This should have been up last week but my parents had to take away my computer during our "Family visit" which is over a week long. So that was rather annoying but I did manage to write this all by hand. I'll have to go back an edit it as well as the first one. I will post another chapter next week, at some point. I'll have to make a standard day once I start getting really into writing this. Thanks for reading and thanks for the reviews to the first chapter. Once I finish this I'll go back and edit everything to make it better.
(Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, the major plot and some of the dialogue but most of the subplots belong to me.)
Thursday April 2, 246
When I woke in the morning, I realized my bed was cold from the lack of extra bodies. The mots decided to sleep in their own rooms last night, leaving me alone. I didn't really mind but I like the extra warmth that Kora or Aniki provided on cold nights.
I shivered in the cold. The fire had gone out and I was sure the innkeepers weren't up. It was well before dawn. My sleeping patterns had been thrown off during our travels and I knew I couldn't get back to sleep not now. Instead, I got up before the cold took any affect on my rather naked body.
What happened to my loin cloth? That was just a passing thought while I dressed myself. I checked myself for daggers to make sure they were all in place, and put my coin purse on my belt before walking out.
I've come to a conclusion about the city as I walked out of the inn; it hardly ever sleeps. There was activity going on late and night all the way to early morning.
When I walked out of the inn, I was nearly knocked over by a young man loaded with crates. He was so busy concentrating on carrying them he didn't noticed me plucking an apple from the top and moving on my way. I wanted to see the city before everything opened up.
I still have to weave my way through and around people who all decided would be the best to stand around and gossip. Especially the mothers, who were talking while keeping a keen eye on their children but it didn't seem like they noticed anything else. Like a young handsome cove like myself trying to get through. It was hard to find a path through the animals and the gossiping women but I managed to find my way. It was all about getting used to.
Kora, Aniki and I spent a good amount of the year traveling but never through large cities like this unless we needed the money. We would stop by a city to take a few coin purses or so but we wanted to keep a low profile until we came to Corus. Even in Scanra, there weren't so many people or animals about the city. We were striving there. All the animals were use for breeding in hope that they could produce more. The mots and I left before any progress was made.
Holderman street was fairly wide compared to the lanes I had been on this morning. It was obvious that carts could fit down this road yet in a lane; they would get stuck because they were far narrower than Holderman. I turned down Stormwing Street to Westberk where I knew Mantel and Pullet was near. I remember taking Westberk to the eating house last night. Already, people were stating to wake. Children were walking out of their homes to start their morning choes while their mothers made them breakfast. Well, at least the ones that weren't about. Most of the children coming out of the homes still had sand in their eyes and were rubbing it out.
The city was rousing into the busy bustle it was in yesterday. It made it easier to find my way to the Day Market. I knew my mots would be up soon and they would be hungry. That was when they were at their worst. So I thought I would get on their good side by bringing them breakfast. The Market, despite the early morning, was already crowded. I was fairly lost in the chaos until I realized that there were sections and rows containing specific items. The markets were very organized here. In Scanra, you had to hold a stand in order to get it. So it was never in any real order.
I picked my way through carefully, trying to find something delicious for breakfast. First, I picked up a bottle of twisley, knowing that if I brought brandy, Aniki would guy me with that sword of hers. Maybe not that extreme but still, I was working on getting on their good side. After paying for the bottle, I asked the seller, "Where could I find sommat good for two hungry mots and a cove, such as myself, in the morning?"
"Mistress Noll's is a good start for pastries and other baked goods," the man told me. "You new to the city?"
"Indeed, I am," I said to him. "Else wise, I'd just be an idiot." The man laughed at my good humor and pointed me on my way. I thanked him and followed his directions, stopping at a few other sellers for a breakfast turnover and some fresh fruit. My last stop was Mistress Noll's stand.
A large plump woman stood behind the counter, her graying hair, braided, pinned and coiled. She was pulling some fresh cinnamon rolls from the oven, and she smiled when she saw me. "Morning," she greeted. "It's nice to see younger folk up and about at this time of day. I myself have a hard time getting my son, Yates, out of bed." She sighed. "He stays out so late and doesn't get in until early morning, if at all."
"Maybe he has a lady to keep him warm at night," I said to her while browsing through her selection of food. It all looked and smelled so good.
The woman laughed at my comment. "A mother can only hope," she said, still laughing. "Anything looking good to you?" I picked out three apple pastries and three of her freshly glazed cinnamon rolls. I thanked her and went about my way, bring the food back to the inn. I kicked Kora and Aniki's doors and told them to get up already. It was well past dawn.
They arrived in my room not looking pleased until they saw the food I had out for them. We all sat where ever we could, eating until everything was gone. Mistress Noll's food was great, especially since it was still warm. That was when it was the best. Kora and Aniki spoke very little, still tired about being woken up in the morning after a long night of drinking.
"We should go to the Day Market," I told Kora. "Maybe we'll find some herbs for you." That seemed to brighten Kora's mood. "Then after lunch, we should head to the Rogue. I've been hearing thing about this Rogue," I told them. There was a lot of chatter in the day market about the Rogue and I wanted to hear if they were true or not. Mostly, I wanted to see if he was worth the time. Aniki seemed to perk up at the sound of finding the Rogue. She wanted some work and I knew she was restless if she didn't get any.
"Well," Aniki said. "Let's get eating then. Personally, I wasn't to meet this Rogue." The mots ate while I thought. I hope this Rogue was better than the scut in Scanra. Even if he was a lot like the Scanran rogue, life in the city would still be better than back there. We would just have to deal with him at another time.
Once we finished, I stored our food in my packs and followed the mots to the day market. Now children were running wild, weaving through people, laughing. One ran into my leg. She looked up at me with round blue eyes before running away. We went around looking for herbs. Kora found some decent places but she was more interested in the gossip of one of the evening watch puppies who had unfortunately fallen in a pile of fish leftings.
Beka Cooper was her name – the girl with the ghost eyes, people say. She must have been the one at the eating house last night. "She's still learning," Kora said to a cove who was laughing at the Puppy's expense. "Not all Puppies are meant do it right and it's usually the ones that make the mistakes who learn not to fall for them again. They are the hardest to fool and will hobble you one day." Kora had moment when she saw the best in everyone. She also didn't seem to like the obnoxious cove who was trying to flirt with her. She was sort of right with her defenses of the Puppy. There were some Dogs would learned from mistakes while there were others who didn't. They were usually the cocky ones and were killed easily.
Kora seemed pleased with her gossip by the time it was lunch. Apparently, hedge witches really liked the talk of the city and would share while buying herbs. I guess most woman bonded though shopping.
We found ourselves a meat seller. He cooked our roast and served it with some potatoes and salted carrots. The mots and I topped it off with a glazed pastry from Mistress Noll, only she wasn't there. Her daughter Gemma was there in her place. A cove with a less than pleasant face watched us like a hawk. I discovered shortly that he was Yates. I held back a snort at the sight of him. No wonder why Mistress Noll had said "A mother could only wish," she would have to wish a lot for that young slime to find a mot that wasn't so disgusted by him. Though, I never would say that aloud unless vexed by the cove.
"Time to meet the Rogue," Aniki said. She was practically dragging us into, what the locals called, the Cesspool. The further in we walked the less appealing the place looked. The Cesspool was probably the best name for such a place. There were mumpers everywhere. People were lying at the side of the roads, sleeping or dead, I couldn't tell. They all smelled the same in this area of the lower city. The children were all underfed and possibly on the verge of death but they would come around to us with their eyes big and round begging for money.
I felt bad but I wasn't going to give them money in groups. I knew their type. They would follow me around the minute I gave them some coin. If it were just one and we weren't surrounded my hungry, sick folk, I would have probably given them a silver.
The animals in the cesspool were also a sad bunch of beasts. They were thinner than a rod barely alive. At one point, they were probably meaty and worth sommat but there was nothing for them here. A lot of them were rotting away in the filth, rotting with all of the people rotting. They should have gone for the Rogue for some help. He was there to help people in need, right? Why weren't they doing anything?
On Festive Lane, which was anything but festive, there was a large, black stone building that looked as if a Moneybag once lived there. There were rushers crawling around the place, which was the first sign of the Rogue. This had to be our place. It was a rather cold environment for the likes of a Rogue. Even though it was in this pile of filth one could tell it used to belong to a noble during the earlier years.
Guards in leather stood watch by the high wall with crossbows ready when needed. Iron torches flared on the holders in the wall and inside the building. The guards caught sight of us and thoroughly checked us. One of them tried sommat with Aniki and she gave him a good tongue lashing. She let them take her sword and stomped through the open gates. I followed after her and Kora with a satisfied smirk.
That's my Aniki.
Inside the building, there were dirt and smoke stains along the walls, the hand carved pillars and wooden moldings. The hall we took was filled with petitioners, armsmen who watched for trouble in the Court of Rogue, thieves, rushers, and occasional trollops here and there – even some men who sold their bodies for a bit of coin. Some of them stood in nothing but loincloths while the women wore low cut dresses that were too tight on them or revealed too much.
We entered the great hall, or what was once a great hall. I had been in many castles in my day (doing nothing good, that's for sure) so I knew most rooms when I saw one. There were doxies and rushers everywhere, mostly together doxies and rusher paired. A few of the doxies gazed me fully before winking at me. My confidence grew more than it already was.
Atop the platform, on a makeshift throne of old wood and furniture pieces, sat a blubbery cove in his forties, balding of his short brown hair. He had a smooth arch of a nose that he looked down with blue eyes. There were lines of aging on his face, around his eyes and mouth mostly. He wore a black pearly drop in one ear that was fairly large. I thought it would rip his lobe right off by the way it was drooping down. In the other ear he wore a silver hoop, and had a gold ring with a sapphire the size of an egg on his finger. The man was nothing if not gaudy on all accounts. I had to assume that this man was the rogue by the way the rushers stood around him.
I was slightly annoyed at the sight of him. He was not only gaudy but cocky. He had a slight sound in his voice that made me want to spit at him. Of course, doing such a thing could lead to death or a mild punishment of having my tongue cut off. So I used my sense and did nothing but watch.
The rusher around him seemed to also play an important roll in his court. There were the Rogue Chiefs, were called Ulsa and Dawull. Ulsa was a woman who liked expensive and nice things from the looks of it. Her shirts were made of silk and she seemed to clean up after herself. There was the redheaded Dawull. He seemed like a bugnob to me. Sure, he would have made a good wall, he was so large but how much brain did he have in that head of his?
Aniki, Kora, and I watched the man who called himself a Rogue. He was lazy, if anything. He rarely got off that throne of his, no wonder why he was so flabby. I wondered if he had any of his skill that I heard he had. At one point, he must have because there was no way he would have gotten the title of the Rogue if he hadn't. I was fairly annoyed with the man. Now I understood why nothing was done about the poor mumpers outside. The man was greedy.
Later in the evening, a pair of Dogs and their Puppy entered the room. The Dogs were comfortable in the midst of the rushers and the Puppy was passive. I couldn't really read her. The only thing I could see about her was that she was the one I indirectly met the other day. Her eyes were as chilling as before but I expected nothing less from it. It was a surprise to see them again at such an odd place.
They were coming closer to us, talking. Well, more like the Dogs were talking to their Puppy. "We get to wait," said the tall, owl-like man. His lips didn't really move while he spoke but we were close enough to hear what he was saying. "It's how he proves he's still the Rogue."
My tongue got the better of me. "Some Rogue," I drawled. I knew I wasn't heard by the Rogue or his chiefs but the Dogs and their Puppy looked at me. Recognition washed over the Puppy's face when she saw me. "Sits on his arse like a sarden king and bribes others to stand for him. I'd hope for someone livelier in charge here." But this Rogue was still better than the Rogue I had to deal with in Scanra. I didn't like either of them, though.
The older mot looked over at the Rogue who was whispering to the chief who sauntered up to him the minute he shooed away the slave trader. The owl-ish man went to talk to the female chief, Ulsa who greeted him with a smile and pulled out a chair with her foot. It seemed that these Dogs were well acquainted with the rushers.
The Dog left, the mot, sat down on her hunkerbones in front of me. She wasn't very tall, that's for sure but she had a very dominating air around her. I knew she was good at her job if she had to come here to the Court of Rogue, no doubt to collect the Happy Bag. "Now Laddybuck," she said, in a way that showed no signs of friendliness, "why don't you tell me what kind of lively you're looking for? I'll direct you where to find it, away from Corus." The smile she gifted me was as equally friendly as her tone. I smiled at her, nicely then looked at the owl man, and then to their Pretty Puppy. I had forgotten how pretty the gixie was. Her icy eyes turned away from me.
Kora nudged me while I still stared at the gixie. "Stop it, Rosto," she said. "Fidget someone who fidgets you back." She gave the Dog a nod. "He's Rosto the Piper. I'm Kora, and that's Aniki." Aniki lazily raised her hand in greeting. "We heard life was more . . . interesting . . . in Corus, so here we are." She gave the Dog a genuine smile.
"Scavangers always come looking where they heard of a feast. So far it's been long put off," the mot told us. "Kayfer – his chiefs – have done away with any challengers."
"Oh," I said, slightly amused that she said that the Rogue's Chiefs did the work not him. But all of that was kept inside. "We're not looking to challenge. We hope to be entertained. Scanra was that bare of entertainment."
Aniki seemed to do away with our talk my mentioning a cat. It was Kora who cut off her praising the sleek black cat by saying it had purple eyes. It was a god-marked cat. The cat seemed to like Kora. "He's the Puppy's," the Dog said, not taking her eyes off of us. "He's a clever beast." I wanted to doubt that but the cat had purple eyes. What beast had such a thing?
My attention strayed from the cat when I saw a mess of a man walk through the entrance. His clothes were crumpled and stained. His gaunt face was unshaven and his eyes were hollow. It looked as if he hadn't run a comb through his black hair in days, the snarls were terrible. I couldn't even imagine being such a mess. There were two men there with empty sword and dagger scabbards; no doubt they were taken from them.
The man started wailing about some shadow snake and how the Rogue took his child. It was a whole dramatic scene, I almost felt bad for the cracknob. Almost. At one point, the cracknob moved and I saw a print of a weapon against his tunic. Of course this man wouldn't come unarmed, even if he did have too men there. He wasn't a complete idiot. He was reaching into the folds of his clothes but I got there before anything bad happened and knocked the dagger from his hands before the chiefs could attempt to. I also took the time to grab a leather pouch while I patted him down for more weapons. I slipped the pouch into my boot and sauntered back.
I wasn't sure what happened, I guess I was too full of myself at the time. I didn't see the Puppy stoop down to pick up the baton she lost, which tangled with my legs. We fell in a tangled mess. "Dear, if you'd asked," I mumbled, "I'd've considered. You're a pretty thing with you look a cove in the eye." She stammered apologies to me while we untangled ourselves. So much for my grand save. I looked like a fool tangled with the Puppy. Kora and Aniki fussed over me, trying to straighten out my clothes but I could see in their eyes that they were laughing at me. I flashed them a disgruntled look, not because they were fussing over me but because I knew the Puppy had lifted the pouch from my boot. Slippery little thing.
The Puppy had been scolded for being clumsy, damn right she should've. While that was being settle, the Rogue himself came to me and offered me a hand. Kora and Aniki stopped when he did so and stood in their positions behind me. I took his hand. "The least I could do, Majesty. I saw the knife's shape against the old cuckoo's tunic. Sad work your guards done searching 'im, you ask me.'
The Rogue smiled at me. "You've a good eye. Are you and your gixies here lookin' for work? My gate crew goes for a swim tonight, unless they convince me they can make their way back into my good graces as wounded mumpers." That was a rather hard choice to make; death or alive as a beggar, starving.
"Majesty, you're not talking of breaking the law in violence before three Dogs, are you?" The owl man said. His voice was very polite. I found a vast difference between him and his partner who was openly aggressive and him. "We can't have that on our watch. Not when we're standing right here."
The Rogue looked up at the owl. He was rather tall, that man. I had to look up at him too. "Never a bit, Mattes Tunstall. Why don't you and Goodwin come settle our business. Young Rosto and I can talk later. Maybe extra sweetenin' will make it into this week's Happy Bag, to assure you I'd never do violence with the Doges out." He glanced at the Puppy and then pinched her cheek. The Puppy looked as if she were going to rip his hand off then shove down his throat. "Leave the Puppy. She doesn't look like she'll last." I was surprised the gixie didn't knife him right there. She had better control than some would. Maybe she would last longer than I thought before.
I was still a bit upset that she managed to steal from me so I decided to offer a bribe. "A nice trick, lifting that pouch from me," I said standing at her elbow. She didn't seem to care that I was there. "If you're a Fishpuppy like the gossip says, it's because you're so slippery. I don't suppose you'd take a silver noble to tell me what it is, once your Dogs have a look? From the fell it's gems, but it never hurts to be certain." Yes, I was showing that I was upset by mocking her. I was feeling put out by her trick.
She glared at me and looked away, not saying a word. "Not taking offense over a bit of bribery, are you?" I asked again, mocking her through my words this time. "On the very night your Dogs are here to collect their bribes from the Rogue?"
"That's different," she said. It was first time she had spoken directly to me. "That's for all the work everyone of us does, to keep the streets orderly. You're asking me to sell out my Dogs."
I rocked back onto my heels not expecting such aggression from the gixie. "Hel-lo! It has a bark and a bit!" It was rather startling. "Here I was think you're a mousy little bit. But you're not mousy, are you?" I wanted to play with her a bit. I lifted my hand but she blocked my arm before I could slap her. She then grabbed my wrist and dug her fingernail in a place where it hurt.
"Ow," I said feeling the pain worsen. I tried to yank my hand free but she had managed to dig her nail deeper into my skin. I was sure I was bleeding now.
"Rosto, you take shy as fearful Why would a coward become a Dog? There's easier ways for a pretty gixie to make a living." Aniki propped one elbow on my collarbone and leaned on me. She was digger her elbow into another point that hurt. Aniki smiled at the Puppy. I could tell she found the gixie to her liking. "Normally he's not thick about mots, but he's slow when they're not in love with him. Me and Kora had to knock him around until he got us figured out. Say you're sorry, Rosto and don't try to bribe the nice Puppy again."
"I'm sorry, all right? I'm bleeding." She had broken skin. The feisty little Pup. She had my blood on her thumb but she wiped it away on her breeches like it was sommat of routine for her. I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and pressed it against the wound, where it was still bleeding.
The Puppy looked at Aniki and said, "Two days as a Dong and I've my first bribe off. I think it's a record." Well, it's good to know that the gixie had a sense of humor, I thought blandly to myself.
Aniki slapped me on the back of the head, her blue eyes laughing at me. "She's shy, cabbage head, not stupid."
"So I'm learning. What's your name, then, shy-not-stupid Puppy?" I asked. I had forgotten it from when it was mentioned earlier today. She didn't have to know that. She told me her name was Beka Cooper. Kora stepped in holding the Purple eyed cat saying that she had heard of Beka's mother being an herbalist. She asked for advice on where to buy herbs. We all ended up jumping into the conversation about herbs, save Aniki who drifted away to gamble a bit.
I asked her how the Rogue worked. He may have had harsh punishments but he didn't seem to follow through with them. I mean, this Crookshank fellow should have been doused right then and there before the Rogue. I said as much to her when she asked me about how things were done in Scanra. I happily told her of what I'd witnessed once with that drunken cove. Poor cove had it coming.
Her Dogs came back and left the court. The Rogue presented the mots and me with guard duty for the time but said that we might be finding good offers soon. I sure hoped so. Kora did so to make a few extra coin so she could buy some herbs but she wasn't going to accept any offers that came her way. Kora was always the good one of us three but she wasn't so good to completely join the Dogs. She was comfortable where she was.
We stood guard, patting people down before anything came to. It was boring but we made our fair of coin when the night ended and a new round of guards came through. Me and my mots made it back to the inn two hours before dawn and settled into our rooms for the night. It looked like another cold morning for me.