“I don’t trust him,” Maman said in a strange accent I’d never heard before. There were traces of it in Mar’s speech, but it was much stronger in the older woman. Her eyes were locked on mine, and though she was speaking to Mar and Silas, it was clear that her words were really meant for me and me alone. “I don’t trust anyone that says they don’t care for money or for the finer things in life, that says those things don’t motivate them. They are a liar and a hypocrite, or worse, an idealist. Or else they are lacking that certain something that makes us all human. There is something wrong with their brain.” She sniffed and turned to Silas. “Is there something wrong with his brain?”
Silas shuffled nervously and looked down at his feet. If this was part of an act, the same act he’d used to placate Sutro back at the inn, or if he was genuinely uncomfortable under Maman’s gaze, I couldn’t say. “I don’t think so,” the boy said.
Who was this woman to speak to someone she didn’t even know in such a way? Her face was made up the same way that Mar’s was, and she was wearing a similar outfit, a brightly colored dress with satin and lace accents. It was a uniform of sorts, I realized. Was this Maman what passed for the general, then? Were Mar and the others her soldiers?
Maman turned her attention back to me and sighed. “I suppose that in times such as this we must take whatever help we can get, broken brains and all.”
“My brains aren’t broken,” I growled.
The older woman arched an eyebrow. “No? Then tell me, what is the name of the king’s newest advisor? What general leads the king’s armies in this region?”
“I don’t know any of that,” I said with a snort.
“What master taught you how to fight? What city did you grow up where you were forced to scrape and to struggle to survive?”
“Nobody taught me nothing. Fighting’s in my blood.”
“Of course it is, Mister Coalheart. Tell me, look at the sign behind me. What does it say?”
“I don’t know how to read.”
“Ah. Of course not. Great Mahndu save me, Silas, you have brought me an imbecile!”
“Lots of folks don’t know how to read, Maman,” Silas said, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Most all the girls didn’t know how to read before they got here, they didn’t.”
“At least they could name the king!”
“And does knowing who the king is save you?” I roared. Silas and Mar jumped, but to her credit, Maman barely flinched. “Does reading books and naming names make it so that you don’t have to turn to a wanderer in rags when troubles beset you? By whatever god you worship, woman, tell me what it is that you need and I’ll tell you if I can help you or not!”
Maman folded her hands atop the desk, a half-smile creeping across her face. She took a deep breath and began, her words slow and deliberate, like honey dripping off a spoon. “Silas tells me that you have head the pleasure of meeting Mister Osman, no? But do you know who he is or who he works for?”
“I know that he’s got at least one of the gangs in this town under his thumb.”
“More than just one. He is an agent of the Unblinking Eye, sent to Greystone to bring the city under the control of his masters.”
I blinked. “His masters? Is he some kind of cultist? The servant of some rogue lord?”
“He’s a criminal. Or rather, he is an enforcer for one of the most dangerous gangs in the region. They call themselves the Unblinking Eye.”
“They’re lead by a lady who calls herself the Seer,” Silas said. “They say that she’s blind, but her other senses are so sharp that she’s still the greatest thief in all the land. And a deadly warrior, too!” Maman shot Silas a look that seemed to say, “Hush, child,” and the boy went quiet.
“I’ve never heard of them,” I said. I half-expected Maman to chastize me for being ignorant, but she simply shook her head.
“They are very quiet in far off cities. Their agents are not so open, so brazen about their affiliations. It’s likely you’ve encountered them without even realizing it.”
I crossed my arms and took a deep breath. “So what do you want me to do about him?”
Maman smiled. “I would think that would be obvious, no? Kill him. Or at least convince him to leave our fair city.”
I studied the older woman’s face carefully. She was smiling, but there was no humor in her eyes. However she felt about this Osman, the thought of his death didn’t bring her any joy. She wasn’t a sadist, it seemed. This was just business.
“And why do you care? Why take it upon yourself to see this man removed from Greystone?”
“Do you know anything about the history of Greystone, Mister Coalheart?”
“No. I’ve only been in the city a week.”
Maman turned to Mar and smiled. “What do I always say is the heart and soul of our city, my sweet?”
Mar stood up a bit straighter, holding her hands before her and looking me in the eyes as if reciting some important lesson from memory. “Greystone is free. So far from the king, so close to nothing. The lords and ladies of the realm have ignored Greystone for generations, and so the city has been allowed to grow at its own pace and in the name of its own interests.” Mar smiled, her recitation complete, and despite myself, I smiled too. There was earnestness in the girl.
“The aurum has been both a blessing and a curse, you see,” Maman said. “It made our people wealthy and it drew new blood into the city. Those who were already here, like myself and my girls, found themselves living better lives for all the new wealth. But the aurum also drew parasites. People who only want to suck the blood of Greystone, grow fat, and leave. And it has drawn the attention of the Unblinking Eye. They would see themselves made the rulers of Greystone, and everything that was here before them subjugated in their name.” The older woman took a deep breath and sat up straight in her chair. “There are plenty of us who don’t want to see that happen, obviously, but we aren’t warriors, no? We cannot stand up to the thieves and thugs and murderers that have come here. Not yet. That’s why we need you.”
I leaned back in my chair and scratched at my chin. They wanted me to kill the most dangerous man in Greystone, a man that for all I knew had a small army at his command. They were afraid to face him themselves, and they couldn’t offer me a damn thing I wanted in exchange because they had nothing I wanted. So all the only reason for me to say yes was for the challenge, for the thrill of the fight. Me versus an army. Me versus a trained killer. Me not tied down, not blindsided, not weak from being tortured. Just me with a chip on my shoulder versus a real warrior and his lackeys.
It’d be a hell of a fight.
Behind my linen mask, I smiled. “I’ll think about it.”
I left the Maison Lupa a little bit after that. I did convince Maman to give me a few sovereigns so I could find a room somewhere, and I went to a nearby inn. It was getting dark at that point, and I all I wanted to do was get food in my belly and a pillow under my head.
The next morning, I rolled over in bed and woke up to cold steel pressed against my nose. My eyes snapped open, and I saw the sharp, unyielding outline of a dagger stabbed into my pillow. I leapt out of bed, my eyes scanning the room for a lurking attacker, for a broken window or a busted lock or any sign of how my would-be assassin had gotten into my room, but there was nothing.
I slowly walked over to my bed. The dagger was of the same quality and style as the throwing knife Gog had used on me was. It pierced a sheet of paper, pinning it against the pillow. I tore it free and examined it.
A simply drawn eye stared back up at me.