So, I have this short story titled Bank On It under submission at the Grantville Gazette. I have high hopes, as the initial feedback is quite good and there is a distinct lack of negative posts. We'll see.
To distract myself while I wait for word on it or The Last Captain, I have been working on another project. I wrote some time ago that I was working on a complete, from the ground up re-write of A Friend To The Watch. Here is a chapter from that re-write.
Norrik was at it again as Yarvis and Fellix entered the taproom.
The Stag Night crowd, more than a few cups into their own drunk, glanced warily between the big man snarling and punching at shadows and the newcomers in the orange and green of the Watch.
“Damn,” Fellix muttered.
Yarvis glanced at his partner, then at the door.
Fellix caught the look, nodded, and went back out the way they’d come.
As his partner left, Yarvis stepped to the bar.
“Watchman Kolp, get him out of here,” the barkeep growled, his foreigner’s accent and bad attitude making the words an insult.
Yarvis snorted. “In due time. Who was it served him enough to get him up there in the first place?”
A shrug, “Not my fault a man can’t hold the drink he buys.”
“Piss on that, Aldeg. You had to know how Norrik gets with a few drinks in him.” Everyone knew Norrik was a horrible drunkard. That’s why no one but the foreigner would serve him. That, and the big man’s history.
Another shrug, this one accompanied by a smirk, “Still, he is making a, how is it said? Watchman? A disturbance?” the fat man nodded in answer to his own question, “Yes, a disturbance in my tavern. I want him fined and taken from here.”
“That’s not for you to order, Aldeg, and I’ll remember your attitude when next you have a problem you need the Watch for.”
Norrik bellowed a wordless challenge.
Yarvis caught a flash of orange from the back door and stepped way from the barkeep. He walked deliberately toward Norrik, making no attempt to mingle with the crowd and conceal his approach.
When the big watchman was still a few steps away the drunk saw him for the first time. Eyes flying wide, Norrik crooked a thick-knuckled finger at Yarvis and shouted, “You! Fight me!”
He heard customers placing bets, whether on who would win or how many of the Watch it would take to subdue Norrik, Yarvis neither knew nor cared.
In that moment, he hated them all, all but Norrik: the tavern owner for making this necessary and his patrons for their ignorant blood-thirst.
“Norrik, be reasonable. I’ll not fight you, a four-time winner of the Golden Tusk!” appealing to vanity worked, on occasion, with drunkards. Especially with Norrik; old victories were all that kept the drunkard afloat these days. His family doled out the coin he’d earned during a long and successful career fighting.
“Come Norrik, come down here and talk to me.”
Norrik stamped his feet on the trestle, bellowing louder, “Fight me!”
Fellix stalked from the shadows at the back, cudgel at the ready. The crowd hissed, started to react.
Fearing the other patrons would give Fellix’s presence away before he could strike, Yarvis raised his fists and shouted,
“Alright, then! I’ll beat you ’til your mother won’t know you!”
“Alright, then! I’ll beat you ’til your mother won’t know you!”
Norrik beckoned Yarvis forward, raising his fists and grinning from ear to ear.
Yarvis made a show of walking forward, taking his time, rolling his shoulders and neck.
Just before his partner would have to mount the table and fight, Fellix charged forward and pivoted his hips to lay a perfect, powerful strike across the back of both Norrik’s legs with his cudgel. The big prize fighter’s legs went from under him, dumping his twenty stone to the table with such force the floor shook in sympathy.
The crowd tittered or grumbled depending on how they’d bet. Kolp didn’t spare them much attention, charging forward to grab one of Norrik’s thick wrists. Yarvis wrinkled his nose at the smell of rotgut and onion stew left behind when the man’s air leapt free of his chest.
Fellix had the other wrist in hand. With ease born of long practice and a shared, fervent desire to avoid a fair fight with Norrik, they forced the man’s hands together.
Yarvis reached back with his other hand and pulled a knotted coil of rope from the back of his belt. Some of the Watch preferred iron manacles, but chains made too much noise for his taste and were too costly for his purse. He slipped one loop over Norrik’s hand to the wrist and passed the other to Fellix.
“Momma!” Norrik cried, regaining his wind.
Fellix looped the other wrist.
Yarvis leaned back and pulled. The knot went tight, securing Norrik’s arms. But Norrik had already given up the fight, sprawled on the table and crying.
Working together, the partners levered the drunk to his feet, passing the line between his legs. Fellix tied it off on the back of Norrik’s own belt. The unpleasant things lifting one’s arms did to a man’s jewels put a stop to ideas of lifting one’s hands to strike a blow or even run.
Norrik mumbled, fully involved in a miserable conversation only another drunk could follow. Ignoring him, Kolp grasped the lip of the man’s pouch and tugged it from inside the heavy belt.
He held the coin purse up for all to see and called out in a loud voice, “Witness! I, Watchman Yarvis Kolp, levy a spot fine against Norrik of Flax Row.” He opened the pouch and pulled a thin bar of silver stamped on one side with ten Boar-and-Crowns of the Duke’s mint on one side. Between each of the symbols a groove was etched that almost cut through the coin. Using a fingernail, he counted the graven lines as he continued with the declaration of charges, “For being unable to care for yourself, a tenth mark. For challenging to brawl, a tenth mark. For resisting Duke’s Watch in unlawful pursuits, half mark.” He snapped the mark in two at the seventh notch and returned the shorter length to Norrik’s pouch before pocketing the longer.
Fellix started pushing Norrik through the crowd. Judging from the way the big fighter was already limping, Yarvis didn’t think he’d be happy when the alcohol wore off, either.
The tavern keeper stood by the door, a hand out and palm up.
Kolp resisted the urge to spit in it, instead snapped, “What?”
“My part of the fine. He disrupted my business.”
Fellix glanced across Norrik, shaking his head.
There being more than one way to skin a cat, Kolp snorted. “That’s right, you do owe.” He raised his voice, “I, Yarvis Kolp, watchman, levy a spot fine against Aldeg Murblaen for furnishing drink to a drunkard already in his cups; that’ll be a half-mark, Murblaen.”
The barkeep flinched, his open hand balling into a white-knuckled fist as he stared daggers at the watchman.
Yarvis chuckled in his face, enjoying the fat prick’s discomfort. While stiff, the fine wasn’t crushing, and wouldn’t have been levied at all if the ass could have swallowed greed and let the watchmen go about their business in peace.
“Payment, barkeep,” Kolp said when Aldeg didn’t move.
“No buts, Aldeg. Pay.” Some days, being relentless was the only thing that worked.
The barman glared at him a moment, then fished in his sash and produced a half mark. Slapping it in Kolp’s hand with a wordless snarl, he turned and stalked off.
Reflecting that, given his present mood, it was probably good Aldeg didn’t say a word, Kolp closed his fist on the coin and nodded at his partner, who was hiding a grin behind Norrik’s shoulder.
Walking a weaving Norrik between them, they stepped into the crowded Stag Night and turned north toward the Hole. Revelers washed past, most wearing masks and antlers in honor of the Stag King. The watchmen’s lack of headgear set them apart as much as their uniforms and their direction of travel. The river of people headed to the gate the district was named for and the fields beyond parted before them and rejoined in their wake.
“Some beginning to this year’s Stag Night, eh?” Fellix said as they turned down a less-travelled alley and gained some quiet.
“Aye, that’s certain.”
“Think we’ll be herding a lot more folk like our friend here?” Fellix asked, gesturing at Norrik.
“You ask me that every year,” Kolp answered, absently steadying the prisoner when he stumbled.
Fellix shrugged, “I know. It’s just…I would have liked to get home in time to celebrate this one with my boy. You know he’s turning thirteen with tomorrow’s dawn.”
Kolp nodded, “Aye. I’ve already cleared it with Sarge. We’ll get you home before dawn, by hook or by crook.”
Fellix smiled, “Great!”
“Tits!” Norrik shouted, for no apparent reason.
“Quietly now, Norrik.”
“You’re muh only friends.” Norrik slurred.
“Not so, Norrik. You’re a good sort, when you’ve had the wine wrung from you.”
Head jerking up in sudden alert interest, Norrik looked about and licked his lips. “Did someone say wine?”
“No. Just wishful thinking. Go back to sleep walking, Norrik,” Fellix answered.
They cut across Varron’s Way and through another stream of people heading to South Gate. The press of people only let up when they made the next alley.
“Does it seem like there’s more folk about tonight than in years past?”
“Speaking of things asked each year,” Fellix said with a grin.
They turned onto Sluicegate, heading into the mist and noise created by the massive wheels that gave road and district its name. The steady chuff-chuff of the wheels sent a constant thrum from boot to chest this close to the massive mechanisms.
Kolp smiled in return, raising his voice to reply, “You have the right of it. Still…”
Fellix nodded, glancing over his shoulder at the lights carried aloft by the people on their way to observe the harvest rites.
“You’re right, there do seem to be more this year.” He shrugged,
“Probably folk fleeing the warring away south this last summer.”
“That must be it. What’s more, I think we’re stuck with them that took the Duke’s peace and sought shelter here.”
They turned up the stair to the Hole, passing the first of the waterwheels set at intervals along the Sluice. Taller than the three story buildings lining the road, and just as deep beneath the water, the wheels were marvels of Dwarfcraft, sending the water’s power through thousands of gears and mechanisms to feed the city’s looms, saws, hammers, and other devices of industry.
“And it’s like to be work trying to forge relations with that lot.”
“Relations. That a nice way of saying snitches?”
Kolp snorted but did not deny the truth of it, “Among other things, yes.”
They started up the eighty-eight shallow stairs to the Hole, Norrik a hesitant and awkward drag on their progress.
“What else?” Fellix asked.
“Well, the Pavari are odd in their ways: I hear they have to make blood sacrifice to Vradesh at the dark of the Moons.”
Fellix nodded, “Ah, and slaughtering animals after dark is an offense against Duke’s Law.”
“Aye,” Kolp punched his chin upward toward The Hole, “And you know how much I hate it when the Duke’s Magistrate reverses my spot fines.” He stuck a hand out and pointed east to the long Godswalk and the great dome of Duke’s Palace that rose above the city at its end, “Well, should a some temple lawgiver reverse a fine or penalty we’d set in simple ignorance of a proper Path, we would look right fools. And if they thought we were doing it willfully? Started looking at me and you for censuring a proper follower of a sanctioned Path-” he trailed off with a shrug and shake of the head.
That stopped Fellix in his tracks. “Damn,” he muttered.
Fishing in his sash for the key to the Hole, Yarvis pushed Norrik up the last few steps to the iron-banded wooden gate set in the stone face of the Divide.
“I hadn’t thought of that, just worrying on what The Sluicegate crew and White Sashes will do to the newcomers,” Fellix said, walking after.
Kolp nodded. “And you’re right to think on that: I expect this winter will see us busy picking up bodies. Them that can scarce afford a roof over their heads aren’t like to look kindly on giving it up for some local who claims it.” He found the key, used it on the great lock of the Hole and pulled the gate open.
“I know I wouldn’t,” Fellix said as the gate ground open. Beyond the raised portcullis a short hall let out on the holding area before The Great Desk. In the light of the lanterns inside, Kolp made out the bulk of Sergeant Vroker manning the Low Seat.
Kolp’s lips twisted with distaste. “At least until they start in with your wife and son.”
Fellix sighed, guiding Norrik forward. “And there is the threat that speaks loudest.”
“Aye. Them that have no heart know it too, and take advantage of that fact.”
Yarvis urged Norrik on while Fellix closed and locked the gate behind them.
A massive wooden structure of carved ferulwood dominated the far end of the room. Three seats, each one above the last, were housed in the structure. Only the lowest was occupied at the moment; during the day a magistrate would be hearing cases from the High Seat and a sergeant would merely coordinate and record the fines levied but, by long-standing tradition, magistrates didn’t work at night. Instead the senior Night Sergeant, Lannis Vroker, had the responsibility.
Even without the Magistrate and his attendants, the chamber was unusually empty, too empty for Stag Night. With the amount of drinking going on in the city tonight, there should be any number of people being brought before the Sergeant, even this early in the revels.
Yarvis shook his head. The new Day Captain must have given too many watchmen the holy day free from work.
Yarvis cleared his throat and nodded when Sergeant Vroker looked up from his work. Vroker shifted his seat on the first of the rising tiers of black ferulwood comprising the Great Bench, broad ass and great bulk exciting a groan from the tortured wood.
Fellix caught up just as Yarvis doffed his cap and pushed Norrik down to sit on the accused bench.
Sergeant Vroker squinted down at the prisoner, expression making his brown eyes appear a pair of raisins set in dough that had yet to rise. “What charges, Man of the Watch?”
“Norrik of Flax Row: drunk and unable to care for self: a tenth mark. For challenging to brawl: tenth mark. Resisting Duke’s Watch in unlawful pursuits: half mark.”
“Any need for a physicker for you, him or anyone else arising from his resistance?” the fat sergeant asked.
Both watchmen shook their heads.
“Right, then. A preliminary disposition of the fine, pending the magistrate’s approval: three-tenths to maintenance of the Watch, two to the prisoner’s upkeep, and two-tenths to the arresting Watchmen.” He marked the great ledger before him, then turned his gaze back to Norrik, “Prisoner, you will be held until sober, at which time you will go before a magistrate for review of your crimes and adjustment of the fines, if any.”
Norrik’s wet burp was his only reply.
The raisins fixed on Yarvis, “Right, I’ll have him taken to the commons as soon as Fannin gets back.”
“Damn short-sighted, this.”
Vroker rarely expressed a personal opinion on anything but food or drink, surprising Yarvis.
Fellix was quicker to the question. “How so, Sergeant?”
A fat hand waved, taking in the empty chamber. “Our new Day Captain, in his wisdom, didn’t see fit to keep the day watch boys about for tonight’s festivities. Everyone from the Night Watch was caught unawares, but Lord Captain Sokek is already chewing ears down at the Palace.”
“Damn. Things are bound to get ugly,” Yarvis said.
“Yes.” The fat man nodded at the holding bench behind the watchmen, “Leave Norrik in irons and I’ll watch him. I think they’ll need you on the streets sooner than usual.”
As the partners left The Hole, Yarvis saw something in the city below that sent ice water down his spine: the rising flames of a building on fire. He counted streets: just outside Sluicegate; Knacker’s Row or Fuller’s Way.
Fellix saw it a moment later and immediately started running down the stairs.
Unchecked, structure fires could ravage entire districts. With so many out of the city or away from their regular haunts, it was possible there wouldn’t be enough people on hand to fight the flames.
The big watchman brought the whistle to his lips and started to blow the sequence that would warn his brothers there was a fire. Repeating the signal every few breaths, he set out after Fellix.
It looked to be a very long Stag Night.