Chapter 5-Nightcap

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Dawn was some hours away. Trench doubted he would see it. A heavy cloud of ash and water vapor rolled over the city. The sharp drop in temperature and the excessive moisture in the air gave a forecast of rain, possibly light snow. With no natural light to pierce the veil, it was difficult to tell if the thickening of the firmament was simply weather or the leftover smoke and violence of the fireworks.

For nearly an hour, the skies above Zaille popped, thundered, boomed, and sizzled, lit up with a proud spectrum of every color in the rainbow as the Carneddei citizenry—aristocrat to peasant, priest to guildsmen—watched in awe.

Trench pinched his nose, massaging the insides of his nostrils. The acrid scent of the powder stung the sensitive lining of his sinuses. His eyes burned, his lashes gray with ash, which rained back down on the city in a fine cloud of debris. Not a single stray cat or dog was to be found in the streets and more than a few horses had gotten loose into back alleys after breaking their tethers and fleeing the noise in a panic. Despite the return of the peace, he felt unsettled and restless.

"Looking for some company, soldier?"

Trench looked up from his lethargic march back toward the livery. He intended to steer well clear of the graveyard this time, keeping with the main roads. He paused to look up the staircase at the merchant facade of the establishment: the Crimson Corset, a well-known brothel.

With the slightest of hope in his heart, he nodded respectfully. "Looking for a room."

"No rooms to be had here," the woman said. She was much older than him, and perhaps had been pretty in her prime, but too much make up without enough care to looking better made her appear clownish and over done up in the illumination of a brazier. She reminded him of Thegn Hydsen.

Trench kept walking.

"But there could be a room," the whore called out to him. "For the right coin. Maybe some entertainment with it."

Yes, she was older, but Trench had made it a point to never discriminate. Older women tended to be better lovers. "The right coin?"

"The eve's been so festive that I nearly had to offer up my washer girl to the clientele. But none could afford her." She grinned, suggestively cocking her hip to the side as she leaned on the wooden bannister. "Lass has only ever been with four or five men, specially selected. In this business, more or less, she's intact. Not quite broken in. Interested?"

"I am." Trench watched her with rapt attention, searching for the con in her face, but saw none. He was exhausted and drunk, more interested in sleep than fucking some stranger. The attraction was a warm room, more than a warm body.

"You're Ardanian."

"Is that a problem?"

"Not for a seasoned girl with a bit of stretch. You're men tend to be well endowed. Might spook the lass. She knows enough, but hasn't learned all the tricks."

"How much?"

"For you, a soldier, I'd be willing to give a discount. Twenty gold."

It was the price of a good warhorse. Trench suppressed any reaction more than a coy grin in one corner of his mouth. "That's with a discount?"

He had plenty of coin and was willing to spend it, even witlessly. There would be more. While the official war was over, there were marauders and thieves on the steppes and plenty of bounties to claim. Still, Ardanians were well known for their contentious bargaining. "I'll give you five."

"Five!" she gasped, blowing a fog of uirk smoke from her mouth. "Call the guard. It's robbery."

"You would be the thief. Good night," Trench said. He resumed his walk up the empty street.

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