Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Six

A few blocks north of the raucousness of the Bloody Fist, Meridian Street veered away from the shore of Lake Venne, and into an area of homes surrounded by stone privacy walls, each at least ten feet tall. The homes were all set back from the road, and many of the gates were guarded by armed house servants in leather armor, leaning against long spears or halberds, peering earnestly into the dark, still keenly aware of the disturbing incident at the Eastgate that morning. A number of fresh torches were set into iron sconces set into the outer walls, lighting up the gently curving street with flickering, yellow light.

The house faced the center fountain in a cul-de-sac at the terminal end of Meridian Street. Meridian stopped here with a generous roundabout of cobblestones worn smooth by the coach wheels of coming and going nobility. A small stone island in the middle of the circle featured a carved fountain depicting a griffon, reared up on its lionine rear legs, frightful beak agape as if screaming in defiance. A gentle trickle of clear water ran from the griffon’s beak down into a large basin at the base of the carving.

The walls of the home were carved out of smooth gray stone, and expertly jointed to present a smooth outer fa├žade. A number of wrought iron sconces lined the wall, and each torch was newly made, shining brightly in the cool spring night. The front gate of the house hinged outward from the middle, both sides of the gate latching together with a large center lock. The doors themselves were forbidding; large dark slabs of treated oak, each piece banded to the next with thick bands of riveted iron. In front of this closed gate stood a man, dressed in a boiled leather jerkin and leggings, over which hung a loose tabard with the Haarkedamian Eagle emblazoned upon it in deep blue. Above and to the right of the emblem was another, smaller symbol: a red crescent moon, designating the particular noble house of Haarkedamia, house Thelius.

Morgan Thelius was the head of a small but influential noble family. He held a number of financial concerns in different states of the Confederacy, and was integral in almost all aspects of interstate trade. If farmers were harvesting barley in Harkenia to sell to the beer brewers in Alshtron, they most likely dealt with representatives of House Thelius, their porters, wagons, and draft teams. His vote in the Confederacy council had become, in recent years, to be paid attention to very closely, as his influence with the more financially minded nobles began to solidify their concerns against the older families who operated strictly within their traditional concerns of landlordship and leeriness of a merchant class with rights.

The evening had been uneventful so far, as most of the nobles had arrived at their homes at dusk, or soon after. The steady stream of handsome liveried coaches had dwindled, and the cul-de-sac had seen no new arrivals for at least an hour. The guard in front of the Thelius house stifled a yawn with the back of his hand, then slapped himself gently. Despite the worry and concern among the nobles after the massacre that morning, he didn’t feel particularly worried. Thelius was a fat merchant, loud-mouthed and irritating, but hardly a target for assassins. The guard stamped his feet, mumbling to himself. He walked to the far side of the gate, eight measured steps that he had taken almost every night for three years, since he’d taken the quiet job once he mustered out of his Guard service.

At the entrance to the cul-de-sac, a torch slowly flickered and went dead, smoke trailing lazily up into the calm night air. Garenol moved slowly up underneath the now dead torch, while silently removing his gray cloak. Underneath, Garenol now wore black leather armor, studded with gray circles of steel. The armor was close fitting, and ran down his arms to the elbow, where leather gloves and bracers covered his forearms. The armor extended down his legs into the high boots he had worn earlier. Around his waist hung two belts, each of which held an ornate leather scabbard, positioned so that each of the two swords could be drawn crossways with the opposite hand. A few smaller pouches lined the belts from behind each scabbard running around to Garenol’s back. As he quietly felt each piece of equipment, he heard the old familiar sound. “Here comes the battering ram,” he mouthed to himself as he withdrew a small silver ring from one of the pouches. He held it up into a ray of light above his head, nodded and lowered it.

“Ready, Malus?” he asked as the light metallic cadence came to a halt behind him.

“Of course. Have you seen the house?” Malus whispered as he edged into the darkness beside Garenol.

“I already went over the wall earlier. The report was lacking, though, there is a guard. He is outside the front gate, so he’s going to be your problem,” Garenol whispered back, fidgeting with the ring.

“So how many gate guards for the cul-de-sac does that make it?” Malus asked, carefully peering around the edge of the wall into the cul-de-sac.

“Eight that I spotted. Probably an interior guard or two who will sound alarms and shut the security gates over those decorative gates, like that one,” Garenol replied as he gestured over Malus’ shoulder at the home next to the Thelius’ gate, which had a front gate of delicately hammered copper rods. “That’s not the real gate. The real ones are behind the wall, thick ironbound wooden gates, and spring loaded. Once the alarms go, none of these places will be readily accessible.”

“That’s ok. I don’t intend to go inside anyway. I’ll just keep them out here in the open where I can see them,” Malus said as he slowly looked at each guard and gate.

“Watch the walls, Malus. A few may get brave and start shooting,” Garenol warned. He slipped the ring on, and the shadows around him drew closer, almost enclosing him in darkness.

“There’s that fountain, I’ll have cover if I need it. Just make it quick. When will I know to leave?” Malus asked, looking back to where Garenol stood, squinting to try and make him out.

“That moment will be pretty obvious, Malus, you’ll know.” Garenol’s voice drifted out of a swirling darkness under the dead torch.

“Ahh, of course. Purple flames, screaming and so forth?” Malus asked.

“As usual. Good luck, Malus,” Garenol’s voice answered.

“Happy hunting, Crynus. Just be quick about it.” Malus answered. He nodded, and turned away from the darkness, walking into the lit area of the cul-de-sac. He looked around slowly, as all the house guards had looked up at his noisy approach. He bowed slightly, to no one in particular, did a quick headcount mentally, and drew his sword and handaxe.

With all eyes on the large armed man near the fountain, the now confused and scared guards failed to notice the odd movements of the shadows that flickered underneath the wall torches. If they had noticed, they’d have made out that each shadow darkened in turn, moving like a stain down the wall to join the darkness into an amorphous flowing shade that moved quickly towards the walls of House Thelius. As the guard of House Thelius cursed under his breath, and gripped his spear tighter to convince himself to move into the center of the circle to confront the obviously disturbed, but huge, man who had just drawn weapons in the midst of a number of armed guards, a shade slid behind him, extinguishing the final torch on the wall before melting through the small crack of open space between the stone wall and wooden gates.

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