“Stupid Vhindr,” Valianna grumbled to herself as she walked from Furrow Corner, “Can’t believe he left me here. ‘Go stay in the castle you’ll be safe there’. To the Abyss with the castle.”
Valianna continued to grumble as she headed through the street, she thought about going to the castle but changed her mind and headed further into the city. She continued to grumble about her brother, giving no thought to which way she was going or to what part of town she was in until a group of young men suddenly surrounded her.
“Well look what we ‘ave here Jagr,” chuckled one grubby individual.
“Looks like we got a young rich girl Ronnie,” Jagr smirked to his friend, “What you want ‘ere girl? This be The Rollers turf.”
Valianna tried to ignore the older boys and tried to turn around and head back the other way, but another of their gang blocked her.
“Leavin’ so soon?” the young man smiled luridly, “We was just startin’ to have a bit ‘o fun.”
“Hands off Watt, I saw her first,” Jagr said angrily.
“Hold up fellas,” the forth of the group said as he studied Valianna, “She matches the description of the girl The Liver Street Boys were talkin’ ‘bout.”
“She does too, Rickard,” Ronnie nodded, “Who ever said your eyesight is shot.”
“What git said that?” Rickard was quick to ask, “I’ll shoot out his eyesight.”
“So The King wants to see her, who cares?” Jagr said loudly, “We can still ‘ave a bit of diversion before we take her to ‘im.”
“I’m down for that,” Watt said eagerly and moved closer for Valianna, his meaty hands grabbing for her.
Valianna squealed and jumped back, her eyes wide in fear.
“Rollers, enough,” a man shouted angrily as he came over to the group, flanked by two burly men.
“Damn, it’s Jetrink,” Jagr spat as he and the others backed away from Valianna.
“It’s one of the ones The King wants a chat with,” Rickard spoke up.
“I can see that,” Jetrink stated and smiled politely at Valianna, “That gives you no right to assault the girl.”
The Rollers grumbled under their breaths but did not argue against the man and his associates.
“I apologise young lady,” Jetrink said sweetly to Valianna and she found herself blushing slightly in front of the handsome man. “You look cold, would you like to borrow my coat?”
“No, thank you,” Valianna stammered.
“Would you please accompany me to see The King,” the handsome man said and offered his arm to Valianna.
“I am really quite busy,” Valianna replied, and glanced back up the street from whence she came.
“Don’t worry, I shall not let any harm come to you my dear,” Jetrink smiled warmly, “The King just wants a quick conversation with you. Please, if you do not come I shall get the blame, and be punished.”
“Why?” Valianna asked with concern.
“Because I would have failed at my job,” Jetrink stated as if it were obvious, “So come on, it won’t take long and you will be soon back on your way.”
Valianna tried to stammer a polite decline but before she could respond Jetrink took her firmly but gently by the arm and led her down the road. She did not try and fight, for the man was very handsome, and charming, and of course she knew she had her magicks available if things turned bad.
Jetrink led her confidently through the streets further into unfamiliar areas in the lower east side of Issia where most of the hot pools bubbled to the surface. Warm mists hung uncomfortably around them and the air smelt of mold. A merry sound began to echo through the streets as they came around a corner, and much to Valianna’s surprise a marching band walked by them. Being a lover of the arts Valianna was familiar with the tune and a smile came to her face as she watched the mummers dance alongside the band. Even more curiously a carriage laden with goods came down the road towards the performers. The driver was forced to pull his horse to a halt as the marching band refused to yield the road. The driver did not start yelling curses at the group but patiently waited for the band to move around him before he continued on the way.
“The King loves music,” Jetrink said, noticing Valianna’s curiosity, “And he owns these streets. Come.”
The slight smile remained on Valianna’s face as they continued, she was beginning to feel more comfortable in having an audience with The King.
Jetrink guided her through a small park where a quartet was practicing to a single hut where two men were standing.
“This is Wyne,” Jetrink introduced the large barrel chested man on the right, “Everyone calls him Marrion though.”
“Hey there travelers,” Wyne said very effeminately which stopped Valianna asking why.
“And this is the Jyles Junior,” Jetrink pointed to the rotund man on the left.
“Me Junior,” Jyles Junior said stupidly. “Jet want inside go can. Pretty girly with lacy top no go.”
“She is a guest Junior,” Jetrink explained to the larger man, “The King is expecting us.”
“King want speak?” Junior said slowly and nodded, “Girly inside go. Junior like girly lace.”
“They say Junior’s father was a mountain troll,” Marrion said in reply to Valianna’s confused expression.
“Well go on through handsome man,” Marrion smiled and opened the door to the shack.
Inside a flight of stairs leading down met them immediately and Jetrink showed her in, leaving The Rollers and the others outside. The stairs led down a long way and as they moved deeper the air became heavier with moisture. Crystal lights were embedded in the wet stone of the walls, emanating a purplish glow and lighting up the dark corners. Music echoed up from the depths and grew louder as they moved from the bottom of the stairs into a wide cavern with carved pillars and dome ceiling where day light streamed down. Directly below the hole in the roof a band sat on a raised dais playing their instruments merrily, interrupted only when they discussed new tunes and scribbled song lyrics onto parchment.
“What kind of criminal organisation is this?” Valianna wondered aloud as they moved around the outside of the chamber.
“The King runs all the bards, troubadours and their performances in the city,” Jetrink explained, “To be successful there has to be legitimate enterprise among the, let us say, less than moral ones.”
“You deal in drugs and prostitution,” Valianna was quick to reply, “I would say that definitely counts as immoral, not to mention unethical.”
“Prostitution is not outlawed.” The man replied with a charming smile, “And there will always be Sap and Cane, we just control it.”
“And what of the people’s lives you destroy?”
“We don’t force them to take the drug, nor do we force woman into selling their bodies,” Jetrink said calmly.
“You just jump on the opportunities,” Valianna said vehemently, “Like carrion gorging on a corpse.”
“And The King directs all his profits into the arts,” Jetrink was quick to respond, “All the musicians and performers you saw on the way here would not be getting paid, or have a bed to sleep in if it were not for our unsavoury dealings. You have heard of Rikna Le’sen? He began here in Issia.”
Valianna did not argue the point further. She was shocked that the famous troubadour had risen to fame by the grace of tainted money. The realisation had crushed much of her romantic notions and her mind whirled as she began to understand that there was no simplicity in this world.
Back home everything was either right or wrong. There was no room for shades of grey in between. Only now did she truly realise that it was the other way around and that all the lines were blurred, choice did not come down to right or wrong but instead choosing the lesser of two evils. There were no good or bad people, only good or bad choices.
Lost in her thoughts Valianna did not notice where they were going until Jetrink stopped. Looking up from her feet Valianna glanced about the small and well lit room, it was really nothing more than a place to greet people and all was barren apart from a single stone chair up two small steps.
In his throne The King sat, his blue eyes regarding his visitors curiously.
“Check it out Jetrink,” The King said and point to the crown made of small horns atop his head. “Got my horny crown back. The Jester stole it, thought it would be a laugh, stupid elf.”
“That’s good,” Jetrink replied, “But if you don’t mind me saying so, The Jester is getting too bold. Sure he runs Midtown, but he’s getting too big for his bell adorned boots.”
“Don’t worry Jet my boy,” The King smiled, “We’ll side-line him in a cast if he starts pushing on our turf. But tell me, who is this pretty young lady you brought with you?”
The King turned his handsome smile to Valianna, and she felt herself begin to blush despite herself.
“She was with the ones who burned The Liver Street Boys Cane warehouse,” Jetrink explained.
“I see,” The King nodded and took of his horny crown, placing it on the arm of the throne he touched his well-groomed hair to make sure no strand was out of place. “Well then, welcome to my throne room little lady. Do you have a name?”
“Valianna is my name,” the young Varrintine daughter replied courteously.
“And I am The King,” the man in the throne boasted, “One of the three Bosses who run this city. All of the ghettos are mine, but don’t let the name fool you girl, my turf is the second most profitable, second only to The Grandfather in Hillside where all the rich folk hide. I wrote a song about my ghetto, you want to hear it?”
“King, perhaps this is not the time,” Jetrink spoke up, stopping The King from his lute from behind the throne. “The loss of the warehouse is a serious cut into our profits.”
Valianna looked to Jetrink with concern, “You said The King just wanted to chat.”
“Don’t worry little lady, we ain’t going to hurt you,” The King smiled disarmingly, “But tell me, why did you and your friends burn my property and kill two of The Liver Street Boys?”
“They attacked us,” Valianna was quick to say, “We had to defend ourselves.”
“And the warehouse?”
“I don’t know how it caught fire,” Valianna replied seriously, “We just needed to talk to Ipstein about the assassin who killed Baron Ellengar.”
The King and Jetrink exchanged curious looks, their eyes sharing some unspoken thought.
“I knew that would come back to bite me in the behind,” The King shook his head and leaned over to brush some dirt of his shoes of blue-dyed leather.
“You had the Baron killed?” Valianna exclaimed, her eyes going wide.
The King and Jetrink laughed at that.
“What do you take me for little lady?” The King smiled, “I ain’t no conspirator. I was merely a link in the chain, that contract passed between so many hands I don’t rightly know who wrote it. The Grandfather gave it to me and I passed it on Jimmie Dee. Who did you give it to pal?”
“You know I am not allowed to say King,” Jetrink replied with a shrug and The King smirked.
“See what I mean?” The King said, “I know it came down from on high, like a sweet chariot of fire. I’d bet all the trophies in my jungle room that it came from a lord though, likely even the current Baron himself.”
“Wouldn’t put it passed him,” Jetrink nodded.
“Why are you telling me this?” Valianna asked with a sudden concern.
“Because Lady Varrintine,” The King smiled deviously, “I know you won’t be telling anyone else.”
“You said I could go once we finished talking,” Valianna turned on Jetrink.
“That was before we realised you are the daughter of the Ruling Lord of Port Na’brath,” the man replied simply.
“What? You think you can take me hostage and ransom me to my father?” Valianna asked in shock, “I can still use my magicks, so I suggest you show me the way out.”
“Go ahead and use your magicks then girl,” The King said as he stood up and walked towards her, “Strike me down with some spell.”
“I am not joking, stay back,” Valianna said seriously as the man approached slowly. “I mean it, I’ll hurt you.”
“Go ahead,” The King smiled confidently.
Valianna clenched her jaw, realising that a bluff would not work and that she would have to hurt them. But she did not want to kill them so she uttered a simple spell of pain.
Desperately Valianna tried again, but the result was the same and she noticed a dozen runes carved into the walls and floor light up slightly.
“First thing I had made, back in the day when magicks were so prevalent,” The King remarked as he glanced around the room. “Runes to prevent all forms of magicks.”
Fear gripped at Valianna’s heart and she tried to turn and flee, but a strong hand grabbed her by the arm and twisted it behind her back. A squeal burst from her lips as she felt her shoulder muscles spasm in pain.
“Careful Jet,” The King said seriously as Valianna’s other arm was pulled behind her back.
“Stop squirming and you won’t be hurt,” Jetrink said in her ear and she felt some heavy shackles being clamped on her wrists.
“Please,” Valianna begged as she felt the tears welling in her eyes, “My brother will be back in the city soon. Just take me to him and he will pay whatever price you ask.”
“I’m no fool little lady,” The King replied with a smile, “Ransoming you back to your family will only sing my death sentence. Powerful lords are awfully vindictive. Now if you were some daughter of lesser lord, sure I’d do that. Unfortunately for you that is not the case. To the slavers I’ll sell you.”
“What?” Valianna breathed in despair.
“Then they will sell you to the men of the Divarn Isles,” The King explained casually, “Rough lot them dark skinned raiders. Their islands are naught but ice and sand. They love good ale and pretty slave girls on their laps.”
“Don’t do this please,” Valianna begged but The King ignored her.
“Take care of her Jet, don’t spoil the goods them pillagers will pay even more for a virgin.” The King motioned to his comrade, “I’m heading out.”
With that the man turned and headed for a side door.
“The King has left the building.” The man shouted and raised a fist above his head before disappearing through the door.
Valianna felt tears stream down her cheeks and Jetrink firmly showed her from the room. Out in the corridor she tried to cast a spell to no effect and she received a nasty shock from the metal shackles around her wrists.
“You will get us some decent coin,” Jetrink remarked as they walked along, “Might even pay for the damage to the warehouse.”
Valianna was not listening as her tears continued to fall. Before she realised Jetrink showed her into a small room and without showing any sign of regret he removed the shackles. Free of her binding Valianna again tried to cast a spell but familiar runes around the room flared, preventing her magicks.
The single door to the room closed behind her as the man left and she heard the sound of locks click.
Covering her face with her hands Valianna slumped onto the small cot and continued to cry.
“Vhindr,” she whimpered through the sobs,” Help me.”