© 2003 Caer O’Laine


Wind is blowing, there is raining,
Gallows to the wind complaining.
If you aren’t fast enough
You will hang there, little rogue!

A count of children from Wayside

The sound vibrated, as it was reflected by the high roof, which even the powerful floodlights couldn’t lit. He wiped out the sweat from his forehead and frowned when his fin­gers touched the fresh wound caused by a fall that occurred the day before yesterday. He had much luck as the stone cut only the skin, leaving the bones intact. Anyway, he had enough of this job. The Mechanists paid well, but it was hard earned money: not some shallow earth­works, but breaking through the solid rock. Had he known earlier about it, he wouldn’t have volunteered even if they had given him a treasure. Well, one treasure he could consider. The rumor had it that somewhere in the vicinity captain Markham, ringleader of pirates fifty years prior, had his hideout. Maybe there was something in there that could lead to his treasure?

He was working almost automatically like one of those huge machines, in the same spans of time rising and lowering a pike. A noise of the air-hammers working right beside him drowned everything, including his thoughts. It was stuffy.

‘--everything’s going to crash!’

He felt that someone grabbed his arm but before he managed to turn back, a similarly dressed workman was several paces away and was pointing at something that he couldn’t see. Behind him he saw a running group of diggers and a few Mechanists who were showing the people a way out.

‘Run away! Everything is going-- !’

The force of the explosion threw him few steps back and loud bang almost broke his ear-drums. At one moment white dust veiled the view, covering everything and bursting into the lungs. The sound of falling stones seemed to last endlessly, as if the whole mountain had been falling on him. Suddenly something heavy hit him in the head and the man fell into the soft darkness.

He was woken up by a pulsating headache. His ears still tingled when he was looking around and saw something, which a moment ago was an enormous cave and what now, be­cause of the pile of stones in the former passage, shrank to a size of a big hall. He got up and ensured that he was in one piece. There was a white cloud of dust still floating under the roof, but the reflector, which unbelievably survived the explosion, lighted up the darkness, creating a bright contrail in the air.

He approached the pile of rocks, which was blocking the entrance, and started to throw away stones, in an attempt to make a hole big enough for him to pass through, but all he made was another fall of rocks.

‘Anybody there?’


The man hopelessly looked around his prison. He didn’t want to die that way – every­thing was better than being buried alive. He promised himself that, if he gets out of here, he will stop stealing from the foreman, he’ll find a decent job and will take care of his sick mother. Now, as to finding this way out…

In the place, where the pile of rocks was touching the wall, a fog seemed to float. Sur­prised, he went there and felt a frail breeze on his face. Without consideration, he began to throw away stones, though sharp edges were cutting his fingers and the dust was pressing in his eyes. The feeling of salty maritime air grew stronger and was mixed with something else, which he could not identify. Just a few more stones and… With the force of impetus he flied through the hole he had made and landed on the other side. The unidentified scent was stronger here. He noticed two bodies, lying on the ground ten feet away, lightened by a reflec­tor. There wasn’t much left on the corpses.

The man frantically jumped off to find himself as far as possible from the dreadful view. It wasn’t easy, because of the measure of cave, which was even smaller than the previ­ous one. After a while however, when he calmed down, curiosity won.

There was no doubt they were dead. But their death must have occurred long time ago: dried skin closely wrapped the bones, while the clothes, which he could imagine on a basis of what was left, were somewhat strange. He wanted to check, if they had some purses or some­thing of value, by now completely useless for them. But stories about the dead that raised when a man approached them – usually considered made up tales, which were supposed to frighten the children – here seemed more real. He didn’t want to check their falsity.

He walked to the other end of the small room, keeping a safe distance and with his gaze fixed on the bodies. There were a few chests standing near the wall, as well as poorly made table with a few stools on it and something, which he managed to identify as a sunburst­ing device. On the wall he spotted a few handles for torches. Piled on the ground were pikes, shovels and folded canvas – unmistakable signs that the place could have been a storehouse once. In the corner he saw a small pit filled with water.

The chests were empty, except the hay, which protected the easily breakable things, but behind one of them he found a few ropes with little anchors and a piece of linen which turned out to be a pirate flag.

So it was true: Scar once again looked at the corpses and he felt the growing willing­ness to check them closely. What happened that those two had stayed down here, instead of sailing away with theirs comrades? Had they been guarding something? Or maybe they were to bury something on the island and then return to theirs comrades, but they argued over the loot. It was that moment when he spotted a bag, laying by their side, its colour almost the same as the dust in the cave. Now he couldn’t resist the temptation.

At a closer look the bodies didn’t seem so well preserved. He noticed with disgust that little remained from the faces: empty eye sockets were looking with reproach at the roof and the wrinkled skin around the mouth revealed yellow grinning teeth. The rest of the body was protected by the cloth, through which – whatever it was – couldn’t bite, although it managed to bite out a few small holes. Both men had been armed with knives.

There were also signs of teeth on the bag and its handle was torn off as if pirates were fighting for it. Step by step he approached it and as soon as he could touch it with his fingers, he caught it and imme­diately backed off for a safe distance. Inside he found only a book.

It looked exactly like – according to him – scriptures of pirates should look like. To be honest, he hadn’t seen many books in his life, however, the drawing of a ship with two crossed swords beneath undoubtedly indicated that the book belonged to the pirates. Enor­mous lock that bound its covers prevented him from opening it. Scar frowned: it must’ve been something valuable, but to check it he had to reveal his secret to someone who could read. And – of course – share the loot. He was surprised that nobody had found unlucky pirates earlier. Some wrongly placed explosives probably isolated this cave and sealed them forever here, under the island. The recent Mechanists works opened the grotto, because the pit he had previously spotted must’ve been made recently, because there wasn’t any salt on the rocks yet and the air inside was still dry.

The man stood up from the stool. Whatever was the content of the mysterious book, it had to wait until he gets to the surface. He wrapped the book in the piece of canvas and ap­proached the water pit. Now it was just the case of finding the exit.

The water was waving, so it had to have some connection with the sea. He only hoped that the opening would be big enough for him to swim through. The only thing he should do then was swim to the surface, where he hoped to encounter some boat. Didn’t thinking twice, he checked if the book was protected and he dived in the cold water.

As usually the vision ended abruptly, not leaving the time to pass mildly into the real­ity. Red-haired woman slowly opened her eyes, when a man, who was standing behind her, laid his hand on her shoulder.

‘Tell us. Tell us what you have seen.’

The interior of the Crippled Burrick Pub was dusty, dark and noisy – it was yet the only place in the South Quarter which was opened late at night, against the strict rules written in the Book of Stone enforced with severity by the Hammerites. But since some unintelligible riots, in which the Order was seriously decimated, Hammers stopped coming around, which immediately resulted in the increase of the landlord’s income.

Pub was also the place where – by the pint of a dark strong ale – someone could make more or less legal businesses or charge somebody with a job not necessarily abiding by the law. City Watch, which entirely took over the duty of patrolling streets and keeping the order within the city walls, knew well what was going on there, but every time when they got to know about some illegal activity, before they got there, there wasn’t any trail of the authors of the commotion.

This evening there weren’t any musicians in the pub, but the guests were having a good time, who knows if, not making more noise than if there was playing loud music. In the middle some people were playing darts and there the atmosphere was thickening with every score of a high amaranth-dressed man, all because of his opponent – a bulky man with a huge knife by his belt, who was definitely loosing. The Amaranth, completely deaf to mumbles and gasps of the thug, was still aiming with the same precision. He seemed unaware of the fact that after each throw the knife was pulled out a little more than before. Spectators gathered around them were rousing to fight.

In a corner, by the table near the counter, a group of men in the identical uniforms was arguing fiercely, often pointing at the pile of coins – copper, silver and a few golden – and a few pieces of paper written with columns of numbers. Some drunken guards from the City Watch by the next table started singing for the tenth time the same obscene song, forgetting that they had already done it nine times before.

‘Let go off me!’ One of the waitresses, a beautiful girl, raised her hand with a mug to strike a toothless old man, who had managed to catch her in her waist. Her move was success­ful only in half: the old man let her go, but the contents of the mug gushed towards a lonely man who was sitting by the next table. The speed of his reaction surprised her: before the dark stream reached him, the man ducked and ale floated with picturesque damp patch on the wall, just a few inches from his head.

The girl lowered her hands with which she was covering her mouth and a grimace on her face suggested both fear of the reaction of the man or relief that nothing wrong happened.

‘I’m so terribly sorry’, she stuttered at last, quickly wiping little drops of ale which got to the table and trying to excuse herself. ‘It’s all his fault, he gray-haired is but still about young girls thinks. He should at home stay and children fairy-tales tell, not here ale guzzle and at maidens gaze. I didn’t want to put you at risk, sire, but there are so many people that you don’t look where everybody sits. Hopefully nothing wrong happened. But in order that you aren’t irritated, sire, let me bring you one mug on a house.' She didn’t give him the time for reaction, turned around and walked between the tables to get to the counter. It was always better to have one customer more than less, and the price of one mug of ale was made up with the next one.

The man didn’t say a word when she was putting the mug in front of him, he just nod­ded slightly. In the twilight she could hardly see his face: although handsome, it was a little strange, but she was familiar with it in some way. A moment later she knew: it was him who was said to have revenged himself on the Hammerites for having his eye gouged out and killed almost everyone of the Order. She glanced at him from the counter, but she saw only his dark silhouette. She shivered. One beer given for free wasn’t a high price for not having to talk to the man again – who knows what could cross his mind. Why Builder allowed such people to walk the earth!

The man returned to the observation of the room. He wasn’t worried about an ambush, although… who could know. However there were some rules even in this demimonde, people of the new sheriff were successful with persecuting all criminal activity. And one has to make a living, especially if this would mean to get rid off competition. Anyway, taking part in the recent events, which convulsed the City – though very few knew about it – he had had to dis­appear for a while. Now he also tried to avoid drawing anybody’s attention, especially be­cause many of the people in the pub knew him all too well. He came here only to overhear what people were talking about and whether the case of the Hammerite Order quieted down enough for him to return to his job.

He automatically recorded faces of entering guests. They were mostly workers em­ployed in some digging under the Markham’s Isle, but he also spotted some faces he was fa­miliar with. By the table in a corner he noticed Ramirez’ men who became somewhat cheer­less after their boss had been arrested and put in the Shoalsgate station, and his guild had fallen apart. Now they had to carry about themselves or join a competitive guild, which they didn’t like as he could guess from pretty loud and violent conversation. The times were hard – there were few clients who for illegally acquired goods were ready to risk a closer meeting with severe and efficient jurisdiction. Many fences also ended up in little cells. However the best, who had a good cover, weren’t disturbed in their activity. So was Bram Gervaisius, a collector of works of art and rare objects, whose associate has just shut the door behind him and asked the landlord to bring him ‘the usual stuff’ to the table he occupied.

The next person who entered the pub after him suddenly stopped, as if he wasn’t sure, whether he really wanted to go in. The man also spotted that the newcomer’s long travel cloak was a little different from the ones used in the City. Large hood covered his face in shadow, but the traveler soon touched it to pull it down. It was a woman. It was hard not to notice her: strangers hardly ever got to the South Quarter, usually staying in more residential Old Quar­ter, besides women were a rare view in this pub. Her fiery red hair was braided on the back of her neck. But except the man nobody seemed to pay any attention to her.

Suddenly the air seemed to thicken and for a moment time seemed to pass more slowly. The woman stood firmly, as if rooted to the ground, while at the same moment the door behind her opened surprisingly slowly and the next person came in, bumping into mo­tionless woman.

Time abruptly returned to its normal flow and the man shook his head – what the hell was it?

It turned out the woman knew very well where she came: it took only a while before she found who she was looking for. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a date with a fence or even a lover, she sat by the table occupied by a workman who slowly sipped his ale. The workman looked as if he had already experienced a traumatic meeting with the City Watch, which resulted in a lobothomy: a wide scar on his forehead was probably visible even in darkness.

Scar seemed to be shocked by the appearance of the woman. His amazement grew as Red-haired spoke and then it turned to distrust and hardly hidden hostility. But it all faded as if by magic when the woman pulled out a big leather purse. Scar smiled, which was quite a horrible view, and said a few words. The woman rose to her feet and after shaking his hand she headed to the exit.

Strange. What an ordinary workman had to offer that could be paid with a mint of money coming from the outside? And who was this mysterious Red-haired who, despite her evident advantages, nobody noticed? The man finished his ale at one gulp and threw his last gold coin on the table. He left in the same moment when the thug attacked Amaranth, to the joy of all spectators.


Child in a mist

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