The street-lamp lighters had just emerged to begin doing their jobs when Eliowy slipped out from behind the glass-blowers shop on Atelier Street. The purse she had just lifted was heavy in her hand but would just barely cover the amount she was supposed to bring in for the night. The purse was heavy not just from the weight of the coins within, but the girl had no time to address the feelings of regret she had in taking the coins from their owner. At the moment keeping her own skin intact was of more importance than the moral considerations involved.
Eliowy hurried down the street as quickly as she could without it being obvious that she was in a hurry. She was supposed to have her day’s wages, if they could be called that, in by sunset, and already the burnished disk of the summer sun was sinking below the horizon.
She was running a little late because she had been trying, over the course of the last few weeks to steal enough extra money so that she could buy a horse to facilitate her escape from Dargon and, incidentally, Liriss.
Eliowy picked up her pace. The memory of her tall, hulking boss made her slightly sick.
The deal that he had offered her at first hadn’t seemed too bad. He had set her up in a boarding house until, according to him, she could get back on her feet. This would have been fine, except that she hadn’t really needed any help but she wasn’t able to convince him of that. He had insisted. Not seeing any immediate harm in it, Eliowy accepted.
A few days later, just as she was about to tell Liriss `thank you very much, but I have to be going’, the man had suggested that she might like to repay him for his kindness in putting her up for a time.
Eliowy hadn’t been able to refuse.
It took her a few weeks to realize that she wasn’t getting any closer to paying Liriss off. He still paid for her room and board and just a week ago had purchased her a new tunic and cloak for winter.
Frightened at the implications of this, Eliowy had given him more money, in hopes of erasing the debt faster. This plan backfired when she was unable to produce the same amount the next night. Liriss had warned her in a low, cold voice that if she didn’t bring in the full required donation the next night, he would turn her over to his guards for a night to teach her a lesson. He had added, in a much gentler, honey sweet voice, that there was no place in Dargon that she could hide that he couldn’t find her, so she’d better not even think about trying to run out on him.
Eliowy had left that interview profoundly disturbed. She believed everything that Liriss told her, less one. She believed that he could find her in Dargon, but doubted that his reach extened much further than that. Besides, she had out run and out-foxed Teran for the last ten months: Liriss, a man she had never seen to leave his office, should be much less of a challenge. The next night she brought him the exact amount that she was supposed to and saved the difference in a small ceramic jar to put towards a horse.
The thought of her old mentor made Eliowy walk a little faster yet. According to Liriss, he had left Dargon two days after Eliowy had been taken into the crime lord’s `care’. Whether this was true or not, she didn’t know, but she did know that sooner or later Teran would make his way back to Dargon and if she was still here by then, he would find her. She had to put as much distance between both Teran and Liriss as possible as soon as possible.
Full night had fallen and the last of the merchants had left the market square leaving only the rats and other night prowlers out when Eliowy arrived at the building that housed Liriss’s office. The building was a three story affair made of wood and solid red bricks. Windows were scattered all about the face of the building along the wall that had the best view of the market place. Liriss, Eliowy had learned, was a great people watcher.
The auburn-haired girl shuddered as she climbed the stairs to his office because lately that watching had included her.
The door that let her out onto the third floor opened on silent hinges and Eliowy walked the distance down the hallway slowly. Liriss was still having her deliver her daily take to him directly, instead of giving it to one of his lieutenants as the other girls did. She wasn’t quite sure why, although the intimidation factor probably had something to do with it.
She opened the office door. Liriss’s latest secretary, the third in the last month, was seated at the small desk set to one side of the entrace to the crimelord’s inner sanctum, carefully applying a pale green powder to her eyelids. She looked up as Eliowy closed the door.
“You’re late,” she observed quietly. “He’s waiting for you. Go on in.” And she turned back to peering in the polished bronze mirror, wielding her eyebrush with care.
Eliowy swallowed and stepped up to the last door. She composed herself, knocked sharply, and entered.
As usual, Liriss was standing with his back to the door holding a glass of some dark liquor, staring out his prized picture window. He turned slightly as Eliowy entered. She stopped a few feet from the polished oak desk he stood behind, leaving the door open at her back.
“You,” he said flatly, returning his gaze to the window, “are late.”
“I have the money,” responded Eliowy promptly, to change the topic. She had gotten a lecture, not too long ago, about the hazards of being late with one’s required payment. The alternatives to being prompt that Liriss had chosen to mention had not been pleasant. Eliowy had mentally prepared her lines of defense for the next time she was late, because she knew there would be a next time, and wanted to avoid the consequences. Dodging the question was the first line.
“That does not alleviate the fact that you are bring it in late,” snapped Liriss, turning to face Eliowy fully, brown eyes blazing angrily.
“I brought in a little extra,” added Eliowy quickly. “I got lucky today.” Second line — bribery.
“You know the penalty for delivering payments late,” Liriss continued, as though Eliowy hadn’t spoken. “You were warned once before–”
“I had to out run the guard!”
Last line of defense. Lying or honesty. Whichever sounded the best at the time, coupled with prayer. Liriss stopped talking abruptly and the glare in his eyes became darker. Eliowy forced herself not to cringe under his gaze.
“You had to out run the guard,” he repeated. With deceptive casualness he set his glass down on the desk. “Just how is it that you’re earning this money, young lady, that you should need to run from the guard?”
Eliowy swallowed hard, not liking the look in the man’s eyes.
“Pickpocketing,” she said. “How else should I get it?” She couldn’t understand the look of utter disbelief that covered Liriss’s features. How else was she supposed to earn the money he wanted? Granted, he could, like Teran, disapprove of stealing, but it wasn’t as though she had many options. No one would hire her for honest labor and she really doubted that Liriss cared that she was thieving. The look on his face was one of surprise, not disapproval.
“Pickpocketing. How else could you earn it!” said Liriss in a brittle voice. “Since you don’t seem to know, I think tonight will be very–”
Liriss turned with a black look to the open door to face his first lieutenant, Kesrin, who held one of his employees by one arm.
“My Lord,” said Kesrin with a significant look, silently reminding him that he had other business to deal with that evening. He had been Liriss’s second lieutenant until the disappearance of Cril over two months ago, and was allowed a certain amount of familiarity.
“Kesrin,” Liriss acknowledged him with a sharp nod and turned back to the young woman before his desk. “Eliowy, you may go. Do not be late again, or you will be visiting the barracks. Am I clear?”
Eliowy didn’t bother to question her luck. She ducked out the door.
Liriss took a deep breath and forced his temper down. He could deal with the girl and her education later. This was just a little more important.
“Come in, Kesrin. Tilden.”
Kesrin closed the door with a brief glance out, and shoved Tilden into a position before the desk while Liriss seated himself. The crime lord took a swallow from his glass, narrowly studying the man before him. Tilden stared at the desktop.
“Rumor has it, Tilden, that you’ve been complaining about my work policies,” said Liriss after a suitable interval of time had passed. “According to some of my men, you seem to have this quaint idea that you deserve better than you’ve been getting from me. Is this correct?”
After being the sole survivor of a party of men sent out to bring back Kera, a thief in Liriss’s employ, and returning without her, Tilden had been removed from his cushy position as one of the crime boss’s scouts and put to work as simple guard, watching one of his gambling establishments. Tilden was a little upset about his new position.
“I’m the best damn scout you’ve got, Liriss,” said the man hotly, looking up. “I shouldn’t be doing a job that you’ve got muscle for!”
“I see,” said Liriss, sounding regretful, “I wish that you had expressed your displeasure to me earlier, Tilden. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with the seeds of discontent that you have sown among my troops.” Tilden shifted uncomfortably and Liriss took another sip of wine. “Kesrin, take Tilden here to the blocks–”
“–I have no use for disloyal and incompetent men in my ranks.”
Tilden lunged suddenly for Liriss’s throat but was caught and pinioned by Kesrin before his hands made it halfway across the table. Carefully, almost gently, Kesrin knocked him out.
“And when you’re done with that, Kesrin,” added Liriss. “See what you can do about whipping the men back into shape. I don’t want to have to make any more examples of this sort.”
“Of course, Lord Liriss,” Kesrin pulled open the door. “And I’ll send Hollis in to you.”
“You do that,” said Liriss, distractedly. He stared out his window for a long while before designing to notice the woman standing there, crafting plans to tighten his grip on his people to make future repetitions of the month’s incidents unlikely. People failing in their assigned tasks and having deserters did not make for a smooth running operation. Liriss hated it when things didn’t run smoothly.
With a sharp gesture, he beckoned Hollis to his side.
“Don’t do this to me, Kesrin! Kesrin, you can’t do this. Let me go! Please, you can’t just leave me here to die, Kesrin!” Tilden struggled futilely against the chains being locked around his wrists and ankles. His voice raised to a panicked scream. “You can’t just leave me!”
“Yes, I can, Tilden,” said Kesrin calmly. He stood a few feet away, holding a torch, and watching calmly as the guards manacled the ex-scout to the granite slab that Liriss used for his executions. “You were warned. You did not heed that warning.”
“Let me go, Kesrin,” repeated Tilden frantically as the men left his side. They walked quickly away as the scout jerked frantically against the chains. “You hate him as much as I do. Let me go and we’ll kill him together!”
“No,” said Kesrin, just loud enough to be heard over the pounding of the waves. “You cannot hate him as much as I do.” He stared past the block to the narrow stairs that the guards were slowly climbing. “I will deal with my Lord Liriss. When the time comes.” His cool regard refocused on Tilden’s sweaty, spray covered face. “Goodbye, Tilden. May you gain wisdom in your next incarnation.” And he turned and walked away, feet splashing softly in the rising tide.
Two torches were left burning in salt encrusted brackets on the handrail of the stairs that led to Lord Liriss’s private execution grounds. The light reflected eerily off of the slowly rising water, turning the sea foam to silver.
Liriss’s lieutenant, Kesrin, had been gone for some time when Eliowy made her way down the slippery stairs. The water had risen to almost thigh level as she waded out. As she splashed towards him, Tilden jerked in his bonds.
“Did you come back to gloat, Kesrin?” he demanded, in a voice cracked raw from screaming. “Or is it you, `Great Lord Liriss’, to see if your oh so faithful servant did his job properly!”
“Neither, actually,” said Eliowy. “And if you hold still, I’ll try and get your wrists free.”
“Rescue! You’re here to rescue me!” Tilden’s hoarse voice dropped to a whisper of desperate hope, unwilling to question his luck. “Did you get the keys?”
“No. I have to pick the lock. Now hold still.”
Tilden held, while Eliowy swore softly to herself. Before she left Rubel, she had been in the process of learning to pick locks, under the friendly tutelage of her friends the twins, Piper and Skeeter. The two were first rate cutpurses who had developed their lockpicking skills for those rare times when one or the other of them was caught. They had just started to teach her the dubious art when she left. As a result, progress was slow. By the time Eliowy had the scout’s ankles free, the ocean had crept up to her thighs.
“Hurry,” hissed Tilden.
“I’m doing my best,” retorted Eliowy.
“Why are you doing this?” asked Tilden abruptly, as Eliowy fumbled with the lock. Each wave, as it came, nearly lifted her off of her feet, making the effort to pick the locks that much more difficult.
“Because,” said Eliowy, shaking sea water out of her face. “No one deserves to die like this. And I owe you one. Your timely arrival saved me from…” Eliowy broke off, then began again. “I followed Kesrin out and when I figured out what he planned to do, I had to go find a lockpick. That’s what took me so long. Sorry.”
`I can’t believe it,’ thought Tilden in shock. `Liriss hired someone with a conscience. And when I’m done with him, he won’t be able to corrupt any more young people like her again!’
“It’s all right,” he said to Eliowy, forcing himself to calm down. “You’re here and that’s something.”
Eliowy didn’t reply. After what seemed like an eternity to Tilden she said, “Jerk your arm. I think I got it far enough.”
Tilden yanked on the chain and felt resistance; he pulled harder and fell to one side, almost off the block, as his arm came abruptly free. “Give me the lockpick,” he ordered. Eliowy handed it to him; little more than stiff wire twisted and curved to try and strengthen it. Tilden didn’t bother to comment. He was able to unlock the last manacle with deft ease.
“Let’s go,” he said, levering himself up, off of the slab.
Together they waded over to the wooden staircase that led to the top of Liriss’s private pier.
“Can you think of anyplace I can hole up?” asked Tilden as they climbed. “I can’t exactly go back to the guards barracks and they know all of my hideouts.”
“I think I know a place where you can stay,” said Eliowy, after a pause. “You plan to take on Liriss, don’t you?” she added, knowing that that was the only reason the man would need a place within Dargon city limits to hide.
“I plan to make him pay for trying to kill me,” replied Tilden, eyes gleaming with hate. “That man has lived far too long and ruined too many lives…” He continued ranting about Liriss and Kesrin, laying out in detail the plans he had for each.
Eliowy said nothing else as she led the man to one of the places she had staked out as a potential hiding place for herself. While she agreed with Tilden that the crimelord had to go, she didn’t want to get involved with trying to assassinate him. After she got the scout to safety, she planned to leave him. He could take care of himself and the time to leave Dargon was running out fast for her.