The Guild was a remote island in the middle of an elvish sea. It wasn’t particularly nice and it wasn’t very well-managed. Mary hadn’t seen such fat, disgusting rats being allowed to scurry around so freely. Aunt Mariqah hated rats and fungus and illness.
The Guild seemed to be blanketed by all three.
It wasn’t short of anything Tostig had described it – it was an island of crooks.
Perhaps Mary should have asked for more details – because the filthy mess of an island she was walking through was not what she had expected.
Mary was used to being around social miscreants. All the mercenaries back in Normandy were crooks after all, that Aunt Mariqah had welcomed and sheltered. But the fortress was always clean and the food was always good and everyone knew everyone else. Everyone liked each other, and the fights were rare and small.
Here, it didn’t seem anyone trusted anyone else, let alone like. Mary kept her belongings close to her and walked about, rather aimlessly.
Tostig had left her here and told her that she might be able to find information on Mariqah from these people. They held the eyes and ears of every Lord and Lady, big or small, and if there was anyone who’d know about score-settling and imprisoning a rival: it was the crooks on this island.
So far, Mary had had no luck. She’d gotten into more fights than she deemed necessary, and Tostig’s “acquaintances” were anything but helpful. Mary sighed, walking along the litter-strewn beach, the sky dark above her dotted with tiny white pin-pricks. No moon tonight.
Mary wondered if their was a moon.
She saw a company gathered around a fire, laughing and drinking heartily. She paused and frowned. There was about twenty of them, all men, sitting on upturned boxes and barrels, empty green bottles scattered about their feet. They seemed to be travellers, with their rugged and weather-beaten appearance. Making a decision, she walked towards them, her hand on the hilt of the Damascus.
“You seem like a jolly bunch,” she said, taking their attention almost immediately.
They were sailors, Mary realised, or rather – marauders. Nine of them wore loose tunics and head-bands, and those who were a little more stocky wore leather shifts to keep themselves to themselves. The tenth man had great big beard strung with beads and his face was anything but kindly. He wore a broad-brimmed hat plumed with feathers, and long dark coat with many clasps. Mary assumed he was the captain. They all smelled horrible and they were all missing teeth.
She understood now why her aunt had such a dislike for sailors.
“And ‘ere I was thinkin’ I might need t’pay for a good night wi’ a pretty wench!” said one of them, laughing with the others.
“Human wench,” said the Captain, warily, “stop your bawlin’, lads. Pay ear. No human comes t’these parts except for trouble,” he turned to Mary, “Who’re you workin’ for then? Which Lord? Which Lady?”
“I’m not here on any commission,” said Mary, “I’m looking for my aunt.”
“Your aunt an elf, lass?”
“No, sir. My aunt is very much a human, but she was taken and imprisoned by someone. I was wondering if you, or anyone, would know who.”
“S’pose I did know,” said the Captain, turning to his crew, “what’d you give us in return for such information?”
“Well, I…” Mary narrowed her eyes at them and their lust-hungry looks. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea, “I could give you coin. My aunt is very wealthy. Or, you know, I could pay for your baths. Or for a cure for your scurvy.”
They all hooted with laughter, “Lassie, in these lands, there’s not guarantee that your aunt is alive. Everyone here is mad,” the Captain stood, the beads in his beard glowing with a fierce light, streaming with smoke, “Mad for blood.”
Mary looked unimpressed, “Sir, your beard is on fire,” she said, folding her arms.
The Captain paused, “So, you’re different.”
The Captain sighed, “What’re you doing here, eh? Go home, t’your Earth. I told you. Your aunt is probably dead.”
“I’m quite certain she’s not.”
“Fine. You pay us first – a hundred in gold – and I’ll tell you what I know.”
“I’ll do you one better,” she said, smiling, “Two hundred pieces, if you tell me what you know now. My aunt is wealthy and she’s not much of the dying type, you see. When she comes back, she’ll probably give you more.”
“’Ere, who’s your aunt, then?” said one of the other pirates, “Why’s she so special?”
“Mariqah,” said Mary, “Mariqah de Saint-Omer, the mercenary, is my aunt.”
There was a pause as they all looked at each other.
Finally, thought Mary, I’m getting somewhere.
“Listen, lass,” said the Captain, “I’ve little love for humans, but your aunt… Your aunt is somethin’ else,” he beckoned for her to sit, “Give this lass a drink, eh?”
“Please, I insist! Captain Ethelbald’s breath might stink, but ne’er say that his hospitality is lackin’!” said the Captain, passing her a green bottle. “So, Saint-Omer’s been felled, eh?”
Mary took it gingerly, not wanting to get a lecturing about this when she got her aunt back. Aunt Mariqah hated all forms of alcohol, in small in-takes or otherwise. Uncle Darim hadn’t been too fond of drink either, “Not felled, no,” said Mary, “As far as I know, she’s been imprisoned and is alive.”
“Who told you this?”
“Tostig. Of Skye. The assassin.”
Captain Ethelbald spat, “You kill him?”
“You should have, the bloody pisspot,” the Captain muttered, sitting, “But, on the issue o’ your aunt, I owe the woman. She might well be one o’ the reasons I’m alive today.”
“She saved you?” Mary scoffed, “A pirate?”
The Captain glared at her, “I didn’t say she liked it, but yes. She saved me. From the self-same bastard she’s probably goin’ t’fall to.”
Mary paused, her mouth a thin line, “I’m sorry?”
Captain Ethelbald regarded her, his brows furrowed, “Every year, criminals from all o’er the Havens are rounded up and sent t’the Lord of Brimone. They’re sent t’perform,” the Captain prodded the fire with a stick, “and sent t’die. In the search o’ performers, it causes a… turn in justice, as such. Many political prisoners and dislikeable social characters have fallen in the Games. Your aunt saved me from that, led me away,” he gestured to his crew, “even some of these lads. She was commissioned to, by one of ours and she did. Took little gold for it too. Killed the previous Brimonian Lord, as a bonus, wi’ that sword hangin’ at your side,” he paused, “But what I’m getting at is: if there’s someone powerful out there who wants t’end Mariqah in the most undignified way possible – and I’m in no doubt that there’re many – it’ll happen in Brimone. And soon.”