I sat quietly in the tavern, sipping an indifferent Sarleon wine. I prefer better vintages, but, considering the potential value of the business under discussion, drinking sour wine was a small price to pay to gain a possibly lucrative contract. If, that is, we could move past the boring preliminaries and get to the point.
“Yes, yes, your philosophizing on the injustice of the world is interesting but I fail to see what it has to do with me, or my particular skills,” I interrupted the fat fellow, squinting slightly at the light reflecting off his balding head.
“Please, I'm coming to that, sir.” His twin chins wobbled as he nodded vigorously. “As you know, the world turns on profit, and we merchants need protection. An attack on us is an attack on all Pendor's commerce.”
“You wish some caravan guards disabled? Hire a common bravo to do your dirty work. You waste my time.” I stood up to leave, and pulled my hat down a little lower; a habit I'd developed of late.
“No, no, sir, that is not what I want. It is his protector who must be dealt with in a rather... permanent, shall we say, way?” he babbled on. His mannerisms were starting to annoy me. Dealing with clients was definitely the most unpleasant part of my profession.
“So, you want some money-grubbing merchant killed, do you? A competitor perhaps? What did he do - steal one of your customers or seduce your daughter? All you need is one of the local Red Brotherhood murderers. There's no reason to pay my hefty fee for such a simple job.” I swung my leg over the rough bench preparatory to leaving. He caught my arm in a surprisingly strong grip as I turned away. Ah, well, if I wanted jobs, I had to deal politely with the fools who offered them, so I refrained from stabbing the hand still attached to my arm.
“Sven Hairybreeks, brother of the eminent Lord Inar Hairybreeks is the man to whom I refer. That Fierdsvain bastard is undercutting all my prices, and hiring my own caravans away. I can do nothing personally, because he is protected by the Fierdsvain merchant princes.” Hmm, this job was starting to sound rather more interesting now. I've always enjoyed killing the squabbling Pendor lords. If I did the job right, I could likely pin blame for it on a Sarleon or Ravenstern lord. A contract which offered the prospect of setting a Ravenstern or Sarleon cat amongst the Fierdsvain pigeons was intriguing. It might even lead to another war, which would certainly serve my private cause nicely indeed.
"Very well, continue," I sat back down and examined the man before me more closely. My estimation of him rose as I noted that he'd dropped his pose of dithering merchant and narrowed his eyes shrewdly, revealing the hard-nosed businessman beneath. "You now have my undivided attention. Let's get down to business." Our discussion progressed swimmingly from there to the all-important matter of my fee. I left the tavern with a bulging purse and a contract; he departed with an empty purse, rubbing his hands gleefully as he contemplated his enemy's imminent demise.
As I stepped out into the arid air, heat shimmered in the filthy street ahead. Ah, Singal. What a pit it is! I mentally contrasted its clay hovels with the forests I grew up in. For some reason, despite the squalor, I actually like it here. Thick crowds and noisy streets are better aids to stealth than the silent forests of my home. The only camouflage needed to blend into Singal is the attire of a ruffian and a visible weapon; I need none of the soft greens and browns which blend one into the Larian woods. Even the slight lilt left in my accent attracts no notice in a town where people speak in many dialects from all over Pendor and foreign tongues from beyond.
Several days later, I'd completed my research and preparations and was ready to complete the contract. Hairybreeks was currently here in Singal on business. I was ready. I'd pilfered a cloak from a Sarleon nobleman, and picked out some stitches so it would tear under the least strain. I'd also stolen the nobleman's sword undiscovered, since the man was happily occupied at the time in one of Singal's more opulent brothels. The sword sold for enough to buy me a pretty whore and some decent wine. Those of my profession do not favor swords.
Making Sven Hairybreek's acquaintance had not proved difficult, and he'd believed the forged letter I sent him informing him that a certain lord's representative would contact him concerning some business of mutual benefit. Hairybreeks certainly had a good head for his wine, I'd give him that.
Despite my "understanding" with the barkeep which kept my wine heavily watered, I'd been hard-put to stay sober whilst pretending to keep up with him. We arranged a business meeting for the next day and he staggered off to his inn.
Upon arrival at my target's inn, I once again carefully examined the points of entry and exit. Adjusting the set of my hat and my wealthy merchant's disguise, I entered and headed straight towards my intended victim's room. I was quickly admitted by a fetching young lady wearing next to nothing.
"Welcome, good sir, I'm pleased you have come. I believe in a judicious mixture of business and pleasure, don't I, my lovelies?" He squeezed the nearest whore's bottom; she giggled. He pushed her out of the way and waved me to a seat. The other girl perched herself on my knee. Up close, she wasn't bad, but I prefer my women slimmer and very lithe and she was a trifle overblown for my tastes.
"So, sir . . . I'm sorry, but I don't know how to address you?"
"Sir Envoy will suffice. I am here on behalf of . . . a certain lord. Should our initial discussion prove fruitful, you will deal in future directly with my master concerning the trade contract we are here to discuss. Our acquaintanceship will thus be very fleeting." I smiled and pinched the whore on my lap to make her squeal and wiggle.
His visage changed from affable and confident to angry - he clearly was unused to being addressed in such a way by an underling. "Bugger off, whores, your services are no longer needed." He tossed a small purse to the nearest one. "By the way, don't bother returning until you've lost a bit of weight. You may inform the madam that I shall require different company tomorrow night." The whores departed in a flurry of obscene remarks about his manhood, bed performance and overall appearance. I stifled an appreciative grin; some of their comments were both apt and most artistically phrased!
"Ah, good, we can come straight to the point of our meeting. My master prefers to deal straightforwardly." I walked over to him. "My master said that you wished a sample of the quality of cloth his serfs produce." I removed the heraldic cloak from my shoulders. "Please, examine the texture and strength of the fabric and confirm the quality of the weave." I handed the cloak to the still-seated man. He felt the cloth between thumb and forefinger then bunched two sections in his fist and pulled them hard apart. As per my plan, the cloth ripped in twain.
I planned to leave my victim clutching a bit of the cloak; I would abandon the remainder in an alleyway for the town watch to find. Stupid as they were, they should still be able to connect the dropped bloody fragment with the other piece left in the dead man's hand. Once the Sarleon crest was recognized, the Fierdsvain would surely demand blood-geld and vengeance for the murder. I shook my right hand and the dagger hidden in my sleeve sheath slipped into it.
"What on earth is the meaning of this?" The man failed to notice my dagger as he examined the torn cloth. He gasped as my dagger slid neatly into his chest.
"There's a saying that all men in Singal are equal if their gold is the same color. Except, of course, that in Ravenstern, they prefer to trade in silver. Still, denars are denars."
"Who are you?" he gasped as his eyes began to glaze over.
"Ah, you ask my name again? No harm in giving it to you on your deathbed, I suppose. I am the Noldor, Lethaldiran, and you, my poor friend, are now quite dead." He gurgled as I slit his throat, just to be sure. I cleaned my dagger on the fragment of cloak he still clutched and checked over my clothes to make sure that there was no betraying bloodstain anywhere. Not that it would matter in Singal, anyhow, but I am fastidious about my clothes.
I left the inn unobtrusively, the other fragment of cloak over my arm, to be dropped in the nearest convenient alley. So it goes, another day, another death, another denar. The life of an assassin can really be rather boring at times. I do wish that, just once in awhile, one of my marks would prove a little more challenging.