TRIGGER WARNING: Blood and violence!
I am nothing more than a little boy inside that cries out for attention yet I always try to hide
Darid 20, 1513 – The Black Boar Tavern, River Sulis, Lothianshire, Albion
Darin sighed as he rounded the corner, these tutoring sessions were almost more of a pain than they were worth. But it was something that Sara-Beth couldn’t object to as a way for him to earn pocket money, though she still glared something fierce if he so much as put a clipped copper in the cookie jar that they kept their savings in. She could immediately tell, no matter how full it was, just by looking in the jar. Even if he buried his two coppers in the bottom she seemed to be able to tell.
But some of the dunces he was trying to tutor had more bone than brain matter in their heads. However, they were wealthy dunces and paid very well for his pain. And if he could continue to tutor some of the kids and pay for all of his expenses, that would ultimately save Sara-Beth some money. And as Reggie had pointed out, when Darin had talked with him about it, these were the men whose fathers would be looking for people to hire when he graduated. If he ingratiated himself to them by helping their sons graduate or even get into Camford, he might find that translating into employment later, if not as a scribe or even steward, maybe just as a private tutor.
Still, trying to pound old Reman into Benoit Coudray was like trying to pound gruel into a brick. It was all just sliding off the side. And his mother was a high ranking Reman noblewoman, one who still spoke with a Reman accent! Surely this couldn’t have been Benoit’s first exposure to the language.
He’d never be quite sure what alerted him to the man in the pass-through, nor for that matter why he instinctively knew to duck behind the stables as the man crested the mouth of the alley. But he was very glad for whatever it was otherwise he might have run smack into Jan Leekbee. Leekbee’s boss, Marcinak, was one of Reggie’s chief rivals with a long and bloody history to mark his rise to the top.
Darin knew from listening to his friends that nothing good would bring Leekbee down here to the Boar. He preferred to do is drinking in the Reman wine bars up in the merchant’s district. No, if he was here at the Boar, it was for business. And Leekbee’s business was blood, the spilling of it usually. Sometimes just a little like beating the shit out of someone, sometimes a lot of it, like a murder.
Biting his lip to the point of pain, he pressed himself closer to the rough brick of the stable, feeling it catch in his coat and pull at his hair. A peek around the corner of the building showed him just standing there, looking first one way then as his head swung back to reveal the point of that absolutely ridiculous handlebar mustache, Darin pulled back around the corner with a whispered Hail St. Brandi hoping the man hadn’t seen him. But nothing indicated that he had.
Why is he just standing there, there was no indication that he had turned back down the pass-through, it was almost as if he was standing guard. Darin’s blood turned to ice in his veins. There was only one person that Leekbee would stand guard for and that was even worse.
If it was rare for Leekbee to be at the Boar, for Marcinak to be at the Boar was almost unheard of. He had lackeys for that, like Darin’s buddy Neal. Besides, given that the Boar was just a little way down the street from Reggie’s house, he could see the second story walkway from where he stood, it was really taking his life–or at least his hide–into his own hands to come here. Reggie guarded his territory with careful ruthlessness and would not take kindly to Marcinak’s presence.
No, this could not be good at all. Darin took a deep breath and listened for the clatter of wooden shoe heels on the cobblestone, thankfully Leekbee was the sort of muscle who thought the world ought to tremble with his footsteps rather than the sort who crept through it on assassin’s feet. He did hear it after a turn, but it seemed to be getting further away and somewhat echo-y as if the other man had turned down the pass way. Darin edged down the wall, ready to bolt like a rabbit back to the dubious safety of the alley if he heard the sound of shoes coming his direction.
Instead he heard hushed, but heated voices punctuated by the soft thud of a fist hitting meat. The likelihood that Marcinak was down in this alley beating a side of beef or something was laughable, even if there was an eerie lack of reaction to the beating.
He reached the other edge of the stable wall and peered around it. Through the cobweb seemingly undisturbed by Leekbee walking through it, he could see Leekbee’s dove-gray coat and a sea green one in the ornate style currently favored by the nobles. The very identifiable hair told him that he was right on one of the pass-through’s occupants, it was Marcinak.
The other, however, Darin couldn’t make out, only being able to catch a glimpse of ash blonde hair and white shirt that could belong to anyone. Or anyone blonde at least.
Even a quick dart across the mouth to trade rough stone against his back for rough plaster, told him nothing more. Even though his instincts were screaming at him to run for home, for Reggie’s, for the still crowded market across the street where one boy could easily lose himself in the press, wherever they were clamoring for him to go, they were all clamoring for him to go as fast and far as he could.
But as if his feet had somehow taken to root, he couldn’t pick his feet up and move. He knew too much already, but he didn’t know enough, pulling his coat tighter around him as the first heavy drop that the sky had been threatening for hours, plinked down square on the top of his head, he stayed.
He ducked back for the stable once more, it was a shorter dash to get to the alley that way, none too soon as Leekbee turned once more in his direction, though his attention seemed fixed on the man that Marcinak was dealing with. Certainly the blonde muscle didn’t show any indication of coming toward Darin.
His heart kicking at his ribs like a caged animal, so loud the ones he was watching would surely hear it pounding soon, Darin watched as the man–no, boy, he was turned on his heel and walked away from him, his hands dropped to fists before crossing over his chest. Darin’s mouth went as dry as the Dousa Desert as his stomach sank like a stone. It can’t be! Not…
Marcinak said something in a croon that Darin just couldn’t quite make out–giving credence to Reggie’s theory that he was half bigfoot–but he could definitely make out the malice and danger in the sound. Still the blonde boy was turning in this direction. But before Darin could confirm what he half suspected and half dreaded, Leekbee started back toward the mouth of the pass through and Darin was forced to bolt back for the safety of the alley mouthing prayers that he hadn’t been spotted.
Silently hyperventilating, he pressed himself against the stable wall and held himself still. But when the footfalls reached the mouth of the alley, they seemed to turn the other way without so much as a hesitation his direction. He peeked out from behind the wall once more to see the backs of the two men heading away from him down the street, toward where their horses were probably tied up at the market.
As soon as they were far enough away that they wouldn’t likely hear him over themselves, he gave himself a quick sign of the plumbbob and ducked out of hiding and into the pass through. Face down on the cobbles lay the blonde boy. He didn’t seem to register Darin’s presence until Darin kicked a loose rock out of the cobbling and it clattered loudly as if some sort of spell had been holding all the sound in while Marcinak had been there and now that it was gone, everything was amplified.
The blonde pushed himself, painfully, to his knees and then clambered to his feet without so much as a groan of pain, something that Darin wasn’t sure he would have been able to manage in his place. Pushing the thick blonde hair back from his face, the other boy suddenly pressed his palms to his temples and started to crumple forward. Darin darted to one side, catching him, barely, by the arms, but the blonde jerked back at the touch and stumbled back, starting to fall backward.
Darin caught his arms and slowed his descent so that he only sat down hard, rather than falling backward and potentially doing himself even more harm. “My lord, it’s me, Darin.” Joshua, for that was who it was just as Darin had suspected, blinked once-twice-three times slowly as if trying to clear his vision.
“C’mon, m’lord, we need to get you to the hospital, it’s just a short way.” And it was, just the length of the dormitory wing of the Boar and across the street.
“No!” Joshua yelped. “No, I can’t–I can’t go there, they’ll tell–they’ll tell…” He pressed his palm into his ribcage.
“Tell who?” Darin asked peering into Josh’s strange mercurial eyes.
“My father.” Joshua whispered. “They’ll tell my father.” His eyes dropped away from Darin’s and he wiped the blood still leaking from his nose with the back of his hand. Darin didn’t ask if that was bad or why it might be. He liked to think he knew genuine fear when he heard it, if Joshua didn’t want his father to know then Darin would just have to figure out some way to get him the help he obviously needed without going to the hospital where they might tell his father.
Darin bit his lip and dropped his head before it came back up hard. “C’mon, can you walk?”
“I told you, I can’t go to the hospital.” Joshua said, not moving from where he was.
“I’m not taking you to the hospital, my sister’s a nurse. I’ll take you to her.” She could patch Joshua up, for Darin couldn’t leave him here. That just wasn’t something you could do with your Lord’s son, leave him bleeding in an alley behind a shitty tavern. And the baron was hardly going to come down to this part of town and ask every nurse, wisewoman, and old granny who knew how to put a salve on some wounds and bandage ribs if they had patched up his son.
Though how did Joshua really expect that his father wouldn’t notice that his face was completely worked over? Sara-Beth was good, but she wasn’t exactly Morgan le Fay and he wasn’t even sure that Morgan could heal wounds wholesale in just a few hours.
Darin offered the other boy a hand, which he took reluctantly, but once on his feet again he was steadier and seemed to prefer to walk unaided.
“Is it far?” Joshua whispered as Darin lead them out of the pass-through and into the back courtyard of the inn. “Your sister’s house?”
“Nope, not a whole lot further than the hospital is and less stairs.” Darin said. And it wasn’t, after cutting through the courtyard and down the small gap between Clayton’s house and the Boar, it was just diagonal across the street. Joshua looked curiously at the chickens scratching at the grass for seeds, the cracked umber plaster of the houses but strangely not disdainfully.
“Here we are.” Darin said as cheerfully as he could manage. Darin pushed the door to the house open and stepped back so that Joshua could proceed him into the gloomy interior. Sara-Beth had been sitting on the bench with a mending project in her hand and got to her feet with a welcoming smile at least until she saw Joshua. Then she winced and shot Darin a look. “My Lord, this is my sister, Sara-Beth–Sara-Beth, this is Joshua.”
Her head once more swung toward Darin and mouthed “The baron’s son, Joshua?” Darin nodded. “He didn’t want to go to the hospital, I was hoping–um…” Darin shrugged.
“That I would patch him up?” Sara-Beth asked. Darin shrugged again. “My lord.” She turned to Joshua who simply rubbed at the blood still leaking from his nose. “May I ask how this happened–and if I am likely to get in trouble for helping you?”
“No, I give you my word that I will not tell my father how I came to be patched up, not that I truly believe that my father would think to inquire after it.” Joshua said. “And…” He trailed off, eyes turning to where Darin stood.
“I’m gonna go over t’Neal’s, SB.” Sara-Beth nodded.
“Please have a seat, my Lord.” She gestured at the bench she’d recently occupied and hurried off toward the pantry where he knew she kept her medical kit. Darin shot one last look at Joshua and then left without a word.
He hadn’t really expected Sara-Beth to still be awake when he got back long after dark. He hadn’t been able to find out anything about what interest Marcinak had with the Baron’s son and heir, even pumping half the coppers he had in his purse into ales for Neal over at the Boar. Still, maybe it was for the better, he wasn’t exactly in any position to be meddling in the affairs of criminal bosses or noblemen. All he could do with both was hope he was standing far enough away from them when they inevitably fell that he didn’t get hit.
“You were out late.” Sara-Beth said.
“Aye.” Darin agreed. “It was always one more toast afore you go, Darry.” He shrugged, it had been like that, only it was him suggesting one more round every time something got promising. He didn’t have to tell her that. “So, what’d you do with his lordship. I assume not drown him in the river.”
“I wouldn’t do that.” Sara-Beth said. Darin nodded, somebody notice he was missing. “Beside, he’s a sweet kid, I wouldn’t want to.” Now that stopped Darin short and he blinked at her.
“Sweet? M’lord? He’s a bully and a jerk.” Darin said.
“How much of that might be a defense though, Darry?” Sara-Beth asked. “His lord-father probably doesn’t have a whole helluvalot of use for a sweet son. An’ his lady-mother is one of those de Ganises. Those gotta prove they’re man ‘nough to spit in Grimmy’s eye and have bigger balls than any man alive de Ganises.” Darin blinked and thought for a second …well, maybe… Nah I still don’t buy it.
“So what did you do with him?” Darin asked after a long moment of them both staring at the dying fire.
“He’s asleep in my room.” She was just trying to bewilder him tonight. First calling Joshua sweet, then telling him that he was asleep in her room. Sure it was probably better than putting his lordship in Darin’s cubby, but why had he even agreed to sleep here? Which when he had stopped his head from spinning long enough to take a breath he asked with the very next one.
“I didn’t. He asked if he could. And I would like to keep an eye on him, he got–hit pretty hard.” Sara-Beth told him after a moment’s hesitation.
“I guessed as much.” She didn’t have to tell him everything he knew, but that went both ways. She gave him a sharp look and he looked right back at her.
“Darry…” She sighed. “Look, I hate to put you out for the night, but I have to be up early for my shift and you don’t have class, so…” She trailed off.
“Nah, go ahead and take my bed. I’ll take the sofa, don’t sweat it.” He smiled at her.
“Okay, could you keep an ear out for Josh, I heard him having a nightmare earlier. I think it was just a general nightmare and not related to an injury, but just to be safe, if you hear him, wake him up and make sure he gets a cup of water or something.” Sara-Beth levered herself up off the couch and headed toward his cubby, pulling the curtain closed.