Sarton’s head is buried in a horoscope chart he’s drawing up for the next royal bastard when I leave to go get lunch. How he can construct a horoscope for a child that isn’t even born yet, and whose due date he doesn’t know, I don’t know. Astrology is not one of the sciences he has taught me. But Sarton’s good at it. He even predicted King Neucron’s death. He just couldn’t explain how the king was going to die.
I could take lunch in one of the palace’s several dining halls. But I need dragon’s teeth. Time to go pub crawling.
The nearest tavern in town is The Flayed Thief. Supposedly the tavern was erected on the site of an old gallows. It attracts an appropriately disreputable crowd: palace guards, their whores, minor tax farmers, pig inspectors, and in the evening the only singing group in the kingdom made up of eunuchs. The place smells of beer, vomit, and urine, except when it’s been cleaned, once a tenday.
It’s day eight. One drinks beer in self-defense in The Flayed Thief, to keep the smells away from one’s nose.
And I am in luck. Sitting alone at the bar is Katrina of Moss, famed mercenary, dreaded duelist, and a gal with a soft spot for village country boys like me. You have to turn in your weapons at the door. Katrina has an exemption, because letting her kill people with weapons causes less destruction than forcing her to smash chairs, rip up the bar, and turn its liquor into fire bombs. Besides, if you leave her alone, she will never start a fight. “People pay me to fight,” she once explained to me. “Why should I give it away for free?”
I actually do carry a concealed dagger, which I don’t check. I’m regarded as so physically unimposing that no one would consider me a threat, so they never search me for weapons. Odds are we are the only two armed people in the room, except for the bouncer and the bartender.
I grab a seat beside Katrina, greet her as “Captain,” and order a beer. She turns to look at me with a perfectly neutral expression on her face. Then she sees it’s me, and she breaks out into a smile. “Lord Tyznar,” she says. And she means it seriously.
I should explain. I’m not noble by birth. But as Sarton’s apprentice, I have to have a title so I can accompany him at Court functions. So I’ve been ennobled as part of my job. Tyznar Heights is a fortress that used to be the seat of Ovallessi dukes, until the last of the dukes overreached himself and the castle was bombarded into a ruin. The lordship brings in 50 ducats a year, mostly from wool. I’ve been there twice. To most people, it’s a bit of a joke, a fig leaf for protocol’s sake.
Katrina takes my title seriously because it’s good business for a merc not to argue or question such things, unless the noble is on the other side in a war. And, as I said, she has a soft spot for guys like me.
We chat of indifferent things: how the war against the mountain tribes in the East is going nowhere, the struggle among the Six Kingdoms, Sarton’s latest error of omission. When that topic comes up, I see my chance. “Got any dragon’s teeth?”
Katrina stares into her beer for a bit. Without looking up, she says, “If you can find Jerrod, he should have some. Killed a dragon last fall. Can’t have pawned all the teeth yet. And the Earl of Haulloran has quite a set.”
I shake my head long enough for her to look up and see. “Haulloran’s out.”
That piques her interest. “Why?”
That is not something I want to discuss in public. So I lean over and whisper in her ear, “He’s fathered a bastard on the queen.”
For that I get a stare. A serious, eyes-wide, “O my dead mother” stare. And then Katrina break out laughing. In between laughs, she says to me, “You are a perfect fool!”
Oh, I’ve been called that a few times. But it hurts getting it from Katrina, because she’s not one to say such things unless they’re true. So I remonstrate, “I’ve been aiming for perfection, but didn’t think I’d achieved it. Want to explain how?”
That stops her laughing. She gives me a good look-over, leans forward, and whispers in my era, “Blackmail him.”