The Dauntless Rook (§.16)

Continued from §.15

 

When Sprill realized his tenants were either sleeping, hiding, or vacant, he gave a soft grunt of irritation, produced a keyring and turned the lock. Adair followed the landlord and moved through the small, sparse room to the window and peered out into the cluttered lane below, spying only a grim, gray-clad man, conversing with two mailed sentries of the paramount, who stood before a swelling crowd, barely visible in the great thoroughfare beyond the alley. Though Adair could not make out the conversation, it was clear from their body-language that an argument was underway, in which the ashen man was rebuffed. He subsequently turned and left off from the ramshackle lane, shaking his head and muttering and vanished back from whence he’d come.

Adair turned from the window to behold Hoston starring at his pocket-watch.

“Apologies, my comitem. I’ve no idea where they’ve gotten off to.”

“No trouble at all. Perhaps I’ll stop by another time. Wherefore all the commotion?”

“Outside?”

“Aye.”

“Thou art surprisingly unprimed of thy classes own affairs.”

“Sir?”

“The Lord Paramount has organized a parade in honor of Baron Avarr’s triumphal return.”

“The Torian noble?”

“Aye. I mean no offense, my comitem, but should thee not know of this? Surely thou wert invited?”

“If I was, I remember not, but thou speaketh rightly – unfortunately, I’ve been swamped of late. I am to be married and-”

“Why, that is wonderful! I had not heard.”

“Of that I am pleased. I should not wish for my life to become a staple of the gossip columns.”

“Nor I!”

“The business has been most taxing. I’ve had little time for anything else.”

“I suspect that blackguard what came after ye, has somewhat disturbed the tranquil waters of thy recreation.”

“Thou hath heard of my adventure?”

“Heard of it! I should be a queerly isolated soul were I to have not. Why near the whole of town is jawin’ of it. It were said that thee dodged the brigand’s pitch. Is it true?”

“A man may accomplish the extraordinary when by it, he is beset.”

Shortly after the words had left his mouth, he froze, eyes fixating upon a small, black thing at the periphery of his vision. He turned to the left and beheld a feather, laying upon the ground beneath a chair. He bent to a knee and plucked it from the ground, turning it in the ambered light.

It was a crow quill, familiar in constitution.

“I’d no idea they’d a bird,” declared Hoston, briefly observing the feather, “Hmph! How dare they sneak such a creature in here! I’ll have them on the street for this!”

“Its not from a living bird. Note the glue upon the shaft.”

Hoston bent to the feather and peered at the quill.

“Ay. Must have come from a costume… Well, I must be off, my comitem. I take it the path out lays fresh in thy mind?”

“It does. I thank thee for thy time.”

Sprill bowed and left whereupon Adair unfurled himself from the hardwood floor, placed the plume in his inner-jacket pocket and gave Dren’s curiously unfurnished room one last cursory glance before shutting the door and hailing a hansom.

He twirled the feather between his fingertips as the vehicle clattered down the cobblestone streets, wondering why the absent renter had stolen his coat.

The Dauntless Rook (§.15)

Continued from §.14

Luned gasped as she spied Oeric Adair through the keyhole of her flat. The comitem walked patiently, yet eagerly, behind the corpulent, key-jangling landlord, Hoston Sprill. Both men advanced slowly, but steadily, down the corridor; scant minutes from the door.

“Damn that conniving wind-tossed scoundrel. This is all his fault.” She muttered, backing past the divan and the sofa, swiftly towards the tiny apartment’s only window. When she turned full round, she nearly screamed.

Casually lounging upon the sill was Drake Dren, shorn of his recently riven coat, smiling like a jackal.

“How goes it?”

“How many times must I tell ya not to do that, damn thee. Where in blazes have ya been?”

Luned straightened as the sound of Hoston’s fist resounded upon the door of the cramped and peeling flat. Then a pause and a voice following.

“Ms. Luned? Mr. Dren? Anyone home? Its Hoston. Hello? I’ve a gentleman whose most desirous to meet ye.”

“What say you? Shall we stay and chat with Hoston and his friend?”

“Of course not – its Adair. Thou hath said-”

“Of that later. Come.”

Without hesitation, Drake took the woman’s left arm and guided her through the open window to a ladder he’d laid against the side of the tenement to reach the sill. Where he acquired the ladder, Luned had no idea. The man threw his legs out, grabbed the sides of the ladder and slid down a little, smiling at his own successful display of agility, as Luned gasped and redoubled her grasp.

“Curb thy trepidation. Manful make thy heart.” He whispered up to the woman with a grin before sliding all the way down to the bottom of the contraption.

“Mettlesome blighter.” She huffed hotly before beginning her descent.

When the woman made it to the bottom of the ladder, Drake withdrew the device from the side of the tenement and, to Luned’s very great surprize, began folding it up as one might a newspaper, speaking in tones of feigned offense all the while.

“To reproach me for thy own proclivities is to reproach thyself. Or didst thee forget how came our divan and sofa? A simple ‘thank ye’ would be sufficient.”

When the portable ladder was folded to the size of a large suitcase, Drake stuffed it in a heavy and battered leather pack that lay in the alley adjacent their sill and surveyed the alley.

“Where on earth did ya get that?” Luned inquired, gesturing to the pack.

He shushed the woman and drew up his hood, turning away from the woman, and moving into the shadows as a grim figure ambled into view at the leftern end of the alley.

“Who’s that?”

“A man best avoided,” he whispered without pausing, heading to the right exitway.

“Its him isn’t it – the assassin?”

“Aye. He knows me not in my present state and thou art wholly foreign to his experience. Quell thy tongue and shift away.”

She nodded and moved up to his side. Together they passed swiftly to the far right side of the alley, whereupon a considerable throng had gathered in the great thoroughfare beyond. The avenue, however, was obstructed by two large men who stood shoulder to shoulder, clad in heavy haurberks of the paramount.

“Excuse me, sirs, may we pass?”

“Sorry miss,” the smaller of the two guards replied courteously, “Baron Avarr has recently arrived at the outskirts, enroute to Tor. Consequently, the Lord Paramount has commanded the main thoroughfare sealed, to make way for his lauded guest’s procession. Considerable is the host, even now, and word has yet to fully spread; when it does, there will doubtless be all manner of disorder, which our dispensation shall, our lord hopes, in some measure abate.”

The sound of cheers, trumpets and drums flared in the distance.

“I’ve heard he contributed considerably to the war-effort.”

“Aye. Victoriously he returnth.”

The larger guard gesturing flippantly towards the opposite end of the lane, “We’ve answered ya query. Begone. Both of ye.”

Luned and Dren exchanged looks whereupon Dren drew forth, cleared his throat and pulled from his shoulder-slung pack Adair’s plumed cap, revealing the tag to the guards.

The guards furrowed their brows, perplexed.

“Recognize ye the crest?” the thief intoned in his best Adair impression.

The smaller guard’s eyes widened.

“The crest of House Adair! My comitem… please accept my apologies. I recognized thee not.”

“That is precisely as I had intended it – for thou art doubtless primed of the dire circumstance which previously dogged me.”

“Aye milord. And so the cloak.”

“Indeed.”

“A wise precaution. We are pleased to see thee safe.”

The guards then parted and Dren, assuming an air of amiable regality, extended his arm to Luned who took it with a grin.

Arm in arm, the designing pair passed beyond the lane to the great and crowded thoroughfare as a cacophony of ringing steel foretokened the baron’s arrival.

 

*

 

continued in part 16 (forthcoming)

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 (Waltz Leitmotif)

Composed by Kaiter Enless.


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The Dauntless Rook (§.11)

Continued from §.10

“Mr. Dren! I say; Mr. Dren!”

Oeric lowered the silver bracelet he was considering purchasing for Cerelia and turned from the market stall to behold a garishly dressed man of considerable girth with a spruce mustache glaring at him. Oeric at first thought the man was speaking to someone behind him and glanced swiftly over his shoulder to survey the ceaseless, tatterdemalion crowd. He returned his attentions to the fat man only to find his gaze had not wavered. Oeric furrowed his brows as the mustachioed man snarled at him.

“Thou art slippery as an eel.”

“Eel, sir?”

“Play not daft with me! Now pay me what is owed!”

The men Adair had brought with him, free-core militia-men loyal to his father, stiffened, hands moving instinctively to the grips of the weathered blades at their banded sides.

“Confusion hath made thee thy serf, sir.”

“What?”

“I’ve no idea who thou art, and suspect thou hath mistaken me for someone else,” Adair responded, removing his short-brimmed hat from his head and turning full about to face his accuser, “I tell thee sir, I am Comitem Oeric Adair.”

The corpulent interloper approached, eyes narrowing momentarily as he took in Adair’s unshaded face, then widening in shame and vexation, as he realized his error.

“Oh. Oh! Do forgive me! I err indeed! From a distance… a striking resemblance thou boreth…”

The aketouned legionaries relaxed and resumed their vigil, surveying the crowd for signs of erratic movement.

“No trouble, sir. Be not adrad, stay a moment and explain.”

The fat man sided up to the noble, lowering his voice.

“My name is Hoston Sprill. I’m a landlord, my comitem, and manage the tenements in the lower central block, not far from here. Some months ago a handsome young woman named Luned Fey approached me, inquiring about a room for two for let. I assumed she were wed. Nothing more than a young couple looking for accommodations and so I happily obliged without meeting the other prospective tenet, a young man named Drake Dren. Luned was always punctual. But this Dren. Late, late, always he is late with his payments!”

“And he bares some similarity to me?”

“Aye. Less so, now that I’ve a clear view of thee. Thou art taller and broader, milord. And thy visage is different entirely.”

Oeric stroked his chin and turned to his men and then back to the stubby landlord with a look of considerable determination.

“Mr. Hoston, I should like very much if thou would introduce me to thy tenant.”

*

The Dauntless Rook (§.08)

Continued from §.07.


Oeric Adair read and reread the Ersentwyer Evening Standard as he waited in the drawing room of his newly purchased manse for Cerelia to greet him. His nerves such that the paper jittered in his hands, which, in erratic interludes, would irregularly flutter down to the tabletop to tap in rapid succession as his shoes clacked upon the hard surface of the polished marble floor as if modulating the pedals of a great and invisible organ.

After several minutes of timorous tapping, Aldwyn shut the novel he was reading and threw his friend a look of vexation.

“Thou shalt scuff the floor with thy clacking.”

Adair sighed and threw the paper on the table and withdrew a cigarette from a small silver case in his inner jacket pocket, lighting it with the pumpkin-scented candle Cerelia had given him along with the stolen corvine coat.

“Apologies. I know not what to do.”

“What is to be done?”

“They herald me now as a hero… Cerelia, if she’s read the paper, doubtless thinks likewise.”

“Demelody knows thou wert absent the shipyard.”

“Aye, yet the ministry has no outlet of its own as The Standard. Besides, they’ll keep all information pertinent to the investigation within their walls until the matter is concluded; giving more primacy to the apprehension of the assassin than to the enlightenment of the public on all details pertinent to his capture.”

Aldwyn raised a brow, grave concern plain-writ upon his face. Moments later, Cerelia Wealdmaer burst into the drawing room, swaddled in a peacock-feathered overcoat, followed by a tall, powerfully-built man, expensively attired in a gold-trimmed waistcoat, dark-blue suit and checkered breeches.

Adair nearly gave an audible groan. After the travails of the day, the last thing he wanted to see was the perpetually scathing visage of Serlo Wealdmaer.

Cerelia smiled and dashed towards Adair, throwing her arms about him in loving embrace, as Serlo slowly made his way to the middle of the drawing room, where Aldwyn sat, sipping tea, novel upon his lap.

“My hero returns!”

“Hero?” Adair replied with amusement, taking the woman about the waist and setting her down upon his lap, “Hardly, hardly.”

“Oh, Aldwyn, how rude I am! Wert thou present when the blackguard beset our man?”

Aldwyn looked up from his book uncertainly. Adair thought that if his eyebrows moved any higher, they’d fly right off his face.

“No, I was at Mazrak’s. Destrali was playing.”

“Ah. When I read the paper,” Cerelia continued breathlessly, “I could scarcely believe it.”

“Neither could I,” Serlo declared, turning full toward the master of the house, “Wherefore the departure?”

Adair perked up, “Hm?”

“The theatre. Why didst thou depart?”

“Oh, that. The concert simply wasn’t what I had expected. So I sought some air, and in seeking, made way to the cargo yard where the villain attacked.”

Serlo looked to Aldwyn who nodded blankly.

Adair rose, swaggering arm in arm with Cerelia, and addressed Serlo confidently.

“Since thou shalt shortly be my brother, thy presence I should be overjoyed to retain.”

“Nay. I’ve matters to attend to. Shalt thy accompany me, Cerelia?”

“After all that has transpired, certainly, I must stay a while. Oh, Serlo, stay.”

With a grimace he turned to the door, “Take care, sister. Goodday, gentlemen.”

As soon as the door had shut behind the man, Adair turned to Cerelia with exasperation.

“Why didst thou tell me not of thy brother’s accompaniment?”

Cerelia was much taken aback, “After what had transpired, wherefore thy vexation, dearest? A killer nearly pinned thee to a cargo crate; I shall not travel alone whilst freely yet he lurks.”

Adair’s face fell slightly, for, during the interim from his departure to the theatre and return to his villa, he had in no wise considered Cerelia’s safety.

She’s right, he thought in self-reprimand, the cutthroat was after me, but that means not that those who sent him are after me only. Surely, the root of the matter lays with my family name. How thoughtless I have been, and how unworthy I am of poor Cerelia, who handles the matter with all the reserve of a baroness! And how more nobly than I does her scowling brother attend his blood…

Aldwyn rose from his armchair to address Cerelia.

“Perchance our goodly hero shall bring the rogue to justice.”

Adair puffed out his chest.

“Perchance I shall.”


Continued in §.09.

The Dauntless Rook (§.07)

Continued from §.06.


Luned Fey leaned back in the old wicker chair she’d stolen four weeks ago, lowering the paper to behold a lithe, pale man, garbed in a corvine coat, who sat across the charred table. He settled down into the chair and poured some of the coffee Fey had freshly brewed looking impossibly pleased with himself and wholly oblivious to her increasingly dour expression.

“I see ya’ve finally returned with ya ridiculous spoils.”

“Ridiculous? Aesthetically refining, I should say.”

“Ya look like a giant bird.”

“Thouart my size, would that make of thee a giant shrew?”

“Its not funny, Dren. Ya’wert reckless.”

“My last name is only invoked when thourt in some wise vexed.”

“Vexed? Vexed! Have ya read the Evening Standard?”

“Indeed.”

“Ya made the front page.”

“No, no, no,” the man, sipped his coffee and wagged a finger before the woman, smiled and pushed up the brim of the azure-plumed hat to reveal gold-green eyes that glittered through the gloam, “Oeric Adair did.”

“The dockman saw thee. He’s been jawing to the press.”

Drake removed his hat, ruffled his matted, obsidian hair, listlessly waving his hand, as if brushing away a slothful fly.

“Let him jaw. Does it mention Emory’s condition?”

“Who?”

“The dock worker that took a dagger to the thigh.”

“No. Only mentions he were injured in the attempt on ya life. Drake, are ya even listening?”

Drake Dren tapped his chin, beetle-black brows furrowing momentarily.

“Hm, I shall just have to go and see for myself then…”

Luned folded the paper and tossed it upon the battered table, scowling.

“My dear woman, thourt either miming a prune or signalling thy disapproval.”

“Ave ya gone daft? Ya already saved the man’s life – theys naught left ta do in returning but show thy tail to the mousetrap.”

The man paused and dramatically scanned his backside as Luned rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Its serious, damn ye. Yawert nearly kilt!”

He smiled slightly and leaned theatrically towards her, voice low and smooth and coaxing.

“Thou wert worried about me, wernt thee?”

“I wert worried about having my tenement overrun with accipiters! Which now, thanks ta thee, will be trawling the area for information, once it comes out that the man what dodged the cutthroat wasn’t Adair!”

“Ah, that is where thourt mistaken. To understand, thou must, of Adair, grow thy knowing. The ministry will hound after the assassin, but they shant come looking for me.”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because, my dear Luned, Adair won’t want them to.”

*


Continued in §.08.