Jacob's Ladder - Part 4

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Chapter 4

Three emotions struggled to command Rennor Crow. The first to make a bid for supremacy was surprise. That a windbag like the Beggar Bully would choose death rather than try to weasel out of his predicament undermined all that Rennor knew of the man and every instinct about him too. Second came disgust. Rennor had never liked blood. Certainly such a phobia was something of a drawback in a member of the Long Knives but it also gave him a reputation for clean and efficient kills. Now he stood soaked in the stuff. And finally fear surged into the mix. Gostle had wanted answers and coin, not a one-legged corpse. Not yet anyhow. Disappointing Gostle was not a habit anyone maintained for very long.

Rennor had always thought it surprising how few mistakes it takes to ruin a man's life. Sometimes it took as few as none. The sack of shit bleeding at his feet was a mistake. A big one. He glanced around. Gostle's men stood ready, one holding the woman, one holding the one-eyed beggar, Benam, who had in his only full socket enough surprise for two eyes.

"I think we can take this to mean that our fat friend was telling the truth after all." Gostle crossed the room to stand a short distance from Rennor, wrinkling his nose. Mallar hulked at his side, ready, watching Rennor. "Against all expectations he seems to have been prepared to die for his peasant beau. How touching." Gostle narrowed his eyes at Rennor. "Let us reward his devotion by giving the woman and the girl a quick death." He motioned with his head for Rennor to do the deed. "In the cellar. And no mistakes this time." His voice stayed soft but the words carried their own edge even so.

"Rope-Master." Rennor inclined his head, offering Gostle the honorific that could only be spoken within this house. He bent to take the Beggar Bully's wrists and began to drag him toward the far door. By rights Mallar should help him. The Bully was a big man and heavy, but Mallar stayed at Gostle's side as the Rope-Master approached Benam.

"So, Master One-Eye, you've seen what stealing from the Rope got our late friend here. He was lucky to get off so lightly. You are to be my new bully. If you play the game you will enjoy the rewards. Misbehave and you'll be praying to the God Below for someone to kill you."

Rennor looked up from his labour at that. The phrase seemed oddly familiar. For an instant he saw the mouth of a yawning cave and a man wrapped in shadow. You'll be wanting someone to kill you soon. That's what the hermit had said.

Rennor shook the strangeness from his head. "Bring the woman!" he barked. "And, you, help me with this." The man who had released the newly promoted beggar came and took one of the old bully's arms. The dragging was easier after that.

Once they were through the door and out of sight in the hall Rennor let the other man do all the dragging. He felt dizzy, his thoughts confused. This part of the house was unadorned, used for storage and murder. Although people called the room they'd just come from the Killing Room, the Beggar Bully was the first to die there in an age. It was easier to kill someone where you wanted to bury them. It saved on all the mess and dragging.

Rennor went to the end of the corridor and opened the cellar door, taking the lantern that burned in a niche beside it. He led the way down while Gostle's man dragged the Bully, leaving a crimson smear on the edge of each stone step. The woman began wailing as Gostle's other lackey manhandled her through the doorway.

"Quiet, Gaia." Rennor pressed one hand to his forehead as hard as he could. His head seemed to be splitting and a white agony filled his vision. "Quiet. You'll scare Rula." The girl was in a room nearby – she would be listening to the commotion in the corridor. Where the names came to him from he couldn't say, but he knew he wanted quiet. He felt dirty. He wanted to wash the blood from his hands and to sit somewhere dark until the confusion passed.

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