Lightning flashed along with the vicious grins of the two toughs.
“Price, is it? Here, show us your gold, and we’ll give you all the cards you want, won’t we, love?” The man smirked to his companion.
Lotye had made a good attempt to defuse the situation, but Peino could have told her it would do no good. He’d crossed paths more than once with the street gangs of Sesus, the urban bandits who ruled the black markets of the royal port. These ruffians’ obsession with profit and with protecting their territories from each other was far greater than any political or social ambitions any of them might have, but they were nevertheless a force to be reckoned with. This kind of shakedown was to be expected, especially from a pair of enforcers as these two clearly were, and by itself it told Peino a thing or two.
While Lotye had been talking, the prince had casually shifted his weight on the bench to clear access to his dagger. Now, the masked man leaned further over him, growling in his throat like a dog.
“Lyr’s blood, you mute, staring corker, will you insult our food? I’ll see you eat or I’ll see you bleed. Eat that fish, curse you, and then get out of here, you and this poxy shrew.”
“I’ll eat it when it’s cooled enough,” Peino said, refusing the bait of the insult and the threat. He could only hope Lotye would be equally sanguine about being called the worst kind of whore, though he was already plotting his move should that masked woman make a move.
“Rot your blood, you’ll–” The next wave of invective was interrupted by a boy who ran up through the rain and tugged at the man’s arm. He whispered in the rough’s ear and pointed.
Following the line of his arm, Peino saw the odd little hat of Jean Lafitte bobbing a head above the crowd, bowed against the rain.
The masked man growled at him again. “Be kind to your life, and don’t be here when we return. And tell the frogs to keep their tattlers out of our lane.”
The three gangsters moved off, and Peino lost no time moving as well. Thrusting his portion of fish in its wrapper towards Lotye, he said, “Do me the kindness of minding my meal, will you, milady? I’ll need my hands free. Quickly, come. Those two are not the sellers, but something’s put the wind up them if they took us for guardian informants. Captain Lafitte must have made some connection, for they’ve been called by their master to intercept him, I think. Stay close to me.”
Slipping easily out from behind the plank table, Peino strode into the alley. The crowds had thinned considerably, to be replaced by cold rain which pattered on his tricorn hat and rolled over the shoulders of the new rain cloak. Peino adjusted the hat so the water wouldn’t run off it in front of his face, and adjusted the cloak to allow for free access to both dagger and sword. Lightning lit the walls above, but the wind was on the wrong bearing to penetrate the narrow, twisting way. He spotted the tall, broad-shouldered eorman, approaching. Between them, the enforcers marching towards Lafitte whose eyes were down, head hunched low against the rain.
Peino moved in. He saw the woman’s dagger come out, and another blade appear in the hand of the man. They would cut Lafitte’s lungs and move on without missing a step, leaving him to stagger and die while they vanished down some usual escape route or other. Rushing up behind them, Peino drew his dagger with his left hand and his rapier with his right, with a hiss lost in the rain. He reached out and rapped the man on the shoulder with the foible.
“You there! Do you think you can insult my companion and walk away? I’ll have your ears, sir, one for each ill word.”
“What?” The man turned in surprise at the sudden change of tactic, but his partner reacted more purposefully.
The dagger came straight at Peino’s flank. His own swung out to block, turning the blade away. She turned with it. He saw her draw a second knife from her boot, while the man’s blade, a short sword, rose as well.
Dagger pointed at the woman, sword at the man, Peino grinned behind his mask. “Four ears then? That buys you leave for two more insults, though I shall always be glad to grant a lady credit against the debt to preserve her looks, should she ask.”