So I drew a blank on Chuck Wendig’s last challenge, and to make up for that I’ve written a longer piece for this week’s challenge… or all bullshit a side, I couldn’t figure out how to tell this story with only 1000 words. I totally cheated and let my story clock in at around the 1500 word mark. So I totally broke the rules. I already feel guilty.
By Trine Toft Schmidt
The alley behind the Sailor’s Whim was dark and stank of rotting vegetables and human waste. I wrinkled my nose and carefully stepped around a pool of something slimy that oozed out of a tipped over barrel. My mistress, of course skipped over it like it was a crack in a paving stone. Her tingling laughter made it back to me as she ran ahead.
“Come on Montrose. It is nothing worse than what is thrown on the midden every day.” I shook my head. Perhaps not, but the King’s midden was still better than Western Quarter squalor.
Every now and again a squeal of laughter and the sound of moaning drifted down from the top floor of the tavern and mixed with the music from the common rooms. Tavern and brothel. Typical harbour slum. This was what the king’s grace had saved me from.
Mistress Vanity slipped up to the door, a heavy solid oak wood slap, and knocked. She smiled at me over her shoulder and adjusted the hood of her cloak.
The door pushed open and a giant of a man put his ugly head out of the gap.
“What do you want?” His voice was deep and gravelly. My mistress head barely reached his chest.
“I come to sing for the bird.”
“Oh aye?” He gave her a squinty look and then turned his eyes to me. “And what kind of duet are you two cats going to sing to the bird?” His grin gave away the thoughts he had on the matter.
“One that is none of your business.” She stared him right in the eyes until he grunted and stepped back a little. I had to squeeze up against him to get by, as I passed him he put a hand around my back and pulled me closer.
“Maybe this cat could purr for me instead?” he said with a leer. But my mistress’s dagger flashed and blood welled up on the man’s arm. He let me go with a stunned look.
“We only sing for the Raven. Take us to him.” Her voice was as steely as the dagger dripping red in her hand. He glared at her, and then pointed to a closed door at the back of the room. With bouncing steps she went through the door as if she had no care in the world.
The room was bare except for a table and the man behind it. The Raven sat, his chair tipped back and his feet resting on the edge of the table. He was smiling at my mistress as if she was an anticipated guest.
“My Lady.” His voice was deep and silken.
She inclined her head.
“Raven.” She paused for a second. “Or should I call you Mister De’Wint?”
Only a hand shot out to grap the edge of the table saved him from tumbling to the floor. He straightened up and the chair tipped forward until it rested on all four legs again.
“You have me at an disadvantage my lady. I do not know your name.” He turned his smile on again, a smile that had surely melted many a maiden’s heart. That he was a ruthless killer by reputation probably made him more attractive.
“You may call me Mistress Vainity.”
“Mistress Vanity.” He tasted the words as if they were exquisite wine. “And what can I do for you my lady?” He had still to lay eyes on me.
“I come to negotiate.”
“Oh? And what it is you wish to negotiate?”
“The price for your business.” For a few seconds the silence was deafening, but then a roar of laughter filled the room. Something creaked behind me but when I turned there was nothing there.
“My business? And what do a little girl like yourself want with my business?” His eyes were glistening with tears of mirth and he wiped them away with the back of his arm.
Mistress Vanity smiled. She was enjoying this, I could see it in the way she carefully pushed back the cloak to reveal the low cut red dress she’d insisted on wearing. It had made shimmering down the rope ladder a precarious job, but now it made sense.
The Raven was apparantly not without appreciation for her beauty, his jaw tightened and the beat of blood in his veins picked up speed.
“I want your little side business here. You can keep the gambling dens and the opium trade. I just want the whore houses.”
He blinked slowly and suddenly he was a feline on guard, his eyes hard and piercing, his teeth slightly bared. But he said nothing and my mistress plowed ahead
“I saw your likeness plastered on a church door. A rather hefty reward was mentioned. I know your true name, Raven. A name it is said you have killed many a man to conceal.”
“And what makes you think I will not kill you too?” He stood up. His gait was loose and relaxed, a panther prowling, as he sauntered around the table.
She slid her hand into her bodice and it came back up with the thin, deadly dagger her father had gotten her for her tenth birthday. She held it up in front of him, showed him the blood that still coated it.
The Raven rolled his eyes, flickered a hand and before we could react a man grapped my mistress and held a nasty curved dagger to her neck. An arm shot around me and encircled my throat rather unpleasently, and I felt the prick of a knife just under my chin. A smirk was spreading on Raven’s lips.
“You’ve got balls little girl, I’ll give you that, but this is a game for grown men so I suggest you go back to your teapots and teddybears.” He waved a hand and the man behind her relaxed his hold on her. She eyed him carefully and tapped her foot twice on the floor.
I slammed back my elbows, into the soft belly of the man behind me, drew out my own knife, and stabbed it hard backwards hitting something soft. There was a whoosh of air, and the man fell to the ground. I swung around, jabbed the knife at the man who held my mistress, and before anyone could even breathe I was behind Raven, the tip of my knife resting gently against the throb of pulse under his ear.
“I would say I’ve got more than balls.” Mistress Vanity bowed her head and smiled. The Raven held himself quiet. “And I would say you are not in a position to make petty jokes about my age.” She wiped her knife on his shirt and slid it back into the bodice of her dress.
He crimped his mouth in a thoughtful gesture without breaking eye contact with her.
“If you know what is good for you, you will leave now and never come back.” His voice betrayed no fear.
“You think you can make threats now, Raven. With a knife to your throat?”
“You have one thing to learn little girl.” He said and I pressed the knife a little further into his skin.
“And what is that?”
“Yes, waltzing in here, putting all your cards on the table.” His laughter rumbled in his chest, I could feel it through the knife. “You think you can surprise me, pulling my name out of your bodice like that? I am sure that my name will do me far better than yours ever will Mistress Vanity.” He paused. “Or should I call you Princess Teeana?”
I watched as all color drained from her face. Raven laughed.
“You think that your little shadow there,” he cast his head back toward me, “has been forgotten here? That we of the West Quarter have forgotten the little girl torn from her mother’s tit by our gracious king? That you robbed her of her name and her family, to be bonded to you for the rest of her life? Living in the shadow of a spoiled little brat who is not satisfied with the plenty she has? And now you traipse in here flaunting what you took from us and think you can take the rest?”
He shook his head.
“No Princess Teeana. You can have your little slave twin here cut my throat, and spill my blood, but my spirit will fly again. It flies in the blood of all the men and women your precious forefathers have oppressed, and it flies in the blood of those you have stolen. Even if they do not know it yet.”
My mistress was silent for a moment but then leaned in. Her face was white as the cotton sheet on our bed, her mouth twisted into a grim expression.”
“For a man who claims to know so much Raven, you are utterly clueless.”