by Michael Kingswood
Raedrick Baletier looked up from the parchment he was reading as the door to the Constabulary swung open, admitting midday sunlight that brightened the place more than the lamps hanging on either side of the barred wrought iron doorway leading back from the front office to the cell block ever did. His eyes lingered for a second on the empty desk across the room from his own, adjacent to a small wood stove that would keep the office at least passingly pleasant in the winter. A rack of unstrung bows hung on the wall behind the desk, matching a brace of swords on the wall behind Raedrick’s. But the man who would normally balance out with him was gone.
The new arrival finished stepping inside, and Raedrick focused in on him.
The man was short and stocky, not quite fat, and had a well-combed swath of black hair atop his round face. He wore a green tunic cinched about his waist by a brown leather belt, beige leggings that were tight to his thighs and calves, and ankle-high leather boots. Raedrick recognized him as one of the fellows who worked at Holb’s tavern, on the west side of Lydelton past the last of the docks that put into Lake Glimmermere. But he had never got the man’s name before.
The newcomer also looked at the empty desk for a second before turning to regard Raedrick fully.
“Morning Constable,” he said as the door swung shut, the latch clicking into place behind him. He made a little gesture with his left hand toward the empty desk. “Any word from the Deputy?”
Raedrick set the parchment down onto his desk and leaned back against the carved pine of his chair, the same wood as the desk was made from, and really the entire building. He shook his head. “Julian’s not my Deputy. We’re equal partners.”
The man sniffed, and shrugged. “You say so. He on his way back yet?”
Raedrick had been wondering that very thing for a month now. Julian had left on a journey with Melanie Klemins and Jared Tolburt three months ago, on a quest for magical treasure that shouldn’t have taken as long as it already had. And he’d had a difficult time holding down duties as Constable without Julian at his side.
A town of about a thousand adults, in a remote mountain vale weeks away from the closest city, Lydelton was never particularly troublesome. But every now and then a member of a trading caravan would get into a tussle with a local. Or one of the outlying farmsteads would have issues with its neighbor. And then the Mayor wanted his regular reports.
It wasn’t a lot of work, most times. But it was never simple or quick to deal with, and it was sometimes tiresome. And with his son—or daughter, but a man can hope—due to arrive any time now, Raedrick was feeling the lack of help.
He returned the man’s shrug. “No word, but I expect it won’t be much longer.” He drew in a breath. “Anyway, what can I do for you, goodman?”
The fellow, though, went back to looking at Julian’s empty desk, and frowned.
The fellow looked back at Raedrick and smiled apologetically. “Lemmy,” he said. “Guess we never did make acquaintance, did we?” He shrugged. “Mostly I come to Julian, seeing as you and Holb don’t get along.”
Raedrick bristled at that for a moment, but then had to admit Lemmy had a point. He and Holb had gotten off on the wrong foot, back when Raedrick and Julian first came to town and took over as Constables of Lydelton, and the rest of Glimmer Vale as well. In fact, Holb had thrown Raedrick out of his tavern—almost literally—during their first meeting. But after that initial misunderstanding they’d been cordial to each other, at least.
All the same he could understand why Holb, and his men, would choose to work with Julian instead of him.
That didn’t mean he had to like it.
He managed to hold back a sigh and gave Lemmy a level look. “What seems to be the problem?”
Another quick glance at the empty desk, and then Lemmy gave a quick shake of his head before replying. “Holb’s got some regulars who he takes special care of. Guys who don’t always have the money for a night’s drinks. He extends a credit until they get paid again, and usually they make good. But – “
“But someone didn’t,” Raedrick finished for him.
“This has happened before?”
“Every now and then. Most times Holb gives ’em a reminder and it’s all good. But once or twice we had to get the Dep – ” He stopped and cleared his throat. “Your partner to make them live up to their word.”
Raedrick felt his frown pulling at the scar on his chin. He wore a goatee now to conceal it, but he still felt it sometimes. Like now. “Who has reneged this time?”
“Stu Marly. He works the fishing boats. Payday was two days ago, and nothing. Holb sent me over to roust him this morning, and he slammed the door in my face.”
“So now it’s a matter for the law.” Raedrick sighed and looked down at the parchment he had discarded. It was the report he was just finishing up for the Mayor, detailing his activities for the last month, and statistics on the various goings-on in town for the same period. It almost was more appealing than this squabble.
But, that was the job, most of the time. Petty disputes. It sure beat the alternative of fire and battle and things that threatened to bring Lydelton, and with it the entirety of Glimmer Vale, down to ruin. And there sure had been enough of those in the past year and a half.
He stood, the legs of his chair scraping across the polished planks of the Constabulary’s floor. “I’ll take care of it.”
Lemmy bobbed his head. “Thanks, Constable.”
* * * * *
Raedrick had dealt with Horace, the head of the Fishing Guild, a number of times over the course of his tenure as Constable. An older man, with a fully-grey head of hair and beard, who always wore a grey cloak and whose gruff demeanor only partially concealed a charitable heart, Horace had become quick friends with Julian and when he and Raedrick first rode into town.
Raedrick’s relationship with him had always only been professional. And he had found Horace to be a forthright and determined fellow. If sometimes headstrong.
“I’ve warned Stu about his drinking,” Horace said as he clumped along Lydelton’s main street beside Raedrick.
The Constable had sought Horace out first thing after leaving Lemmy. For one thing, he didn’t know Stu at all, not even to look at him, let alone where he lived. For another thing, as a fishing man he looked up to Horace; they all did. He wasn’t their boss, exactly. All the fishing men in Lydelton worked for the Covington brothers. But as head of the Guild Horace had pull with the brothers, and had negotiated a number of beneficial arrangements on behalf on the workers under his care. And he didn’t hesitate to give them what for where the safety or health of his boys were concerned.
So there wasn’t a fishing man in the town who wouldn’t bend over backward for him.
In fact, several had done much more than that. When Raedrick and Julian first came to town and helped Lydelton repel a large group of brigands, at Horace’s prompting a fair number of the fishing men had volunteered for martial training and then stood beside the two newcomers in battle against their town’s foe.
It was always good to have Horace on your side, especially when dealing with the fishing men.
Raedrick looked at him sidelong as they followed the street northwest through town. “He hits it hard?”
Horace nodded. “Too hard, some days. Especially since Marta passed.” He gestured to the right side of the intersection ahead, to the street that led to Bigsbe’s Boarding House.
Turning in that direction, Raedrick as always felt the change beneath his feet, and fought back a minor bout of irritation.
Main Street was the only paved road in Lydelton; the others were packed earth that more often than not were muddy messes or worse, in the winter, treacherous ice sheets. He’d spoken with the Mayor about completing the project to pave the remaining streets in the town several times, and the answer was always the same: the reason Lydelton had stopped the project in the first place still held. Not enough money, and it required too much times away from the tasks that actually kept the town alive. Namely, fishing in Lake Glimmermere.
Which was understandable. But it still rankled, sometimes.
But that was neither here nor there right this moment. “Marta was his wife?”
Horace shook his head. “No, Sabine passed ten years ago. Marta was their daughter. Caught consumption the winter before you and Julian got to town.”
Raedrick winced. He had always known that was a terrible blow to endure. But now, with his first child coming so soon… He couldn’t imagine having to live through that.
Horace nodded. “One of the best men in the boats. But out of ’em…” He left off the rest of his sentence and shook his head again, this time in commiseration from the pitying expression on his face.
The two men walked in silence the rest of the two blocks until they reached Bigsbe’s Boarding House.
It was a long, broad building, two stories tall with the sharply-angled tiled roofs that all of Lydelton had—the better to let snow fall off it during the winter. It took up most of block itself, and was well-kept.
Raedrick led the way through the front entrance and into the foyer, where Bigsbe’s attendants held court behind a counter to the left of the front door.
The attendant today was Tami, a young girl just recently reached maturity who still resided with her parents while she got herself onto her feet as an adult. She was almost pretty, and brown-haired with hazel eyes. But her smile made up for whatever deficiencies her bone structure had, turning her face into a pleasant ray of sunshine in the otherwise dimly-lit entryway.
She bobbed a curtsy when she saw Raedrick, the visible portion of her brown and white dress bunching slightly as he moved. “G’day Constable,” she said. “How fairs Lani?”
Raedrick stopped, mention of his wife bringing a grin to his face. “Every day is a trial for her,” he said. “And I thank the gods I don’t have to endure it.”
Tami giggled slightly, the same way all the young women did when Raedrick made that joke. It was only half a joke; he wasn’t at all sure how he’d cope with the trials of pregnancy, let alone the pains of childbirth. But women were made for it, and knew in their bones how to cope. And they thought themselves superior to men because of it.
The fact that every woman batted their eyelashes when he made the statement proved it.
Oh well, whatever kept them happy.
“We’re here to see Stu,” Horace said, and Tami’s smile faded. She glanced between the two of them and nodded, then gestured toward the rear of the foyer.
The room past the attendant’s counter was split three ways: the stairs leading upward to the second floor and the two corridors leading left and right, providing access to the ground floor rooms.
Tami’s fingers pointed to the right, and Horace nodded.
“Thanks,” he said, but Raedrick was sure he didn’t need the directions. There was no way Horace didn’t know exactly where a member of his Guild lived.
They walked to the rear of the foyer and turned right. The corridor had matched pairs of doors every three paces all the way down to the end. Horace stopped at the third door on the left, and knocked.
No answer after a long several seconds.
Horace knocked again. Louder this time, with the heel of his fist.
Horace turned to meet Raedrick’s gaze, and his eyebrows rose slightly.
“He’s not at work right?” Raedrick asked.
Horace shook his head. “He’s got the evening shift. But he should be up by now.”
More pounding, and still nothing.
Raedrick looked down the corridor, past the remaining three pairs of doors to where the corridor ended at the timber of the Boarding House’s outer wall. “Wait here,” he said, then he hurried back to the foyer, where Tami was doing sums behind her counter.
She jerked to attention when he stopped in front of her and rose to her full height. She was remarkably tall. Then she bobbed a curtsy yet again.
No time for this. Raedrick said, “Has Stu departed at all today?”
Tami slowed as she rose from her curtsy, her eyebrow rising. “I haven’t seen him.”
“When did you come on duty?”
She glanced toward the front door, and shrugged. “Six bells this morning.”
Raedrick did some quick sums in his head. That was almost five hours ago. If Stu had been on the evening shift on the boats, he would have gotten off the boat in the dead of the night, since the fish only bit at sunset and sunrise. A few hours for a later dinner and some drinking….there was no way he wasn’t still here if he had come home before Tami had come on duty. And if he hadn’t come home since she had…
Well, there was no chance of that, unless he was face down in the gutter somewhere. But Raedrick would have heard of his being in that condition already. The largest use he and Julian put to the cell block was for local drunks who’d passed out somewhere, so they could have a safe place to sleep it off.
Which meant Stu had to be in his room.
“Thank you Tami,” Raedrick said. “Give Bigsbe my apologies.”
He turned and hurried back to the corridor toward Stu’s room, Tami’s “What?” echoing behind him, unanswered.
Horace was still standing in front of the door, pacing impatiently. He looked up as Raedrick approached, eyes narrowed in concern.
“Break it down,” Raedrick ordered.
Horace’s eyes widened, then he turned and drove his heel against the door, at the level of its latch.
It sprang open inward, and the older man stumbled forward out of Raedrick’s view.
He heard Horace curse softly, then cry out in shock. Then…
“Oh gods! Help, Raedrick!”
Raedrick sprinted the last few yards to the door and leapt inside.
The room was small, as he knew all the rooms at Bigsbe’s to be. A bed just large enough for one on the right hand wall. A wash basin and chamber pot at its head. A small bureau on the other side of the room. A single window, with limp grey drapes that were drawn to blot out the view of the street beyond.
And the middle, stood Horace. His arms were braced around the waist of a man Raedrick didn’t recognize. But he wore the same grey cloak that Horace always did—the mark of a fishing man. Beneath the cloak, his shirt was yellow and his leggings green. He hung limply, his arms and legs dangling and his head lolling forward.
A rope was tied off around the rafter above his head, the other end looped around Stu’s neck.
As Raedrick drew up, shocked, Stu’s arms and legs spasmed weakly. Horace was pushing upward on his body, to try to relieve the pressure on his neck. But he was very nearly gone.
Raedrick sprang forward onto the bed and pulled his knife from its sheath on his belt. He reached up and began sawing at the rope, desperate terror lending extra speed to his strokes.
* * * * *
Raedrick squared his shoulders and stepped into Holb’s Tavern.
It wasn’t really a building. Or, there was a building there. It stretched back from the street a ways until a twenty foot section of the red-painted building’s wall had been cut away. In its place, Holb had installed a running countertop where he served drinks. He had erected a wooden awning above the bar that ran out a good thirty feet from the side of the building. Beneath that awning were a number of tables where Holb’s customers could sit and drink. And eat, if they brought it with them. Holb did not serve food.
Raedrick had only come here a few times, and only then for business. His experience the first time he’d come through still weighed on him.
He hoped Holb’s wife had gotten over the insult. But he hadn’t even known it would be an insult…
Holb himself was a tall fellow with shoulders that put a giant to shame. He kept his head bald, whether because he preferred shaving it that way or because his hair had fled at his tempter Raedrick didn’t know for sure. He had a scar that ran from his left eyebrow to his left ear, which had a little notch cut out of it, and he had dark brown eyes that shown with intelligence. And bad temper.
He held court behind the bar in his stained white apron, and cast a distrustful gaze upon Raedrick as he weaved his way through the tables. Even at this afternoon hour, Holb had plenty of customers.
“I found Stu,” Raedrick said, without preamble, and Holb’s eyebrow lifted, voicing a question without asking it.
“He tried to hang himself. He’s over at the Healing Circle. Master Sebastini is tending to him.”
Holb’s jaw dropped open, shock followed by confusion followed by remorse crossing over his face in half a heartbeat before he got himself back under control.
“Ya get my money?” he said.
Raedrick scowled. “That’s all you’re worried about? His bar tab?”
Holb shrugged. “Rest of it’s not my business.”
Raedrick had to force himself to not clench his fists. “You know about his wife and daughter.”
“Do you know what today is?”
Hold just looked at him with a blank expression.
Raedrick ground his teeth for a moment before continuing. “Today is his daughter’s naming day. She would have reached her ascendancy this year.”
Still nothing from the bartender.
“He’s been coming here for years. You had to know.”
“What’s your point, Constable?” Hold said.
“How much did you let him drink last night?”
“And the night before that?”
Raedrick felt that scar tugging at his chin again, and knew he was scowling too hard. But he didn’t care. “I ought to arrest you for complicity in his death.”
Holb snorted. “You already said he ain’t dead. Don’t play games with me Constable. We both know how that will turn out.”
That took a bit of the wind from Raedrick’s sails. Though it pained him to remember, Holb had an embarrassingly easy time throwing him out of the bar the first time. Raedrick had no desire to repeat that incident. And unless he was willing to draw steel, he suspected he would, if it came to blows.
And maybe even if he did draw steel.
“You knew he was having problems. And you let him drown himself in beer every chance he got. Even extended credit to him. I know what he owed you. A fishing man couldn’t pay that back in a year on his wages, not unless he went without food and shelter.” Raedrick leaned forward. “What were you doing with him?”
Holb stopping moving. He just looked at Raedrick without words for a long moment. Then he shrugged.
Raedrick let out a disgusted snort. Fishing around inside his jacket, he pulled out a sack. It jingled as he held it up in front of the bar. And it ought to; he’d filled it with funds from the Constabulary’s discretionary fund.
Raedrick tossed the pouch onto the bar, and it landed with a tinkling thunk. Holb’s eyes twitched down toward it for the shortest of instants before returning back to Raedrick’s. His left eyebrow moved upward slightly.
“That should even things up,” Raedrick said. “But Stu never drinks here again.”
Holb’s right eyebrow rose to join the left.
“Master Sebastini thinks he will pull through, and he’s putting Stu on a regime to purge him of his need for drink. But for that to work he has to abstain.” He leaned toward Holb, locking stares with the big bartender. “I hear he’s had even a single drink here, there will be problems.”
Holb matched his gaze, and they stared into each other’s eyes for what felt like a long time. Finally, after a small eternity, the bartender broke the connection, and reached down to pick up the pouch of coins. He tossed it in his hand, feeling the weight, then nodded. Though he was frowning slightly something about his carriage suggested satisfaction to Raedrick.
“However you want it, Constable,” Holb said.
With that, Raedrick turned and walked away from Holb’s Tavern.
* * * * *
His report to the Mayor technically didn’t have to include the information on the incident with Stu. It could go in the next month’s report, and he wouldn’t have to change a thing that he’d already written.
But Raedrick felt strongly that he needed to include it now. He might forget some detail, or forget the incident entirely. And that wouldn’t be right. Not for Stu, not for his lost wife and daughter, not for Holb. And not for himself.
As Raedrick put pen to parchment on his desktop again, he reflected that he might have been too harsh with Holb. Yes, Holb knew what had happened with Stu’s family. But that didn’t mean his extending credit to the man was a malicious act. Maybe that was the only way he knew to help, or to at least show a bit of kindness to the man he’d known for years.
That was possible.
But it was certain that the outstanding debt had allowed Holb to gain some leverage over Stu. To do what, Raedrick had no idea.
Maybe nothing. Or maybe something. Something important.
Raedrick shook his head at his flights of fancy, and wrote on, determined not to include those flights of fancy in his report. Just the facts, and only the facts. And the fact was that Stu was going to be fine. And now that he couldn’t drink from Holb’s tavern anymore, maybe he could become better than fine.
Maybe he’d get his life back together and going in a good path from now on.
Raedrick was beginning to smile a satisfied smile when it occured to him that Holb’s wasn’t the only place in town Stu could get drink. He could just as easily go to –
The door latch lifted and the door to the outside swung inward. A figure stepped awkwardly in, and Raedrick saw long blond hair, well-formed breasts beneath a blue blouse and a white apron…
And a bulging belly, with baby about come any time now.
“Lani!” He bounded to his feet, coming around the desk before his wife could close the door behind herself. “Are you well?”
She gave him a level look. “Of course I’m well. Figured you’d be hungry; it’s past dinner.”
Lani extended her hands, and Raedrick blinked to realize he had completely missed the tray she was holding in her hands. He had focused in on her belly, and then up on her sweet face, so completely… But how could he have missed the scents rising from the plate atop the tray?
Fried fish, and broiled potatoes, and leeks, and…
His stomach growled, but Raedrick forced himself to dignity, accepting the tray quickly but steadily and turning to place it atop his desk. Then he paused to inhale the vapors rising from the meal.
“Your mother’s outdone herself today,” he said.
Lani snorted. “You say that every day.”
He turned back to her and grinned. “It’s true every day. Have you eaten?”
She nodded, but, rubbing her baby bump, she said, “But I may share of bit of yours if you don’t mind.”
He just grinned at her.
Along the wall adjacent to the front door were several chairs for guests, or witnesses. He moved one over in front of his desk and waited for her to sit down, then he took his own seat behind the desk.
They dug in.
After the initial couple minutes of biting and chewing, Lani said, “I heard about Stu.”
Raedrick stopped in mid-chew, the nodded. Swallowing quickly, he said, “I was going to come talk to you and Molli about that. Ravi Sebastini is treating him, but once he’s done he cannot have drink any more. Holb’s already agreed not to let him have anything. You need to make sure he doesn’t partake from The Oarlock.”
Lani nodded. “Mother and I already talked about it, soon as we heard. He’ll get no drink from us.” She paused, then added. “Poor man.”
Raedrick nodded, his eyes going downward again toward the bump in Lani’s belly. “I can’t imagine going through what he did.”
She pressed her hand to her belly and nodded. “It’s something we should have addressed a long time ago. But he seemed to take it all so well. And then…” She trailed off, and shook her head. “If there’s one thing I love about this place, is that we all come together when its needed. We all help each other. Now that we really know, we’ll make sure Stu gets back to healthy again.”
Raedrick nodded. He had seen that instinct himself, back when he’d first visited Glimmer Vale as a child, and then again when he and Julian returned to find the town under siege by Isenholf’s brigands. The sense of community, that they were all in it together, was striking. And he had seen it again several times since then.
So as he finished dinner with his wife, though he continued feeling pity for Stu, he didn’t lack hope for the man. He would have a better future. They would all see to that.
And that would make a better future for them all.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: