRAPE

“…in all manner of injustices we may encounter in our travels.”

SCRITCH

A pause.

SCRAPE

“What, do you suppose…”

SCHUFF SCHUFF SCHUFF

“…is the frontiersmam’s lack of sturdy tools, goods, or foodstuffs…”

SCRAAAAAPE

“…when far from trade routes…”

SCRAPE

“…centers of population…”

SCRAPE

“…or fertile farmland?”

Alumnet fumed.

“Those are not injustices, Haspar, merely bad luck. Any one of them could go anywhere, to find the things they need.”

Haspar set aside both the brush and the sword. And stared directly at Alumnet.

“These people I try to help, they’re where they are because the Crown has directed them to be there. The frontier is an opportunity, but it’s also a burden, and—to some—a prison. They have no agency, no power to improve their station other than hard work, hope, and faith in an aristocracy that on most days could not care less about whether their subjects have bread on their tables. The cast-off goods that I provide—that we provide—are the barest of advantages in their harsh reality.”

Al looked over her shoulder at her dwarven companion. His face was chiseled from stone, but there was a softness in his eyes she hadn’t noticed before. Whatever she thought, Haspar’s commitment was sincere.

The horses started to veer into the trees, and Alumnet quickly faced forward and steered them back onto the road with a few choice swears.

“Fine. I get it. You have a bleeding heart, a soft spot for the common folk. So as long as it doesn’t slow us down too much, I won’t fight your little side project.”

In spite of herself, she began to consider the merits of helping out those in need. The dimmest spark of altruism was beginning to burn in her heart. She opened her mouth to continue the discussion, this undeveloped corner of her consciousness.

Behind her, Haspar was already snoring.

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