The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.42

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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After the cheering died down. Vethri and Eiskra remained in speaking position. Diamond Silvermane frowned.

“Normally we would call for a vote now,” said Vethri. “As is custom for a leadership challenge. But, given the unusual circumstances, we would like to suggest that a full election be held. The Union is only recently recovered from a fractious end to Madame Glorianna’s leadership and Diamond Silvermane entered the race too late to be given fair consideration. It will also give the rest of you a chance to put forth your vision for The Union, should you wish to throw your name into the contest.”

A ripple went through the crowd. Diamond Silvermane’s exquisite face betrayed some surprise.

“As always, we will put this suggestion to a vote. All those in favour of running a full election, at no cost to the Union, in order to be as fair as possible to Diamond Silvermane and others, raise your hands.”

With a sea of hands thrust into the air, the suggestion carried easily. I could see Diamond’s jaw clench in anger. Her supporters seemed to think they were doing her a favour by supporting the motion, but I could tell that she did not want it this way.

After business was concluded, Diamond Silvermane sauntered off into the crowd without another word. Many of the Doxies fell in behind her.

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“Why is Diamond so angry about another election?” asked Carmen while The Twins wound their way through the Union Hall, greeting people and gathering support. It was a thankless task, and one I was not eager to repeat my part in.

“I don’t rightfully know, Carmen. It did make her angry though.”

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Later on the carriage ride back to our home, I broached the subject.

“We knew that Diamond was fairly confident that she had strong support for a single vote,” said Vethri. “That is based on a read of her personality, and the depths of her backer’s purse. A leadership challenge only gives those present a vote, and allows a secondary vote for the rest of a membership if it carries. Winning the challenge would give her a strong case to the membership at large though. Even if she was unable to carry a leadership vote she would be seen as the main opposition by default. Having her run an open election against, not just us, but all of the other factions. It will cost Lily Gemarkand more money and will force Diamond to navigate the difficult areas of Union politics.”

“What she is trying to say,” Eiskra mock-whispered to Carmen. “Is that we want Diamond to suffer through the same bickering and infighting that we have for the last eighteen months.”

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A few days later, as I was researching the last morsel of information that I needed to return to the North, a letter from Lily Gemarkand arrived. It was addressed not to The Twins, but to me, asking me to attend upon the lady of the Emerald Tower in her private box at the Kaemoul’s Playhouse.

I was intrigued.

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.41

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. Today has been especially crazy, glued to my computer watching the Comey testimony.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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There was loud applause as Diamond Silvermane yielded the floor to Eiskra and Vethri. Her confident delivery and sheer force of beauty had won over many in the hall. I hoped it was a temporary enchantment. She winked at me as she sat down. I did not swoon,

“You all know us,” began Eiskra. “We’ve told our story so many times in the last year, that I am sure that many of ya’ll can recite it by heart.”

There was some muted laughter.

“You all know about Gentleman Jim, and the horrors he inflicted on our sisters before Madame Glorianna and others came together to challenge him. As I’ve said, we have told our part in this story many times. After he left his mark on our faces and then left us to burn with our sisters, we crawled from the ashes, gathered allies, and put Gentleman Jim where he belonged…”

“WITH THE FISHES.” yelled someone.

“Quite so,” said Vethri, taking up where Eiskra left off. “You all know that we went on to prosper, in spite of the ugly scars that Gentleman Jim left us. We are wealthy and powerful now, respected throughout the city. One might even say that we have risen to the level of our ambitions. And yet, we are happy to pay our full dues to The Doxies’s Union, even if we do not see benefit for ourselves. That may seem like a paradox to some, but to anyone who has seen what we have it is not.”

Vethri paused and cast her gaze around the hall.

“You have heard our tale. But what of all of our sisters that died in the flames that day, and did not live to ‘meet their ambitions’? Some of those whores and joyboys had children or family that depended on the money that they brought in. Under Madame Glorianna The Union made sure that they received a stipend. We take care of our own. It took a long time to organize The Union and a much longer time to turn it into the compassionate place it is now. When a doorman gets busted up on the job, The Union makes sure his wages are met and his medical care is paid for. Sometimes, despite our screening, someone gets a disease from one of the clients; we make sure they are cared for. And when a Doxie gets cut bad, as sometimes happens even now, we make sure she can still find dignified employment after she recovers…”

Eiskra stepped forward and added “and sometimes The Union pays the Mercs or the Nightblades to make certain it don’t happen again…”

The room erupted into savage cheers at that. Every Doxie, save perhaps the luckiest, knew someone who had suffered under a cruel client. It was not an easy profession, even in Myrrhn.

“Some people are lucky enough that the world will stay out of their way while they toil and work hard and reach the zenith of their talents,” continued Vethri. “They deserve praise and the riches that they earn. But in the Doxies’s Union we know that some of the best of us get unlucky. A child loses a mother. The pox comes knocking. A trick goes bad. A good man gets a bad wound. The Union dues go to making certain that the unlucky ones are taken care of. They go to making certain that we all have a comfortable retirement when we are too old. No one who hasn’t seen what we have seen likes paying the extra money when they don’t need it, but when you do and you have the price seems more that worthwhile.”

She paused for effect, and then left it there. After a moment, the room erupted into cheers.

 

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.31

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Always when I tried to recollect what happened next, it would fragment, often painfully. Cinder said it was a spell. I would catch sight of a shadow behind the High King and then it would all break apart. There has always been something broken in my memory of that moment. My mind cannot make sense of the image, and it is as if the identity of the killer was ripped from me. But this time I saw what happened to my King. I remembered it all.

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The tide of Skraelings carried me away from the King and Thyra. I was alone among the enemy, and vastly outnumbered, but I was armed with a greatsword, which I could swing with abandon, and the Gods were with me. I held my ground and killed the darkspawn until I was standing upon a mound of their corpses.

“Witness me!” I shouted to the sky, and I felt my tired limbs renewed. I fought back toward the King at the tip of the Spear, pushing onward, Garmsbitta held high.

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The saying “When the Nordan go to War, they bring their Gods with them!” is true, no matter if you believe in the divine literally or feel that Garms and his children are manifestations of a kind of collective cultural sorcery as they do in Myrrn. What matters is that when my people call upon their Gods, sometimes they will answer.

Even as an exile, I have enough connection to Skygge, progenitor of the Shadow Wolf Clan to summon the ghosts of his wolves now and then, such as when I distracted the assassin Sildus when he confronted me in my home.  That connection also included communicating with the real Shadow Wolves, as Sildus found out in the end.

At Drajinskyg, the name given to the Kingslaying on the Spearmach, I witnessed many divine feats. I saw warriors of Hurn call lightning, and Helma’s favoured stand unharmed after taking terrible blows on their armour. The Gods of the North favour their followers through deeds. Furis favours vengeance and repentance with fury, Hurn rewards courage with strength, Helma protects the loyal and so on. My divine ancestor, Skygge,

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Every battle has moments of confusion. In one of these, the traitor struck, driving a knife into the king’s back. My shouts of warning were lost in the din, and try as I might, I could not make those last paces to aid the King. I saw the blade and the hand that gripped it. A young man whose face I knew well. My mind almost withdrew from the memory at the shock of the realization. How could this be?

The traitor’s blade went unnoticed. Mighty Siggurd faltered and in a heartbeat, he was lost. In that moment it seemed as if the Gods left us, and despair washed over us more surely than a tidal wave from some fell storm.

I fought to the bitter end, trying to reach the traitor, to shout to Thyra to kill the viper in their midst. But fate caught me, and the Skraelings cut me down and hacked me to pieces. 

But I did not lie quiet in the mud for long.

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Everyone knew what happened after that. Thyra Hurnsdottir and her band of ten recovered Siggurd’s body, but the Skraelings took his sword. Thyra called Hurn himself to aid them, and they held until reinforcements arrived. It was history and legend. But I knew something else.

“Are you alright, Ragnar?” asked Eiskra.

“Did you have a vision?” asked Vethri.

“Yes,” I said, looking up at Wolki. I saw in his gaze that he knew what I knew, and that he saw the same knowledge in my eyes. I do not know how he learned it, but I could see why that knowledge was valuable to him. The fear that I would speak the truth right then was apparent, but the knowledge was too fresh for me to act rashly. First I had to defeat Ulfgorr.

We Shadow Wolves are careful with our secrets. They are valuable to Skygge.

“Are you listening?” I muttered as I turned to the fighting pit. I knew a very big secret.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.18

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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I drank with Birgir and his men late into the night, long after Wolki and his men left. There was no doubt in my mind that the current master of the Shadow Wolves would seek out his henchman, Ulfgorr. Later, when the beast was healed, he would seek me out again, Wolki would make certain of that. I would have to ready myself for that encounter.

I set those thoughts aside and enjoyed my time with the Sea Wolves. Birgir listened to my tales of Myrrhn and repaid me with a wealth of news from Nordan lands. I found it hard to conceal my hunger for news of my homelands and old friends.

It was dark when I left Cassander’s Shield, I doubted that Wolki and Ulfgorr would dare to attack me so close to protected ground, but I kept to well lit and well-trafficked areas on my return home.

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Vethri and Eiskra greeted me as I returned home. Eiskra seemed amused as I related my exploits at the Nordan stronghold, while Vethri rolled her eyes.

“Did you remember to ask about who killed Rake?” asked Vethri.

“As soon as Wolki spotted me that line of inquiry was scuttled. Given his surprise at my presence though, he could not have been involved.”

“Are you sure he wasn’t faking, Ragnar?” asked Eiskra, her face taking on a comical expression of surprise.

“Wolki never fakes something that would make him seem less knowledgeable or less in control of the situation. His reaction would have been different had he expected me there. He seemed genuinely surprised that Murith and I bested Ulfgorr as well.”

“Speaking of which, with Murith’s testimony you could take news of Ulfgorr’s attack to The Nightblades; they will not look kindly upon an outside assassin acting in Myrrhn,” suggested Vethri.

“I don’t know…”

“Well, it might be worth visiting Night’s Finger regardless,” said Vethri. “If Lily Gemarkand is nervous, she might have a price on her head.”

All active assassination contracts are displayed in Night’s Finger, a process that allowed the potential victim to outbid the person who placed the contract, often creating a bidding war of sorts.

“Couldn’t she just buy it out?”

“Not if her available money is tied up in some other pressing venture,” said Vethri. “It is worth checking…”

“…And asking about Ulfgorr while you are there,” added Eiskra, grinning.

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Night’s Finger is one of the most recognizable structures in Myrrhn. Visible from several islands away, it thrusts arrogantly into the sky, crooked and irregular looking. Its odd appearance is due to the fact that it is actually several adjoining towers that have been built into and atop each other over time.

Night’s Finger dominates the Bonemarket, a small district island in the middle of the Myrrhnese archipelago. The tower itself is off-limits to most, save for the foyer at the very bottom where the public can access various records related to assassinations and buy contracts.

More important clientele can arrange meetings with representatives of The Guild at one of the Luxurious hotels or brothels on Bonemarket, or elsewhere in the city.

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I arranged to meet Murith at the bottom of Night’s Finger, but shortly after entering the Bonemarket I sensed someone was following me. Rather than trying to throw them off my trail, I merely stopped and waited.

After a moment an old woman approached me.

“Ragnar, how did you know?” said a familiar voice; Carmen, once an apprentice to my enemy, Sildus.

It took me a moment to see lithe, beautiful Carmen through the wrinkles. I laughed.

“I had no idea, actually. Just though I was being followed. You should have been more patient my friend.”

“Ugh,” Carmen’s wrinkled prosthetic face took on a sour look briefly. “Your friend Murith arrived early with a watch delegation. They are meeting with Guild representatives. Since this disguise is now useless, I want to change. How about you follow me?”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.15

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Further discussions about the contents of Lily Gemarkand’s letter to The Twins bore no fruit. Eiskra was angry, but allowed Vethri to talk her out of rash action. We could not find proof of Lily’d gambit, not determine what would upset her enough to engage in a direct threat with little to gain. In the end her motivations and goals remained a mystery, for now at least.

Murith and I set forth to Burning Hill once more. She was set to report in for duty, and I wanted to make certain that she arrived safely; if Ulfgorr still lived he would revisit his hurt on Murith if he could.

We walked through the busy streets of Myrrhn only when necessary, navigating through alleys, hidden under-bridges, and out of the way tunnels to move across the city rapidly. We saw others making their way through these paths and I watched them closely, but none approached us or paid more mind than basic courtesy required.

We did happen upon a vendor selling ginger cakes at the fountain in the Sea King Grotto, and when we stopped to buy some our conversation returned to the murder.

“It has to be related to one of Lily’s schemes; who else would have something to gain from framing you for the murder, Ragnar?”

“It doesn’t really count as framing me for murder. I’m not even being questioned in regards to the crime.”

“I meant what I said,” Murith looked up at me from her ginger cake.  “Lies often run far ahead of the truth Ragnar, and the bigger lies only seem to excite more interest as they travel. People will see the lack of investigation as confirmation of the sway of The Twins or the corruption of The Watch. For most of them, the truth is irrelevant until well after the event. I have arrested more than a few murderers who thought that their partner or lover was cheating on them and only found out that it was just a rumour after the deed was done.”

“There’s truth to that.”

“Could Lily have hired Ulfgorr?”

“It is possible. Ulfgorr only acts at the behest of Wolki, the current leader of the Shadow Wolf clan though, and I cannot see a connection between him and Lily.”

“What about money?”

“Wolki is not interested in gold.”

“Everyone is interested in gold Ragnar; you keep stacking treasure in front of them and eventually you will get anyone’s attention.”

“Fair enough, but Lily is too miserly to appeal to Wolki’s greed. She would have to have something else he wanted.”

“What about the stuff from Cinder’s ship?”

“The Nightblades took that. I know Lily would not risk their wrath again. She learned her lesson with Sapphire’s death.”

“Which brings us back to Ulfgorr. We need to find out who killed Rake and if it wasn’t Ulfgorr then we need to know why he was waiting for us in the carving house.”

“Well someone is bound to have seen Rake before he died. He was a vibrant enough figure. The only problem is that I cannot question any of the Doxies he worked with since they might think I’m involved.”

“I can do that, Ragnar. Meanwhile, why don’t you check among your Nordan contacts? The method used to kill Rake is Nordan, and even if none of your countrymen is involved whoever did it had to learn it from one of them?”

“Well, it is a thin lead, but I have nothing else to follow.”

“Good, I will let you know what I learn.”

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.14

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Kenneth escorted us from the Gemarkand estate. The letter that Lily Gemarkand had sealed in green wax and given to me to deliver to The Twins was safe in Murith’s satchel.

“Are you certain you don’t need more men to escort us, Kenneth?”

Hi ignored my jibe.

“Are you going to walk us all the way home?”

Kenneth’s square jaw flexed as he ground his teeth together. I could tell he wanted to fight me; I thought it best to get under his skin early, just in case Lily decided to send him against me. In the North, this kind of jesting is settled quickly with fist or insult, but here in Myrrhn, among more civilized people who frowned upon such ‘barbaric displays of dominance’ it often festered, becoming a gateway to true hatred.

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Our trip across Myrrhn was uneventful. Murith and I bought lunch, spiced crab cakes and Kaemoulian lizard kababs and ate them as we walked. Myrrhn has an endless variety of foods from Archaean haute cuisine that costs more per dish than most men make in a year to the wonderful esterman eel stew served dockside to poor sailors.

“By Garm, I hope these kababs don’t become too popular. Do you remember when Lobster was cheap?”

“I’d pray to Nordan gods too, if they could control trends in Myrrhn. You know Lobster hasn’t been cheap in fifteen years, right Ragnar?”

“I can remember fifteen years ago, Murith.”

“Besides your girlfriends are rich, get them to buy you some.”

“You know I hate it when you call them my girlfriends, Murith.”

“I do. Don’t worry I won’t tell Git. Why does it bother you so much, what are they if not your girlfriends?”

I had no answer to that. My relationship with Eiskra and Vethri entwined comradery, pleasure, and shared history. “It’s complicated.”

I often wondered if, for my part, I did not want to commit to defining our relationship because they were creatures of Myrrhn and I hoped one day to overcome my exile.

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“Fucking cunt!”

Eiskra threw the letter on the dark wooden desk in the study where The Twins attended their bookkeeping, looking at it as if it might grow fangs and bite her.

“Easy, dear,” said Vethri.

“No, no, no,” said Eiskra, flushing crimson. “Fuck that rancid highborn cunt. Her offer is an insult. She thinks we are traitors.”

“Dare I ask?”

“She offered us a mithril trade bar each if we threw our support behind Diamond Silvermane,” said Vethri. “We also get ‘control’ of the Redsilks brothels when the Union is dissolved.”

“That is a decent amount of money.”

“She also threatened to ‘tarnish our reputations until they become as dust’ if we oppose her,” said Eiskra. “If she were here right now I’d tarnish her face with my boot-heel.”

“I think it would be the boots that would be tarnished, if even half of what we know about her dealings are true,” said Vethri. “But while I can see the offer making sense, the threat is odd. Lily Gemarkand is not someone who should need to make threats. She is head of one of the seven families…”

“She’ll be a head on a plate when I am done,” said Eiskra, though her colour was no longer that of a maid of Furis about to berserk.

“Do you think she means to goad us into rash action, Ragnar?”

I considered this. Lily was not the type that made threats, at least not in this manner. She was powerful and ruthless, and everyone in the city knew this. It did seem odd that she would threaten The Twins directly. Was she hoping to intimidate them? That seemed unlikely: The Twins were Twiceborn, like me, and considered fearless. Goading them into rash action was a better tactic, but she had to know that Vathri was not nearly as tempestuous as Eiskra.

“No… I think it is something else. I cannot fathom what she hoped to gain with that threat though.”

“Maybe something had her riled,” said Murith, looking up from where she was polishing her arbalest.

“Perhaps, but what?”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.13

After a long drink at the fabled Inn of the Willing Wench, Murith and I decided on a course of action. We met the next day and made our way to Old Town isle.

To my surprise Lily Gemarkand sent a pair of her guards to greet us as we made our way through the immaculately kept streets of Myrrhn’s most venerable quarter. I recognized one of them, tall and lean with hair the colour of summer wheat and menacing blue eyes. To my surprise as he neared us, an electric shiver ran down my spine and my ears rang out; Lily Gemrakand’s chief bodyguard was now among the ascended.

“Kenneth, you don’t look like you’ve died and come back and you certainly have not become a living legend,” I said as he stopped before us. “That leaves the perfection of a skill as the most likely path to ascendancy for you. Was it boot-licking?”

“Cross me sometime and find out, Nordan,” said Kenneth, his eyes meeting mine.

“Is that how you greet and old friend Kenneth? I though we understood each other after you and your mistress locked me in a fighting cage with a Devout Warrior.”

“Do not besmirch my mistress with that untruth. You fought willingly and were paid well for it. It was all proven perfectly legal in subsequent investigations.”

“I’m sure,” said Murith.

“Please, let us not dwell on the past. My mistress has sent us to escort you to the Gemarkand Estate, where she will meet with you to discuss your involvement with the Doxies’s Union.”

“I’m surprised that she would be so bold.”

“My mistress won her position by being bold. It would not behoove her to stop now.”

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The expansive grounds of the Gemarkand estate had changed little since my last visit. The lawns, a luxury of wasted space in a city where every pace was priced at a premium, were still perfectly cut, the extravagant emerald tower still glittered in the light, and the servants all moved with the same brusque perfection.

Lily Gemarkand met us in a sitting room at the front of the mansion under the tower. The room was paneled with dark, fragrant wood, shelves of ancient books, and an enormous desk at which our hostess was seated. She was dressed in a simple silk gown with a fist sized sapphire dangling from a silver chain around her neck. She did not stand as we entered, but stopped writing and looked up. Our eyes met, and I was once again taken by that icy resolve and almost inhuman detachment that I saw within.

“Ragnar Skyggesson, I assume that you are here to offer terms on behalf of Eiskra and Vethri?”

“I cannot speak for them, this is more… informal.”

“I see. Perhaps I was mistaken about your intent. Why don’t you tell me why you are here?”

“In a word: Ulfgorr.”

“I’m sorry?” Lily betrayed no reaction to the name. She was a good actress, I knew, but Ulfgorr tended to illicit a strong reaction to anyone who remembered him.

“Ulfgorr is a Nordan of some note, M’am,” said Kenneth. “He is the champion of the Shadow Wolf Clan if I am not mistaken. He is currently here in Myrrhn.”

“Hopefully feeding leeches at the bottom of the docks,” muttered Murith.

Lily’s eyes raked Murith before she turned her gaze back to me. “What does this have to do with me?”

“We were investigating the death of Beauchamps, a murder that was made to look like I had a hand in it, when Ulfgorr attacked us. Given how you and I find ourselves on opposite sides of a struggle for control of the Doxies’s Union I wondered if you might have something to do with it.”

“No. But it does explain why so many of your former allies are eagerly joining Diamond Silvermane. You are mistaken if you think that I want control of The Union, Ragnar, I merely want to break it up. Organizations like that are bad for business. Now that you are done with your silly little accusation, I have a proposition that I want you to bring to The Twins.”

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