A Good Man



Chapter 14: Gods and Kings


Almost five years ago.

Eli got out of the cab, the club looming over him. Disgusted eyes followed him wherever he went.

“All these black marks, you’ve lost your way. You’re beyond redemption some might say.”

Eli ignored the voice that had been plaguing him for what seemed like an eternity. Rain drizzled from the sky, a forebear of the storm that was yet to come. As he walked up the steps to the club’s entrance the ghosts of his past walked beside him. Memories of different days, different people, some dead, others still living.

He ignored a servant trying to stop him, pushing the man aside, indifferent to his protests. He barely heard the man, who kept crying for security. The club’s halls were darker than he remembered them, more hostile, less inviting. The alcoves were filled with people, but they didn’t call out. Back in the monarchy his blackened veins had just been a curiosity, but in Mercia they only meant one thing, heresy. He was a disgrace.

The accusing glares followed him all the way to the bar where off-duty assassins resided. He threw the doors open and marched inside. Within seconds the entire bar was up in arms, aiming all kinds of weaponry at him. The person he had hoped to see wasn’t there. He had hoped to find Moose in their old hangout. He wondered if she had moved on, gone to a different city, or joined some branch of the military.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you all know the rules, no killing on club grounds.” The bartender said in a monotone voice. He sounded bored and uninterested, as if situations like these occurred on a daily basis. Slowly the guns went down, nobody was risking his membership to kill an obsolete.

“You want to play a hand of cards toots?” An old woman asked. “Birdie you can’t be serious about dealing him in, the fucker is obsolete!” An ugly man exclaimed, sitting at the old woman’s table. “Brian, darling, be a dear and fuck off, please?” She slapped him affectionally on the cheek. “Honestly sometimes I wonder what goes on in that ancient brain of yours.” Birdie gave Brian a smile, which several teeth. “You keep wondering sonny, exercise is good for your brain.” The old woman waved Eli over, who had been standing around looking a bit forlorn.

“You ever played seven fools dear?” The old woman asked as Eli sat down. “Can’t say that I have, but I’m familiar with the rules.” He watched as Birdie nimbly moved a suit of cards around in her hands. “Many people think the surest way to win is to follow the fools move around the table. They’re wrong.” The old woman grinned again. “The trick to the game is not to know where the fools are, but where they aren’t.” The cards seemed to be alive in her hands. “You see, Florian over there is going to end up without fools, but two aces.” She dealt smoothly, the cards flying over the table. Once Florian got his cards he showed them, a clover two, a queen of hearts and two aces.

“Life and cards, they are not so different, do you understand?” Eli didn’t. Birdie looked at him for a moment, then chuckled. “Of course, you don’t, you’re too impatient. Your life hangs in the balance, there are other things on your mind.” From somewhere she conjured a cigarette case and offered it to Eli. “Keep it, I don’t smoke.” Eli inclined his head gratefully.

“Would I be correct if I assumed you are Eli de Winter, the runaway assassin?” Eli’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know me? I don’t think we’ve met.” Birdie croaked in delight. “It is my business to know anybody and everybody. Regardless you’re asking the wrong question.” Eli lit a cigarette. “And the right question would be?” He asked. “Who you need to contact to get a private contract, one that suits your needs.” Eli gave her a guarded look. “Who said I was looking for a specific contract?”

A piece of wood smacked into the back of Eli’s head. “Don’t think me dense boy. Every idiot could go to the lower levels and whack some obsolete fuck. The fact that you haven’t means you want something special to get back in the game. You are in luck boy, somebody fills exactly the niche you’re looking for.” The old woman grinned. “I’m even going to give you her name, for free.” Eli had a feeling the information was going to cost him dearly at some point, but without it he would be dead, so he had little to lose. “Hit me.” He said.

Eli pulled away a curtain, revealing the alcove behind it. There are cushions, an awful lot of them. Somewhere in the huge pile there is a girl smoking a long thin pipe. “Uhm, I’m searching for an Alice Ouverte, are you her?” The girl sits up straight, looking a bit perplexed. “A customer?” She asked, as if she wasn’t entirely sure if Eli was one. “Yes, I’ve come for a contract.” She looked at his black veins, then smiled. “Of course, what is it that you desire?” It sounded like she had practiced the line many times, her thick French accent sounding very fake.

“It needs to be clean. It needs to be a man, not a woman and definitely not a child. Most importantly I must be able to complete it within thirty hours. Oh, and I will need a pistol, any kind will do.” Alice raised her eyebrows. “Maybe you would like a million crowns to go with that?” Eli shrugged. “This is your job, isn’t it? I’m prepared to sweeten the deal, you can keep the money, all of it.” Alice’s eyes shone with greed. “I think I have something lying around, let me look.” She smiled as she got out of her bed of pillows. She was a lot smaller standing up, barely reaching Eli’s chin. “Don’t go anywhere.” She said as she hurried off, presumably to find the most expensive contract she could find.

Ten minutes or so later she returned with a file. Unceremoniously she tossed it at his feet. “Aiden O’Malley, former soldier, now running around the second district, stirring up a lot of trouble.” I open the file. O’Malley’s story is a familiar one. After he got ordained, he was immediately drafted and brought to Bridgemore Academy. There they drilled, trained and educated him in his God chosen profession. According to the file he was a driven, patriotic and trustworthy student. Hence, they signed him up for the officer course. After three years of training he graduated and was given the rank of captain. Then they send him off to the colonies to participate in peacekeeping missions. Apparently, he was disillusioned by the things that happened there, and when rotated back he wasn’t the same.

Anti-government speeches, misconduct, several accounts of disorderly behavior, assault, until finally he allegedly murdered a superior. The court had been unable to convict him due to missing evidence. Allegedly O’Malley’s subordinates made the evidence disappear. Since the trial O’Malley’s has changed his ways, for the worse. He’s suspected of being a player in the local drug game, extorting business and tax fraud. He and his men, all ex-military, hang in a bar known as the broken riffle. The government wants him gone. The contract isn’t a necessary one, but there will be no investigation if O’Malley turns up dead.

“I can’t recommend using a gun, his men will hear, and they are better armed. Besides, they outnumber you ten to one, you wouldn’t make it out. Use this instead.” She hands me a knife. I unsheathe it, it is well cared for, sharp, but otherwise unremarkable. “It is military issue. If somebody decides to investigate they will most likely think that one of his subordinates did it.” Eli nodded. “I will let you know when it is done.” He said, and just like that he was back in.


I follow Katharina Romanov through the winding hallways of the palace. I have a feeling she is trying to confuse me, by taking a longer route to the place where I will meet her uncle. Just as I’m about to say something she suddenly halts. “Uncle Boris is behind this door, he will tell you what you need to know.” She smiles and gestures invitingly. I open the door and step inside.

Boris is a big man, in all senses of the word. He stands easily over two meters tall, but his enormous belly gives him a sense of mass. He sports a massive beard which makes it hard to determine where his neck ends, and his chin begins. He twirls his mustache as he watches me enter, looking every bit a Bond villain. “Mister de Winter, after the things I’ve heard about you I thought you would be taller.” His accent is heavy, and he sounds a bit like Victor, only rougher, his pronunciation of the words somehow sharper.

“Ambassador, I was told you had some information for me, regarding an associate of mine.” He nods. “Yes, Charles Kingsburg. He is more than he seems.” My face remains neutral. “You might not know, but he is the head of your internal security bureau.” Boris tilts his head. “I see you do know, or at least suspected.” He waves dismissively. “But that is of course not the information I wish to give you. No, mister Kingsburg is part of a secret organization you see.” He smiles as he sees my face. “Now I have your full attention, good. Now then, mister de Winter, let met tell you about the council of kings.”

Somebody has died, the party is over. Mercian bureaucrats might order murders on a daily basis, but they are quite upset when one happens close by. The second the news got out the prince’s security team came for him. There was very little Jesse could do, except for staying near him. She is afraid, not for herself, but that the person lying in the street is Eli. She hasn’t seen him since he disappeared with the would-be assassin.

The prince drags her along, into a car that will take them back to the hotel. Once they’re there the prince will be safe, and she will be free to go back to find Eli. The car speeds away from the palace, down the brightly lit boulevards. Everything will be alright, everything will be okay.

Blood is dripping from Muninn’s blade, leaving dark stains in the carpet as she walks through the hotel’s corridors. She’s wearing her mask, the raven feathers tickling her cheeks. “Who’s there? Show yourself!” An exasperated soldier shouts in Armerian. He is not used to operating in the dark, unable to see the enemy. Unfortunately for him Muninn is.

Soundlessly she moves closer to him, until she can hear his breath. Her blade sneaks out and she cuts his throat. The blood flows from the wound like a red waterfall. It is fascinating and beautiful, but Muninn doesn’t have time to watch. The prince is on his way and she needs to prepare a warm welcome.

“Mercia used to be a kingdom, as you might know. However, unlike the Rosharian monarchy the king didn’t have any power. No, the true power was held by four dukes, respectively of the North, South, East and West. They were the ones with power, they were the ones in control. As a joke they referred to themselves as the council of kings.” Boris smiled, revealing several gold teeth.

“Now the king, he wasn’t happy, not at all. So, he started searching for something that could make him a true king. For many years he searched, scouring the known world, meeting all kinds of very interesting people. Until, finally he found the answer. Somewhere in the southern desserts he found a man of God.” I shift uncomfortably from my left to my right foot. This is all taking too long, there is a prince in need of protecting. “Get to the point please.” I say, a bit agitated.

“Patience mister de Winter, this is a very important story.” Boris smiled again. “So, the man of God he told the king that his god had a plan, for everybody. And the king liked that idea, so he invited the man into his kingdom. But the king, he was betrayed, for there are no kings in God’s plan, just like there are no dukes. In less than a century the nobility lost everything they had once held, all because of the actions of one foolish king. And because nobles are proud and vindictive they swore vengeance. One day they would wrest back control from the dirty bureaucrats that had taken over the country.”

“For many years they hid in the shadows, amassing wealth and influence, all in preparation for the day they would take back control. This group, they still exist, and call themselves the council of kings. An homage to the dukes of old. I have reason to believe that your friend Charles Kingsburg is a member of this group.”

I raise my eyebrows. “And the reason you’re telling me this?” Boris shrugged. “My country has a vested interest in keeping Mercia strong, ready to plant a knife in the Monarchy’s back. You’re unknowingly helping one of the men trying to destabilize the region. We hope you will cease your activity.” I think about it, it makes sense. The Kievan hierarchy, the Rosharian monarchy and the Mercian bureaucracy have been in a diplomatic deadlock for years. The three countries all want to go war, but fears to act on account of the third party destroying the two weakened ones. If Mercia is torn apart in a civil war the deadlock will be lifted. If that happens Roshar and Kievan will go to war and the whole thing will become a mess.

“Okay, the question that remains however is how you got this information.” Boris grins. “Mister de Winter, you very well know that if a Kievan official admitted to having an intelligence network within Mercian borders there would be diplomatic hell to pay.” I understand, some things can’t be disclosed. “Now, mister de Winter I imagine you have places to be.” I recognize the dismissal for what it is and leave the office.

The Queen of the South watches from the shadows as the assassin leaves the office. The man seems to be sunken in thought. It is okay, her intelligence on him suggests he isn’t all that clever. Still, he needs to go, before he becomes an inconvenience. It doesn’t matter whether the King in the North is using him in some elaborate scheme, tonight he dies.

A shadow appears beside her. A man wearing a raven mask looking suitably grim, and more than a bit theatric. “You wait until he has left the palace, but he can’t reach the hotel. I don’t want this to come back to haunt my family. Are we clear?” Uncle Boris is a sweet man, who genuinely loves his country, he doesn’t deserve to get killed over some unimportant information he told a random assassin.

The man nods and disappears as eerily quiet as he appeared.

A country away a letter is delivered to a man known as the Butcher of the South. His real name is Eugene Booker, and he is upset. Upset because once again politics have interfered in a perfectly good war. True, he isn’t the leading strategist in this campaign, but if they give the guy in charge another season he will have these noble bastards on the run.

None of that is his concern however, since he has been recalled. Why he’s recalled is unclear, something to do with a possible invasion. It all sounds like hogwash, but according to the letter’s date he should have been home yesterday. That is the sort of thing that gets his nickers in a twist. The only thing worse than ending a good operation is ending the operation when it has just gotten off the ground.

Other than that, Armes is an awful country, the people are rude, the air smells too clean, the women are ugly and the liquor tastes like donkey piss. He has many reasons to be upset, but as he sees the transport he is supposed to board near his mood sours even further. It is a fucking civilian ship, which means this whole new operation isn’t orchestrated by the military top back home. The whole thing reeks of bureaucratic shenanigans, and he fucking hates those.

The general spits on the ground, barely missing the polished boots of one of his regulars. “You’ll see boys, that when we get home the government will have turned this war into the biggest diplomatic clusterfuck we’ve ever seen. Meanwhile we leave our own guys’ backs open for raiders and every cunt who can hold a gun.” Eugene doesn’t expect an answer, and he won’t get one. General or not, in the eyes of the government he’s nothing but another soldier, ordained to fight and die in service of God and country.

The car stopped in front of the hotel. Jesse got out, accompanied by the Prince’s security team. The prince himself was forced to stay inside until the area was cleared. After a few minutes one of the prince’s guys gives the okay, and everybody goes inside. The hotel is quiet, but it is the middle of the night, so nobody thinks anything of it. The lights are on, a guest is lying in a drunk stupor in one of the chairs in the lobby, and the radio is on.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The sound is hard to make out over the background noise of the radio. “Where is the nightshift?” Jesse asks softly.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

One of the security people walks past the counter, in search of anyone hotel personnel. Meanwhile Jesse walks towards the drunk man. There is something weird about him, the way he is lying in his chair isn’t entirely natural. She gently pushes him. “Sir?” The man’s head lolls back, revealing a red slid across his throat. Horrified Jesse takes a step back.

Something falls on her face, something fluid. She wipes it from her cheek and looks at it. Of course, it is blood, it couldn’t have been anything else, it must be blood. She looks up at a sight that will stay with her for the rest of her days. A completely dissembled man, strung from the ceilings. His organs hanging neatly from different threads. An acid taste spreads through her mouth as she feels the vomit rising. It is in that moment that the sound of gunfire fills the hotel.

The palace has emptied out. It isn’t as weird as you would think. None of the people that work in gigantic ornamental building actually lives there. Not even ambassadors or diplomates can stay past a certain time. Much like the rest of Mercia, the palace too sleeps for a few hours every night. Bedtime just came early tonight, because of a suicide. I quicken my pace, the prince has been alone for quite a while now, and seeing that there already have been two attempts on his life today I don’t want to leave him alone for too long.

First realize that something is wrong when I step outside and there isn’t a single cab in sight. The sense of wrongness deepens as I decent the steps and notice that the great plaza in front of the palace is deserted. At the bottom of the steps I turn to see that the soldiers, which were guarding the doors a bare minute ago, have abandoned their posts. I draw my pistol, searching for the enemy attack that will undoubtedly come any moment now. The sound of snow cracking beneath my shoes sounds far too loud in my ears. It is only drowned out by the sound of my heartbeat.

He appears like a shadow, a rapier in hand, stepping from behind a pedestal, on which the statue of king stood long ago. He’s entirely clad in black, a raven mask covering his face. In all honesty he looks ridiculous, like he just escaped from a hot topic store and is now on his way to a renaissance fair. His reputation however is nothing to laugh at. I’ve done my homework and learned about at least a dozen confirmed kills by this lunatic. He and his accomplish to the most fucked up things together. They’re the kind of people you hire when you want someone to suffer before they’re murdered. Nobody will miss him once he is gone.

I’m about to shoot when I suddenly realize something, he’s alone. Either Huginn or Muninn isn’t here, which means they’re performing one task or another somewhere else. I don’t have to think twice about what said task might be. I must get to the prince, before he gets Jesse and himself killed. The clown with a sword in front of me isn’t going to make it easy. I can see it in the way he walks as he approaches me. He is far too eager for this. At about twenty meters he stops and makes a bow, never breaking eye contact. I should have stayed in Victoria with the gangsters and normal people.

Before birdman gets up I shoot him.



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