I've taken liberties on the knight bit (the char is not a knight), but hopefully it will work out :3
Very rough first chapter, pardon any errors ^^ Am hoping this will land in the 40-50k range but we'll see.
Have a good week all!
Over the course of thirty-three years, Rathatayen had been woken up in an impressive number of unpleasant ways. Not nearly enough pleasant ways.
Being dragged out of bed by angry people on the warpath was his least favorite. That included the time someone had thrown boiling water on him and left him with burns that had taken ages to heal.
He grunted as his head was slammed against the floor again, kicking out wildly, somewhat mollified by the pained cry that got him. Getting to his knees, he started swinging, and he was big enough and swung hard enough that the flock of shrieking malcontents finally backed off.
Then someone bigger got a good knock in and Rathatayen dropped to his knees, disoriented, pissed off, and still entirely too hung over to do much of fuck anything about it.
"Good morning, Rat."
Well that narrowed down who was after him significantly, though why wasn't quite as clear. He dragged his eyes up, keeping his roiling stomach under control only from long years of practice, and glared through bleary eyes at the large-ish man looming over him a gilded house.
A gilded house soaked in enough perfume to drown a whorehouse, but nobody said that to the Friar of East End if they wanted to keep their teeth. "Good morning, Friar."
Friar smiled bitingly. "Not such a good morning for your or yours."
"I think everyone and their dead mother knows that me and mine prefer to keep the channel between us. I haven't seen them since… long enough to forget. I think it was Meeker owed money, then. So who the fuck has done what and how much is it gonna cost?"
"Fifteen marks, due in two days."
That was enough to knock the last dregs of sleep and alcohol right out of his system. "Why the buggering fuck does my shit family owe you fifteen slick?" Even if he earned a steady income every working day of the year, which he definitely didn't, he wouldn't make more than just over two slick. What had his father done. Rath was going to kill him for real this time.
"Oh, I don't want to ruin the fun they'll have explaining." Friar patted his cheek. "You should have agreed to work for me back when you were worth something, Rat. You know where to find me when you have the money." He signaled sharply to the other figures in the room.
The massive figure who'd knocked Rat to his knees gave him a parting shove to the floor. He glared at her. "Always a pleasure, Jen."
Jen gave him a smile full of malice and silver teeth, then was gone with the slamming of the door.
As morning wake-ups from the Friar went, that could have gone worse.
"What in the world was that all about?"
Oh, right. Between the rude wake-up and being told his days were numbered (again) if he didn't come up with an alarming sum of money (again) in three days…
"Nothing," Rathatayen replied, and gingerly picked himself up off the floor, holding fast to the cheap bedpost, swaying slightly but managing not to fall again.
He looked at the handsome man still in bed, all dark skin, long, dark, braided hair, and eyes green enough green enough to make an emerald mad with jealousy.
"Who was that?" the man asked.
Rath wished he could remember the man's name, but right then he was lucky to remember his own. Oh, what he wouldn't give for a slug of wine and a bit of headache powder. But both those things would cost money and he would need every copper to his name if he hoped not to get strung up by the Friar in three days. "If you don't know, then count your blessings and keep stupid questions to yourself. I'm sorry to go, beautiful, but there's much to be done and very little time to do it."
The man waved a hand dismissively. "I hope you're able to come up with the silver." He flopped back down on the bed, which creaked under his weight and careless treatment. "Be a shame to the world to lose a man of your talents."
"Hopefully the Fates agree with you. Ta, darling," Rath replied, mimicking the man's High City accent. He found his clothes and pulled on his stockings, breeches, and boots. Snatched up his shirt and jacket as he clambered to his feet and scooped his mostly-empty coin purse from the table "I hope you find your way back into the clouds without trouble."
The man laughed and gave a lazy wave, clearly more interested in going back to sleep.
Fun while it lasted, pity it couldn't lasted most of the morning. Ah, well. He had a father and brothers to murder, best to put away distracting thoughts. He pulled his shirt on as he stepped into the hall, then shrugged into his jacket. It was going to need a patch on the left elbow soon, he could feel the fabric about to give out.
Out in the street, the smell of cheap food from various carts turned his stomach. He headed out going north, bound for the common bridge that spanned the channel that cut the city roughly in two, with one third reserved for the hoity-toity and the other two-thirds for the riff-raff. Three bridges spanned the great width of it, formally called after the women who had been in charge of their building: Sherenda, Herth, and Martiana. But they were really just called the guard bridge, the common bridge, and the private bridge (also called the holy bridge, because the lords and ladies certainly acted like they were holier than everyone, up to and including the gods).
By the time he'd hauled through the city to the common bridge, his stomach had calmed down but his headache had tripled in agony. Thankfully the food carts by the bridge always had food they were willing to sell cheap to the locals; it cost him only a farthing for bread with honey and a bit of cheese. Foreigners would be conned out of at least a whole penny, and some of the really good vendors could get as much as two.
He looked up at the cheerful voice, smiled at the man who came running toward him, shirt unlaced, breasts unbound, hair tumbling everywhere. "Did you get thrown out of some lady's room, dressed like that?" Rath asked, and offered over half of the honey-slathered bread he'd bought.
"Maybe," the man muttered, and wolfed down the food. "Worth it though, you should have seen her."
"Proper folk are nothing but trouble."
"Nobody this side of the channel is proper," the man replied with a leer.
"Toph!" A voice bellowed. "You get your ass back here now!"
"Whoops, gotta go. See you later at the Blue?"
"Only if I don't have to pay your bail!" Rath replied, and handed over the hunk of cheese he'd bought, then shoved Toph on his way. "Get going. The constable's wife, honestly, Toph."
Laughing, Toph darted in to kiss his cheek, then ran off just as a cluster of guards, led by a red-faced man with an enormous black mustache drew close. The man bellowed and gave Rath a shove hard enough to send him sprawling on the muddy cobblestones and then took off after Toph.
Picking himself up for the second time that morning, Rath brushed off what dirt he could as he once more headed for the bridge.
It was crowded, far more than was typical for the middle of the week, but the preliminary round of the Tournament of Losers was beginning in two days. Hopefully Friar and the rest of the city's slush would be so busy terrorizing tourists they'd leave the locals alone for a few months.
Rath dodged out of the way of a flock of fat swans, bejeweled to the teeth (one quite literally, Rath did not understand noble fashion) and deftly relieved two of them of coin purses they were stupid enough to leave accessible.
He shoved them away where he wouldn't lose them himself, or be noted by a sharp-eyed guard.
Across the bridge he fell into the throng of an even greater crowd, mostly comprised of young, overeager fools who thought the Tournament of Losers offered a real chance at something better than their half-penny lives. Even walking as quickly as he could through the mess, he caught snatches of eagerly spouted hopes and dreams. When I marry the prince I'll buy my parents a proper house. Once I win the tournament I'll see the whole village gets what it needs! I'll never have to worry about food and shelter again.
He went tumbling as a particularly rowdy group accidentally knocked into him. "Sorry!" one of the young women exclaimed, shoving back a strand of limp red-brown hair that had fallen from her cap.
Rath grunted an acknowledgment but didn't slow, though he did catch the eye of their tolerant, exhausted parents and share a look of commiseration.
He could still remember being a boy excited that it was his generation that would get to participate in the Tournament, indignant at the way all the adults scathingly called it the Tournament of Losers when it deserved its proper name: the Tournament of Charlet.
So-called for Regent Charlet, who had saved the queendom several centuries ago in the first years of Queen Bardol II. There was so much treachery and betrayal, so much fighting and plague, that the whole country was falling apart. It had taken a stray peasant to rise up and set all to rights, a woman with whom the queen had fallen madly in love. And tradition had been established that every three generations, at least one child from the royal and nobles houses must marry a peasant, fresh blood and new perspective that would keep them from falling into the same patterns and arrogance that had once destroyed the queendom.
The nobles had protested that simply letting anyone marry into them would do as much harm as good, that certain traits and skills were necessary to properly fulfill the duties expected of them. The solution had been a tournament, to prove five degrees of prowess, named for the Regent responsible for the law and the devising of the tournament.
It had quickly devolved into a mess of fools completing challenges for no damned reason, since the nobles had long ago mastered the art of manipulating the system and the winners were always 'peasants' only in the barest, most laughable sense.
According to his grandmother, no real commoner had won the past six tournament, and there had only been nine tournaments total so far. This would be the tenth, and some said the last, that the nobles and even many royals were pushing harder and harder to do away with the idiotic matter for the 'good of everyone'.
Thanks the Fates he was old enough and smart enough to avoid the whole bloody thing. He might not possess much sense, but he had enough.
Finally making it through the congestion at the heart of the High City, he threaded through a bunch of small side streets until he reached a small house at the southeast side.
It was a modest townhouse, respectable enough for High City but only sufficiently so to live at its edges, three steps from tumbling back down to Low City. It was three stories, only leaned slightly against the house to the right of it, and always smelled fragrantly of the teashop on the first floor. So much nicer than living at the ass end of Butcher Street and all the lovely smells that came with.
To the right of the teashop was a coffeehouse, and to the left of it was a small spiceshop, giving the whole area the most wonderful smells. It was the only part of visiting his mother that he ever enjoyed. He ducked into the narrow alleyway between the tea and coffee shops, pitch black because the way the houses leaned against each other kept light from slipping through.
He rapped on the high gate, and a few minutes later it swung open. A wrinkled, harried-looking face peered at him through rheumy blue eyes. "You already?"
"Me already," Rath agreed. "She about?"
"Make it quick, we're a bit too busy for your nonsense." The man slammed the door in his face.
Rath leaned against the stone wall that wrapped around the small courtyard behind the house and lit a cigarette. Sadly, he was down to his last two and in light of recent circumstances would not be buying more anytime soon. Unless the purses he'd snitched proved promising.
He pulled them out and tipped the contents into his hands. One held a shilling and two pennies. The second held two shillings and five pennies. All told, three shillings and seven pennies. That was enough money to keep him well for some time. But it was fourteen marks and twenty-two shillings short of what he needed to pay off Friar.
The gate creaked open and he shoved it all away, mustered a smile he didn't feel as his mother stepped out into the alleyway, clutching a faded shawl about her shoulders, more gray in the hair tucked under the cap she wore while working in the shop.
Rath got all his looks from his mother—her gold-toned brown skin, loose, tumbling brown-black hair, pale brown eyes, and her height and bulk. When he'd been a boy they'd lived closer to and worked at the docks, moving cargo with all the other day workers for a total of two pennies a day. He'd been so proud he'd been able to contribute half a penny extra to the family.
That his father was always quick to steal or bleed away on one foolish thing after another. Until his mother finally threw him out and they moved to butcher street to live with his aunt and her husband. Then his aunt had died in a tavern brawl and his uncle had thrown them out. After that, they'd never lived anywhere very long until his mother found work in the teashop and Rath was old enough to work in the brothels.
Where he still worked from time to time when money was especially needed, though mostly he preferred to pick up labor work.
He finished his cigarette and dropped the stub to the ground, stamping it out as he asked, "Where the fuck is he?"
His mother sighed. "He hasn't been here to see me for nearly a month, which I was enjoying. Do I want to know how bad it is?"
"Fifteen slick to the Friar."
She swore as only ten years working the docks could teach a person. "I can't 'borrow' that kind of money from the shop, and even if I could we'd never replace it before it was missed."
"I didn't come here to get the funds from you, just to figure out where that goat-faced son of a leech is hiding."
"I don't know, fortunately or unfortunately," she replied. "If I had to guess, I'd say the Old Gates. Nobody goes there unless getting their throat slit is the preferable option."
Rath made a face, but mostly of resignation because she was probably right. "Well, that will be fun." He leaned in to kiss her cheek, dug out two of the shillings from the purses he'd stolen. "Here, you may as well have these. It's not enough to make a difference to me, and Fates know what will happen to it if I keep it. Be well."
"Be careful," she said, patting his cheek and fussing with a strand of hair. "Give him a sound clocking from me."
"The first hit is always yours." He kissed her fingers, then lit a new cigarette and left as quickly as he'd come. Getting back across the city and the bridge was even more difficult than it had been the first time. And as the day wore on the crowds would just get worse, people coming from all over Dennarm for a chance of marrying into a wealthy family and making all their problems go away.
By the time he finally reached Low City again, he was hungry, cranky, and just waiting for an excuse to punch somebody. Except getting into a fight would make him too beat up and ugly to get any clients, and if he was going to come up with any slick at all it was going to be pulling a few nights for Trinira.
But even that, if he was damned lucky, would only bring in about three marks. That was a long way from fifteen, but his best hope was that if he could scrape together at least a third then Friar would give him time to earn the rest.
Of course, that hope rested entirely on the reason Friar was demanding fifteen slick right now, and Rath had yet to hear that reason.
He bought bread and sausages from another vendor, then started working his way back through Low City. Fates, his legs were going to be falling off by the end of the day.
The Low City was divided into four rough, unevenly sized districts: docks, shops, propers, and guards. The docks and shops were the majority of it, where most everyone worked and lived. The propers were those merchants and a few others wealthy enough to live close the bridges, so near to being on the other side of them that reaching that goal was a constant torment. They fancied themselves a lot higher and mightier than they were. And the last section, the guards, was comprised of the city guard, some of the royal military who stayed there for the sake of convenience, and various mercenary bands as they came and went. They were the only ones permitted use of the guard bridge.
Rath walked steadily through the maze and warrens of the shop district until he reached Honey Street, where all the brothels were located. Colorful, often garish signs hung from most of the buildings on the road, the colors indicating the flavors of the establishment.
He stopped in front of one that was painted with seven vertical bands of different colors, crossed along the bottom by white, black, and gray bands. It signaled the house was willing to do pretty much anything and everything. There were other, informal indicators that it wouldn't do anything illegal (children, unwilling people, other things). Houses that catered to that sort of thing usually didn't last long, and the ones determined to stick around were extremely discrete and usually operated elsewhere in the city. But usually didn't mean always, so places were always forced to make it clear some lines would not be crossed.
His rap on the door was quickly answered, and by the lady of the house herself. By night Mistress Trinira was beautiful enough to rival the Fates themselves, but by day she preferred to keep to plain and simple, more interested in the bookkeeping and the cleaning than in looking decadent enough to make people loose with their coin.
She wore plain brown breeches and a blue tunic over a linen shirt, her long, long hair loosely piled atop her head, and spectacles perched on her nose. Her dark skin was smattered with freckles she'd never tolerate a customer seeing, and had a cigarillo clenched in her teeth. "Good morning there, love. Didn't expect you to be coming around today. Though you'd be working the crowds." She leaned again the door frame and crossed her arms over her flat chest. "Up early, aren't you?"
"I was encouraged to be about my day."
She quirked one delicate, brown-red brow. "By who?"
"You don't want to know."
"You should dump your father's body in the harbor, or sell it to those cadaver lovers on Tanning Row. You'd make enough money to cover his debts with plenty to spare to spoil yourself. And it's not like anyone would miss him."
"One of those days I might just, but right now it's still not worth the risk of being hauled to jail. I hate to bother you—"
She cut him off with a flap of her hand. "There's always work for a man of your skills, Rath. Especially with all these damned out-of-towners. Can you start early?"
"That shouldn't be a problem. I've got to track down my father and beat some answers out of him, but after that my day is wide open. Anything special I should prepare for?"
"You up for group work?" she asked.
Rath shrugged. "Why not? Though don't they usually prefer the younger ones for that? I'm a bit long in the tooth to be the toy of a half-drunk group of horny nobles."
"No, this is a bit more refined group, and they want someone who knows what they're doing. I had Stripling in mind, but I haven't seen him in three days. Probably floating in cloud powder and bad gin by now, the stupid fool. Come around about four, we'll get you warmed up and then off the noble lot around eight. Even taking the house percentage, that should square you away."
"Let's hope," Rath muttered, then leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Thanks, Trini. I'd be lost without you."
"Get along, then," she said, but smiled before sticking the cigarillo back in her mouth and closing the door.
Rath was already exhausted, thinking about the night in front of him. At least three hours of letting a group of people fuck him. He hadn't done that in at least four years. The last adventurous night he'd had was a pair of twins who'd paid him well both for his talents and his ability to keep his mouth shut.
But anything was better than dead.
And speaking of dead, it was time to go find his damned father.
It took another hour and a half of walking and asking questions, but he did finally locate the worthless pisspot holed up in a moldy, rank-smelling tavern at the ass end of the docks knows as the Old Gates, since it was once where all people entering from ships passed into the city. The sea gates had long ago been moved to the north end of the harbor district, and over the decades the old location had turned into the sort of place even rats were loath to go.
"You scum-licking bastard!" Rath snarled, lunging forward as his father tried to bolt and grabbing his by the back of his tunic. He yanked him close and then slammed the bastard's face into the bar. Leaving a penny to cover the tab, not bothering to give a damn about adding scratches and dents to a bar that was already covered in them, he hauled his father outside and threw him to the ground.
Planting a boot on his chest and pressing firmly, Rath said, "Tell me why the fuck I owe the Friar fifteen slick or I swear to the Fates I will earn the money by selling your corpse to the cadaver lot."
"Get your boot—"
"Talk and I won't break your ribs."
Face turning red, his father snarled, "I'm your father, this isn't how you treat—"
"Do you really want to have this discussion, you pile of dog puke?" Rath asked. "Because I bet my list of how people shouldn't treat their spouses and children is a lot longer than how a child should treat their father. Now tell me or I will kick you in your pea-sized balls and leave you wailing in the street like a drunk heretic." He pressed the boot down former when it looked like a protest was forthcoming.
When his father started flapping his arms about to signal a need to breathe, he finally let up some of the pressure. "Talk."
"I accidentally his best griffon."
"Fates—" Rath drew his boot back before he gave in to an urge to break the damned fool's ribs. "How in the names of the Fates do you accidentally kill a griffon?"
"It looked like it could use a drink," his father mumbled. "I gave it some gin."
"Spirits are poison to griffons, you hole-ridden sack of spoiled grain!" Rath wanted to scream. The dirty pit fights were where the Friar made a goodly amount of his business, mostly from the brat nobles who liked nothing better than to slink into Low City and act like they were living dangerously by betting on which animal would kill the other first while gorging themselves on liquor and more dubious substances.
And his idiot fucking father had killed one of the Friar's most lucrative assets, and no matter how much time passed everybody still expected Rath to clean up his father's messes. "If I fall for this, I swear to the Fates you'll fall first."
Spinning away he made his way quickly back to the shop district and through the busy streets all the way to Butcher Street, where he rented a little attic room from a sausage maker. He waved to her as he passed by the yard and up the backstairs into the house, climbing the creaky old steps up to his hovel of a room.
It wasn't much, but he'd gotten it after twenty years of living in other people's spaces and occasionally on the street. No leaking room, no other people he had to share with, all he had to deal with was the noise and the smell and who cared about that?
Not him, not really.