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Vol.3, Ch.7, P.7

 

The viscounty of Tallien. West Londosius.

Beside a busy street stood a building, like an old and upright loaf of bread, encrusted in tired and dusty masonry. Yet more to it there was than meets the eye, for this was the very guildhall to the mercenaries of this land. And as one might imagine, the lion’s share of the patrons passing through its doors were of the roguish persuasion: rough at the edges and edged to the roots, to put it brightly. There, coming out: a scowling brute, bald-pated and bristle-bearded. Shoving him aside: another knave, with nary a shirt over his shoulders, as though to gloat of the gash-scar running across his bare, hulking bosom.

Mind not the ensuing brawl between them, and inside would one find the usual bustle, brimming with mercenaries on business and banter-making. Though myriad were their miens, the soldiers-of-fortune all shared the same shimmer in their eyes, like the glint of a razor blade or the glare of a feline, livid and like to lash at any moment. And lash they did, for as outside, so inside: scuffles and fisticuffs were had on the daily here, and today seemed no different. Above the background of grunts, grumbles, and guffaws, there thundered voices virulent: two many-muscled men were at it, clutching each other’s collars and screaming into each other’s eyes.

“Spits that ‘gain an’ I’ll spits ya through to the ‘ilt, I will!!”

“Not ‘fore I nips ya knickers-sniffin’ knob off!!”

The very air shuddered under their ire. But as to the “why” of their wildness, none of the others in that parlour knew, nor had a particular care for even if they had done.

Save, that is, for one unenviable soul.

“Gentles, gentles!” came a cry. “Come, let’s be civil, shall we!”

Common, certainly, were such commotions. But this guild had an operation to run, and roughhousing was not to be suffered. And so beside the two brutes appeared a young man, one of many clerks to this establishment, hopelessly hoping to halt the squabble. A pity, then, that he went wholly unheeded, for the heat between the brutes only burgeoned from there on.

“Ya beggin’ for an’ early grave, mate!” screamed one.

“Not as early as yours, coz!” screamed the other. “When I spades it with that splint ya fancies a sword!”

“N-n-n-no no no!” stammered the guild clerk. “Not here, men! No scraps, no scuffles, no spars on guild premises…!”

The clerk then yelped asudden, for bared now between the firebrands were blades live and ready to let rip. Alas, what was to be a usual dispute seemed tottering towards an unusual disaster.

“Time t’dance, dung-licker!!”

Lost were their marbles, these two, as was the colour on the clerk’s face as he blanched back from the bloody clash to come. But just before things could boil over, stepping into the scene was a new figure.

“Time to sit, you mean.”

Its words: soft, yet stern. Its intervention: valiant, and yet ill-advised. For these were brutes with bulging veins and volcanic blades; two bears in a bout, between whom none of right mind ought mingle. Passing strange, then, that the selfsame bout stood now in silent suspension.

Indeed, with blades yet held aloft, the brutes turned to the intruding figure.

And felt upon their cheeks a chilling sweat.

“O… ofh…” one gulped.

“M… mornin’ to ya, Frieda,” the other whispered ditheringly.

The figure affrighting them was but a woman, slender and delicate, a twig afore the two bough-like brutes. Yet she only sighed at them, and brushing aside her shoulder-length locks of amber, gave them both a hard look.

“‘Mornin’,’ you say?” she echoed. “Fancyin’ some blades for brekkie, I take it?”

“N-no, ma’am… We er… we gots a mite too ‘ot an’ ‘airy-like, we did. Heh…”

“A-aye, that! B-bad boys we is, bad! This be, er, g-guild prem’ses! Ain’t no place for swashbucklin’, oh no no!”

The two then sheepishly apologised to this Frieda, all the while averting their eyes like two urchins caught amidst some mischief. And once their blades were full-sheathed, the quivering clerk scrambled up beside Frieda with a most grateful gaze.

“Oh, bless you, Frieda!” he cried. “You could not’ve come any sooner! I was right ‘fraid we’d have ‘nother mash to mop up…”

“Think naught o’ it. Now,” Frieda said, turning next to the hotheads, “what in heavens were you two cats croakin’ ‘bout?”

“Ah…” the slightly braver brute began, “…eh, ahah! It uh, er, we was ehm… i-it weren’t nothin’, really. J-jus’ er… jus’ pickin’ ‘tween wot’s better! A woman, wearin’ smalls or eh… the wind… as they says. Heheh.”

“Handsome hills to die on,” Frieda quipped, squinting her eyes sharply before giving another sigh. “A woman wears what she damn’d well wishes, an’ that’s that.”

“Yea! Exact as me thinkin’!” the two answered in unison. And then, yet blissfully unashamed and sweating down the ridges of their rugged faces, the brutes broke a simper and blathered on.

“S-so er… w-wot ‘bout you, eh Frieda? You er…” one ventured, “…you wearin’ the wind?”

“Flyin’ free-like’s the fad ‘mongst maidens as yourself!” the other giggled.

Frieda stamped her foot. “Blow that ‘wind’ any woman’s way ‘gain an’ I’ll have your heads ‘flyin’ free-like’, I will!”

“S-s-s-sssorry, ma’am!” stuttered the left brute, pressing his palms together in prayer.

“I-it’s ‘igh time we shog’d, innit!” yelped the right. “F-fair day to ya, Frieda!”

About-facing, the brutes sprang away, but no sooner did they make two strides than were they stopped full by Frieda’s voice.

“Hold ‘em hamhocks,” she hissed at their backs. “Don’t be thinkin’ I’m blind to the chinks an’ chips on your falchions. Haven’t I told you a hundred times ‘fore? A happy tool today—”

“—doubles the coin t’morrow!” the brutes yipped together. Turning back to Frieda, they stood at attention, entirely sapped of all the ire raging only moments before.

“Very good,” Frieda nodded. “Now get yourselves to the smith’s, lest you like livin’ one chip ‘way from trouble, you hear?”

“Th-that we wills, ma’am!”

“J-jus’ ease ‘em eyes o’ yours, can ya? Else I sleeps bad t’night!”

Sore from the scolding, the two men then bowed and quit the guildhall, the pathetic pucker on their faces scarce wearing off till many a stride down the street. Yet without mistake, somewhere in their miens sang a tinge of mirth. Frieda’s words had been as barbs upon their ears, sure, but deep down inside, the men understood very well that she would not have admonished them so if not for her genuine worry for their wellbeing. Such was not lost to the surrounding sellswords, who, having witnessed the scene, returned to their businesses with warmth in their eyes.

They were all of them quite fond of this Frieda, for she was, to them, a beacon lit by strength itself, inspiring and awe-sparking. Yet in such light did they feel, too, the glow of her good and honest nature. Theirs was a cruel, cutthroat industry, after all, and more or less did they deal with death on the daily. And so for a fellow freelance like Frieda to show a sincere care for them was worth more than the finest coin or the fattest coffer.

“Oi,” whispered a sproutling of a sellsword sat in a corner. “Who’s that bird? She’s a proper belle if I’ve ever seen one. Wot’s a man gots to do to spend a night with ‘er, ey?”

“Hemph. She’s out o’ your league, mate. An’ even if she weren’t, I reckons you’ll spend the night on the barber’s table ‘fore ya spends a minute on ‘er bed, if ya catches me drift,” answered a veteran sat anear. “Take a gander; ya makes a move on Frieda, ya makes an en’my out o’ all the gentles ya sees ‘ere.”

Frieda was ever a force to be reckoned with, and withal a name heard by many ears. But of late was she even more so: keener was her blade, and in the words of those with an eye for subtlety, she now showed more petals to her personhood, as it were.

About half a year prior had the freelance been involved in an incident in another province. To wit: the prosecution and arrest of the lord and son of House Albeck for the sin-steeped tragedies wrought deep in their manor. The whole adventure seemed to have sparked some change in Frieda, for very soon after her return, she began plying herself with a fervour never before seen in all her years. And so, as they say, the rest was history: with industry most diligent, Frieda earned merit after merit over the following moons, becoming an even brighter lodestar within her circles.

And as well, an object of adoration amongst her more… “lusty” colleagues, if their bawdy breaths were aught to go by.

“Right then,” said the guild clerk, “what bus’ness’ve you got today, my good Frieda?”

“Ah. Remember the reek what’s been harryin’ the highstreet? Well, thieves in the thick o’ night they were,” Frieda reported to him. “Had ‘em all roped an’ rounded up easy-like, an’ now they’re brewin’ in the bailiffs’.”

“The bailiffs’, you said? Already?” the clerk returned with brows raised high. “Hwoh! Speedy as ever, eh Frieda!”

A blush bloomed upon his face. Hearing of Frieda’s triumphs, if even on the daily, seemed ever the delight of his day.

But the freelance herself only sighed. “They’ll be wantin’ for gaol space, I’m ‘fraid: more worms to this wood than I’d like,” she continued with some concern. “Remember, too, the ruffians lordin’ it over in doss-town? Well, the ones I busted might’ve been lads from their lot, caught right in the middle o’ warmin’ up—to make ‘nother hold out o’ the highstreet someday. Goodness knows how long they’ve been keen on it.”

“Ah. The pieces do fit, I’ll give you that,” the clerk nodded. “Duly noted, then. The guild’ll have eyes on it, I assure you.”

With that, the clerk began scribbling intently upon a notebook from his pocket. But upon finishing, he looked up, and there Frieda found in his eyes a rather disarming greyness. After a quick glance about, the clerk leant close to her, and cupping his mouth, said:

“Frieda, have you heard tell? The sky’s fallen—down on Ström, that is.”

 

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