Tis Thursday once more, Venice is sinking, and tis time to join Ragnar Grimfang, Twiceborn, exile, and righter of wrongs on the rough streets of Myrrhn.
I went in to the slums of Myrrhn dressed for war. In hindsight, twas not the best of ideas, but I was angry and wanted to make a statement. People who crawl out of Cliffshadow or West Junker and make something of themselves are special. That is doubly true of those who do so without exploiting their fellows, like Delilah.
I knew it was her brother. As sure as the pack alpha knows which member of the herd they will cleave off from the rest; I knew that the brother was my man. Who else would Delilah risk herself for? She was too smart to fall for some handsome thug who would lure her into an alley and definitely wise enough to steer clear of assassins, thieves, and pimps.
The Cliffshadow Slum clung to sides of three of Myrrhn’s larger islands. It reminded me of the mold and fungi growing on the sides of old forest trees: ugly and slime-ridden, but hardy and full of a vitality and vibrancy at odds with its surroundings.
Dwellings of all shapes and sizes spilled out from the cliffs, a mad honeycomb of wooden shacks, slate hovels, and even shining houses built from discarded copper roofing tiles. There was no rhyme or reason to the place, save that every space that could fit a house would have at least two.
The narrow walkways were crowded as I descended into Cliffshadow. Beggars, labourers, and ill-starred tradesmen mingled with would-be assassins and very real cutpurses. Dirty children, too young for the pickpocket gangs, played in the street, their joyous laughter at odds with my mood and the desperate eyes of some of those around them. As fate weaves, I suppose.
People parted before me. A fully armoured Nordan, obviously angry, is not someone that even the most mindless ganger with a chip on his shoulder wants to pick a fight with, at least not a fair one. It suited me just fine.
But, Cliffshadow is ever shifting, and once the novelty of me wore off, I became a target of a different sort. Naturally they sent a girl. I suppose they have heard that Nordan men are loathe to strike a woman. Naturally they assume it is because we are chivalrous, rather than considering the fact that Nordan girls are as dangerous as the men. Such people could stand to meet Thyra, I think.
I caught the little pickpockets hand easily. Her makeshift knife snapped against my armoured glove. She hissed and kicked and spat as I lifted her off the ground.
“RAPE!” she shouted. No one even gave her a second glance.
“Easy, I want to speak to your handler,” I said. “There’s gold in it for both of you.”
I held up the metal in question. The little urchin girl calmed down immediately, her eyes going round at the sight of the precious stuff. She wasn’t the only one. Thugs can’t recognize priceless kingsmail or mithril-steel weapons, but gold is the universal language in Myrrhn. I took a good look at one man who stared a little too long, growling a little for effect.
“Yvandra, darling, I am going to scourge you bloody for this!” The girl’s handler was a lithe man with delicate hand and a heavily made up face. The scourge that he shook at her appeared to be a paintbrush. His little room was full of colorful canvasses.
“Relax, Beauchamps, the mark has a purse full of gold,” said the pickpocket girl. “He ain’t here to mess with you, he wants to talk.”
“I won’t sell,” said Beauchamps, indignant, hands on his hips. It took me a moment to catch his meaning.
“I am here for information,” I said. “I want to know where one of your former associates can be found. A boy about your age, worked all over here. Had a sister that made it out.”
“You want me to turn on my own, Nordan?” said Beauchamps with a snarl and a toss of his chin. “Go sod yourself with your gold.”
Yvandra looked up, eyes wide, already looking for an exit. You learn to recognize signs of violence in places like this. Beauchamps crossed his arms. I had to admit I admired his bravery.
“The sister was my friend,” I said. “I caught her just like I caught this one here, before she made it out. This morning the watch called upon me to identify her body. Her throat was slit. Her body was hung upside down and drained of blood. You know what that means. Only, the thing is, Delilah didn’t struggle and so I want to see her brother.
I could see doubt cross his eyes.
“I can arrange a meeting,” Beauchamps said eventually. “But I won’t take your money.”
“More gold for me!” said Yvandra, holding out her hand.
“I’ll let you keep the two pieces that you grabbed when I picked you up.” I retorted. “Those are Nordan half-dragons, you can spend them at the Dragonships without having to use a money changer.”
“Three,” said Yvandra.
“Nice,” I said, returning my attention to Beauchamps. “Tell him whatever you want. I don’t care if he thinks he has the odds in his favour.”
“Come back at dusk above,” said Beauchamps. I nodded and left.