Once again it is time for an update to my serial series about Nordan exile Ragnar Grimfang, tracking down a murderer in the city of Myrrhn.
Lover’s Arch was the most commonly of three bridges that connected the Old Myrrhn to the rest of the city. Since being exiled to Myrrhn I had heard many stories about how the bridge gained its name; my current favourite was a tragic tale of forbidden love that ended with the lovers jumping off the bridge rather than be separated. Of course in the North, this tale would have ended with the two lovers fighting back to back, holding the bridge. If it were a tragedy one would survive.
The entire island of Old Myrrhn was engulfed by a tall stone wall, hiding much of the mansions and grounds from the rest of the city. The bridges all led to stout gates complete with impressive looking portcullises that loomed above visitors, like the teeth of a hungry maw. As I crossed Lover’s Arch I spotted two watchmen with crossbows. I was met by four guards wielding halberds and wearing suits of half-plate armour with menacing helmets.
The guards in Old Myrrhn were paid for by a special “resident’s fee” levied from those who lived there. They answered to the people who ran the island, and not the city itself.
“Halt!” said the largest of the guardsmen as I approached, looking me over. “What brings you to Old Myrrhn?”
His attitude gave the impression that he felt I did not belong here, but he was professional enough not to actually say so. After all, I might be someone of importance, given where I was calling.
“I am here to visit a dear friend,” I said, handing him the Invitation.
The guard pulled up the visor on his helmet as he looked over the invitation. After a moment he nodded, suddenly disinterested.
“Have a great day, sir,” he said, ushering me through the gate. “Can I provide a guide to your destination.”
“I find my way,” I said. “Besides, I might visit some of the parkland on my way through. I hear the Sacred grove of Ellua is lovely this year.”
The guards face did not betray any change of emotion. He merely nodded.
“Just keep that paper with you, sir,” he said. “Other members of the Old Myrrhn Constabulary might ask to see it.”
“Thank you, Captain,” I said, smiling.
Venerable, Ivy-eaten cottages clashed with enormous gleaming mansions amid a verdance that was lacking elsewhere in the colossus of paving stones, treated timbre, tar, sewage, and copper roofing tiles that was Myrrhn. Beds of red roses lined the streets, covering up any odours from the nearby districts. The people were relaxed and secure, which made them friendlier than most. A young woman in a dress with a parasol even ventured a hello in my direction. I had to stop myself from nodding. Manners, Ragnar, manners.
“Good afternoon miss,” I said, making sure to emphasize my accent for her amusement.
“Oh my, we don’t get many Nordan in Old Myrrhn,” said the girl. “What brings you here?”
Something about the exchange set me off. I smiled.
“I’m just here to visit a friend,” I said.
“Ah well, I best leave you to it sir,” said the girl, returning my smile.
I watched her leave, uneasy. My time in the city had left me suspicious of any unnecessary social interaction with strangers that lasted longer than a polite nod. After a moment I moved on rather than gawk in the street, lost in thought.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
That was my plan at getting to Lily Gemarkand. Ruthless and smart, Lily had clawed her way to the dominant position in the Gemarkand clan. I had no doubts that she had enemies in the Gemarkand family who could fill me in on her relationship with her sister, the woman I knew as Sapphire.
The first difficulty would be arranging a meeting without drawing attention to myself. As the head of one of the Seven Families, I was sure that Lily Gemarkand could put the “constabulary” on my trail on a heartbeat if I caught her attention.
I began by taking up a position in a small, expensive tavern near the lower parts of the Gemarkand estate. I reasoned that a good target would be a family member who often spent time outside of the estate. Leaving that kind of comfort for something like drinking was a sign that one does not like the company at home.
His name was Freduar, Lily’s first cousin, a young dandy already fully given over to alcoholism, all save that bitter part of his soul that hated Lily. Normally I would have let such a fop drown his bitterness in bitters, ignoring his whining about how unfair his situation was. Alas, I was force to endure his company for the information I sought. His boredom and indolence made it very easy to strike up a conversation with him. In Old Myrrhn I was an exotic curiosity.
We spoke for an hour, drinking mostly. He painted a lovely picture of the Gemarkand Family. Lily had every surviving member of the family under her power. Secrets that would destroy their reputations at the very least. Freduar repeated the claims that Lily had assassinated her uncles and aunts, but provided no evidence.
“What about her sister?” I asked as time grew short. Old Myrrhn had a curfew for those who bore invitations.
“Oh, you heard about that?” said Freduar, downing a shot. “Funny how that whore turns up now… we all thought that she had ten died years ago. The rest of the city is rough, as I’m sure you know. I Imagine that it shocked even Lily that she’d been alive all this time.”
I was on the verge of asking Freduar what he meant when two burly men entered the tavern. They look at me with cold eyes and moved towards us.
Apparently I was now unwelcome.