City of Rhun

Enter Stage Left

Time to pay the piper

Landra sat staring into her mirror. Things were going from bad to worse. Not only did that little rat Tigo have something to hold over her, but Tattia probably realized what had happened as well. She slammed her fist shaking the perfume bottles of the table. A myriad of smells assaulted her nose while the liquid pooled around her feet. The door opened as a servant peeked inside. “Leave me be.” The door quickly closed.

The noble matron shook the perfume from her slippered foot. Reaching into her drawer for a handkerchief she found it empty. Fools, she would have someones job for this. In her furry she rummaged around the others drawers. Her head was already starting to ache from the conflicting scents. In her bottom drawer amongst several old journals she found a ragged swatch of blue silk. As she pressed it to her nose she was transported back nearly twenty years.

The night had been cool. The stone of the Great Arch had been slick with rain and blood. Rahvin had been so much more passionate in those days, and was it any wonder, he had been fighting for her love. His perfect quaff of hair had hung down around his face. His breathing was ragged as the cut down his arm. The Captain’s Swordwas pointed across the bridge at his opponent. Her first love… She could still remember the fist time they had met. He had descended the stairs, their eyes had locked and she knew she had to have him. The way he had danced that night. If she had only known his little secret. If she had only known what he did when he sneaked out the window ever evening. The monster hiding beneath that mask of civility.

Landra could feel a stirring in her stomach. She pushed the feeling aside. She hated that she had always loved Him more than Rahvin. Despite everything that he had done, despite the fact that he had threatened her life. Her one true love. The answer to all her problems struck her like the lightning outside. She picked up the little silver bell from the floor and shook it.

One of the servants, who had obviously been standing outside stepped in. He was obviously resisting the urge to hold his nose. “You called my lady.”

“Fetch my carriage. I wish to inspect my husbands holding at the prisons. I fear the guards may have become lax with in my husbands absence.” She wasn’t looking at him. She was moving dresses and robes aside in her wardrobe. Who knew she had so many that were out of fashion. She would have to do something about that.

Even without looking Landra could feel the servant stiffen slightly. “If I may ask lady, is this an official visit?”

Landra turned back to him holding a leather hat box. She blew the dust off of it. “This is a surprise inspection,” she said using a phrase of her husbands, “no one is to know of my coming or going, not even ,my dear husband.”

The man bowed low and backed out.

*

When the carriage door opened the driver, a soaking wet man in a long coat, stood ready with a parasol. Lanndra stepped out onto the filthy cobble stones and proceeded at a lady like pace into the prison proper. The building was designed with two layers. The outer walls held cells in which the minor criminals were housed, damned souls forced to work off their debts in the mines and the Necropolis. The inner tower held only the most dangerous of criminals. Men and women of noble blood and political influence, insane cultists, and of course defeated opponents to who death would be a mercy.

Landra took the parasol from the man and proceeded towards the gates of the tower. Under her arm was the hat box. She wanted no one with her for this. Two guards within the tower quickly raised the portcullis as she approached. They quickly came to aid her but she dismissed them. The central stares were tight and winding. Doors were half open and from them came raving screams of torched souls. The handkerchief was at her nose, the parasol having been left with the guards. The scent, His scent, was enough to block out all the pain around her.

The top level of the tower held only the most dangerous and reviled men. A white gloved hand pushed the hatch open. The three guards on duty quickly stood from their card game. All six eyes widened as Landra stepped into view. She scanned the room ignoring them. Their were nine cells her, each door was heavy iron with only a small hatch at heir base to push food in. Each bore intricate symbols and wards at the center of which was an image by which to identify the occupant.

Just beyond the three men was the one she wanted. On it was inscribed a performers mask on a set of crossed brushes. “Which one of you has the keys.” None of the men spoke. “Has my husband had your tongues removed? Answer me.” Her tone was stern but laved with the seductive air of a woman who got what she wanted. On of them gulped and pointed up. Hanging from a long chain in the ceiling was a ring of keys. Each was unique, none were actual keys, just random objects. “Wait on the stares. No on gets in or out until I call for you.” On of them actually began to open his mouth but a look silenced him. If she died it was their heads. If she was displeased it was their heads. They filed out in silence.

Landra carefully took the ring down. The items on it included such objects as a finger bone, an effigy of a worm, and other she wasn’t sure what were. The one she wanted a miniature flute. Holding her breath she placed it against the door. Nothing happened. She reached her hand out again and her hand found only rancid air. The cell was barely big enough for a man to stand comfortably. And indeed a man dressed in tatters lunged out at her. His face was rapped in bandages so crusted with blood and sweat as to form a mask. His lips connected with hers and for a moment she forgot where she was.

He pulled back. “To what do I owe the pleasure my little harlot.” Despite the anger in his voice, despite the ruin of his body, his voice was the rich music she remembered. “Has your husband sent you to torment me?” He was hanging as far out as the wrist iron would allow.

A single tear ran down Landra’s cheek. To think that her love hated her so. But this wasn’t about love was it. She steeled her nerve and put authority into her voice. She was of noble blood after all and this was no different than the political maneuverings of court. “No. Rahvin doesn’t know I am here. I came on my own with a proposition.”

The prisoner gave a deep stage laugh like man who had been struck mad. Maybe he had been. “And this comedy takes a darker tone. How the critics would rave. The loving wife, our wilting flower returns to her deposed bow for help. It is a joke worthy of the Trickster himself.”

Landra put her nose in the air. “If you would prefer to rot then by all means keep talking. But if you want to see what I’ve brought you then be silent for once in your life.” Had he always been this way. Yes, she knew deep down he had. In those days the derision hadn’t been directed at her.

Her love pantomimed stitching his lips shut. Then crossed his arms wrapping himself in chains. She took the hat box from the card table and opened it so that he could see the contents. He lunged again. Even with the bandages on his face she could see the lust in his eyes. “Oh, my sweet you return to me after so long. How I have longed to see you. I knew he hadn’t destroyed you. Come to me.” Inside the box sat a white porcelain mask with only holes for eyes. Sitting next to it was a small well of paint and two brushes. He was talking to the mask not Landra. She put the lid back on. He looked at her like a man possessed. “Anything.”

Lady Fairlaen gave the briefest of smiles. She had him. “I’ll grant your freedom and your babies but you must take care of some people for me.”

He gave that stage laugh again. “Free little old me for just a few murders isn’t that a dramatic use of overkill.”

She slapped him and then on impulse kissed the spot before pulling back. “You’ll kill more. I know you will. You can’t help yourself. I’m counting on that.” She opened the box again. “Do we have a deal?”

His wrists were staring to bleed. “Anything. Anything. Just give her to me.”

“Then the Troubadour will take the stage again. Meet me at our old spot.” She sat the box between his legs. When she stepped back the door reappeared. If nothing else about the encounter did the way that it seemed to know when to closed disturbed her. Men she understood, magic not so much.

The carriage pulled away from the prison without a single alarm or bell raised. No one noticed the missing hat box. What a noble woman did was her business and far be it from them to question her.

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