The carriage rolled through the gate without incident. Heratio, sat on the perch, soaked from the downpour. He waved at the two gate’s men as he continued, unimpeded along his way. He had seen to their bribes already. Maybe it was an unnecessary expense, a bit of extra coin he could have kept in his hidey-hole. All it would cost him was but a couple of swings of his sabre. But, they were a type of friend to him. Before becoming Augustus' personal guard, he and Gillivan had worked those gates, and during his time there he had given those two plenties of 'How's your mornings.'

For all he knew, he might have lost some sleep over their deaths. Or even felt some guilt over being their ultimate demise. It was better this way. He watched them run into the tiny gatehouse. From experience, he knew how tiny it was. When he and Gillivan would sit shoulder to shoulder to the wall, waiting out the rain. They would sit in those cramped quarters, duelling with flatulence, trying to force the other to yield and run out into the rain. Heratio was convinced Gillivan would change his diet whenever he felt the weather changing.

Heratio looked over to Gillivan, his face appearing solemn. Gillivan's wide-brimmed hat accumulated the rainwater until it spilled over in streams. They gave each other a nod. In tense moments they both did better in silence, each able to intuit the other’s intentions wordlessly. They could signal each other at a glance, whether it be to be cautious, or on the rare occasion that they would take the offensive.

In the moments leading to a tavern brawl, Heratio once gave Gillivan a look saying, 'take out that one while I take out this other one.' Before two aggravators knew the fight had begun, Heratio and Gillivan were already plunging their daggers into stomachs. The fight wasn't over there, though, many a green fighter could think stabbing someone with a knife would be the end of it, but, dagger wounds are shallow enough they keep fighting. So they stabbed them a few more times until they were sure they were on their way to the kingdom of Manas. There were witnesses, but smart enough witnesses to know they didn't really see anything. The two dead were a couple of nobodies, so the magistrates didn't even show up, just wrote their names down in some book back at the office.

Thanks to Augustus, Heratio had the pleasure of even being present when their deaths were reported. One of Augustus' tasks was keeping that record. While he was on duty a clerk brought the bartender over, hat in hand, to Augustus' workspace. Heratio was giddy with delight at the sight of the bartender's face when he saw Heratio sitting there.

Augustus took the names down then asked, "Are you a witness?" The bartender shook his head enthusiastically. "Well, if there are any witnesses, they can present themselves here to a clerk." The bartender left, and then, that was that. No witnesses came forward.

Heratio pulled on the reins again once they were safely out of view of the gatehouse, turning the horses to leave the road. Gillivan pointed over to some bushes, and the carriage followed his finger. The sudden flash of lightning illuminated the area for a moment, allowing him to see there was no one lurking. He started his count, one, two, three. Then the thunder.

Heratio stepped down off the perch and Gillivan followed. This place provided enough cover, the rest of the way would be on foot. Gillivan went straight to the horses, petting their heads to tried to soothe them. Both of them knew the horses would be stressed by the weather, and leaving them here in the rain and mud was a terrible thing to do to them. But they couldn’t bring the carriage back to Augustus’ estate just yet. They detached the horses from the carriage and led them to the largest tree they could find. At least here, they could shelter from the rain.

Back to the carriage, they began to let out their passengers. Four tall men, dressed in the same dark poncho and a wide-brimmed hat that Heratio and Gillivan wore. Men Heratio could trust, in life and in battle. He welcomed them into the rain, to get just as soaked and uncomfortable as he was.

He knew them from his days as hired muscle. Back then, one day he’d be protecting a senator when they needed extra protection, then the next he would be beating up some poor soul suspected of coveting someone else’s wife. In the morning, they would gather at The Swordsman’s Guild where they would meet with prospective employers at the dining hall. The name of the place, ‘The Swordsman’s Guild,’ misrepresented itself in two ways. For one, it wasn’t exclusive to sword fighters, accepting any hired muscle. Secondly, it didn’t really act as a guild, it was more of a membered tavern with a cover charge for non-members.

Most guilds acted as a middleman, connecting employers, with contracts requiring specific skills, with the people having the necessary skills required. Those guilds took a fee, but would also act to settle any disputes, providing comfort to the craftsman, especially when they had to deal with someone of much higher status. If a senator ordered something from a blacksmith without the guild, he could very well decide to not pay, and the blacksmith, on his own, would have no fruitful recourse.

The Swordsman’s Guild differed. Everyone there preferred that no records be kept. Instead, it was more a place to mingle. It didn’t settle disputes, so freelance muscle made sure to become friendly with the others so that the bad reputation of an employer or employee would spread quickly.

Early that day, Heratio set foot in the guild, a place he hadn’t been for many years. Carrying Augustus’ coin, he paid the small entry fee and ordered a drink and lunch. When he scanned over the room as he walked to his booth, he saw faces he recognized. They walked over and sat in the same booth without having to be invited.

“What brings you back here? Get fired from that family?” asked Figaro.

“No, I’m here as an employer. You men looking for work tonight?”

Figaro lifted his hand to call a barmaid over. “Depends on what the job is. Let’s all have a drink, and discuss it.”

The other three ordered drinks too. As Heratio slowly ate his meal, he explained the job to Figaro and the other three men, making sure to leave out most of the specifics. Bloody work, he told them. He also offered a small sum as payment. They ended up negotiating quickly to something they all knew was reasonable, one of the benefits of dealing with people you respected. With a clean plate, Heratio ended the meeting with an agreement that he would pick them up at a designated spot., an alleyway they all knew.

Heratio dropped off Augustus and Marielle, then left the Castellian property. As agreed, they were waiting in the alley, properly dressed, and armed. They all brought out a small glass for their little ritual. Gillivan brought out a bottle and poured a small amount of the distilled liquor into their tiny glasses, and all at once, they downed the entire volume. It stung the throat on the way down.

“Get in the carriage and we will be off,” said Heratio. Nothing else needed to be said.

Now, in the bushes, they moved. The recruits followed Heratio and Gillivan’s lead. Convert movements, aided by the empty fields they traversed. The weather was fortunate. But that was no accident, that was what finally settled Augustus upon this plan of his. The plan he decided on the previous day, during the walk back from the manse, as they watched the clouds roll in.

They skulked forward, hugging bushes and foliage as they went. Sometimes resorting to crawling through the grass if they could be caught. At a clear field, they paused and waited in some bushes for the lightning to strike. Eyes peered out into the darkness. Then the lightning came, and they scanned for passer-bys or patrols. They saw a boy running across in a dash, carrying a piece of wood above his head, to save him from some of the downpour. They waited. Another flash of light and field was clear. One, two, three, four, Heratio counted until the thunder proceeded. They scurried across the field, confident enough they wouldn’t be seen.

Finally, they arrived at a hill overlooking the Gallinius estate. The home of Giovannus DeCastellian. They took cover inside a bush, and gazed upon the buildings like a hunter would stare at his prey. All that could be heard was the harsh sound of rain smacking against every surface. Even the smell of the flora was masked by the dewy fragrance of rain.

They were facing a servant’s building. The windows were shut, but still, some light spilled out between boards. Outside the building was a path that led around the estate and beyond that a field of glass. No one patrolled. After all, why patrol in the rain when the master isn’t even in? Heratio gave a signal to two of the men behind him, Figaro and Bantam, and they came up to the front of the pack.

A note from TaxReligion

Hey, I'll be releasing part 2 of this chapter pretty quickly, like in a few hours.  Gotta maximize that front page exposure, right?

Support "The Merchant Prince Book 1: Returning Home"

About the author


Bio: I like trains

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