Monday, December 5, 2011

Chapter Two: Part Two

Continued from December 3,

By then it was late morning and his big cigar had nearly burned to the stub. His walk had brought him through the brown streets, over the dusty cobbles, to SĂșthende’s main square. The square had two fountains, both empty of water and partly full of dead leaves and snow. Between them stretched a chessboard made of red and white flagstones, each square five feet to a side. The fight would be in the middle of the chessboard, Silk my lad. He sat on the low wall of one of the fountains, finishing his cigar and sipping the bottle of wine.

Near the other fountain the keeper of the wine shop looked around, trying to be non-descript. Silk also saw two of the bookies he’d seen that day. They exchanged nods then went to different hang-out spots—one to a cafĂ© and the other sat on a templeyard wall and began whittling a piece of wood.

Flicking the last end of his cigar onto the cobblestones, Silk determined to spread the rumor wider. He wanted more coverage. Just one more will probably do.

A pub stood over-looking the square. Go there—talk to the lass behind the bar. The ground floor had no wall keeping traffic out, and people wandered in and out of the low, dim room. Silk ordered some stew and coffee at the bar from a woman with dimples, dense braids, and shrewd eyes.

“I know your face,” she said after he’d ordered his food. “I saw you fight down Southland way in the spring festival rings. You dropped a man three times your size.” Silk grinned at her. He was sure she exaggerated, but he didn’t mind. “I heard you’re bragging you’ll fight our sheriff.”

“I heard that rumor,” Silk said. He lowered his voice, forcing her to bend toward him over the counter.

“You’ll not fare well in fisticuffs with our sheriff,” she said, though she looked him up and down, thoughtfulness in her eyes. She seemed less sure of the statement because of his presence here before her. He stood taller than everyone else in the pub.

“No. I’ll do well. It’ll be the best fight you ever saw,” he said.

“You’re a bit cheeky, ain’t you?”

Silk smiled. Yes, he is a bit.

He waited for his food at a table near the front, where he could be easily seen from the street. The sky cleared as the morning turned to afternoon, though the air bit with chilly stagnation. The barmaid whispered his identity to everyone who came ordered something. Folk walked past outside with their murmurings and gesturings, confirming to each other that the rumors were true: Silk was there. It made him smile. He smiled a lot these days. The freedom of his new life choices pleased him, he supposed. New life. New direction. Yes.

When the stew came he took his time chewing through it. The crowd nearby increased and tried hard not to look at him as news spread that he was himself. He liked the sound of their inane chatter. It soothed him to have so much noise filling his ears; it kept his thoughts subdued. The stew gone, his cigar gone, Silk crossed his legs in the wooden chair where he sat and asked for a cup from the barmaid. She brought it to him.

Looking out at the square and the slowly growing crowd there, Silk finished his bottle of wine.

He had a long history with the Wiga. They’d always taken opposite sides in the war. During the War, that he and the Wiga would oppose each other was on a very short list of reliable facts of life. They opposed each other on everything. If Silk’s leaders commanded him to infiltrate some forest with an impenetrable maze of traps then the Wiga had made the maze—if Silk designed the most fool-proof plain of attack ever devised then the Wiga found the pinhole that could bring it down—if the Wiga’s reputation as a drinker had one short-coming it was Silk’s reputation being just as impressive. In all the years they had spent fighting, Silk had never met the Wiga face to face.

He liked the idea of meeting the Wiga this way. Single combat—hopefully not quite to the death. Should be a bit of a lark.

Silk sat for about an hour after the last drip of wine had dried from the bottle. The bookies had started shouting odds and things like that. The milling people had turned into a full crowd. They seemed to have an instinct that the middle few squares of the chess board in the middle of the square ought to be reserved for the fight and they avoided those flagstones. The temperature had started dropping. Dusk approached. The sky filled again with clouds. Silk smelled coming snow.

A thin, faraway-eyed youth, his fiery-red hair grown long past his shoulders, stood nearby, watching the milling crowd with the slow expression of someone used to seeing more than other people. He wore old brown leather, dirty wool dyed blue, and linen clothing—not rich clothing but well made and durable. Judging from the sheer wear in the clothes he had traveled a great deal, but judging from how clean they were he had not traveled recently. Silk called him over. Without smiling, but cordially, the youth came to Silk’s table.

“What’s your name?” Silk asked him.

“I’m called Digger,” Digger said.

“Sit with me, Master Digger,” Silk said. Digger sat at the wooden table. “I’m called Silk Golinvaux.”

“I know,” Digger said. He took a thoughtful, even tone, exerting more energy in listening.

“What are your talents, Master Digger?” Silk, with his legs, crossed one over the other, met Digger’s faraway eyes. Digger stared right back. A sort of cloud seemed to fill Digger’s eyes. Not something visible. Digger’s pupils were as dark as anyone’s. They had something about them that drew attention once time had been taken to look closely at them. Silk could not, unlike with most other men, immediately guess Digger’s thoughts. It would take some education of Digger’s tells before he could be easily read.

“I’m a fairly good fighter,” Digger said.

“Can you command a crowd?” Silk asked. “I need a herald. But I know no one in town.”

“I am a fair orator. The townspeople here respect me—they’ll listen if I talk. I can act your herald,” Digger said.

“I’ll pay you,” Silk said.

“Of course you will,” Digger said. He fell silent, neither asking how much nor asking what to say. He did smile—a small smile—a suggestion to keep talking. Digger would listen. Silk felt somewhat bemused to be invited to speak. It was almost as if Digger thought he controlled the situation. Silk saw nothing to control. He explained what he wanted anyway.

“Have you seen any of the fights at the Mayfair Bazaar in the south?” Silk asked.

“Aye,” Digger said.

“Do you think you could talk like those heralds?” Silk asked. Digger nodded. “Good. Do you have any familiarity with my history?” He had to ask. Many people knew it.

“I’ve had many a military history lesson,” Digger said. “My father followed your career.”

“Did he?”


“And who is your father?” Silk asked, because it was polite. He didn’t especially care. “Would I have heard of him?”

“My father is the Wiga, him that you’re planning to fight now.”

Silk smiled. “How does that suit you?”

“Suits me fine,” Digger said. He stood. “I’ll act as your herald. You’re ready now, I suppose.”

“Yes,” Silk stood as well. He and Digger walked into the square. Folk caught sight of them and started nattering. “You have no argument if I challenge your father to a fight?”

“You care?” Digger asked.

“Not especially. Another man might have.”

“I have no reason to expect him to appear,” Digger said, his tone still flat.

“Bad blood in the family, eh?” Silk asked. He never understood bad blood in families. He didn’t have a family so he lacked context. He tried to understand. He could pretend to understand. He failed to truly grasp it.

“A bit,” Digger said. They’d reached the center of the chessboard in the middle of the square. “He left me and me mum when I had only just turned twelve. I haven’t seen hide of him since.”

“Poor dear,” Silk said without feigning much sympathy. He came to suspect as he spoke to Digger that lying to him about anything would serve little advantage.

Digger smiled back to Silk another odd smile. This time the faint expression bespoke of a complex set of emotions—resignation, resentment, mingled with small amusement and triumph. Silk felt he might have missed something. The smile seemed only partly from the mention of Digger’s father.

Digger raised his voice and—projecting rather than shouting—announced Silk to the crowd.

Continued on December 7...

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