Well, it has been almost two weeks now that I have been posting this story here and I can see from the stats (and the comment) that there are people reading. So this is a Hiya to all of you. Thanks for joining this little adventure, I hope you are enjoying this. If you are, please don't hesitate to leave a comment, I promise I will respond promptly.
Chapter 7 is our first real introduction to the city of Caerlyons, the main city in this story. Most of the rest of Daniel's misadventures will occur in or very close to the city. That's why I have him explain a little about what Caerlyons is and why it is known as the City of Three Crowns.
Thanks again for reading,
The first thing I heard when I came to were the echoing sounds of water lapping against wood and the snake-like sound of a chain rubbing against metal.
I opened my eyes. In the dim light of a dozen hanging storm lantern, I saw was what appeared to be the curved rib cage of some strange animal rising above me. Why are there storm lanterns hanging from a set of ribs? I frowned at the sight, trying to remember how I had gotten here. Just as I recognised the ribs as being the inner beams of a ship, my memory returned. The fake maid in the inn and the pistol butt to the back of my head. I grunted. I must be in the Dregs. Perfect.
Lifting my head, I caught a glimpse of the red-haired bitch who had shot me, eyes fixed on my face, gun aimed squarely at my crotch, before a wave of nausea made me vomit over the side. I watched the rest of my supper float away in a mess of chunks and bits and bile. My whole body was shaking. Dammit all to hell! The damned summoning spell was starting to have an effect. With a groan, I managed to drag my head back.
"Not really,” I croaked. The inside of my throat felt as if someone had rubbed it with a handful of sand.
"Good,” the woman snapped.
I smiled wanly. What wit. "Where are we?”
I managed to lift my head again, without throwing up this time, and turned it slightly to look out across the water. My captor’s boat lay at anchor in the middle of a hollow created by an upside down frigate. A handful of other small ships - boats, barges and pinnaces – dotted the water around us.
The frigate’s corpse narrowed to a point a few metres in front of me, the end sawn off to reveal a wall. A strange ethereal light flickered from within the blood red stone. My eyes fixed on a large gateway, the arch and its two copper doors filigreed with blood-silver faces, gargoyles with their mouths wide open to 'gobble' any fae that tried to enter the city.
Great, I thought at the sight of Gobblers’ Gate. The Tower lay less than a bell’s boat ride further down river. Fantastic.
I looked back at the woman. She scowled at me. For the first time I noticed that five men sat in the boat behind her – four laborers manning the oars, and the huge tattooed man in a cloak, still holding his pistol. The bastard who had clocked me. Despite an impending sense of doom, I forced a smile just to piss her off.
"You do realise you're making a huge mistake?"
"Please!” She rolled her eyes. “Don't bore me with your threats. The Ghost's men have been trying to scare me off for months." She leaned in towards me and suddenly a knife appeared in her hand. "I don't scare easy."
I glanced down at the knife, which she just happened to be holding right in front of her ample breasts, placed on beautiful display by her plunging neck line. My smile widened. "I can see that."
She saw where I was looking and gritted her teeth. She lifted her hand to slap me, but before she followed through, one of the men manning the oars spoke up.
"There’s our opening, Ms de Vayre."
Finally, a name to go with the face. I wracked my brains and tried to remember if I had ever heard the name before, but I came up blank. De Vayre obviously saw me trying, though. Scowling, she turned and cuffed the man.
"What did I tell you? No names!"
Though the man mumbled a vague apology, he glared at the back of her head the moment she turned away. De Vayre seemed to have a way with people.
Despite her anger, she waved the barge forward. While one of the men lifted the anchor, the others dipped their oars into the water and began to propel us forward. Slipping between two larger boats carrying large piles of foreign wood for the Arsenal, we approached Gobblers’ Gate.
Two rafts floated on either side of the gate, carrying three or four men decked out in the Wall Guard's orange and white uniform. Waving us to a stop between both floating platforms, one of them stepped closer, almost overturning his raft. His companions scrambled to correct the change in balance, glaring at him.
"Name and business," the guard asked, his tone of voice bordering on the depressive.
De Vayre’s tattooed man spoke up.
"Runner’s business. You don't need our names."
A Runner? I glanced at de Vayre again. I had heard of the Runners - the Lord Justice’s latest pet project. Former thieftakers for the most part, they had received special training and judicial powers, able to investigate any crime and bring anyone in for questioning. Even a nobleman. If de Vayre was a Runner, I was in more trouble that I had thought.
The guard perked up a bit at the news. He peered more closely at the barge, taking in de Vayre, the oarsmen and me.
"What you doin' with him?"
"Taking him in for questioning. To the Tower."
That seemed to give the man pause. He glanced behind at his companions for support, but they all looked elsewhere. He turned back to face de Vayre's man, his adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed hard.
"Uh... You got papers?"
Rolling his eyes, de Vayre's man pulled a leather wallet from his jacket, handing it over to the guard. I clearly heard the clink of coins rolling around inside. The guard did as well, because his eyes lit up and he hugged the wallet to his chest.
After emptying the coins into a pocket, he glanced briefly at the papers, then handed the wallet back. "These seem in order. You're free to go."
Turning, the guard banged on the copper gates. Moments later, a series of clicks echoed through the enclosed space, followed by a deep metallic groan. The gates swung inwards and the current carried us through and into the city.
A century before, de Vayre and her men could have carried me into Caerlyons in a carriage, over land down the old King's Road. That all ended the day Jon Marwood drowned the city to save it.
Now the only way in lay over sea through the Outer Crown, also known as the Dregs, a hodge-podge of boats and frigates, rafts and jetties tied to the Outer Wall. Roping anything that could float to the things around it, they had created a constantly shifting shanty town. The Dregs had their roots in the bilges and cargo bays beneath the planking, and their branches in the ropewalks that stretched between mast and rigging.
Once through the Seawall, for those few lucky enough to cross that threshhold, lay the Crown-in-Between. Freetown. A city of contrasts, where mud tracks meet cobbled streets amidst a confusing jumble of theatres and churches, market places and whorehouses, taverns and cemetaries.
In the very centre of the city, secure behind the Inner Wall, the Inner Crown spread out across three islands split by two artificial rivers, the Groan and the Miradore. To the west lay the slopes of Caerlot, the Old City, overlooked by the golden towers of the Gyldencrest Magisterium. In the centre sprawled the labyrinth of Cordeliers, gold and silver streets paved with marble and smelling of spices. And to the east sat the palatial wonders of Arvinhal, home to the blood and the nobility, nestled in the crook of the Inner Wall and the river Miradore.
Caerlyons. The City of Three Crowns. My home for the past thirteen years, the place I had returned to a thousand times.
Never as a prisoner, though.