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Gambits - The White Pawn IX

The White Pawn IX

Madam Fiona was entertaining a couple of patrons when William found her. It took some effort to pull her away, and the men were not too pleased with it either. But after seeing the look on William's face, they backed down and moved on. He turned his attention to Madam Fiona.

She was a shorter woman with light brown skin and long dark curls of hair. She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head in annoyance, "What the hell do you want?"

"The wine cellar, there's been a serious problem, we need to talk in private."

Fiona rolled her eyes and dropped her voice to a whisper, "Ohh shit, you didn't kill that man did you?"

William said nothing more.

She scoffed and said, "Fine then, follow me." She then led him up the stairs, all the way to the third floor. And when the hall was empty she slid open a small panel on the wall and pulled down on the wooden handle attached to a thin rope. A stairway unfolded from the ceiling and Fiona climbed, signaling for William to follow her.

They climbed to a small fourth floor, which was little more than a moderate sized bedroom. Fiona pulled up the folding ladder and said, "No one will find, nor hear us in here. Now, what is it that's the problem?"

William took a look around the room, it was mostly empty save for a single feather bed, piled with blankets and a pillow, a medium sized dresser, where a lamp sat with a low burning flame, and a small cabinet. Fiona turned up the flame on the lamp and William could also see a square table and some chairs off in the corner of the room; previously hidden in the dark.

"Wow this place sure is full of secret areas," William commented while he eyed the room. "Kind of like that secret passage in the wine cellar." He turned to glare at Fiona.

She sighed and brushed a lock of dark hair out of her face. "Why don't you set up that table and a couple of seats for us hun?" Her accent receded to the lower, and slightly thick, tone of the coastal people.

William watched her all the while as he pulled out the table, surprised to find it wasn't covered with any dust, and chairs. Fiona went into her small cabinet and pulled out a bottle of some caramel colored liquid, and two small glass cups. They took seats opposite on the table, and she poured them both drinks from the bottle into the cups.

He waited until she had her drink before taking his. It was sweet, yet bitter, and burned his throat. He groaned then asked, "This isn't wine or ale?"

"No this is a coastal drink, they call it liquor," Fiona said, filling the cups again. William drank his second glass more slowly, enjoying the bittersweet drink. "Tastes better, will get you drunk faster, and costs three silver bits for a small bottle. It's my private collection. So what's wrong?"

"The secret passages, the ones the Royals were rumored to have built going all under the city. Guess they're real."

"Yeah hun, they're real."

"And one of them just so happens to lead out into your wine cellar," he said suspiciously.

"Well the Black Swan is as old as the city, of course, we have a route in the Royals escape tunnels." She poured them some more liquor. "I inherited this brothel from my grandmother. My mom never wanted it and she took me to live on the coast with our father. But they both died from a pirate raid, I returned here, a girl of fourteen. I was then trained in the art of pleasuring men, and learning how to run a business.

"Not a dream life but it pays well, and you meet some colorful people. My grandmother showed me the secret passage a year before she passed, she said that every generation or two the Royals would sneak in here through the passages, sometimes for a whore, sometimes to meet their secret lovers. Although it only opens from the other side, so it's not of much use to me, but I still keep the area cleared and the lanterns in the cellar lit, in case any Royals need to sneak through."

"And how did your grandmother gain access to the other side of the tunnels? Does she seduce an older king's guard into letting her through the castle and to the passages? Because the castle is the only way I know of to enter those passages."

Fiona shot him a look, "You know an awful lot about them secret passages for a Sky Cloak."

"My father told me, he knew a lot of stuff about the world, and this city." His tone turned melancholy at the end.

"Well there's another place in this city, somewhere east is all I know, where there's outside access to the secret passages. It's supposed to be super hidden, though."

William brooded in silence for a time while Fiona kept sipping at her drink. "I have some questions about the whore who helped us lure Lewis into the cellar," William eventually asked, "Where might I find her?"

"You mean Kenna? I believed she was with you guys, I haven't seen her since last evening. Had to lend out her room for another girl to use."

"Kenna?" William asked bewildered. "I thought her name was Gem?"

"Sugar I ain't got no girl here named 'Gem.' Jewel is the closest girl I got to name like that."

"Wait, describe this whore, Kenna? Describe her appearance, hair color, and eyes." William demanded, fearing the result,

"Let's see she's light brown hair, uhh brown eyes, she's-"

William slammed his fist on the table in anger, interrupting Fiona. He was deceived once again, just like the boy guard. This Gem woman was leading him on.

Fiona put aside the bottle and glared at William, "Now it's your turn to answer some questions. That guard, did you guys kill him down there?"

William scowled at her, but she kept her composure, "We'll take care of the corpse."

Fiona chuckled, "Yea, how you planning to sneak the body out of the cellar with the place busy by night. And the streets teeming with life by day?"

William looked down, he didn't anticipate on killing Lewis here. So he had to plan to sneak his corpse out without being seen.

After his silence answered for him, Fiona said, "Lend me a few of your men and give me five gold bits and I'll take care of the body."

"Five gold bits?" William gasped. "That's outrageous."

"You murdered a fellow captain in my brothel after, what I can only guess, torturing him. Had I know you would kill him I would never have agreed to any of this. Besides my silence is also included in the price."

"Where it wasn't before?" William growled. He knew that she expected them to kill the captain, otherwise, it would have come back on her and she wasn't stupid enough for that; as he was just now learning. But he had no right to take a moral high ground with her after what he'd done.

Reluctantly accepting the deal William said, "I don't have that kind of coin on hand."

"Fine," Fiona said with a tone of annoyance. "Leave a few of your men and we'll dispose of the body this morning after sunrise. The longer we wait on it, the harder it will be, given the stench and all. But I'll have my coins by weeks end, else-wise I sing like a Canary bird."

After Derren returned, having found no trace of Gem, William explained the new situation to him. "What do we do now?" Derren asked after William finished.

"There's nothing we can do for now," William said with a yawn. "Pay the madam her gold, and leave a few of your men. After that do whatever you wish, I'm going home to rest."

"Cheer up blue boy, you'll get em this time," Neil said mockingly while pouring another cup of ale.

"Kiss my boot," William retorted, grabbing the cup and gulping the ale down. The whole day went by and he thought of nothing, even after he walked around the entire city; mostly Raven Street, though. Captain Gren's disappearance was hardly noticed that first day, but it wouldn't be long before his absence caught on. He didn't much care how the captain’s body was disposed of, just so long as it didn't lead back to him.

He couldn't afford being thrown in the dungeon, not when he was getting closer to the killer each day. That night, however, with no more leads he could think of, he needed a drink; or ten. He'd told Neil most of what had happened of late, he trusted Neil more than anyone in the city. Somedays he wished Neil would join the guards with him, but Neil loved his tavern, and his job; besides all that, he offered to tell William of anything useful others may have spoken in here that he heard, but silence was the word.

"Besides I thought you stopped calling me that since I became a captain and changed uniforms."

Neil took a long drink from his own cup before answering, "You'll always be a blue boy to me. I just don't call you it as much, well mostly behind yer back." He chuckled.

"It's just the same as before," he said disheartened. "I pick up a trail but it goes cold so fast, the tracks are wiped clear as soon as they form."

"Talking about your dad aye?"

"I know they're related somehow." He sighed and took another drink from his cup.

"So this is the famous tavern on Bulwark Street," Derren said, taking a seat next to William. Neil poured him a drink, even though he didn't order one. "I heard you come here frequently, among many of the guards."

William gave no response.

"We should go somewhere a little more private to talk, no?" Derren whispered, glancing around the tavern full of thirsty patrons.

"I'm sure as hell not planning on walking down more dark cellars to whisper this stuff," William replied, too drunk to care. Yet sober enough not to say too much. "Anyways I'm all out of leads, needed the night off."

"I've been out all day searching for clues, I found nothing, though."

"Welcome to the club," William held up his cup, in a strange toast fashion.

Derren rolled his eyes, but clicked his cup against William's then drank. "Just the one thing I can't figure out."

"What's that?" William asked, only half caring.

"The boy you met, the one pretending to be a guard, why did he put us onto Lewis in the first place? I mean if they were going just to kill him, then why bother putting us through the trouble of interrogating him like that, and getting so many answers out of him?"

They were both silent for a time until William thought of something. "Oh shit!" he gasped. "The guard."

"What guard?"

"Captain Gren's man, he told us he had one of his men tail the guy who brought him the ale kegs. That's why they went through all this effort, they wanted us to torture answers out of Lewis while they sat back listening."

Derren finished off his drink, the stuff was great he would have to come back for more, "Then we need to find him first."

They both rose from their seats, leaving the tavern in a rush and heading to the barracks. They didn't know which man it was that tailed the mysterious conspirator but they had to find him fast, for the killers would already be looking for him. As they walked down the street the shadows around them seemed to grow and sudden suspicion seeped into William.

"Hold up!" He said, stopping suddenly.

Derren was a few steps ahead before stopping. Turning to William, he said, "We don't have time to hold up the killers may have already found captain Gren's man."

Or maybe you're working with them, a snickering voice seemed to whisper gently into William’s ear. He did a quick look around him, but it was just him and Derren in the shadows. Using me to root out any missing, or hidden leads. Almost without control William spoke the words whispering to him accusingly at Derren.

"What are you drunk?" Derren half shouted. "Where the hell is this coming from, I thought you trusted me."

"I thought I did too but now that I think about it, this is all your fault."

"Oh, yea, and how do you figure that?" Derren asked hotly, taking a step closer.

"You're the one who set up the location where Gren died before he could finish telling me what I needed to know. And it was you and your men that 'chased' his killer down there. How do I know you didn't let him get away on purpose?"

"You're the one who came to me for help in this. You're the one torturing fellow guards, maybe you're just covering your own tracks."

William spit at his feet.

"I should have left you for dead in Borx alley," Derren sneered.

And before either of them knew it they both had their swords unsheathed, and tightened in the grip of their palms.

The intense light from a strong burning lantern interrupted them as an elderly man walked by. Carrying the lantern at the end of a rod in front of him. "You boys alright?" He asked them.

They both rubbed their heads, the last several minutes feeling blurry. "Yea, we're fine," William managed to say.

The elder man clicked his tongue and said, "Well best not to linger here in the dark. Strange things happen when the shadows lengthen. Give me a minute here though I'll have this postern lit back up."

Neither of them noticed right away but the postern lamp where they were arguing under was out. That part of the street was uncommonly dark before the elder man came by. Soon enough he had the lamp lit again and he nodded to them before walking away. Muttering something incoherent, but probably insulting given the tone, under his breath as he walked away.

"We need to involve commander Jorden in this," Derren said as they continued their walk.

"You're right, we need his permission to question Captain Gren's men. But we can't tell him the truth, so what do we say?"

"We lie, obviously. But we need to think of something fast, it's not that long of a walk from here to the barracks and the commander’s office."

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