(1312-02-24) A Nation of Peacocks
Summary: Two foreigners exchange information — and grouse about the locals.
RL Date: (1312-02-24)
Related: None
andrei tancred 

The Kraken's Den — Port of Marsilikos

A tall-tottering inn with a variety of rooms to let on the upper floors, from three fine suites just above the main floor to a collection of ramshackle one-cot rooms that sway with the harder gusts of wind in off of the sea in the upper levels. It has seen its share of fires and renovations, and every time it falls in ashes it seems to rise higher in the aftermath. Outside, proudly burnt-carved signage displays a huge black-tentacled kraken winding its limbs about in repetitive knotwork patterns. It hangs from a post on four links of bronze chain, and creaks when the wind hits it.

The main floor is part restaurant, part lobby, with a warm hearth next to a counter at which guests in the rooms above can pay their bills or ask after vacancies, many fine chairs and some a little less fine to fill out the number. Small tables amid all the seating provide room just enough to have a tea or a beverage and maybe play a game of cards with your mates. A low bannister-fence separates off the dining area from the lobby, to keep some semblance of order among the diners and to keep out the riff-raff.

Riff-raff, of course, is welcome to make its way downstairs, or else to descend into the alleyway behind the tavern and find the rear entrance into the half-basement, where a bar slings some of the hardest-scorching liquor known in Port Marsilikos, and attracts some of the roughest elements of society. It's dimly lit, with rough stonework walls and flooring and sturdy oaken furniture which must have been built in order to best resist any effort to shatter said furniture over someone's head. Fights are the nightly norm here, black eyes and sopping intoxication, and for those without the coin to attract the contract of a proper courtesan, some affable ladies are usually present in the evenings in case any gentleman wants to buy one a drink.

When looking out of the windows, you see: It is a winter night. The weather is cold and clear.

Where are you, Hiram?

A question asked by many a girl in many a port, no doubt — Hiram is a sailor. More precisely, he's a sailor with an accent, and one who disappeared very conveniently right after helping provide a distraction for a Genoan assassin. Maybe this is why one Andrei Anghelescu finds himself wandering the taverns and whorehouses that sailors frequent. He's waiting to recognise the face or the accent of a man named Hiram.

Dressed down a little for the occasion, he's not someone you'd notice unless you already know him. No fox-fur trim today; just black and shades of grey, the sort of ensemble that places a man solidly in the middle class. Somebody's accountant. Somebody's manservant. Somebody who is definitely not somebody.

He strolls up to the bar and equips himself with a bottle of not particularly fancy house wine before looking around for an empty seat. This is not a man who walks in and commands the attention of a room; it's just some bland face in the crowd, unnoticeable and irrelevant — unless, of course, one knows better.

There is, in fact, someone who knows better coming in right now. It's a tower of a man clad in d'Angeline clothes and headwear that fail to hide his obvious Skaldi ancestry. He walks a little gingerly, albeit without a trace of any obvious injury, and heads straight to the bar. He might go immediately for drinks, but he'd be blind if he didn't notice Andrei right over there. "Carpathian," he says, adjusting his sword on the baldric so it's out of the way.

"Very well armed Skaldi." Andrei nods to him in turn and glances at an empty table. "Care to join me in people watching? Wouldn't surprise me if we're looking for the same man."

"I came here for the women," says Tancred, bumping his doeskin-gloved fist against the bartop. "But it was not to be. Who is your man?"

"Don't think I can help you out in that regard, and I definitely don't think I'm your type," the Carpathian says drily and settles at the empty table. It's not the good one by the fire — that one goes to men who walk in wearing fox-fur and an attitude of owning the room. This one's the table for nondescript citizens. "I'm looking for the sailor. The one whom Bernard the Barn Boy argued with. Can't be that hard to find a man with a Carthaginian accent in a city that hates foreigners."

"Your breasts aren't big enough, no." The Skaldi takes the opposite seat after having procured a tall flagon of beer for himself, holding it close and doing his best to appear relaxed despite his watchful blue gaze. "Good thinkin'. Haven't been here since I left, but if I had to wager, you've been visiting often and havin' no such luck."

"And I prefer my women to not tower over me." Anghelescu pours wine into glasses that at least appear to be clean. "I have. I don't like mysteries. Or rather, I love mysteries when I am the one being mysterious. I do not like mysteries that involve people getting assassinated and the shade being thrown on foreigners in general. In this country, we're always two steps and a shake short of some nobleman having us arrested for looking at him wrong. An actually genuine foreign conspiracy would be most inconvenient for my business ventures at this time."

"No, but in some strange sense, it is better to be derided for something real rather than made of whole cloth." Perfect Skaldi logic. He glances between his beer and the wine glasses, then resolves to finish his flagon first, hastening up the process. "I do not know much, but there did not seem much of note about the victim or his room. Did you hear of more?"

Anghelescu sips his wine and makes a face; he's clearly better accustomed. "I've picked up a few things. Mostly by sitting around taverns and whorehouses and keeping my ears open. Whores talk when they're making money off you. Pay a whore to just talk to you for an hour, she'll tell you her life story and most of the current gossip from her brothel to the Palace."

"Our sailor's named Hiram and he got here on a ship from Carthago. I'm not convinced that Hiram is a Carthaginian name but it's somewhere to start, at least. And then there's the matter of the Genoan ship in port — the Pearl of Alexandria. Remind you a little of what the ladies were going on about — the Alban lady, and our little seamstress?" Anghelescu glances at the Skaldi thoughtfully. "I find that sort of thing to be a little too coincidental to be a coincidence. I'm just not quite certain what to actually do with it. The guards certainly don't seem to find anything to be out of order, just some foreigner stabbed some other foreigner, carry on."

"It's not lining their pockets with extra silver, so no. Wouldn't blame them." A guard apologist? The Skaldi places the flagon onto the tray of a passing barmaid and tihs time takes his wine. "I remember, aye, her vision, or at least this claim. I would not know Jeanne to lie, and the Alban is known to be plagued with such sightings. It is too great a coincidence. Now I have a want to charge onto that very ship." 'Though that'd kill me quick', his following expression seems to say.

"It is a little tempting, is it not? Unfortunately, I doubt either of us could pass for sailors. You, my dear enemy in arms, are too big and I have never set foot on a ship's deck." Anghelescu chuckles and then glances at the wine in his glass. "I don't know either woman, I can't testify to their character or truthfulness. The seamstress is working for an order for me — and the other woman I've never seen before. However, I don't see that either have anything to gain from being untruthful, and neither seemed to have any inkling that something was about to happen."

"I've every intention of finding this Hiram. But odds are he was just a small fish, paid to pick a fight. He's probably being hard to find right now because he's gone to ground after realising that he actually got paid to help murder a man. What I want to know is who's paying — Genoa? It's a lot of effort to go to if you just want a man dead, hiring someone from Genoa. There are surely assassins available in this city already, if you know where to ask." He sips his wine. Soldier, perhaps. Definitely schemer.

"Perhaps this woman was their personal assassin. It is better to send someone one trusts, or at least one keeps close enough that removing them when they must is not difficult," Tancred reasons, staring briefly into his wine. "Whatever Hiram is, he does not want a hanging or beheading, so it's no surprise we do not see him here. Even though this is the best place, by the port."

"Myes. But if she is indeed someone's personal, trusted assassin, then she was sent here from abroad. Which in turn indicates that whoever she came here for was not just some random bloke who complimented her backside in the taproom. Do you follow?" Anghelescu nods.

"Aye, and now we are back here - wondering what this strange man has done, had done, or will do, in order to warrant his death in a foreign land. He might have lived had I broken the door open faster. Did the guard say if the assassin has healed? Has she come to, spoken some sense to us?" Tancred wonders.

"Word among people on the street is that she's being kept at the Citadel. Odds are she'll lose her head one of these days. Maybe some good d'Angeline peacock will remember to flutter past her cell and ask her who sent her, but I wouldn't count on it. The d'Angeline are not fools but they are so bloody convinced of their own superiority that they probably can't even conceive of the idea that foreigners might be trying to pull a fast one in Marsilikos." Anghelescu clearly does not have a very high opinion of the city's gentry. "That's my dilemma at the moment. I know one d'Angeline in a position of relative power — or at least with some connections. I may try to solicit some interest there, but honestly, they don't generally seem to give a donkey's backside as long as it doesn't interfere with their getting manicures."

"That is true of most of the idle bluebloods," Tancred reckons, forgetting either about his companion's status or reveling in his candor nonetheless. "It is easy to look past many things when swaddled in luxuries. I do not know if I would live that way, but there are times where I see how nice it is to not have to think." He taps his gloved finger to his skull. "Who is the one you speak of? The Duchess?"

"Lady Philomène. The only one of them I actually know." Anghelescu hitches a shoulder. "I've met a few other ladies at court but — they were pleasant enough. Kind enough to speak with some random merchant foreigner, certainly. And absolutely not people I'd expect to give a rat's arse. The Vicomtesse might. For all her brusque attitude she cares for the Duchesse and the city. The idea of a foreign conspiracy might annoy her enough. Or it might not, because eh, foreigners."

"It will not do well to have me around, but if she will be involved she may as well become accustomed to my presence. You can tolerate me, so I suppose there is less excuse for their kind." Tancred seems to have zoned out for a moment, there. "I cannot speak for the Viscomtesse, but all accounts point to someone who does not dawdle."

"She's not fond of foreigners, no." Anghelescu makes a small face. "She tolerates me because I am every bit as much a bitch as she is, let's be honest about that. And because I don't want anything from her, nor do I have any reason to kiss her backside. I like her — but I'm not blind to the fact that she'd rather eat her horse than be friendly with Skaldi. As for me, well — back home we'd be enemies, no doubt, but we're not back home."

"I want to try to interest her. Because unlike me, she has contacts at the Palace and might know who here actually gives that particular rat's arse. And I intend to keep doing exactly what I'm doing — quietly screwing over Marsilikan smugglers and keeping an ear on the ground. Perhaps you can do the same? You too must have contacts in this peacock garden."

"I will ask the House, but besides that and some of the courtesans, I know little from those with the means." Tancred sets down his wine glass, which has found itself empty. "They - the House - are well-familiar with the city states of the middle sea, though of course that's no guarantee. You will work your charms better. They are greater than mine — and backed with gold and silver. Gold always talks."

"It does, though at some point, gold also asks questions. Along the line of who the hell is this foreign merchant who's clearly got too much of it?" Anghelescu nods. "Still, I have investments to protect. And I'd rather like for this city to not burn while I'm living in it. What House is it you speak of?"

"The House which employs me - House Baphinol. Some of them are wise and of use, and accept my presence." Tancred pauses for a moment, then begins to rise to his feet. "I do not think we will find Hiram here any time soon."

Anghelescu nods. "I am staying at the Leaping Fish. Let's keep in touch. We can always pretend we're fighting our own very personal little war if anyone asks. I will defeat Skaldia one glass of wine at a time. Watch your back, though — if this thing spreads, you're an obvious target."

"What is new?" The Skaldi rhetorically replies. "I will make a habit of wearing a mail shirt. We will meet then, I think. For now." He gestures to the door, then to the establishment right outside the window. Someone's got a need.

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