Some distractions prove good for the writing, letting the subconscious work things out, some don’t. I have had a little of both lately, and the plot of A FRIEND TO THE WATCH had been giving me a few conniptions, but I finally had a breakthrough last night that persisted today. I know what happens from here, and have it already set in my head, and it arrises from this scene:I
It was already late afternoon when Qezzon felt the touch of something along his spine. He stopped his circuit of the market, waited. The not-quite itch persisted, just as Clemmon said it would. The Pathless were at it again, tracking him using the sorcery that so corrupted them.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Finally.
Moving into an open space between groups of market-shoppers and their bearers, he glanced across the square. Seeing one of the boys Clemmon had set to watch him sitting atop some oil-merchant’s barrels, Qezzon gave the sign. He didn’t see a reaction, gritted his teeth to avoid shouting at the kid.
A man burdened with a yoke and buckets across his shoulders blocked his view for a moment. Qezzon pretended interest in the wares of a basket weaver but walked on before the seller could try and make a sale. The boy was gone when Qezzon glanced up again, hopefully reporting that Qezzon was being tracked. Qezzon didn’t like taking it on faith the boy knew what he was about.
Trying not to show the agitation burning a hole in his stomach, Qezzon walked to the center of the square and had a seat at the foot of the shrine-pillar of Lunara.
Don’t like waiting. Don’t like not having people I trust to watch over me. Not much to like about any of this: I’m certainly not in love with the idea of being bait in a trap that’s not even meant to kill those hunting me. Tin Man, wonder of wonders, even agreed with me when I told Clemmon we should lay an ambush for the Pathless. Not that it made any difference in the Crooked Shepherd’s final decision.
He leaned back into the shade of the pillar as a pair of pumpkins slowly made their way through the market. For once I won’t ask that they leave, though I doubt they’ll be a great deal of help.
The sorcery pulsed along his spine, stronger now.
He stood straight. Better to be ready to run.
The bell tower was tolling the half-measure when Qezzon spied the Pathless who’d climbed the roof loitering in front of a market stall some twenty paces away.
Qezzon almost sighed with relief. He had not come from that direction on his way here. He hoped it meant the Pathless sorcery used to track him had limits, failing to give the sorcerer the path taken by quarry, merely his current location. A slim hope, but one to cling to. Myrra must be kept safe.
He stole another glance. The servant stood beside another, better dressed man who had his back to Qezzon. The servant’s lips were moving, and the other man was leaning close, as if listening.
Not altogether bad way to keep me in sight yet limit the number of faces staring at me.
Movement. He looked up again, saw the servant walking toward him.
Desperate to flee, Qezzon stood his ground. Trying to make the movement unhurried and natural, he leaned a hand on the ledge lining the pillar’s base and waited.
“You, there.” The man’s looks were straight City Krommen, accent too.
Qezzon cocked his head, drawled, “What?”
The man glanced around, stepped a bit closer, “My master wishes to speak with you.”
“Good for him.”
“Will you come?”
The smile came easy as he asked, “With you?”
The man nodded.
“Come with me or I’l–“
Cutting him off, Qezzon spoke quickly: “You’ll what? Haul me over to him across the market square, howling that you want a piece but aren’t paying?”
Brows slammed together. “What?”
“No shame in buying a piece of ass, boy or no, right?”
“What? No, that’s–“
Qezzon rolled his eyes. “Bring him here, and we can talk like civilized folk. Ask me to go somewhere again, or touch me, and I’ll lie so long and hard the truth will break, taking you with it. Boy-rapers are not looked on with joy down Sluicegate way.”
“I–You–“ the Pathless sputtered.
“I’ll wait here while you present my terms to him.”
“I hope your master didn’t hire you for that wit. Go. Get. Him.”
Qezzon let the murderous glare the man answered him with slide away, pretending his heart was not pounding in his chest. After a moment the man turned on his heel.
Watching him go, Qezzon resisted the urge to wipe the nervous sweat from his hands. He found his gaze wandering, hoping to catch sight of even one of the watchers Clemmon had put on him.
The Pathless returned, master in tow. The thief took a moment to mark him in memory: Black curly hair, dark eyes, thin lips. Nothing exceptional about his appearance. He could have been Krommen, Mìrrowan, or even an Altezan noble-born. His clothing was of fine quality, though it hardly screamed at every passing robber to make a meal of him.
The man stopped a pace from him, dark eyes engaged in their own evaluation. A silence reigned between them a moment.
A smile showed small white teeth as the Pathless waved at his servant: “You’ve made my man most uncomfortable.” Accent was pure noble-born.
Qezzon shrugged, and because fuck his servant’s feelings: “Beats a cock in the ass.”
The smile grew broader, more predatory. “I wouldn’t know.”
Qezzon wanted to cut him and run.
“But enough talk of pleasures sometimes taken: do you know why I am here?”
A short bark of laughter, reeking of insincerity and garlic. “Do not make me hurt you, boy.”
“Why would you do that?”
A rolling of the shoulders that wasn’t-quite, a shrug. “Because it would please me. Because I can.” Pursed lips covered white teeth as he raised a finger to them in mock thought. “Mostly, because I tire of chasing you.”
“You could always stop.”
“Or you could just give me what you were to deliver to Annon Fishmonger the other night, before you were so rudely interrupted.”
Deliver? He covered surprise with a question: “And if I said I didn’t have it?”
“I would call you liar,” one of the man’s hands disappeared into his pouch, “and let you know I don’t much like liars.”
Lashed with pain so intense it forced the wind past his lips in a high whistle, Qezzon struggled to keep from folding up and pitching face-first to the ground at the sorcerer’s feet.
The Pathless leaned in close, whispered in Qezzon’s ear: “I will learn where it is, boy. You cannot stop it.” The Pathless raised his voice for the benefit of any passersby. ”I told you not to drink so much, boy!”
Qezzon’s left hand scrabbled at the top of the prayer-pillar’s base, the effort required to keep him upright interfering with the proper working of questing fingers.
“Help him,” the Altezan said to his servant, more show for anyone wondering what was causing Qezzon’s fit. Leaning close, he whispered, “The pain will end as soon as you tell me where it is.”
Qezzon groaned, managed to raise his right hand, begging for release.
The Pathless sniffed. The pain eased slightly, allowing Qezzon to draw breath, even think: Give him what he wants and get what you want. Why not?
“Cock’s Comb,” he hissed through clenched teeth, just as the fingers of his left hand found Clemmon’s blessed knucklebones.
Qezzon tried to speak, couldn’t find breath.
The pain rolled back a bit more.
He took a breath, found it easier to move. “Cock’s Comb…” he said.
“Tavern and gambling house,” the servant explained.
Lunging with his left hand, Qezzon clutched the dice with the desperation of a drowning man seizing a rope thrown from shore.
Instantly, the pain vanished.
The Pathless noble-born shrieked, collapsed.
Not vanished-the curse turned on the caster!
The servant reached out, tried to catch his master.
Qezzon fled as fast as his legs would carry him.