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 (§.12)

Continued from §.11.

Serlo poured himself a tumbler of scotch as his father ambled into the drawing room of Wealdmar Estate, mahogany cane clacking violently off the decorative and newly-swept marble floor.

“How is our dear Cerelia?” Grædig Wealdmaer inquired with scant concealed venom, taking a seat upon the leather armchair opposite his son, who slouched dejectedly over the worn coffee table, eyes to the grain. Serlo could not be certain, but was confident his father’s severe gray eyes were upon him, and did not wish to meet the old man’s gaze.

“She’s fine father.”

“Fine? How could she be fine when she’s still set to be wedded to an Adair?”

Serlo sighed.

“She loves him, father.”

“Love? How swiftly that word is deployed as universal justification.”

“I tried to talk her out of it. Thou knowth the affair sits ill with me, yet, on the matter, her mind is as flint.”

“Thou should more forcefully ply thyself.”

“Have I not done all that may become my name? What else could I have done? Already she has eschewed her inheritance.”

“Thou could, if more rightly blooded, act the man thou pretends, rebuke her ill-fitting suitor, with tongue and arm alike.”

“This avys, father? Again? I can not.”

Serlo rose swiftly, vexed and shaking his head.

“I can not.” He repeated more emphatically, pacing back and forth with nervous excitation.

“Sit thee down, boy. Warm blooded and womanly, thou art.”

“He has not grieved me.”

“That he is Adair is grievance enough.”

“For thee!”

“And so, for thee.”

“Nay. Nay! What hath I not given thee but blood? Still, thou hath the temerity to chastise me?”

“Temerity thou couldst use. Curse thy pacing. Sit, damn ye!”

Yetta Wealdmear frowned as she moved into the drawing room, elegantly gowned, pausing in the entrance to better observe the debacle.

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Hear thy mother not? Go on, boy. Flap thy gums since thine bawdryk evades thy callow exercise.”

Serlo opened his mouth to rebuke the old man, thought better of it and spoke to his mother instead without meeting her gaze. He did not wish to see her disapproval anymore than his father’s.

“Father wants me to present a writ of grievance to Adair.”

“He’s still on about it? Why so excited my dear boy? Surely thou art not afraid?”

“Have ye not see the papers?”

“No, I eschew those wretched things.”

“He was attacked.”

“Oeric?”

“Aye.”

“Who by?”

“No one knows. Whoever it was, they wanted him dead.”

“Thou should be thanking them, not mincing thy words and wringing thy limp and lotioned hands.”

“Father!”

Grædig Wealdmaer slammed his ciser upon the table and rose, ambling stiffly towards his son, cane at his side, face twisting with disdain.

“Had I the alauntz of my youth, I should have long-since thrashed the welp across the grand thoroughfare, were he man enough to face me. But thee, nobly born, who are so able in thy faculties, shake as a gale-blown leaf. Thou art a coward.”

“Grædig!” Yetta cried in dismay.

“Why must thee treat me so wretchedly?”

The old man looked his son up and down and once more rapt his cane.

“Allye thou art, that worsens the humiliation of this betrayal of bachilrie.”

He sighed and turned away.

“Perhaps, for this, I bear some blame.”

“By noon assent, Father. I am sorry to dissapoint thee so. I shall not do so again; this, I promise thee.”

Thereafter, Serlo, red-faced and despondent, spun on his heel and left the room.

 

*

 

Continued in §. 13 (forthcoming)

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 (§.10)

Continued from §.09

Volfsige hung back, adjusting his newly acquired beige traveling coat and melting into the crowd as Oeric Adair moved deeper into the eastern bazaar, ringed by a small retinue of guards. He cursed. The minor legion would make any attempt upon the noble’s life impossible.

“Despite his skill, he brings such a guard? Aye, that is wise. I should do the same were I in his position. But what is he doing here? Likely looking for something for the misses. But why has he dispensed with his hat and coat? Perhaps he didn’t like the style…”

Volfsige adjusted his blonde wig and moved in closer, pretending to peruse the wares of a jewelry stall directly adjacent the one before which Adair and his men stood conversing.

“Looking for anything in particular, milord?” The lust-eyed merchant before Adair inquired meekly.

“Through no fault of my own, I’ve placed my wife in a most trying situation. Consequently, I thought I might brighten her mood with a gift and had in mind a bouquette, and yet, decided swiftly against it. Thoughtless really, she doesn’t even like flowers.”

“Why is that, milord?”

“She hates to see beautiful things die.”

Volfsige shifted out of earshot, desperately fighting a rising sense of guilt. It seemed to the stalker’s mind a shame to snuff out a life so filled with radiant promise and spritely virtue, yet, there was, for him, little he could do to extricate himself from the venture.

“A contract must be fulfilled,” he muttered with grim resolve.

*

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.

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.