The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whore’s War 3.48

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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Much to everyone’s surprise Diamond Silvermane did not pout or snarl when the vote came and The Twins defeated her handily.

While the Doxies’s did not like paying dues to the Union, they enjoyed what they got for their money. With my name cleared in the murder of Rake, the thoughts of the membership turned to less sensational interests, such as what kind of leadership they wanted going forward. The Twins offered compassion and unity. Diamond Silvermane offered lower fees and an organization that would help the very best achieve their goals.

In the end, trust carried the day more than any ideological message.

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After the vote Union Hall exploded into celebration. ┬áThe Whores’s War was over. The Doxies’s had been under a lot of pressure since the death of Madame Glorianna; I could feel it lifting as music, laughter, and happy voices filled the building.

The Doxies were all dressed in their finest, be it formal or flamboyant, and it was quite the sight as they got up and moved, conversing and dancing. The riot of colours, the mix of styles, scents, and sensibilities was almost overwhelming. I watched as high-class whores from Old-Town brothels danced with burly doormen from Cliffshadow, and Joyboys from Burning Hill laughed with dockside streewalkers.

I smiled as I saw Vethri and Eiskra engaging in animated conversation with Diamond Silvermane across the room. No doubt they were arguing about the direction of the Union, but at least no one was drawing weapons or taking out contracts.

The merriment lasted late into the evening, with ale and wine flowing freely. It was not the worst way to end a war, I suppose.

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Thyra arrived a week later, having born my gift to the High King, Skaeld, and his sister, Vidra.

“They were mighty pleased to receive the sword, Ragnar,” related Thyra. “They have invited you to attend them, as quickly as you can. You may not be an exile for much longer, my friend.”

I nodded, thinking about the identity of old Siggurd’s killer.

“You don’t seem happy, old wolf,” said Thyra. “What did you uncover?”

“I learned that the ambush might have occurred because my clan has a secret pathway through the Spearmarch that the Skraelings stumbled on.”

“Garm’s eye!” exclaimed Thyra. “I knew it! No wonder Wolki has been skulking about; the Shadow Wolves killed our king.”

“Wait, wait Thyra. Before you start a clan war, Wolki had nothing to do with High King Siggurd’s death. The treacherous blow came from someone else.”

“Who?” she asked.

“That is a message that I must bring to the High King and his sister. It is a sensitive matter, you see.”

Thyra’s brow furrowed and she fixed me with a baleful glare. I did not blame her for this; she still wanted vengeance for our dead king. Had she known what I knew she would have started a war.

“It is not as dramatic as you think Thyra. The drama ended long ago. I am not even certain that anything will come from what I know.”

Thyra’s jaw worked.

“Thyra, you will have to trust that Siggurd’s children will know what to do with what I have learned. They are good rulers, are they not?”

“Aye, I trust them. Truth be told they have better judgement than their father in most things.”

I laughed. Siggurd had been a great man, but his temperamental. “And so we owe it to them to decide how they will seek redress. It may not be directly.”

Thyra nodded. “I don’t like the sound of that, but I can see the right of it.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.46

NOTE: Somehow in the middle of the week, an old cloud save of the last post over-wrote the full post. Sorry about that. I have restored the post, in full.

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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On the few nights in Myrrhn when it is neither raining, nor windy, the streets are hot and wet and the night closes about you like a trap.

The crowd from the Kaemoul’s Playhouse thinned quickly, with the majority of the theater-goers seeking shelter in nearby taverns or waiting carriages. The few groups that left on foot were large, loud, and boisterous. I was the only one who went alone into the night.

Moving through the streets, I watched the shadows, half-expecting to be attacked; while Lily and I parted on good terms, it would be foolish of me to think of us as friends. Still, I doubt she would antagonize The Twins with an attack that could be linked to her so easily.

Of course, Lily was not the only enemy I had. Wolki wanted me dead, of that I could be certain. At the very least he would seek revenge for Ulfgorr, but it was likely he would try to protect this secret route as well. I was fairly certain that he did not know about Old King Siggurd’s Killer, but he knew that I knew something. We Shadow Wolves know secrets, and Wolki was always better than the rest of us with intrigue. A knife in the back was his style, and despite recent humiliations, Myrrhn was not yet beyond his reach.

Thus I was not surprised when three forms materialized out of the shadow and mist on the street ahead of me. I sensed two more behind as I grabbed my weapons, a pair of Nordan daggers hidden in my coat-sleeves.

“Oh, look at this gentleman,” said one of the men, tall and lanky. His clothes were poor and worn, and he carried a brutal looking truncheon. He did not look like much of an assassin. “Wots wrong gent? you look a little lost, not right in the head. Give us your coin and we’ll let you be on your way.”

I laughed. Loudly.

As I laughed, one of the would-be-cutpurses who thought he was creeping up behind me moved. My ears picked up the sound of his feet on the cobbles and of his weapon slicing through the air. Still laughing, I stepped to the side and kicked him in the arse as he missed. The goon sprawled on the cobbles. The rest of his compatriots drew knives and started toward me. I stopped laughing.

“Do you sods even know who I am?”

I let them see my daggers as I asked. Nordan daggers are rather large and intimidating.

“You have picked the wrong mark boys. I am no soft gentleman on his way back from a play. Ragnar Skyggesson, Nordan Exile stands before you. I have battle the devout, killed a nasty werewolf, and stopped a mad vampire in this city recently. I helped the Doxies’s Union cast off Gentleman Jim. Maybe you’ve heard of me?”

“It don’t matter,” said the tall skinny one. “Your throat will part easily enough.”

“Maybe so. But I have tasted death and returned, boy. Is it really worth the risk for a little coin?”

They wavered. Somewhere nearby, a wolf howled. They back off and started to walk away.

“Be seeing you Northman,” said tall and skinny as he passed me.

“Step on son, there’s nothing for you here.”

I watched them go. It was possible they would return with reinforcements, but I would be long gone by then. When I was certain that they were out of earshot, I spoke.

“You can come out now, I heard you taking position.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.45

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 Wolki threatened me and Cinder betrayed me, I decided that it was best to remand the matter to the Nightblades,” said Lily, her tone light and conversational despite the serious matters we discussed. “They demanded the sword in payment. I don’t even know how they knew that I had it, but I was in no position to refuse. The threats from Wolki stopped–“

‘”If you gave the sword to The Nightblades, how did Cinder end up with it?”

“I had no idea that Cinder had the sword, at any point,” said Lily. “It does explain why she shifted her aggression though. Cinder was an accomplished smuggler and a skilled thief. Her blood magics helped her greatly in that regard. I have no doubt that she could have stolen the sword before the Nightblades hid it away in their vaults. But there is more likely explanation, in my mind; have you considered why the assassins wanted the blade Ragnar?”

“I have. It is connected to the death of the High King of the North and a suspicious ambush. Wolki deems it valuable. The Nightblades would see that alone as something.”

“My thought is that Cinder stole it from them when they were trading it, or as it was moving to or from the trade,” said Lily. “The sword means nothing to The Guild, save the leverage they can get from whomever wants it. Cinder risked her life to get it, drawing the ire of Wolki and the Nightblades.”

No wonder she felt the need to surround herself with an army of crazed vampires and start a war on her way out of town. Where did she come by the sword, Lily?”

“As I said Ragnar, I sent Cinder to acquire some items that would entice Wolki into aiding me.”

“So he knew where the sword was?”

“No, I had an idea of where to find Nordan artifacts, the sort of things recovered from battles and ruins, from previous dealings with your people. As the head of the Gemarkand trading consortium it is my business to gain access to the very best mines in every corner of the world. In addition to the expertise, equipment, and money that I offer, I make sure to play to local customs. Your people love their weapons and armour, so I had an idea of what might entice Wolki to track down poor cousin Gerald for me. After the initial contact to establish boundaries, I paid for Cinder to find what I needed. She found the sword in the wares of a trader who deals with the Hand of Evernight.”

“I thought they were extinct,” I frowned. The Hand of Evernight was a cult that dabbled in Daemon Worship, Vampirism, and the dark gods. They were friends of Skraelings and Murder Wights.

“They probably were,” said Lily, shrugging. “But these groups never remain dead, do they?”

“I suppose not.”

“You seem disappointed, Ragnar.”

“I was hoping for more than a shadowy cult.”

“I see, you were hoping to incriminate Wolki.”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps there is more. I can furnish you with the name of the trader, and help you make contact if you promise to play nice.”

“I would like that. Lily.”

“But first, you have to tell me why Wolki wanted that sword so much.”

“The sword belonged to Siggurd Stormbreaker, High King of the North. It was a family heirloom, passed down for many generations. It seems that Wolki simply wanted it for the same reason that any Nordan would: to gain favour with the High King and Queen for returning their father’s sword.”

“You are leaving something out.”

“The High King was slain in an ambush. It was never discovered who set up the ambush, or how the enemy was able to penetrate so deeply into our lands undetected.”

Lily laughed.

“What?”

“Wolki either wants to protect a hidden route of his that these Skraelings accidentally stumbled on, or he wants knowledge of it. You would be surprised at how protective smugglers are of their hidden paths.”

I could only agree. We watched the rest of the play in amicable silence, enjoying the finest wines. Then I parted with lily and made my way home.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.44

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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“Who is Diamond Silvermane to you, Lily?”

“Honestly Ragnar, sometimes your stupidity astounds me. Picture Diamond, subtract all the gems and the flair. I think she looks an awful lot like her mother.”

Ignoring Lily’s habitual insult, I considered Diamond. She looked an awful lot like many of Myrrhn’s high class Doxies; tall, slim, and fair. But how many women did Lily and I both know.

“Your niece?”

“Yes. One of the reasons that the woman you knew as Sapphire was exiled from the Gemarkand family was little Diamond. My sister was fifteen when she gave birth, as I understand it. She joined the Doxies’s Union so that she could get proper care during the pregnancy, working as a laundress to start.”

As she spoke, the first act of the play began. A tall muscular man dressed all in black and bearing blades spoke words of love to a beautiful woman on the stage.

“It seems odd to me then, Lily, that you would try to destroy the very same organization that helped your sister in her time of need.”

“My sister should have come to me,” said Lily. “I am family. I dislike what the Doxies’s Union represents because it is good business for me to do so, Ragnar. Imagine if the miners in my families holdings got the same idea; it would cost me a fortune. I am hardly alone in this.”

“So Diamond is your niece and you want to control or weaken The Union through her, correct?”

“Yes. Initially I wanted to break the Union, but that was anger over my sister’s death and Madame Glorianna’s part in it. I wanted to ruin her life’s work for what she did to Sapphire.”

I nodded; it was a surprisingly human sentiment coming from Lily Gemarkand. Even if it fell within the realm of spite, it was on behalf of someone else.

“But that is not what you wish to discuss with me, is it Lily?”

“Would you leave us?” Lily looked at her bodyguard. He seemed ready to protest, but nodded after giving me a cold stare. I waited while he walked out of the box and took up position outside.

On the stage the Assassin’s lover was dallying with another man, never a good sign in a Myrrhnese play.

“Do you remember Cinder, Ragnar?” Lily asked.

“I do. It is hard to forget someone who tried to kill me several times. The Bloodhydra now figures in to my saga, I am told. I now know that one of the crates that she was trying to escape with had the sword of King Siggurd in it. Why?”

“Have you ever wondered how Cinder came to have the sword?”

“Of course.”

“And you wonder at Wolki’s involvement with Cinder and myself.”

“Yes.”

“Cinder originally worked for me, as did Wolki. I hired the Lord of your clan to track down an errant claimant to the family fortune who remained beyond my reach. As you might expect, Wolki required something big in return. I hired Cinder and her crew to retrieve some Nordan artifacts. The sword was one of these, but I kept it instead of handing it over to Wolki.”

“Why?”

“I liked the way it looked. I had no idea that it was significant. Cinder felt that I cheated her on compensation and turned against me. That is when she began the whole ‘Cinder’ nonsense actually. Wolki came looking for the sword once he heard that I had it. He threatened me. I’m glad you killed his pet.”

“Ulfgorr. Aye. It was a tough fight, but few will miss him.”

“Wolki will. Without the werewolf protecting him, more Nightblades are likely to be tempted by the money that I am offering for his head.”

I laughed.

“Wolki seemed particularly interested in the sword, and where we acquired it, Ragnar. He seemed very, very interested in making certain that he was the only one who understood the circumstances of how and where it was found. I lied to him and told him that Cinder did not tell me. I am curious to know why he was interested, perhaps you could help me piece it together?”

I laughed. “I think I will.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.43

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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The Twins insisted that I dress appropriately for my meeting with Lily Gemarkand. The Kaemoul’s Playhouse was where the wealthy of Old Town and the Merchant Houses mixed with the creatives of Myrrhn. This was apparently of such importance, that it required that I dress in the ‘manner of a gentleman’, which meant tights, a ridiculously puffed up shirt with ruffles on the sleeves and collar, long soft boots, and a very tall hat. I drew the line at trimming my beard.

“The only way a razor will be applied to my jaw is if it opens my throat first, girls.”

I was bathed, perfumed, and given a crash course on etiquette.

“Try to make a good impression, dear, many of these people are our best patrons,” admonished Vethri.

“I am meeting with our avowed enemy, and a women who locked me in a cage with a Devout warrior,” I growled.

“Hardly a situation which you go out of your way to avoid, given that you were in a pit-fight with a werewolf a fortnight ago,” said Eiskra.

“That was different.”

“Sure thing, Ragnar.”

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The Kaemoul’s Playground was on Belltower, the islet that house the beaurocracy and much of the grand old buildings from the early days of Myrrhn. The Playhouse was a converted gladiatorial arena, magnificently restored by Akbar the Kaemoul, Myrrhn’s wealthiest man at the time. It was built in the ancient Archaean style with tall columns braced by arches, surrounding a massive open space.

The Playhouse was renowned for theater and music. The performance that evening was ‘Chloe & Jaques’ a recently written play about the last Empress and Emperor of Archaea, favoured figures in romance and heroic tales.

Lily’s box was once reserved for Archaean high nobility come to spend an afternoon watching slave-warriors butcher each other or face off against monsters on the sands below. It was tastefully decorated, with tessellated murals depicting scenes of violence that played out many centuries ago. I particularly liked the one that depicted the legendary swordsman Kael facing a strange abomination with a second, tiny figure growing from its chest in front of a roaring crowd. It was spacious and richly appointed, as befitted one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the city.

Lily Gemarkand stood at the front of the box, next to her ever-present bodyguard. She was dressed in green silk and wore an abundance of emeralds.

“Welcome Ragnar Skyggesson,” she said. “I am pleased that you accepted my invitation.”

“I must admit that I am curious, Lily. Your path has crossed mine again and again, often at times that seem more like the hand of fate that coincidence.”

“Have you forgiven me for testing you, Ragnar?”

“No.”

She laughed.

“Let us begin with Diamond Silvermane,” she said. “My sister and I had plans for the Doxies’s, you know that. When I found out that Madame Glorianna, had Sapphire murdered, I wanted to destroy the the Union. Diamond has convinced me that this was… irrational.”

“It is. Who is Diamond Silvermane to you, Lily?”

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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.