Ragnar Twiceborn, Grimfang! / A wolf without a pack, /He prowls the stone shadows, /Bringing wrath and ruin.
I woke, heart drumming, to the ghost of a wolf’s call, clear and mournful, ringing in my ears. Neither of my sleeping companions, however, were disturbed from their slumber. The wolf’s sound was not meant for their ears. I sat and listened, communing with the night. The sounds that came to me were familiar, and spoke of deep night. I heard low voices and the clink of glass. A watchman’s mail from a patrol nearby. All was well. I saw the red moon smiling, high in the sky and settled back in my sheets. I would need my rest, if the signs were right, tomorrow would be an eventful day…
I woke to the crack of a whip and the half-delighted yelps of some brat prince from the Diamond isle. The girls were working today. The bed was empty, but there was a fresh scone, chocolate and orange waiting for me. There was also a small purse containing my ‘allowance’.
I smiled. It is a wonderful thing to be taken care of.
I ate the scone. I stretched. I exercised, concentrating on my legs, and then washed the sweat off in the bath. My mind was wonderfully empty, save for a sense of anticipation.
Today was a day for armour. A studded leather jerkin, obvious but stylish seemed to fit the occasion. My most prized possessions, a matching warhammer and crow’s beak made from silver-black mithril, decorated with wolf’s head and inlaid with runes, found their way onto my belt rings. I decided against anything more ostentatious and set out to the pub.
The Inn of the Willing Wench has a long and storied history in Myrrhn. The three story common room was busy at all times of day, with music playing, drinks served, games of chess and Kavaka in the corners, and starry eyed would-be adventurers at half the tables. I went there for the bacon and the ale.
I was just washing down the former with later when a peculiar shudder ran through the room. I didn’t bother to look up; I could identify this person by scent, even a across a room packed with sweating travelers, strong food and stronger drink. Was she here to see me? Let’s just say I felt lucky.
“Hello Northman,” said Madame Glorianna, sitting down across from me. She was dressed for business, and wearing black. Not a social call. Her bodyguard, a Sirutiran Sword-bride, known as Crimson Wind took up position at the end of our booth. Crimson Wind was still carrying her swords, albeit peace-bonded.
Madame Glorianna was one of the city’s players, the current head of the Doxy’s Union. I knew her from my early days in the city, freshly exiled from Nordan lands. I had taken up life as a bouncer and earned myself a bit of a reputation. I am no stranger to the shadows.
“Hello Madame Glorianna,” I said. “What brings you to my table?”
I met her eyes as I spoke. I could see it immediately: anger. A roaring inferno of vengeance blazed behind those clear blue orbs.
“Someone offed one of my… more promising… up and comers,” she said, painted lips twisting into an involuntary snarl.
Interesting. Normally Madame Glorianna handled her own enforcement. I had been part of that at one time. Crimson Wind was more than adequate to end the sort of cowards who would kill a prostitute. There must be something odd about this death.
“I would be happy to lend my assistance,” I said. I meant it to. The Doxy’s Union is a dirty business, but it takes care of the women who work for it. And as for Madame Glorianna, she had earned my respect. The Merchant Lords of Myrrhn don’t take kindly to any unions; it took someone tough and cunning to do her job. In a way she reminded me of Helma, the defender goddess.
“One of your people was found dead with the girl,” said Madame Glorianna. “We think she got caught up in some sort of blood feud.”
My ears perked up. We Nordan do have an unfortunate reputation for violence. People just don’t understand the finer points of our laws, equating weregild with buying the right to murder. I suppose there was also that time that Cassander sacked Myrrhn and Thrax, but people always forget he was only half-Nordan. To be honest many of our exiles end up in Myrrhn, and those who seek them out for vengeance have given rise to this concept of a blood feud. I did not press the point with Madame Glorianna, however, a discussion of unfair ethnic stereotypes could wait.
“I take it you have preserved the crime scene?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Madame Glorianna. “I will need you to come now so we can clean up. I don’t want word of this to get around either, it will be bad for business.”
“I will keep my teeth together,” I said.
“I know,” said Madame Glorianna. “You have always had a certain talent for this sort of thing Ragnar. I appreciate your willingness to help. I will reward you well if you bring me the person or people who did this.”
I paid my bill and we went outside and climbed into Madame Glorianna’s ornate black carriage. The morning fog had yet to dissipate. Madame Glorianna was not inclined to speak, and I’m not sure I had ever heard of Crimson Wind talking, so I watched the city roll by through the window. We crossed three bridges into Hightown island, ending up at the Pink Pearl, one of the few Doxy’s Union brothels not on Red Silk island.
“I’ll wait for you here Ragnar,” said Madame Glorianna. “Once was enough.”
Wondering at what sort of viciousness it took to turn up the nose of someone as hard edged as Madame Glorianna, I crossed the threshold of the Pink Pearl and followed my escort to the top floor. An interesting day, indeed.