“This place is actually pretty nice once the rubbish is swept away.” I mention off-handedly. The streets are wide, few people on them despite being one of the economic districts and the middle of the day. Though that might be due to the nature of the products sold here having a serious shortage in recent days. The people that walk along the streets are not looking to purchase, but to avoid as much attention as possible.
“Though it is a shame that the previously booming economic district is currently in such a state. I will have to bring this up at the next meeting and see if I can get this area converted to another purpose. The large open areas and auction platforms would be ideal to display and bid for artwork and would do good to enrich the local culture. I read once that when certain places outlawed customs that had become second nature, even if they were negatively effected by those previous customs, they tend to resist.” I explain to my companions, who all walk respectively behind me. I know most won’t respond, but it is still good to voice the ideas, so they understand my meanings. That and I get bored when there is nothing to do.
“Whatever you say boss.” Ah good old Golm. He is one of the few people who will voice his opinion without my expressly asking for it. Though it is rarely a productive opinion it is still good to break up the monotomy.
Golm is a large fellow, just shy of 7 feet, and when you are only 5.2 tall it is quite the contrast. In fact, I bet that most of the pedestrians we pass will see him first and me second, despite the fact I am walking in front. I don’t mind. In my profession I have found it more useful to remain unseen, and if we were back in Qarth I would prefer to walk in the middle of the group so that no one could see me.
But this isn’t Qarth, and I am not the person I was before. If I want to step out into the light, I need to act more... open? That should be it, open. I need people to see me and know who I am. Like this they know to behave when I arrive. Though the people I am visiting are seeing me for the first time, so they can be forgiven for not recognising me straight away. I am a reasonable man after all.
I come upon a beggars street. Not the actual name, just what you call this section of the city. In every city there will always be an alley, usually a dozen, with small beggar children who are hiding from the guards and larger beggars. Despite its name it is not where they beg. The alley is located next to the main hub, where the rich and gullible wander, close enough so that when the guards come along to clear them off, they have somewhere to hide.
The assortment of faces watch as I and my team enter the alley. They huddle their bodies tight and hold their breaths. That much is to be expected when a dozen heavily armed men enter their home, each stinking of blood from earlier work. As I walk down the alley, I frown at the surprise they showed at my arrival. That and their clearly poor presentation is quite disappointing for the rats working for Angel’s Wing. The thought gives me an itch, so I decide to test them.
I find one of the solitary rats and in a menacing voice, I ask him. “Pathetic, Oi worm. Where is the Angel’s Wing?” she, and it is a girl though it would confuse a normal person I am used to the signs, freezes like deer before a wolf. She waits for a few seconds as if hoping I would go away if she didn’t move. When I keep staring at her with a sneer on my face, waiting, she starts mumbling with her head down. I lift my hand and swing it toward her head, the shadow of my movement causes her to flinch and brace for impact.
*pat* I place my hand on her head and when she relaxes from the lack of pain I turn her head upwards to face me. “Wrong attitude. When faced with a big and scary person like me and my compatriots, acting meek and small will either infuriate me or bring out my sadistic side. Either one will lead to you in pain.” She looks confused at my changed attitude. I have lost the sneer and growl, instead am talking in a clear voice that suits a scholar discussing theories.
“The correct response is to look me in the eye and smile. Say you have a hearing problem, preferably an infection as that will reduce contact, and request, politely, that I repeat the question. Most people have a hard time striking a smiling person, it makes them feel uncomfortable. Giving a helpful answer will reduce the chance of a beating, after all we want to encourage helpful behaviour. Even if you lack the practice and nerves to act like this, weakness will only lead to torment. Even ignorance is preferable. Go dumb and deaf, act stupid and drool. If I really wanted information I would at most hit you once, then move on. Even if I was feeling sadistic and just wanted to hurt you, the lack of reaction will ruin most of the fun. When that happens, you don’t brace to resist the blow. You need to go with the motion, that reduces the force and pain.” The rest of the rats are listening now, their curiosity beating their desire to avoid drawing attention. They aren’t stupid or broken, which is good seeing as it saves me the trouble of removing them.
“Before I leaveI have a few more pieces of advice. Find a bucket and fill it at the well. When you leave for the rush period, wash only your faces. If your entire bodies are filthy people will avoid you and only the kindest of souls will approach to give coins. If your faces are clean it gives an appropriate contrast with your dirty bodies, an impression of innocence and poverty. This tugs at the hearts of those mothers and young romantics, opening hearts and purses.” I impart the Black Dragon handbook to the rats. Hopefully they will remember them quicker and save my men having to completely retrain them.
I stand up and leave, my audience watching me go. Their eyes no longer hold terror, rather reverence and worship. They don’t know me but they know I speak the truth. I understand them and they understand me, like there is a bond with us. Which to be fair there is. After all I was once one of them, though much better at what I do.
At the end of the alley I and my men turn right and continue to our destination. Golm can’t help but chuckle and soon the rest join him. I decide to let the slip in discipline go as they worked so hard today and this was our last destination. I arrive before a large building, 3 stories tall, in the middle of deserted streets. The windows are covered in drapes hiding the inside from being seen. There are 2 large men guarding the front entrance. The make a move to stop us, when quick as lighting, 2 of my shadow guards move forward. They grab them by the throats and squeeze till they drop unconscious, the action perfected from repeated use. The men have asked why we don’t just kill them, which I remind them we are not in Qarth. We lack the numbers we did there and recruiting additional muscle is expensive and time consuming. We need examples, not corpses.
My men search the bodies and remove the key from the right one. We open the door and make our way inside. Other than me and Golm, everyone spreads out. The guards caught unaware are dealt with in similar manners, those that resist are subdued with a dagger to the shoulder or a snapped knee. Soon the men got the message and even those that were prepared dropped their weapons. We move to the top floor where 2 rather skilled guards are holding my men back. My guys only have daggers and in this wide hall against skilled swordsmen, they are restricted by range and a desire not to kill. Ialmost give permission, but seeing as these 2 are quite capable, I decide to spare them so they can work for me.
With a flick of the wrist I throw a pair of needles at their knees, followed by a running jump, which ends in a twin sideways kick. The needle hits a pressure point causing them to wince and close their eyes, which then stay closed after being kicked on the chins. They drop to the floor in a clump, while I gracefully land and pirouette. “Golm. Door.” I tell my heavy-set companion. Golm is the only one of my group not a shadow guard, and also the only one to carry a large warhammer, which he is now wielding.
With a powerful swing, Golm strikes the hard oak door, smashing it from the hinges. Judging by the direction of the swing, I would judge the lock broke before the hinges, I think absentmindfully. The man I am looking for, one sir Enayr, is currently holding a loaded crossbow. An item he uses to fire an arrow straight into my chest... and then into the wall down the hallway.
I have in the mean time turned into smoke, and moved from my original position to Enayr across the room. I grab his throat, though not to render him unconscious. However this next part goes, I need him responsive. I apply just enough pressure to silence him and then throw him towards Golm, who holds his arms behind his back.
We make our way downstairs to the ground floor where everyone was waiting. My men and the thugs, as well as the ‘other’ staff. Women in skimpy clothing, collars around their necks. Seems the former owner didn’t get the message. I have Golm place the man in front of everyone, then ask him a question. It was an easy one with an obvious answer.
“Who is in charge here?” I have him look me in the eye. As he saw the beast which dwelled within, all fight left his body. He shuddered and dropped to his knees.
“Master Syros Pahren, he gives me commands and I only follow them, I swear. Please I will give you anything just don’t kill me!” he starts to break down and cry towards the end. I sigh and shake my head at the answer. I thought the dragons on our backs and the raid would have been enough of a hint if he still didn’t get the message a week ago. Turning to Glom I nod my head. Lifting his hammer, Golm swings down and crushes Enayr’s left leg.
“AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!” He screams. As he writhes on the ground, clutching at what remained of his leg, Golm swung again, at the right this time. The pain proved too much for him and he fainted, soiling the floor with vomit and blood.
“Huh, not sure if that shows he was tougher than the others or weaker. The other guys fainted on the first leg, then woke and started screaming when we broke the second. Oh well. You two.” I point to 2 of the largest and toughest looking thugs, though that isn’t saying much since everyone in the room is either crying or fainted like our dear friend here. “I want you two to bring our dear Enayr here to the beggars street. After that you and everyone here will have the rest of the day off. Go home and refresh. There are going to be some changes in this establishment.” I smile and address the rest of the room. The unconscious members will be told later, but I don’t want to ruin the current atmosphere with trying to wake them.
“First, this man here is the new manager.” I put my hand on one of my shadow guards, who removes his mask so they can recognize him. “Anyone who wants to keep working here can come tomorrow. That goes for you girls too. If you want to be employed like people, then you can come and we will discuss a reasonable wage.” I address the thugs and the former slaves. Seriously, you would think the army of unsullied would be enough of a sign slaves were not a good idea. Though I suppose for a former criminal den that didillegal things in a slave city, like this would be expected.
“You don’t need to come here if you don’t want to, of course. By declaration of Queen Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, First of her name, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.” I take a deep breath. If it wasn’t for the fact she earned most of them, and she would probably get sad if I did, I would ask her to cut a few of those out of her name. “No man or woman will ever be a slave in the great city of Astapor, ever again. If you return it will be of your own decision, and if you leave no one will come after you. You all enjoy the rest of your day.” I give them a small bow and parting, then make towards the door.
“Oh I almost forgot. Sorry I have repeated this speech so many times today that I think it has already been said. You ever feel like that Golm?” I ask my friend, who nods in agreement. “Yeah so though you can leave if you want, if you return and agree to the working conditions, you will have to follow them. Break the rules or betray us, and you will end up like Enayr.” I leave the room with that thought and leave the building.
God, I am exhausted, I usually move at night, and my theatrics are usually visual rather than vocal. They also rarely need to be repeated before. This was the seventh den we had been to and they all ended the same way. Fortunately this was the last of them run by the masters, all the rest were by merchants and they should pack up when they get the message. I suppose this is just another one of the skills I need to practice if I want to become a lord, need to make a good impression.
I hum a happy tune as I make my way back to the Crimson Palace where Daenerys likes to discuss the meetings. Personally, I like a comfy sofa to hard chairs, but what do I know. She’s the Queen.