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Gambits - The White Pawn XIII

The White Pawn XIII

The late Walden Fen's house stood at the end of a row of houses each identical to one another. With only about 8 feet between them, the houses were made of a wooden framework with cob walls and clay thatched roofs. Walden's home lay at the north end of the line. William walked up to it and knocked.

While waiting he glanced up at the sky, the sun was slowly setting off in the distance. The door soon opened to an average faced woman, with brown hair tied in a bun and a dirtied apron over her clothes. "What do you want?" She asked looking William up and down.

"Hello, my name's Will, I worked alongside Walden, recently transferred," he lied. "I know he was drunk when we spoke last but he requested should anything happen to him that I, well one of us, keep an eye on you and make sure you're alright. Living in a dangerous part of the city like this by yourself, with just your children."

"If you're a guard, then where's your uniform?"

"I'm off duty, I woulda come sooner, but I had to take a few drinks of courage before I could face you, see if you're doing alright. Walden always spoke of you with a touch of fear when he knew he'd be coming home late." It was a gamble, he had no idea what Walden's life was like. But from the way his wife appeared and held herself, so firm despite the recent grievance, he was confident enough that she was the type to beat her husband whenever he messed up big. He'd seen it with a couple of his men before, found it kind of funny the wife beating the husband.

She scoffed, "He was never a man of courage, I was plum surprised when he joined the Sky Cloaks to prove he had a decent pair of stones under his rod. Well, might as well come in, since you summoned all that courage to face the beast at home." She moved aside to let William in.

Once in he surveyed the small house, it was ordinary for those homes, small living place, no fireplace, instead a moderate wood stove. Sprawled on the ground near one of the other three doors in the house were a couple of stuffed dolls. In the center of the main room was a luxurious rug, dyed in crimson and laced with gold on the edges. And going from the center outward was emerald silk with a swirling pattern twisting out to crisscross at the corners. "The rug looks new," he commented.

She glared at him then calmed her face and thought of a lie, "Walden won some coin, for once, in the dice. It was his gift to us before he left."

William started stomping around on the rug, listening intently to the padded sounds that followed.

"What the hell you doing?!" She shouted at him.

"I believe your husband was paid off for his hanging, to cover for the real killers." He continued stomping around. "And I think you knew about it, and the money is hidden-" he stopped when he heard an echo from his latest foot stomping.

William pulled up the rug and tossed it over on itself. As he did Walden’s wife crossed her arms and said in a furious, yet low tone, "Leave my house bastard, or else."

He looked at her impassively then walked to the area where he heard the echo. Tapping his foot on the wooden boards to double check the spot. He kneeled down and easily pried off the pair of loose boards with his fingers. Sitting in the dirt of a small spot under the house was a purple velvet bag.

He picked it up, it was significantly heavy and jangled when he bounced it a couple of times. "This must be the gold they bribed him with," he said unlacing the bag to look inside. "This is exactly the proof I need to continue the investigation," he declared loudly. "I'll be taking this as evi-"

William was interrupted when the wife charged at him with a broad knife. He caught her wrist with the knife, but her charge knocked them both down. He twisted himself so she would fall first and he would land on her. Their fall, in addition to his weight, stunned her a moment. And he took the chance to prop himself up on one knee and slug her on the side of the face with his fist. He then got up quick and stomped his foot down on her wrist. She cried in pain and lost her grip on the knife. He kicked it away from her and took a step back.

She rolled onto her side and reached out for it with her good hand. He reeled his foot back and kicked her hard in the stomach before she could reach it. She lost her breath and cried in more pain, starting to sob now; defeated. He hated treating a woman so undignified, but he had little choice, even if she was innocent.

"Please, don't take it," she begged. "Walden was a decent man, but a terrible husband, and a bad father. He gambled away all the money he made and put us into debt." Her voice was cracking. "That money was the best thing he ever done for us. It's all we have."

He feigned a reluctant sigh and said, "Alright I'll make you a deal."

"Anything you want," she said looking up at him desperately.

"I let you keep this money and allow you to spend it as you wish. I'll even help you keep it safe. However in exchange, I need you to be my witness and tell me everything about the person who bribed your husband. "You'll have to testify to my commander, maybe even the king himself, and say that your husband was bribed to lie about the crime he confessed to."

"I understand, I'll do whatever it takes."

He studied her face, she seemed sincere enough, but how well would that hold up later when the money was safe. He didn't have any real options either but trusting her as she had to trust him. "Alright stand up. We'll sit at the table and you'll tell me what you know."

She rose to her feet and walked over to the table at the end of the room near the kitchen, William watching her every move carefully. She sat at one end and he came over to sit across from her. Setting the bag of gold down on the table and folding his arms. Her eyes betrayed a desperate thought she had of hopping over the table and grabbing the gold, but it was too far away she decided and relaxed a bit to tell her tale.

"They came to him before," the wife said. "He said he was offered ten gold crowns if he would confess to some killings and hang for it. He turned them down, when I learned of this I didn't know whether to beat him or kiss him. I loved my husband, our girls loved him too. But his gambling addiction, that was his one serious flaw, got him into debt and we had a hard time just eating for a time. He did right by us with that money but it can never bring him back. The girls have a future with a sizable dowry but they'll never have a father again."

"There are many victims caught up in all this, and whoever is responsible for it all is still out there. I will bring them to justice, no matter what it takes. But I need your help, did you see the person who paid your husband off?

She nodded her head, "Yes, the second time he was approached they came to the house and sat with him at this very table. I sent the girls to their room and came back out to see who this stranger was and what they wanted. But Walden got so upset with me for it, he practically threw me out just so they could talk. So I went back in with the girls, trying to overhear their talk."

"What did the stranger say, was it an old man? Young? What was he wearing?" William asked, with growing impatience.

"I never got a good look at his face but didn't sound too old, maybe about your age. He had a brown cloak with the hood pulled up, woolen breeches." She paused to think back to it all. "Simple boots, I don't think he had a sword under his cloak but I highly doubt he was unarmed. When the two finished talking the stranger dropped the sack on the table and left.

"Walden took a coin from it, then hid the rest under the boards. Went out and got that rug the very same night. The next day he told me everything the stranger told him. Told me about the money, where to find it, what he would have to do next. And then came his hangin."

She wiped the tears from her eyes that swelled when she thought about it.

It wasn't much, William knew. But it was enough for him to get the case reopened and probably even convince commander Jorden. If he could get that other guard to claim he was, in fact, the one who tailed the man who brought the ale that night, then there was a fair chance he could get to the center of this whole thing.

"That's very good, but it's not enough I'm afraid." He lied, though not entirely. "I'll have to present the gold to my commander as proof."

The wife looked like she was about to scream at him and make another desperate grab for the gold until he said, "Unless you change your story slightly."

She calmed down, a little, and tried her best to return her composure.

"Say that you were in the room with Walden when this entire conversation took place. Say that you heard everything, saw the gold for yourself, counted it and all."

"You want me to lie?"

"If you want to keep this gold," he gestured to the velvet bag on the table, "then yes."

"Alright, but I don't want any more trouble then you already brought me."

There was a loud banging on the door that caught them both by surprise. Whoever was pounding on the door hit it so hard it rattled, and the wife jumped a bit in surprise. "What's that?" she asked startled.

"Trouble," William affirmed. He snuck over quietly to the window closest to the door and slowly peaked his head up. Outside was a handful of broad men, armed with clubs, and maces, one even wielding a morning star. He quickly snuck back to the table, there's no way he could take all of them alone, even if he was in his armor and had his sword.

"It's time to go," he whispered to the wife. "Where are your daughters?"

She paused to think, more pounding rattled the door. "They're out with friends, they should have been back before dark, though. They might be at Greer's house."

"Good, as long as they aren’t here, do you have a back door out of here?"

"No, but there's a window in the kitchen, we can squeeze through there."

William dreaded the thought of trying to squeeze through a tiny round window, but when the door was rammed by a force so hard, the whole house shook he stopped caring. A couple more hits like that and the door would burst open and the men out there would be in; he knew he couldn't fight them all. "Let's go!" he said grabbing the gold.

The kitchen window was square and modestly sized, it lead out to the Northside of the house. The wife undid the latch and swung the window open. William handed her the gold and started climbing out first, he didn't trust her not to make a run for it when she got out and had the gold first. And one of them would have to hold it while the other got out.

Fitting through the window was awkward and he fell on his back when his foot got caught in the sill, but it wasn't as bad as he thought. The wife handed him the gold, and the sound of the door flying off the hinges and crashing to the ground with a loud thud distracted them briefly. William stepped aside to make room for the wife to get out. She practically dived out of the window.

One of the men shouted as they entered the house. "They're gone, find the gold!"

William didn't bother sticking around to hear more, they turned to flee from the house when a man around seven feet in height, with arms as big as William's legs. He was brooding, with a wicked smile, and a massive double ended war hammer casually slung across his hulking shoulders. "Now where you off to little mice?" He asked, his voice deep and mocking.

When the brawny man went to speak again, William slammed the bottom of his foot into his crotch. He fell to his knees in pain, dropping the Warhammer with a loud clang. William then crouched down and grabbed his boot knife. Stepping forward, he aimed to stab the knife into the brawny man's neck.

Instead, the knife was blocked by his hand, piercing through the palm. He wrapped his fingers around William's hand clutching the knife and started to rise. William reluctantly released the grip on his knife and yanked his hand free; which was no easy task. Then he slammed his shoulder into him, putting all his weight into it.

Due to his awkward footing at the time William slammed him, the brawny man fell over easily; William was almost going down with him. Until the wife grabbed his wrist and pulled him back, he soon realized she was actually aiming for the gold in his other hand but missed.

He ignored her attempt and they ran, knowing those men would be right behind them any moment.

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Copyright © © Jake Pendragon all rights reserved 2015

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