This is something that I wrote years ago. It was intended to be the first chapter in a book, but other obligations carried me away so long that when I returned my ideas about the book had changed so dramatically that this chapter simply couldn’t be used. Nevertheless, it has been edited to a degree, but it remains rough. The whole thing is nearly four thousand words, so I decided to break it into two parts. Even so, it was not an elegant division. Anyways–enjoy.
The evening sky boiled and billowed with the bilious fury of a vengeful god pounding his indomitable fists upon the invincible vault of heaven. The black and boisterous clouds that consumed altogether the starry lights of the glittering firmament resounded and sharply shimmered bright with his fury that struck superlative sparks from the dusky shroud of pregnant darkness. The rain came down effluvial and did not merely soften and moisten the closely-crowded paths of rootless mud that proved a slippery obstacle amidst the unrelenting downpour; indeed, the streets were virtually abandoned of soaked and shivering travelers, far more numerous with the swaying torches ensconced within leaded glassware that danced choral amidst the pitiless wind that bade them bounce upon their housings.
The cast of regretfully heavy foot-falls came plodding about the corner, splashing about the heavy mud amidst the growing flood. A figure, enshrouded within an increasingly water-heavy cloak of darkened green, rounded the corner, struggling to maintain a safe and regular gait upon her unsteadied soles. The enkindled and guarded flame of a public house stilled and nevertheless bade welcome upon the weary traveler—the silent crier for an establishment known as “The Sultry Priestess,” known to be a hive of undesirables, untouchables, and even the occasional capital criminal. Staggering upon her slippery feet with inexorable purpose, she nevertheless went among the vacated way not unobserved, laying a dainty and woman-like hand upon the thick and wax-preserved door of ancient and unmaintained manufacture which squeaked and reeled upon its hinges with ear-piercing protest against this unhoped and undesired intruder, who knew already well the dangers she exposed to herself in such display of presumptuously child-like innocence.
But innocent she was not, and in the full view of the suddenly silent mass of men huddled wearily about their cups, illuminated darkly amidst only the flickering light of dying candles, she worked her way with expert and dancer’s care, not so much as brushing past, producing irritation, the gambler’s eyes of luckless men intent upon their gambler’s games. The room rumbled with violated irritation, the presence of a lithe and feminine figure intruding upon their long-deserved depression, but she maintained herself to her purpose, resolute under the shadows that obscured her mysterious countenance. Moving forward, but hopefully out of place, she alighted upon the crowded bar to meet the defensive gaze of the bartender’s jaundice-eyes with her own, flashing grey amidst the simmering candle-light.
Content to spare her a terrible misery, he thought, still suffering the dull recollection of his own familial miseries, he bade her leave. “Go. Get out of here. That’s your only warning. This place isn’t for you. I won’t serve you so much as a cup of lukewarm milk, darling child.”
But she possessed her own purpose, a potentially lethal purpose, and from that understanding she could not stray from her own path, and she placed a jingling bag of coins upon the bar, catching the eyes of every man within. “You have information,” she began with a strange accent—no city accent certainly, something that seemed terrifically antiquated, but not without its own somehow magical charms.
“Keep your money,” he replied with a pointed whisper, and he continued to chide her, “leave now. Go. Take your money and go.”
But she continued unabated. “I need to find a man—well not exactly a man, but a dwarf. They say he frequents this establishment. Ancient, they also say, and a potent killer in his own right—at one time a lawman, they also say.” With this, she flashed a blade from beneath her heavy cloak, implying blood or money; one will pay.
And with this he was irritated, and he knew this darkening hall to be filled from brim to brim with poniard-ready men of varying but violent caliber. But armed with a once-father’s contempt of violence, he bade her with a knowing glance across the simmering hall, to a corner that the light seemed itself to flee, a figure within, of unknown proportions, enshrouded within the protecting veil of mother-night.
“Ask him,” is all he said before returning to this mundane tasks.
The room rang eerily quiet, with only the crackling of the midnight torches to prove the verifiability of hearing. Perhaps then she would have succumbed to the cruel assaults of desperate and remorseless men keen on little more than clinking gold and the softness of a well-born woman’s pliant flesh, but directed into the darkened danger that lingered somnolescent within the corner, they continued to abate, knowingly terrified of an ancient danger obfuscated within. Much better than to gamble poorly amidst painted cards than to gamble their lives away upon the violent contemptuousness of a dwarf’s sensibilities.
Scanning her gaze askance, she had already forgotten the bartender as she moved away with acrobatic grace, not so much as grazing the suffering napes of the inebriated within. A shadowed figure lingered within, resting upon a bottle-besotted table pressed within the darkness as if an exile in mirror of its catatonic occupant.
Without so much as a prayer, without even the cast of a whisper from her thin lips, she rested herself upon a rickety chair that would have spelled for a heavier load utter collapse.
“I’m looking for a lawman,” is all she said.
Without so much as grunt, his breathless gaze remained unchanged, fixed in place by the terrors of the maze of his own mind.
Seeking lower, she attempted to meet his tired eyes to no effect, as he continued in the self-punishment of his own altogether too considerate thoughts.
“I’m looking for a lawman,” she repeated, as she, without a clink, produced a bottle from her concealments, exposing her lovely, leather-bottled frame with a single motion for his eyes alone.
But it was not the production of her athletic and competent frame that shook from him his own private and long-protected misery but the production of the excellent bottle itself, complete with another gasp of thought-shattering goodness that would bring at least another evening’s worth of mind-befuddling numbness.
His gaze arose, and he grinned a yellow-toothed smile that spelled a desperate acquiescence. And with a master’s dexterity he thumbed the bottle’s cap away and began the imbibing of its brown-bubbling contents.
“So you’ve heard a thing or two,” he replied finally, “and you’ve come seeking an ancient lawman—so you say. But goodness upon goodness,” he started with a snarl, “your memory must be ancient, more ancient than men, to remember my adventures—my terrible labors in the sordid service of justice that have rendered a proud dwarf of dwarves into the shattered creature that lies here before you.”
But it seemed she had no time for the self-pity and self-loathing of so proud and sometimes senseless a people, and she replied with mechanical rhythm of breath, “Time enough for your exhausted stories later.” She squeezed out her odor-reddened cheeks amidst the potency of his violent breath. “I need to know, and I need to know now if you can be the experienced lawman that I now require, ready to follow my direction at a moment’s notice.” She paused as if ashamed of what would come next. “I have coin, lots of coin, if you should observe my desperate request. I’m ready to requite you thoroughly, if you should just provide me what you have in natural abundance.”
“Being a drunk?” he asked with a child-like smile belying his fatigued years.
“Being a clever fellow of unsullied virtue, one who is not only willing but known to sacrifice for the cause of justice.”
“So you just go about walking within the dens of blameable criminals looking for sapphires of perfect character?”
“Far from it,” he replied, offended by the strange and potent sin of her surroundings. “You’re a difficult creature to track, but your friends speak well of you. Very well. Superlatively.”
“I must meet then these friends of mine and bid them mind their own business.”