The dead were such fair things.
The pale pallor that crept over the skin as the pulse failed to continue and the body lost its warmth. The glassy, staring, almost pleading eyes that never flickered – as if they were caught in a timeless moment, staring into the eternity of what could have been. The slightly parted lips: frozen in a perfect form – not a frown and not a smile – and gave away nothing of the terror that had preceded it in life
If only there wasn’t so much blood, Tostig thought, crouching beside his kill, examining the elf-man’s features. He took the curved throwing-knife from the elf’s neck – where Tostig had aimed and embedded it, causing the courier to gag and die before he fell off his dying horse.
“I’m sure you were a beautiful man, in life,” Tostig said to the corpse, his voice: deep as ocean and smooth as silk, “you’re even more so, now that your dead. I suppose I can’t say the same for your horse. It’s still grunting its goodbyes to this cruel world, guts and gore spilling over the otherwise marvellously cobbled road.”
Tostig stood up and turned the body over with his foot.
Excellent, he thought, a smile playing on his lips. He scratched the stubble on his chin, as he leaned down and took the pack from the courier’s back, cutting the straps with his knife.
“Hmm,” he sighed, sitting and leaning against the body, “Won’t the Lady of Greenloch miss you?” he scoffed, opening the pack and sifting through the scrolls and letters, casually, “You were supposed to send a letter to Gunnhild of Battersea. Apparently she’s a traitor to her tribe, but I’m guessing you already knew that – a Greelochite as you are,” he held an envelope in his hand, turned it around, shook his head, and put it back in the pack, “I know you’ve already given her the message. But I know you Greenloch fellows well enough. You’re a very precautious bunch, now, aren’t you? I’m more that fairly certain that you have a second copy. Unless you’re a weirdo. Are you a weirdo, courier?” he looked back at the dead elf’s face. He tutted, “No fun, mocking a dead man. Let’s see, let’s see…”
Tostig continued to sift through the letters and messages, until he came upon what he was looking for.
“My, my, isn’t Lady Mercia busy,” he said, reading the letter, “wanting the service of a mercenary to fight against the people she betrayed. Fickle things, women and war. Sigh, am I right? But this… this is interesting, albeit not very surprising…” Tostig looked up from the scroll and glanced over his surroundings.
The place he was in, sitting next to a dead man as the horse finally breathed its last, was ironically tranquil. The trees and plants were hazy in the sunshine, the wind a slight breeze – playing with the blades of tall grass that flanked the cobbled path on either side. The hem of Tostig’s tattered hood floated around his face as the wind taunted it. There wasn’t anything live in sight, except for the small buzzards that had began to gather, hovering and feasting on the split blood.
He tapped a finger against his lips, deep in thought, “My contractor wants Gunnhild dead, of course. But he or she or whatever, had some very specific… requirements, I must say. How am I supposed to kill her before the Court of Lady Mercia?” he paused, scowling as the burning on his left arm began once more, “Another? Good grief!” he raised his sleeve and looked at the marking:
Mariqah de Saint-Omer
Tostig furrowed his brows, “Two mercenaries?” he spat and then huffed loudly, before looking up at the sky, shielding his eyes from the sun, “A job from a second contractor in one week? And here I was beginning to think that had people stopped trusting me! How very… quaint of them to continue to call on my service…”
“Two mercenaries wanted dead. Hmm…” Tostig stood up, putting the letter away. He looked at the dead elf, “I must away, it seems. First I must meet with this… new contractor, and then I must try to do the impossible of killing two people in a weeks time. However, chances are, I won’t have to travel to Earth. Ms Mariqah de Saint-Omer must be coming to the Grey Havens. Interesting… very interesting,” he turned the elf over, brushing the gravel from his cold, pale face, and took him by the armpits, “All the same, friend, I must be going. Very sorry for this bloody business, but I don’t like taking unnecessary chances,” Tostig dragged the dead courier into the tall grass, until he assumed it was far enough from the path. The horse would be too much work, he reckoned, but he decided that the courier, at least, deserved a better resting place than the middle of a road.
Tostig stood straight, sighing, and took a small box from one of his many pockets. He pinched some of the white powder within, before sprinkling it over the body of the dead horse and the streaks of drying blood. Tostig smiled. He could almost imagine the buzzards screaming in panic as the powder went to work and ate away the remains, hiding all evidence of what had happened. The flattened grass was a pitiful giveaway, but no matter. Tostig would be long gone before the courier was noted to be missing. Everyone would assume that Gunnhild had done it.
Tostig wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and smiled at his burning arm, “This should be fun,” he said, before walking off.