The Campaigner’s Return (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: June 1, 2016 in chuck wendig challenge, Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , ,

A simple enough challenge, or so you’d think. The story needs to start with a bang. Taken anyway you want.

So here you go, a bit of a swashbuckling tale, the kind I really should write more of.

The door flies open with a bang, rattling the shelves and sending one ceramic pot crashing to the floor. Ysabel scrambles backward, nearly tripping over her long skirt. A dark figure looms in the doorway, his wide brimmed hat pulled low, obscuring his face except for his jutting chin covered with a few days’ worth of stubble. The sword in his hand draws her eye.

“Where is he?” the man growls. “Where’s that stray dog calling himself Reynaldo Zavala?”

“He’s not here, hasn’t been for weeks.” She gathers her legs under her, stands back up.

The man moves further into the sparse apartment, closes the door behind him. In the dim light thrown by the candle on the table, Ysabel sees the scar by his lip. “You’re his woman?”

“Hardly,” she spits with contempt. “Lousy bastard leaves me high and dry, doesn’t even pay his rent.”

The man pushes his hat up out of his eyes. “Huh? You’re not his wife?” The tip of his sword lowers.

“What? No. I’m his landlady. His apartment is the one above this one.”

“Oh.” The man’s frown disappears, and he shuffles his feet. “Sorry?”

Ysabel grunts, sets stool back on the floor. “Sorry doesn’t fix that pot.” She points to the shards fallen on the floor. “Let me guess, he owes you money.”

The man shakes his head. “If only.” He sighs. “Do you mind if I sit?”

Ysabel gestures toward the chair in the room.

“Thank you.”

“You’re a campaigner?”

The man offers a half-smile. He takes off his hat, revealing hair more grey than brown held back in a rough ponytail. He looks down at his mud-spattered boots and wrinkles his nose. “Three years going on four. Just recently returned.”

“So what did Reynaldo do to you?”

The man wrinkles his nose. “Killed my brother. Lost to him at cards and decided to take it back the easy way. A knife in an alley.”

“Are you sure it was Reynaldo? Lots of knives in the city these days. Some belong to campaigners”

The man nods his head. “Truth in that, but I’ve heard it from six witnesses that it Reynaldo’s blade what cut my brother’s throat. Took me the better part of a day to track him here and you say you haven’t seen him in how long?”

“Three weeks, more or less.”

The man gives a deep sigh, the narrowed his eyes at Ysabel. “Are you renting that room now?”

*

Ysabel wakes to signing. Off-key, drunken, terrible singing. She recognizes it as a bawdy song popular in the seedier taverns, not that she had much experience with them. Still, if one was taking the night air and happened to walk by…

“Ysabel! Ysabel! Open this door. It is your Reynaldo!”

Ysabel hastens to the door. Impossible as it was to believe, perhaps the man upstairs hasn’t heard him and would take Reynaldo for a simple reveler late to return to his home.

She cracks the door open, bracing her body against it to prevent him from gaining further access. He’s leaning heavily against the doorframe, his breath reeking of cheap wine.

“Ysabel, my love, how long has it been? I want the key to my room.”

“You took it with you.” She brushes her air out of her face. “Besides, I’ve let your room out.”

“You what?” His eyes get cold and hard. “How could you? After all we shared…” He reaches a hand out to touch her cheek, and she jerks back.

“Go sleep it off, Reynaldo. In fact, it would be best if you didn’t return.”

“Best if I didn’t return… Why you little bitch.” Reynaldo slams himself against the door, battering it into her. She holds the door firm, but jerks back as he thrusts the blade of his dagger through the cheap wood. “You don’t reject me.”

“The lady said to leave her alone.”

Reynaldo spins at the voice. Standing in the alley outside Ysabel’s door stands the man from the upstairs apartment. “And who the fuck are you?”

Ysabel scrambles back, but gets a glimpse of the man drawing his long steel from its scabbard.

“Graciano Roldán Salinas. Brother of Remigio Salinas.”

“Who?”

“The man you killed two nights ago. My younger brother.”

Reynaldo shrugs, uses the movement to draw a second knife from its sheath in his back. “Yeah, so what if I did?” He tilts his head, peering at Graciano. “Yeah, I think I see a resemblance to a certain fucker I left bleeding out in an alley. Your brother was a drunk and a cheat.”

Graciano shakes his head. “He was the darling of my mother’s eye.”

“And now he’s pig shit. Just like you.” Reynaldo lets fly with the dagger in his left hand, but Graciano swats it out of the air with his blade. He stabs up with the dagger in his right, but Graciano twistes, capturing the wrist with his left hand. Reynaldo tries to wrench it free, but Graciano has a grip like a vice.

“Please-” Reynaldo implores, but what he is going to say next comes out as a gasp. He stares down at the blade thrust up under his ribs. Slowly, he slides off the blade, collapsing against the wall, his eyes glassy and unseeing.

Without words, Ysabel hands Graciano a scrap of cloth for him to clean his blade.

“What will you do now? Reynaldo was a known man in these parts, and his death will have consequences. What will I do when they find his body here?” Hysteria creeps into Ysabel’s voice.

Graciano grabs Reynaldo under the arms and drags him out of the apartment, a long red streak trailing after him. “I have a physician friend always looking for new… specimens. He can be here before the local constable arrives.” He pauses, looking Ysabel up and down. “Best not to tell anyone, I think.”

Ysabel nods her agreement.

“Will you still be wanting the room?”

Graciano raises an eyebrow at her, thinks about his prospects. He hadn’t thought past avenging his brother’s death. He surmised he might return to a life of campaigning, though having seen firsthand the horrors of war he had little desire to experience them again.

“Maybe for a week,” he replies. “A lot can happen in that time.”

“It can.”

He turns, disappearing into the alleyways and side streets, on his way to find a physician for a dead man.

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Comments
  1. Debs Carey says:

    Nice bit of swashbuckling!

  2. […] The Campaigner’s Return (A Chuck Wendig Challenge) […]

  3. […] first part can be found here (yes, I still haven’t gone back and renamed all the pieces, but then this wasn’t […]

  4. […] hey, almost coming up on a year of having started […]

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