He had only been having a moan to his friend. How could he have known it would get so out of hand?
It hadn’t been a great day, to be honest. He’d been stiffed by Lord Ashkenar over some very expensive roof repairs, and that kind of thing always angered him to the core. It had been all he could do not to let it explode out of him when his Lordship’s representative – his representative, no less! – came to his workshop with the formal notice. His Lordship’s Surveyor has assessed the quality of the workmanship as inadequate and consequently we are withholding de dah de dah de dah. Same old story. Cheaper to bribe a surveyor than pay a craftsman.
He was still shaking with rage on the way into the stadium. Usually, watching the gladiators helped him blow off steam, shouting and cheering with the crowd as they hacked at each other, but not today. Maybe because of that stupidly high bet he’d put on Xiara, the one whose acrobatics always got the stadium going. But no one beats Gock the Rock, he should have known that. Stupid.
So there he was, after the games, in a ram-packed bar on the South Side, ranting at Kolreth the baker about his high and mighty Lordship. To be fair, some drink was involved. But how could he have expected that anyone would take any notice?
It was when Kolreth went to relieve himself that the stranger appeared at his side. A man, dark and hooded.
“I know someone who can help.” His voice was calm, measured, barely audible amidst the hubub surrounding them.
“Help with what?”
“Finish your drink, and when you leave here turn left, then right. The glover’s place.”
“Jaskar’s? What can Jaskar -” But the stranger had vanished into the crush.
He probably should have forgotten about it, to be honest. But it had been a bad day, and anything that might make it better was worth a shot.
Jaskar wasn’t there. He closed the door behind him. The place was dark and quiet, a selection of sample gloves arrayed on the walls and the countertop, artfully arranged by colour and style. Jaskar’s workshop might be on the South Side, but his clientele were from the North East, and he knew the attention to detail those types expected.
From the back room came a woman, trying on a pair of elegant black gloves. He had never seen her before, but there was no mistaking that long, flame-red hair. Only one woman in Tyr looked like that.
She could only be the Executioner.
“Beautiful, aren’t they? I must ask Jaskar to run me up a pair.”
He felt his body grow cold. His mouth dried. “I haven’t done anything, please…”
“Don’t worry.” She smiled. “I’m here to help.”
“How?” He felt foolish as soon as he asked the question. Her reputation wasn’t exactly ambiguous.
“You are hardly the only honest craftsman to have fallen foul of Lord Ashkenar. Well, I say honest. It’s all relative, isn’t it?”
“These things happen.”
“They shouldn’t. These people think the rules don’t apply to them. They think they can treat the little people any way they like, with no consequences. I don’t think that’s the way it should be. Do you?”
She watched him. Waiting for his reaction. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
“No. No, I don’t.” It felt good to say it, even though he knew as he spoke that he would regret it.
“Good. Be at the Stadium Gate at midnight.”
“Go back to your friend, enjoy your evening. The world will be a better place in the morning.”
By midnight, he was somewhat the worse for wear. Kolreth had insisted on visiting every drinking den on the South Side, or as many as they could manage at any rate, and they had only just made it to the Stadium Gate in time. He stood alone, as near to the great pillars as he could without being moved on by the guards. Somewhere nearby, Kolreth was retching noisily into a gutter.
He scanned the streets for the Executioner. What if the guards spotted her? She was the most wanted woman in Tyr. What if they saw her talking to him? Would they think he was an accomplice? Why had she chosen this place to meet? Maybe he should tell the guards right now that she was coming. There was a reward, after all. It would pay off a few debts. But she would know who had turned her in, wouldn’t she? What would happen to him then? And how painful would it be?
So lost in thought was he that he didn’t notice the old man approaching until he bumped right into him. Just some wandering tramp. The old man grumbled out a “Sorry, son,” before stumbling off again.
It was only after he saw him vanish into the shadows that he realised there was something heavy hanging from his belt.
A bag of coins.
Lots and lots of coins.
News of Lord Ashkenar’s murder spread fast. It had been the Executioner, of course. One of the servants had seen a flame-haired woman disappearing out of the bedroom window moments before finding his Lordship’s body, pierced neatly through the heart, lying quite still on a mattress slowly filling with blood.
The coins were more than enough to compensate him for his Lordship’s unpaid bill. In fact, they were enough to fund a modest but comfortable retirement. There was no need for him to go back to his workshop again – and under the circumstances, he decided that was probably for the best. Balic was a very fine city, so he had heard. He looked forward to finding out for himself.