A quest of Heroes - S01 E25

1 month ago

Read Story: SEASON 1 EPISODE 25

Gareth stood in the crowded marketplace, wearing a cloak despite the midday sun, sweating beneath it, and trying to remain anonymous. He always tried to avoid this part of King’s Court, these crowded alleyways, which stank of humanity and common man. All around him were people haggling, trading, trying to get one up on each other. Gareth stood at a corner stall, feigning interest in a vendor’s fruit, keeping his head low. Standing just a few feet away was Firth, at the end of the dark alleyway, doing what they had come here to do.

Gareth stood within earshot of the conversation, keeping his back to it so as not to be seen. Firth had told him of a man, a mercenary, who would sell him a poison vial. Gareth wanted something strong, something certain to do the trick. No chances could be taken. After all, his own life was on the line.

It was hardly the sort of thing he could ask the local apothecary for. He had set Firth to the task, who had reported back to him after testing out the black market. After much pointing of the way, Firth had led them to this slovenly character, with whom he now furtively spoke at the end of the alleyway. Gareth had insisted on coming along for their final transaction, to make sure everything went smoothly, to make sure he was not being swindled and given a false potion. Plus, he was still not completely assured of Firth’s competence. Some matters, he just had to take care of himself.

They had waited for this man for half an hour, Gareth getting jostled in the busy market, praying he was not recognized. Even if he was, he figured, as long as he kept his back to the alley, if someone should know who he was, he could merely walk away, and no one would make the connection.

“Where is the vial?” Firth, just a few feet away, asked the cretin.

Gareth turned just a bit, careful to keep his face hidden, and peeked from the corner of his cloak. Standing opposite Firth was an evil-looking man, slovenly, too thin, with sunken cheeks and huge black eyes. He looked something like a rat. He stared down at Firth, unblinking.

“Where’s the money?” he responded.

Gareth hoped Firth would handle this well; he usually managed to screw things up somehow.

“I shall give you the money when you give me the vial.” Firth held his ground.

Good, Gareth thought, impressed.

There was a thick moment of silence, then:

“Give me half the money now, and I will tell you where the vial is.”

“Where it is?” Firth echoed, his voice rising in surprise. “You said I would have it.”

“I said you would have it, yes. I did not say I would bring it. Do you take me for a fool? Spies are everywhere. I know not what you intend—but I assume it is not trivial. After all, why else buy a vial of poison?”

Firth paused, and Gareth knew he was caught off guard.

Finally, Gareth heard the distinct noise of coins clacking, and peeked over and saw the royal gold pouring from Firth’s pouch into the man’s palm.

Gareth waited, the seconds stretching forever, increasingly worried they were being had.

“You’ll take the Blackwood,” the man finally responded. “At your third mile, fork on the path that leads up the hill. At the top, fork again, this time to the left. You will go through the darkest wood you have ever seen, then arrive at a small clearing. The witch’s cottage. She will be waiting for you—with the vial you desire.”

Gareth peeked from his hood, and saw Firth prepare to leave. As he did, the man reached out and suddenly grabbed him hard by his shirt.

“The money,” the man growled. “It is not enough.”

Gareth could see the fear spread across Firth’s face, and regretted having sent him for this task. This slovenly character must have detected his fear—and now was taking advantage. Firth was just not cut out for the sort of thing.

“But I gave you precisely what you asked for,” Firth protested, his voice rising too high. He sounded effeminate. And this seemed to embolden the man.

The man grinned back, evil.

“But now I ask for more.”

Firth’s eyes opened wide with fear, and uncertainty. Then, suddenly, Firth turned and looked right at him.

Gareth turned away, hoping it was not too late, hoping he was not spotted. How could Firth be so stupid? He prayed he had not given him away.

Gareth’s heart pounded as he waited. He anxiously fingered the fruit, pretending to be interested. There was an interminable silence behind him, as Gareth imagined all the things that might go wrong.

Please, don’t let him come this way, Gareth prayed to himself. Please. I’ll do anything. I’ll abandon the plot.

He felt a rough palm slap him on his back. He spun and looked.

The cretin’s large black, soulless eyes stared into his.

“You didn’t tell me you had a partner,” the man growled. “Or are you a spy?”

The man reached out before Gareth could react, and yanked down Gareth’s hood. He got a good look at Gareth’s face, and his eyes opened wide in shock.

“The Royal Prince,” the man stumbled. “What are you doing here?”

A second later, the man’s eyes narrowed in recognition, and he answered himself, with a small, satisfied smile, piecing together the whole plot instantly. He was much smarter than Gareth had hoped.

“I see,” the man said. “This vial—it was for you, wasn’t it? You aim to poison someone, don’t you? But who? Yes, that is the question…”

Gareth’s face flushed with anxiety. This man—he was too quick. It was too late. His whole world was unraveling around him. Firth had screwed it up. If this man gave Gareth away, he would be sentenced to death.

“Your father, maybe?” the man asked, his eyes lighting in recognition. “Yes, that must be it, mustn’t it? You were passed over. Your father. You aim to kill your father.”

Gareth had had enough. Without hesitating, he stepped forward, pulled a small dagger from inside his cloak, and plunged it into the man’s chest. The man gasped.

Gareth didn’t want any passersby to witness this, so he grabbed the man by his tunic and pulled him close, ever closer, until their faces were almost touching, until he could smell his rotten breath. With his free hand, he reached up and clamped the man’s mouth shut before he could cry out. Gareth felt the man’s hot blood trickling on his palm, running through his fingers.

Firth came up beside him and let out a horrified cry.

Gareth held the man like that for a good sixty seconds, until finally, he felt him slumping in his arms. He let him collapse, limp, a heap on the ground.

Gareth spun all around, wondering if he had been seen; luckily, no heads turned in this busy marketplace, in this dark alley. He removed his cloak and threw it over the lifeless heap.

“I am so sorry, so sorry, so sorry,” Firth kept repeating, like a little girl, crying hysterically and shaking as he approached Gareth. “Are you okay? Are you okay?”

Gareth reached up and backhanded him.

“Shut your mouth and be gone from here,” he hissed.

Firth turned and hurried off.

Gareth prepared to leave, but then stopped and turned back. He had one thing left to do: he reached down, grabbed his sack of coins from the dead man’s hand, and stuffed it back into his waistband.

The man would not be needing these.

End of chapter.

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A Quest Of Heroes - S01 E24

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A Quest Of Heroes - S01 E26

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