Fictober, Prompt 20 – “That’s what I’m known for.”
Original fiction. Not really fantasy, medieval-ish setting.
Warnings: stabbing, violent death.
The tavern was crowded, and noisy enough to cover such private conversations as might occur around the edges of the room. I wasn’t surprised when a hooded figure slid into the booth opposite me, but didn’t allow the newcomer to interrupt my meal. The stew on offer at this place was tasty, and their ale above average.
Sometimes I regretted the work that necessitated my constantly being on the move, but it couldn’t be helped – not in my profession.
After a few moments, the silence grew awkward for my prospective client, and he shifted in his seat, clearing his throat. The hood slipped back a bit, revealing a strong jaw below light eyes and hair. Appealing enough, I supposed, if you liked that sort of thing.
I took another bite of potato and chewed, holding his gaze calmly.
“Are you Ligart?” he asked then, voice a pleasant tenor.
I swallowed the potato, said, “I am,” and bit a piece of turnip off my knife.
“They say…” he said, trailing off suggestively. When I did not volunteer to fill in this gaping conversational hole, he reluctantly went on, “They say that you…take care of problems.”
“That’s what I’m known for,” I agreed, and speared the last piece of meat left in my bowl.
Finishing the stew took up the time he needed to gather his courage again and lean forward to say, even more quietly, “They say that you take care of problems even when they’re people.”
“That is what they say.” I pushed aside my bowl and drained the rest of my ale. In spite of the hesitation, this man would hire me tonight – by now, I was very good at reading people. This man was serious, so sense in delaying further.
“Is it true?” He pressed, eyes intense. “I can pay.”
“After the job’s done,” I agreed, and named a price. He didn’t flinch, which meant he had enough.
“Agreed,” he said, and reached a hand across the table.
I shook it, and rose. He was nearly a head shorter than me when he rose as well, looking unsure again.
“Show me the person who is your problem,” I said.
He led me through town to a house on one of the few, small side streets. The sun was only just down, and windows were lit from within, spilling meagre golden light out into the night. Inside, I could see a woman, lovely in laughter with her head thrown back and her eyes crinkled shut with delight. Her companion, a man a few years older than she seemed, watched her with open adoration.
“The man?” I asked my client, who stood next to me in the shadowed street, body tense with fury that showed on his face.
“Yes,” he spat. “He seduced her away from me! She’d been about to accept my proposal until he came along. It’s all lies anyway – he’s a sketchy sort of fellow, and bound to move on once he’s taken advantage of her.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “What is the solution to your problem?”
“He’ll leave soon, to return to his boarding house for the night,” my client said. “I want you to deal with him in an inconspicuous place.”
“You have somewhere in mind?” I asked, following as he shot one last venomous look at his rival and then led me away.
There was a narrow, wooded lane that formed something of a shortcut between that part of town and the side where the boarding house stood, a better option than the tavern for someone planning to stay for a while. It was dark, isolated now that the day’s traffic was done, and probably not the safest route to travel alone.
It would do.
“Somewhere along here,” he was saying, eyes gleaming eagerly at the thought of his rival’s death, even in the thin moonlight shining through the autumn leaves overhead. “It will look like just another bandit attack, especially if I take his coin—”
“Correct,” I said.
Then I drew my dagger and stabbed him in the back.
“Wha—” he choked, turning a terrified look at me over his shoulder. “No—”
I pulled the dagger out, to let the blood flow.
“I hired you, you basta—” he wheezed, already falling.
“You did,” I agreed. “I take care of problems. You are the problem.”
He was fading fast, but managed to gasp out, “You said…to show you…”
“I said to show me your problem. I didn’t say that was the one I would take care of.” I shrugged. “Most people don’t listen properly.”
“How dare…” he was gone, outrage twisting his face before death slackened it again.
I cleaned my dagger, then searched him for his money pouch. I took out the amount we had agreed upon, then scattered the rest as I walked away. It would reinforce the impression that someone had murdered and robbed him, careless as they escaped. Whoever found him would gladly take the extra coin and not ask too many questions.
That had always worked before, but I got on the road anyway. It was routine by now: whether my client was the problem (which was often) or whether I did end up taking care of their problem for them, I always moved on right away.
Some costs were necessary, in my profession. I was willing to pay them.