Chapter 1: Rumours
"Sea's been mighty rough of late."
"Ye're tellin' me! The repairs I'm gonna need to make on my boat are gonna take nigh three full weeks o' good hauls to pay for."
"Mayhap the rumours are true…"
"Iffin they are they've naugh to do with the likes o' us."
Lansic was hard pressed to resist the urge to snort with derision. He'd only been listening to the old fishermen's conversation out of boredom. To hear someone even considering giving any credence to those ridiculous rumours was enough to make any sensible person laugh.
The young man began fiddling with the edge of his cloak wishing he could take it off and wondering what was keeping his employer. The tavern's common room was hot and smoke-filled, making his current cloak and hood unnecessary and in fact far too warm.
Sweat trickled down his neck as Lansic once again surveyed the common room for some sign of the man he was waiting for. The thick smoke from multiple pipes partially his the dingy room. Everything was made of rough-hewn wood, the walls, the tables, the benches and the counter. The common room smelled of tobacco and fish, the Landed Mackerel being a favourite spot of fishermen.
As Lansic watched, the door swung open and his employer finally entered. He was a lean man dressed as Lansic was in a brown cloak with the hood obscuring his features. He walked over to the table with a confident stride, a hint of grace in his movements betraying his origins. As if his requests didn't already give him away, Lansic thought to himself with amusement.
The man sat down and poured himself a tankard from the pitcher of ale waiting. "So do you have the list?" the cultured, vaguely alto voice asked.
"Do yah still doubt me?" Lansic replied deliberately roughening his speech. This man might be his employer but there was no way Lansic was going to be stupid enough to give him all of his secrets.
His employer shrugged. "This request was more difficult then the others were."
Once again Lansic was forced to repress a snort. Instead, he mutely handed over the list of names he'd been hired to find out. In exchange he received a hefty purse. "Anythin' else yah be needin'?"
"Not at the moment but come to the Red Dog inn at the normal time. I may have more work for you." With that Lansic's employer got up and left. Lansic was too used to this to take offence at the abrupt departure. He pretended to drain the rest of his tankard, unobtrusively dumping it on the floor, before leaving as well. His employer hadn't touched his drink after pouring it. Not that Lansic blamed him. That stuff would eat through metal. He didn't want to think what it'd do to your stomach. Lansic made his way home, disappearing into the crowd as easily as a fish slipping into water.
Lady Dyfin wa Sawljem made her way through the carefully manicured gardens housed within the Palace walls. Pacing beside her with all the maturity a six-year old could muster was her cousin and King, Purthion wo Sawljem.
Both of them were dressed in their elaborate court gear required within the Palace. The pair nodded to all they met, acknowledging the bows and curtsies directed their way.
"When's Uncle getting back, Fin?" the little boy asked, cherubic little face screwed up in what approximated worry in one so young.
"As soon as he's done helping the army in the north, Purth. I'm sure father is doing everything he can to be back in time for our birthday." Dyfin tried not to let any of her own worry show. Her father had been gone far too long. The uprising had been small. It shouldn't have taken this long to put it down. The rumours circulating didn't make her feel any better either.
At the mention of the pair's shared birthday, the clouds on the little King's face lifted and he beamed. "Guess what? Lord Chancellor Ohgmir says he's going to give me a pony. Then I'll be able to ride wherever I want. And you can come with me any time."
Dyfin smiled indulgently at her cousin. He really was adorable. His curly cap of dirty blond hair over his brown eyes, which were currently shining in excitement at the though of having his very own pony, made him a sight that brought out anyone's parental instincts. He was such a cheerful and nice little boy despite being King.
Purthion had been king ever since his father the late King Fraispaid died in an attempted coup. Dyfin's father and Fraispaid's younger brother Duke Enkliz had rallied those loyal to the Sawljem family and reclaimed the capital. Rather then, as many feared, declaring himself king, Enkliz had put his nephew Purthion on the throne and allowed the Lords' Council to choose a Regent. It wasn't much surprise that they'd chosen Enkliz as Regent. What had surprised many was his refusal to abuse his position. He had made it perfectly clear in his first year as Regent that he had no intention of ruling. Ever. He just wasn't interested.
Dyfin and her young cousin made their way back towards the Royal apartments and were met outside by one of Purthion's nurses. "It's time for you bath before your lessons, Your Majesty." The aging woman said with a curtsey before turning to look at Dyfin. "I believe there is someone waiting for you in your rooms, Milady."
"I'll see you at dinner then Purth."
"Bye bye Fin! Just another two weeks until our birthday!"
His cousin smiled before making her way towards her rooms wondering who was waiting for her.
Lansic strolled around the open-air markets looking for anything he might be interested in while also keeping an ear open to the gossip around him. He had never much thought about a career as an information broker but ever since the hooded stranger in the taproom of the Laughing Cat inn had approached him he'd been living well.
The young man sighed, as once again he heard nothing but the same two rumours. That the uprising up north had been deliberately set up to lure away the Regent and that there was some kind of sea monster causing problems with fishing and shipping.
As he passed the entrance to an alley, Lansic heard the sounds of a struggle. Unable to deny his curiosity, he poked his head in just in time to duck as a knife was hurled at him. When he peeked again he two people grappling, one of whom was his friend Veska.
Lansic waded into the fight, using his distraction against him; he threw the young man his fried had been fighting with across the alley. The attacker hit the wall with a satisfying thump and groaned, making the young man smile. He wouldn't be getting up any time soon.
"You all right Veska?" he asked, running a hand nervously through his brown hair, making it stick up at the back.
The young woman snorted, shaking out her blond hair. "'m fine. Pride's pretty busted though. Can't believe I let tha pig's bastard get tha close to me. He eve' got my knife 'way from me."
Lansic shrugged. "Everyone has their bad days. How about I treat you to lunch. Unless you have other plans…?"
"An' turn down a free lunch? You must be daft. Or whateva you've been up ta has bin addlin' your brains."
"I've just been gathering some information for a Stuff-Shirt. He pays well."
"Hmph. You'd bes be careful. Some o' them Stuff-Shirts can turn nasty-nasty."
"I know that. That's why I'm staying as close-mouthed about myself and have made sure no one ever follows me home."
"Still. Yah should be doubly watchful."
"Do you want to stand here lecturing me or do you want lunch?" Lansic demanded, the conversation irritating him.
"Both are good…" Veska replied teasingly before slapping her friend on the back and leading him to the Golden Hog tavern for lunch.
Dyfin found a young man covered in the dust-stained livery of a messenger. Before the man could so much as curtsey let alone open his mouth, Dyfin asked. "Have you had anything to eat or drink?"
When he shook his head, the young noblewoman pushed the bowl of fruit towards him and refused to listen to anything he said until he'd devoured two apples.
"Now what did you need to see me about?"
"I have messages for you, my lady."
"The Lord-Regent Enkliz."
Dyfin's blue eyes lit up as she accepted the two sealed letters. "You can go now. Make sure you eat a proper meal. You look too thin." She said. The messenger bowed and left her.
The young lady broke the seal on the first letter and read.
Dearest Dyfin, the letter said. I apologize for taking so long up here. The uprising was surprisingly well organized, however I believe we've got them cornered. I should be home in time for your and Purth's birthday. Try not to worry too much and don't make faces at me. Dyfin chuckled she had been making a face. Watch over your cousin and the rest of Wapth for me. I'll be home as soon as I can. Love you forever, your father.
Dyfin sighed. Her father had never been much of a letter writer. The other letter also had her family's seal, crossed blades under a crown. This one however had both her and Purthion's name on it. She guessed her father wanted her to read the letter to her little cousin. She resolved to do it after dinner. Realizing what time it was, Dyfin was forced to run or risk being late for her embroidery lesson.