Councillor Hugo Le Forge wound his way through the market square nodding to the people he knew and buying a few odds and ends as he went.
Hugo was a total pain to the establishment by campaigning relentlessly for the raising of the age of consent from twelve to fourteen, originally it was sixteen but he was forced to lower his sights, as well as for improvements in the poor quarter. The farmers and stockmen were totally against the change of the age of consent for as they put it, ‘It stops them getting rid of a useless daughter and getting a dowry’ until later. They like most of the shop and merchant owners were also against his move to ban child labour since that was where they got most of their workforce. They also couldn’t understand his desire to spend part of his considerable fortune helping the Temple’s work in the poor quarter’s ghettoes and slums. Hugo was a do-gooder in a world that just wasn’t ready for such radical views.
“Good morning Simieon.” He said stopping at Simieon’s stall. “And what are you trying to con the good public into buying this time?” He asked with a toothy grin.
“Good Morning my Lord. I’ll have you know that I only sell quality goods take for instance this knife.” He lifted off the table a wavy bladed six inch dagger with an ornately carved handle. “This, my Lord, came all the way from the mysterious eastern lands of Nippon and Cathay. Look at the workmanship, handcrafted that hilt from the finest bullroarers tusk. Totally unique and your in luck as I’ve just the one.”
Hugo took the knife and turned it casually in his hand before asking just as casually.
“How is Jules’s gout by the way? Is he still guzzling the red wine?”
“Sorry?” Simieon asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“Your friend, Jules the blacksmith? The man who made this?” Hugo’s grin widened further as Simieon made a great act of being preoccupied with his stock.
“I don’t know what you mean my Lord.” Unfortunately his bluff failed as he too couldn’t help but smile. “Fair enough my Lord. The old fool is still suffering like mad, I told him to see a physic but will he , oh no not him. But you must agree he does a fair piece of work.”
“I agree, in fact it would look good over the fire mantle.” Hugo sighed and put the knife down. “But that would only work if there were two of them.”
“Don’t go my Lord it just so happens I do have a second blade here.” Simieon pulled out a second blade and laid it next to the first, they were a perfect match.
“I thought you said you only had the one? That it was unique?”
“And so it is sir. This one,” he said indicating the first blade, “is for a right handed person where as this one is for a left handed person, so you see they are both unique my Lord.” Simieon grinned up at him and Hugo couldn’t help but smile back.
“All right you reprobate you’ve got a sale, heaven help me.”
“Quite right my Lord you know it makes sense.”
The next five minutes or so were spent in cheerful banter as they negotiated a reasonable price, but Hugo wished dearly that Simieon hadn’t spat on his hand when they shook on the deal. Hugo fastidiously wiped his hand on a cloth that was tucked into his belt for just such emergences as he moved away, almost knocking a little girl over who was playing with a hoop and stick.
“Sorry.” The girl called as she dashed off after her hoop into the crowd.
Hugo smiled wryly as he rubbed where the stick had scratched the skin of his left leg and tore a small hole in his hose. He couldn’t blame the child there were no safe places for her to play so she had to stay near whatever stall her parents were running. He couldn’t complain after all it was what he was campaigning for, more play time and learning for children.
His smile grew broad again as he heard Simieon’s voice behind him.
“Come on Ladies and Gentlemen have a look at my wares, cooking utensils, fancy iron work and knives of so many designs that they will bedazzle your eyes. Our Lord councillor Le Forge bought two decorative knives off me just a moment ago. Isn’t that so my Lord?” Simieon asked cheekily.
“Yes that’s all true trader and at a fair price I may say.” Hugo waved and carried on through the market his mind on a new bill he would attempt to pass giving children safe places to play; he even had a name for them, ‘Play Grounds’. It had a good ring to it and said quite clearly what it was.
A rancid stink assailed his nostrils and he didn’t need to turn round to know its origins.
“Ah Constable Carder Moore.” He pulled out a scented handkerchief and wafted it under his nose.
“I hope you didn’t buy anything from that shyster my Lord.” His breath stunk as much as this body. Carder was a big man in all senses of the word and made things worse with his perchance for tatty finery of all colours. What didn’t help was his ability to wear the most unsuitable combination of colours and clothes that were “too tight. “If you bought a sundial from him you could bet a penny to a mark it would only work at night.”
“Is this a social call or have you actually got some information for me?” Le Forge said coolly.
“No nothing yet my Lord but I’m still working on it you can be sure of that.” He lifted an arm in a wave of departure and nearly succeeded in suffocating the noble man.
Simieon wandered over and joined Le Forge with a concerned look on his face.
“Are you alright my Lord? You want to steer clear of him my Lord he’d sell his mother for a penny if he had one, a mother that is.” He watched the man swagger away with his huge wooden cudgel over his shoulder into the crowd.
“Ah alas I haven’t any choice Simieon.” La Forge replied sadly.
“Why as he got some hold over you. I know a few lads who would set him straight if his out to blackmail you.” Simieon offered.
“No it’s nothing like that Simieon. You’ve heard no doubt about the investigation I’m carrying out into the disappearances of the children in the under city, the slums, the shanties.” Simieon nodded. “Well our malodorous constable is aiding me in my investigation. The city council insisted and promoted him to be full constable and the sole guard in the slums. Well I must be off. Thanks for these Simeon even if they are over priced.”
“I’ll get Dannia to pop round later with some soup or something for you.” Simieon knew how much the man was mourning his late wife and was struggling with the cooking and cleaning.
“That’s very kind of you Simieon I would like that. Perhaps she’d do me the honour of a game of battle too.” Hugo said wishfully.
“I’m sure she will.” Simieon turned back to a growing crowd around his stall. “Thank you my Lord for such a glowing report. His Lordship has only informed me, Ladies and Gentlemen, that he intends my stall to have his personal warrant. Now you can get better than that. Now any one interested in a lovely knife all the way from darkest Cathay.”
With a broad smile Hugo watched Simieon extract a knife from beneath the table that was a perfect duplicate of the two he had just purchased. With an exchange of nods between them Hugo walked away.
A little later he spied Dannia moving along the edge of the market and called her over. She was making her way over to the temple of Huron to do a small number of lunches for a few elderly residents who had difficulty moving far from their homes. Hugo joined her and spent a pleasant afternoon preparing and delivering the food with Dannia and the Priest while regaling them about his plans for children’s play areas.
When he got home to the small apartment he used while in town, like most of the Councillors he had a larger property outside the town in the countryside, he was feeling very tired, pleased, but still very tired.
He must have dropped off to sleep for awhile as it was quite dark when he opened his eyes once more to find he wasn’t alone.
A shape moved in the darkness.
“Have you come to kill me?” He asked the shape. He had no illusions that his enemies wanted him dead. “Well have you?”
“Not unless your allergic to my cooking?” Dannia quipped as she emerged from the shadows dressed in her black leathers holding a small crock of hot stew. “I told Simieon that you looked undernourished you’ve got to look after yourself now your on your own.” Hugo had lost his adored wife a year previously to Scarlet fever. Dannia laid the dish on to the table top and asked where Hugo kept his pewter plates.
“In the cupboard by the range on the second shelf, why?”
“You don’t think your going to be eating all on your own do you.” She brought in two plates and two goblets. “You must have been tired you didn’t even shut the front door. When I came in you were well away. I was trying to make up my mind whether to rouse you when you woke up and spoke.”
“I must admit I am very tired but that won’t stop me relishing the food you’ve cooked.
They sat opposite each other and began to eat the stew and enjoy the wine chatting amicably about this and that before Hugo could bring himself to ask the question that had been playing on his mind.
“Why are you here Dannia and does Simieon know.” His leg was itching wickedly around where he was scratched.
“Yes Simieon knows, he would have been here but he’s got to work. He’s got deliveries to make otherwise he’d be here.” Dannia paused a moment. “I’m sorry if the meat was a little tough but I had to use mutton instead of beef.”
“It was lovely Dannia but you still haven’t answered my question, not really?” He persisted.
“Someone has paid to have you assassinated do you know who?” Dannia said it so matter of fact as if it was a piece of unimportant chatter. “After we’ve washed up how about a game of battle I see you’ve a table set up.”
“Pardon?” Hugo said his mouth open in shock.
But Dannia didn’t reply she just indicated the battle board and for the next hour they enjoyed a tightly contested game which Dannia barely won. She picked up the wine goblets and carried them over to the washing area before returning to talk to him.
“Someone has paid to have you murdered have you any idea who? I’m sorry I really am but I need to know who you think might have paid to have you removed.” Dannia took his hand in hers and squeezed it in an attempt to give him comfort.
“Have they succeeded?” He asked sadly.
“Yes I’m afraid so. A slow acting poison was injected into your leg via the scratch, along with a sedative type of drug to alleviate the pain.” She looked up at the man with moist eyes. “I am sorry, would like to go to bed and rest?”
“The condemned man ate a hearty meal before being led to the gallows or in this case the bed.” He tried to laugh but it came out false and wrong. “Thank you Dannia I’ve enjoyed this evening even if you did beat me at battle. It was good food, good wine and good company but I’m tired and will go to bed after all. Will you stay?”
“Yes Hugo I’ll stay. Can’t you tell me who you think paid for this?” Dannia brushed back a stray lock of hair off his forehead.
“So you can pay someone to kill them. No Dannia who ever it was did me a favour, I’m going to be able to see my Jean again. I’ve missed her so much.” She helped strip him and put him into his bed making sure he was warm. His breathing was strained and his eyes heavy as Dannia pointed up at the two daggers on the wall above the fireplace.
“I had Simieon put them up for you before he left for work.”
“Thank him for me he has done it well.” Hugo smiled as his eyes began to take on a pearly look. “Jean wants me to tell you, I don’t know why. Lambert would do it himself and Michaels is to miserly but Lyons will. I think he does child smuggling for prostitution but I can’t prove it but he really hates me. I’ll try to get the bill passed tomorrow, it can wait until tomorrow. I’m coming Jean, wait for me.”
It would be nice to think that at that moment he passed on but in fact it was another hour before he did but at least he never woke again.
“As he gone?” Simieon asked as he entered the room.
“Yes, he liked the knives by the way.” Dannia carefully tucked Hugo in and closed his staring eyes before kissing him on the forehead.
“At least it was peaceful.” Simieon offered.
“It ought to have been considering the amount of Laudanum he sprinkled on his food with the salt. Do you know I’m not proud of scratching him with that needle I think we should balance the books.” She took two marks off the side table. “I think that’ll be payment enough to kill Lyons.”
Without a backward glance she left pausing only to take the salt cellar away and put Hugo’s back in its place. Simieon bowed a slight bow of respect before following his wife.
It was dark as Dannia sat at the small table her face thrown into gaunt shadows by the flickering light of the solitary candle in its stand on the wooden surface. Her ears strained to catch any sound while her eyes moved trying to glimpse any movement. The dark seemed to absorb any sound like a blanket as if her ears were plugged. She sniffed tentatively to see if she could smell the other person in the room.
Was that a movement to her right? Was that a tiny spark of light flashing in the dark?
Then she could smell it, the aroma distinctive on a mere waft of air. She picked up the knife and tested its sharpness on her thumb. She would have preferred a slightly sharper blade but it would suffice. A slight footfall came from her right! It was coming nearer, slowly nearer! She could almost feel its heat and taste its odour on her tongue! It was behind her ready to act! Her hand clenched the knife tighter as something flashed passed her eye to land on the table!
“I still don’t understand why you should eat his dinner?” Simieon complained as he contemplated the repast he’d lain before Dannia. He had to admit Councillor Lyons didn’t stint on his food. Cold mutton, beef and pork lay on the plate along with piping hot roots, peas and a long stringy vegetable that he had never see before, all covered in equally hot meat sauce.
“I’m eating it my dearest because if I had left them on the range it would in all probability set fire to the property killing many of the residence and since I was paid to remove one the others would be a breach of contract.” She took a mouthful of the meat and chewed appreciatively. “Formidable, you must try some Simieon it’s really good.”
“No thanks it doesn’t feel right eating another mans food.” Simieon replied his stomach grumbling loudly.
“Well he’s not in a position to complain is he?” She pointed with her knife at the crumpled figure by the door.
“No I suppose not.” He conceded and helped himself to a slither of beef which to his surprise was really tender unlike the meat they have at the barracks or at home for that matter. “It was handy that he died of a heart attack it saved you getting involved in the messy bit. Did you find out anything about the claims?”
When the Darkhorns had entered the room they had discovered Lyons slumped against the hall by the door. Dannia managed to get a lot of information out of the dying man by pretending she was an angel ready for his last confession. Though most of it was political skulduggery two facts shone out. The first was that it was he, as Dannia surmised, who had commissioned her through the guild to kill Hugo. Simieon had assumed, quite rightly as it turns out, that the reason Dannia took the commission was that if she didn’t someone less able would and that upset her feelings, how ever skewed, of propriety. If it had to be done it would be done as gently as possible and by her.
The second piece of information was a little more worrying. It appeared that Lyon did indeed procure children for the odd and sometimes very odd orgy but what was concerning Dannia was that they often came from the rich and successful families themselves. Only a few came from the poorer sections of the city but they always seem to have vanished by the end of the party. What was even more alarming was his paymaster in this sordid affair, the assassin Nocturne.
Nocturne was one of the finest assassins in the city able to hit the most protected targets with consummate ease. Like Dannia none except the guild master knew who they were in their private lives. The difference between the two was that Nocturne was as vicious as he was swift often not bothering to cover up the assassination but instead leaving a calling card of a death card from the tarot pack with a single written musical note imprinted on its surface somewhere obvious, hence the name Nocturne.
“We’ll wash up and damp down the range so it will eventually go out and as for eating his food. If we took the food off it would look suspicious after all why would you stop cooking just to go to the door to put your boots out to be cleaned by the concierge. No this way he took the boots after he had eaten and died of a heart attack on the way much more believable.”
Soon everything was cleaned up and put tidily away all that was left to do was to put traces of food around the dead mans mouth and they were away back over the roof tops then down into an alleyway leading out from the temple of Huron to walk out hand in hand in evening wear over their leathers.
But this time as they landed Dannia pivoted and threw two daggers in one throw one to the right and one to the left. Out of the shadows fell two black clad bodies both dead from blades sticking out of their skulls.
“Did you think I’d fall for that one? I see the clumsy one and kill him but miss the professional who does for me. You must think I was born yesterday.” Dannia raged just managing to get out of the way of a flying knife with a playing card attached. It was ‘Nocturne’s’ calling card, the ‘Death’ card. A third body fell out of the dark as another knife found its mark.
Nocturne had been hired to kill her and all bets were off. She had no option now but to kill him first. But first she had to find out who he was because at the moment she was at a distinct disadvantage. She only hoped she had enough time to find out before becoming a statistic and very dead indeed.