The Dauntless Rook (§.14)

Continued from §.13.

Serlo Wealdmaer exited the cabaret to behold an angwissous man in a corvine coat, running full-tilt across the cobblestones of the main thorough. The sprinter shouted for aid as he sped, arms flailing like a beached and barmy cephalopod. Something about the manic figure seemed familiar to Serlo. He narrowed his gaze and gave a cry, realizing that the man wore the same coat Cerelia had bought for Oeric Adair.

As the eloper made to pass, Serlo lunged forward and caught the runner about the arm.

“What anoy, man?”

“Let me go!”

“A moment. Thy coat is familiar to my eyes. How did thee come by it?”

“He’ll kill us both!”

“Who, man? Speak.”

The disheveled tramp fearfully pointed down the street. Serlo followed the gesture but saw only empty tiled road and a few street-sweepers in the distance.

“He was right behind me! He was. I swear it!”

“Calm thyself, there is no one. Safe thou art. Now, tell me, how came thee by this feathery glaze?”

“Selt it wert, by a man, but a few minutes past.”

“That bastard,” Serlo exclaimed to himself, face flushing cherry-red.

“Bastard, sir?”

“Nothing, nothing. How much did thee give for it?”

“It?”

“The coat.”

“3 twyer, sir.”

“I shalt give thee six.”

“Aye, sir, aye!”

Eyes wide with amazement, the tramp swiftly slipped out of the curious garb and passed it to Serlo who handed off six, small, shimmering coins Shortly, the tramp departed as a chill wind blew in, carrying, in its wake, a palling fog which swallowed up the entire street, wholly obscuring the form of a thin man with a crooked smile who watched from the top of the nearest rooftop.

*

continued in chapter 15 (forthcoming)

 

The Dauntless Rook (§.13)

Continued from §.12.

Volfsige could not believe his eyes, for standing before him, in the litter-strewn alley that let out to the smokestacked north, was, against all reason, Oeric Adair, who only minutes prior, had stood in the market square, surrounded by gambesoned mercenaries. Adair had exchanged the stately clothes and short-brimmed cap for the broad-brimmed hat and peculiar crow-feathered coat that Volfsige well-remembered from the mishap at Rasten Yard.

“How on earth could he possibly have transposed himself with such haste? How is it possible for him to appear ahead of me when I had scarcely left him? Some secret passage or… no, there’s no point asking. When I have the man at his last, then to query all.”

Without further thought, Volfsige shifted down the ally, hand upon his dagger, instinctually padding towards his quarry as the man in the crow-feathered coat increased his pace, turning left towards a series of crumbling, labyrinthian tenements, vanishing therein.

The assassin steeled his nerves, slipped through a pack of itinerant bards and work-worn canvassers and entered the rain-pecked stair that let up to the chipped and crumbling housing complex. Moments after he’d started up the staircase he heard a curious creaking. The sound of old metal shearing. Then a light thump, as if a rucksack had fallen from the second story window.

Volfsige, brows raised and muscle’s taunt, dashed to the bottom of the stairs, rounded the corner to the left and discovered Adair running north along the sidewalk with tremendous speed. Volfsige cursed and bolted after the man. He was surprised by Adair’s stamina and agility, which bespoke a seasoned wayfarer or sportsman more than the pampered noble he knew the man to be.

“Forgetful I am. For the comitem evaded my knife when I was primed and he unaware; yet his singularity astonishes me still…”

The crow-coated man flashed his pursuer a wide, crooked smile and increased his pace, making for an alleyway some fifty feet before him, unaware in his turning of a old fruit merchant briskly pushing a cart of Torian melons directly towards him. The quarry gave a startled cry, half of fright, half of amusement, and oer’leapt the cart, abducting one of the berries as he passed. The fruit vendor stood a moment in wide-eyed perplexity, then turned, fast as his stiff and sun-battered body was able and shouted in protestation of the theft, shaking his wrinkled and calloused hands into the air, as if weaving a galdr to vex the gods.

Volfsige upturned the hefty cart and shoved the vendor aside, much to the horror of nearby crowd of market-goers heading towards the great bazaar. Volfsige wasn’t concerned by the throng. He was not known to the city and consequently had no public record of crime. Even if, by aventure, he was arrested, he could be charged for not but disorderly conduct, unbecoming of a guest of Ersentwyer. The worst that could befall him was the confiscation of his hospitality papers. The thought was as a feather upon his mind in comparison to the incursion of his employer’s displeasure.

Volfsige pressed into the alley in which his prey had vanished, only to find the corridor thick with vagabonds, who roused jangling foreign instruments and spun before a makeshift encampment of wagons and cloth as their less frenzied kindred haggled over scraps of cloth and metal. The mangy assortment hailed the assassin with smiles and strummed their instruments and stomped their feet as a medicant appraised a crow-feathered coat, proffered to him by a pale passerby. The medicant nodded approvingly and passed the pallid transient a trampish and high-collared cloak. The smiling seller removed his plumed cap, donned the garment, drew up the hood, slipped from the architectural artery and melted into the passing crowd.

*


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The Dauntless Rook (§.05)

Continued from §.04.


After the concert had concluded, Blythe, Boyce, Kyne and Adair returned to the clerk whose visage bore the marks of considerable nervousness.

“Ilhayl, my lords. I regret to inform ye there has been a theft.”

“What was riven?” Inquired Adair evenly.

“Thy coat, my comitem.”

Boyce laughed, “Broadly, fortune smiles.”

The clerk furrowed his brows, confused by Boyce’s levity and then advanced to Adair and gestured toward the entrance.

“Fear not. I sent Geoffery to fetch the accipiters; rest assured, the knave will know justice and be equitably recompensed.”

“Nys so serious, dear fellow. Marta gives and Marta takes. Such is life.”

“B-but-”

Aldwyn abruptly pulled Adair aside, chere severe.

“If summons should the accipiters heed, it were best we shifted; malgre our blamelessness.”

“Thou art minded of the wedding?”

“It could provoke scandal.”

“We’ve not haste enough to evade the possibility; they’ve already arrived.”

In from doors abroche, two men entered, darkly garbed in the dress of the Ministry of Inquisitions, followed by a slender, languid woman, similarly, if less fastidiously, dressed, who, unlike her companions, sported a mishappen, snub-brimmed cap, low-drawn about her visage. Her hair was dark and straight, falling to frame wide, sleepless eyes, which took in the whole of the hall before settling fixedly upon Adair.

“I’m Accipiter Demelody,” she replied curtly, without bowing, “Thou art Oeric Adair?”

“Aye.”

“Curious. Thou wert spotted an hour’s half-past in Rasten Yard, evading an attempt upon thy life.”

“What? Unverray. Query alle and some; swiftly shalt thou know I’ve abided in the hall the whole of that time.”

“That much is obvious, and yet not half the geste.”

Aldwyn cut in daintily, “Perchance our interrogation of this cas could commence in coyer quarters?”

“Sikerly.”

As the accipiters and nobles turned to leave, a elderly woman came half-dashing down the stairs, sorrily discombobulated.

“My hat, my hat. Someone has stolen my hat!”


Continued in §.06.

The Dauntless Rook (§.04)

Continued from §.03.


The man with the faded gray coat looked up from his tea to discover a thin man exiting the theatre, clad in a coat ornamented with crow feathers and a broad-brimmed cap with azure plume.

He required no sketch for reference this time.

After his former encounter, he knew his quarry upon first sight.

Oeric Adair.

“What is he doing?” he mumbled under his breath.

“Fresh tea and rolls, Mr. Volfsige?”

The man turned to behold a young skivvy smiling at him, holding a tray of tea, bread and honey.

“Nay, Adelaide, I was just about to leave.”

“Something the matter?”

“Alls fine.”

He shot the skivvy a reassuring look and pressed a coin to her palm as he passed, saying nothing.

When Volfsige exited the building he crossed the street, tailing Adair, whose gait had attained a curious, catlike character.

“Wherefore this leave-taking? And the hat? And why is he shorn of his companions?” Volfsige wondered wordlessly, as he wound carefully through a crowd of jubilant minstrels singing ‘Glory to Avarr.’

“According to the mission brief, Oeric is obsessed with music and adores Destrali. Why would he depart before the concert’s commencement and leave his friends behind? Perchance there ensued between them some disputation. Or, perhaps, it is the encroaching wedding which vexes him… yet, he does not seem vexed… I suppose the origins of his sojourn matter little now. He’ll be dead soon and I’ll be much the wealthier. Really, that is all that matters. I am doing thee a favor, Oeric Adair, though thou knowst not.”

The man in the crow feathered coat abruptly turned and began threading through the crowd to the north-east. Though Volfsige was not a denizen of Ersentwyer, he had familiarized himself with the layout of the city after accepting the contract and knew from his research the Adair Estate lay to the south-west of the market square.

“He’s not headed home…”

A jolt of elation shot through Volfsige’s body. He tensed, peering round the corner of a dilapidated flat, intently watching his quarry waltz languidly out of the market square and enter Rasten Shipyard, well known for its flesh peddlers and blackmarketeers.

“An addiction? Or could it be the noble Oeric Adair is engaged in a tryst? All whilst engaged to that bonny Cerelia Wealdmaer? It fits the situation. The concert would prove a fitting alibi, provided his companions bore suitably crooked tongues, it would also explain the cap, for he, being well-bred, would, in undertaking such a potentially compromising endeavour, doubtless take some precaution against recognition…”

Volfsige rounded the corner of the tenement, left the square and followed his prey to the heart of the docks, where the avian-clothed wayfarer suddenly paused, starring at the ground.

The stalker cast the net of his gaze about the ramshackle expanse, where rose up, as a great corridor, crates of considerable variety.

Other than the crow-coated man, not a single soul stirred therein.

They were alone.

Volfsige inhaled deeply and reached for his dagger. He relaxed and exhaled, moving out from behind the shipping crate, facing the azure-capped man who stood perpendicular to him. Given Adair’s gaze was cthonically bound, he noticed Volfsige not at all.

Faretheewell, Comitem Adair.

Volfsige arched back a powerful arm and slung his hand outward, letting dagger fly straight at his quarry’s heart. Against all expectation, the man dropped suddenly and effortlessly to a knee without taking his eyes from the ground, causing the dagger to miss its intended mark and sail into the leg of a burly yard worker, who, at that very moment, had been rounding the corner of the container corridor in which the assassin and the crow-coated man stood.

A shrill cry rang out, causing the elaborately garbed comitem to turn ever so slightly from where he knelt upon the well-padded ground.

Volfsige simply stood awestruck until the injured yeoman’s companion pointed towards him and cried, “Murderer!”

“I draw breath as yet, thou soup-brained cad,” the big man snarled, nursing the dagger in his thigh, “Go! After him!”

Volfsige, eyes wide and heart thundering, cursed and fled, fast as his trembling legs would carry him.

As the yardsman dashed off after the would-be murderer, the feather-garbed itinerant gave one last look to the snail slowly making its way to the harborage of the nearest shipping crate’s shade, rose and turned to the injured yardworker with suave cordiality.

“It appears the dagger was meant for me—no, no, leave it, my friend, lest thee bleed thyself dry. Allow me to attend thy wound.”

“Thou art gracious as befits thy station, milord. Tell me, what is thy name?”

The pale man opened his mouth to speak and abruptly paused, his eyes crinkling slightly. He looked down at the corvian coat from neath the shade of his broad-brimmed hat and then returned his attention to the injured laborer, smiling crookedly.

“Oeric Adair, at thy service.”


Continued in §.05.

The Dauntless Rook (§.03)

Continued from §.02.


When the concierge returned to his post with Geoffrey, he found three coats hanging beside his desk. Upon checking the tags, he discovered that within each, a name had been stitched by the tailor.

Blythe. Boyce. Kyne.

He sent Geoffrey to scour the auditorium, but no trace of Adair’s coat could be found.


Continued in §.04.

The Dauntless Rook (§.02)

Continued from §.01.


*

“Ah, we arrive at last!” Aldwyn Blythe declared with triumph as the four aristocrats reached the first floor lobby of Mazrak’s Grand Theatre, which hummed with conversations and the busy footsteps of its numerous and well-heeled patrons.

Oeric wasted no time in greeting the elderly clerk who stood behind a stout and well polished reception desk to the left of the corridor.

“We’ve reservations for Destrali’s concerto.”

“Names?” The concierge inquired apathetically.

“Blythe. Boyce. Kyne. Adair.”

The man’s brows moved progressively higher at each utterance. He checked a large, leatherbound ledger set before him, whereupon his ennui melted to fawning adoration.

“Comitem Adair!”

“Yes, sir.”

“I-I’d no idea… ah, yes… tickets.”

The pepper-haired clerk swiftly removed four tickets from underneath the desk and then snapped vainly several times in succession.

“Geoffrey. Geoffrey? Geoffrey!”

The concierge, irked and embarrassed, returned his attention to the four young gentlemen with a sigh of exasperation.

“I’m dreadfully sorry, I’ve no idea where the scamp scuttled.”

“No trouble at all,” Adair assured him, removing his coat, “We’re perfectly capable of hanging up our own-”

“No, no, that just won’t do! A moment, but a moment!”

The clerk sped off into the room directly behind the counter. Moments later, a young valet, dressed in red, descended the upper landing which let out to the concert hall and bowed cordially to the four theater-goers. He was lithe and wan, with hair the color of obsidian, immaculately combed back to reveal a sharp, angular face and keen, green-gold eyes.

“Salutations,” the valet said warmly.

“Ah, thou must be Geoffrey.”

“Aye. Shall I take thy coat, my comitem?”

“Certainly, lad,” Adair replied as he handed his coat off to the valet. Blythe, Boyce and Kyne swiftly followed suit, whereupon the pale valet bowed once more and stepped aside as the party headed up the stairs.

As the four men vanished over the landing, the valet flashed a crooked smile.

*


Continued in §.03.

The Silence & The Howl | Part 19

§.19


Harmon rang up sprawls at the break of dawn, knowing his former roommate would be up for work. In under four seconds, a croaky voice tersely answered.

“Yeah?”

“I’m stopping by to pick up my things.”

“What things?”

“Things I’d left there.”

“Oh. Those things.”

“Yeah. Just wanted to give you a heads up.”

“Ain’t here.”

“What ain’t where?”

“Your things. They ain’t here.”

“They grow legs?”

“I sold that shit, man.”

“You… sold my stuff?”

“Yeah.”

“All of it?”

“Most of it. Rest we threw ou-”

Harmon snapped the flip-phone shut. The undulations of his breath rising in rapidity. Rage subsumed the edges of the world as his fists tightened like fleshy stones, incisors grinding, eyes widening, muscles straining.

“Something up?”

Marla inquired from the corner, where she lounged upon the coach, slurping bottom shelf cereal, bed-headed and pajama’d, TV blaring rapid-fire political commentary: A fire. Elections. Immigrant rapist. Human trafficking. Racial radicals. Should racial slurs be criminalized? Father fined for misgendering son. Military tribunals. Sex scandal. Pedo priest. Revolution in the tropics. Killer droids close to home? Sometimes, the world can be a scary place, that’s why you need Lurch Gold. Mysterious man with white jacket linked to multiple slayings of local drug dealers…

“No.”

“Problem?”

“Richard.”

“Andy told me bout him. Sounds like an asshole.”

Harmon didn’t respond.

She was silent a moment and then cast her eyes to the milky bowl between her nicotine stained fingertips, as if expectant of a reply from its viscous, albescent depths.

“I had wanted Andy to take me out tonight, but he said he’d already made plans with one of his friends. Would you want to see a movie?”

Harmon starred out the window as he mulled over the question. A noisy crow flapped down from a telephone pole to the left of the tumbledown and began pecking at some roadkill. The creature’s beak scraped entrails across asphalt in a whirl of feathers the color of pitch.

“Harmon?”

“Sounds like fun.”

“If you don’t want to… its fine.”

“I said it sounds fun. What movie had you wanted to see?”

“I can’t remember the name. Its this political thriller dystopian type thing. You mighta seen it. Commercials for it, I mean. Bout this young group of survivors in a post apocalyptic wasteland…”

Her words faded into indeterminate babble. When she’d finished Harmon turned from the window.

“We can see that if you want.”

“You sure you’ll like it?”

“Don’t know. Haven’t seen it yet. Can tell you when I do. I’ve gotta go.”

“Where?”

“Out.”

As she opened her mouth and removed her eyes from the cereal bowl, Harmon left out of the house before a utterance could escape her lips and trekked across the yard, paused to watch the crow peel out the dead and bloated racoon’s heart and then seated himself within his car and drove off down the sunbaked band of black that cracked like the scales of an ancient snake.

*

A Dedication To Rust

They ran down the old railroad like children after the ringing of the last school bell, arms wide and smiles broad. The young man twined his arm about the woman’s own, she a month his senior, skin milky neath the ambered summer light. In mirthful exuberance, they passed beside a long line of chainlink fencing, overgrown by ground ivy, brilliant blue like seawater tinged with blood and paused in the thistle to observe a young deer which starred at them, ears straight and haunches primed, transfixed by terror.

Forward-facing eyes, the indelible mark of the predator.

The woman took a step forward, silently as possible, and crunched a branch beneath her old and crinkled tennis shoes whereupon the cervidae flew for the treeline as if its life depended upon it and vanished therein. They laughed, filled with the joy of their comraderie and the effortless sway they held over all that skittered and furrowed in the snaking green ambit surrounding.

The pair then turned their attention to the north where stood a small oil refinery, abandoned and covered over with rust and crows that crouched on thrones of steel and turned up in great whorls, cawing unto the clouds as if to prime their fellows of the newcomers arrival. The wayfaring duo skirted the edge of the fence. The woman following the man’s lead. After a pace he ejaculated a “ah-ha!” and found an area of the fence which gave way to his prying and calloused hands.

“Through here, Reggie.”

Reggie tied back her long, red hair, frizzy with the humidity, and adjusted her belted sun-washed jeans and bent neath her companion and slipped through the metallic aperture whereupon the fence-holder deftly followed. They trekked across a lumpy tumulus of patchy brown-green and hard with the clay underneath. The air smelled of iron and decaying vegetal matter. Reggie paused and took in the scene with great curiosity.

“You find the most interesting places, Harmon.”

Harmon nodded skyward – something he did in place of smiling – and arced out to the leftern area of the refinery yard where stood two massive storage tanks, side by side, like massive stovepipes, silent fluting to the blood-orange sky. Both of the tanks were ringed by black, creaking staircases, bolted to the frame. As Reggie looked to the right, at the main facility, Harmon pranced up the stairs and stopped midway, some twenty feet off the ground, paused and turned to his traveling companion.

“Coming?”

“You sure its safe?”

“Not entirely, but its bolted sturdy.”

He slammed his left foot down forcefully upon the stairwell, causing reverberations to clatter throughout. It barely moved.

“See.”

“That isn’t very reassuring.”

“You can only win as much as you wager.”

She shook her head and hesitantly climbed the stair, making muted gasps with every metallic creak and groan. At length they emerged upon the top of the tank where the wind grew in intensity and their footsteps sounded with booming steel echos. Harmon spread his powerful, sinewy arms, his lithe, well-scarred frame braced against the wind, as if he were drawing down some eldritch power from the welkin.

“A beautiful view on a beautiful day.” He said matter-of-factly, taking a seat upon the massive iron drum.

“With a beautiful woman?”

He turned to her, his expression opaque.

“Indeed.”

She frowned briefly and forced a more pleasant expression and moved to stand directly beside the man.

“I’m getting dizzy up here.”

He gestured for her to sit. When she did they listened to the wind singing through the trees and fall to guttural clattering as it passed between the massive, metal structures of the industrial facility. Harmon placed his hand upon the rusted metal surface of the oil tank, palms down, caressing the ruddy gray surface, speaking low as he did so.

“This facility was built over fifty years ago; its older than I am and older than my father lived to be and it may very well stand long after I fall. Such resilience, born of ingenuity, is impressive. It is as much a comfort to me to see this mighty creation as it is vexing to see it so deplorably abandoned, overgrown and ill-kept. Thinking this, I consider my novel, not as it is now, but as it might be in the future. Will it end up like this facility? Mouldering away on some shelf, my after-image shuttered from all the world?”

Reggie listened attentively, not entirely following. It was a rare occurrence to hear him speak at such length, rare indeed to hear him say anything other than “Indeed” or “Yes” or “No,” his three favorite words. She could think of no one more taciturn and aloof than Harmon Kessel. She had known him slight for four years and in that space, every time they’d met it were as though he were exercising great force of will to stay his feet; as if he were but half-listening, ready to elope off with his ideas to some shutter place like as that which they now occupied. Yet here, now, she thought, he seemed fully present. Open. Vulnerable, even.

“I think you’re worrying too much.”

“It isn’t worry. There is some concern in it, but in casting my mind forward in time, I wish to be as descriptive as possible and eschew all should’s and ought’s. Once you know the former, the latter becomes readily apparent.”

Reggie scrunched up her brow, but nodded and pretended she understood his monologue. She wondered half-seriously if he were mad. Her friends said he was. That he’d gone insane after Lyla left him. Even if it were true she could understand it; they had been together since high-school. A decade. Ten years of dedication destroyed in the blink of an eye. And for what?

Harmon turned to the woman, his strange, green eyes searching the pale blue of her own. Forest to sea. There were never any half-measures in his attention; it was either given or withdrawn; always in totality. To some that was off-putting but Reggie only found it endearing.

“Won’t she be angry you and I went out together?” She figured he wouldn’t know that she knew things were over between Lyla and himself.

“You’re smart enough to know there is no point in asking a question when you already know the answer.”

Fear swift-welled in her bosom.

“What do you mean?”

His eyes narrowed slightly but other than that his face remained unexpressive.

“You don’t know? She went to college. Apparently a requirement of continued attendance is to cut all of her ties. Career apparently took precedence to the man who had just bought a house for her.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not entirely sure and I’m reasonably confident she doesn’t really know either. All I know is that she has ceased to love me.”

“You two aren’t together anymore?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“How could it not?”

“I mean talking about it.”

Reggie was silent a moment. She wasn’t sure how to respond, nor whether it were wise to do so. She did not wish to upset Harmon yet desperately wanted to know more. She was only aware that they were not together anymore. She’d heard as much from her friends who had attended classes with Lyla, but she didn’t know the details. She slowly reached out and caressed his hand and took it in her own whereupon he glanced down at her limb as if it were some alien lifeform and methodically and coldly withdrew.

“Talk to me.”

“Why do you think I brought you here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you think I brought you here to put the moves on you?”

“I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I just… I really like you, Harmon.”

“I appreciate that.”

She drew closer, prompting Harmon to tense.

“Don’t you like me.”

“Course I do. Just not that way.”

“Well what way do you like me?”

“Let’s talk about something else.”

Reggie’s fist clench like as her jaw as a rage boiled over within her breast.

“She doesn’t fucking love you, Harmon. You just said so yourself.”

“I know it.”

“So why do you act like I’m a fucking leper?”

Harmon sighed and then turned to the delicate redhead who sat upon the oil drum on the edge of tears and spoke with great deliberation.

“Love is not something which should be dispensed with simply because it is one-sided.”


 

[Excerpted from my forthcoming novella, The Silence & The Howl.]