Sunday, June 7, 2009

Heroes... Chapter Two - "Dunbar"

The peal from the bell in Nender’s Tower was still echoing midnight. A light fog had drifted in from the harbor, limning the roads and buildings with ghostly glow. Unable to see more than a few yards past the lamps that lined the streets, many Harbordowners had locked themselves in for the night, even those that lived along streets that often were a-hurry until dawn.

In Old Town, the Street of Swords zigzagged through seedy neighborhoods, careened around taverns, rowhouses, and faced onto entire blocks of buildings that used to be the weapon smithies that gave the street its name. Now sapped of most of its usual nighttime residents, it was a closed-in world with white borders – a place where sounds traveled further than images.

One figure strode up the street. He was tall, nearly seven feet, and moved with fluid grace. Garbed in gray and green, his shirtsleeves had been cut away to allow his arms freedom of movement. A heavy broadsword hung on his left side, a long dagger on his right. He carried a short bow in his left hand and wore a quiver of arrows across his back. Loose black hair hung wildly to his shoulders.

He was bene sidhe, a great elf. Only infrequently seen outside of Geshuan or Cheldria, his kind was rare in Harbordown. Unlike most of his kin, Dunbar Stormglow found himself more attracted by the wilderness of a big city than to the glades and forests that he thought were laughingly called “the wilds.” Like most of his family, he had taken to the hunt. He had just opted to hunt a different kind of prey.

Ahead of him, Reed Street crossed Swords, wandering away to the west and to the northeast. Chances were good that Two-Dagger Hamish would have veered off here. A block ahead, Swords half-circled around Duithen’s Ale Yard. Even in the fog, there would be at least a dozen serious drinkers in the yard, all of them potential witnesses. Since some of them might be watchmen from the nearby watch house, Dunbar strongly doubted the wounded Hamish would attempt that run.

He drifted to the left and eased to a stop. A left on Reed would take Hamish west to Cargo Street and Dockside, where it would be easier to vanish. A right would take him northeast into New Town, where it would be harder to hide. Dunbar sniffed the air. The smell of blood was thick – thicker than it should be. For a moment, he caught the scent of gore on the air. He stepped off Swords, where the cobblestones broke apart into the rough dirt of Reed Street, and sniffed the air again. The scent of gore had vanished, but the smell of blood remained.

Someone moved behind him. Dunbar raised a hand and brushed his hair away from one pointed ear. The noise continued – the shuffling sounds of rags brushing on cobblestones. He turned to watch a beggar approach.

“I saw something,” the beggar said. “Think you know what.”

“Did you see Two-Dagger Hamish pass this way?”

The beggar raised his hands and slipped off the ancient, rotted gloves that covered them. He folded one glove and tucked it into his fraying rope belt. He laid the other on his palm and showed it to Dunbar.

“I need a new pair.”

“I see that. Will it please me to help pay for that pair?” Dunbar asked, reaching into his belt.

“Oh, aye,” the beggar said, smiling. Dunbar saw only four teeth, unless others were in hiding.

Dunbar set a copper coin on the glove. The beggar folded the glove over it and pointed to a wall about fifteen feet away.

“He stood there a minute.” The beggar didn’t leave.

Dunbar strode to the spot where the beggar had pointed and squatted down. He squinted his half-moon-shaped eyes and found what he was looking for – a splash of blood, a pattern of tiny dots, black on the dirt, splayed out like the stars above. A few of the dots were bigger, large spatters of blood. He spied a dozen tiny drops low on the wall and touched them; they were dry.

Two-Dagger Hamish had passed this way. He carried one of Dunbar’s goose-fletched arrows in his shoulder, a remnant of their earlier clash. Hamish had probably stopped here for a breath and flicked the blood away. Dunbar glared west, into the fog. Hamish had gone toward Cargo Street after all. He’d follow, but only after making quite certain.

“Let me give you another,” he said to the beggar. He fished another coin from his belt and handed it to him. “Is this all that you saw?”

The beggar showed his four teeth before speaking:

“Nah. He stood there and shook blood from his hand. Then he turned and went that way.” The beggar pointed northeast, up the other leg of Reed Street.

Dunbar smiled. Two-Dagger Hamish was a thug, but he was no fool. He’d attempted to lay a false trail. For a moment, he gave the man the slightest bit of credit.

“Did he see you?” he asked the beggar.

“Did you?”

“You ask a fair question. No, I didn’t. But then I wasn’t looking for you.”

“He wasn’t either.”

Dunbar chuckled. “Shall I consider us even, you and I? Or do you think I am still in your debt?”

“No, no, no, sir,” the beggar said. “We’re square. But I suppose if one more coin were to cross my palm, I’d call us friends.”

“No man can have too many friends,” Dunbar said, and crossed his palm. He thanked him and left. Behind him, the beggar began to sing as he wandered away into the fog.

Dunbar almost had Hamish earlier. He’d caught the thug at his home in Hilltop and gotten one good wounding shot off before Hamish surprised him and crashed through his own shutters. Dunbar followed, but Hamish had doubled back through the café he lived above and sowed enough confusion to slow him down. By the time he’d reached the front door, Hamish was gone, leaving only a sporadic blood trail to follow. Tracking him in the city was difficult, not impossible, but it meant that progress was slow. Eventually he’d catch up. Hopefully he’d take him while he was getting his wound tended.

There were no healers in the area that he knew of. There were no temples where he would be welcomed. Hamish had spent ten years earning a reputation as a brutal thug, and most of the churches in the city wouldn’t touch him. No healers, no temples; that left only surgeons.

He growled – a rumble low in his throat. There was a surgeon that would do the work. He knew where he could be found, too – on this stretch of Reed Street.

* * *

The Dark Wife tavern never closed its doors. Its sprawling interior, its hidden rooms, and short, twisting corridors made it a haven for Harbordown’s legally questionable. It served as a meeting-place for some of the city’s mostly-law-abiding, but morally enterprising people, as well. Weaponsmiths and armorers drummed up sales and offered to repair goods, even goods damaged on Watch armor or by Watch weapons. Mercenaries strutted around the taproom, exchanging work opportunities and lies in equal measures. Nightingales sought out customer after customer. Information brokers watched, listened, learned – and often met clients willing to buy what they were selling. And at least one surgeon could often be found there.
Dunbar threw open the doors to the Dark Wife and strolled inside. His eyes took in everyone in the room and dared anyone to leave. No one took up the challenge. Two dozen or so men and women were drinking, a few more were drunk, and a few more than that were drunkenly unconscious. Dunbar glanced around.
“I’m looking for the surgeon, Orfie Koneck,” he told the room at large. No one answered. He glanced down. Sawdust covered the floor, as was the custom, to soak up the spilled ale, vomit, and blood. There was no blood here; the sawdust was clean and light-colored. He strolled deeper into the taproom and paused between two long trestle tables. The sawdust here was dark, damp, and foul.
He turned around and cocked his head as he spied a little man who bore a passing resemblance to a pigeon. As Dunbar strolled toward him, the little man tried to hide his face in his tankard. Dunbar tapped him on the shoulder, effectively culling him from the herd.
“Good morning, Bemmy.” He left the pigeon-man behind and strolled back toward the bar.
The barman, a large muscular man in fine warrior’s shape, watched him.
“Piss off,” he said, spitting on the floor.
“Why have you changed the sawdust?”
“I said piss off.”
Dunbar stared at the man for a moment.
“Do you recognize this?” He pulled a goose-fletched arrow from his quiver and showed it to the barman.
“Never seen it before.”
“It looks just like one I put inside Two-Dagger Hamish. It’s Hamish I want.”
“Don’t know him, don’t know you,” the barman said. “Piss off.”
Dunbar tapped the arrowhead sharply against the bar. “I believe I’d like an ale.” He reached into his belt and produced a bronze coin. He dropped it on the rough wood. “You may keep what’s left.”
Instead of commenting, the barman scooped up the coin. He dipped a heavy wood tankard into an open barrel. He banged it down on the bar in front of the sidhe. Dunbar took a long swallow. Over the rim, he saw the room had gone quiet; the patrons were waiting to see what was going to happen. Only Bemmy had moved a few feet toward the door. Dunbar smiled; he hadn’t even seen the little man move.
“Thank you. This is quite good,” he said, and took another drink.
The barman nodded.
“For dog water.”
“Piss off.”
“I think more likely piss in.”
Bemmy leapt from the bench and ran for the door. Dunbar spun, hurling the arrow as he moved. It slammed into the door, point-first, inches from Bemmy’s nose. The little pigeon-man squeaked, stopped, and spun.
Dunbar reached for his dagger with his left hand. He heard a clatter behind him and punched backward with his right – which still held the tankard. The thick mug smashed the barman in the face. A broken table leg fell from his hand as he scrabbled at his shattered nose.
Dunbar flung the dagger. It struck the door to Bemmy’s right, bracketing him in. Dunbar drew his broadsword and moved toward him. The little man squeaked again, ducked under the dagger, and raced across the room. Dunbar ran after him, following him up a short flight of stairs and into the maze of corridors. Behind him, he heard voices telling Bemmy to run faster and one man offered up a bet at four-to-one.
He found Bemmy around a corner in an S-shaped hallway.
“Hamishwashere,” the informant told him, quickly and quietly, his words running into one.
“Did he go with the surgeon?”
“Has either one returned?”
“How long ago was this?” He put an arm around Bemmy and began walking him back through the maze of halls, toward the taproom.
"Anhouratleast.” Bemmy’s voice sped up again as he let Dunbar lead.
“I’m going to bounce you now,” Dunbar said, as they stopped at the top of the stairs.
“You know they’re listening.” Dunbar grabbed Bemmy by the shirt, lifted him, and tossed him down the stairs. The little man crashed into the floor and tumbled into the wall. Bemmy squeaked again and started to run back into the taproom. Dunbar followed.
Those few patrons who hadn’t left when they went upstairs cheered as he caught Bemmy by the arm and spun him to face him. Bemmy drew back his fist. Dunbar casually knocked his head against the nearest table and picked him up again.
“Where are the jakes?” he asked the nearest harlot, who snorted and laughed. She pointed at a door, nearly hidden in a corner. Bemmy cried out as Dunbar carried him toward it. A few of the patrons began a chant:
“Dunk him! Dunk him!”
Dunbar kicked open the door and went inside. Bemmy grabbed at the threshold. Dunbar pried his fingers loose and slammed the door shut with them inside. He didn’t like beating Bemmy around like this, but appearances had to be maintained.
“Iwantthreesilverpieces,” Bemmy hissed.
"I’m willing to give you one.”
“For three, you leave here with shite on you.”
"I’vehadworse. Orfie has a new place over near Willem’s Chandlery.”
“There are a lot of buildings ‘over near Willem’s Chandlery.’”
“Gashlan’s Lane behind the chandlery! Three buildings up on the right. Big gray stone place. He’s on the third floor.”
Dunbar thanked him and spun him into a head-down position.
“You’d better hold your breath,” Dunbar said and shoved him into the hole. Bemmy’s feet were all that remained visible. They kicked as he cried out. Dunbar tucked the coins into the informant’s shoe and left. In the taproom, those patrons still waiting laughed as Dunbar exited. He couldn’t care less. These people would’ve laughed had Bemmy stuck a sword in his belly. Dunbar looked for the broken barman, but he had disappeared. At the door, the arrow was still lodged, but the dagger was gone. He shrugged. In Harbordown, losing a weapon, or one’s dignity, was just the cost of doing business.

* * *

“Good evening, Orfie,” Dunbar said, striding over the broken door and into the darkened room. Only a hint of moonlight from outside illuminated the room. In the faint glow, Dunbar saw the surgeon sitting up in his bed.
“Don’t bother reaching for a weapon. You’ll not reach one in time.” Dunbar kept his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“What do you want?” the surgeon asked.
“I want the man you just patched. I want Two-Dagger Hamish.” He pulled an arrow from his quiver and sat on the edge of Koneck’s bed. He waved the arrow under the surgeon’s nose.
“What is that? I can’t see in the dark, you know.”
“Strange. I can.” Dunbar flexed a muscle behind his eyes. The faint moonlight outside the apartment seemed to flood into the room, shifting from white to green as it did. In a moment, he could see fairly clearly, but everything was tinged in dozens of shades of green.
His eyes glowed a fiery green – and he knew it.
“Dear fucking goddess,” Orfie said. “What are you?”
“I’m the one searching for Two-Dagger Hamish.” He sniffed. “You’re the one who’s just soiled your bed.”
“You can see that?”
“I don’t need my eyes for that. I can also tell you’ve been drinking that dog piss at the Dark Wife. That’s going to leave a stain, I think.”
“Orfie, you erode my patience and my wit. This, in my hand, is an arrow. It is my arrow. It is quite similar to the one you pulled from the shoulder of Hamish earlier.”
“I…I don’t know—”
“You are playing a game with me that you don’t wish me to play. I prefer not to threaten you, but I shall: I want Two-Dagger Hamish. You’ve nothing to gain by keeping his location from me, but you’ve much to lose.” Dunbar watched Orfie think. He relaxed the nightsight muscles behind his eyes; green faded to darkness, but he could still saw the surgeon’s outline.
“If anyone asks, I’ll tell them that I beat the truth from you.”
“He went to the Corner,” Orfie blurted. “I think he’s going to hire someone to kill you.”
“You’re Dunbar the hunter, right – the one that shot him?”
“How long ago did he leave?”
“Fifteen minutes ago.”
“Thank you.” Dunbar stood.
“Did he do it? Did he do all of that?”
“Yes,” Dunbar answered, wiping his hand on his leg. “If you’ve pissed on my leg, I’m going to be angry.”
“He has enough money to hire several men,” Orfie said.
Dunbar turned to face the man lying in bed. “I know.”

* * *

Two-Dagger Hamish ran. Stormglow would be behind him somewhere. He’d been following him since they had clashed a few hours back. His shoulder hurt where the damned arrow had bit him, but the surgeon’s work was good, and the vallan weed kept the pain to a minimum. Hamish ran through the fog along the northern end of Cargo Street – the border between Old Town and Dockside. Half a mile ahead was the Corner, where he could buy help. It was a dive, a filthy tavern without even a proper name. The Corner was its description, where the street met Two Dogs Alley.
Hamish’s heart pounded and his chest heaved. A stitch had developed in his side several blocks back, but he wasn’t about to stop. The damned hunter wasn’t known for quitting. The spider’s web of alleys and short streets between Orfie’s and Cargo Street had slowed him down, but it would make it impossible for Stormglow to follow, unless he could fly.

* * *

Dunbar raced along the roof of a block of rowhouses, forty feet above the ground. His feet, clad in soft boots, found easy footing on the tarred, uneven surface. He reached the end of the row and leapt. Wind whipped past his ears as he cleared an alley and landed neatly atop a vast warehouse that had spilled out from its original foundation and filled the empty spaces in a block. He increased his speed along the uneven rooflines – rooflines that had changed and warped as the warehouse had grown over the decades. From corner to corner he raced, aiming himself at Cargo Street. As he approached the end of the roof, a figure appeared in the fog, barely visible as he crossed the street a block away. Dunbar smiled as he launched himself away from the warehouse and hurled himself over the thoroughfare.

* * *

Hamish’s feet pounded the pavement as he crossed Bell Street. Nerves jangling, he would’ve sworn he heard someone running. As he crossed Bell, he looked back over his shoulder, but saw no one in the fog.
He faced ahead again and put on a burst of speed.

* * *

The roofline dropped. Dunbar’s feet hit the hardscrabble roof and slipped. He fell backward, scouring his free hand on the rough surface. Regaining his balance, he raced for the narrow alley that separated the Corner from this low row of buildings. Without stopping, he threw himself off the roof.

* * *

Something crashed into a pile of garbage in the alley next to Hamish. Ignoring the noise, he slowed to a stop, grabbing his sides and trying to catch his breath. He was staggering toward the warped front door of the Corner when someone called his name. Recognizing the voice, Hamish froze and turned.
A tall figure strode out of the fog.

* * *

Dunbar slammed his fist into Hamish’s face. His head jerked back, and he fell to the street. Dunbar moved toward him, feeling a stitch in his own side.
“Godsdammit!” Hamish shouted. “No!”
Dunbar kicked him in the chest. A few ribs cracked under the blow. He would have kicked him in the face; it would have been most satisfying to do so. But he didn’t want him too badly hurt; he wanted him to stand trial. Since the Watch hadn’t been able to bring Hamish down, he did.
He watched the man clutching his own ribs, trying to move. Dunbar drew his sword and rested the point in the hollow of Hamish’s throat.
“Hamish Fleer, Two-Dagger Hamish,” Dunbar said, “In absence of the City Watch, and on my own, I hereby arrest you for the rapes and murders of Caryl Quillvie, Greta Longlegs, Aura Farsinger, Malia Dennets, Genya yip Kurran…”

1 comment:

  1. Like the street names.
    (Only) Infrequently seen outside of Geshuan....
    Nice characterization - He optd to hunt a different kind of prey. the west and (to the) northeast.
    Good logical thought process as to the direction Hamish would go.
    Still don't get the difference in smell betw/ blood and gore.
    I like the beggar teeth description and the dialogue betw/ the two.
    Nice description of the blood on the dirt.
    Dunbar almost had Hamish earlier - we already know that so tell us something new, find a new transition sentence or start Earlier, he'd caught....
    Nice logical deductions by Dunbar.
    Nice phrasing - Harbortown's legally questionable.
    Good overall description of tavern and its occupants/clientele.
    Might like to see more of the entertainment value to those that stayed to watch Dunbar work over Bemmy.
    ; he hadn't (even) seen the little man move.
    (The) few patrons who hadn't left....
    By the surgeon, I'm losing interest. I need more info on Hamish and his crimes. It's taking to long to reach the confrontation. Need something to build the tension, show me his dangerousness.
    I find the surgeon's dialong stilted.
    When I think of soiled I think of shit not piss.
    I don't find Dunbar's dialogue witty - maybe change it to humour and take advantage of double meaning.
    I appreciate the detail but the chapter drags to the point with no building tension. I appreciate Hamish's pov but comes to late.
    The contrast of street and rooftop chase is nice but it's still description.

    Denise writer's group