The Priest's Daughter
found a seat in the corner of the tavern, and observed her surroundings. The Golden Swan was not the cleanest of
establishments, but it looked far more welcoming than The Knight’s Crossing had been the previous evening. At the very
least there was no vomit on the floor here.
Christopher returned from the bar, carrying two tankards. “Wine for you, ale for me,” he stated as he plunked them down on the table.
Evelyn sipped at the wine. Alcohol had been forbidden in her father’s house, and the only times she had tasted it was when she had sneaked out at night with her friend Marina. At first it had made her very dizzy, but she thought she was becoming accustomed to the taste and its after-effects. “Did you enquire about a room?”
“Yeah, there’s one that’s all ours for ten merts,” he replied.
She nodded. “Okay. How much do we have left?”
“About a hundred or so,” said Christopher, biting his bottom lip in consideration. “Enough to see us down to Gordia, hopefully.”
“Now there’s a fookin’ beaut!” said a slurred voice.
They both stared at the source of the voice, a leering bald man. What little teeth he had left were black, and he stank of ale and urine.
“Umm…” said Christopher, not sure what to do or say.
The bald man frowned at him. “This your woman, pal? She’s fuckin’ wasted on the likes of yer,” he said, and then turned to two men about twenty feet away, drunk women in their arms. “Oi, lads! Check this one out!”
The two men stared intensely at Evelyn, and her cheeks burned red, feeling horribly uncomfortable. “Please, leave us both alone,” she said.
“I’ll be leavin’ you alone once I’m done with yer,” he growled. He turned to Christopher. “Fuck off.”
Christopher attempted to look to the bar for help, but no-one was catching his eye. “Umm… you heard the lady. Please, we’re not looking for trouble.”
“If you ain’t lookin’ for trouble then fuck off,” spat the bald man.
Oh Gods, please don’t let this end the way I think it will, Evelyn prayed.
A man tapped him on the shoulder. The bald man turned around, somewhat clumsily, and stared at the newcomer. The latter had a shock of red hair and luminous green eyes, and looked to be in his mid-twenties.
“Would you mind being on your way, good sir?” asked the red-headed man.
“What the hell?” said the bald man, frowning.
“Sorry, I know those were big words,” smiled the red-headed man. “What I meant was, fuck off.”
The bald man swayed on the spot, and then lunged at the red-headed man. His target, apparently much more sober, nimbly stepped backwards, and the bald man fell to the floor. His two friends instantly stopped their conversations with the drunk women and lumbered over to help their friend.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said the red-headed man. The two drunks realised he was armed when he tapped the hilt of his sword. “I’ve killed bigger men than the both of you put together. Take your sad sack of a friend, and get out.”
The two men considered their options briefly, and then grabbed their bald friend and hauled him roughly out of the tavern.
“Thank you,” said Evelyn nervously, wondering if this man was going to be worse than the bald man.
“The name’s Brandon Piper,” said the man, taking a seat next to Christopher, who fidgeted uncomfortably.
“I’m Louisa Stone, and this is Alexander Davis,” said Evelyn. Their false identities had been worked out the day before they ran away.
“No you’re not,” said Brandon. “You’re Evelyn White.” He turned to Christopher, who looked at him with wide eyes filled with surprise. “And you’re Christopher Jackson.”
“Oh Gods, Evelyn’s father sent you!” exclaimed Christopher in fear.
Evelyn slapped Christopher on the wrist, but it was too late. Their covers had been blown. “What do you want? Are you with the Church?”
Brandon threw back his head and laughed. “When the world freezes over, maybe. Though it seems to be getting that way, can you believe this weather? I was in Lennon a couple of months ago, but here seems to be even worse.” He leaned back in his chair, and regarded Christopher with faint amusement. “So, you were with the Church.” It was a statement, not a question.
Christopher scratched his collarbone, something he did when he felt uncomfortable. “I am still a man of the Twin Gods,” he stated. “I didn’t want to abandon Priest White.”
“No, of course not,” said Brandon. He cast an appreciative eye over Evelyn, and she wondered if he was just as bad as the bald man. “Though now I can see why you did. I always thought young religious types were the dirtiest folks. You spend every other waking hour filled with pure thoughts of the gods, that when it’s time to blow off steam…” He chuckled to himself.
“If you’re not with the Church, who are you with?” asked Evelyn curiously.
Brandon leaned forward. “I’m a bounty hunter.”
“Are you going to kill us?” asked Christopher in a high-pitched voice.
Brandon looked at him as if he were mad. “Why would I do that?”
“Isn’t that what bounty hunters do?” asked Evelyn, not sure whether she should be intimidated or not.
“I guess, but they do other things too. Personally, I’m a tracker. And it was pretty easy to find you. If you’re going to run away, do it right.”
Evelyn pursed her lips, and shared a look of anxiety with Christopher. “But we prepared false names and false backstories,” she said.
“And I’m sure you were very creative, but I found you nonetheless,” replied the bounty hunter in a bored voice. “I completely understand running away because you fell in love with dear Christopher here, or that sex with him is fantastic, whatever. But did you run away because you fell out love with your religion, or because your father is an arsehole?”
Evelyn did not respond – she had no immediate answer.
It was Christopher that spoke. “Priest White is a wonderful man.”
“That was a very politically friendly answer,” Brandon shot back, and Christopher turned a deep shade of purple.
“He did not consent to Christopher’s marriage proposal,” said Evelyn. “He wanted to marry me to Archpriest Gorton’s oldest son, Matthew.”
“Ah, those damn priests,” replied Brandon. “I can never get away from those bastards.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Christopher, his curiosity piqued.
“Have you heard of Archpriest Russell Piper, of Ramslocke?” asked Brandon.
Christopher nodded enthusiastically. “He visited the temple in Noepall in my first week of being a monk. He was very forthcoming,” he smiled, reliving his memories.
“Well, he’s my father, and he’s an arsehole.”
Christopher’s eyes widened. “The son of a priest, in such a profession?”
Brandon gave him a dangerous look. “Carry on in that tone, and you’ll sound just like him. Now, shall we get down to business?”
Evelyn tensed. “You want me to return to Noepall, to my father, don’t you?”
“No, your father wants you to return to Noepall to him, my dear Evelyn,” said Brandon. “I want to complete this assignment and claim the monetary reward.”
“We can offer you money,” suggested Evelyn desperately.
“Not as much as your father,” replied Brandon. “Are we going to do this the easy way, or the hard way?”
Evelyn lowered her head in defeat. “I suppose there’s no running from you, is there.”
“Nope,” agreed Brandon cheerfully. “But I have a counter-offer for you.”
Both Evelyn and Christopher looked at him enquiringly.
Brandon smiled. “I’m kind of gold rich at the moment, thanks to my last hunt. So, what I’m offering is this… you both return to Noepall with me, I collect the money from your father, we split it in half, and you run away again the next day.”
The idea was so ridiculous Evelyn could not help but giggle. “Are you being serious?”
“I never joke,” lied Brandon.
“You’d con my father?”
Brandon shook his head, smirking. “I’m not conning anyone – I’m fulfilling my duties promised to your father by bringing you and loverboy here home. If I then want to help you escape the dogma of your family’s household, that’s my own shout, is it not?”
Evelyn looked at Christopher.
“I suppose there’s no other way, my love,” he said nervously.
She turned back to Brandon Piper. “Alright, we agree. But on two conditions: we split the money equally, and you give us a few tips on how to run away again, well enough to so a bounty hunter like yourself won’t find us again.”
Brandon regarded Christopher. “For an extra fee, I might teach you how to use a weapon, young Christopher. You’re going to have to stand up for yourself. I won’t be around next time some drunk bastard attempts to stick it in your woman.”
The runaway monk nodded half-heartedly, and they spent the rest in each other’s awkward company, sipping wine and ale and making small talk. At the end of the evening they decided they would stay the night, and Brandon went off to seek what he described as a ‘pleasure palace’, though Evelyn knew he meant brothel.
During the night, after they had made love, Christopher made to fall asleep, but Evelyn shook him roughly.
“Come on, we need to get out of here.”
“What do you mean?” asked Christopher.
“That Brandon Piper man was a lunatic,” she said. “How can you trust him? He’ll just sell us back to the church and make off with my father’s money. You heard the way he talked – he hates priests. Why don’t we just run away now? To hell with Piper. I really do not want to return to Noepall and face my father’s wrath. He might move you to another church, so that we’d never see each other again.”
Christopher agreed, and they were dressed and out the door in under two minutes.
They tiptoes out of The Golden Swan and hastily made for the edge of town, heading south.
“You’re not running away, are you?” called a familiar voice.
With a pang of dread in her stomach, Evelyn turned round and saw Brandon Piper standing thirty feet away, shrouded in fog.
“How did you know we were leaving?” she asked.
Brandon laughed. “I’m a bounty hunter. Do you think you were going to be able to get away from me?” He fondled the hilt of his sword. “Don’t think about running now. Honestly, it’s bloody rude, after my offer to help you. How could you?”
“I suppose there’s no point in running, is there?” she asked, her lip trembling.
“No, none at all,” agreed Brandon, walking quickly towards them. “Look, don’t get all down. Can’t you see my way is better? Follow my plan, and you’ll end up with one thousand merts, and a better chance of staying ahead of whatever person your father hires next time you run off.”
“But what if it’s an assassin?” said Evelyn, shaking from the cold. “Or what if he moves Christopher far away to another temple?”
“Then I guess that’s the price you pay for love,” shrugged Brandon. “I’m not the bad guy here. I’m just trying to keep your options open. But unfortunately, as your father did hire me and I have my reputation to maintain, you’re both coming back to Noepall whether you like it or not.” He glanced at Christopher. “And if the worst happens and you get separated forever, I’d stick to whores next time, my man. It’s easier to pay than to put in all this hard, stressful work.” He beckoned back towards The Golden Swan. “Now come on, get some sleep. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
Hugging herself as she shivered, Evelyn wearily made her way back to the tavern with Christopher, knowing that big changes in her life were coming.
Whether they were for the better or worse though, she did not know.