Ordinary Business 2: White Rain

It was a rare, cold spring night in Skara Brae.  Over the last couple of nights the regular life-giving rain of that city, and the farm lands near it on the mainland, had become a killing frost – all-the-more confusing because, not one week ago, it'd been slightly too hot for early Spring.  But tonight it was cold enough that the sky sputtered some snow which accumulated on top of the cold, frosted ground.

The house pets of Skara looked out their owners' windows, bewildered, knowing they shouldn't be seeing the white rain this time of year, and the few people who were out wore layered clothes for necessity, not fashion.

The chill was undeniable, enhanced by the snow, and distinct from the pleasant chill of Spring coming off the ocean.  This chill was unpleasant.  It wasn't enough to kill by itself, of course, but it reminded everyone that death by Winter freeze and death by Summer sun were about as likely – it all depended on where you were.

Duncan was one of the few who were out.  He leaned against the healers' building, watching the docks closely.  He was wrapped up in his blue cloak, barely visible in the moonlight reflecting off the white rain.  He waited, patient as death, for his prey to appear.  This was ordinary business for Duncan, the day-to-day monotony of his strange, Knightly version of the mercenary's life in between invasions and missions for the Crown – standing around patiently, in places either too warm or too cold, waiting for his bounty, for his prey, to appear.

Tonight's prey was, Duncan'd heard, a good man once.  Once upon a time he'd been a respected guard from Minoc (“preferred weapon: ax” was underlined in Duncan's notes) who'd heard the Fellowship's voice, betrayed Minoc to attack the Royal Guard in that city, and then had escaped John Knighthawke's purge of the Fellowship-connected guards later that night.  Duncan hadn't really known him.  Despite his infiltration of the Fellowship, Duncan had met the prey only once, and would've preferred to just kill the man and be done with it.  He'd be paid either way, but the employer's preference was alive.  

And what the employer wanted, Duncan tried hard to give.  Especially when the employer was a friend.

Duncan's information was that the prey, Duncan couldn't remember the idiot's name just now no matter how hard he tried (it was on the papers if he needed it), would be on the docks tonight to secure an illegal combination of herbs he needed to sustain himself.  There weren't many people on the docks tonight, but Duncan recognized one of them as a peddler of the herbs, so the odds were on Duncan's side, and Duncan's informant was probably right.

Good thing too.  The information had cost Duncan more than he felt like paying and, since he was working for a friend, as a courtesy he wasn't going to add it to the bounty.

Duncan's prey, thinking he was being very sneaky, emerged from the nearby inn, Duncan could just see the entrance around the corner from where he lay in wait, and did his best to skulk up to the peddler.  The prey wore plate armor, helmet and all, plain but effective but it sure didn't help him skulk.  His ax, Duncan noted it had a spike at the front end and thus could be used as short spear, was strapped to his back with a strap design Duncan recognized.  It was a good design – there'd be no realistic hope of catching the prey before he got to his ax, even if Duncan violated the employer's wishes and didn't try to apprehend him first.  

Which, of course, Duncan wouldn't do.  What the employer wanted, Duncan tried hard to give.

Duncan watched the transaction.  They didn't notice him.  The prey and the peddler exchanged bags, the peddler went back into the city proper, and the prey went further out onto the docks.  Duncan wasn't about to let him catch the ferry to the mainland, and risk losing sight of him.  

Duncan speedily approached the prey, and tried to speak the way he'd learned to speak by infiltrating the Fellowship.  To Duncan their manner of speech sounded like John's, if John were psychotic.

“Greetings, brother.  Trust, worth, unity.”  The man hadn't seen Duncan approach and was startled but obviously recognized Duncan once he saw him.

“Greetings, brother.  What brings you here?”

“I could ask the same about you.  For a brother of the Fellowship to be consuming such....Such toxins.  Especially with such obvious intent to not share any.  And to be so selfish as to run from Minoc and make us all look bad.  Come with me back to Minoc and let us surrender you to the authorities.”

“For what?”

Duncan smiled.  “For whatever they say.  Their false order is important to them, and we must put up appearances.”

“I did nothing.”  The prey was getting nervous, it suddenly becoming obvious to him that something was wrong.

Duncan lost patience and dropped the act.  “Don't insult my intelligence you lying twirp.”  The man was actually very large, about six and a half feet tall and built like an ox, but Duncan wasn't in the mood to try to butter him up.  “We both know what you did.  Minoc wants you back alive or you'd be dead already.  So come on now.  You know you'll get a fair chance.”

“None of the Fellowship will get a fair chance!”  Like a flash the ax was in the prey's hands.  Duncan had to give the prey credit – normally Duncan could outdraw most fighters, but not this time.  Duncan didn't bother trying to draw himself just yet.  With the prey having drawn so quickly might as well wait until it was time to draw blood.  “The voice says we must carry on!”

At this point the few others on the docks had heard the altercation, and Duncan was pretty sure he'd seen at least one person leave the docks to find a guard.  It would take a couple of extra minutes to find one at this time of night.  Duncan hoped that was enough.  He had his papers in order and he was well-known in this city, so he wasn't worried about arrest, but the guards interfering during the fight could muck things up badly.  Or, lead to one of them dying needlessly.  That would be troublesome.

“Ain't true and you know it.  Governor Tanda'll be way fairer than you deserve.  Drop that weapon and come home with me.”

The man snarled, an animalistic, predatory noise, and he abruptly stepped forward brought the ax down in a chop.  It was an impulsive move, the resulting swing was wild and ill-aimed, and Duncan easily stepped out of the way and drew his sword and buckler.  The prey tried another swing, from Duncan's sword arm side.  Duncan braced his sword on his buckler, knocked the ax blow aside, and followed up with an awkward thrust at the prey's neck, but Duncan had underestimated the prey's skill.  The prey parried Duncan's thrust with the handle of his ax and followed up with a counter-thrust of his own, toward Duncan's face – had Duncan not stepped back just in time, the spike would've left a hole were Duncan's nose was.  But Duncan stepped back in time.

Even as it was, the spike tore open Duncan's cheek, adding to his various scars.  The prey tried to follow up with a quick pull cut across Duncan's neck but Duncan easily slipped the cut, stepped to the side, and waited for the prey's next move, which came almost instantly as he stepped forward twice and went for another vicious downward chop, angled a little different from the previous chop.  This time Duncan stepped forward, into the attack, and punched the ax aside with his buckler.  The prey, probably expecting Duncan to follow up with his sword, shifted his ax to block from one angle but Duncan punched with the buckler instead, from another angle.  The rim of Duncan's buckler connected with the prey's head, and, even through the prey's helmet, the punch rang the prey's skull like a bell.  Duncan's followed up with another buckler punch, directly to the prey's helmeted face, and smashed the face plate of the helmet into the teeth, knocking out a tooth.

Duncan stepped in further and delivered the death strike – a simple upward sword thrust toward the prey's face.  Duncan's sword found a gap in the armor and drove home, upwards, through the prey's jaw, the squishy matter behind the face, upwards into the brain, and clean out through the top of the prey's helmet.  Duncan withdrew his sword and stepped aside as the prey's now-lifeless body crashed headlong into the docks.

The guards were coming.  Duncan cleaned his sword, sheathed it, and quickly produced the papers the guards would need to see.  They knew him, but they'd still want to see the papers.  It was their duty.

The papers were in order, this was ordinary business for Duncan, and within twenty minutes he was on his way back to Minoc.  The guards didn't let him take the prey's head, but Duncan knew Governor Tanda would take his word that the bounty had been fulfilled.  And that Duncan had tried to apprehend him first.

That's what the employer wanted.  And what the employer wanted, Duncan tried hard to give.

[completed below -- post was slightly too long]


  • Duncan met up with John at the West Britain Bank a few days later, in the early morning hours.  John had Duncan's payment, as he always did – a heavy bag of weighty gold crowns.  John's armor was bloodstained and John's curt explanation chilled Duncan to the core.

    “The Titans have returned.”

    “Since when?”

    “Just a few hours ago.”

    Around sixteen hours later, His Majesty King Blackthorn's Secret Service, with Duncan and Destinie Moon, battled against assassination attempts against Governors Kittie and Dot Warner, and John battled his third wave of the renewed Titan invasion.

    And, somewhere, Duncan was certain, ordinary business continued.
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