“What ya think, cap’n?” Colby said. He pushed the scabbard to his rapier to the side and knelt down beside the woman. Her eyes were closed and her hair was a mess of tangles that obscured most of her face. Lying in her outstretched hand was a pipe, with a half-burnt pill of opium still stuck in the bowl. Colby pushed her hair away, revealing a dirt-streaked young woman. A rough tunic covered her upper arms and chest, but she was bare below the waist.
“Looks like her,” Farthow said. He scratched at the place where his short-cut blonde beard met the high collar of his green jacket.
“First thing she did was hit the smack, eh?” Colby said. He pushed the woman onto her back. He legs fell apart, and still she did not wake. Colby, almost analytically, examined her genitals with his gloved right hand.
“Second thing. A friend of mine forged papers for her earlier today.”
“Looks like somebody had his way with her.”
Farthow spat onto the dirty wooden floor. “Figures. You can’t expect much different if you’re a woman in a place like this.”
“Pretty much what she would have expected if she’d been sold though, eh?”
“I suppose.” Farthow kicked the pipe out of the woman’s hands. “The smell of this place makes me sick.”
“Captain, I found the keeper.” Farthow turned as Dem entered, his rifle held lightly in one hand. The young man pushed his dark hair up out of his eyes as he looked at the woman on the floor, legs splayed open.
“Well?” Farthow said, raising an eyebrow to his young sergeant.
Dem tore his eyes away from the girl and looked to Farthow. “I shook him down and found a cache of silver. More than she could have spent on opium.” He reached in his pocket and withdrew a handful of coins. “Odd marks.”
“Let me see,” Farthow said, and took one of the silver coins from Dem’s palm. Colby stood up beside him to look. “This is an argent from Northmarch. Brulia.”
“I don’t recognize the face,” Colby said.
“That’s because he’s been dead at least a century,” Farthow said. “Vaslius.” Farthow picked up another coin. “This one’s from Hviterland.”
“Does that mean something to you?” Dem said.
“To me, yes,” Farthow said, and handed the coins back to Dem. “To you, not so much. I want both of you to turn this house out. Find every coin. If it has a mint mark to the Isle, you can keep it. All others, surrender to me. Do not make me mistrust you.”
“Aye,” Dem said, and nodded to Colby. “What about her?”
“I’ll try to get her up and clothed,” Farthow said. “You may have to help me cart her back to the castle. Once she sobers up, we’ll figure out what to do with her.”
“You going to give her back to her owner?” Colby said.
Farthow shook his head. He knelt down and pulled a folded and piece of paper from a pile of clothes nearby. “She’s got free papers.”
“You said they were a forgery,” Colby said.
“I did. Now turn this place out. Throw the keeper out too. Go.”
Colby and Dem stepped past him and out into the hall of the opium den. Farthow sighed and looked at the woman, still drifting in an opium trance. He closed her legs and pulled a faded skirt over her nakedness. “Well Hella, if that is any true name of yours,” he said softly, “I must keep you away from prying eyes, since you are so unwilling to do it yourself. Hopefully you don’t resent me too much for the cage.”
“Ah, here he is now,” Drath Herec said. “Welcome back, Captain Bitterwheat.”
“Aye, lord,” Farthow said and bowed low, stopping among his long strides for just a moment before quickly approaching the count of Masala and his guest.
“This is captain Stonefield,” Herec said, gesturing to the burly man standing beside him on the wide balcony. The man wore a green jacket similar to Farthow’s, but with dark grey pants. “He’s Cataling’s captain of the guard. And a highland man.”
“Pleased to meet you, sir Stonefield,” Farthow said.
“Vindrel will do.” The burly man extended a hand, which Farthow shook.
“Sorry for the delay, lord,” Farthow said. “My men came across an opium den, and we felt compelled to turn it out.”
“I trust you burned the opium,” Harec said, almost absent-mindedly. He looked down at the intricate gold-threaded embroidery of his own state jacket.
“Of course, lord. Not a trace was left. I’m having a clerk make up the deed to the place for an auction.”
“Good, good,” Harec said. “Now, mister Bitterwheat, the captain here is on a mission from Count Catannel, searching for a pair of fugitives. I told him you would provide him with full support.”
“Um, yes, of course sir,” Farthow said, his eyes wide in surprise. “What sort of support does he need?”
“I could use a cadre of men who know the city,” Vindrel said. “I’m looking for a man and a woman. The woman has red hair. We need her at least alive for trial. The man… well, I prefer to have him alive too. He would be a good source of information for me.”
“Their crimes?” Farthow said.
“Treason, apparently,” Harec said.
“I see,” Farthow said. “Well, I shall set myself to providing you with some good men from the guard straight away.”
“No need for such a rush,” Harec said. “Why don’t we all have a glass of wine? I would be very interested to hear of the goings on in Cataling. Reports have been sparse since the death of the king.”
“With all due respect and honor, my lord,” Vindrel said, “I would not feel right reclining and enjoying the pleasure of wine, and your company, without seeing to my duties.”
Harec sighed. “I understand, captain. Perhaps you will share a glass with me when you apprehend your quarry?”
Vindrel bowed. “I would be honored, lord.”
Farthow looked to Vindrel. “I’ll collect my men and send them down to the courtyard.”
“Thank you,” Vindrel said with a nod. “And you, my lord.” He bowed and stepped out of the balcony.
Harec watched him disappear into the hallway, then said. “Is there a man or two you can trust?”
“I trust Dem, but we’ll have to let him in on things. Colby I’d want to keep in the dark.”
“Very well, Dem it shall be. Any luck so far?” Farthow handed Harec a silver coin, stamped with a large bearded head and set of crossed spears on the reverse. “A Hviterland argent.”
“One of several.”
“You have them already?” Harec fingered the coin in his hand.
“No, but I have a slave that was with them briefly. Her tongue should be loosened shortly.”
“Keep her locked up and away from Vindrel. I want these fugitives delivered to me. Under no circumstances should they be returned to Cataling. Keep them from Vindrel at any costs, do you understand me?”
“Of course, lord. I shall see it done. I am already gathering leads.”