Old Ties (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: September 14, 2017 in chuck wendig challenge, Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

Haven’t done one of these challenges in a while, but decided to try and knock some of the rust off. So, yes, a story featuring Good and Evil. Or, Good versus Evil. Though this may be more Evil vs. Evil. Ahh well. Enjoy. Original challenge can be found here!

Mariana looked up from the table when she heard the banging on the door. She narrowed her eyes and nodded to Warner where he stood, slouched against the peeling plaster wall. A man, wrapped in a cloak and dripping water from the downpour outside, stumbled into the room, blinked his eyes against the smoke filled interior.

His eyes darted between the hard faced men and women in the room before lighting on Mariana, his eyes widening in hope.

“Mari,” he said, his voice trembling. “I… I need a favor.”

Mariana frowned, the lines around her hard eyes deepening, her brow ridged with lines. She pushed aside the newly opened bottle of wine to one side.

“Jacob?” She took her time refilling her glass. He fixed his eyes on her, not flinching she drew a long thin blade and rested it on the table. “What was it told me the last time we saw each others?”

“P-p-please, Mari. Not this. Not now.”

Mariana sniffed, took a long pull from her goblet. “Ahh, I remember. To stay away from you. To stay away from your family. The respectable merchant couldn’t be seen dealing with such an… infamous figure such as myself. Yet here you come crawling, to darken my door. What, is the respectable life not all you thought it would be?”

The men and women in the room, Mariana’s gang, laughed. The cruel, hollow sound of it filled the room, bore down on Jacob’s already slumped shoulders.

“They took my daughter. My Isabella. They… threatened her, Mari. I- I didn’t know where else to go.”

Mariana’s frown deepened. “So go to the watch. They handle those kind of incidents, don’t they?”

“I’m afraid to. The people who took my daughter they threatened things… terrible things if I didn’t do as they asked.”

“And so you came to me instead.” Mariana’s expression softened, but only by the span of a silk thread. “Do they want money? Judging by the state of your clothes, you should be able to afford to pay them what they are asking.”

“It’s not the money,” Jacob said. “They want to drive me out of business, to take everything I broke my damn back for over the years and give it to this… this criminal.” He spat the word, his eyes widening when he realized what he said and who he had said it in front of. The laughter ceased.

“Who is forcing you out, Jacob?” Mariana asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Richard. Do you know him?”

She nodded. “I know of him. A hard man, and one that straddles the line between my world and yours.”

“He says if I sell him my business, he’ll let her go. Only he doesn’t want to pay for it, not really. It would drive me, my family into poverty.”

Mariana sniffed, stared at Jacob. Her expression mirrored that of her gang hard and as unreadable as a stone.

“So you’ll help?”

Mariana drained her goblet. “I didn’t say that. I don’t even know that I can help.”

Jacob opened his mouth to protest, but Mariana stopped him with a raised hand. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t help either. I’ll ask around. See what I can find out. You should prepare for the worst though.”

Jacob nodded, his entire being deflated. After the door was closed, Warner turned to Mariana with a lop-sided grin.

“Can you believe that sad sack? Thinking we would actually-” He paused when he saw Mariana holding a crossbow, and that it was pointing at him. “Err… so we are going to help him?”

Mariana smiled.  “People really don’t give you enough credit, Warner.” She put away the crossbow. “Come on, we have some people to talk to.”

***

“I think she finally fell asleep,” Horace said, walking away from the door. He adjusted his belt and sat back down at the small table. Cards lay strewn across it from the game he, Colwin, and Garvey were playing.

“Good,” grumbled Garvey, scratching at the three day growth of beard he sported. “Couldn’t take much more of her whining.” He tapped his fingers against the hilt of the wickedly curved blade on the table.

“Jacob said to keep her alive.”

Garvey snorted. “I didn’t say I’d kill her. Just make it hard for her to keep talking.”

“Then it would be on you to explain to Richard why she wasn’t talking,” Colwin said, stifling a yawn.

Garvey snorted. “This your first time working for Richard? Even if that coinrubber Jacob gets the glint together to pay the ransom, the girl there gets sold.”

Horace raised an eyebrow. “Sold? As what?”

“What do you think?”

A knock on the door interrupted whatever Horace was going to reply. The three men grabbed for their weapons, and Horace unlocked the door and peaked out.

“Ahh, hi there Rchard. We were just talking.”

Richard breezed into the room, his cloak trailing behind him. A heavy gold chain hung around his neck, and a ring with a gem the size and color of a robin’s egg adorned his left hand. “The girl is unharmed?”

“AS per your orders,” Horace said as he looked side long at Garvey.

“Good. We’ll be moving soon. I don’t think Daddy Dearest is going to be forthcoming with the funds. We’ll have to take a different approach.”

“What do you think-” Colwin began to ask, but was cut off by a pair of muffled shrieks from outside.

Richard turned, but the door was kicked open, Warner’s bulk filling the room. Garvey wasted no time, but tried to slash him with the knife. Warner grunted as it scraped the mail shirt he wore, and then Garvey went down, his skull caved in from the short heavy mace Warner carried.

“Anyone else? No. Sit down.”

The three remaining men did as they were told, catching a glimpse out into the alleyway where they saw two bodies lying prostrate.

“What is the meaning of this?” Richard demanded. “Don’t you know who I am?” His voice started strident, but it turned into something akin to the whine of a kicked dog when Mariana came into the room.

“Hello, Richard.” She held her crossbow, quarrel already loaded.

Richard swallowed hard. “Mariana.”

“Good, now that we have established that we know each other, I can bet you are wondering why I’m here.”

Richard frowned. “I’m going legit, Mariana. Entering the business world. I don’t see that we would be stepping on each other’s toes. In fact, we might even come to some mutually beneficial agreement.”

Mariana shook her head. “Would that it were so simple.” She pointed with her crossbow at the door. “You made a mistake.”

“What, the girl?” Richard rolled his eyes. “The cost of doing business, that’s all. I have something her father has. She’s leverage. That’s all. What you want a cut from when I sell her?”

Mariana’s reply came in the form of a quarrel punching into Richard’s shoulder. He screamed, mouth opened wide. Warner was on top of him, his massive hand holding him down in the chair. She slowly cocked the crossbow as she watched him.

“That girl’s father… he and I grew up together. Same slums. Same shitty prospects. He taught himself sums. Letters. Became respectable.” She paused, staring down her nose at Richard like she would some rat. “I learned people. How to fight. He got out.”

Placing one booted foot up on the table, she aimed the crossbow at Richard. “I loved him. More than just as kin, or a friend. But he fell in love with someone else. And that’s something I have learned to live with? Do you want to know why?”

“W-why?” Richard stammered, hand clutching around the quarrel.

“Because I’m a cold-hearted bitch. But I like to see my friends happy, even when I must keep up appearances. Jacob is a good man, and if he had been with me, well… he might have turned out like you. And then he wouldn’t be Jacob any more. He’d be the kind of alley scum you are, Richard.”

“P-please, I can pay you.”

Mariana laughed, and was joined in by Warner. “This was never about the money.”

She triggered the crossbow, and Warner brought the mace down once, twice. She walked into the backroom, saw the young girl curled up on the bed, whimpering in her sleep.

“Take her to her father,” she instructed Warner. “I need to get drunk.”

Comments
  1. Yay =) I always like seeing a new story from you. They’re always fun to read.

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