Fitz looked up from his position behind the bar as the door to his tavern swung open. The door nearly ripped from the grasp of the men coming in out of the storm. The rain pelted those closest to the door before the newcomer, with his strongmen in tow, pushed the door closed behind them.
Watching the stranger scan the room as he brushed away the water clinging to his cloak the man locked his eyes on Fitz standing behind the bar. Waving to him from across the room, recognition of who it was washing over Fitz.
“Kyanos! Where have you been? It’s been too long. Can I set you and your crew up with a pint?”
The man smiled behind the illusion as he made his way over to where the barkeep was already lining up mugs of ale.
“What brings you and your crew to Glandore? Are your ship’s holds full or empty?”
“I’m not here trading this time Ferg. Instead it’s the Prince of Pendar that I’m in search of.”
The barkeep paused for a moment a brief look of confusion flashing across his features as he looked at the elf standing across the bar from him. “What did you just call me?”
A long pause preceded the answer. “Is your hearing going Fitz?” the man said emphasizing the barkeep’s name.
“Must be loud in here,” Fitz said recovering his composure, making an excuse for apparently hearing Kyanos incorrectly. “The Prince was in here not long ago, about midday it was. Left with his detail after they had a bite to eat. They were trying to beat the weather, but I don’t think they got too far before it caught up to them.”
“Did they say which way they were heading? Was my boy with him?”
“I think they said south. You are welcome to wait out the rain here if you are looking for some grub for your crew? There is a good hearty stew warming on the fire in the kitchen.”
“I appreciate the offer. No we need to get back on the road. Did you say that Kurad was with them?”
“I didn’t say, however Kurad is accompanying the boy.” Pausing again, as he searched his mind. “Didn’t you come in on the Valero?”
“We did, however if we can ride quickly we may catch him on the road north. It was good seeing you Fitz,” again saying his name with emphasis, “we need to be off though.”
Watching as the elf and his crew headed out the door one of the serving girls came over. “Who was that man? His men looked dangerous.”
“That was the elven ship captain, Kyanos of the merchant ship Valero.”
“No it wasn’t.”
Fitz looked at her back as she hustled off at the bidding of one of the patrons. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts he began to doubt the entire encounter with the ship captain. Realizing as he did that he had lied to the elf. Unintentionally it seemed at the time though now he realized the truth of the encounter.
Taking off his apron he hung it behind the bar and headed through the kitchen and out the back door, grabbing his cloak and wrapping it about himself and pulling up his hood to cover his head as he stepped out into the rain. He knew where prince was staying, he had recommended the inn himself, his own rooms full for the night.
Scurrying down the alley, his eyes trained on the ground before him as he tried to avoid the growing puddles he didn’t see the man step out from the darkened doorway. The distinct sound of a blade being drawn catching his attention.
Coming to a stop Fitz pulled his hood back in time to see the man from the bar closing on him quickly. The image of his face flickering between that of his old friend Kyanos and this stranger who had stolen the elves identity and had made Fitz the fool.
“You lied to me.” The man stated as he brought his free hand up, moving it slowly, precisely, as he traced an image in the air before Fitz.
“I didn’t mean to.” Fitz stammered, his mind confused.
“Where is the boy prince?”
“They are staying at the Falcon Inn.”
“That was easy wasn’t it.” The man stated as he brought his hand back down. Waving it casually in front of Fitz as he released the illusion.
“Who are you?” Fitz asked in anger, the fog lifting, seeing the man once again for who he was and also who he wasn’t.
“I’m whoever I need to be at any moment. When I need information from my good friend Fitz I am the great elven merchant ship captain Kyanos.” He said stepping back with a flourish, once again taking on the appearance of the elf right before Fitz’s eyes.
The long slender blade emerged from within the man’s cloak, dropping the disguise he stepped forward. No longer hiding his identity he reached out and pulled Fitz close. Easily slipping the sword through Fitz’s unpracticed attempts to fend it off, burying it deeply within the barkeep’s midsection.
“I am the Prince of Sligo.”
Sliding free from the man’s grip Fitz slumped forward to the land heavily in the mud, the rain washing away his life blood even as it flowed to its last from the deep wound in his stomach.
“I’m not sure what you see in this place Kurad. I don’t think I’m ever going to dry out. Does it ever stop raining?”
“It’s just the season, and though the season seems like it lasts most of the year, it is not quite the case.”
“No wonder you left here as soon as you could. Tell me again why we came here?”
“My childhood was different than yours Samuel. Your father thought as long as we were out making diplomatic visits to your neighbors that we should make time to visit my birthplace.”
“I’m sorry Kurad, I didn’t mean anything by that.”
“Follow me, it’s just up around the corner.” The pair walked on in silence, both adjusting and pulling their travel cloaks tight around themselves as the wind threatened to rip them away leaving them exposed to the rain that swirled about them.
“Here it is,” Kurad stated as they stopped in front of a sprawling cemetery that stretched away from them, much of it overgrown and unkempt. “As a boy this is where I would come to visit my mother.”
Not waiting for Samuel to follow Kurad entered through the gap in the short fence that encompassed the cemetery and wound his way through the grave markers. His steps practiced, his route familiar, stopping only when he reached his destination. Staring down at the small stone that barely stuck up above the tall grass.
Samuel stood off to the side, unsure of what to say. Waiting for Kurad to break the silence. Squinting to read the name on the marker, the rain continuing to come down making it more difficult. It was a simple script, the letters not carved deeply. Between spates of rain he could make out the letters, ‘My mom Tulla’.
“It was all I could afford. I scraped together all that I could beg and steal. I was just a handful of years old. I think the stone master probably gave me a deal on it now as I stand here and think about it.”
“It’s just fine, it says everything it needs to.”
“At first I would come all the time and keep it up, pull the grass that grew up around it.” Kurad said as he crouched down and began to clean up the area just as he described from his youth. “Then the years began to pass. Living on the street down by the docks just trying to find food and keeping alive took all my time. The docks aren’t a good place to grow up.” Kurad looked up at Samuel, a grim smile creasing his lips. “You will do what you can to survive when pushed. Let’s just say it’s not always approved of by the authorities. Those that weren’t able to do what was necessary ended up here, most forgotten by those that loved them.”
“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. You were just a kid. Where was Kyanos during all this?”
“He was looking for me, as much as I was looking for him. My mom told me before she died from the fever that he was a great captain. At first I believed her and would hang out down by the docks hoping he would come for me. Then as I got older I quit believing what she had told me. Most of the other orphans told the same story. Sailors come and go from the port all the time. You can guess at the outcome of those encounters.”
“In your case it was true though.”
“I know that now, and maybe if I had waited longer to find him things would have been different. I got my education on how to stay alive living on the streets of Glandore and I decided that if I was going to stay alive long enough to put it to use I needed to get out of here. I won’t ever regret that decision. Most of those kids I knew on the streets are likely right here.”
Standing up from cleaning the tall grass from the grave site Kurad looked around at all the other markers hiding in the grass. “How about we go find a warm fire in out of the rain to dry off?”
“I thought you would never ask.”
The way back to the Falcon Inn was spent with Kurad pointing out the best places to hide out from authorities when they were giving chase and recounting tales from his youth. The mood growing lighter even though the rain continued to batter the pair, the rain keeping the streets clear of all but those with the most urgent errands.
With cloaks pulled tight about themselves the few people out in the rain paid no heed to those that shared the sloppy streets with them. The one exception trailed the pair at a safe distance, keeping just out of their narrow field of vision, always to the rear, never closing the gap to draw attention.
Scraping the mud from their boots as they stepped up out of the soupy muck that the rain had turned the main road through town into and onto the porch that fronted the Falcon Inn. Taking advantage of the cover they shook their cloaks off, the rain quickly shedding off their elven garments.
“Who do you think that person following us is up to, what’s their interest in us?” Samuel asked as he casually straightened his sword now that he had removed his cloak.
“So you have been paying attention. Your training is progressing.”
“Did he mark us as travelers? Maybe unsuspecting newcomers to Glandore?”
“Our elven cloaks may have given us away. They are a rarity this far from home and mark as having a certain wealth. This isn’t my first time escorting the crown prince of Pendar across Dulin, though last time it was your father.”
“You managed to get him home safe, I’ll trust you to do the same, my father definitely does.”
“Let’s get inside, I think he realized we were talking about him and he’s slipped away. After we get something warm in our bellies I may go for a stroll.”
Sharing a table near the large fireplace they embraced the warmth as it pushed the chill from their bodies. Sitting in silence as they waited for the serving girl to make it to where they sat. Finally coming over, weaving through the crowds that jostled for position at the bar.
“You two don’t look familiar, are you new in town? Can I interest you in an ale, or a warm bowl of stew?” Her questions coming quick, the pace hectic on this rainy day.
“I used to live here as child. Both would be good.” Kurad replied, pointing to Samuel and himself.
“Did you hear the news? It’s all the talk up at the bar. Fitz, the barkeep down by the docks turned up dead. His stomach cut wide open, in the middle of the day.”
“Kurad, we were just there earlier today. You introduced us.”
Putting his hand up to forestall any more comments from Samuel Kurad pressed the barmaid. “Do they know who did this? Were there witnesses?”
“Nobody saw a thing. You knew him then, everyone loved Fitz.”
“You speak the truth, he was a friend of my father’s. It had been a number of years since he come to port. We were asked to stop in and see Fitz as a favor to him.”
“I’ll get you your ale and stew.” She was off in a hurry, her feet matching the pace of her rapid fire questions and information.
“Do you think the mysterious man following us is connected to Fitz’s death?”
“There are many unsavory types in this city. It would take someone who was bold to do such a thing during the day.”
“Then you agree with me? He seemed like he was trying to conceal his presence from us, though if he is as dangerous as it would now seem, he should have been better at it or he didn’t care.”
“That’s exactly why I need to find out who is behind this. Beg my forgiveness for not staying long enough to enjoy my stew.”
“I can come with you.”
“Stay here and warm up. I will be back before long.” Kurad was wrapping his cloak about him even as he stood up. Passing through the tavern and out into the rain before Samuel had a chance to protest.
Moments later the serving girl showed up with the men’s order, carrying the tray high above her head to keep from spilling. “Where did your friend go?”
“He’ll be back later, he had some business to look into.” Samuel refrained from telling her the reason for his hasty departure.
“Do you want both bowls? There are plenty of others that are waiting for an order of their own. Then I won’t have to charge you for two.”
“Please do. It will be cold by the time he returns.”
With nothing more than a smile in response she was off again, dropping off Kurad’s stew at a table not far from his own and leaving Samuel alone with his thoughts.
Finishing off his stew, wiping the bowl clean with a small scrap of bread that remained from the loaf that had accompanied the stew, he fished some coins from the pouch at his waist. Waiting for the serving girl’s attention he waved her over, pushing the coins into her hand he thanked her for the hospitality. Heading for the stairs at the back of the noisy tavern. Making his way up to the room they had rented he quickly pulled his boots off on his way to shedding his clothes, finally hanging his sword belt on the bed post before flopping down on the bed. The ale and the warm stew doing their work on him as he fell into a deep sleep.
Coming awake suddenly, unsure what had awoken him until he heard another rap on the door. “Just a moment.” Fumbling in the darkness he struck a lantern, the soft glow giving him enough light to pull on his trousers as he headed for the door.
“Kurad?” Samuel asked as he opened the door into the dimly lit hallway. “Why didn’t you just come in? Did you lose your key?”
“Yes I did, get your gear on. We need to get out of Glandore right away. It’s not safe.”