The Fall of Derion Part 2

[Author's note: This is the second part of my NaNoWriMo novel for 2013. This is the 4000 word mark, approximately. All content copyright Elizabeth Klassen, etc, etc. To read more, all parts are and/or will be linked in the sidebar under that beautiful photo of me.]

    Anyone watching The White Lady Tavern closely that night would have seen two figures slipping out cautiously amongst the rowdier patrons – one portlier gentleman with a slight limp and silver hair shining in the moonlight, and one taller and much more graceful man. They were careful to leave separately, so that the keener and more observant among the drinkers might not connect them together. The portlier man, Lord Yona, walked a little ways north from the tavern and ducked into a side street, where he had a carriage waiting quietly to take him home. The younger man, however, turned south to leave the city. He had a job to do.

    Errel Benris was a dancer. He was a street magician and an actor. He was a thief and a swindler. He was a beggar and a pickpocket. He knew the streets as if he had grown up in them. He had the lightest touch of any thief in Adrin, and could boast of picking the pocket of the Mayor himself. He was lithe and nimble, and easily held his own against any number of opponents in a street fight, no matter how much bigger they were. However, his most important skill was the one he was best known for: he was an assassin. Subtle poison; knife between the ribs; arranged accident: he could do it all. His preference, of course, was a blade in any form – throwing, slicing, or stabbing. Whispers in dark alleyways spoke of the King of Knives, though no-one would ever dare use that name to his face. He was all business with those he saw as his betters, but he could be very unpredictable amongst those he considered lesser than he, and that unpredictability usually ended in someone buying a beefsteak to put on a black eye, or having to walk on crutches for a few months. Even so, those he considered friends would hear no word spoken against him. If there was one thing besides assassination that Errel did well, it was to command loyalty, trust, and respect.

    But it was not for Errel's loyal friends that Yona had met with him this night. Apparently, there was a man whose continued existence was inconvenient to the Royal House. It was usually the inconvenient ones whom Errel was hired to deal with. This particular man was an upstart, of a sort. House Hanach had murdered his family and he had gone mad and sworn revenge. Errel had no professional respect for Hanach's methods: fire was a rather clumsy and inelegant method of causing death, in his opinion. However, this madman Derion had now caused total chaos in the city of Marronay, and was threatening the peace of Upnar. He'd already mostly destroyed Hanach. Half the Houses in the country had joined him in his insanity just to avoid the same ruinous fate. It was rumoured among the still-faithful Houses that he had created an army, and planned to march on Adrin city in the Spring to challenge the Royal House itself. Errel's task was to make him slightly less inconvenient before he could get that far. Kill him, and his rebellion would crumble. The Houses would lose their direction and return with their tails between their legs, begging for forgiveness for their disloyalty. The king might hold them at arm's length for a while, maybe show extra favour to the Houses that did not play turncoat, but all would return to normal in time.

    Errel stopped only once on his route out of the city, to pack a travelling bag. He rented a small room above a shop when he was in Adrin, and was well-liked by the landlady for his quiet habits while at home and for his tidy space. He never kept any of his weaponry and other tools out in the open, of course; he'd pried up a floorboard in one corner for the storage of such items. He hadn't decided which method of death was most appropriate for the man, so for this trip, he picked out a few of his better blades and two of his very favourite poisons, so as to have some options available. Of course, on his person he never carried less than six knives tucked away in various hidden places amongst his clothes, as well as a sword on his hip, so he was hardly unarmed, but he liked to be prepared. Bread, cheese, and dried meat he tossed into the bag after the less savoury tools, followed by a skin of water. A spare cloak and shirt stuffed down the side of the pack completed the outfit, and in less than ten minutes he was on his way.

    By dawn he was well beyond the walls of the city, moving southeast.


    Tem had been busy over the past months. After the first shocking realisation, he had gathered his thoughts and began to devise a plan. House Derion was by no means one of the Greater Houses, but Tem was a sharp businessman, and had been slowly but steadily building the fortunes of his House, to a point where he was nearly rivalling the greatest of the Greater Houses. While assistance of the kind he needed was not cheap, this meant that he was not exactly suffering under a lack of resources.

    He began by hiring hitmen and thugs. They were mostly fairly inept, the kind of men who would rather smash a head in with a wooden club during daylight hours than subtly knife a man between the ribs in the dark, but they would serve the purpose.

    There were four satellites of the Greater Houses in Marronay, and three satellites of the Lesser, of which latter group Derion was one. Derion was chiefly a trading House, and so had the most presence in Marronay, a harbour city, but Hanach and Noul, two of the Greater Houses, also made themselves known in the city. The other two Greater and two Lesser did not maintain a particularly strong presence, but that was to Tem's benefit.

    The thugs' task was to cause trouble between Hanach and Noul, and to make it seem like the remaining Houses (always excepting Derion, quietly standing on the sidelines) were siding with one or the other. In practical terms, this meant seizing known associates of the various Houses, brutally murdering them, and leaving their bodies sprawled conspicuously in locations around the city where they were guaranteed to be found. Within two weeks, more than ten corpses had been left artistically near both Noul's and Hanach's houses, and tensions were rising. Street brawls were breaking out among rival Houses' members, encouraged, of course, by Tem's thugs, and ignored by the City Watch, due mostly to the subtle application of certain precious metals in the direction of the Head Watchman. Some might have said, truthfully, that the Head Watchman was not particularly interested in putting extra effort into stopping the fighting, and therefore the gold was perhaps misspent; even so, Tem was taking no chances.

    As the House infighting progressed, Tem began also to pay off deliverymen and tradesmen to skim off about a third of the products and supplies coming into the city, especially those going to the other Houses, stockpiling it in a warehouse, meaning that he would control a fair amount of the food and other goods in the city, and that the other Houses would lack it. Less food meant rising tempers, and, in turn, meant that Marronay was going exactly where he wanted her to.

    Each House began to be wary of the others. If Hanach was killing Noul men, then Noul would raise the stakes and arm their men better. If Noul armed their men better, Hanach did also, and would raise the stakes again, telling their men not to hold back if they met a Noul man on the street. Neither wanted to appear weak, though both wanted to protect their own interests.

    Within another month, Houses Hanach and Noul, as well as the other four Houses represented in Marronay, started sending messages to their respective originating residences, each side begging urgently for assistance against the other. Troops of the Houses' private soldiers began arriving, a trickle at first, and then more quickly, as the fighting became worse and worse. Most work in the city slowed to a near-halt. All of Tem's plans had been a catalyst towards this state of affairs. The only occupation that continued to do well were those employed by the city to keep the streets clean. Hardly a day passed where there had not been a skirmish resulting in at least one dead man, and for the most part those bodies lay where they fell, until the street cleaners could cart them outside the walls to burn.

    In the midst of the chaos, Tem carefully cultivated friendships with particular members of the city – especially the Mayor, who was growing increasingly nervous about the state of affairs in his city, but who was powerless to act. His City Watch was secretly under Tem's control through the corruption of the Head Watchman, and the Houses under his mayoralty were acting erratic and unstable, nay, even violent. The rest of the citizens of Marronay were fishers and merchants; they would not get in the way of the Houses, it wasn't their place to do so. The Mayor was becoming afraid for his own skin. He could not leave Marronay, as that would seem to condone the conflict currently wracking her, but he felt terror when he thought of staying. It was at this point that Tem deliberately became friends with him, to try to influence him. As far as the Mayor was concerned, and as Tem desperately wanted him to believe, Derion was his rock – the only sane House in the region – and he clung to that rock with all the strength that a drowning man could muster. Tem encouraged it. He visited the Mayoral home nearly every day, reassuring the Mayor that he was doing everything he could to settle the differences between the Houses. The Mayor was still worried, and soon took to drinking, which Tem also encouraged, as he needed him as suggestible and pliable as possible.

    As the months progressed, Noul's and Hanach's feud became larger and more widespread. Their individual satellites in other cities also started fighting, and other Houses started siding with one or the other.  Their resources dwindled, and their soldiers' numbers decreased. They could not recruit men fast enough. The Mayor of Marronay was drinking in terror from dawn until dusk, completely useless to the city. Tem was as happy as he could be. His plan was moving exactly in the direction he intended. Meanwhile, he had fingers in another couple of pies. He'd hired the thugs, paid off the tradesmen, and bribed the watchmen, but further, he'd begun a spy network. It had started in Marronay, but he'd built it up through the entirety of Upnar province. Not one thing happened but he heard about it, in the form of a neatly written report that silently arrived on his desk at the end of each day. The network served a dual purpose. He received all the news that he could handle, but also, the people he had hired as spies were involved in legwork on his behalf, quietly inciting a rebellion. As the Great Houses weakened, the  various serfs and peasants, tradesmen and craftsmen, and anyone else who might feel subjugated by or resentful towards the nobility would have a proportionally larger chance of overthrowing them. Tem's spies whispered in ears, and murmured in crowds, slowly but surely bringing the metaphorical cooking pot of the province to near-boiling. When the time was right, they would rise, and Tem would be their Emperor – and then, oh then, he would crush every House within his reach.


The Fall of Derion Part 1

[Author's note: This is the first part of my NaNoWriMo novel for 2013. I hit 2000 words this morning (yes, I'm a little behind >.>) and so I wanted to post it somewhere. All content copyright Elizabeth Klassen, etc, etc. Enjoy, leave comments and critiques below. Love you all! To read more, all parts are and/or will be linked in the sidebar under that beautiful photo of me.]
    It was the sort of day in which one doesn't want to go anywhere. Rain pounded relentlessly on the roof and poured from the eaves and gutters. A wind was blowing down from the northeast, carrying no warmth with it. It was gusty and threw the rain sideways into your face, so that no matter which way you were going, you got utterly drenched.

    Oren sat on the window seat, three stories from the ground, and raced raindrops down the windowpane. His lessons were done for the day, and he had no playmates. He'd already devoured all the books in the house at least three times over, metaphorically speaking, of course. Oren would have pestered Jax, the man-of-all-work, to build chair castles and let Oren slay him as the wicked dragon holding the beautiful cushion-princess captive, but he was busy taking care of the household accounts. Even the rotund and motherly housekeeper, Hild, was out for her half-day. So Oren was racing raindrops.

    As he was cheering on the leftmost drop, which had been the underdog for quite some time and had forthwith decided it was time to put on a burst of speed and overtake its opponent, he smelled something unexpected. He turned towards the door of the room, with the distinctive odor of smoke in his nostrils. Flames were licking through the cracks in the door, creeping up the walls, and smoke was billowing near the ceiling. Of course there were no other exits, unless one counted the window, and although that thought crossed his mind, he knew that it was far too high up for him to have any chance of landing it safely if he were to jump – never mind the difficulty of opening the window in the first place.

    The flames came closer. The heat became oppressive, as if the air was becoming thicker and heavier. Oren could scarcely breathe in: the air was so hot and dry that it hurt his lungs. The shelves on the wall came alive as the greedy fire slid closer, eating books, walls, and furniture alike. It became clear that there was no escape. He vaguely wondered if Hild and Jax had gotten out safely, and resigned himself to his fate. He could not keep from screaming as his flesh burned.


    Temmec stood on the starboard bow of the ship, balancing against the sway of the sea, his hands clasped behind his back. It had been weeks since he'd been home, and he was ready to have a good meal and a good night's sleep in his own bed. It was always an interesting experience, travelling, but there had been too many inns and taverns along the course of the journey where he'd had small tickly bedfellows, and it was about time he slept somewhere where lice and bedbugs were completely out of the picture. He sighed, grateful that the long trip was almost over, and desirous of seeing his wife again.

    When he had first met her, she had been the most beautiful woman in Marronay city, and the second most beautiful woman in Upnar province. No one of his acquaintance had ever been sure who had decided that she was only the second most beautiful woman in Upnar, but everyone agreed she was the most beautiful woman in Marronay, without question or competition. She had more than beauty, though: a sweeter, kinder person, it was said, had not lived in the city for a full hundred years. Tem was never quite sure how he had managed to win her affection, and always felt a vague sense of undeservedness, but it was universally agreed that, while he worshipped the ground she walked on, she also had eyes only for him, anyone could see that. And so, in due course, they were married, and that day a large proportion of the young men in the region, although invited to the wedding, refused to attend, preferring instead to drink their broken hearts away. He brought her to his big house in the middle of town and carried her over the threshold with all the proper ceremony – and promptly stumbled and almost dropped her, too busy gazing at her to have any thought towards watching his feet.

    They were very happy together for a good few years – until she became pregnant. It was not an easy pregnancy, and she had to remain in her bed, by order of the apothecary, for the majority of those nine months. She weakened and became very pale. The apothecary was called to their house almost daily. He frequently bled her, explaining that it was bad blood that was causing the trouble. Tem spent sleepless nights walking the floor of his study, hoping she would recover soon, worrying that she would get worse, and cursing the yet-unborn child for its part in draining her strength. When at last the child was born, a son, any hope he'd had for her recovery died a dreadful death that day. It had been such a difficult birth, and in conjunction with her earlier weakness, the apothecary said, she would not be strong enough to leave her bed again, and in no wise was she fit to ever carry another pregnancy to term. In his anger and grief, Tem blamed the child. He refused to have anything to do with him. His wife was too weak to look after the infant, so he hired a wet-nurse and left them both in another part of the house. At first, he spent every waking moment at his darling wife's side, but when it became clear that his constant attentions were doing more to tire her than to help her, he threw himself into his work, and only allowed himself to see her for a half-hour every day, a time she looked forward to almost as much as he did. Tem also contracted the apothecary to visit and bleed her weekly, and instructed that he do all else he could to improve her condition. His son he put out of his mind entirely. For all intents and purposes the child became an orphan in his own father's house. He was certainly never allowed to see his mother – indeed, he was told he had no mother, and she was told, to prevent her from worrying, that the child had not lived – and Tem himself never interacted with the boy unless it was absolutely necessary.

    Ten years later, Temmec Derion stood with his hands behind his back watching the harbour draw nearer, eager to see his dearest. Even in her weak state, and even though she was no longer the most beautiful woman in Marronay, he still worshipped her, and today's half-hour with her had been long in coming. A dinghy was soon put over the side of the ship for those going ashore, and within half an hour he was standing on solid ground. A seaman was instructed to send his luggage to his address, but Tem would not wait himself for transport; he was in too much of a hurry to see his wife. Twenty or thirty minutes' brisk and impatient walk through the town and he was standing in front of his house. Or rather, what was left of his house. Only a scorched stone skeleton remained; the rest was ash and rubble. The walls stood up like blackened teeth. Neither roof nor floors were left – the fire had completely gutted the place, and taken all the furnishings with it.

    Tem stopped a passerby. “What happened here? When did this happen? Tell me, did anyone make it out alive?” He was visibly shaking.
    The man had a sympathetic look on his face as he answered. “Not but a week ago, m'lord, the whole place went up in smoke. I didn't see it myself, but I heard. The wee boy screamed, something frightful – it was that piercing, you could hear it right down at the harbour edge.”
    “I don't care about the boy! What about my wife, man?” Tem demanded.
    “No-one knows, m'lord,” replied the man, “some say one fellow did make it out, but I haven't heard who that was, or where he went; but none of them's said anything about no lady, begging your lordship's pardon.”
    “You're sure no-one mentioned her?” he pleaded.
    “No-one, m'lord.”
    “Very well.” he turned away, dejected. Inside of an hour, his entire life had crumbled away like the walls and floors of his once-house. He couldn't care less about the child – even the servants merited more regret than the boy. His one concern, the sun whose warmth he had revolved around, his focus for thirteen years – she was gone. She had been the jewel he prized more than anything else the world could offer, and now she was his no longer. On an impulse, he moved toward the heap of stones and ash; he told himself he was just looking to see if anything was left.

    As he approached the place where the front door had been, he thought he saw something fluttering in the breeze. It seemed to be stuck to the inside of the wall just through the door, a place it could not be seen from the street. Tem, intrigued and curious, came up to it. It was a note, pasted to the wall, and it was addressed to him. It read:

    To my Lord Temmec Derion, by the hand of Ejax Ortrin:
        Pursuant to the aims and goals of those who consort
        with the Family Hanach, and also being individually
        desirous of incurring and inflicting quantities of misery
        and anguish in your Lordship, I took it upon myself to
        deal appropriately with you and your Lady. By the
        agency of my comrades and myself, and with the full
        knowledge and approval of House Hanach, your home,
        your wife, and your son now lie in ashes, dust, and slag.
        I also take this opportunity to resign most heartily from
        your employ, which I trust will not be overly inconvenient
        to your Lordship.

    The cheek of the man: to flaunt his wife's death, and then to add, “Oh, by the way, I'm not working for you anymore – so sorry!” - it was not to be borne. Tem tore down the paper and crumpled it in his fist. He would take his revenge on Hanach. He would take his revenge on all the Greater and Lesser Houses. And when he was done, they would each bow before him and swear their allegiance to Derion House. Jax Ortrin was but a minor player in this game, a simple hired assassin, not worth worrying about in the slightest. Tem would cut down the tree at the root; the branches would take care of themselves.


    Some months later, in the city of Adrin, a meeting was quietly taking place in an upper room of the noisiest, most disreputable tavern in town. The theory being, of course, that the louder the drunk men downstairs were, the less likely it was that the meeting upstairs would be overheard.
    “You have heard, I suppose, of his – ahem – actions in the past few weeks?”
    “Oh, yes. I have, indeed, my lord. It would be difficult to avoid hearing about him, I think.”
    “And you have heard that the Family Royal wish to avoid – ahem – unnecessary bloodshed, I presume.”
    “I have, yes. Please come to the point, my lord.”
    “Very well, very well. The Family Royal would be grateful if they could – ahem – procure your services in this matter.”
    “The point, my lord; I am losing patience.”
    “Be not hasty, sir! The point, as you say – ahem – is that they wish you to, if I may, put a point into him – ahem.”
    “Leave your puns at the door, I beg you, my lord; they make your meaning less clear, if such a thing were possible. Do you mean that they wish me to seduce him? Or that they wish me to kill him? Answer me straight, if you are able.”
    “Ahem – they do not mean you to seduce the man, no.”
    “Then they wish me to kill him.”
    “I am not – ahem – permitted to say so. However, if he were to – ahem – perish suddenly, I think you may find a large quantity of – ahem – gold in your coffers within a very short period of time.”