If Squire had a son, he’d like to think that he would have been like the kid they had locked up in Bedrock. Word had been spread throughout the entire city that the kid that they had locked up there was the most notorious killer or hero that Trennon had ever had. This wasn’t Marchetti or Manolo where there were famed knights and champions who defended the honor of lords and noble houses. There were no heroes in Trennon, just people getting by. There were Merchants who beat out their rivals, craftsmen who dominated their market, and mercenaries who brought down the occasional bandit or marauder.
This kid, he was different. This kid had done something that three Watch Commanders had failed to do in the past twenty years and that was kill one of the Brogans. To kill one of the scumbags that plagued the streets of Toiltown and the Ironworks and who had poisoned, backstabbed, and assassinated their way to prominence in the city. The fact that they were on the City Council was a testament to just how corrupt and cowardly Trennon had actually become.
Letting the Woodlanders sack and butcher all of Umberlyn was bad enough for Trennon to get a heartless reputation, but letting the Brogans run amok for two decades was so much worse in Squire’s opinion. He took a drink from his mug, draining the contents before he headed over to the Commons to listen to the debate that most of the city was infatuated with.
The Watch Commander had kept the kid away, tucked in the heart of his dungeon at Bedrock while the Brogans demanded blood and honor. The Watch Commander and the Magistrate looked on as representatives from the Chapel of Saint Mirna and witnesses from the Ironworks and Toiltown defended what they saw. For the past two days, Squire had noted the smug looks on the Watch Commander and Magistrate’s face.
The past two days had been nothing but arguing and demands for justice from the families of those who had been killed in the brawl. The wife of a cutpurse wept as she paraded her brood of dingy, filthy spawn through the gallery and demanded to know who would protect her children and who would put food in their mouths now that her hard working husband was dead. The man’s father had also demanded such answers, to which the Watch Commander’s Head Records Clerk recited the litany of offenses that the cutpurse had walked away from, having the offenses paid off by the Brogans purser.
This was a familiar sight for the rest of the first day. Lackeys and thugs pretended to be upright citizens and the crowd of wealthy citizens and merchants who watched from the gallery whispered and shook their heads, knowing the truth. The Magistrate, more patient than Squire ever was, let them have their peace and then sent them on their way.
The second day had been far more serious. The wife of Watchman Dorrin came forward with her children from the Midhouses and spoke of her husband’s love for Trennon and how he was not the best man in the Watch, but he was a true Watchman. He had died trying to resolve the situation peacefully, as many citizens attested to and it was pointed that Padraig Brogan, the little shit that he was, stuck the dagger in Dorrin’s kidneys and left him to die.
A tough act to follow, but Dimosthenis, the silversmith from the Irish Market came forward in the defense of his son who had only been driven by noble and holy cause to bring the words of Mirna to the people of the Penny Market. Sotiris, his son, was present and gave his testimony, stating through swollen and split lips that he had been attacked and beaten, having also witnessed the murder of Dorrin.
But the question was who struck first and the silver smith’s son failed to note who had actually delivered the first blow. It was Merribell, the Watchman who came forward and she was the one who gave the damning conviction against the monk who Squire had become increasingly more intrigued with. She gave her report and everyone could see that the testimony was not easy for her. She stated that she saw the kid, twelve or thirteen, fly at the cutpurse and stick him with a butcher’s knife, opening him from kidney to rib before she was able to stop him.
She in turn was attacked and nearly killed, had the boy not gotten up and bludgeoned Algiss the Blade twice in the head, ending his miserable life. No one was there for that disgraced pile of trash. His death was unrepresented in the trial. Squire had nearly killed Algiss five years ago when he caught him outside Bahadir’s house. Squire took two of Algiss’ rotten teeth and his purse form him and never told his employer of the thief’s presence and he didn’t tell the Watch either. He knew the Santhym Sucker would end up at the end of a dagger one day or another and take the long float down the Yavas. He never thought Algiss would end up dead at the hands of a monk.
The Watchman, Merribell, couldn’t attest to what happened to Loram and Padraig Brogan, as she was pinned under Algiss’ corpse. But, the Watchman, Goksu, who had struck the monk from behind, gave his word that the monk had opened Padraig’s throat, ear to ear. Squire also had it on good authority that Goksu was getting paid by Faolan to say this and since Goksu’s partner was taken ill by violent diarrhea, the Magistrate had yet to pin Loram and Padraig’s murders on the monk. Algiss and the Cutpurse, they were both sticking to the kid along with inciting the incident and drawing first blood.
“Damn,” Squire looked at the mug. “They’re going to hang the bastard.”
“What’s it to you?” Sir Albard said, having not been a true “sir” in over twenty years. He was a hired blade, just like Squire now, rotting and decaying in the Territories for the rest of his days, hiding from the shame and disappointment he’d ended up sprouting, rather than the lilies of chivalry that he had vowed to. “Bastard started a war with the Brogans and the Watch. Whole city’s going to bleed for this.”
“Nah,” Squire tapped the lip of his mug and Havva, with the big doe eyes and sweet lips filled his mug again with the crisp cider ale that he liked. “Watch lost its balls a long time ago. They’ll hang him and Brogan will magically end up with less of the Watch on Innkeeper’s Row. Cowards.”
“Bahadir watching the trial?” Albard asked, his eyelids heavy from too much of the drink before noon. Squire didn’t like Albard, but he was the closest thing to a decent knight this town had in it. The other hired guards on Lord’s Hill were nothing more than marauders who had plundered and killed enough to pay for their position to lay around like fat, worthless cats for the rest of their miserable days.
“Nah, got bored halfway through the first day,” Squire said, drinking half of the mug. He needed to get a buzz before the kid he’d come to admire was to be hanged.
“So what are you doing here?” Albard frowned.
“Passing the time,” Squire slapped the bronze Ords on the scarred face of the bar and winked at Havva who didn’t return the endearing gesture. He clapped Albard on the shoulder and squeezed. There was a time that Albard had shown up in the Territories and Squire had nearly killed him, but that was a long time ago and that was when Squire had a horde behind him and a whisper of dignity. That was before he’d hung up his spurs and cloak, and vanishing into the darkness.
He walked without giving away his buzz, a skill that he had picked up over the years to help hide the fact that sometimes all a man needed to be brave was a minor buzz to dull the part of his mind that explained to him just how stupid he actually was. What he was about to do was going to get him in a prickly situation, but he knew that it had to be done. He brushed past people who were too stupid to head north to the Kingdoms where they might be considered nobles, but here they were just wealthy citizens. He pushed past them and his eyes never left the dark head of hair that was fading at the temples to a silver. The man was wearing full armor, the kind of hard leather and tight mail that the Watch only wore if there was a riot or if there was a horde at the gates.
“Morna,” Squire called, getting the gawkers around him to move away and let him pass. “How’s it going, Morna?”
Morna turned, his face all iron and ice, the face that was required of a Watch Sergeant responsible for training the recruits. People had to believe that you pissed fire and ate bones if they were going to follow you. Squire knew that all too well. He slapped Morna on the shoulder, wrapping his arm around his broad shoulders and pulling him away from the courtyard outside the Commons.
“You’ve been drinking, Squire,” Morna growled.
“Indeed I have,” Squire chuckled. “Listen, you’re not going to let that boy hang.”
“You’re right,” Morna said. His voice was gruff and authoritative, but Morna was one of the few people in Trennon that knew just who Squire was and tolerated this little conversation. “It’ll be the Magistrate’s decision.”
“Don’t feed me that shit,” Squire grumbled. “Faolan’s going to stroll in there and he’s going to play the man of the people card and he’s going to walk away with nothing changing, but tonight, people are going to go missing, the Magistrate’s mistress will end up floating the Yavas, and suddenly that kid is going to end up hanged.”
“You Lord’s Hill elitists don’t get it, do you?” Morna turned and pulled himself free of Squire. “That kid, as you call him, confessed to being the Penny Knight. He’s turned the whole lower districts against the Brogans. Bogland is all but one bad idea away from attacking the city and my money is on Toiltown and the Penny Market joining them. The Ironworks will wait until the tide turns in their favor and joins them, then the Midhouses and Mason Quarter, Craftshall, and the Welcome District will all burn before we get the city back under control. Since that kid gave Padraig the bloody smile, five more of the Brogan’s goons have ended up in the gutter, knifed. It’s war and the Brogans are getting desperate.”
“So you think hanging the kid will stop the Brogans from doing something stupid?” Squire shook his head. “You Watchmen are a bunch of idiots, always have been. Killing that kid will unleash hell.”
“Again, not my call,” Morna pushed.
“Then get me in touch with someone who can make the call,” Squire said. Morna looked at Squire and saw something more than the rest usually did. Squire was a man with greasy hair combed back, prickly stubble across his jaw and cheeks, bags under his bloodshot eyes, and chipped teeth that made the left side of his smile look like fangs. He wasn’t handsome by any means, but he was tall and imposing, the kind of figure that you didn’t want to mess with or brawl with. Appearances were deceiving though, because Squire was the kind of man you’d rather run from than ever face.
Squire hoped that the reputation that he had once upon a time would be enough. He’d been riding that ghost for a long time and it was getting him less and less every year. Morna and a few other ancient minds remembered Squire who was. Soon, everyone will have forgotten and Squire would be left a ghost, along with his reputation of old.
“Talk to Gerwen,” Morna exhaled heavily. “I’ll let him know that you’re coming. Give me an hour or so.”
“Good man,” Squire said with a wink. “Now, if you don’t mind me, I’m going to pay a little man a visit before the main event.”
Morna watched Squire go before he signaled for his righthand man to come run an errand for him. Squire pretended not to notice and didn’t really care that Morna was working so quickly. It made him feel good. It made him feel like Gerwen had a map of Trennon in his office where he had the biggest players all staked out with little figurines and then there were the minor figures in the shadows of the bigger ones. Squire liked to think that he was in the shadows and his piece was about to be moved.
Ruling a city was a lot like waging a constant war, where one enemy fell and three more appeared. Sure people like Faolan tended to cannibalize their own, but one was always making their way to the top, threatening the whole thing. This boy, the monk, he had made a play that could be well utilized in Trennon, if Gerwen and the Magistrate made use of him. Right now, they were going to martyr the boy to placate the Brogans. The Brogans were the threat that was nearest to them, but the threat beyond the Brogans, the poor of Trennon, they were the real threat—a threat that might be avoided entirely. They could turn the poor in their favor and put the Brogans and their ilk between a rock and a hard spot and then all they would need to do is squeeze.
The Bank of Tyrantium was a withering tree that had once been enormous and beautiful, but war, stupidity, and apathy had taken its toll. It was still the most powerful bank in Trennon, but the Banking Guild from the north and the Stone Bank, Trennon’s own bank, were beginning to chip away at its prominence. However, Bahadir had family in Tyrantium and so his finances were tied to the motherland’s bank. Squire was a usual site in the bank, either delivering sums or withdrawing for Bahadir’s expenses.
It had seen better days, but the ornate stone carvings of Tyrantine Viziers in full battle armor stood with faded prominence outside of the great wooden doors that were reinforced with Tyrantine steel that looked nearly black with veins of silver running through it like the rings of a tree. Outside of it, Tyrantines lurked, the most purely loyal of the city’s denizens. They talked in the native tongue of Tyrantium, Squire picking up on every word they said as he passed.
He entered the hall that was gloomy and dark, illuminated only by the oil lamps that hung from brass chains from the ceiling, casting conflicting shadows across the hall. The iron bars stabbed into the thick wooden desks that separated the masses from the bankers and their clerks that checked their records. Squire nodded to the Tyrantine guards with their turbans and curved swords. They were on rotation, serving only until their contract expired and then they would be replaced by others or reenlist for another five years. Few did, at least in Trennon.
“Master Squire,” Ozan declared. “How wonderful to see you today of all days! The frosts are coming from the north wind. I hope you are prepared for a hard winter.”
“I need five thousand Ords,” Squire waved at the small man. “And I need something a extra. Something off the books.”
Squire’s voice was loud enough to cast Ozan’s face in scarlet before his eyes widened and he quickly rushed Squire away from the clientele of his precious bank and behind the barred desks and up the gray stone stairs to the second floor where Ozan’s office was tucked away with the other bankers. Masters of coin, economics, and sums, they were in charge of making sure that Tyrantium’s wealth was distributed and engorged by the prosperous and powerful. They didn’t do half as bad of a job as the other banks did, but you were dealing with loyalists if you banked with Ozan. For every five Ords you took, you’d pay back six, and that sixth was going straight into the pocket of the Viziers.
“You mustn’t speak so loudly, Squire,” Ozan said. “We are poorly looked upon in Trennon as is. This is a city one bad sun from rebellion.”
“It has bigger problems at the moment,” Squire said. “What do you know about the boy?”
“What boy?” Ozan frowned.
“Don’t piss around with me, Ozan,” Squire growled. “What do you know about him? Is he an assassin? A hired blade for Gerwen?”
“I don’t know,” Ozan said. “All I know is that he’s from Umberlyn and has been at the Chapel for less than a year. My sources say he kept to himself and was a bit of an outcast. Finally had enough of the Brogans messing around with his people.”
Not good, Squire thought. If he was from Umberlyn that meant that Bogland would use him as an excuse to rise up. They’d already watched too many of their own hang for petty offenses. This would be the execution of one of their heroes, practically a Chosen One for Bogland.
“Who’s interested in him?” Squire asked.
“The Brogans,” Ozan shook his head. “Always the Brogans. They want him to vanish in the night and Faolan wants to have his way with him.”
“What about Taylor?” Squire asked.
“Squire doesn’t have a penny to his name,” Ozan laughed. His face looked like an owl in the pale light piercing the darkness from his small window. He was short like an owl too. Squire pictured him gagging and puking up a slimy pellet. “He’s dry. The Penny Knight encouraged him to start spending on actual things that his people needed. Fancy that idea.”
“Gerwen taking any of the Brogan’s coin?” Squire asked.
“Ha!” Ozan hooted. “Gerwen wants to see Faolan and his whole brood burn. You know that! What’s on your mind, Squire?”
“Nothing,” Squire grumbled. “Trying to keep this city from burning. Your guards on full alert?”
“As always,” Ozan boasted. Which meant they were skimming off the top and as lazy as ever.
“Good,” Squire said. “Transfer five thousand Ords from Bahadir’s account to Gerwen’s personal account. Make sure it happens today. Have a runner send him a note informing him.”
“This is approved by Bahadir?” Ozan grabbed his quill and started scratching down the information.
“Sure, why not?” Squire rose.