Authors: Ben Galley
Make it look like a bandit raid
, demanded the voice. Farden knelt to the cobbles, and began the most honourable task of stripping the dead bodies of their coin and jewellery. He shrugged. At least he got to keep what he took.
Farden made quick work of emptying the pockets of the dead. He stood up and stretched, looking up to the sky so the rain could wash his face and bloody hands. He looked down at the body of the Duke’s son. His face was slowly turning grey. The mage sighed, and reached for the knife still embedded in the man’s chest. There was but one task left to do.
Bring me his head.
“Kiltyrin, Kiltyrin. Who knew the grass of Albion could breed such a snake. And what a slippery snake he is. Trace the path of a hundred murders and I reckon you’ll find him sitting pretty at the end of every one of them, hands clean and asking for proof. I don’t know why more of us don’t suspect him. Why don’t I try to beat him, you ask? Well, to beat him, you don’t just need to be a better player, you need better pieces too, and I mean one in particular. Nobody’s got a better killer than that Duke, but I’ll be blasted if anyone knows who or what he is. Nobody is safe from him. I like my family as they are. Alive and whole. Nobody has nothing to lose when they’re sitting at the top of a castle.”
A letter written by the Duke of Dunyra to his cousin Lunfris Dunyra in 905. Lunfris was found floating face-down in a well a few months later. Dunyra himself publicly proclaimed it as ‘an unfortunate accident brought about by too much ale and not enough sense’
week passed, and with it the storm. Winter finally withdrew itself from Albion. Had Jeasin the sight to see it, she would have perhaps remarked on the way the sun hovered on the strips of feathered cloud lashed across the sky, how the warm air felt strange on her breeze-pricked skin, how the canals, which had always been described as dull, slate-coloured slugs of things to her, sparkled in the sun. Or she might have just shrugged, and called it another day. It wasn’t just her eyes that were blind.
There were only two things that mattered to Jeasin, and one of them was coin. Didn’t matter who it came from, or why, as long as it came regularly and in reasonable amounts. Coin was more than currency to a woman like her. Coin was food. Coin was a roof. Coin was locks on the doors and blankets for her girls. Guards for the door, if she was lucky.
Jeasin stood at the corner of a house, slouching, letting the wood hold her up. She filtered out the sounds of the riverboats and the gurgling canal and the river birds squawking and listened to the people instead. It was funny how people assumed being blind meant you were deaf as well, as if the two were related somehow. It was also a wonder how many titbits of news a single person could pick up whilst standing on a street corner and simply listening. They ignored the young woman lounging at the corner of the large house, gossiping and chatting about everything under the sun as they walked along the bank of the canal. Jeasin knew their voices all too well. She could hear specific shoes striding across the gravel. Borrol, with his limp. Hunst, the market guard, with his giant boots. She could hear the shrill cackle of Persina and her flock of daughters.
It was the thud, thud, thud of the well-made shoes pacing hesitantly across the bridge that held her attention, the type of hesitant pace that someone exhibits when they see an unfamiliar woman standing next to their door. Jeasin combed her long hair behind her ears and folded her hands in front of her. Ready.
When the shoes stopped a few paces in front of her, she cracked a smile, a smile that many a man had paid heavy pouches of coin for. She could smell the oil of the man’s hair, the musty silk of his coat. ‘Hello, sir,’ she said, waving.
‘Hello,’ replied a deep voice. She could hear the little scratch of a fingernail on a stubbled chin. ‘Can I help you?’ the man asked. Straight to the point.
‘Why yes, I believe you can,’ Jeasin smiled again, making sure to pronounce her words as best she could, as she had been told. She held her hand out to the man, palm down.
A few seconds passed before the shoes took a few more steps forward, and Jeasin found her hand in the surprisingly gentle grip of a rough hand. A pair of lips brushed her skin. Jeasin beamed. She flicked her long hair and bobbed a little courtesy. ‘Jeasin,’ she said.
‘A pleasure, I’m sure. Now what was it I can help you with? I’m in a rush you s…’
‘I understand you’re a man of means and pleasures, or so they say.’
Another pause. The voice spoke again, lower this time. ‘I don’t know what you mean…?’
‘Well, sir, they say you like your pleasures, and that you have no shortage of means to pay for them,’ she replied. She made sure to comb her fingers through her hair again, making sure it was all in place and tidy. He liked his girls tidy, she had been told, expensive-looking. Expensive sounding.
‘And who are
, might I ask?’
Jeasin looked to the left, towards the canals. ‘The girls from the other side of town. On Gossamer Street. I believe you know the place. They tell many a tale of you, sir.’
A brusque cough. ‘Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t know what you’re talking about. Look, what is this about?’
‘Well, I’m not one of those girls. I’m from this side of town. There are girls here too you know, at a certain house not a dozen streets from here,’ she said. She took a step forward. ‘And we’re just as good.’
‘I think you’ve got the wrong pers…’
Jeasin chuckled, almost letting her accent slip. ‘Serfesson, if I heard right? All the girls in Kiltyrin know about you.’ She smoothed her dress. ‘I am here to show you that the girls on this side of the canal are just as good as the girls,’ she waved a hand at the water, ‘on
Serfesson cleared his throat. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘I’m sure they are, but I don’t have the time. Maybe next time I’ll come to see you instead, alright? Now, it was nice meeting you…’ the voice moved past her, the sound of footsteps moving from gravel to the hollow wood of the doorstep. Jeasin turned around to follow.
‘But this offer expires,’ she whispered to Serfesson, pulling what she could imagine was her most coy look.
A key hovered in the mouth of a lock. ‘What offer?’
‘No charge. A teaser, you might say. Of what me and my lot can offer.’
‘Your lot?’ Serfesson queried. ‘As in…’
Jeasin inwardly chided herself for letting her act slip.
, she reminded herself. ‘My girls, I mean. My girls and I.’
‘I do hope so.’
‘And this offer expires?’
‘The moment you close that door with me on this side of it.’
Another pause. She could hear him looking around, hear his stubble moving against the collar of his tunic. Jeasin took another step forward. ‘I can tell you’re interested. I don’t need my sight to see that.’ She heard Serfesson’s mouth break into a guilty smile; a tiny click of saliva and lips moving across teeth. She smiled back. She held out her hand again, this time palm up.
‘I take it you and your girls are discreet? If you know me and my business then you know about my wife.’
‘So I can take your word?’
‘We are most discreet, sir.’
The rough hand grabbed hers, not so gentle any more. ‘Then come inside. I have a little while.’
Just before she was ushered inside, Jeasin turned her head slightly and looked to the city, knowing she was hiding somewhere, in the buildings on the other side of the canal, watching the whole thing. Jeasin walked inside, and heard the door lock behind her. Serfesson rubbed his hands together. Jeasin turned, and smiled, and waited.
‘Lead the way,’ she said, when Serfesson didn’t move. The air in the house was cold. She could smell the smoke of a log fire, and the sweet aroma of dried lavidern, hanging somewhere above her head.
‘Upstairs,’ said a deep voice, and Serfesson grabbed her firmly by the wrist and lead her quickly down a corridor and around a corner. ‘Mind the steps,’ he said, waiting for her to find them with her feet. Jeasin did her best to keep up with him.
They reached the top of the stairs and he pulled her along another corridor and then another, until they came to a door. A handle rattled and hinges creaked, and she was led inside a room that seemed to be slightly warmer than the rest. Jeasin was manoeuvred to a bed and told to sit, which she did. Her smile was now a permanent fixture of her face. It took years of practice to hold a smile like that. She heard a rustling as Serfesson undid the buttons of his coat. She heard it fall in a heap on the floor nearby.
The jangling of a belt buckle now.
A quiet, muffled thud as the door downstairs quietly slid shut. A sound that only a person that lived half the world through her ears could have possibly heard. Serfesson was not one of these people. Jeasin kept smiling.
The sound of shoes being kicked off and tossed under the bed.
Footsteps creeping along the corridor and around a corner.
More clothes landing in a heap on the floor.
Serfesson approaching the bed, his hands resting on her knees.
Jeasin pulled up the edges of her dress, feeling how soft the borrowed fabric felt.
The creak of an old floorboard down the hall.
The creak of the slats under the bed as Serfesson leant over her. She could feel his cold, rough hands on her hips.
The rhythmic stamp of footsteps coming down the corridor, confident now they knew they had their target trapped.
Now this, Serfesson did hear. Sadly, it was just a moment or two too late.
The door swung open and the doorhandle bounced off the wall with a bang. Serfesson, an unbuttoned shirt away from stark-naked, looked up in alarm to find a buxom woman and a muscular man in a formal-looking black tunic standing in the doorway. The woman was pointing and jabbing her finger at Serfesson. Her face was beetroot red. ‘See! In the very act! I told you!’
Serfesson jumped off of Jeasin and grabbed his clothes. ‘Karleah!’
‘Husband,’ replied the plump woman. She turned to the man in the black tunic, who was staring at the whole debacle with the most disapproving expression on his face. Karleah put her shaking hands on her rather buxom hips. ‘And do you believe me now?’
‘I do,’ said the man, in a dry and monotone voice. Jeasin could feel his eyes on her. She shuffled into a sitting position and smoothed her dress. A calm smile still sat on her face.
‘Well?’ demanded Karleah, ‘what are you and the Reever going to do about it?’
The man in black tore himself away from Jeasin and looked Serfesson up and down. ‘Well, m’lady, you’re absolutely right. An unfaithful husband ‘e truly is. Law dictates a compensation, as you pointed out. I doubt the Reever will ‘ave any objection to it, not after
,’ he said.
Serfesson turned a shade of red that rivalled his wife’s, crimson thunder. ‘You scheming harlot!’ he shouted. Jeasin was pretty sure he had aimed that at her. She didn’t move. ‘You set me up, didn’t you?!’
The man in the tunic gingerly tried to grab the half-naked Serfesson and usher him out of the room. ‘Come along you!’ he ordered.
‘You won’t get a single coin, Karleah!’ bellowed Serfesson, but it was all useless. After much pushing and yelling and threatening, Serfesson was finally manhandled out of the room and was escorted down the corridor. Karleah hovered in the doorway until she heard the bang of the door below and the faint sound of laughter drifting up from the people in the street. Karleah reached inside her coat and tugged a fat purse from a pocket. She weighed it in her palm, looking at Jeasin out of the corner of her eyes. The purse jangled.
‘As we agreed?’
‘As we agreed. Fifty. Gold.’
Jeasin stood up and smoothed out her rumpled clothes. ‘An’ I can keep the dress?’
There was a snort. ‘Fine.’
Jeasin walked over to where she knew the woman was standing and held out her hand. A heavy purse dropped into it and she quickly tucked it between her breasts.
‘I don’t want to see you again, hear me? Otherwise this won’t work.’
Jeasin shrugged and tapped the corner of her right eye with her long, painted fingernail. ‘Can’t promise that. But at least only one of us ‘as to worry ‘bout it.’ She didn’t need her sight to know that Karleah was scowling.
‘Time to throw you out, then,’ she said.
Jeasin was marched out of the room, down the stairs, and to the front door, where Karleah made a great show of pushing the harlot down the steps and into the street. She stumbled, but stayed upright, and listened to the whispering of the crowd that had gathered. They already knew who she was. What she was. It was no secret. Just another little slice of gossip for the streets. Jeasin smirked as she heard her name shiver through the crowd like autumn leaves, skittering across the flagstones.
Karleah played her part well. She sauntered onto the doorstep with her hands on her big hips and waved her fist at the young woman. ‘And
out, whore!’ she yelled, slamming the door. Jeasin combed her hair behind her ears and shrugged, leaving the crowd to mutter as she walked away.
Jeasin felt for the wall of the house, the touch of the sanded oak beneath her sensitive fingers, and followed it to the street. Somebody brushed past her and hissed, ‘Harlot,’ in her ear, but she barely even flinched. Insults fade after years of use, becoming blunt like battle-weary blades. Insults rely on probing the open wounds of shame and guilt. She had neither. Their opinions affected her as much as the passing of night and day. What was another insult thrown about by strangers in the darkness? After all, what is an insult, when it is true?
Jeasin traced the face of the wall to the next building, and then to the next, her arms out in front of her like the waving branches of a tree in the wind. Her fingers read the wall like the features of a map. A drainpipe here, a boarded window there. She knew them all.
She paused at a crack in a wall to flick an offending shard of gravel from her sandal, and when she reached up to balance herself, she put her hand on leather and firm flesh rather than wall, and she jumped.