A Job

As the brut approached, he took a moment to glance at the sword hanging off the youth’s hip. Its long handle came up past the naval, and it was wrapped in a black cotton threading. Before this swordsman holding his clothes, the boxer stood mute, his eye fixed on this unnamed stranger. Slapping his pants, he began wiping his bloody knuckles dry.

“You use that thing?” he asked, his somewhat cleaned hand reaching for his shirt.

Without movement or change, the man in black seemed to answer, his relaxed face, expressionless under the mask of his scars, chilled the brut like a cold gust of air. Silence was the counter response, as the brawler invested his arms, dampened with sweat, into his white sleeves, covering his scarred back.

Working from his collar, joining the opening of his shirt, he added, “We’re looking for,” he paused, pushing the last part of his garment under his belt, “talented individuals.” Reaching for his tie, he began threading it around his neck, artfully completing a complex knot. After a few final adjustments of his lace, he took hold of his jacket.

“What do they call you?” he said, meeting the youth’s disinvested stare.

“A lot of things,” he answered.

The boxer was silent a moment, his eyes tracing the faded cuts running along his companion’s face. His own back itched to see another so maimed. Running his hand through his hair, setting a few displaced bangs into position, the brawler continued, “This cape might as well be an island, of late a prison, for some, most. Unless you came by boat, there’s only one path, through those mountains.” He pointed towards the peaks just barely rising over the salty mists. “And I know that way is well guarded by the same which have encircled these ports.” Relaxing his arm, he stared right at the swordsman, “So how came you here, and armed?”

“I walked.”

Upon saying this, as if in demonstration, the youth stepped back, and turning to go, began weaving around the patrons of that market, integrating into the throng of buyers shouting, “Bad, bad.” His path was subtle, like a ghost’s, disturbing none as he passed, and yet following in his wake was much shoving and elbowing, the brawler coming after.

Then it was, a crowing, like the blackbird’s caws, thrice sounded, and an answer echoed thrice, three caws returned. The change was immediate. Vomiting from the only exit, the crowds took up their goods, and like gnats discovered, dispersed in various ways, the whole market like smoke taken up in the wind. And so it was that the youth and the brawler were at that time alone.

“I supposed you’re not interested in meeting with the soldiers?” said the boxer. The swordsman replied with a quick twist of his head, facing the brawler who now stood with his chin smugly in the air, his arms crossed over his chest. The look was encouragement enough. “Why don’t I show you around the place?” he added. “I’d like you to meet some people.” The youth gave a half interested shrug. The boxer added, “I’m Davy, by the way,” and walked to the alley’s mouth.

However, the swordsman showed little interest in leaving. Looking back over his shoulder, David saw the youth standing where he was, a nearly bored, disinterested, expression on his face. He stared out onto the main street as a man might glance upon some complex page of an open log he’d in some passing fancy decided to glance over. Spying down the street, David could see a small company of armed soldiers approaching, a soaking drummer boy shivering at their side, trying to keep a faithful beat.

“’bout a dozen of them,” David said. “We might outrun them now, if we’re lucky.”

“You outrun them,” The swordsman replied, breaking from his taciturn musing.

David looked over his shoulder again. The lean figure, walking backwards, slowly retreated deeper into the alley. As he approached a corner, it was as if tendrils of shadows weaved themselves into the fabric of his clothes. For a moment, only his face could be seen, floating, disembodied, in the darkness. As even this scarred visage faded away, the soldiers rounded the corner.

David turned on them, crouching like a cat. The company stood silently, the men lining up before the mouth of the alley, their arms poised, the tips of their sabers glinting in the setting sun. Behind this wall of men, the drummer boy shivered, his wandering gaze traveling past the marshaled men, past the bastard with his clenched fists, and finally settling on the dark corner of the alley. One of the soldiers stood before the men, pointing his saber at David.

“Bastard!” the soldier shouted.

As David’s tightening fists turned his knuckles white, his whole body trembled. With a mindless roar he came bounding forward, his arm pulled back to swing. A cold touch of steel on his chest retarded his progression, and the soldier continued:

“Here we are, looking for one bastard, and we find the wrong one.” He sneered at his captive, “Kneel.”

Even with the threat of the sword over his heart, David’s fist was still held high, ready to fall upon his enemy. His face was awash in passion, his cheeks burning bright red, his lips pulled tight in a snarl. His cold eyes stared unmoving into those of the soldier. They glared at each other, each one daring the other move.

Then a cry was heard from one of the line of soldiers, and in that moment the man with his sword over Davy’s heart blinked. Before he knew it, his head turned toward the collapsing body of his fellow soldier. David’s fist flew as he stepped around the deadly tip of the soldier’s blade. Striking the soldier across the cheek, he sent the man reeling backward.

Staggering, the soldier rubbed his jaw, and keeping the point of his sword toward the brawler, glanced at the fallen man. Before he could utter a word, he felt a sharp pain in his side. Looking down, he saw the plain spike of metal sticking out of his liver, the locus of a spreading stain of blood.

“Get him,” he shouted, pointing his sword toward David. Fainting, he took a couple of dizzy steps backwards, his hand reaching for the alley wall. Leaning against this, he gently slid down the cold stones into the dust and grime of the street, closing his eyes forever.

The swordsmen advanced upon the unarmed David. The boxer backpedaled as the eight men advanced upon him, going backward as they marched. Then one of them fell, clutching his stomach, and then another. By the time David felt the unforgiving end of the alley halt any further retreat, five men remained. Balling up his fists, he growled at them like an animal, his back against the wall.

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