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Gambits - The White Pawn XI

The White Pawn XI

William and Derren sat in a secluded back room at Niel’s tavern, away from prying eyes and ears. It was neither large nor small, with only one way in or out that leads into the back hall. Neil left them a small ale keg and William tossed him a silver bit. At first, he was alone, content to drink until he passed out until Derren finally caught up to him. He barely made it through his second cup.

"So ready to explain things?" Derren asked, sitting back in his chair with a sullen look on his face.

William had left the sages corner in such haste Derren had to run to catch up with him. He asked what he found out, but after William stopped and took a breath, all he said was that he needed a drink. Derren's further questions provoked him and William told him to find some guards to put on vigil duty at the corners office. "You have the promise to keep, remember?" William sneered.

As he turned to go Derren caught his arm, his grip so tight it started to hurt William. He was stronger than he looked. "This conversation isn't over, got it?"

William shrugged his arm off and growled at Derren before walking off.

"It all goes way above my head," He grumbled. "Above the commander's head too."

"What does? What did that man say exactly?"

William filled his cup from the small keg, taking a drink before answering. "The man seen talking with the hooded stranger had a red uniform on, with a golden crown embroidered on the doublet."

"A crown on the doublet... The royal guards?"

"And the golden bit goes to captain piss hair." William was slurring some of his words.

"Gods you're drunk," Derren sighed.

"Not nearly enough." He took another drink from his cup.

Derren poured his own cup now to have a drink too. "This isn't over yet."

"Yes, it is," William said defeated. "The stranger who delivered the ale was led by the guard, or at least in cahoots; either way they're unreachable."

"And how do you think that?"

"The royal guards serve the king and queen, even suggesting that they were guilty of such heinous crimes is treason."

Derren's face grew to a look of contempt. "It's true the royal guards serve the royal family, but they also serve the lords and ladies at court if I'm not mistaken?"

"No, you're not, they serve them too."

"Then it's just as likely that it was a noble at court, more so than a royal. We just need to find out which one, and now we finally have a list of suspects."

"We can't," William shook his head. Perplexed at himself for even entertaining the idea. "We cannot go after the nobles at court. We're just some city guards of common birth, we don't even have the status to make said accusations."

"The king hears the voices of the common man as well," Derren argued. "All we need is the evidence, and proof that the king and the court cannot ignore. Regardless of their status, they broke the king's laws and were probably plotting something more devious as we argue. We have to stop them, else wise no one will."

William gave him a look. He was born and raised to serve the highborn of the kingdom, not question them. He shook his head, still not convinced.

"What's changed, William? We still have a killer to catch. The conspiracy may go close to the top, but even lords can be toppled."

They sat in silence after that, drinking their drinks. Eventually, William got up and said, "You can have the rest, it's already paid for. I'm going home, to rest. Don't expect to see me tomorrow: might not even get out of bed."

The next morning William had wished he could stay in bed, maybe forever. But Katrina was expecting her aunt to arrive sometime that day, so she insisted he get up. She made him a special concoction for his head, which was mildly throbbing. But he drank it anyways.

After breakfast he sat at the table, content to just stay there for a time if he could. When Katrina asked him if he would be going out to work today, he casually said, "I think I'll stay home. We can be together, no worries, just for a day."

Katrina smiled and took a seat across from him. "That would be lovely," She said in a melodious tone. When William didn't start, she suggested, "How about you tell me about your investigation?"

He groaned, right now that was the last thing he wanted to think about. "It's boring," he said nonchalantly.

"Please, I insist. I haven't had any good tales in a while. It all sounds exciting."

But a few moments after William finished telling Katrina about the investigation, and where he was so far, did the door to their house burst open. William shot up to his feet, and instinctively reached for his sword at his waist, but he wasn't wearing his sword belt, so his hand fell short of a weapon.

"William," Derren shouted at the sight of him. "Don your uniform, you need to see this, and hurry."

"What the hell do you think you’re doing, bursting into my house like this?" William shouted hotly.

The whinny of horses outside diverted Derren's attention briefly. When he turned back, he said, "There's not much time I'll explain on the way, but you must hurry. We might be able to stop it, but I can't do it alone, their fixing to hang him quick... You know what forget the full uniform just grab your cloak and sword and let's go!"

Derren was out the door without further explanation, leaving William to wonder what he was talking about. He gave Katrina an apologetic look and rushed to don his white captain's cloak and fasten his sword belt to his hip. He kissed Katrina on the cheek as he passed her by, and was out the door.

Derren was already on his horse waiting for him. William hopped on the other one, and they set off. They trot the horses down the road at a steady pace, fast enough to make haste, but slow enough to where Derren could explain the situation comfortably.

"It's been a whirlwind of a morning," Derren said. "Someone just confessed to the murder of the previous lord commander, and captain Lewis Gren, in addition to the bribery and extortion of Lewis and the other guards that brought everyone in for drinks that night. He's even taking responsibility for the two who drunk themselves into the grave."

"What?" William cried, unbelieving. "Who is this guy?"

"I don't know, I heard second hand from my own man. He believes the man was under Captain Gren's command, though. He's to be hanged at the gallows of Darkbeak circle, so we have a ways to go."

Some cheers of men echoed down from the North-East, towards where they were heading, along with a flock of ravens flying away. William and Derren glanced at each other, coming to the same worrisome conclusion, and then snapped the reins of their horses, racing them through the street in a hurry.

Darkbeak circle was a grim rounded area where the most infamous city Gallows sat. They hung the worst criminals there, or just ten people at a time when they had a large group to hang. They hung the notorious serpent gang, a group of skilled ex-soldiers who rebelled against the king after taxes had risen to a staggering height.

After a few weeks, the common man went into debt to the crown even after going without food just to pay the new tax rates. The serpents had managed to gain the support of the Sky cloaks so when the king’s army arrived to enforce the tax laws from the unwilling masses of citizens they gates were barred closed and the city was under siege from its own kind. When the king died of a stroke during the siege, his son was crowned the very next day and immediately lowered the tax rates.

The siege was still ongoing though as the serpents wouldn't back down, for fear if they did this new king might just raise the taxes again. Despite his promises not to, they maintained control of the city, the common people urging them to remove the king from the throne entirely. It was at that point the sky cloaks turned against the snakes and they were rounded up and hung from these gallows, built specially for them.

The next major criminal to hang from these gallows was a man known as Red Talon. A serial killer who stalked the streets at night and murdered random victims then painted a talon on the ground or wall with his victim’s blood. Took the Sky Cloaks three years to catch him.

The people of the city had grown to a certain macabre desire for hangings; least when it came for severe punishment of criminals. Beheading was too gruesome for them it seemed, yet they all had a darker nature to witness death and so the gallows became prominent in the city.

At Darkbeak Circle, a crowd of people that had gathered was dispersing, getting on with their daily lives. Atop their horses William and Derren could see a body swinging in the breeze from the end of a noose at the end of the gallows. Standing around there still, while the rest shuffled off, were men in smoky-blue uniforms.

They approached their fellow guards and dismounted their horses when commander Jorden turned and glared at them. "I was wondering when I'd see you two," he said with contempt. "I received your report, William you didn't even sign off on it but given what it was full of that hardly even matters. And besides we caught the killer now too, he confessed, and hangs behind me."

"Ser that can't be the killer," William argued.

"And how do you figure that?" Jorden demanded.

William hesitated, wondering if now was the right time to mention the connection to the royals. He wondered if he should even say anything at all, so he held his tongue; for now.

"Well let me tell you why you're wrong anyways. Walden Fen was captain Lewis Gren's closest subordinate and together they consorted to killing Albert Hathen. To that end, they purchased a special brew of ale from a traveling merchant who concocts it to be ten times as potent as ordinary ale.

"Yes I had some leftover samples tested myself, it wasn't poisoned just extra strong. Let's just add that to the list of lies you deliberately told me. Lewis planned, and executed, Albert's mysterious death in order to raise himself to the lord commander by catching his 'killer.' He planned on framing none other than his right hand Walden, who knew and aided in all of this.

"But Walden found out, and while complications arose he tried flipping the tables on Lewis, killing him and then framing him for the murder of Albert. But he never got the chance to frame Lewis and close the case, in order to cover his tracks he strong-armed some of his pals into telling a very different story of what happened that night to anyone who inquired about it."

"Ser you can't possibly believe that?!"

"Oh, and what evidence do you have against it? Unlike it matters as Walden is dead, in case you can't see behind me."

"Because why now? Why is Walden confessing to this crime now, our investigation led us nowhere close to him in any of this."

"Let me stop you there," Jorden commanded. "Your investigation is sounding more and more like a lunatic's conspiracy tale. But you did bring me onto the right path to catch the killer, so I did my own inquiries and investigation into it all and was led to Walden. I gave him a chance to redeem himself, to confess the whole truth before the gods so the Outlander may take his soul with peace."

William shook his head, defiant, "I don't believe this commander. I refuse to believe it, it just doesn't sound right. There's more to this I know it, and I'll prove it."

"Well you better start believing, captain," Jorden yelled. "Because now it's time to talk about you two. I told you there'd be serious consequences for falsifying your report to me. I expected some stretching of the truth, but William I thought you had more honor than that. If your father could see you now, how disappointed he'd be."

No one saw the hit coming, William slammed his fist into the commander’s face so fast and hard he knocked a tooth out of his mouth. The sudden attack caught them all so off guard that William had enough time to draw his sword and hold its end at the commander’s throat before the men stopped him from further action.

The commander held his arms to his sides, signaling the men around him to ease. When they took a step back, Jorden said in commanding tone, "Captain Royce, Captain Atwood the both of you are suspended from duty until further notice. I'd remove you from the City Watch all together were we not dealing with a rampant increase in crime lately. But don't think this is over William, your actions have consequences."

William sheathed his sword but kept a tight grip on it.

Jorden turned to his men and said, "Take their horses back to the stable, they're not of the privilege to ride them right now and can walk home."

After the men had taken the horses, Jorden hopped on his, and they left William and Derren alone. William took one last look at Walden's swaying corpse before turning back to the bleak circle around him.

The place had always been grim, but it seemed overtime it grew worse. With coffin shops set up around it, a couple of painters who only depict morbid art in their posters and canvas, and then display them all around the circle. An herbal shop only selling poisoned herbs and dangerous spices, even the charlatan merchants with their rickety shop stands couldn't put on a smile to sell their goods.

An old crone, with one oversized tooth that stuck out from her mouth, and a green swamp rag covering most of her wiry grey hair, went around with a slow burning bush whacking it at people; and claiming she was warding the death off of them that lingered in the area. She demanded a copper for her troubles but, of course, no one paid her and she moved onto the next person. When she got to William and Derren, Derren shoved her off after she whacked him with her bush.

She fell hard on her butt and snarled at him, he put a hand on the hilt of his sword, "I catch you around here again picking pockets I'll take that hand of yours." He growled. "And I'll be confiscating that dagger you were reaching for when you fell, else it'll be you hanging from the end of one of those ropes."

The old crone got up slowly to her feet then threw the burning bush at Derren's face and ran off, pushing her way through the crowd of people. Derren went to give chase, but William stopped him, with his attitude Derren really might snap and take the old woman's hand, or, at least, give her a beating.

"You have a good eye, I didn't even see her reaching for a dagger when she fell," he said. "But maybe she wouldn't have gone for it, had you not shoved her, she wasn't doing any real harm."

"No? And when she smacked that bush in your face and reached for your pocket to slide out a bit or two, was there no harm in that?"

William hadn't even realized that's what she was doing. He felt so stupid when he realized his pocket had indeed been ruffled from the crone's failed coin snatch attempt. I've gotten rusty, William thought to himself. Bulwark Street's great peace has dulled my senses.

"They draw your eye away in some bedazzling or flashy manner with the one hand, while emptying your pockets with the other. We get them all the time down at Traders Square, so many and usually so young we just let them off with a light beating. The most dangerous ones are usually the adults, and they like to carry a dirk of sorts in case they get caught in the act.

"Puppet shows are the worst, though. Kids blending in with the crowd and moving seamlessly through it, they cut the bottom of a fat coin purse and empty the contents into their little hands," he chuckled, thinking about it now. "One kid found a purse so full of coins they overflowed in his hands and dropped to the ground, jangling so much the man heard it and turned around and caught him in the act. The fat oaf turned so many shades of red in just a second the kid barely had the thought to turn tail and run with what coins he did manage to catch."

William laughed a little too, he couldn't help it. "How come I never heard this tale before?"

"It was years ago... And the kid was me."

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Copyright © © Jake Pendragon all rights reserved 2015

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