That’s a good question, where have I been? 🙂 Well, I’ve been busy with life and all, getting in some writing when I can. Still, I feel bad not having posted anything in the last little while. Nothing much has happened literary-wise, some publishers take forever to get back to you. Still, I can’t leave my loyal readers without something new, so I’ve decided to leave something kinda special.
What follows is the original prologue to the manuscript that I’m shopping around now. That opening has since changed to the very-different one that now stands at the beginning of that work, but this is the one I wrote first. There are a lot of reasons why I changed the prologue, and there will no doubt be some who might even prefer this opening to the one that now sits as the ‘official’ prologue to Dark Heir. This one is still near and dear to my heart, and since I’ve nothing else to offer you, my faithful reader, I’ll leave you with this.
As Always, Thanks and See You in the Future.
Quick feet make for a quick getaway. Many a daring escape had been managed by adhering to those words of wisdom. Whether he was stealing dried beef for an evening’s meal or running from the city watch, the young man’s quick feet had served him well indeed.
Quick feet was only one of the many lessons he’d learned from Makor, the older boy who’d taught him everything he knew about living on the streets. Makor was also the only friend young Joslin had ever known. Most of the other orphaned children on the streets tended to look out only for themselves, unless they worked for one of those awful dark lords, and then they were much, much worse. Those kids were always especially mean, and cruel.
Makor had warned Jos to stay away from those kids no matter what, and never, ever get involved with any of their business. For some reason that Joslin had never fathomed, only older children worked for the dark lords of the city, and mostly boys at that. Within the dark hovels and sewers that orphaned and unwanted children made their homes, tales were told of younger kids who had taken a simple job from one of these teenage agents, and were never seen again. Jos had seen enough of that for himself to know that it was true.
Makor had provided his young protégé with many other nuggets of street-wisdom. He’d shown Jos which vendors could be robbed easily, and which ones had the ear of the city watch and the Coin Lords. Those merchants were off-limits. Stealing from them could, and often would, lead to a young boy with one less hand, or leg. A one-legged boy can only run half as fast, the men would laugh.
Makor had shown Jos where the best places to beg within the vast city, and which places to avoid. Any place where the people were tall, thin and had long, pointed ears was to be carefully avoided. The Drae’gar were stingy with their coin, and didn’t seem to like humans very much anyway, and young beggar children even less. A steel boot was a more likely gift than a silver kiit from the haughty elves.
Joslin began to feel sad as he quickly and gracefully made his way through the crowded marketplace. Makor had been gone for nearly a year now, and he sorely missed the only friend he’d ever had.
But there was no time for sentiment now. Today was a great day, Jos finally had a task that was easy, paid well, and didn’t require a single bit of law-breaking. Not that it would have made much difference. If the city watch caught sight of him, they’d probably arrest him anyway, for that whole roast pig he’d stolen two days ago. Jos decided not to go near that merchant for several weeks.
It was mid-morn, and the Unwashed Plaza, as the Drae’gar’s called it, was fairly teeming with people. The Drae’gar called most everyone not themselves unwashed or unclean, or just uncivilized. Jos had wondered why they let humans into their city if they detested them so much. Makor had explained it to him one cold winter evening, over a roast duck they’d just pilfered. The Drae’gar loved money more than anything, and every merchant who sold his goods in the city paid the elves to stay there. And because Slyth-Mnir was a great sprawling city on the coast, all manner of goods came flowing in here and that meant trade. Men, it seemed, had a great appetite for Drae’gar goods, as well as whatever exotic items came in from across the sea. And so, the human presence was tolerated, or so Makor had told him.
Joslin’s quickness served him well as he made his way through the mass of people. So many pockets lined with gold, he had to resist the temptation to reach into one or two of those pockets and help himself. That would chance him getting caught, leaving him in the city dungeons and without his promised coins. So far Joslin had managed to stay out of the dungeons, a winning streak he was none too eager to break.
The crowd was thick that morning, an occurrence that only happened when a ship had docked the night before. Ships had been arriving with less frequency lately, a circumstance no one had bothered to explain to the young street urchin who now made his way among the gathered throng.
Joslin’s destination was the Blade and Red Bed, an inn in the outskirts of the Plaza. The Blade had a notorious reputation, and it was well known that the current name of this establishment was not the original one. Jos slowed his steps as he neared the old inn-house.
Two large and quite intimidating men stood near the small, swinging doors that gave entrance to the smoky interior. Wicked smiles slowly spread across their features. Hooligans, Jos thought. Self-appointed guardians of the shadier places in the city, at least when the city watch weren’t around. No one dared ire the Slyth-Swords, as the watch was known. Drae’gar were not only exceedingly greedy, but they were also quite deadly in hand-to-hand combat. And elves made up the entirety of the grand city’s law-keepers. But Jos was no elf, merely a small boy. He slowed his steps as he approached the tavern. The men grinned wickedly at him, saying nothing for a long moment.
“Well, well, what we got here?” The large man on the left said, at last. Although both men were dirty, dingy and grimy, this one seemed to be the worse of the two, and he stank of urine and wine.
“Why we got us a little rat-boy here. You’re in the wrong part of town, rat-boy. Better move on before someone ruins a good steel blade on your sorry hide.”
The other man stunk of urine too, and something much worse than ale. What it might be Joslin didn’t know, and didn’t want to find out?
Ordinarily, Jos would have taken the man’s advice without question, and scurried away. But today he had some honest coin to make. Fortunately for him, Joslin’s employer had given the young man a kind of password for just such an occasion. Jos took a deep breath, and puffed himself up as best a nine year old boy could.
“I’m on Coin business, so you’d best step out of the way.”
The two Hooligans glanced at each other warily at the young boy’s statement.
“You ain’t got no Coin business boy,” the bigger one replied, “Now get on outta here ‘fore I cut out your lyin’ tongue.”
Jos considered the man’s threat for a moment. It was not idle, he knew, but Jos was desperate for his payment.
“I’ve business with a party of five in the inn. If they don’t get their message, then you can tell the Coin Lords why.”
The smelly men looked at each other again. Jos was young, but he was quite intelligent for his age. He knew hesitation on a man’s face when he saw it.
“You give us the message, rat-boy,” the smaller smelly man said, “and we’ll be sure they get it.”
Jos stood his ground, saying nothing. He locked his eyes on the smaller man, trying to look fierce. Inside, Joslin had never been more frightened. The Hooligans were known for short tempers, and they had killed many a man in their day, and who knew how many street children. But if Jos gave in now, he knew he’d never get paid. These two probably didn’t own a coin between them anyway. His body was never tenser than in the next few seconds, as he awaited the men’s response.
It came soon, in the form of a fist. The smaller man swung wide and stuck Jos solidly with the back of his hand. Jos flew back, his legs struggling to keep his balance, which he nearly lost. But somehow the young boy managed to stay upright. When he’d caught himself, Jos returned to his place in front of the two Hooligans, looking them squarely in the eyes. After a moment, that seemed like an eternity, the men parted just enough to let a nine year old boy pass between them. Joslin’s body was still tense as he put one foot in front of the other. He dared not look up, but simply concentrated on moving forward. Suddenly, he was in the tavern.
Although this was not Joslin’s first visit to one of the cities many fine drinking establishments, it was the first time he’d been in one for longer than a few seconds. Sometimes, on a dare from some of the other street kids, he’d sneak in to steal something from one of the drunker patrons. Sneaking in through a window or a backdoor was a lot different than walking in the front, he thought. The inn was large, loud, and smoky. Strange smells assaulted his senses the second he stepped past the swinging doors. The Blade was large; it had to be to accommodate the large number of outsiders to the Drae’gar city. Even so nearly every table was full, and the stools along the bar held no vacancies at all.
It was the tables that Jos concentrated on as he made his way inside. Five people sitting together was his target, one of them would be a woman. He found them at a table near the far wall. Using his quick reflexes, Jos managed to wind his way quickly between the standing patrons and the bar-wenches carrying drinks of all kinds across the inn. Soon he was standing near the table, almost at the side of the man who seemed the tallest. This was his target, and the man to whom the message was to be delivered. Jos reached slowly into his shirt, just as the man noticed him. As he watched, Jos pulled a small rolled-up parchment from within his shirt. He raised his hand slowly, offering it to the big man.
“From the Coin Lords, sir.”
The big man took the parchment from Joslin’s hand. Jos and the others at the table watched as the big man unrolled the paper. Suddenly, the big man seemed to notice that Jos was still standing there. He turned his head to give Jos a stone cold stare that could have frozen his blood. This man’s gaze was ten times worse than anything the Hooligans’ could have ever given him. All he wanted to do was run, but he couldn’t. He had to get paid, he just had too. A feminine voice came resounding over the din of the inn patron’s voices to break the stalemate.
“Pay him, Mikks. Don’t be a jerk.”
The big man turned his gaze toward the source of the feminine voice that had so courteously put him in his place. A long silence fell between the two adults as Jos stood by, waiting. Please give me my payment. A sudden movement off to his right caught Joslin’s eye. A bald man, who was sitting next to the big man, was holding out his hand. Jos held out his own. The bald man’s hand opened, and out fell six gold coins. Jos’ hands closed around them the very instant they touched his skin. He nodded a quick thank you to the bald man, and then turned and shot out of the room, using the same grace and quickness that Makor had taught him years ago.
As he fled the great Blade and Red Bed Inn, Jos heard the sound of a chair scraping against a wooden floor, and a deep voice seemed to rise for a moment above the others in the room.