Haidley XXIV-XL

Candles. Sallow companions on
nightly errands, warden of
hearth and hospitality. Why
are you black so?

XXXIV

Footfall on damp cold

stone steps sounded wet.

And the flickering torchlight

mocked the procession of

shadowy figures wending slowly

to their goal. The

gaoler, a pleasantly cheerful

soul, led the way,

the great bunch of

keys jangling from his

pleasantly wide girth. He

stopped outside one cell

in particular. He slid

back the flap and

held up his light.

He didn’t really expect

any trouble. “Stand to,

mi amigos. You have

visitors.” He said the

last word with a

spreading slowness that pleased

him. The lock gave way

unexpectedly. He stopped and

examined the key hole.

“What is it?” a

voice demanded. The gaoler

turned. “I don’t know,

Boss. The door is

open.” The gaoler was

quickly pushed aside and

Boss Thormo held up

a light as he

peered into the cell.

Quiet emptiness greeted his

stare. “What is going

on? How did this

happen?” he flustered before

motioning to one of

lackeys. Immediately, he spun

around and sped off.

The rest waited nervously.

The gaoler smiled but

it was more out

nerves than humour, for

there was no humour

in finding your “guests”

(he always called them

guest; that’s why he

was always pleasant and

full of cheer down

here where such a

mood was alien and

viewed as bizarre. But

he was good at

his task and exceeded

as a torturer skilled

and in demand. But

now as he stared

at the trembling back

of his employer, he

felt an almost sense

of gloom descend on

his otherwise happy hacienda.

Thormo’s fury burned inside

but he kept his

fury contained as he

turned around and stalked

away. The others looked

at each for a

moment, confused. But then

raced after their leader

with toady speed and

left the gaoler alone

with his thoughts and

now an empty cell.

“Here, gaoler,” called out

the prisoner opposite who

had been silently watching

and hoping for some

entertainment in this otherwise

gloomy world of dimness

and dripping wetness. “You

looking for them two

who was in there?”

The gaoler smiled at

the familiar voice. He

held up his torch.

“What saw you, Milanda?”

Miland saw the smiling

giant and backed away

just out of reach.

“Nothing other than I

heard one of them

tinker with the lock

before it opened and

out he came, followed

by Hason. You might

want to double bolt

them doors next time.

Sets a bad trend,

you know,” Milanda said.

The gaoler laughed out

loud then; it was

a booming belly roll.

He suddenly slammed at

the cell door. The

sound was thunderous within

that corridor. Milanda covered

his ears from the

sudden ear drum rattle.

The gaoler said nothing

as he turned away.

 

XXXV

In one of the

main Guild chambers, off

to one side, facing

the river, were offices

used daily. Into one

Thormo entered. He sat

down as one of

his men filled a

silver gilt goblet and

handed it over. “Cvisa

will have already alerted

the others. But I

want extra security placed

around the Guild Hall,”

“They’re on the run,

Boss. Why hang around

here?” It was Walso.

“Senna was his den

mother, fool. He’s trying

to find her and

will search high and

low for her. First

place he’ll look after

he’s done his tour

of the city will be

here. So you can

personally go and see

to it that the

Hall has extra security

as of now. Round

the clock. No one

comes in or out

who isn’t a member

of the Guild.” Walso

looked hard at

his leader for a

moment before slowly heading

for the door, followed

by his lieutenants. Thormo

hated Walso but put

up with him because

he had a strong

following who would cause

him grief right now.

And he had busier

things to deal with

right now. “The little

turd has finally decided

to grow some balls.

Well, let’s see if

he can use them,

shall we.” He gave

further instructions. The room

quickly vacated until only

Thormo and a couple

others were left. One

was female. She was

nondescript for the most

part. The other was

tall and menacing looking.

He wore a broad

brimmed hat that added

more menace for good

measure. “You think he

will return?” Thormo nodded.

“Of course, Laps. Once

he realises Senna was

here all along, he’ll

be back.” Laps laughed,

a quick stabbing chuckle.

“Why bother with all

this, then? Does it

amuse you to prolong

his torment? You should

put him out of

misery once and for

all. I might even

loan the services of

my Watcher if you

wish it.” Thormo glanced

up at Laps, now seated

opposite him, his long

legs almost touching his

own thick limbs. “It

has proven entertaining all

these years. But I

still haven’t forgiven him.

Once he has lost

everything, then will I

be appeased. Senna’s death

is just a flavouring.”

Laps stared hard at

his employer. “As long

as it doesn’t interfere

with our plans then

do as you please.

But let me advise

as someone with vested

interest in your continued

success: if this game

you’re playing gets out

of hand, I won’t

hesitate to step in.”

Without waiting for a

response, Laps and his

companion quietly left. The

mechanical sound of a

pendulum clock now kept

company and time with

the corpulent Guild leader.

 

XXXVI

Klax looked surprised when

the door suddenly flung

open and into the

tiny ramshackle hut that

now served as the

last refuge of the

Ravens. He hastily grabbed

at the staff nearby

but he quickly relaxed

when he realised who

it was. He was

alone, guarding their haven

while what remained of

the once thriving Ravens

worked the river dives

and nearby shanties. It

was all they could

to survive. He smiled

weakly as the ragged

trio entered. Their

urchin faces were glum.

“No luck tonight, Klax,”

said one, a girl

taller than the other

two who looked like

twins. They seemed sleepy.

Klax nodded and sat

back at his table.

The trio made for

their bed, a rough

pallet with a shredded

cloth dirty and patched.

Klax pulled out a

bundle, unwrapped it on

the bench seat that

also served as table.

It was the remains

of black bread. The

trio’s eyes lit up.

Klax broke it into

several pieces and slowly

handed each a portion.

The twins gobbled theirs

unashamedly. Klax looked at

his and then broke

it into two and

handed it to both.

Quickly as they took

it, it was gone.

The little girl smiled

and handed them hers.

“I will go out,

Tyla. Keep it bolted

until I return. OK?”

Tyla nodded as Klax

quickly stepped outside and

into the night. She

bolted it and then

lay down beside the

twins snuggling each other

for warmth. The icy

wind swept through and

dimmed the tiny glowing

brazier that served as

their only heater. Tyla

lay awake listening the

wind and hoped that

Klax would be safe.

 

XXXVII

Tonight was a bad

night. Winter was still

weeks away but already

the icy winds sweeping

down from the northern

mountains were being felt

even in the capital. Klax

made for his usual

place of operations. A

few pockets later, he

was warming himself inside

the local inn where

he met contacts and

clients. He tried to

keep his presence low

because of the ban

on the Ravens but

the clan had been

virtually scattered to the

four winds. Senna was

dead and so were

his old friends. He raised

his tankard in silent

salute. “Ho Kezo, what

brings you out tonight.

Surely the river has

shut shop on you?”

Klax looked up. It

was Delog, an associate

who nonetheless was a

grumpy argumentative type fond

of the amber too

much. He pulled his

tankard in closer to

his chest, also depository

of tonight’s takings. He

smiled. “Not much, you

old fart dog. Thought

Sheerza had you on

a leash. Besides, it’s

way too cold for

you.” Delog waved for

service as he clapped

the shoulders of Klax

hard and shoved himself

alongside the empty booth.

“Still working then?” Delog

leaned closer. He was

a former thief who

had somehow gotten respectable,

but not too respectable

that he didn’t freelance

every now and then.

Klax often helped when

the job was bigger

than your usual cutpurse

stuff and rough down.

Klax shrugged but said

nothing. The tankards arrived.

Both downed the obligatory

toast before Delog started.

“I hear there’s a

late arrival down by

the ferry station. Interested?

 

XXXVIII

The Raven’s old home

was called the Nest.

It was a tall

tenement on Fish Lane.

If the stench didn’t

deter many, then the

falling debris launched from

many a dwelling above

might. No one respectable

ever ended up here

however – if they had

sense – unless blind or

lost. Haidley looked up

for any familiar sign

but all was quiet.

The fire had destroyed

much of its upper

storeys. The lower storeys

were still occupied but

mostly by squatters now.

“Nice,” said Hason. “Summer

holiday house is it?”

Got that airy feel

to it, what with

those open burnt timbers.”

Haidley ignored his new

friend’s comments. He was

listening for anything familiar.

But there were no

signs his familia was

still here. “Wait here.”

He moved from shadow

to shadow, listening for

any sign of danger.

But the icy winds

were the only sounds

he heard. Or felt.

He shivered a little.

He still wore his

southern clothes. A cat

mewed. Another joined in.

Then somewhere overhead a

dog barked. Haidley never

saw the blow but

a sudden fortuitous stumble

prevented the blow from

being fatal. He fell,

shouting out in pain

as he did. Hands

roughly grabbed him. He

tried to struggle but

he was still reeling.

“Hurry up, you idiots.”

That was the last

thing Haidley heard or felt.

 

XXXIX

Klax and Delog made

their way slowly to

the river station as discussed.

A late ferry indeed

arriving. A laden cargo

train of several teams

with heavy escort was

crossing over from the

eastern side of the

river.  The heavy escort

alone told both men

this arrival was somehow

special. “How’d you find

out about this, Delog?”

Klax asked as they

watched the ferry crossing

in this whipping windstorm.

“By sheer luck, Klax.

A client of mine knows

someone who knows this

important City official who

happens to be the

Customs Officer for this

entire stretch of the

King’s River. Seems there’s

a delivery of precious

items on its way

to the Winter Residence.

Art works, furnishings, and

the like. Some of

extremely precious and valuable.”

Klax looked at the

scene from their vantage

point. There was bustle

down at the ferry

station. But much of

it was official looking

and there was hardly

anyone else. But he

knew just because it

looked empty didn’t mean

it was. “The Guild

know about this then?”

It was more a

statement than a question.

Delog turned to his

friend and slapped him

hard. He was fond

of doing that to

those he liked especially.

“Of course, they’re also

waiting so they can

join in offloading it..

See?” He pointed to

a building close to

the river. Klax saw

the group hanging out

of sight. He’d not

seen that one, but

he knew there were

a couple of others

about. “Well, how are

we going to get

our share, Mr Knowbody?”

“Easy. We rob the

robbers.” Klax almost gagged.

“Are you mad? That’s

the Guild down there

and a couple of

independents as well. You

and I wouldn’t stand

a chance. We’d be

cut down before we

even get within ten

paces of them. And

if we did, how

are to cart our

booty?” “Simple, I got

help,” replied Delog. “Got

my own crew too.

Handy too in both

areas. They’re waiting over

there.” He pointed to

another building. “Come on.

I’ll introduce you to

the crew. You might

know a few. Coming?”

Delog was already moving

as Klax tried to

figure if his associate

was either serious, mad

or just plain both.

He decided both as

he reluctantly followed.

 

XL

Hason waited behind a

wall as instructed. And

waited. Finally, his curiosity

overcame his sensible self:

“Stay right where you

are, dufus.” He was

never one to listen

to any advice, even

his own. By now,

the wind had picked

up. He could barely

see for the gusts

buffeting him. He followed

Haidley’s route, sticking to

the shadows as well.

He passed the ambush

spot and went up

the first door. He

tried it. Locked or

barred solid. He

tried the next. Same

result. He tried all

the doors and realised

that Haidley had not

come this way. Where

was his new-found

friend? He retraced his

steps. But it seemed

as if his friend

had disappeared completely. Hason

stood there for a

moment and wondered what

next. “Got no idea!”

was all he could

think of saying back.

 

© 2017 L. Tafa

 

 

 

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Author: b20f08

I enjoy solo wargaming and writing. The first caters to the boy that never grew up; the latter satisfies a deep desire to communicate. Cheers.

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