Her name was Kittara Ponterisso, but most folks that knew her usually called her Crossbow Kitty. She was an expert shot with any kind of crossbow, because she had to be. Her skill with the crossbow put food on the table and kept a roof over her head. Kittara’s skill was such that it was easy for her to find work as a bodyguard or a hunter. Kittara came to Dargon with a purpose. She had been paid to put her skills to use against a wealthy merchant, a merchant who had enemies in this world, a merchant who called himself Yan the Yellow (most people called him Yan the Yellowbellied).
Yan had a son, but he didn’t know it. It was this son who had hired Kittara to find Yan and use her skills to bring about “…a more equal distribution of wealth,” Yan’s son had said. Well, that was fine with her as long as she was paid. What she knew of her employer was next to nothing, simply the fact that he was the unknown son of this merchant, and that he wanted his father’s wealth which, according to law, he would receive as inheritance should his father meet an untimely death. A crossbow bolt was considered an untimely death.
Kittara was used to larger cities, but didn’t mind Dargon for its size. Dargon was a suitable place to work although it mean more effort on her part to blend in with the residents. In a town of this size strangers were often noticed, she would have to take up residence for a while at least, probably after she had earned her payment. Yes, that would do. She would pretend that she was the widowed wife of a royal soldier. Her husband had taught her to handle a crossbow when they had lived on the frontier, a skill which was necessary there to protect oneself from bandits and other nasties. She would be looking for a place to settle down where life was not so dangerous.
The journey here from the capital had been uneventful. Kittara was looking forward to the excitement which her mission would bring. How many times had she gone on similar assignments? Many indeed, but each still had its own feeling of thrill, each could be her last. She thought about what she must accomplish. She must locate this merchant and then watch him, learn his ways. A man could not protect his life all of the time, thus he must be vulnerable to death sooner or later.
Although a crossbow quarrel in the throat did not look natural, there were other ways of disguising a person’s cause of demise. Yan was a merchant with ships, his house was on a cliff facing the sea. A plan was rapidly becoming clear. Get the merchant to stand on the edge of the cliff while his ships sailed out, then put a bolt in his back and he would topple into the sea where his body could be found (or what remained of it after the sharks had finished feasting) and turned into the proper authorities. Yan’s son could be informed of the death and he could show up with proof that Yan was his father and that he was entitled to the proper inheritance.
Kittara rode into town on her faithful Randy, a horse which had served her for the last three years. Randy was a retired light cavalry horse, retired because he had been stolen by her from a scout who had tried to have his way with her. She didn’t care that the scout had been a royal messenger. He wasn’t the first soldier to receive a present from the delivery end of Old Henry, her crossbow.
A few eyes turned in Kittara’s direction, but they did not stare. There were more important and exciting things to see and do on this last day of the festival than watch some dull woman on a plodding horse. Kittara did look rather dull, she was not prepared for the festivities and was tired from her journey. Randy was also tired and plodded along in hopes that his master would provide him with a nice bed and food. Kittara scanned the festive crowd and the buildings along the street looking for a place to stay for the night. Perhaps she could get a few hours of sleep and then join the fun; it had been such a long time since she had enjoyed herself. Presently her glance presented her with a choice: The Hungry Shark Inn or the Inn of the Panther. Since the Inn of the Panther was a bit closer she headed for it, praying that it still had a room.
Kittara slid from her saddle, tied Randy to the hitchin’ rack, and entered the brightly lit common room of the Inn. The room was crowded with people of all ages who were busy celebrating the last day of their festival. Kittara went over to the bar and asked for a room. She was given the last room in the inn, she was told, and should be thankful that she had found one. It cost her a more than triple what she would normally have considered fair but it was not a bad room. It was a small private room at the end of the short hallway on the third floor of the building, roughly furnished, but suitable for her present needs. She left the room, locking it behind her, and went to retrieve her saddlebags and care for Randy. Kittara took Randy to the Inn’s small stable, settled him down for the night, and headed back for a few hours of sleep.
Kittara awoke several hours later with the pain of hunger in her gut. She rose, donned some fresh clothes and headed down to see if there was anything left to eat. The festivities were still going on, but at a more subdued level as those too drunk to make merry had passed out, and those who were still merry were busy drinking. She got a plate of food from the bar and headed for a side table where she might be alone; Kittara would not be comfortable until she had gotten to know some of the townsfolk, a problem she would begin work on tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.
Kittara finished her dinner and sat back against the cushioned wall)bench and watched the people of Dargon. There were all types: poor, rich, merchants, craftsmen, apprentices, masters, warriors, clerics, thieves, old, young, and in)between. As she took a sip of her wine she noticed the inn’s namesake. Above the fireplace was a mounted stuffed head of a huge panther. The beast’s eyes stared out over the festive crowd as if they were hungry and resentful, resentful of being stuck on a wall instead of out in the wilds where they belonged. Kittara shivered, the head gave her a strange feeling. She would have to hear the story of the panther, as there surely must be one connected with so large a beast.
Kittara was not aware of the man until he was standing behind the chair opposite her bench. He was a short man, dressed in strange blue and white patterned clothing. He had short black hair and carried a beautiful pair of swords which were of the kind easterners often fought with. She had heard stories of weapons such as these, stories which described them as being so sharp that they would slice a fresh leaf, floating on a slow moving stream current with only the slightest touch. She did not feel at all comfortable without Old Henry. Her boot knife would never do to defend herself should she need to.
The man smiled and said, “Hellro, may I be pleased to join you?”
Kittara nodded, thinking that the strange)looking foreigner might also be new to town. The man turned towards the door and held up a hand to attract the serving wench in order that he might order a drink when suddenly the huge chandelier that had been hanging over the common room came crashing down. The chandelier was a great wheel holding many candles ) it smashed into the middle of the room crushing several people, destroying tables and benches, and causing alcohol to burst into flame. People panicked and ran hither and thither shouting, trying to help, or trying to pilfer what they could. The little man leaped to his feet without a glance a Kittara and rushed headlong into the chaos. Kittara grabbed a forgotten cloak and started beating at some of the flames which were coming her way. She thanked her god that she had not been any closer to the center of the room.
It took several hours for order to be restored to the Inn of the Panther. Luckily the fire had only caused minor damage and the town guard had arrived quickly so that the pilfering losses were also slight. Jann, the Innkeeper, had come rushing in from the festival to see what the problem was in his inn. Jann had noticed Kittara beating the flames and, upon discovering that she was staying in the inn, had offered her free room and board for as long as she needed it in thanks for her efforts. The incident would cost the inn some business, but the innkeeper was thankful that no one had been killed in the incident and promised one and all that he would be open again the following night. Kittara thanked Jann for his offer and climbed the stairs to her room. Sleep was not long in coming this night and Kittara faded off into a dreamless slumber. She wondered who had melted the chain that the chandelier had hung from.