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Iron Broderick

Iron Broderick

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Iron Broderick

Longueur:
458 pages
6 heures
Éditeur:
Sortie:
Dec 29, 2018
ISBN:
9781944045562
Format:
Livre

Description

Broderick earns the sobriquet, Iron, for his ability to win under the direst of circumstances. His sentence to the royal gallows, for daring to love the princess, reminds him he’s still a slave. A last-ditch rescue by the slave army he commands pits him against the full military might of the kingdom. The only way to escape royal vengeance is to direct it elsewhere, so he uses his strategic genius to goad the king into battle with a rival nation. Broderick soon learns that the princess carries his child, marked for death by the king. Now, to save the royal destiny of a slave’s get, Iron Broderick orchestrates the final conflict, so it occurs in the one arena where he has ultimate control...the battlefield.

Éditeur:
Sortie:
Dec 29, 2018
ISBN:
9781944045562
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Tom Bont is the author of Howlers: Lupus Rex and Transplanted Yankee: Lest All My Balderdash Be Forgotten, as well as scores of short stories, essays, and articles in various magazines and other online portals. Tom is a United States Navy veteran, has a degree in computer science from Louisiana Tech University, and lives in north Texas with his family. Even after 26 years of marriage, he still spends as many hours as he can on the dance floor with his wife. You can catch him at www.TomBont.com, on Twitter @TomBont, or the DFW Writers’ Workshop.

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Aperçu du livre

Iron Broderick - Tom Bont

I

Chapter 1 – Seven

A THIN LAYER OF SNOW DUSTED the dark alley as Kibwe and his young charge, Herminius, made their way home. The dust and the flickering light from their torches turned the their grimy world into a twinkling wonderland. It wasn’t thick enough to turn the world white, but it still numbed their fingers and toes and dampened their hair. Of the three things man needed for survival—food, shelter, and clothing—the former was usually crusty bread and thin wine, the middling was a drafty, small three-room flat, and the latter consisted of threadbare rags. Luckily, they possessed all three.

They passed a door, and Herminius stopped. What’s that?

What’s what? Kibwe looked up at the sign. Erect Stallion. It’s a boarding school for lost women, he snapped. You’re too young to go in there. Keep walking. For a copper, the redheaded boy toted Kibwe’s bucket during his weekly trips to the coaler. The old man didn’t need the help, but it kept the kid out of the back alleys and away from the gangs.

I know what a whorehouse is, Kibwe. That’s not... The youngster turned toward a rubbish pile next to the door. I heard a cry.

Kibwe shuffled over to a pile of trash and waved his torch around. Rats. He kicked a fruit crate full of the vermin. Let’s go. A muffled cry caught his ear. He pushed the crate to the side, revealing a colony of the pests burrowing into a small, wadded up, bloody sheet. He shooed the rats away, and the bundle wiggled and squeaked again. The thought of leaving it never crossed his mind, but he was worried—curiosity killed more people in the Broderick District than not. He handed his torch to his young companion and picked up the whole bundle. The metallic tang of blood assaulted his nose as he carefully unwrapped the sheet to see a newborn boy, still wet with his mother’s afterbirth, looking up at him.

A throwaway, he thought. They better hope the Idolites don’t find out about that practice. They might find themselves hamstrung in the square late one ni... The old man’s eyes flashed wide at the series of moles on the baby’s left breast. Before he could stop himself, a cursed thought crossed his mind—The reason my family died. Another thought swallowed it. I’ll have to do something about this.

He swung his head around and scanned the alley. Apart from the rats reclaiming the crate, they were alone. He looked up at the door leading to the Erect Stallion and then back down at the baby. If some whore threw him out, she’s not going to appreciate us knocking on her door and giving him back. Then he saw the tied-off umbilical cord. Throwing the baby away was not their original plan. That’s a lot of blood. His ma’s probably dead.

We could give him to the Idolites, Herminius suggested. They have an orphanage for throwaways.

What? No! Religious fanatics, all of ‘em. He’ll be one of their morons in a few years. Didn’t you say something about a bitch having puppies?

Yeah, why?

Bring her to my flat. There’s another copper for you if you get it there before I fall asleep. Why are you still standing here? Hurry off with you. With that, he took the coal bucket and shooed the boy down the street. He scurried back to his flat in the dark and wrapped the baby in dry swaddling made from his robe as soon as he got there.

It’s going to be a cold one tonight, little one. Kibwe lugged his chair over to his stove’s glowing maw. He had sat down and gotten the infant situated in his lap when Herminius showed up with a whining, milk-laden bitch in tow.

He looked up at Kibwe, eyes bloodshot, holding a single puppy under his arm. All the other ones died, he whispered.

Kibwe snuggled the baby up to the bitch’s teats, and fascination overwhelmed him as nature found a way to ensure life would continue, even in its most helpless and smallest form.

The sniffling boy kneeled and put the puppy on one of the hind teats. Have you named him yet? He continued kneeling as he inspected the baby.

Who? The baby? No. Why?

How about...Baby of Broderick?

How ‘bout what?

Baby of Broderick. The boy stood up to emphasize his point, his eyes no longer red. He needs a name.

Humph. He won’t appreciate that name when he gets older. I’ll think of one later.

Okay. We can call him Broderick until you do. Herminius kneeled back down. I’ve always wanted a brother.

Broderick. Humph. Good a name as any, I suppose. The old man pulled a blanket off his chair and wrapped it around his shoulders. And he won’t be your brother. If he lives, he’ll stay here with me. Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be getting home? Your ma is doubtlessly worried sick.

Yeah, I’ll probably get the stick tonight. In a heartbeat, the small and curious boy grew years older as defiance shrouded his face. But I’m not leaving until I get my two copper pieces.

Humph. Kibwe pulled out the agreed-on price from his pouch and handed it over.

Although Kibwe’s house was small, cozy didn’t describe it. Books piled in a haphazard fashion littered the central room. The only people who read them these days were Herminius and himself, the former spending more and more of his time there as his unmarried mother fell deeper into the arms of the Idolites. Doorless frames led to two other spaces. One, a kitchen with smoke stains on the walls and ceiling and grease marks that had lingered past the previous inhabitants. The other strangely-angled room doubled as a sleeping space and storage closet, leaving barely enough freedom for a single person. Ink, chalk, and even blood covered the walls. Overall, it was a typical dwelling for those trapped in the Broderick District. Fortunately, the title, Healer, afforded him a sliver of respect. The ruffians left him alone.

Kibwe set the freshly fed and sleeping Broderick on the table to inspect the birthmarks in detail. They’re certainly in the right arrangement of the stars making up the Seventh House. And that small mole in the middle, seven points. I’ll be damned if that doesn’t look exactly like the Seven Sons constellation. He stared at it for a fistful of breaths and rapidly shook his head. Bah! Coincidence, that’s all. Albeit a laughable coincidence—the kind that weak-minded fools would call the work of the gods. He’d seen, to his eternal regret, how even the intelligent could be gullible enough when it came to certain subjects to be goaded into believing anything, especially if the idea was nurtured with just the right amount of viper oil.

Seeing what he believed impossible made Kibwe wonder if the time wasn’t nigh to turn the simple and the superstitious into true believers before he died. The proper story, passed along to the occasional gossipy patient...

Well, little one, you are not going to like what I have to do to you tonight.

He shuffled into the sleeping room, pulled open an old chest—something from a much brighter past—and rummaged around inside. Finding a knife, sharpened to a razor’s edge, he honed an old stag bone until it was needle sharp. He pulled a thread from his blanket and wrapped it around the needle.

Clove oil. Hmm. Where did I put that..? The bitch lifted its head at the sound of Kibwe’s voice. Ah, yes. Over there. Kibwe unrolled a large leather carrying case filled with small glass bottles holding his healing agents. He picked one and rubbed some of its oily contents on Broderick’s left breast, completely covering the areas around the moles. This should deaden the pain some, little one. Not all, but it’s the best I can do.

He picked up his writing quill and ink and drew the connecting lines between the moles, forming the Seventh House. Satisfied with his artwork, he picked up his needle, dipped it in the ink until the thread was soaked, and tattooed the design permanently into Broderick’s chest.

The first time the needle pierced his skin, Broderick’s howl set Kibwe’s ears to ringing. The bitch jumped up, dropping an upset puppy to the floor, and ran over to sniff her latest charge. He shooed the dog away and continued working the needle, ignoring Broderick’s cries. After the first few minutes, the cries changed tenor. Kibwe no longer heard pain, but anger.

Nine-month-old memories darkened his mien as he recalled what brought him to this hovel.

Chapter 2 – Arlen the Astrologer

EVER SINCE KING GRAYNAR had ordered him to find more information on the reasons for the constellation juncture, peaceful nights had eluded Arlen.

Not everything that happens in the night sky means something. But royalty rarely accepted words of that type, especially when their oracles were hungry, so he continued in his search. The seventh son of a seventh son. Obvious from the surrounding constellations. Everyone knows the magic of such rare individuals heralds momentous events. He took another gulp of wine before the maddening question arose again. But what is this other, smaller one? It’s a bastardized conjunction, that’s what it is.

Desperate for new insight, he wondered about the geographical significance at the center of the event itself and lifted the star chart above the world map spread across his table. Doing so, he knocked over his wine cup, spilling much before he could right it. He idly tossed back the remaining drops as the thick red liquid soaked into the parchment until it resembled...

...a world painted in blood.

When Arlen finally drew his gaze from the scarlet stain, he was surprised to find he’d written in his journal without realizing it. Rereading quickly, a pang of worry stabbed his heart, erasing his temptation to laugh, which he gave into after calling to Yarly for more wine. Still chuckling, he closed the journal and muttered, "No way I’ll show that to the king."

Yarly spoke from over Arlen’s shoulder. Master, perhaps you’ve had enough for the night. Although he had brought the wine as ordered.

Hardly... Arlen poured a new cup. But if I’m wrong, that’s what apprentices are for, aren’t they?

For astrologers, working nights meant sleeping by day. But a full bladder and throbbing head robbed him of even that small reward. He turned over, frowned at the disappearing spear of daylight stabbing under his doorway, and grumbled as he rose. He ruffled the blanket around himself and stepped onto the cold floor to the chamber pot, which he found un-emptied. Yarly, he yelled. No answer. That boy is going to be the death of me. Yarly! Where are you?

Edna raised her voice from another room. Yarly left shortly after lunch. Meeting with the king, he said.

What meeting? What king? Graynar? Who? Yarly? He isn’t fit to meet with... Coldness swept across his face as the blood drained from his cheeks. He snapped a toggle off his tunic in his rush to dress himself and dashed to the stables for his horse. He rode out of Castle Sept Ignis’s east gate and through the market streets of Farburgh, Armalia’s capital, at a full gallop, knocking over various cages and baskets.

An hour later, he arrived at the royal observatory. His journal was missing, as were his sketches and maps. Oh, Yarly what have you done? he whispered to the empty room. You’ve killed us both.

Perhaps we should wait on Arlen. King Graynar’s brows creased deeper between his eyes the longer he listened to Yarly’s confused explanations. Why isn’t he making this report himself?

He’s been working hard lately, Your Highness. I’m afraid the strain of delivering the report would be too much for him. Yarly lifted the papers in his arms. And I fear the news can’t wait until he is on his feet. May I continue?

Very well, if you must.

Thank you, Your Highness. Yarly unrolled a stack of star maps out on the floor and knelt next to them, tracing out the image he wished to create. I trust you are familiar with this section of the sky and the arrangement of these stars?

Yes, that’s the Seventh House, King Graynar roared. He turned and pointed to the wall above the mantle of his fireplace. That is where my house, House Jerom, gets its crest. The House of War. He looked back down to study the maps.

Good, Your Highness, Yarly said as a compliment. Now, please, Sire, look at this. He pulled out a hand sketch showing the constellation close to the Seventh House. And now, this, pulling out another sketch. And this...and this...and this. Each time, the sketch showed the constellation getting closer and closer to the house until centered inside it.

King Graynar sat back into his throne and took a deep breath. Constellations travel the sky every night, you imbecile. And you’re not addressing a child. Arlen has already informed me of this event. He’s been searching for a believable prophecy connected with it...for months. The oracles have filled my ears with nothing but claptrap, and none of it makes sense. Every new reading costs me another aurochs.

I... Yarly stood back up nervously. Your Highness, if I may...he couldn’t find anything...so he fashioned one himself.

King Graynar’s left eyebrow twitched upward before relaxing, dropping back to its creased position. He did what?

With trembling hands, Yarly pulled Arlen’s notes out and read them aloud. The seventh bastard son of a seventh bastard son, bearing this mark, will coat the world in the king’s blood.

Graynar tapped the arm of his throne. That sounds... threatening.

I agree, Your Highness. Yarly’s hands dropped to his side, and he looked at the ground in front of his liege.

Who else knows of this?

Myself alone, Sire. At the king’s narrowed eyes, Yarly added quickly, This is why, as a loyal subject, I felt it my duty to alert you.

And might anyone else read the signs as such?

Not even myself, Sire.

Graynar rose from his throne as he spoke. Then it seems our royal astrologer has served too long. He turned to his men-at-arms with a pointed look, and a fist squad strode away silently. He turned to Yarly. "He will need a replacement, one who can be trusted to honor and silence...or I’ll feed you to the oracles."

Farburgh’s nighttime lamps were nothing more than a firefly to Arlen, far down the valley and at the mouth of the river. He gasped. A long way from my family. He raced back to town toward the north gate. If Graynar was looking for him, he wouldn’t expect him there.

Arlen crossed over the Capistan River North Bridge, and two bodies swung from it on the ends of ropes. As he drew nearer, their shapes materialized and pulled forth his breath in a single thrusting sob. He barely recognized his lovely wife’s face, bloated as it was. And Thomas, his son...poor, innocent Thomas...

Yarly’s body did not hang with them. He wanted to be angry for he knew his apprentice still drew breath, but his mind wouldn’t allow him to dwell on that with more than a fleeting, distant thought.

He halted his mount in front of his dead loved ones, staring for an unknown span of time. All his wisdom could not tell him how to react to losing his family, his anchor. When at last he urged his horse forward, it was only to seek a way to join them. His life was over.

He traveled directly to the Broderick District, the most decrepit part of Farburgh, and chose the worst of its slaughterhouse taverns as the place to drink himself to death. He wasn’t sure why the king’s men never found him, as he made no effort to hide. But when he woke in an alley however long afterward, horse and coin gone, he had transformed. Sometime in the night, his shock at losing everything that made him what he was had swapped for sadness. And days later, even that distorted into a smoldering rage. As a man of logic and learning, he no longer dwelt on their deaths. His craving for vengeance had replaced every emotion surrounding his family. His appetite to eat Graynar alive now consumed him. Of course, he knew swearing vengeance and achieving it were two different things. The king would look for him; a lifetime of servitude told him that. He had to hide. He had to survive long enough to retaliate. He changed his name. Arlen was no more. Even the clothes he’d worn on his back were gone. The man who climbed out of the garbage pit would also burrow out of Graynar’s gut like a necrotic parasite. Like the kibwe.

He set up shop in an abandoned, rat-infested storefront to bring in some coin from residents in need of poultices and infusions. The newborn Kibwe pretended he knew nothing of the stars and focused on his more esoteric knowledge of herbs and flora. It wasn’t much, but it kept his coal bin full and the occasional chunk of meat in his gullet.

Months later, the Town Crier announced the King had declared the Royal Astrologer, Yarly, guilty of treason and sentenced him to death.

Heh! So much for the whispers about Graynar’s temper. We all know he has no patience and doesn’t tolerate foolish ambition. The little rat did last longer than I thought he would, though.

Chapter 3 – Life on the Streets

BRODERICK SPRINTED DOWN THE ALLEY, dodging piles of rotten trash heaps and fresh morning chamber pots. He slowed to a jog as he came to the bend in the alley, carefully negotiating the rain-soaked, slime-covered cobblestones to make the turn to his right. Bors and Nils, brothers, sat on the stoop, pretending to ignore what was happening around them. As he closed on them, Bors scratched his ear, the all-clear signal. Broderick dropped the loot, loot re-appropriated from a vendor who used back-alley tactics to keep his prices high. You don’t steal from your own people. The bag didn’t have a chance to bounce after it hit Nils’ lap before he picked it up and lobbed it over his shoulder into the house where other members of his gang, the Bastards, were waiting to fence the loot.

It was rare to see the brothers sober this late in the day. Herminius had once commented on their love of the drink, and Nils responded, We found we had a taste for it when we stole that ale cart when we were... he’d looked to Bors, what, eleven?

Twelve, Bors had answered, a deep, rumbling belch accenting his response.

Twelve then, Nils said.

It was an easy score. They’d hired us to load the day’s kegs—

Twelve? Herminius had asked.

We were always on the large side... It got to be difficult to tell which one was talking at times like this.

So anyway, we load the cart to the brim, and waited—

When no one showed up to drive it, we took it ourselves. And away we went.

You drank it all yourselves? Broderick had been impressed and amused by that claim.

We couldn’t find anyone to buy it, Bors had said. We may have been large, but when it came to fencing, we were still young—

After a day or so, we got thirsty. Once the laughter had died down, Nils cocked his head at his brother. Of course, Dad helped us.

Herminius had huffed. "Are you sure you’re brothers?" He looked at each in turn.

Bors had grabbed Nils in a headlock that brought the former’s fair-haired, un-bearded face next to his brother’s dark locks and grizzled stubble. We’re twins, he had pronounced.

When everyone waved unbelieving hands at them, Nils had protested. No, no, it’s true. His mother showed up with him one day, which surprised our dad.

"Not to mention his mother," Bors chimed in, pointing at Nils.

And when they sorted out that we were pretty much born at the same time—

To two different women—

They left both of us with him and walked away.

Everything with them was outlandish, though Broderick had learned he could depend on them, drunk or sober, to do the outlandish things he had needed done at times.

Now he stopped running three steps from the end of the alleyway near Crotch Gate, unofficially named so because the only thing remaining from the original statute of Jorge Broderick—for whom the district was named—were his legs from the waist down, spanning the main entrance to the neighborhood. He settled into a casual stride, took the leather thong off his ponytail, and let his black hair drop to disguise his face. He was big for his age, corded with lean muscles and broad shoulders, making it hard for him to blend in completely. Most residents were underfed. As he stopped at a vendor selling old apples, a hand lightly came to rest on his shoulder.

Can you spare a coin? a feeble voice beckoned.

Broderick turned and stared into the face of Elroy, second in command of the larger syndicate the Bastards belonged to. Dark bruises surrounded his eyes—courtesy of his latest encounter with someone big and mean. Combined with his stick-thin frame, this turned him into a live, grinning skeleton. Elroy?

Well, well. I must be living right. Elroy’s smirk turned tense and predatory, like a coyote just before it bites into a stolen chicken. I thought we’d catch you running out of this alley.

Broderick’s refused to show any fear. What the hell do you want, Elroy?

Brank sent me to make sure you share the loot this time. The Bastards’ antics are starting to become routine around here. And annoying.

Broderick scoffed. Oh, I’m sharing it all right. I’m giving it back to the people it was stolen from in the first place. He saw Nigel, Elroy’s right-hand man, move closer.

It was stolen from Brank, Elroy said. He runs the syndicate, which means he runs your turf. He controls the vendor you stole it from...so it belongs to him. Elroy reached down to his waist belt and slowly pulled a dagger out. I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll forget I saw you if you turn it over now.

Broderick laughed and raised his eyebrows in a carefree manner. Does Brank even know you’re here?

Scowling, Elroy jerked his head at Nigel, who patted Broderick down, removing his dagger in the process. He doesn’t have it on him, El.

Broderick laughed. Happy now?

Elroy spit. No. He pushed Broderick against the cart and slowly waved his dagger in front of his ever-widening skeletal grin.

Broderick didn’t need to evaluate that grin. He’d seen it on too many bullies over the years.

Where is it?

Broderick frowned. You’re too much of a coward to show your faces around here without backup.

Surprise rippled across Elroy’s face.

You brought the City Watch in to help you, huh?

Elroy’s sneer confirmed that guess.

You aren’t the threat here. Broderick took a quick scan of the immediate area, looking for members of the Watch while his sub-conscience started making decisions for him. The cart behind him blocked his escape backward. Elroy blocked his way forward. Stacks of crates on his left and Nigel on his right wedged him in. He reached up and scratched his head. I really don’t wanna fight you.

Elroy snorted. Tough shit! He stepped in. Fast. He held his dagger in a classic fencing position. Most people thought that was the wrong way to hold a dagger; they assumed the blade should lay across the forearm, under the hand. It didn’t matter—if they were skilled, they could kill a man no matter how they held it. Elroy looked skilled, just not skilled enough. If he was still learning the knife, he should go for the gut, not the eyes.

Broderick dropped his left hand down from its head-scratching duties, right on top of Elroy’s thrusting arm, paralyzing it while his right fist swung up for a well-placed uppercut to the chin. Elroy’s teeth clacked shut as he collapsed next to his dropped knife. Broderick spun and stepped away from the cart as a grunt to his left alerted him to Nigel’s engagement.

Nigel was a short, squat man made more of sinew and muscle than fat who didn’t appreciate Broderick’s treatment of his friend. He swung a knocker—two pieces of thick leather sewed around a lead bar used to knock someone out—at Broderick’s head. No insults. No threats. A let’s get this started attitude darkened his face.

Broderick ducked the blow easily enough but was still too slow to avoid the whooshing air as it flew by his head, whipping his hair about. He stepped forward, put his right foot between Nigel’s feet.

Nigel looked lost with Broderick inside his comfort zone. He couldn’t swing the knocker at Broderick because they were too close to each other.

Broderick pivoted his right arm up under Nigel’s right armpit and twisted to the right, throwing him a couple feet through the air.

Elroy rushed him from a kneeled position.

Broderick stepped back, but Elroy’s right shoulder bashed into Broderick’s stomach, expelling his air and driving him backwards. Elroy kept pushing, and the proverbial eyes in the back of Broderick’s head sensed the stone wall of the building getting closer and closer. He dropped across Elroy’s back, making Elroy carry him, then rolled over as they hurtled to the ground, landing on top of him.

Elroy grabbed Broderick’s ears, yelled something, but Broderick interrupted him by shoving a finger into his eye. Elroy screamed in pain and covered his face with both hands, freeing Broderick. That’s what you get for bringing a knife to a dirty trick fight.

Broderick jumped up, too fast, and stars clouded his vision. Gasping, he still could not get enough air.

Nigel was on his feet now too, swinging fists.

Broderick dodged left, avoiding a blow. He needed to duck and cover until he could get his wind back. He dodged right but collided with a fist. Stars exploded again from a follow-up to his temple. Nigel’s experienced.

Broderick managed to get his arms up to block and dodge the next series of swings, but he couldn’t avoid them all day. Nigel was quick on his feet, damned quick. I’ve got to drop him before he drops me. Broderick shoved off and backed up a couple steps, fists ready.

Nigel came running in with both arms flailing. Damn, he’s big! Broderick stood there like an oak, and at the last moment, turned sideways and struck out with his foot. It connected with Nigel’s left knee, producing a loud pop as it bent sideways. Nigel’s scream turned to a thudding grunt as Broderick’s fist crashed into the big man’s temple. He crumpled on top of Elroy, puked, and passed out.

A dozen City Watch materialized out of the shadows, and they were much more skilled at using their knockers than Nigel. Broderick went down under a flurry of blows, landing on the few he took with him.

Growing up under Kibwe’s tutorage was a combination of torture and paradise for Broderick. The old man raised him as his own son and gave him a classical education. By the time he turned fifteen years of age, he was fluent in four languages, knew the calculus, and had read most of the classics. But that only occurred within the confines of Kibwe’s flat, because when he stepped outside, he had to learn to fight for everything he had or wanted—sometimes his rapidly developing and self-taught martial skills rewarded him. And sometimes they didn’t. The encounter with Elroy was an example of the latter.

It took nearly a week for Broderick to recover, a first for him. He hadn’t left Kibwe’s flat since his friends had dragged him there after finding him close to death in the alley. The old healer had been furious with them until he saw the state Broderick was in. He shouted them out the door as he tended to his injured charge.

Otto, Broderick’s pear-shaped best friend and second in command, came to him finally, to check on his progress as much as to report what happened. Bors and Nils got it almost as bad, he said, as he relayed how they had followed Broderick down the alley that day. That witchy danger sense Bors has said something was wrong. And it was right.

I’m surprised I’m not in prison, Broderick said.

The Watch wasn’t interested in that. They were paid to...do that. He waved a dye-stained hand at Broderick’s bruises and still-bruised face.

Broderick had asked him once about the stains, and the only reply he got back was, "My mother sold me to a leather worker." Broderick never dug deeper even when he knew they made more copper from their heists than working as a tradesman did.

Otto pulled a stool over to the pad that served as Broderick’s mattress and sat down. Brank’s called a moot tomorrow at the warehouse.

Does he suspect us?

No. He knows about your beat-down though.

That’s interesting, Broderick said. Seems we aren’t the only ones running operations behind Brank’s back.

He’s weak. Lorne thinks you need to be running things. Lorne was the newest friend Broderick had made. He was also the most exotic looking, with the dark-complexion and blue, almond-shaped eyes marking his Candoran heritage, probably borne of a wartime rape. Although Otto was the right hand and a friend borne out of watching each other’s backs on the street, Broderick depended on Lorne to deliver counsel based on logic and not the street smarts everyone usually relied on.

During one of their meetings in the sewers below Kibwe’s house, Broderick announced, This is Lorne, a friend of mine. Everyone treated him as an equal from that moment on, but it was a couple of years before anyone found out how that friendship had begun. They had been sitting in one of the local pubs planning their next heist, when Herminius asked how he’d met Broderick.

It wasn’t anything heroic, Lorne began. I was walking through Cow Gate when I saw a couple of the Watch questioning him. We caught each other’s eye, and something told me to lend a hand. So I did. I used it to slap a horse on its flank. It reared up and spilled a wagon of dung on the soldiers. Everyone stared at him in rapt silence, so he shrugged.

Bors exclaimed, By Rodin’s left nut, that’s it?

Nils looked at his brother and then laughed at Broderick. Hell, we thought he’d fought his way into prison to rescue you or something.

Broderick chuckled. Nothing so extravagant, I’m afraid.

Bors belched. There he goes, using big words again.

Broderick cocked his head to one side. Anyone who can take out two soldiers by doing nothing more than slapping a horse on its ass was someone I wanted in our gang. Sometimes we need to fight, but sometimes we need to think, too.

Coming back to the present, he asked, What do you think?

Otto scrunched his lips together and thought about it. I think he’s right. It’s only a matter of time before Brank comes down on us. And he’s too smart to confront us directly. We’ll probably wake up one morning in a jail cell wondering how we got there. When neither of them spoke for a few moments, he rose to leave and dropped something into Broderick’s lap. A little souvenir from Nils. A knocker, splattered with blood and broken nearly to pieces.

The next day, the Bastards gathered in an old building that operated as a warehouse in the front and a meeting place for the criminal element in the rear. Broderick noticed Elroy and Nigel were conspicuously absent, along with most of the other gangs under Brank’s control. That didn’t bother Broderick though; he was ready to get on with whatever Brank had planned. With the King’s Day Feast approaching, there was sure to be something for them to do, hopefully work that would return some of the coin they’d lost in the past week.

Characteristically, the man got right down to business. "They sold us out. They hurt us. They made us look bad. But they didn’t shut us down, oh, no, because we’re the law on our own turf. Right? Now it’s time to show them. He jumped down from his perch atop a large crate. We need to send a message. To everyone...from the scum in the City Watch who think they can beat us down, all the way up to the Lord-Mayor who refuses to do anything about the conditions here while he rides around in that gold-plated carriage with his rich puke friends, flaunting their wealth while we starve." Brank was

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