‘It’s interesting, I’ll give you that much,’ Havar rasped, gnarled hands spotted with age and scarred by the spit of hot forged metal, turned the silver bracelet. Watery eyes squinted to examine the jewels.
It was the find of a lifetime for Baird. One he held back long as he could, until just the thought of it burning a hole in his pocket convinced him selling was a damn good reason to crawl out of hiding and earn some coin. He waited three days for the healer to return, but no luck. He needed to eat, damn it!
Havar’s long fingers brushed over the bracelet’s oddly patterned surface of runes, passing over the black crystals inset into the metal. ‘Obsidian,’ muttered Havar, leaning in for a closer look. ‘Intriguing…’
Baird sighed. This could take a while. He slipped off the wooden stool Havar supplied for all his clients and wandered around the shop. Floor to ceiling shelves crammed the narrow space, stuffed with all sorts of weird things…hats for one thing, dozens, if not hundreds, all shapes and sizes. Coats, dresses, some of fine velvet and silk, others less so, made of coarse undyed linen. Higher up books and ribbon tied scrolls vied for space with strands of copper wire, unworked crystals, knives, jewelled daggers and even sticks that were wierdly polished to a high sheen…
Frowning slightly, Baird went a little closer. These staves were odd. His eyes widened, not wood at all! Poor lamplight flickered over amber, polished smooth and carefully bound with tarnished silver…
‘Don’t,’ Havar’s harsh voice cracked slightly, but Baird snatched his hand back. Havar gave him an odd look with red-rimmed pale eyes that never changed, always dull and grey. Now sharp, keen.
‘Shouldn’t even have them.’ Havar cranked his bony limbs out of a deep leather chair and shuffled from behind his massive oak work table, it’s once glossy surface stained by cup rings and ink spots.
Baird quickly moved aside, not out of respect or anything, but Havar reeked of Root smoke, a bitter odor that clung to the old man like a second unwashed skin.
Havar didn’t appear to notice the significant gap Baird created bewteen them and reached to pull a thick tomb off a low shelf, yellowed pages wrapped in a cracked skin of ancient leather. He dropped it onto the oak table with a dull thud and flipped aside the cover to reveal crammed spidery text.
Running a finger down a length of dense writing, Havar jabbed the middle of the page. Baird only wanted to get paid, but was smart enough to humour the old man. Glancing down, he began to read.
Leaning against the edge of the table, Havar watched him closely. Baird didn’t look directly, yet he could feel the man’s eyes boring into his skull. He came to the end of the page and took a step back…
‘What are you saying?’ his tone was sharper than he intended and Havar narrowed his eyes.
‘What do you think it means?’ he asked.
‘That if anyone finds you have this you’re a dead man and I’ll be on the chopping block next door to your corpse just by association.’
Havar made an odd noise in the back of his throat. Baird couldn’t damn well believe it. The daft old bat was laughing. ‘I don’t find anything funny, old man,’ he snapped, wishing he could stab the bastard and steal what he needed, except the old man was a source of constant income. He bought anything for decent coin. Where he got it from, no-one knew. Havar never appeared to leave his damn shop.
One more gruesome fact Baird didn’t want to recall…Idiots who robbed Havar that one time…Well, Baird repressed a shudder, Warders only found charred bones in the thieves suspected hideout.
There was a lot of weird shit going around about this old man. Some old fool claimed Havar was a mage, one of the ancient Grisaille, a sect that was around at the time of Eliat, but was destroyed.
Baird scowled, why was it he always got the shit-end of the stick? First that woman just appearing in the alley and healing his face without asking for any payment? And now this? Why’d it happen?
Just when he thought of taking back his damn bracelet and walking, Havar bent over and set about trying to hack up his lungs. Baird swore and went around the table, yanked open the top drawer and drew out the pewter flask Havar kept there for when his body was wracked with coughing fits like this.
Pulling free the stopper, Havar took a deep swallow of the flask’s contents, sighed, and gave Baird a quick nod of thanks before pocketing the flask in his long woolen robe.
The leather sacks tied to his feet rasped across the floorboards as Havar made his way behind the relative safety of his desk. Slowly, he sank down into his chair with another sigh.
‘You think I’m crazy,’ Havar stated. ‘But not so much that you won’t listen.’ He stared intently. ‘Like you let that woman heal the cut Gren gave you when you tried to kill him.’
Baird qiuckly glanced back at the door to fix his escape route in mind before turning back to Havar. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Don’t lie to me, boy!’ Havar snapped. ‘Nothing happens in this dump of a town I don’t know about, even if idiots like you believe your secrets are safe, I find out everything in the end.’
‘That’s nice.’ Baird inched to the door, while keeping a firm hand on the knife in the back of his belt.
‘Don’t bother.’ Havar stopped him. ‘I’m not about to blab. Your mysterious healer is safe with me.’
Taking his hand off the knife’s wooden hilt, Baird narrowed his eyes. ‘What are you saying now?’
Havar pressed his thumb against the lip of the table that was on his side. A thin drawer at the front popped free, almost taking Baird in the knee cap.
He jumped back. ‘What the…’ He glared, but Havar merely gestured he should take a look. At least that’s what Baird assumed the raised eyebrow and jerk of the head meant.
The drawer was more of a shelf really, carved hollow in order to house the contents. Baird leaned in for a closer look. ‘What?’ His hand was closing around the smooth wood of the dull black hilt before he even realised what he was doing. His fingers curled about the polished ebony…
‘Shit!’ Baird leapt back, a static charge shocked through his entire body and set his heart thumping so hard he worried the damn thing might burst out his ribcage. ‘That thing is dangerous,’ he hissed.
His memory flared. The woman who healed him in the alley after Gren sliced his face, she was the same as that damn blade or whatever the Hell it was supposed to be. When he accidentally touched her…He shuddered. It wasn’t exactly pleasant being smacked head first into a wall…Baird shook it off.
Havar said nothing. Just stared at him with those weird pale eyes of his. Like he knew what Baird was thinking. Yet, at the moment, wasn’t prepared to say anything about it. Baird scowled.
Giving him a watery smile, Havar slipped the soft leather cap off his head, exposing a few wisps of pure white hair sticking up from his liver spotted scalp.
Picking up a small wooden case from the cluttered surface of his desk, he flipped the lid, removed the metal rimmed spectacles inside and with methodical precision, cleaned the lenses with his cap.
‘Are you going to pay me for the bracelet or do I have to go elsewhere?’ Baird demanded, shuffling his feet as he inched his way further from the drawer and it’s risky contents.
Havar slipped the glasses onto the end of his nose and gave Baird a hard stare over the rims. ‘And where would you go? To Gren, perhaps?’ He shook his head. ‘No, next time, he won’t be so clumsy.’
Baird scowled. ‘You call what he did, clumsy?’
‘You were fortunate he was too preoccupied to follow and finish the job,’ Havar countered.
‘Too busy,’ Baird snarled, hand going behind his back for the blade he kept there.
‘Don’t,’ Havar repeated the same tone he used when Baird reached for one of those amber things.
Baird froze…’What are you…?’ His hand wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard he willed otherwise.
‘I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years, boy.’ Havar replaced the cap on his head and turned the heavy tomb around. ‘You might do well to take my advice and pick up that blade from the drawer.’
Baird spoke through gritted teeth,’ Why?’
‘Because you’re going to need it’s help.’
The look Havar gave him made Baird’s desicion for him. Once he did, he could move. Drawing the odd wooden blade from it’s hiding place, Baird noticed the flat top of the pommel was engraved with a skilled drawing of a snarling hound. It was the weapon’s only decoration. The actual blade was also of the same black timber as the hilt. There was no hint of metal. Baird ran a finger along the edge.
He hissed as the sting of a cut burned and blood welled against his skin. Havar chuckled softly and shook his head again. ‘Just because it looks harmless doesn’t mean it is,’ he remarked.
‘Thanks,’ Baird muttered and stuffed the blade in his belt.
‘No,’ Havar exclaimed and leapt from his chair.
Baird had never seen the man move so fast.
Rummaging in a large pile of what Baird always assumed was old junk cluttered behind his desk, Havar pulled a tooled belt from the center and tossed it. Baird caught the tangle of belt and sheath.
‘Use that,’ Havar instructed in a tone that brooked no argument.
Setting the jet blade on the table, Baird fastened the new belt over his existing one that held up his trousers. Baird tightened the buckle a few more notches until satisifed. He sheathed the jet blade.
‘Better,’ Havar approved and sat back down.
‘That’s nice, but what am I supposed to do with a wooden blade?’
‘You’ll know, soon enough.’
Baird scowled. ‘Why does that sound so ominous?’
Havar just smiled. ‘Because it pretty much is.’
If there was one damn thing in this world Baird hated, it was mysteries and those that spouted them.
Turning down a side-street and back into the alley that had become his temporary home, Baird sat with his back against the same wall as last time and waited for the woman he wanted to interrogate.
He needed answers, damn it! This healer or whatever the hell she was suppose to be would give him what he wanted or he’d use that damn blade Havar forced on him and out it to good use.
‘Shit,’ Baird muttered under his breath. He wouldn’t use the blade on her. After what she did to help him, he should turn over the Palace Dump and find her a god’s damned medal.
He couldn’t stay here much longer either. Gren might be many things, but he wasn’t a fool. He just used Moron and Stupid as personal bodyguards who occasionally beat owed coin out of debtors.
‘That’d be me,’ Baird murmured to himself. At first it was all so easy, too easy. Borrow a little silver to pay off the card sharks, then win again to reduce his debt with Gren. Then, it all spiralled out of his control. Gren increased interest rates without telling him until it was too late to counter the higher sum.
Even those crumpled notes stuffed in his coat pocket wouldn’t be enough to pay off Gren. Maybe they’d buy him a cheap meal and a pint, but the paper was mostly worthless. Gren liked to be paid in kind. If he gave silver, he expected the same in return, plus interest, of course. Baird’s mood soured.
Selling Havar a thousand of those damned bracelets wouldn’t wipe clean his slate. Gren had made sure he’d be owing money all his life, what was left of that short span anyway.
Shifting position, Baird winced as hard ground pressed into his thighs, making his hips ache like an old man’s. His hand just happened to brush against the dark wood blade. ‘Damn,’ he hissed sharply.
It was like being stung by a bee, hell, a hundred bees. Baird shook his throbbing hand. His gaze strayed to the far end of the alley. Shadows flitted past the opening, two came inside, heading for him.
‘Oh, fuck…’Baird scrambled to his feet. He backed away, sideways up the alley, palm scraping the wall as he increased his speed to get away from the gleam of eyes that were fixed on him.
The scuff of boots picked up as they realised he’d seen them. Metal whispered against leather as blades were pulled free of sheaths. ‘Baird you bastard!’ Moron shouted. ‘Don’t bother! We have you!’
‘Oh, no you don’t.’ Baird turned and fled.
‘You little fuck!’ Stupid’s curse bounced off the walls, but he was too far away to do anything.
Racing up the street, Baird expertly wound his way between the jostling crowds of shopper and the odd passer-by without so much as brushing a shoulder or tripping over his own feet.
Havar’s last words rang in his thoughts as he ran like an omen of doom.
Oh, yeah, he’d been lucky this time. Saved even. The blade warned him, just in the nick of time.
How about next time, though? Or the one after that? Eventually, he’d have to face Gren.
Baird scuttled up a narrow jitty where the walls pressed against his back and chest, tugging at his coat and skin, taking a bit of skin from his left cheek, but he refused to stop.
Popping out the other side into a small courtyard strung with rope-lines that drooped with washing, Baird forced his way into one of the yards, eeled up the wall and threw himself over the rough bricks.
Adjusting his coat and biting off a few loose threads from the cuff, Baird glanced over his shoulder. There was no sign of Moron and Stupid. He was in the clear. For now.
Baird put a hand to the hilt of the ebony blade. ‘Stick by me and i’ll make sure you’re always sharp.’
He didn’t expect a response, but the knife vibrated as if accepting his hastily made promise.
Pulling away his hand, Baird pretended that didn’t just happen and went on his way.
Maybe, just maybe, if luck chose to favour him, he might not even need the damn knife.
Shuddering against his hip, the blade appeared to disagree.
‘No, me neither,’ answered Baird sullenly. Gren was nothing, if not persistent.