Two Tips

Two Tips

 

A rickety bridge stretched over a hundred-foot gorge and a river made furious by the spring thaw. At one end of it, or just a few paces beyond a man stood watching the approach of a horse carriage. A woman lay on the ground next to him, covered in blood. “This was a bad idea,” he grumbled.

The carriage resolved into specific actors: a two-horse team, a frowning driver, three men in the coach behind. “Armed. Figures.” He stepped onto the bridge, his boots making hollow clop clop sounds. He raised an arm and waved. “Hey! Halt! By the gods I demand you stop!”

The bridge was narrow enough that they had no choice but to stop, the horses being well-trained not to run people down. The driver frowned harder and drew rein. “What in the seventeen hells happened to you two?”

“Bandits,” the man said, “my traitorous bastard attendant set an ambush, stole our mounts. I…just barely…” He looked down at the dripping red dagger in his hands, then threw it away with a look of disgust. “My wife is badly hurt! Now you just help us up there and convey us to the city—”

“What’s the fuckin’ holdup?” One of the armed men from within the coach poked his head out. “You there! Out of the way little man, we’re on the Cryptarch’s business.”

“For pity’s sake, we just need a ride. She’s dying!”

“So let her die. What’s it to us?”

“Godsdamn you, do you know who I am? My father’s Baron Munrath of Hardscrabble. My wife’s brother is the Doge of Ayala. Help us and your boss’ yearly budget will double. You’ll all be rich!”

The passenger eyed the man up and down, noted his silken bag-sleeved cotte, the ermine short cloak, the quivering woman’s bloody embroidered gown. Indeed, only noble fops would dress so ridiculously in rough country. Rich noble fops. “What’s your name?”

“Aerrus. She’s the Lady Linet.” He stumbled awkwardly to one knee. “P-please. By all the nameless gods, aid us and I’ll be your eternal friend and servant—”

“We got enough of those,” said another passenger from inside the car. “Meh, let ‘em in Scatch. Could be good for a story at least, long ‘s they don’t drip on me.”

“We ain’t gonna have no trouble from you two?”

Aerrus shook his head, motioned to the woman. “What trouble could we be? Please…” He made a red fist and pounded over his heart. “On my sacred honor as a nobleman, I pledge it.”

Scatch appeared to ponder a moment, spit into the road, and shrugged. “Fine. Just be quick about it, we’re already behind schedule. Cozy up lads!”

Aerrus and the driver carefully hefted Linet into the coach, laid her across the front bench with her head in his lap while the others crowded the rear one. All three wore the livery of the Cryptarch. The carriage continued on its way. “Thank you,” Aerrus said after a time, brushing the woman’s matted hair from her cheek. Her eyes fluttered, and she breathed in shallow fits and starts. “Thank you, thank you. This…this is going to make things…so much easier…”

“Yeah, yeah. Wait, what—?” Scatch’s eyes went wide in shock, and he looked down to see his own belt dagger protruding from his groin, and Linet’s hand on the grip. He instinctively reached for the sword set next to him, but the small space was too tight for him to draw it. Aerrus lashed out, grabbed the pommel and bashed it into the face of the man in the center seat. Linet sprang to life, kicking the third in the gut.

Aerrus reached into his cloak and drew a short leaf-shaped sword, swiping at Scatch’s belly. The two others fumbled with hand axes, swung at Aerrus simultaneously. He caught both with his blade, and they pushed forward to try and overpower him. Linet squirmed free underneath, pulled a pair of razor-sharp skinning knives from the folds of her sleeves and leapt upward to open their throats.

Aerrus climbed out the window and overtop the moving coach behind the stunned driver, who hadn’t fully realized the bloodbath behind him. Aerrus pressed the blade under his jaw and shouted, “Pull over!”

The carriage shambled to a halt once again, the reins shaking in the driver’s grasp and a puddle of urine spreading across the seat. “Get down,” said Aerrus. “Start walking. Don’t turn around.” The terrified fellow fairly leapt from the seat, and Aerrus gave a whack with the flat of his sword to speed him on his way. He opened the coach door and blood spilled onto the ground. “Yech, what a mess.”

“That’s your fault, husband,” sneered Linet as she climbed out into the open air. She plucked a punctured pig’s bladder from inside her gown and tossed it away. “Might’ve waited til they got out to have a piss or something before blowing the game.”

“Eh, couldn’t stand these itchy clothes any longer. Besides, this whole scheme was your idea. And don’t think the Cryptarch’ll be fooled by costumes—”

Scatch moaned his dying breaths inside the coach, his head dangling over the edge of the seat. Upside-down eyes fixed on Aerrus, but whatever curses he might have wished to hurl came out gibberish. “Two tips friend,” Aerrus said to him, “though neither you nor your boss’ll be around long enough for either to matter: Nobles got no honor, sacred or otherwise. Also, I ain’t one of ‘em.”