Four scrubbing brushes worked at Lecola’s skin, she would have enjoyed being clean for the first time in years but the water was like ice and the servants were told to hurry. Each scrub brush was like having hundreds of needles tearing her flesh, but she could endure the biting, it was the scoundrel watching her that she would take issue with.
Philip spoke and Lecola could feel the pervert’s smile. He enjoyed looking at her body, the leech seeming to feed off her embarrassment. But his old mentor was more annoyed then ashamed, this was not the first time she was naked before a man that she didn’t like and she warmed herself with thoughts of hearing his choking sobs.
“What game are you playing to risk coming near me, Philip?” Lecola said.
“Your husband,” Philip spent a second to eat a grape, “is an unknown quantity. A lot of people don’t like unknowns.”
“And I am to marry him because a bunch of merchants are worried? So what if he can make a few hoes?”
“It’s politics.” Philip said and that would have explained everything from drought, to famine, to the sun coming up every morning.
Nobles loved to bicker and fight over the most toxic of reasons. Wars were fought over no larger reason then an affair of a spouse or a joke about one’s mother. It was not land or gold that caused thousands to die but wounded pride. It was a game that Lecola knew and had found fascinating in her youth, but now it just bore her.
“Did my husband insult a lordling by not bowing low enough?” Lecola asked. She needed to know exactly what Philip was intentionally leaving out so as to make her life difficult.
“Don’t know, don’t care. All I know is that he has a talent for magic and some curious people have taken an interest in him. He’s slumming being an alchemist or a blacksmith. The reports are conflicting.”
“I know nothing of blacksmithing.” Lecola said.
“No, but you do have a talent for making potions and you know how to open your legs.” He bit into an apple. “The wizard lied to get out of being forced to marry a noble’s daughter. I know of the family that wanted him and I do not blame him for wanting to avoid the dogs, only that I am trusted to make that lie a reality.”
Ah, now Lecola could see what was happening. Magic was a rare gift and nobles were interested in keeping any hedge wizard close by. It was usually considered a patch of good luck for a family to discover that they had a child with the spark.
“Oh, what a shot of good fortune, my boy. You can leave this wretched life and be some one. Fancy you amongst my many children getting adopted by a lord. It’s steak and warm beds for you.” A farmer might say, never minding that the boy would be treated as a slave, his life now a game piece. The power they were promised was also an illusion as they were only ever as powerful as their masters allowed them to be.
“A border town?” Lecola enquired.
“Of course.” Philip said.
She was reminded of a fisherman who sent his line into another man’s area and caught a fat salmon. The other fishermen declared that the fish was rightfully his and so a duel started, which quickly grew into a war between towns as old hatreds were sparked. The same story was true of nobles and those settlements that were on the knife’s edge of their territory. Disputes were always happening on those arse boils in the middle of nowhere.
“What guilds am I dealing with?” Lecola asked.
Again she heard the joy in Philip’s voice, “None right now. The man is relative unknown in the game. I have no idea why he wants nothing to do with the guilds but I don’t want to be him when he turns down their offer.”
In practice the guild houses were no different then the princes that they claimed to serve. In theory, a craftsman could work independently and without any guild’s influence. However, in reality the guilds brought a couple of men with swords to your house and you either agreed to join or they burned your operation down. The guilds were incredibly jealous of talent and did not tolerate outsiders making them lose profit.
Lecola was dried and then it was time to be dressed. She was told that the dress was blue and that it matched her eyes. For all the assassin knew she was wearing rags and that her breasts and sex were transparent. “My story?” she asked.
“Foreign, smart. The reason that you have not shown up is that you are ill.” Philip made a sound that told his mentor and victim that he was already bored. “I do not care about the details.”
A servant began to comb the poison seller’s hair, it took a degree of concentration for Lecola to not turn back and punch the woman. The hard brush was scraping against her horns and Lecola was sure that she was intentionally making it hurt as much as possible. “That was always your problem, Philip. You’re like a child. It took you the lives of four men to capture me.”
“And you would have done this if I came to you alone and asked nicely?” he asked.
“Absolutely, I would never have hurt my most prized student.” Lecola said, every word a lie.
It took several hours for the servants to turn Lecola from a filthy beggar to whatever she was supposed to be now. Philip, being the cautious twat he was, watched her every move. Every pin, every pair of scissors, every brush was accounted for. But he was never that bright and observant, she just needed something small enough.
“What would you do to me if I don’t play the part?” Lecola asked.
It was explained in gruesome detail what would happen to the once proud assassin should she run before meeting her fiancé. It was interesting how the servants reacted to his threats. Oh, Lecola had no doubt that he would make her short life painful, but their reactions told her much.
One example was that while even the veteran servants were intimidated by the pompous little shit, the woman whom cut her hair didn’t feel at all scared. An assassin maybe? A member of the Pentecost Family, or maybe this was not the first bastard who discussed such things in her presence.
“Owe, you clumsy bitch. That’s my hair, not a rug.” Lecola complained using the opportunity to lean forward and search for anything that she could use. Her fingers landed on something both thin and sharp. While not a sword she placed the sewing needle between her index and middle finger, a nice little hiding space.
Philip approached her, making sure to stay out of arms reach, “She looks human enough.”
What a lovely little piece of horse shit she trained. Lecola remembered her first pupil and how lord Pentecost demanded politely that she teach him the blades.
The forth son of a rich noble, Philip was both incompetent and insufferable. He treated Lecola as if she were a servant, as if she should be thankful for being in his presence. She had naively thought the combination of the whip and hungry dogs would teach him his station. She should have cut his throat the first day they met.
She heard the sound of a door opening and the creak of floorboards. Either a horse in wealthy shoes came in or it was a fat pig of a man. The newcomer spoke as if he was conspiring a murder, which was possible judging from his company.
“Is this the woman you spoke of Philip?” the heavy footsteps came closer. “She looks a little bruised.” Lecola felt the man’s fingers touch her face and guide her chin. She imagined Philip holding his breath. “You didn’t just pretty up some back alley whore did you?”
The smell of roasted chicken, garlic, hazelnuts, brandy, and pork explained the man’s lifestyle and self-control. His fingers were smooth and plump. Lecola estimated a noble or merchant and judged that it was time to end this farce.
The idiot stood still as he found a sewing needle just above his Adam’s apple. Lecola couldn’t tell what his expression was but she was fairly certain that it contained shock. “Hello good sir.” Lecola said cheerily, “Now, I am afraid that I am blind so could you tell me, is Philip still in the room?”
There was a quiver in the man’s voice, “Yes he… Where did that scoundrel go?”
For all of his sleazy and slimy attitude, the son of a whore did have an ounce of skill and sense about him. What was the little shit’s game? Was she to play a distraction, or to create an opening so that he could eliminate his intended target? More likely she was to be a scapegoat.
“Can you tell me exactly what you asked of Philip?” Lecola asked.
“I ah. Wanted a woman. That is to say a friend of mine got himself into a spot. Didn’t want to marry this beastly thing and wants to stay out of the guilds’ games. Crazy man but a creative genius. Lives in a building with a fan on it.”
Getting tired of the man’s grumblings and antics, Lecola pushed the fat man away and began to trace her steps. She recalled where the servant was playing with a chair. “You don’t happen to know a good walking stick is, or a spear?” she asked before breaking one of the legs off. The club had a decent amount of weight to it, but would it be enough?
From merchant’s tone it sounded as if he was curious as to her mental faculties. “I believe that I saw a servant with a boom.” He took a step and Lecola pointed her stick at the man’s general direction, “Excuse me, but I don’t think you need that.”
“Oh, I think I do.” Lecola said.
“It’s just that my friend will be here shortly and he would want to see you. Philip promised me that you will help.”
There was a knock to the door and one of the female servants spoke, “Master William is back from his errands, sir.”
“Damn,” The merchant spat.
There was another knock at the door, “Sir Duldan is at the front door.”
“Double damn.” The merchant cursed.
A smile spread itself on Lecola’s face, “I am guessing that it is Ecelifin Duldan that your friend is trying to avoid.”
She heard her host gasp, “You know the man?”
Lecola just had to laugh and shake her head, “I knew his uncle.”
Ah, the Duldan family. What a particularly dreadful lot. When she worked as a maid for their household often head her target’s wife saying, “He’ll drink himself to death, he will.” And with a little bit of help he did just that.
It was safe to say that if it wasn’t for Lecola and her influence, the current lord of the Duldan estate would be a pauper with dreams of grandeur. Was that Philip’s target?
She thought about going back to her worn and chilly house, going to each of her hiding spots and collecting every coin that she had stolen and squirrelled away. “What do you think of my dress?” Lecola asked.
“What? Dress? It looks very nice. Well, it should be. The material cost me a pretty sum.” The merchant said.
So, Philip had not dressed her in rags to shame her further, and it was this one who was fitting the bill. She smiled, “Five gold crowns. Elis mint.” She said calmly.
“What?” the merchant shouted.
“You wish me to play the part of a long lost wife, it will cost you greatly.”
The merchant stammered, “But I already paid Philip a contract worth twenty crowns.”
An old favour indeed, the wretch. Philip had lost nothing but most likely a few coppers to the sailors. He had presented the merchant with a woman with skills and an suitable illness, and he had obtained a contract with a notable merchant. Her student was a sly one indeed and she almost felt proud of the little sneak.
The door opened and hurriedly closed, “I’m sorry Org, they must stalked me in the market place. They must have bribed the cops because they took my stuff. They said it was being investigated for contraband.”
The newcomer sounded young and he had a weird twang to his accent that Lecola didn’t recognise. He rushed over to the merchant and there was stubborn terror in his voice, “I’m not Marrying that evil bitch, Org. I don’t bloody care what he does. Every time she opens her mouth I want to shoot myself in the head.”
Lecola burst out in laughter. That she could understand.
Her laughter must have earned her the attention of her host because the merchant spoke. “Never fear, Will. I have scoured the city and I have found you a suitable pseudo bride.” The heavy merchant moved to the exit, “I’ll let you plot on your fake marriage while I entertain Lord Duldan.”
The door slammed shut and there was the distinct sound of a key turning a lock. Lecola was now trapped in an alien room with her fiancé.