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Gambits - The White Pawn XII

The White Pawn XII

"It's suspicious isn't it?" The cloaked stranger asked sitting down on the stool next to William at the bar. Their voice was muffled by something covering their mouth so he couldn't tell if it was male or female. He paid them little mind as it was, he was half drunk already and didn't intend to stop there.

Katrina's aunt had come into the city at last and all they did was talk about gossip back home. He wanted to be far away from that nonsense as he could. He'd tried Alayne first, she was who he needed to see most now, but she was busy. Neil was his only other friend to confide in now, but the stout man was busy with a full tavern of patrons. His workers were overloaded as it was, so he had to pick up the slack. The only thing left for William was the drink, the most reliable thing in his life some days.

"Just when you catch on tracks of a noble's crimes someone comes in and confesses to the crime, ending the case before you get to the real killer. If you ask me, I say they're covering up for someone, probably paid off well too, enough to see their family in good care. Exactly how many daughters did that guard, Walden, have again?"

"What the hell are you talking about, covering up for who?" William asked turning his full attentions to the stranger.

"Who knows, another player, this is all a game to them, that bronze Rook you found was a message to someone. Your father figured out the game, but he was neither a player nor a piece they could move, so they had to eliminate him. Be careful young William, least you follow the same steps of your father, all the way to death."

"Who the hell are you?"

"Want another clue?"

William hesitated and didn't answer but when the cloaked figure turned and left he grabbed for them. He missed and fell off his stool. A roar of laughter went up from the bar by those that witnessed it. He ignored them and got up chasing after the stranger, leading him outside. A heavy layer of fog covered the streets outside and William couldn't see his own hands in front of him.

"This is the same cover up and situation as your father, Adam Royce." the stranger called out from the fog.

William followed the voice. "Where are you?" he demanded half drunk and a little dizzy.

"It takes a lot of coin and influence to pull all that off. And then have someone else take confession for the crime. But they only confessed to one death, what about your father's killer?"

"What do you want from me?" He bellowed, still chasing the voice blindly.

"You're on the right track to finding the truth, but you must approach the weaker link further up the chain. The chain with, remorse for all the sins they have committed."

The fog seemed to thin out now and he could see a figure through it. He took chase as it moved swiftly, somehow catching up to it. His hand reached out to grab it but his legs faltered under him, running into something hard and tossing him forward. He rolled over, what felt like, some stone slab and into cool waters.

Flailing his arms desperately, afraid he was going to drown he smacked his hands and wrists on more stone until realizing the waters around him were not that deep. He brought his knee's up under him and raised his head up and out of the water. The fog was all gone and he was alone in the Sisters Fountain.

William later woke in his bed, trying to remember how he had gotten there in the first place. His mind was foggy but he could at least partly recall stumbling home. Then finding a random bottle of Katrina's wine and drinking it until he forgot. What it was he was trying to forget he couldn't even begin to recall, but given how he ended up last night, he figured it was something best left unstirred.

He got out of bed and opened the curtains, the rush of light from the window blinded him temporarily. When he could see again he found the sun was high in the sky, it was high noon or close to it. He was annoyed he had slept so long but felt well rested; he even started getting dressed in his captain's uniform before remembering he was suspended from duty until further notice.

It didn't take him long to decide to hell with it. Suspended or not he had a case to investigate. He dressed in brown woolen breeches and a linen tunic. He had finer clothes but wanted to avoid attention where he was going and he needed to blend in. He laced up his old cowhide boots, which went up his calf, and slid his boot knife in the special side pocket he tailored into it years ago. A trick his father taught him, the handle of the double-edged knife was wrapped in the same cowhide used to make the boots, it blended right in so he appeared unarmed at all times.

Outside the bedroom, sitting in front of the hearth chatting idly were Katrina and her Aunt Meradith. Katrina rose when she saw him up and, after remarking on his choice of attire, gave him a gentle kiss. Meradith stood next to her niece, leaning on one foot with a hand on her hip, "What gutter did you pull those rags out of, and why are you wearing them?" She asked cheekily.

Meradith wore a modest ivory dress sewn in rich silk. A string of opal gems hung about her slender neck while lily patterned diamond earrings hung from her ears. She was half a head taller than Katrina and had a more matured beauty to match her niece. She was of an age closer to William, nearing her forties. But you would think her a woman in her twenties by her appearance; her naturally soft skin still had a faint glow to it. From the look of them side by side you would think they were sisters rather than aunt and niece.

"They're my old clothes from before I was a captain. Before I had been expected to dress, more appropriate for a man of my status." He chose his last words carefully.

Katrina came from a wealthy and lavished family, her aunt Meradith was the only one he met, though and she was the most prestigious of them all. William dressed in finer clothes on a daily basis, when off duty, due to Katrina's constant coercing to dress better. It was more work for him but after he had worked it into his habits, it wasn't too bad anymore; though he still held onto his old clothes in case he'd need them.

Meradith sighed with disgust, "You should have burned them. Honestly, those fancier clothes, as you seem to dislike so much, bring out your more handsome coarse looks. You look like a man worthy of my beautiful niece here when wearing the proper outfit, in those rags you look like..." She stopped when Katrina shot her a glare and a quiet and aggravated whisper. "Why are you wearing those things anyways?"

"I need to blend in, I have a series of mysterious deaths to investigate."

"I thought you were suspended?" Katrina pouted, knowing he intended to go out anyways.

"As if that will stop me, hinder me yes, but I don't give up so easily."

"Come, William, we have your wedding to plan," Meradith argued. "And besides they caught the guy who did it, he confessed to everything."

"He confessed but that doesn't mean he's guilty, just covering for someone. And I'm getting close, I know it. As for the wedding..." he had no thoughts on it. At that moment he didn't even care if they were married, his sole focus was on the case. "You two will figure it out," he said heading for the door.

"Well, at least, let me fix you a meal and your drink. Your head must be killing you." Katrina pleaded.

But it was too late, he was already out the door and quickly down the street before she could chase after him and create a scene. She'd done it before when he skipped breakfast that she made. Outside the air was warm, he never much liked the city heat. He missed the mountains of the south and the cool breeze that would blow down from them.

Maybe when he solved this case, he would go back there for a time. Climb the mountain, see the beautiful powdery snows that, so few had ever seen before. It was truly a wonder to behold when it's such a rare sight. But for today, he daydreamed of the snows, while waiting in the alley on Plate Avenue, in the Southeast corner of Bulwark Street.

The place was teeming with armor and shield shops, alongside some blacksmiths mixed in with them. It was the place to go for tournament knights to find the proper armor for their duels, or jousts. Come spring, and the king’s annual tourney, the place was packed with knights from all over the kingdom coming to compete for glory and riches, the rest of the year it was calm and quiet, save for the ring of the blacksmith's hammer.

Today though it was filled with people, most in simple woolen breeches and shabby tunics, but others wore fine leather jerkins and silk pants. William had a tough time seeing Jaruin and Yorden through the crowd, but when he did he called out to them. His voice was lost in the many conversations carrying around and he had to throw a small pebble at Jaruin's head to grab their attention.

They looked over and saw him waving them over with one arm. They lightly shoved their way through the crowd and to the slim alley where William was waiting for them. Jaruin was a tall, slender man, agile and lithe. With an angular face and cropped dirt brown hair. Yorden was a good head shorter, with a medium build, a plain face, with a scar running from his chin to his ear (a juggling accident as a kid,) and curly locks of dark hair.

These two were his most loyal and trusted men, he could count on them for anything. He met the two when he had joined the Sky cloaks, all of them new to the City Watch, but Jaruin and Yorden had been best friends for years before that. "Sorry captain, we almost missed you," Yorden said.

"Yea this place ain't as calm as it used to be, can hardly hear myself think," Jaruin said.

"What's going on here anyways, why are there so many people here suddenly?" William asked, looking out to the crowd of people.

"Robberies and muggings been getting more common all over the city, each day it's getting worse," Jaruin explained. "Just this morning Rod and Kenn found some plump drowned man face down in the sisters fountain. Apparently he was some rich guy, they took everything on him even his clothes, leaving only his undergarments."

"Gods, what is this city falling to?" William asked unbelievingly.

"It's all for that Baron, or so I heard," Yorden said. "That bizarre candy of his got the people so riled up and aching for more they'd turn on their own kin for more of it."

"Aye people is scared is what it is." Jaruin Glanced back to the crowd. "All the blacksmiths in the city selling weapons are charging an arm and a leg for one. Even a half decent dagger is running for a few silver bits from them. So people are coming here, figure it's cheaper to buy a suit of armor than an iron sword and steel dagger."

"They might be right," Yorden cut in. "Soon half the men of the city will be walking around with a shield or mail vestments under their tunics and jerkins. Might even be we'll be walking around in full plate armor as well someday soon."

William got a bit of a laugh from that. "We'll all be knights yet, the Knights of Crownhill!"

The others didn't share his enthusiasm or humor. "What is it you need Captain?"

"Walden Fen was innocent, and I can prove it. But I need your help."

The two gave each other a troubled look and thought about it a moment before asking, "What is it you need ser?" Jaruin was the one who asked. Yorden still looked a little doubtful.

"The guard who hanged, Walden Fen, I need his address."

"We don't know where he lives," said Yorden. "I suppose we could ask his comrades."

"No," William said quickly. "This must be done in secret, and subtly. You'll have to read the commanders ledger to find it, should be the one with the green spine."

"The commander won't just let us read it, how are we supposed to get a look at it?"

"I don't know," William admitted. "But do whatever it takes without drawing attention to yourselves. I need that address today, I'll be waiting right here for you."

They could almost hear the desperation in his voice. And whether it was sympathy or respect, they obeyed the order.

"We'll be beneath the Outlander’s cloak: invisible to all," Jaruin said.

"Aye you can count on us ser," Yorden confirmed.

They set out in a huff while William waited anxiously for their return.

Dusk was near approaching when they returned to him with the address. "Wall Street?" William scoffed.

"That's right ser," Jaruin confirmed. "East side of it, bout a stone's toss away from Rats hobble."

William thanked them and set out in a hurry. He needed to get to the house before dark. If his thinking was correct then he needed to get there before it was too late, and he lost another valuable witness, and the trail would go dark again.

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Copyright © © Jake Pendragon all rights reserved 2015

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