Thu Mar 12, 2015 5:17 am
It had been a fortnight since the highwaywoman had darkened the door of the Floating Dragon. The gaming hell wasn't her favorite dive; she preferred whiskey holes where the booze flowed freely, without the distractions of gambling to distract one from their drink. There was one main reason she came to the Dragon. A one-eye named Blort. It was easy to spot the squat little sneak-thief. He was at the bar, nursing a mug of ale - alone and scowling fiercley.
"Whiskey. A bootle." Ailova took the seat next to Blort, glancing askance as the bottle was placed in front of her.
"Old and homely! You still owe me!" Blort's face wrinkled up like a petulant pug-dog denied a bone. The black patch was on his left eye tonight, but Ailova had long since given up trying to remember its original placement.
"Aye, that I do, Blort. And I'll be 'appy enoof 'o pay. Save, I need ye 'o find me partner. Elias. Cannae ye 'elp?"
"HELP! That's what I did last time!" Blort looked disgusted, but his frown eased a bit as Ailova filled his mug to the brim with whiskey.
"Do ye ken 'is location?"
"Mayhap. Leave this bottle and I'll see what I can manage." The greedy sod grabbed the bottle, giving Ailova a quick nod.
"Tell 'im." Well, hells. What should she tell him? "Tell 'im I need 'o see 'im and all is well and fair." The bandit glanced about the raucous gaming hell, drawing up the collar of her frockcoat.
"Was it you or him that put down the bloated bear?" Blort asked suddenly, fixing his one eye on her with a curious look.
"I havnae a clue wot ye mean. I dinnae care fer huntin'." The highwaywoman slid off the barstool, tossing a few shillings to the bartop. She doffed her hat to Blort, but didn't wait to trade more quips. Instead, she hastily made her exit from the gaming hell.
Sat Mar 14, 2015 4:44 am
Appointed time. Appointed place. To hell with it all; I hate meetings.
I'd told Blort to tell her to meet me here at the Broken Dagger, because in the town, there were sometimes too many ears listening to too many words that weren't theirs to have. I knew the time for the rendezvous -- right after the cock's crow, I'd told Blort with theatric gravity -- would probably be unpleasant for a whiskey-logged skull like hers, but while the farmers tend the fields, people like us have the liberty to speak about whatever we need. So I ate my morning sausage. The skin burst between my teeth. I scraped the grease off my fingers onto the side of the table where I sat.
This early in the morning, nobody cared much about who you were; nobody cared why a wharf-worker like me would be dabbing his bread in his breakfast-grease and not hauling the morning's cargo with the rest of the salty-smelling scabs. I turned my face against the day's first light as it trickled lazily in the nearby window. I wasn't hungry, but I ate; I watched the fat coin of the sun crawl over the forest and take its morning post in the cloudless east.
Her cup of whiskey sat across from me, waiting for her.
Sat Mar 14, 2015 7:01 am
It didn't take long for Blort to locate Elias. As much as the one-eye irritated Ailova, she couldn't deny his skill at finding people. A wry smile took hold of her lips as she nodded to Blort's message from her misplaced partner. They were to meet at the Broken Dagger "right after the cock's crow. Figured he'd pick an ungodly morning hour, given what he knew of both her profession and fondness for the drink.
The brigand was not one to be tardy; not when there was business on the line. The business of two hundred newly minted gold sovereigns.
Ailova came down the stairs of the Dagger, shrugging into her frockcoat and smashing her new hat to her blonde head. It didn't take long to locate her partner in the almost empty common room. How kind. There was even a glass of amber clear drink in front of him - waiting for her, she doubted it was for himself.
"Elias. Fer a moment I believed ye 'o 'ave fecked off 'o ports unknown." The highwaywoman took the seat across from him, tugging the brim of her hat in way of greeting.
"I've 'ot verra good news and verra bad. Where would ya lioke me 'o start?" A bright smile splashed across a gaunt face, a glimpse of golden teeth flashed before she took her first sip of whiskey.
Mon Mar 16, 2015 9:39 am
"If I'd have gone off anywhere," I tell her, "you sure as shit wouldn't find me sitting here."
But I am. I'm there; I didn't actually want to be there, not because the company wasn't good enough, but because the last thing I wanted were some of those bug-eyed Constables marching their way in for a hearty breakfast. But risks are worth it; the Floating Dragon was the first place they'd look for talk about the missing sovereigns, and the food was generally less unappetizing here, so...
She looks like she always does. If there's one thing I can give the brigand, it's that she doesn't disappoint -- she's reliable, and she's trustworthy enough behind those molded teeth. She grins; I grin. "I'm staying busy," I tell her. "Boats on and off the wharves every day. A fellow's got to find a way to fill his pockets and afford at least enough to buy a friend a drink, doesn't he?"
As she drinks, I lower my voice and lean forward, hovering over the plate of my half-eaten food.
"Bad news first. Good news after," I say.
Because the truth is, no news was what I was hoping most to hear.
Tue Mar 17, 2015 6:22 am
The whiskey was set to the side. A sip was enough in the morning to keep her shakes at bay. Gloria's words still ran through her ears - the drink was a frustrating noose about her neck - as real as any the executioner would eventually place about her throat. Memories of the night of the heist, the frightened nob and the bolt that Elias accidentally sent to his bloated face - blasted through her memory. Again, she felt no regret for the bastard's death, but she did feel regret for her partner and the fear that most have trickled down his spine every time he saw a constable march by in town.
"Noo one is investigatin' the incident. Everraone is focused on the red bein' in the woods and the more pressin' dangers it presents." Ailova's voice dropped to a low whisper; she too leaned forward across the table to better speak in such hushed tones. To a simple passerby it appeared the two were involved in an intimate conversation and they were - but their intimacy was tied with business.
Elias and his brown hair, his wharf smelling clothes, his hardened smile, all of it made the bandit relax. The man had been the first partner shed found in Myrken and honestly, he was the one left whom she'd trust as this madness progressed.
She'd given him the good news first, but the good news had to come first in order to explain the bad.
"Ye 'ave 'o forgive me for givin' the good news first. But it better explains the bad I'm aboout 'o deliver." Now she needed another small sip of whiskey, before going further with her telling.
"The spices are safe. Verra safe. They be in the woods. Safely hidden and untouched." Well. Mostly untouched. Phor had been paid her share for the valuable information provided and then that bleedin' bastard of a sell-sword was paid for doing nothing! However, the blonde bandit wasnae about to tell Elias of that particular mistake. No feckin' way.
"And. The woods be in the clutches of yon red devil. 'Tis noot necessarily a halt 'o our procuring our goods - it did give me permission, but I might've angered it between then and now."
There it was out on the table, alongside the remainder of what broke his fast that morning.
Wed Mar 18, 2015 2:57 pm
The spices are safe. Verra safe.
"It's all good news," I correct her after she finishes explaining. I jab and toss a piece of half-eaten sausage around on my plate, pewter singing against pewter as I make like a four-year-old and play with my food. Whatever this red devil is, I assume that's what the bills and posts I'd seen tacked around Myrkentown were about. Lots of rumors on the wharves, thick enough as the waves and foam smacking against the mossy hulls of the riverboats. "Patience," I tell her, gnawing on a rather stubborn lump of grizzle, "is worth as much as any of those spices hidden out in those woods.
"Bones dry up. Skin rots. Corpses molder. But metals like those," I say, lowering my voice conspiratorially, "last for centuries, outlive men and red devils alike. Truth is, if whatever the fuck's out there is keeping other people from getting too curious and digging up our cargo, we're in a better position than we were several weeks ago."
I smile; I'm not much for doing that, but I imagine she could use one. Truth was, I hadn't yet really grasped the sheer vastness of the fortune she'd hidden out there. It was almost enough to make me forget about how his face had distorted in that last second of his life, the way the bolt lanced just under his cheek and scattered blood out across the ground, the broken angle of the fletching driven through the bulbous mountains of his skin...
But if what Ailova Smith needed -- and it was arrogant as hell of me to think she actually did -- was a smooth, strong-willed fellow to assure her, I'd be that.
I flapped my hand for a top-off on her whiskey.
"I'll work the wharves. You keep your head low. Do whatever it is you do that isn't getting hanged in the street, and we'll let the Constables dance all they want with their devil until they're so tired, they forget about us altogether."
When the bleary-eyed morning barmaid comes with the bottle, I nudge my mug for a dram's worth, too.
"What is it, exactly," I ask, "that's putting stains in everybody's knickers, anyway?"
Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:53 pm
It wasn't until she let out a long relieved sigh that she realized she'd been holding her breath. The stress of having a fortune just out of reach and in the territory of the Red Devil had been more frustrating than having no fortune at all. Plus, there were the partners that had come and hastily fled - but Elias wasn't aware of them. And Ailova wasnae about to tell him of those sods.
"Metals like those last for centuries, outlive men and red devils alike."
"Noot 'o sound lioke a whey-faced chit oout o' the schoolroom - but I be glad ye are 'ere. And that ye be pleased with the current state o' our shipment." Our shipment. Honestly? It was best the matter stay in their hands. They were the ones who'd liberated the gold, killed for it, hidden it, and subsequently they'd be the ones to spend it.
Another smile was exchanged between the two highwaymen and Ailova relaxed even further. Enough that she'd drained her glass before realizing it; Elias waved for a refill and her next smile glinted genuinely with her gold teeth catching the morning light that dared break the darkness within the taproom. However, when he asked after yon Red Devil that smile slipped a bit further into frown.
"It's a beast! A murderous hoorin' beast!" A work-roughened hand trembled as she took a fortifying sip of whiskey. Elias didn't know about Gaewinn. And it pained her to relate the story again, but she would for her partner. "The 'orse ye rode when we were ridin' 'ogether? The Red Devil et 'im. Blighted me in the brains and swallowed the poor bastard 'ole." Whiskey didn't make the story any easier to tell, but it did numb the blinding pain that seared behind her eyes with the retellin'. That was a weakness. It was weak to care for a piece of property so much that it caused pain that twisted like a nest of newly-hatched snakes in one's belly. Ailova swallowed. She wouldnae be weak in front of him.
"It now gives me any loost beasts it collects aft'r etin' their owners. Gives me tasks like a noob's fart-catcher. I 'ate it. But. It's agreed 'o let me in the woods 'o gather our spices. And it's allowed me the company of me partner - ye."
"What is it, exactly, that's putting stains in everybody's knickers, anyway?"
"I be not sure. I thought it be a dragon? But it isnae. It is far more powerful than that - but it hasnae fire breathin' capabilities. Nae that I've witnessed. It can shift it's shape and move like a viper - but it isnae a snake. It's far more evil. Snakes et when they are 'ungry, aye? This thing ets because it be full of hate and disdain for 'umans." With those words Ailova spat to the floor, very narrowly missing the slippers of a passing barmaid.
"So. If'n ye want 'o wait it oout? I be fione with that arrangement. I have managed noot 'o get me neck stretched this loong - wot's a fortnight moore or longer?" When she looked back to Elias, her smile was once more restored. Hells, she even snuck a piece of greasy bread from his plate. One of the last nibbles left from his breakfast.
"And if'n ye wish 'o collect it sooner? I'm aboout that 'oo."
Sat Mar 21, 2015 5:04 am
The 'orse ye rode when we were ridin' 'ogether? The Red Devil et 'im. Blighted me in the brains and swallowed the poor bastard 'ole.
She didn't say it, but she felt the impact of that loss -- the way she reached for that whiskey,the way she drank like she was trying to fill up a hole inside of her. When the barmaid slipped away, I leaned forward on my elbows and folded my hands under my chin.
"Hell," I said. "Hell. I take it you cared for him, but you have to keep yourself clear: that's one piece of evidence that can't held against us if anybody got too curious for their own well-being. He was a good horse, a good one, and it was a pleasure to ride him--" I didn't tell her right then that I could barely remember the young steed's long face, or that I didn't give a shit about horses, "--but around these parts? Horses can be more recognizable than men, and that's one link always be missing."
She spoke about the beast as we drank. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of mystery she was weaving together. Neither dragon, nor viper, nor vapor? I gave a glance over my shoulder toward the rim of the morning woods, trying to squint through the glass of the nearest window to survey them. Her simile about the fart-catcher made me choke on my whiskey. I wiped the hearty cuff of my longcoat's sleeve under my chin and clapped my mug down on the table.
"You've got a will, Ailova. Stronger than most, and damn unused to hide who you are behind what people want you to be. For right now, take advantage of the circumstance. Let that blasted thing lord over our spices even if it doesn't realize it's doing so. Safer there," I reasoned, "than in our hands until time wears away people's memory. Run its horses, but within reason: don't disobey enough to lose your head, and don't be an accomplice in its deeds. Take care of no horses you think can be traced back to anyone with clout.
"Play your hand smart and safe. Just be Ailova, and nothing more than that. Take it from a coward." I thumped my thumb against my sternum. "When you're nobody knows who you are, that's when you're safest."
I met her eyes. I changed the subject. I wanted to show her that sometimes partners can also be friends.
Nudging my half-drained mug to her, I smiled.
"You want I should do anything to make all this easier?"
Mon Mar 23, 2015 4:28 am
It wasn't often in her wayward life that men surprised her. Quite the contrary. Males did as she expected them to do. Most of them challenged her, for the simple fact she was a woman in breeks. Or they scoffed at her - once again because she was a woman in breeks and uninterested in being a female.
Yet, here was Elias. Calm, level-headed, and giving her sage advice. Advice that she was actually listening to; the more she listened the more she was able to smile. The smiles had been forced at the beginning of their talk, but by the end they'd become genuine. There were no put-downs, no snide comments over her drinking - instead he seemed most congenial. Even more shocking? He was sympathetic towards her and the burdens she'd been faced with.
"Take it from a coward. When you're nobody, no one knows who you are, that's when you're safest."
"Yer nae a coward, Elias. A coward wouldnae work as we did." Green eyes followed his gaze out the window and to the woodline, "A coward wouldnae be sittin' 'ere noow."
Their eyes met across the table and Ailova looked for any manner of tell. Something that would show her that he possibly wasn't this accepting of their circumstance. However, there was no tell. The look that was painted across his plain features was as honest as a sinner on Judgement Day.
"You want I should do anything to make all this easier?"
A quick flash of gold teeth and her smile turned wry, "Aye. Get drunk with meself later. Aft'r yer work at the doocks. Tell me o' the doxies, the shipments, anythin' ye please. Take me bleedin' miond off o' me ward and the Red Devil. If'n only fer an evenin'."
Ailova stood up, glancing to his half-filled mug that he'd pushed over to her side of the table, "I'l' buy." A part of her wanted to turn from the offered drink, but instead she drained the cup and passed it back to him. The wide-brim of her hat was doffed to him, as she stepped aside and headed for the stairs. It was too feckin' early and the highwaywoman needed sleep.
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