‘Guard Detail’

22:30 Mon 23 Jul 2007
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He didn’t like it. The work, whatever it truly was, had dragged, and now they were stuck there a third night.

Three nights, after promising just two… that was provocation. On the first two nights he’d seen off small groups of hard young men.

Now he was here again, and with half the guards. That bastard lieutenant had half-smiled, told him the others had already been assigned duties. Duties. There wasn’t a damn thing more likely to be dangerous than this. Not that the lieutenant would take the blame if things went wrong.

He didn’t blame the toughs. That was how Spider City was. Out in the strands, the minor streets and gaps that couldn’t be called streets, you didn’t wander into another district. That was was a threat and a taunt. When he’d been young, he’d been one of them, roaming and looking for an unwary strayer.

But he was from Treyval, the green and the grey. Standing there in Yonebe, the pure yellow. One of the oldest districts, and proudest, fallen on hard times. His guards were from different districts—and, of course, his accursed superior officer had taken away the two from Yonebe who’d been part of the detail. Taken them and assigned them across the city, wouldn’t let them swap shifts.

The worst of it was, he didn’t know what they were guarding. It should have been Palace Guard, not City, that did it, he was sure. The long shadow of the Palace would have forestalled trouble, even in Yonebe. It smelled like Palace work, with alchemists shuffling about. But there were aldermen—only during the day, of course—as well, and it was clear they expected to find something, something beneath the dead man’s house they guarded.

He saw them some ways off. They weren’t hiding, far from it. He was slightly relieved to see it looked more like a gang than a mob. Maybe twenty-five of them. All young, all hard-eyed.

His being on the roof would allow him to talk down to them, at least. It wouldn’t be much help if they did attack. Seven against twenty-five, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but they were far from his best six guards. No, he’d have to chance it.

They’d started yelling and singing as they drew closer, waving weapons in the air. He stood up on the edge of the roof and shouted his best parade shout, and it surprised some of them. He had their attention.

“I’ll be brief, all you of the pure yellow! You should turn and leave us be, not only will the Guard punish you in full for any transgression here,” and here there were mocking jeers, “not only because the City aldermen have ordered our safety,” and here more, louder, shouts of contempt, “but because of the fate you’ll suffer if you harm us!” Laughter and derision floated up, but he then reached into his jacket and pulled out a gleaming metal cube.

“You all know what this is! It’s a mancergift from one of the Palace wizards! Ten years ago I saved his hide when he’d had too many to drink in Treyval, and he gave it me. That was before he went to the Palace, and now he’s tood good for the likes of me. But should injury or death befall me, this will make sure he knows. And he’ll be roused to repay the debt of blood, wrathful that you wretches have forced him to leave the Court, and you’ll burn, or drown, or be crushed, whichever takes his fancy. You, and most of your family. Or do any of you think you’ll get mercy?”

Some of them still wanted to attack, but he saw that enough of them had had second thoughts. Tales of the Palace wizards were many, and ugly. Angry as they were, they didn’t want both a fight against veteran City Guard and the risk of magickal extermination later. They argued amongst themselves, but even a few leaving tilted the odds in his favor—and those that wanted to attack knew it.

He relaxed as he watched them disperse and leave, happy indeed at the price he’d yesterday paid for the counterfeit at Belly Market.

(700 words)

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