Paying the Fiddler

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Paying the Fiddler

Postby Tarq » Mon Nov 09, 2009 8:04 pm

Edgar Pomeroy rested his back against the long-dead king who gave Irandun's Way its name, wiping the sweat from his brow. It was a crisp November day, but of course he'd started sweating the moment he put on his bloody armor. It was one of those things that came with the job - no matter how high they promoted you, how many keen young watchmen snapped to attention when you walked down the hall, foot patrol was still a sweaty, tedious mess punctuated by brief and usually deadly excitement. And any proper watchman wouldn't have it any other way.

Foot patrol had its rewards - how else was he going to get to see children playing in the streets of Old Town, safe because he and his men and women kept them that way? There were maybe a dozen boys and girls, grubby in the way of all children of a certain age, festooned with bedsheet cloaks and pot-lid helms, armed with sticks and bright ribbons that apparently stood in for the bursts of battle magic. As Edgar watched, one boy cast his face in a horrible rictus, gave a convincing shriek of despair, and toppled to the ground beneath the assaults of the others. The throng imploded around him, cheering at whooping at what was apparently the defeat of the dreaded Kel'Thuzad. The officer restrained himself from applauding and shattering their hard-won immersion as they clustered 'round a tall boy with pale hair drooping out from under an oversized, wide-brimmed hat.

Then they started planning the next one.

"Alright," announced the boy in the bolero. "Let's do Riders an' Trolls next. Everyone switch off." He pulled off the hat and held it over his head as a small thing shaped like a tuber leapt and made a grab for it. "Gerroff, Pen!"

"I wanna be Tarquin!" the root vegetable declared in the voice of a girl of eleven or so. "You gotta be a troll this time, gimme the hat!"

"You can't be Tarquin," objected a lad about half again the size of any of the others, pushing a makeshift eyepatch back from his forehead indignanmtly. "You're a girl."

"Well I ain't a rottie neither!" the girl snapped. "But I hadda be Great Widow Fareena, an' before that I was a, a Verskul shield-woman!"

"That's different." The big lad folded his arms over his considerable belly. "Boys an' girls is always different."

"Fine," Pen spat. "Gimme the eyepatch then, Joan. I wanna be Ceil. You been Jolly-ster for two games now."

Another boy interjected, a weedy specimen with one hand holding his cracked spectacles together. "If we're gonna do Trolls, Andry needs the eyepatch so's he can be Sly Degmarlee." He spoke with the sober voice of a future lawyer. "Sly Degmarlee wore an eyepatch, I read it."

A fourth boy sneered beneath a covering of grime, significant even by his cohorts' standards. "Nah, you watch. Pen-el-o-pe's gonna let Andry be Tarquin again, an' then she's gonna kiss him." He snickered dirtily, and the girl turned on him with a fury.

"You better shut up, Billy. You gotta be a troll this time an' - an' you know how Ceil sorted out them trolls." She glared ominously beneath carrot-orange brows.

"Alright!" Andry waved his hat in the air and spoke with crisp authority despite his reddened face. "Here's how we'll do it. I'll be Degmarlee. Johan can be Matt-soojin. An' Pen can be Ceil, cos' she din' wear no patch til the Butcher took her eye out, right? So whoever plays Nimjull gets to do that."

There was a cacophony of responses, the children claiming the likes of Bricu Bittertongue, Genise Crownsilver, and Ulthanon Kaidos or their opposite numbers "Day-jeeya" and "Ockerth." The grubby boy shouted over and over again that he would be the Butcher. Pen scowled as she thought about it, then nodded and shot a seething look at her dirt-caked tormentor. "Alright. But only if I get to kill Nim-jall!"

The bespectacled boy spoke up again, albeit cautiously. "That's not how it happened, Pen."

"Yeh, well, that's how it shoulda! So shut up, Wesley!" Several of the others hooted and hollered, making thin Wesley cringe back into the roughly circular mass of the group.

"Alright!" Andry declared again. "Fair. So who's gonna be Tarquin?" Before anyone could claim the mantle of notorious crimelord for this round, a filigreed gauntlet descended and plucked the hat from Andry's grasp, and the stern face of the Law loomed among them.

Commander Pomeroy took his time in silence. He was not by nature an ill-tempered man, so his rare angers tended to master him. The children, meanwhile, were accustomed to interruptions by nagging parents, irritated shopkeepers, their rival gang from a block over, and the odd familiar watchman grumbling for them to go to school or something - but never an officer of the Watch in his blue and gold enamel, his clean-shaven face pale with anger. They shuffled their feet and exchanged nervous looks until Andry swallowed and mustered his courage. "Is somethin' wrong, sir?"

Edgar breathed in through his nose and kept his voice steady. "Lad, do you and your friends always play Riders and Trolls?"

"Nossir!" Andry replied quickly. "We jus' played Riders an' the Scourge of Nacksarammis, an' before that we did Vrikkul, an' I think we done...jus' about everythin' else, sir. We use'ta do Riders an' Roses sometime, but this big girl 'Cosia said she'd bust all our noses if she caught us actin' like that again." The boy scrunched up his face and shrugged. "Wasn't that fun anyway. Everyone knows they're both really good folk."

"Do you never play Heroes of Stormwind? Highlord Bolvar, Reginald Windsor, Gareth Orson? Do you argue over who gets to don King Varian's crown for an hour?" He looked incredulously at the cluster of wide-eyed faces. "Do none of you want to be watchmen?"

The resulting silence was positively eloquent.

Finally, young Andry managed to stir his mouth into action. "Watchmen's good, sir. An' my mum says the King's just what Stormwind needed. But the Riders..." He struggled to verbalize concepts his mind was only beginning to grasp. "We know 'em, sir. They're from Old Town. The stories is different when they got people you see every day in 'em."

The big lad, Johan, spoke up hesitantly, pronouncing a Northern name with care. "When Sir Jolstraer died last week, my da' let me have a cup of wine, and he said even children get to drink when a hero dies."

"I saw Miz Annalea sing at the Lion's Pride!" This blurted out by a tall, gawky girl hovering uncertainly in the back of the group, and of life at large. She looked around defiantly before saying, "I tole' her she had a pretty voice, an' she said that with a little practice I could be a bard too!"

It was the argument over roles all over again, the floodgates bursting open as each of the children claimed their special link to the criminal scum of Old Town:
"I saw Lady Crownsilver goin' to a fancy ball -"
" - gave me a penny an' told me to learn how to bluff -"
" - an' he let me pet 'is wolf - "
" - tole me I'd make a good paladin, like her - "
" - kissed me on the cheek, honest, an' said I was brave - "
" - turned into a bear and chased her around the block!"

When the hubbub faded, Andry spoke again, voice comparatively solemn. "Last year, my mom took me to the funeral for all them died when the Scourge come. Said that Dad woulda wanted it. She pointed at Mister Tarquin an' said that if it wasn't for him, we'd of all died in Old Town. Cos'..." Pomeory could see the boy's mind working, struggling to draw a line that put the world on one side and somehow, himself and the men and women of the Black-and-Red on the other. "Cos' they're like us. They're jus' people what dress up as heroes an' then put it away an' go home in Old Town. I like that better'n kings, sir."

Edgar Pomeroy had never liked ships; the motion of deceptively solid wood beneath his feet made him feel rootless and disconnected from the world he'd sworn to fight for. He felt at sea now, among these children who argued over which of the thieves and murderers and monsters of Stormwind shone as the brightest star in their little sky. He lowered his hand and returned the crumpled hat to the towheaded boy, who watched him with a wary respect that he saw on all too many faces in Old Town. "Go back to your game," he said, and forced wooden lips into a smile. "And don't put each other's eyes out, now. You've only got the one patch."

They mumbled their thank-you-sirs and Light-blesses, and watched quietly as he turned about and continued on his patrol. He felt their eyes on his back all the way down Irandun's Way, fancied he could feel them through all the twists and turns of the next quarter-hour. A grown man knew that the fantasies and willful delusions of children shouldn't concern him. A watchman knew better; knew on what ground the battle for the hearts and minds of Stormwind's subjects was fought.

He thought of those children in ten years as men and women, in thirty as citizens of consequence, in fifty as the guiding wisdoms of Stormwind. His steps carried him past the sprawling white barracks, to the snug and unmarked wooden structure that housed Stormwind Intelligence.

I wanna be Tarquin!

Edgar Pomeroy hesitated, but not for long. Then he was at the door, shouldering past the surprised bruisers loitering out front, calling for Mathias Shaw to come and do his duty by the city that they loved.
Now hang me by this golden noose
'Cause I never been nothin' but your golden goose
Silver tongue don't fail me now
And I'll make my way back to you somehow

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Re: Paying the Fiddler

Postby Bricu » Tue Nov 10, 2009 10:03 am

/bump for BRAVO SIR
I drink to keep you pretty

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Re: Paying the Fiddler

Postby Ulthanon » Tue Nov 10, 2009 6:46 pm

That fucking rocks.

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Re: Paying the Fiddler

Postby Itanya_blade » Tue Nov 10, 2009 7:29 pm

((I've been waiting, what? Five damn months for that story?


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Re: Paying the Fiddler

Postby Tarq » Tue Nov 10, 2009 9:10 pm

"I've had a vision," the boss said. He was facing his tower window, his back to the room and his voice pitched low, so that any listeners needed to remain quiet and attentive. "That swollen oaf Pomeroy told me to go to Irandun's Way and watch the children at their play, so I humored him. He struck a chord, with what he said. These children, though...they played me the whole tune." The other man in the room didn't say anything. You didn't talk while the boss was talking, while the boss might be thinking about talking. It was one of the unwritten rules, and the second man was very good at following rules.

"I watched them fight with sticks and ribbons, and I heard the names they called out as heroes. And I had my vision. Of those children, bit by vipers and living on. Walking on into life with that venom coursing in their veins. Spitting that bile all over our city. What sort of heroes do you think their children will have, Sullivan?"

The other man was surprised to be hailed by name, but he hid it well, as always. "Can't say, boss. Bad ones, likely. Same as always."

"No." He turned, small and slender and unassuming, looking at his subordinate mildly. Other men might have a fire in their eyes, or a hunger in their smile, or some other telltale marker of what hid behind the careworn, clear-eyed mask. But no person living had ever seen Mathias Shaw look like anything other than a smallish, handsome man in the prime of his life. "Far worse. Did you get what I needed?"

"Witnessed thrice, boss. Me and the lads can swear to it any cant or compulsion you so choose."

"And the Professor?"

"Turned 'im loose. He'll have a bastard headache, but all's clean. Don't think he'll even miss tutorin' the kiddies."

"Good. You know where to find him if you need to." Sullivan nodded. "And your other important project?"

A smile, as white as unlit tallow and as warm. "Earning her keep. Elsewhere."

"Then it's as good as done." Shaw looked down at his desk. "Our friend Edgar's given the word to his own. The same officer from the incident report, one Lieutenant Haylie Dannis, will be bringing the law to where it's needed. I want you outside in case they resist."

"Done, boss. Only-" Sullivan hesitated and then adopted a somewhat supplicatory pose, as if daring to question deserved its own special prayer. "Y'don't think we ought to move early? Before things get swinging down at the viper's nest there?"

"This has to be done by the law, or not at all. We only have the one chance before the courts get their hands on it, and the longer it takes, the greater the chance of another Drachmas incident." The boss's face betrayed some displeasure at the memory, but only because he had allowed it there. "And Dannis is perfect. It's said she's the last honest officer in Old Town."

"Beggin' your pardon, boss, but that doesn't mean any more'n that she's the highest-priced."

Shaw sighed and turned away. "We've made a generation of cynics, Sullivan. It's no wonder the children are what they are. But that changes." He allowed himself a small, tight smile as he looked out the window at Stormwind, perhaps having another vision, of a city and a kingdom untroubled by his Service's misbegotten bastards. "Starting tonight. Get your soldiers. Dismissed."

"Got it, boss." Sullivan bowed his head and slipped from the room, his mind on the task at hand, a small and carefully cordoned-off section dearly hoping they chose to resist.
Now hang me by this golden noose
'Cause I never been nothin' but your golden goose
Silver tongue don't fail me now
And I'll make my way back to you somehow

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Re: Paying the Fiddler

Postby Thiyenn » Sat Nov 14, 2009 8:26 pm

It was a sight easier to maneuver past the kitchen than it was to fade unnoticed from the tavern's open hall, and Skulley relaxed a bit as she put on her best casual face. She lit a cigarette, hit the back door without breaking stride and sauntered into the night. A hand closed on each of her thin upper arms and she smiled, exhaling smoke through her nose and saucing up her usual clipped accent.

"Yarr mates, glad t'see yer not too shy t'approach a lady walkin' all by 'er lonesome in a dark alley."

The guards didn't return her cheerful grin. Without looking around, Skulley counted her opposition. Four--no, six--uniformed guards in plate and armed with steel surrounded the back door of the Pig & Whistle, the one on her right towering a good eight inches over her, the one to her left squat and swarthy. Two men dressed in street clothes smoked nearby, watching with great interest. She smiled broadly and produced a convincing hiccup.

"Cat got yer tongues, I see. Pity that, coulda used one of a night. How're ye lads?"

One of the smoking men strolled over to the pool of sickly light that washed over the Pig's back porch, stepping just inside the circle it made and tipping back his cap to peer up at Skulley.

"Think you can just slip out the back in the middle of a raid, do you? Bring her down the stairs, Hensel."

She allowed herself to stumble ever so slightly on the last step. Both guards tightened their grip on her arms. "World's a bit wobbly t'night, sorreh boys. Mind lettin' a lass have a touch more a' her ciggy 'fore it burns down ta ashes?" She lifted her hand but her arms were pinned firmly to her sides by the guards. Ol' Plainclothes plucked the cigarette from her spindly fingers and put it to her lips, solemn as stone as she sucked in a lungful of fragrant smoke and batted an eyelash his way. He dropped the rest on the cobbles and crushed it beneath a scuffed black boot.

"Thanks, love. Yer a great help. Not t'mention ye've a splendid arse."

"Papers, ma'am."

"In me left pocket, love. S'deep, though. Y'might hafta dig 'round fer it." A brisk search yielded nothing but a sly grin and a theatrical lowering of the lashes. "Mayhap it's in me other pocket, darlin'. A girl forgets day ta day which side 'er pants is buttoned on, an' all that."

He checked the other, flushing slightly when his rummaging elicited not only a slim wallet, but a husky purr. She tilted her hips almost imperceptibly toward him and grinned. He jerked his hand back as though stung, cleared his throat and flipped open the fine square of folded leather. The papers inside were a fine reproduction, truths and lies spread liberally throughout. She hoped they would suffice.

"Bold as brass... Skelton, is it? Never heard of any Skeltons around here. How long have you been in the city?"

"Reckon two weeks, give 'er take. Me ship's docked here fer a spell." Skulley smiled sweetly in spite of the gauntleted hands curled around her arms, digging painfully into muscle. She summoned another drunken hiccup.

"Have you seen one Tarquin ap Danwyrith this evening?"

"Aye, but don't hold me t'that. Never did have a good look at his face, had me distracted wi' his magnificent backside an' fuckin' amazin'... hat."

"Is he still on the premises?"

"Didn't see where he got off to." She staggered a bit on her high-heeled boots, then steadied herself and gave her interrogator a wink. "What's yer name, handsome?"

"Officer Newhall to you. Tell me, Skelton, what's your business with the Riders?"


He pinched the bridge of his nose. "You were just drinking with them and leering at their gods-damned kingpin."

"Oh, is that them, then. Well, I s'pose I give 'em me coin fer whiskey, an' th'pleasure a' me company free a' charge."

"Have you ever, or are you currently working with or for any of the Riders or their associates?"

"I take orders from one bloke. Only th' one, an' he's no more a Rider than yer mother's a--"

He raised his hand, cutting her off. "Answer the damn question."

She spat near his boots and licked her lips. "No, I'm not, an' I haven't. That's th'honest truth."

"Nine out of ten liars love to use that phrase."

"Nine outta ten statistics is made up on th'spot, Officer Whoever-Ye-Are, an' ten outta ten arseholes love ta cite 'em."

Newhall leveled a piercing gaze at the lanky woman, sharp green eyes boring into her dark and mirthful ones. He didn't particularly believe her claims, nor did he disbelieve. Shaw had his knickers in a twist, however, and his orders were clear. A raid, particularly this raid, wasn't something to be taken lightly. It'd be in the papers tomorrow under headlines in three-inch print and he'd be damned if he didn't make every effort to make it count. It would be best to take her in for more questioning; a humbling would be even better, given her defiant and fearless smirk, and he'd be more than happy to deliver it. His silent deliberation was cut short by the next comment dropped dryly from her purple-painted lips.

"Don't suppose ye'll let me be on me merry way soon, officer? Got work in th'mornin', an' t'be honest yer about as much fun as a boil on me arse."

A cold steel bracelet clicked around her wrist. If the cuffs were any bigger she'd have been able to slip right out of them; as it was, the tightest setting was only made effective by the jutting crest of bone just below her skinny thumb. Some quick shuffling by the guards ensued and Newhall was able to fasten the other cuff behind her back. She didn't fight.

"Adelaide Skelton, you're under arrest for public intoxication. Bodrick," he addressed the other plainclothes smoker, "keep an eye out for more stragglers. I'll take her in."

"Have fun."

Skulley aimed a wink and a kiss over her shoulder in the direction of Newhall's partner as he led her away. His face was branded on her memory. "I will, love. I will."

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Re: Paying the Fiddler

Postby Tarq » Sun Dec 06, 2009 3:41 am

You would have to be completely mad to pull steel or raise spell in the Cantrips and Crows; every hand in the 'Belly would be raised against you for violating what had come to be known as Crow's Peace. But seeing as how the sewers had their share of complete madmen, Tarquin went armed and armored like most of the custom. Drinking in his leathers gave him an itch, but it was better than a knife in the gut. Anyways, he had one bastard of an itch already, after three days of waiting for his factor.

Sipping at his rich red wine, Tarquin reflected on using Kraothel's gambling house for finance. It was perfect in all ways but one. It was high-stakes, which was good; it was known as a safe place for nobs and cavaliers from topside to go slumming, which was better; and thanks to his old association with Kraothel, the house would back his stakes, which was best of all. The problem was the niche that the crafty troll had carved out. At Kraothel's , you didn't bet anything as mundane as coin - you bet goods and services, a jeweled goblet from the ruins of Stromgarde or a captured Iron Rune war-engine or three hours with one of Madame Inge's girls.Kraothel and his impassive staff declared the relative value of stakes, and if you didn't like their decision, you could fucking well find somewhere else to gamble.

So no matter how many wide-eyed, tipsy topside swells Tarquin fleeced around the card table, he still had to sell their shit to realize a profit. He couldn't resell it down in the 'Belly; that'd disclose his financial straits to the competition, which defeated the purpose. Similarly, bringing in the Black and Red would just mirror that problem, not to mention the risk of interference from the south. Hence the factor. Cameron Pellamund had an air of better days about him, but that could be counted an asset, and the man surely knew Dalaran Above. It was too risky to ask anyone to vouch for the man beyond the most general sense of things, but Tarquin had gathered that he was an old-timer and well-respected. That should have been enough.

But that had been three days ago, and Tarquin's very sound reasons for engaging "Digger" Pell as a fence had begun to seem much less so. He was just beginning to sketch a mental map of Dalaran Above, and plot the quickest way to the antiquities market, when the door of the Cantrip shivered open and Pellamund entered.

Tarquin looked up, and his mouth flooded with sour bile. When he'd met the Digger, the older man had been shabbily genteel, charming in an avuncular sort of way that would serve him well in the markets topside, and projected an air of sober professionalism. Now "sober" was the last word anyone would use to describe this paunchy, swaying clown with his stained tunic and foolish smile.Pell lit eyes on Tarquin and weaved across the room, fumbling at his belt for a coin-purse as he slumped into the seat across from his erstwhile employer. "The proceeds, Master Stratholme," he announced loudly, with the careful precision of an experienced drunk.

The bag of coins made a paltry clatter on the tabletop, even for Kirin Tor tencrowns. Tarquin tugged open the drawstring, fighting to keep his face still. At least he'd had enough fucking professional in him to give this sot a working name. The coins in the bag, at glance, were less than half of his minimum expectation. Maybe even a third. I'm drinkin' wi' a deid man. "This's it, then?" he managed to say evenly.

"More or less," said Pell, a shamefaced defiance creeping into his owlish grin. "Spent, oh, a good quarter on that good topside wine. You can just take it out o' my next commission, eh?" He belched slightly. "Beg pardon. Believe I'll be needing a couple days for the recovery before I take your next haul, Master Stratholme. Thirsty work to be sure."

Tarquin scooped up the coin purse with one hand, and while Pell was watching that, the other came up. "Thirsty fuckin' work, aye," he hissed, and the drunk's face caromed off the tabletop with a wet crack. He hoisted Pell up by the hair and interrupted his wail of pain with another slam into the table. "Start wi' some sewer water then, firta match the line ay shite yeh fed me. Think thit'll settle yir thirst?"

"Oi!" The barkeep leaned over his counter, heavy-browed and brawny. ""What the fuck're you doing?"

Tarq showed the man his business smile, still holding the Digger's greasy hair. "Dinna yeh fret, mate. We wis jus' settlin' fir ta take this outside." But as he got to his feet, he became aware of a certain current in the air, that had nothing to do with the usual amusement at scenes like this. He smelled the promise of blood.

"Maybe you are," retorted the barkeep. "But I don't think the Digger's going with you." Three men had risen from one of the corner tables and were coming towards him, and there was an anticipatorymutter traveling about the room that Tarquin misliked. He let Pell slump to the tabletop, blood burbling from his insensate face, and turned to the approaching trio.

"What's your trouble with Master Pellamund?" asked the youngest of the three. Day laborers, at a glance, hard-fisted, big-shouldered men with the unmistakable seen-it-all cynicism that everyone in Dalaran, Above or Below, seemed to wear like a uniform. The speaker's beefy face looked more amused than anything. Tarquin smiled right back at him.

"This a mate ay yirs, then?" He patted Pell's shoulder gently, to no response.

"Believe I asked first, neighbor." The man looked back, uncowed, as his two fellows slouched sideways with practiced symmetry. Tarquin was glad he had sat with his back to the wall.

"Since yeh asked so virra p'lite, the man owes me some coin. Mair'n a wee bit, I shid say." He jingled the half-empty bag of coin, letting his hand brush the hilt of his visible knife in passing.

The grizzled specimen at Tarquin's left hand barked laughted. "You gave Cam your fucking money?" he rasped incredulously, in a voice scored by stone chips and mortar dust. "I hope you was investing in half-empty wineskins, then."

"Guess yeh ken the punter aright," he replied through the lazy smile that was getting harder and harder to maintain. "Be happy fir t'end air business 'rrangement, oan account ay how Master Pellamund's go' sich fine an' unpstandin' mates ready ta stand fir his debts."

"Are you fuckin' soft?" The man sounded as if he found the situation as surreal as Tarquin did. It had been a very long time since anyone had had the stones to laugh at the Oathbreaker like that. "You gave Cameron Pellamund money, you numb shit. What'd you expect? Call yourself lucky and get the fuck out of here."

"Piss on tha'." The third man, a squat and gnarled specimen with a thick Andorhal accent, flexed his fingers and glared. "Ah say we teach this friggin' poofter t'mind 'is manner doon the Belly."

Tarquin exhaled slowly. "Many a punter's tried fir t'educate me, mate, but seems I'm a hapless case. E'en fir a fellow northman." This was starting to truly grate on him.

"Ah'm na friggin' fellow o' yirn, ye prick." He lowered his siege engine of a head, ready to rush and bear Tarquin to the ground; there was practically steam coming from his nostrils. "Cam's a mate. Ye're some flash poofter, ne'mind where ye hight fra'."

"Beg fergiveness fir breakin' yir heart, m'lad, but I'm na' poofter." Tarquin smiled expansively, gesturing with his right hand. "But if yeh keep yir mouth flappin' open like thit, well -" He raised his left hand, holding a cruel-looking poniard that had appeared as if by magic. He hoped. " - might be I kin find some wey fir t'accomodate yeh. Ayeh?"

The Andorhaller's breath hissed out, but before he could rush his younger friend put a hand on his shoulders. "Easy, Culhaim. Easy. Nobody's wanting blood - more blood over this." He looked at Tarquin and stepped forward, hands up, palms out. When he was within a few paces, he lowered his voice. "I know who you are, neighbor."

"Huh." Tarquin lowered his knife and looked more or less in the man's direction, keeping an eye on his fellows, and the barkeep, and Digger Pell, and anyone else he could.

"Heard enough to know you could end us if you wanted, I'll grant. Cut us down in the Cantrips over a broken-down drunk, and maybe even walk out after." His voice was as calm as could be, under the circumstances; it would have been admirable if Tarquin hadn't had the overwhelming desire to put a knife in him. "But word gets around, down here, and Pell's well-liked. Black will hear of it, and what Black knows...the Jester knows. You don't want his attentions, neighbor. No sane fellow does."

The mason, or whatever he was, folded his arms across his chest, looking at Tarquin with all the defiance he could muster without outright asking for a red smile. Tarquin looked back, knowing the brawny shite was right, hating him for it, and then abruptly made his knife disappear and flicked his gaze over to the barman. "Yeh'll find some twa hundred crowns in thit purse, mate. Open me a tab. I'll be back fir the remainder, trustin' in yir good faith." His last words as he exited were pitched to the Cantrip as a whole, not sparing the bleary, bloody specimen he'd just beaten half to death over a similar sum. "Ifter'll, as the man says, s'only money."

He had to walk quickly out of there, before he could let himself hear any of the scattered jeers or the threat Culhaim hurled at his back, before the frozen smile could slip from his face and his trembling hands could make blood fountain across the tavern's rickety floor. It was the indignity of it that made him ache with murderous intent; the idea that after all he'd built, all he'd done, he could come to bluffs with gutter scum over a broken-arsed drunk. That he'd stood down from them, and most of all, that it had been the right call to stand down. All this, for a man who had an empire waiting.

Tarquin stood on the pier for some amount of time that never registered on him, hoping that Culhaim and his friends or anyone else, really, would come out of the tavern. Finally he released his grip on the broad-bladed knife at his belt and drew himself up. No' jus anither cunt wi' a knife,, he reminded himself. Yeh've an empire, ayeh, so bring thim in. Eat yir fuckin' pride 'til yeh choke oan't, an' call in the black an' red.

He pasted a lazy smile back onto his face and started walking. Fake it long enough, and it'd start to feel natural. As always.
Now hang me by this golden noose
'Cause I never been nothin' but your golden goose
Silver tongue don't fail me now
And I'll make my way back to you somehow

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