Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Twenty One

Garenol leapt up the steps of the Bloody Fist, hoping that Dorick would have a horse or know a close stable. He worried that the fire brigade would have noticed something amiss during the warehouse fire, and waited for the ruins to cool enough to investigate. If that had happened, today was going to devolve quickly. People could be relied on to overlook small things, and surely a few coins found in the charred warehouse wreck would be pocketed without incident. But the amount of money Malus had reported wasn’t even portable enough to steal with a concerted effort of allied criminals. Even worse, if melted into a solid mass, it would be even more immovable, an incomprehensible mystery to fuel speculations among an already uneasy nobility and merchant population. Garenol sped up as his speculations began to race in his head.

Moving through the open tavern door, Garenol spotted Dorick, chatting from behind the bar with a few customers seated there to enjoy breakfast. He jogged over quickly, slapping his hands down forcefully on the bar, coins clinking underneath one.

“Dorick, I need a horse, do you have one in the stable to spare?” Garenol asked impatiently, interrupting the jovial talk Dorick was engaged in.

Dorick looked up slowly from where he had leaned over the long counter, his laughter dying away, to be replaced by a wry look. He cleared his throat. “Oh certainly, liege, I believe the city coroner’s horse is stabled and available out there right now.”

Garenol’s expression, unflinching, did not betray him. “Look, Dorick,” he said hurriedly, revealing the generous stack of coins, “I need a horse, at least for the day.”

Dorick sighed, tilting his head to judge the height of the stack of gold on his bar. “My horse is in the far back stall, to the left. Be kind to him, he was a gift. The saddle is in the large chest on the wall of his stall.”

“Thanks Dorick,” Garenol said quickly, already turning for the door once again.

“And Garenol,” Dorick said in a schoolmarm’s warning tone, “This,” scraping the coins off the counter into an apron pocket, “is just a rental fee for the day. Make damned sure that animal is returned to me.”

Garenol waved a dismissive hand back over his shoulder as he disappeared through the open doorway, stumbling between two city guards on their way in the door. The two glanced after him briefly, then continued on into the room; the smell too good to bother with an inconsiderate elf.

Garenol ran back down the alley, now unconcerned about the condition of his boots. He leapt the stable’s low gate effortlessly, and yelled at Malus, “Saddle up, be with you in just a moment,” as he ran past the confused man. Malus blinked a few times, and continued to saddle his new mount.

Garenol skidded to a halt at the back of the small stable, looking left into the final stall. In the dim, he could make out a dappled gray stallion, not as tall or broad as Malus’ horse, but rippling with defined muscles under its sleek, smooth skin. Garenol gave a low whistle. Being raised with high bred horses, he recognized a beautiful specimen when he saw one. The noble animal turned at the low whistle, regarding Garenol coolly. He patted the horse on the flank, moving carefully around him to the box that was nailed into the stall’s plank wall. Lifting off the lid, he saw yet another surprise, an elegant Quintheniar riding saddle, crafted by the wood’s dwelling elves of the small nation of Quintheniar, north of Haarkedamia, nestled between the large human empire of Allthoria and the Barrier Peaks.

Garenol lifted the saddle carefully, marveling at its crafting and how little it weighed. A delicate ivy pattern was embossed into the tanned leather, and hand hammered silver metalwork was delicately interwoven where common iron would be found on most saddles. “Some gift,” Garenol said to himself, lowering the saddle back into the box and taking up a saddle blanket. “No wonder he wants it back,” he continued under his breath as he slung the blanket over the animal’s back. “Have to ask old Dorick about what kind of friends he has made in Quintheniar when I get some time.” He continued with the saddle, quickly readying the proud looking horse for riding.

Malus looked around the corner into the stall, “Ready when you are,” he said quietly, eying the horse as Garenol adjusted the stirrups. “Pretty little horse,” he said before disappearing once more around the corner.

Garenol laughed, patting the horse on the flank reassuringly as he swung into the saddle gracefully. “You’ll rue that joke if we are getting chased. This little monster will run circles around that brute Malus stole. Won’t you?” he finished, leaning out over the horse’s neck, taking up the reins. The animal snorted and stamped with its front hooves, obviously ready to move. “My kind of horse,” Garenol said, letting the animal back out of the stall, shaking out its mane and snorting.

He popped the reins lightly, and the excited horse trotted to the stable gate, nosing the wooden gate open and proceeding into the alley, ignoring Malus atop his big mare. Garenol smiled as he bounced past. Malus shook his head, then steered his mount in behind Garenol, following him down the alley onto Meridian Street.

Garenol waited at the entry to the main thoroughfare, trying to find a sufficient gap to steer his mount into the boisterous street traffic. Malus pulled his reins lightly, steering his horse around Garenol’s mount and directly into the street, pedestrians stumbling and diving to get out of his huge mount’s way.

Garenol yelled a belated warning to clear the way when he realized what Malus was doing, then sheepishly steered his own horse into the large wake left by Malus’ passing. He tried his best to ignore the glare of the people on foot that surrounded them both, their eyes numerous and accusing. He gently prodded his horse with his heels, getting as close to Malus as he could.

Malus turned in his saddle, looking back and down at Garenol, who had advanced as close as possible to his large horse. He smirked, “You did say we needed to hurry.”

“Which part of we may be in danger here did you not understand?” Garenol hissed back, deftly maneuvering his mount into a small gap to draw alongside Malus.

“Fine, better a seen enemy and open confrontation than this ridiculous subterfuge and sneaking around,” Malus replied under his breath, looking sideways at Garenol and not paying attention to the crowd scrambling to avoid his horse’s hooves. “Why should we concern ourselves with this money and who finds it? We can’t take it ourselves, so why are we so worried. If someone seeks us, let them come.”

“Malus, whoever brought that money here is running a massive operation of some sort. If it’s Jean Pareil, we need to know how in the dark we really are. If it isn’t, I’m sure that he would want to know that someone with access to huge amounts of Tribunus gold is moving it into Haarkedamia. This is bigger than a couple of minor assassinations.”

“Bigger than Polk?” Malus retorted, the look on his face agitated. “What we do in his death with shake this nation more than money.”

“You don’t get it, fool,” Garenol snapped back, struggling to keep his mount near Malus’ chestnut mare. “What you found is the most important thing right now, we need more information.”

Malus grimaced, pulling his gaze forward over the top of the parting crowds, squinting ahead. “As I said, on your head, Crynus.” He spurred his horse with the heels of his armored boots, the horse bolting forth into the teeming mass of people, toppling a fruit cart. Garenol followed, cursing Malus’ short sighted stupidity. At least he was going to go back to the warehouse with him. Garenol was now worried about an encounter with authorities at the site. He hoped Malus would let him approach the site surreptitiously and gather what information there was to be had.

Malus led the way through the throngs in the streets carelessly, his forceful steering of the large horse creating ripples of resentful, cursing pedestrians at his passing. Garenol fell in line behind him, tiring quickly of trying to move carefully through the crowded streets at Malus’ side, and embarrassed by the looks that he and Malus were receiving. He mumbled to himself as he followed, his hood drawn up over his face to both obscure his features and block the accusing stares. He let his horse fall into step behind Malus, thinking that Malus should at least remember how to get back to the warehouse.

Malus lead the way back to where the warehouse was carefully, taking an occasional turn off the direct path then veering back a block later, watching behind them carefully for anyone following them. Fairly certain that they were still operating unseen, he picked up the pace, letting his mount break into a quicker gait when they entered the more industrial part of town, since the crowds thinned here considerably.

After twenty minutes of riding, Malus brought his horse to an abrupt halt. Garenol’s horse stopped automatically, jolting Garenol out of his disaffected trance. He threw back his hood and took in the surroundings, anonymous warehousing and large workhouses with wide avenues to permit great trade wagons to maneuver between the buildings. The smell of burning wood drifted to his nose, and his features crinkled at the acrid smell, prevalent although they were still blocks away from Karderek’s warehouse.

Malus dismounted, and walked back to where Garenol sat, still mounted on the wiry dappled gray. “We should walk from here.”

“Fair enough,” Garenol replied, swinging out of his saddle, “Where shall we put the horses, valiant leader?”

Malus glared. Turning away from Garenol, he walked back to his mount without a reply, taking the reins and walking the chestnut mare into an alley across the street from where they had stopped. Malus looked up and down the street. Finding no one apparent, he led his mount into the dark alley. Garenol watched this process with amusement. Then he too led his horse into the alley, finding Malus carefully hitching his horse to a drainage pipe leading down from a neighboring rooftop.
Garenol did likewise, while looking back towards the alley entrance. The odd angle of the building here created a blind spot where they were standing: the horses could not be seen from the street. Garenol nodded at the appropriateness of the location. Turning to Malus, he asked. “Would you like to stay here? I can go up from this spot and approach by rooftops.”

“How will I know if I am needed?” Malus replied, his suspicion of this new plan obvious, “We are still at least five blocks away.”

“If things go bad for some reason, you will know,” Garenol said with a sly smile, moving his cloak back away from his limbs, getting ready to climb the drain pipe. “If I am outnumbered, I stop being subtle. You’ll hear it.”

Garenol placed a foot back into his stirrup, stepping up lightly onto the saddle, then pushing off the saddle, jumping without a noise to the drain pipe, his leap carrying him already well up the side of the warehouse. His horse craned his neck to see what had happened, but Garenol was already clambering out of sight over the ridge at the top of the roof.

Malus watched him go, a disapproving look spreading over his face as he reached up to stroke his horse’s mane. Bane would be a good name for you, he thought as he looked at the great beast, amusing himself by thinking of the shocked looks of all the people who’d leapt out of their way earlier. He hoped this detour would alleviate Garenol’s paranoia, he was hungry again.

No comments:

Post a Comment