I woke up feeling like I'd been kicked in the mouth by a mule.
After getting Gertrand back to the orphanage the day before, I had left him in the capable hands of the Sister, who had taken him without a word, giving me a worried look as she did. My little brother and I hadn't spoken that much on the way home, each of us lost in our own thoughts as to the days events.
I had acted recklessly. I knew how to handle myself, how to handle the sword at my hip. But that doesn't mean I could solve every problem with my skill in combat.
It was my emotions that pushed me to cut off the hand of Sig the pig. It was emotion that had pushed me to grab Gertrand instead of trying to talk with him. I had only thought about how it all affected me, not how it affected him. I didn't know that Pater had stopped talking to Gertrand after he had left the orphanage. I didn't even consider the possibility. Gertrand had always looked up to the two of us, but in Pater he found a kindred spirit. He wanted to emulate him so much that he had tried to join the Common Dogs, tried to pull himself closer to that goal of being his own man.
He was a fool. There was no strength to be gained from joining trash like that. You only became trash in turn. An endless cycle of the weak and weary who turn on their own kind in an attempt to solidify their own sense of self-worth. It made me sick just thinking about it.
Hopefully I could push Gertrand towards a better path. I didn't know how far that tender moment we shared pushed us along said path, but I was prepared to wait. I needed to let Gertrand come to me, not the other way around. If I constantly berated him he might end up exactly where he was before. I needed to show him that I was a stable presence in his life. That he could talk to me about anything that worried him. As loving as the Sister was, she was still a wife of the Great Spirit, so not every topic could be broached in her company.
Delithia had arrived home just as the sun began to set and from the look on her face and the bounce in her step, her time in the palace had been well worth the many months of waiting. She told us all about the palace; how clean it was, how beautiful the paintings were, how the carpet was the softest thing she had ever walked on.
Then she talked about the dress. The Princess had chosen orange as her colour, to match her eyes, and they had all spent hours going over every conceivable variation of said colour in an attempt to find the perfect shade.
When the other orphan girls asked if they could see the dress, Delithia said that it would be held at the palace for her and she would be picked up tomorrow morning with everyone else who would attend the ceremony.
I had smiled when I saw Delithia ask Gertrand if he would come and the youth had hesitantly nodded. That would do him some good. He would get to spend the day in the company of royalty and his family. He needed to know that he wasn't alone. I resisted the urge to hug little Delithia at that moment, her big heart doing more good than my sword ever did.
“Orin, do you have a moment?” The Sister had asked bitingly after I had helped her put the younger kids to bed.
I was puzzled by her tone. “Sure, Sister.”
We had walked to the garden courtyard, which was bathed in the soothing moonlight, and taken a seat on the bench underneath the tree. The two of us sat in silence for a few moments and just took in the tranquillity of the garden. But after seeing the state of the royal gardens through the palace gates, I now knew that there was a massive difference between master and apprentice. I had no complaints about it though, this place was a paradise. Whatever one of his apprentices the royal gardener had chosen to complete this particular task had outdone himself in all regards.
“Gertrand told me what happened today.” The sister said with a stiff tone, her eyes turning to glare at me.
I sighed. “And? I did what was necessary, Sister. I won't apologise for getting a bit rough.”
“A bit rough? Orin, you cut off a man's hand.”
“No, I cut off an animal's hand,” I snarled, angry that I had to defend myself, and to the Sister of all people. “He was less than human and the things he's done confirmed it.”
The Sister shook her head sadly. “Orin, Do you not understand what you've done? That man may have been a criminal and you may see him as an animal, but perhaps he had a family who loved him, children at home in need of his care. You can't judge a person from one encounter.”
“With all do respect, Sister, you have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.”
“Don't swear, Orin-”
“No! You listen to me, Sister. That Sig almost beat Mrs Hollies to death and I'm sure he would have done something like it again. The guard wouldn't have stopped him, they get paid too well by the Common Dogs and don't give a shit about what happens in the Commons.” I knew I was in the wrong, knew that I should stop shouting at her, but I couldn't. The Sister saw the world in a different way than I did. Terrible things happened in the Commons everyday and sometimes it seemed like the Sister just buried her head in the sand and chose to ignore it.
“I know you're angry, Orin. But if you continue to hurt people just for the sake of getting even, then you're no better than they are,” the Sister stated the words intently and I could feel the conviction behind them. “I know that Mrs Hollies wouldn't have wanted that. She may be a mean old crone, but she's still a caring person. The idea of hurting someone in her name would just cause her more damage.”
I sneered. “Maybe she feels differently after being left in a pool of her own blood.”
That statement shut down the conversation outright. The Sister and I sat there, silently fuming as the tension between us grew. She didn't understand, how could she? She was a wife of the Great Spirit. She was oath bound to do no harm, to help the sick and penniless, regardless of their circumstances. I saw the world as it truly was; blessing for the oppressor, curse for the oppressed. She just couldn't understand.
“Perhaps she does, at that. But you wouldn't know that, because you ran off half-cocked to fight a battle that you had no reason to get involved in.”
“I've known Mrs Hollies since I was a child!” I shouted in protest.
The Sister glared at me. “Don't pretend that you were trying to do the honourable thing, Orin. The reason you went after those men, the reason that Gertrand now has a bruised face and stomach, was because you wanted it.”
I stared at her incredulously. “What could I have possibly have gained from going after them?”
“Perhaps you miss your mercenary life-style-”
“Ah, here we go.”
“-and you needed some way to alleviate that need,” The Sister continued. “Not to mention the fact that the Orin I knew would never have put any of the children in this orphanage in danger. That changed today. The Common Dogs will be out for blood for what you did and the only thing they know about you is that you were with Gertrand, who lives here. What were you thinking!”
I jumped to my feet in a rage and walked across the grass. “I was thinking that I didn't want my little brother to be some little thug. The Common Dogs won't be coming here, they'll focus on me and I'll beat them again, just like today. I won't let them hurt Gertrand.”
The Sister rose to join me. “You can't know that, Orin. You can't promise to protect everyone when it is beyond what you are capable of. You are a mercenary, Orin! Not a Noble, not a Knight. You have few options left open to you and you've left me with few options as well!”
“What are you saying?” I stared wide-eyed, noticing for the first time just how upset the Sister was. Noticing her red eyes and clenched hands.
“You say that they will focus on you. Well, that means as long you're here, this is where they will look. As long as Gertrand remains in the orphanage he will be safe. The Common Dogs are not going to put a lot of resources towards hurting children. I've known a few of them in the past and while they are not good people, they have their code.”
“So you're asking me to leave?” I asked, feeling sick to my stomach.
“No, Orin. I am telling you to leave. I will tell the Common Dogs the truth when they come looking. That you are no longer welcome to stay here. They will take the word of a woman of the church at face value, I'm sure.” The Sister wasn't looking at me now, instead her gaze had fallen to the ground in front of her.
I realised then, in a moment of perfect clarity, that this was all my fault. I got emotional and I didn't think about the consequences. I had assumed they would try to attack me in the street, not the orphanage. The silent agreement with the Sister and the gangs would mean nothing if she was harbouring someone who had hurt one of them. I was so impressed with my own skill that I didn't stop to think how my actions would affect those around me.
“I should've killed them.” I muttered, barely above a whisper.
I saw the slap coming but made no move to avoid it and the sting of it upon my cheek was a burning reminder of my failure as a brother and son. I looked up to see the raw disappointment on the face of the woman I had long thought of as my mother, her mouth warped into a grimace of pain.
“That's what you take from this experience?! That you should have finished them off in the streets like dogs? How far you have fallen, my son.” The Sister shook her head in disgust and left me alone, standing in the garden.
For a long while I did exactly that. Stood in that beautiful garden among flowers that were worth more than I was. I wallowed in self-pity and doubt. I hated the Sister for pushing me away when I'd just gotten home. Then I hated myself for being unable to protect my family, for only causing more problems to the woman who had done so much for me. As my emotions moved back and forth I found that I was trying to shift the blame. To place it on the Sister, on Gertrand, on Pater, on the fucking Great Spirit himself.
But I couldn't do that. Maybe I would have once, a long time ago, when I was a boy running through a city that despised my presence. But I wasn't that boy any more. I was a man grown, sword at the hip and four years of experience in battle under my belt. If I ran away from my problems then I was running away from everything I cared about. So I accepted this, internalised it, made it a part of who I am. Maybe the next time something like this happens, I wouldn't just rush in blind like a fool. Maybe next time I'll consider the consequences.
It took me only a few moments to pack up what little possessions I owned, which were limited to my sword, a pouch full of coin and a wineskin filled with Brin's own brew.
I heard the Sister crying in her office as I made for the door. I didn't go in. I had failed her. Like Pater had failed her. I just hoped that one day I would be able to make it up to her somehow.
The first thought that had crossed my mind was going after the Common Dogs. All of them. But that would be impossible. As the Sister had said, I'm just a mercenary. No all powerful Knight with the ability to destroy cities. I could kill a few, maybe a dozen, two dozen? Eventually they would get wise and use subterfuge or just raw numbers to destroy me. It's not like it would take many.
I had thought myself the conquering hero when I had arrived back in Myrin. The mighty warrior returned from conquest to shower his mother, brothers and sisters in coin that would stop them from starving, that would clothe them, that would keep them safe.
But I wasn't the hero. That honour belonged to the Princess Elora who had noticed a poor wife of the Great Spirit at the side of the road surrounded by children and, with a wave of her hand, had made all their problems disappear. Inscribed stoves and rooms and kitchens and gardens. All fixed because a spoiled little brat felt sorry for the poor commoners.
I will admit that when I had that last thought I was about half-way through Brin's home brew so I wasn't really at my most rational. By the time I'd finished the foul tasting liquid I could barely stand up and decided to find myself a nice corner of the marketplace to have a little lie down.
Everything after that becomes mostly a blur, which brings us up to now. The morning after my fight with the Sister, bringing with it the tender gifts of a hangover and regret.
I discovered that it was well into the morning, judging by the position of a blurry sun. So I struggled to pull myself to my feet. Delithia had wanted me to be there for the wedding, she had wanted me to see her in her dress and I would be damned if I disappointed anyone else.
It took me more time than I would like to admit to actually stand up. You would think after being exposed to Brin's concoction often enough over the last four years I would have built up some kind of tolerance to it's heady effects. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Spirit, it almost seemed like the opposite was true.
I dragged myself along the wall, intent on heading to an inn that wasn't full so I could have a quick bath before going to see the wedding. Not that I could remember when the wedding was, exactly. I'm sure Delithia told me at some point but I just...
I had to stop walking for the sudden need to evacuate my stomach. Vomit dribbled from my chin, dripping onto my already stained tunic. Perhaps I shouldn't have finished the entire skin. The only man I had ever seen do that and still walk away afterwards was Boldrin and he was as large as two men.
“Orin? Orin, is that you, son?” A voice echoed out into the sun soaked alley I had made my home for the night. It was only then that I noticed the heat in the air and the lack of damp and smiled, hoping it didn't rain on my sister's big day.
“Orin?” The voice continued and I turned my bleary eyes towards their source.
“Laird? What are you doing here?” I asked, still quite unsteady on my feet.
Laird shook his head sadly. “You're in the marketplace Orin, right next to my shop.”
“Am I?” I looked around confused. “Well, how in seven Spirits did that happen?”
Laird sighed and came over to help me walk forward, wrapping an arm about my waist and hoisting me up. This old man was deceptively strong for his small size. “Come on then, you big lump. Let's get you inside... and changed. Orin, you smell like a chamber pot.”
“I feel like a chamber pot.” I muttered unhappily as Laird escorted me to the front door of his little tailors and let me inside.
I carefully stepped over the debris on the floor and made my way over to Laird's counter, placing my head against the cool wood in a futile attempt to put the banging in my head to rest.
“So need I ask what you were doing at the side of my shop so early in the morning looking like you've been run over by a bull?” Laird stated as he slipped into the little door that led to the back of his shop. I heard him moving things around and tried to ignore it. The noise doing my hangover no favours.
“Sister. Gertrand told her what I did to Sig the pig. She fears that they will attack the orphanage in retaliation. So, I am without a home once more.”
I heard the sigh even from the distance between us. “Orin, you are a good man. Not a particularly wise man, maybe, but a good one. If you had thought about it before hand , you would have seen this outcome.
“You were the one who told me where he was!”
“I accept my part in it, Orin, of course I do. I too was blinded by the rage I felt towards those heathen bastards. They hurt my friends and neighbours but I was powerless to do anything about it,” Laird walked out from the back room, wiping his wet hands dry with a rag. “Until you that is. I am ashamed to say that I wanted you to succeed. Perhaps a small part of me even wanted you to kill them, despite telling you otherwise. I will talk to the Sister, perhaps I can make her see reason.”
I waved a hand in dismissal. “I feel that she is the only one to speak reason. She is right, if I stayed I put them all in danger. I thought for sure that they would focus on me and no one else. I didn't for a single second consider otherwise.”
Laird shrugged and indicated for me to follow him. I did so, stumbling more than once on the heaps of cloth and parchment on the floor of his shop. I walked into his surprisingly neat back room and followed him further in. Right at the back of the shop there was a barrel filled with water, no doubt collected by Laird himself moments before.
“How did you get that thing in here?” I asked incredulously.
“I have my ways,” Laird tapped his nose. “Bathe, rest. It's the least I can do for the help you gave me with Sig.”
I walked over to the barrel, already ripping off my filthy clothing. Laird watching with a frown and turned up nose.
“While you're at it, leave those clothes behind when you're finished. I have completed one set of your order which will be waiting for you by the door. I'll burn those rags, they should never have been worn in the first place.”
I laughed at that and set to scrubbing, brushing my flesh almost raw with the supplied implement. I felt dirty for some reason, and I hoped to wipe my stained flesh free of it. It did nothing, of course, and I could only bare the ice cold water for so long before I had to leave the barrel.
I quickly dried myself and went to grab the small stack of clothes by the door, examining them closely and approving of them greatly. They were of a much higher quality than what I was used to and appeared to be made with a green fabric, almost emerald in colour and with a shine to them that spoke to the richness of the fabric used. The toggles were black and there was an etching of silver down the arms of the tunic. I knew immediately that I couldn't afford it. Well, maybe that was an exaggeration, but it would definitely dip deeply into what precious coin I had left after gifting that acorn necklace to Delithia.
Just thinking about that put a smile on my face. I didn't think she would stop hugging me when I gave it too her the night before. I had even see the Sister's eyes soften, despite her glaring at me all night.
That immediately reminded me that I was now without a home and not only that, but it was my own doing. Self-loathing crept up my spine but I pushed it down with a breath. There was no point in worrying about such things right now. I needed to talk to Laird about these clothes. One thing at a time, that's the trick to it.
“Laird, I really don't think that I can pay for something like-”
I walked into the shop beyond and came to a complete stop. I saw a woman standing at the counter and not just any woman, but one garbed in royal colours and rich fabrics. She turned to face me at my call and her eyes immediately fell down to below my waist. Her hair was covered by a veil, but her pretty face brightened to crimson upon realising just what it was she was seeing.
I had forgotten to put on clothes. I have to say, I'd never had a hangover that bad before.
The woman shrieked and covered her eyes, backing away as Laird's face paled.
“Orin! Put on some clothes, dammit, this is a Lady!”
“Apologies!” I shouted before diving back into the back room, pulling on the clothes as fast as I could, trying to get my own burning face to go back to normal.
Not a wise man indeed.
After dressing in my new outfit I waited out the Lady's visit in the back room, by the door. Hearing Laird's profuse apologies as the Lady continued to reassure him that it was quite alright caused me to shrink a little inside.
“You can come out now, Orin.”
I sulked as I walked through the door, making sure that the woman was no longer present before moving forwards. Despite this new embarrassment, I doubted I would ever see that woman again, so I would get over it in time. As would she, I hoped.
Laird stared at me scathingly. “You are an idiot.”
I raised my hands as though to defend myself. “How could I have known that a Lady would visit your shop, Laird? This is the Commons, Ladies don't come to the fucking Commons.”
“This one does it seems,” Laird rolled his eyes. “What's more, she is a Lady-in-waiting for the Princess, as well as one of her bridesmaids today.”
“Really? Why would she come to you, I thought Nobles had another tailor for the Nobility, what was his name, again?”
“Holonzo,” Laird said between gritted teeth. “That puffed up little fairy is no true tailor, I tell you. His work is a bane upon the eyes and this world.”
“That may be, Laird, but he is the royal tailor, so all of the Nobility flock to him for their clothes. Why would she have a need to come here?”
“Apart from better work? Apparently the 'master tailor' Holonzo is over-worked. So this Lady here required me to finish a few pieces for the ceremony. I finished mere minutes before I found you totting around the side of my shop.”
I coughed, trying to forget that part but Laird's thoughts couldn't be further away, his eyes alight with the fires of triumph.
“The fool took on too much at once. Every Noble and their mother would want to be at the ceremony so he had quite the hefty workload,” Laird sneered. “I hope he drowns in it.”
“Yes, yes, we all know about your feud with Holonzo,” Though I was still unsure if the man knew Laird existed. “But what of my own clothes, Laird? I can't afford something this fine, I'll be a pauper by the time winter rolls around.”
Laird broke from his revelry and smiled as he took me in, admiring his creation. “Fine work indeed. I have outdone myself, Orin. Now all you need is a shave and you might actually look like a nobleman.”
“Hardly,” I snorted. “Besides, the ladies like my beard.”
Laird laughed. “I'm sure they do, son, I'm sure they do. As to the price, it is not in question. This is a gift. Though it is only meant for special occasions, mind you. I expect today applies.”
I frowned. “Laird, this is too much.”
The old man meandered around the counter and placed two firm hands on my shoulders. “You drove off the scourge of these parts with that sword of yours, Orin. I think, and many other merchants who work the market agree, that this might even be too little.”
I smiled and hugged the old man fondly. “Thanks Laird, I will take the greatest of care with it, I swear.”
“Be sure you do,” The man said, pulling back and clapping my shoulders once more. “I had better get ready, also.”
“You are attending the wedding?” I asked, surprised. Laird had little love for the Nobility or royalty. Not for any political reasons, mind you, just because of their choice in tailor.
“Of course I'll be there. I can mock Holonzo's work silently from the crowd and laugh about it tonight while enjoying some wine with my neighbours.”
I laughed. “What else was I expecting. Oh, when is the wedding, by the way? I'm sure someone told me.”
Laird sighed. “Orin, you must be the only one in this city who doesn't know that by now, with all the criers screaming it from the tops of their lungs. Twelfth bell, when the sun is highest, will the Princess and Duke Cellus meet before the Great Spirit.”
I nodded with a smile and made for the door, making ready to move out into the now stirring streets of the city beyond.
“Oh, and Orin? Don't go drawing attention to yourself. That Lady who you graced with a glance of your 'sword' will no doubt be in attendance.”
I grinned at the thought, imagining the woman blushing to her roots again. Now that I thought about it she was quite beautiful.
“Well, who knows, old friend? Maybe if she see's me she might want to see it again.”
The last thing I heard as I walked into the street was the roaring laughter of the tailor before I disappeared into the crowd.
* * *
I had some time to kill after leaving Laird, so kill it I did. With some more drink.
Not much mind you, just enough that I started to feel a little better, both within and without. It would usually be a little early for such drinking to occur, most taverns not opening till eleventh bell at the earliest, but today was a special day and the city of Myrin had come alive because of it. Common folk had all taken to the streets in their finest clothes, the women all wearing hats and dresses while the menfolk wore clean tunics. Not a sad or morose expression could be seen among the crowd and it was starting to rub off on me. I walked from inn to tavern, drinking and talking with the celebrating citizens.
The King and Queen were not much loved by the common people of Myrin, but they did so adore their Princess. Since the orphanage she was seen as something of a symbol by the peasantry and I had a hard time disagreeing with them, despite my own self-pity at her effect on my life.
The Princess had changed so much for me and my family and I'd never even met her, well apart from when we were children, but I didn't count that. Given the fact that I am a peasant and a mercenary besides, I doubt I ever would. She was as far beyond my station as one could be.
I smiled as people bought reliefs of the Princess and Duke from hawkers wandering the streets, screaming of fare prices that were anything but. The people paid though. Four coppers to have a reminder of the day that the future of the royal family was assured and for such a well-loved royal as the Princess. I almost felt sorry for her husband, his wife cast a long shadow. Even as a Knight and, eventually, King, he would be hard pressed to pull himself from under it.
That was his problem however, though the Duke seemed rather soft to me when I saw him. He was a warrior, true, but not blooded in battle. Perhaps he would let his wife handle everything for him. Perhaps that was the wisest thing he could do. According to what the Sister told me the Princess was more akin to a force of nature than a true royal. Even going so far as to dress as a commoner when she came to oversee the work of the orphanage. One had to respect her for that. Even me.
I don't know quite what made me notice him. I don't know what pulled my eyes over to that particular corner, at that particular time, in that particular place.
I was sitting outside a small tavern built into one of the great walls of the city. It was called the Fair Oak and was a haunt of those who tended the crops, used by many of the men who worked the fields outside the city. There was no work today, of course, so those same men were already here, deep in their cups and aiming only to get deeper. It was there, leaning against one of the entrance posts and nattering with a few of the more inebriated patrons, that I saw Pater.
He had changed much, since I last saw him. He looked to be taller than even me, with a body built of wiry muscle and little else. He was dressed cleanly, as everyone else in the Commons was that day. One thing he was not doing was smiling.
In fact, his eyes looked to be shifting, moving around suspiciously as he took in his surroundings. His hand was on the dagger at his hip, giving me a full view of the tattoo etched onto his arm below a rolled up sleeve. It was the image of a black dog, snarling.
I had wanted to believe that the Sister was wrong about Pater. That he wasn't truly a member of the Common Dogs. That maybe he had changed his ways after leaving the orphanage. Sure, Sasta had said that Sig and his thugs were friends of his, but maybe she had seen them for the type he used to spend time with and jumped to that conclusion. Now there could be no doubt. One did not take ink in the image of a Common Dog without being fully committed to their gang.
My hand dropped to the hilt of my sword and tightened there, my eyes narrowing as I kept an eye on my oldest friend. I wanted to call out to him, to ask him to stop the nonsense that everyone in our family was accusing him of. But I stayed my tongue.
I can't really tell why I did such a thing, but I did, and instead sunk closer to the ground, keeping an eye on Pater as he stood shiftily in his spot across the way.
Something was wrong here. Something was very wrong. My intuition was screaming at me that Pater was somehow up to something. Would he attempt a robbery? Some kind of attack during the festivities? Even I had to admit that it would be the perfect time to do so. Everyone living had left their homes to take to the streets and, eventually, the square itself for the wedding of the Princess and Duke. I realised then what I had seen to make me so suspicious. Pater's expression was the very same that he wore before we committed a crime as children. A tightness to the eyes and mouth, the tremble in his body, a tenseness that spoke to him being up to anything but good.
It was none of my business. That's what I tried to tell myself, that's what I screamed in my own head. Remember what the Sister told you, it's too dangerous and you're just a mercenary. You can't change anything, not really. Your sword only takes you so far, it will fail you in the end.
Each argument that ran through my mind was concise and correct. This wasn't my business, this was Pater's business and to deal with whatever he was up to would fall to the guard.
But I would be a guard soon. Perhaps I could start in my new position a little earlier than expected.
Besides, Pater is my brother. That made his welfare my responsibility and if he was hurt in any way due to what he had planned I would never forgive myself.
I was making excuses, I knew that, deep down. But when he moved off to walk away further into the streets of Myrin, I followed him. It was almost like I couldn't help myself. There was also that darker part of me, that small piece of my soul that craved violence and death. Something I would've never known was there if not for the Sister bringing it up. It called for action and even the chance of drawing my sword was helping to make my choice for me. I felt for certain I would have that chance if I merely stayed close to Pater.
I followed him further into Myrin, keeping to the shadows of the buildings and large groups of people as I moved forwards, slipping effortlessly into group after group, my presence noted but not considered a threat.
The peasantry seemed to recognise Pater for what he was and didn't get in his way as he walked through them, no doubt recognising the ink etched into his arm that aligned him with the criminals they so feared.
I had no such problem and moved through the crowd with a practised ease. Tessa was the best person for a job such as this. She turned staying hidden in a crowd into an art form and was Boldrin's go to for jobs such as this one. Lizbeth was the one who taught us in these ways when we were both with the band, but I was never that great a student, always eager to practise with a sword. After she was killed in battle, it became Tessa's responsibility to handle stalking missions without being discovered and, to my knowledge, she wasn't seen even once.
I wasn't a good student, but I wasn't a fool either and pulled up everything I remembered being taught by Lizbeth to stay a step behind Pater and hidden while I did so.
We did this for around twenty minutes before Pater came to a sudden stop outside one of the warehouses that held crops taken from outside the city. This one seemed abandoned though, it's wood smelling faintly of rot, even from my place hidden in the shadow of a nearby alley.
Pater knocked thrice on the door then waited and knocked again twice more. The door immediately swung open and Pater walked inside, disappearing into the darkness of the warehouse.
I hesitated. Why was I doing this? I had no part in whatever scheme that Pater had decided to get himself involved with. But I felt like I must follow, I must hear what was said inside that warehouse. But how? The door was the only entrance I could see and no doubt it was heavily guarded inside.
Then I noticed it. It appeared the rot had opened up a new path to see into the warehouse. A hole near the top of the structure, about the size of a man's head. I took a deep breath and took my sword belt from my waist, lashing the sheath to my back to prevent it from causing problems with my climb. It would be trouble if I had to fight, the draw from my back would not be a smooth one, but I could manage provided I had an extra half-second.
I trotted across the road and stood in the shadow of the warehouse, listening to make sure that I heard no sound of discovery. Climbing it would be easy enough, the hole at the top of the warehouse wall was not the only one and there were a few crates nearby to give me a boost in that regard so I ran to them and began. Up I went to the top of the crates and settled against the wall of the warehouse, my eyes open and alert. My heart pounded within my chest and as a result my vision sharpened and narrowed. I sunk a hand into a piece of the wall that had been knocked out and began my climb in earnest, hand over foot, rising towards my objective with a single-minded focus. More than once I feared I would fall. The hand-holds I was using were there because of rot after all and I hoped they could hold the weight of my body.
It was then that I realised that I had left my leather armour back at Laird's shop and I both cursed myself and blessed my good luck. The weight of the leather would have made all the difference here and I was sure that if I had tried wearing armour, the wall would have given and I would have fallen, alerting everyone inside. Without the leather, however, I would be that much more vulnerable, even to a glancing blow. I had to risk it. I couldn't turn back now, my conscience wouldn't allow it.
After a few more hair-raising seconds of climbing, I reached the hole at the top of the warehouse, just below the wooden roof, and glanced inside, careful to move slowly, in case they had someone watching this quite obvious breach in their security. I only prayed the Spirit was with me and that they would be too busy with their plans.
“...know the plan. What of the other Knights?” I heard a voice ask from inside and took a careful glance around, noting the decrepit surroundings and smell as an after-thought. What did strike me, was how many men there were.
At least two dozen men, armed with a variety of weapons, some even sporting armour, were positioned at the door. I was thankful I hadn't tried that route. It would have surely meant my own death. I was skilled, but I wasn't naïve. I doubt I would be able to hurt even one of those men before I was turned to mulch by the rest. What did Pater need with so many men?
I spotted Pater last, standing near the back of the large and empty hall, his hands on his hips and head leaned in to speak with another. They were just below me. From the looks of them they were trying to stop their words from reaching the other men. I waited with bated breath, hoping that they would have at least a small amount of information to share with me. I was still hanging from the side of the wall and my arms and legs were beginning to burn with the exertion. But I needed to hold, something inside me was telling me I need only hold.
“After all, the First Knight is not the only threat they face at the ceremony.” Pater continued, his face looked troubled and he was more tense than I had ever seen him.
The other man chuckled lightly. I noticed how large this one was. A great bear of a man, almost a size with Boldrin. His head and his upper body was bare of clothing or hair and covered with an assortment of tattoo's. They, like Pater's, all seemed to having something to do with ravenous dogs.
“You need not be concerned, Pater. I have assurances that the stranger will deal with the other Knight's as well as the First.”
Pater snorted in derision. “Yes, I'm forgetting how all powerful our benefactor is. Let us hope that he speaks truly, or we'll be besieged by the Kingdom's most powerful warriors in the middle of our little outing.”
The large man laughed. “Pater, that is why I like you. You always make me laugh. He came through with the gold, didn't he? Anything after that will only be a bonus.”
“I don't know about that,” Pater said doubtfully. “If I had any say in it I would be stealing the Princess, instead of him.”
I gasped silently. What was all this? The Princess? What could Pater be planning? He seemed to be taking his cues from the large man. Were they going to attack the ceremony? Absurd, the only way they could pull that off is with an army... or a lot of criminals.
Teeth gritted, both in worry and in pain, I listened further.
“Got a little crush, have you, boy? Shame. I wonder what he's going to do with her. A fine looking girl like that,” The large man scratched his chin in contemplation. “Still, it matters not. We distract the guard, he takes the girl. He'll have to kill all the Knight's there to do it but that isn't our concern. Even if he gets caught now we still get to keep our gold.”
My hand, leaden with sweat as it was, finally gave in to the pain and I felt it tremble violently, knocking me loose from my perch. So quickly did it happen that I didn't even have time to cry out. Luckily, as it turned out, I landed on one of the crates first, which bounced me like a ball before earth's pull took it's course and I slammed onto the ground below. The breath had left me, but I didn't feel any lasting pain and so stumbled to my feet. They had to have heard that, they would be deaf not too, and I saw the first man round the corner just as I pulled myself upright. He let loose a cry of alarm and pulled a dagger from his belt, alerting his comrades. Fuck! What had I gotten myself into this time?
I did the only thing I could when faced with overwhelming odds. I ran, sprinting, towards the man with the dagger whose eyes opened in surprise as he noticed what I was doing. He took a mad swipe at me with his blade and I felt it dig into my side. I gritted my teeth and threw an elbow at his face, feeling it connect harshly and knocking his jaw loose in his head.
More cries emerged from the direction of the entrance but I paid it no mind and aimed all of my attention towards my feet, making sure I didn't fall. I was glad that I had the forethought to strap my blade to my back, it would have caused a lot of problems with the fleeing.
I hated running away from a fight but I was not so far gone that I felt I was invincible. The slash in my side which hurt me with every breath was evidence to the contrary.
I heard them behind me, calling out to me as I sprinted further toward the centre of the city. Where would I go? I needed to warn someone, anyone, that something was going to happen to the Princess, which meant the guard. The royal guard wouldn't let me within a hundred feet of the Princess herself and I had no doubt she had much more capable warriors than me by her side. No, I needed to find the guard.
But there was the issue of the men. They were gaining on me, but it seemed not to be their whole number, no more than five at the most which meant I might stand a chance in a straight up brawl. But only if I chose the ground. If they caught me out in the open they would surround me and I would fall shortly after, my head cleaved from my shoulders.
Then I spotted a narrow in the Commons, a smaller side path that led back onto the Old Road near the gate. If I could get to it I might have a chance. Continuing on at this point would be foolish. The wound in my side was a bother and I couldn't keep up my current pace with the pain that struck every time one of my feet hit the ground. I cursed my own weakness and doubled my speed, aiming to reach the narrow.
I reached it before long and spun in place ripping my sword free with two pulls and falling into a stance. Just in time, too, as the men were a mere few steps behind me.
The first was the man with the dagger, an ugly bruise upon his chin evidence of that. He swiped hatefully at me with his blade, not slowing down, hoping to push me over and end me in one fell swoop. I roared in response and saw his eyes widen as I swung my blade and stepped to the side, similair to how I dealt with Sig the pig. But this time, I was not aiming to merely maim.
My sword cut cleanly through his neck and stopped at the bone. I yanked it out as he passed me by and fell to the ground, clutching his neck with his hands, a shocked expression on his face.
I had no time to dwell and turned on the others approaching. These were more wary and one even carried a shield and wore a helmet. Despite being wary they were anything but patient and one wielding a war-hammer stepped forward and aimed a mighty swing at my head. I ducked the blow and stabbed upwards with my sword, aiming for the man's gut. But he was quick and managed to step away, only for another man to jab at me with a spear. I snarled and grabbed the wooden shaft, pulling him closer to me and throwing him off balance. He let out a cry of alarm before my sword found him, burying itself into his body and cutting him from shoulder to hip. I shouted, more in annoyance than pain, when I felt a sharp sting on my back and spun around, lashing at the man with the shield, who blocked it with ease, grinning at me from behind it's edge.
I smiled back and he flinched. I drew back my leg and kicked his shield with everything I had, causing him to fall backwards with a shout. I moved to press my advantage but was blocked by the war-hammer and his friend who carried a sword slightly shorter than my own.
I dodged and blocked each of their blows, landing a few glancing strikes but nothing substantial. My own wounds were starting to add up as well. The swordsman had cut me above the eye and blood dripped down into it, robbing me of some of my vision. The man with the war-hammer had struck a blow against my arm that had formed a large bruise. Thankfully it wasn't the man that carried the sword so I was in no danger of losing my weapon. I was, however, in danger of losing the fight. The two men weren't skilled but they had obviously used their weapons before and knew each other well enough that they could attack without being a hindrance to the other. My main worry was the one with the shield, however. His helmeted head had banged hard against the ground when I kicked him but he was shaking off it's effects and would no doubt join the battle before long. I needed an advantage.
Boldrin would tell me to watch and wait. No battle was unwinnable, there was always a way to beat the odds. It wasn't long before an opportunity presented itself.
War-hammer overextended, his excitement, grown from the battle and how close I was to my end, caused him to act foolishly. I capitalised, slicing low as he went high. I separated his left foot from the knee down and and his screams of pain were such that they shook the man standing next to him, who watched incredulously as his friend fell to the ground, clutching his stump with horror.
I had seen things like this before, I had been on battlefields where all there was were screams. So I was not shocked.
The swordsman's head fell from his neck. I doubt he even noticed I had killed him, his eyes still fixed on his fellow Dog's severed leg. Said man was still shouting, but they were more weakened cries now. He wouldn't survive. I turned my focus on the man with the shield, who was back on his feet and looking ready to shit himself. His fearful eyes kept darting to the bodies of his compatriots as he hid behind his shield. I raised my blade towards him and grinned, causing him to freeze. Then, impossibly, improbably, he smiled back.
“Drop your sword.” The voice spoke from behind me and I knew who it was instantly.
“Hello, brother.” I said, my breath coming fast as I dropped my sword to the ground, feeling the tip of Pater's dagger against the side of my neck. One pull would be all it would take to sever the arteries there and I would bleed out here like a Common Dog.
The man with the sword and shield still smiled as I felt the dagger on my neck move, held close to the skin as the man who held it, my brother and dearest friend, moved so as to look me in the eye. His black eyes were opened wide, shock plain to see upon his face. He looked good, now that I saw him up close. Healthy. His black hair was still a mop that he could do nothing with and I noticed he had a new scar upon his cheek, but apart from that he looked almost the same. Just all grown up.
“Orin?” Pater's eyes darted to the side, as though looking at the swordsman behind him. “You heard? What was said?”
I nodded once, my eyes narrowing. “I don't care what you're doing Pater. I really couldn't give a shit at this point. But the Sister. The kids. They will be at that ceremony. Pater, our family.”
The man with the shield spat on the ground. “Don't give two fucks who this little shit is, Pater. Kill him now, Destin ordered it!”
Pater hesitated. His eyes were wide and a little wild after I mentioned the Sister. He felt the same way about her as I did. She was a mother to him. From the surprise on his face I knew that he didn't know they would attend.
“...I have a new family now.” Pater stated slowly, causing the man behind him to smile nastily.
“Then let me go. Let me take my sword and I'll stop it myself.”
“I can't do that, Orin. You know too much,” I felt the knife dig into my neck a little deeper. “I'm sorry.”
I gritted my teeth and stared Pater down as he lifted the blade into the air. Then he spun in place, slicing the dagger across the throat of the swordsman who couldn't possibly react in time. He stared at Pater, stunned to his core as a hand reached weakly up to his neck. He stood like that for a single second before toppling over, hitting the ground with a thud.
I let loose a breath of relief and almost fell to my knee's. I had been close to death before, but it never got any easier. I thought for sure that Pater would slit me open. Now I felt bad that I ever did.
“Orin, you're bleeding.” Pater stated as he grabbed me by the shoulder to pull me upright. He reached down and ripped a piece of tunic from the man with the spear and pressed it too my side, making me hold it as he moved from man to man, making sure they were dead by plunging a knife into their necks.
“Thought you were going to kill me there.” I muttered, leaning against a doorway.
“So did I,” Pater whispered. “Sorry about that.”
I pressed the rag to my wound harder. “I don't know the whole plan, Pater. Who is behind this madness?”
Pater's jaw clenched. “He never gave us his name, but we call him the stranger. Whoever he is, it's a man of influence and... cruelty. His eyes, Orin. They shined.”
“What do you mean they shined?” I frowned.
“He's some kind of Knight, or so Destin assumed. The man never gave us any straight answers,” Pater began looting each of the men's purses and I looked on in disgust. He noticed the expression and raised an eyebrow. “Strange time to show that you don't like my new line of work, Orin.”
“Is it new, Pater? The Sister told me how you left the orphanage. Now I find you in a plot that could have you executed for high treason. Forgive me for being a little concerned for the way you live your life.”
Pater sighed. “Same old Orin. Always looking down on those who do what they must to survive. I remember a time when you would have been right beside me. What happened?”
“I grew up,” I snapped at the man, causing him to shake his head. He did stop taking from the purses though so I thought that was a good sign. “You have to help me stop this, Pater. The Sister, Delithia, Sasta, Gertrand, everyone is going to be on that stage.”
“I can't,” snarled Pater. “It's already happening, It is nearing twelve bell. Can you not hear it, Orin? It's not just the Common Dog's. The South Borough Serpents and the Bell Tower Bulls are all involved in this now. The guard won't listen to a word you have to say. They'll be too busy putting out the fires that we start.”
“Then I need to get to the Princess directly.”
Pater laughed. “What and save the day? You may able to defeat five criminals in one fight, Orin. But there is a difference between that and going after a fucking Knight. A Knight who is fixated on taking that girl, at any cost.”
“The other Knight's will stop him. There must be a hundred Knight's in the city, or more!”
“Not even close,” Pater shook his head. “You've been gone too long, brother. The King and Queen are on campaign against Dunhold. Nearly every able bodied Knight has gone with them. I wouldn't be surprised if there were less than a dozen Knight's in the city, all told. Most likely, it's the ones that are too old or too young to fight.”
I gritted my teeth and slammed a fist against the wall. “There is still the First Knight herself. She can stop this man surely.”
Pater shrugged. “Only if she see's him coming. If she doesn't then she will be separated from her Smith, then she just becomes a particularly skilled warrior.”
“Fuck!” I screamed and punched the wall as hard as I could, breaking the skin and causing the knuckles to weep.
“Yes, that will solve everything, Orin.” Pater muttered sarcastically.
I glared at Pater and then stopped, staring at my hand as the bruised knuckles bled openly. “I think I have an idea.”
Pater narrowed his eyes at me and took a step back. “I won't help, Orin. I have too much riding on this. Destin, the Common Dogs leader, is grooming me for leadership. I won't jeopardise my future on one of your hair-brained schemes.”
“I'm not asking you to,” I stated, more than a little annoyed that he thought the Common Dogs was the only future open to him. “I just need you to help me get into the square.”
“Not possible. I've already seen some of the stranger's men take over all four gates to the inner city, you would have no chance of getting...” Pater hesitated and frowned, as though lost in thought.
“Yes?” I asked eagerly, stepping closer to my brother.
Pater groaned. “There is an old way, known only to the gangs. It was once used to sneak whores into the inner city for the comfort of Nobles who wanted everything done discretely.”
“What happened to it?”
“It fell out of use. We bribe the guards now and dress the whores as ladies. They walk right on by.”
“So I could use this passage to get to the square?”
“...yes, you could as long as it hasn't caved in yet. It will put you right under Holonzo's tailors in the square.”
I was surprised when he said that. “Holonzo runs whores through his basement?”
“I know!” Pater laughed. “Don't tell Laird, he'll be impossible to talk to if he figured that out.”
I couldn't help but agree, but I needed one more thing for my stupid and impossible plan to work.
“Alright, then. Lead me to this passage and I'll head down to the square, then I need you to run down to the Inn near the gates, it's called the Gilded Girl. Inside you'll find a large man called Boldrin. Tell him Orin needs his help and ask him and his men to get inside the inner city square.” I only prayed that Boldrin was still there, if he wasn't then I was in for a bad time. My plan was less of a plan and more an idea given some semblance of form.
“What am I, Orin, your errand boy now? I can't just disappear to deliver messages. Destin's probably suspicious that I've been gone as long as I have!”
I clamped my hands down on Pater's shoulders. “Come on, brother. Help me with this one thing and I'll never ask you for anything again.”
“You've said that before, you know.” Pater said gruffly. “Usually just before I get shanked.”
“That was one time!” I shouted incredulously. “Are you still going on about that?”
“It fucking hurt, Orin!” Pater snarled.
We stared harshly at each other for a few moments before Pater broke and so did I. We laughed and I yanked him into a hug that he gladly returned, clapping my back fondly, careful to avoid the cut that was delivered moments before.
“It's good to see you again, Orin.”
“And you, Pater.”
“If I had known,” Pater hesitated. “If I had known, I would've told them to stay away. You must believe me. I would never hurt the Sister, nor our family.”
“I thought you had a new family?” I smiled.
“What can I say? You can't change where you come from,” Pater grumbled, picking up my sword and handing it to me. “Just try not to get yourself killed.”
“Does that mean you'll help?” I asked, grinning.
“Just with guidance and your message.” Pater said, curbing my enthusiasm. “If the stranger or Destin saw me trying to help the Princess or the guard I'd be skinned alive. At the very least my time in this city will be over.”
I nodded, disappointed that I couldn't rely on him to help me but then I didn't expect him too. Unlike Gertrand, Pater had found his place in this world and it wasn't with me, in light of day and sword in hand. For him, it was in the dark with all the monsters that dwell there.
Pater led me through a changed city. No longer were people running around celebrating a joyous day, in the short half hour since I'd been near the marketplace the people were running around with panic and fear. More than once, Pater and I had to avoid a patrolling group of gang members, whooping and screaming as they smashed store fronts and set small fires, townsfolk fleeing before them. No permanent damage was done, it seemed that they had at least been told what they could and could not destroy. The entire city of Myrin being one of them.
“This is it,” Pater whispered as we walked into a small street that was a little bit to the east of the main inner city gate up the Old Road. He directed me to a house I had no doubt was abandoned, another casualty of the Collective's choice of building material. “Head down to the basement, you'll see another door that'll lead into the tunnel. Don't worry about light, it's a straight line, you'll come up under Holonzo's in a few seconds.”
“Thank you, Pater.” I said earnestly as I tightened the straps of the shield I had stolen from one of the dead Common Dogs.
“Don't thank me, Orin. I may very well have just led you to your death. You are also wounded.” He said, pointing at the wound in my side that I wrapped in strips of tunic from the dead men.
“Oh, I'll be fine, just need to fight a Knight, save a Princess and the whole fucking Kingdom. So, no pressure.” I replied sarcastically, causing Pater to chuckle.
“I hope that's not your whole bloody plan,” Pater laughed heartily, then frowned when he saw that I wasn't laughing with him. “Please, Orin, tell me there is more to this plan.”
“Well, I just thought I'd get there and wing it.” I shrugged.
Pater slammed the palm of his hand into his forehead. “Why did I expect anything else? Free the First Knight, if she is being held. Try to stay alive and keep moving. Don't assume that you are safe because you are far away.”
“I've seen a Knight fight before, Pater.” I grumbled.
“I'm sure you have, Orin. But I doubt very much that you saw any fight that wasn't on your side. It's quite different when they are trying to kill you.”
I narrowed my eyes in thought. “Good advice, I'll see what I can do.”
“I... You... Orin, for the love of all that is holy, please take this seriously.” Pater glared at me, causing me to laugh and clap his shoulder, pulling him into a sideways hug.
“I will do everything I can,” I said with smile, though serious this time. “I'll find a way to do this, Pater. People always did say I had the best luck in the world.”
“That was me who said that and I said you had the worst luck. Never was there a scheme that you were involved in that didn't go horribly wrong.”
I nodded grimly. “Well, let's hope today is the exception to that rule.”
“Good luck, brother.” Pater said in farewell before turning and disappearing into the street around the corner. I watched him go before making my way towards the door to the abandoned house, wishing that there was some armour that I could've taken from those men Pater and I killed. The helmet had been too large for me so all I had was a shield. I had also ruined the outfit that I had promised I'd keep safe to Laird so that would be another awkward conversation I would have to have. My feelings on my brother were complicated to say the least. If the Sister hadn't been there at the ceremony, I doubted that he would have helped me. Considering he had a knife to my throat I wasn't even sure he would have let me live. I liked to think that he would. Another problem to deal with when I got out of this alive.
If I got out of this alive.
I should really wait for Boldrin but I didn't know how much time I had left. If the mysterious Knight Pater spoke of was already at the wedding then I would need to act now. There was no other option. If he decided to attack the Sister and the kids while I wasn't there to protect them, I wouldn't forgive myself. No, it had to be now.
And to think, earlier today the only thing I was worried about was a young Lady having seen me naked.