The Grim Company

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For Yesica

A Tyrant’s Wager

The wind whipped the flag of the warship swaying at anchor, the stylized ‘M’ wrought in silver thread on a black background proudly proclaiming her the head of Shadowport’s triumphant fleet.

The conflict that had bloodied the waters of the Trine for the last six months was over. Two hundred miles to the north, across the Broken Sea, Dorminia was counting the cost of pitting its navy against the superior firepower of the ships from the City of Shades.

Tarn watched the crew of the Liberty swagger onto the docks to be engulfed in an adoring crowd. Joyous laughter and breathless chatter rolled across the wharf; tears flowed as family and friends welcomed their returning heroes.

Tarn stared for a moment longer, then turned and spat into the deep blue water of the harbour. He watched the phlegm bob for a moment before the choppy water disintegrated it. A passing woman gave him a hard look as she moved to mingle with the disembarking soldiers.

He would have been among the first on the ships when the hostilities with Dorminia had escalated, but his lame leg had made that impossible. On the Broken Sea, as everywhere else, he would be useless: an anchor weighing down those who depended on him.

Out of habit he glanced down at his hands. Crusted scabs and old bruises stared back, and he winced. Shame surged up like a geyser. He needed to see Sara. He needed to say sorry.

Head bowed, Tarn began the slow limp home.

To mark the city’s victory in the war for the Celestial Isles in the Endless Ocean far to the west, Lord Marius had issued an edict for three days’ suspension of labour. Revellers flitted in and out of the shadows cast by the dying sun, which this late in the day was a crimson half-orb slowly sinking beneath the waves of the Broken Sea.

Tarn felt his anger mounting as he made his way through the jumble of buildings beyond the harbour. Marius’s decadence was extreme, his appetite for both food and flesh legendary. Like the Tyrant of Dorminia, and the mysterious White Lady who ruled Thelassa to the east, Marius was a Magelord: an immortal wizard of vast power who had brought about the Age of Ruin.

A damned Godkiller.

The crowd drifting towards the harbour had grown larger. Many of those heading down to the docks were whores, scantily clad and trailing cheap perfume, desperate to empty the purses of the disembarking soldiers.

Sensing early custom, one stepped in front of Tarn. She pushed her chest out and gave him a smile. Her teeth were crooked, but her eyes were a lively blue and her dirty brown hair framed a face that might be called attractive.

‘Thirsty, darling? I got a cup that’ll wet your tongue and no mistake,’ she said, brushing her hands quickly down her thighs. Somehow she managed to raise the hem of her short dress as she did so. Her legs were pale and slightly bruised, like the white cheeses Shadowport exported up the coast of the Broken Sea to Thelassa and beyond. The sight triggered unpleasant memories.

Tarn cleared his throat. ‘Ain’t interested. Got a wife waiting for me at home.’ He pointed to the plain band on his finger, trying to ignore the slight dent in the cheap silver.

The whore tutted softly in disappointment, an ingratiating gesture designed to flatter, but the deceit was plain as her eyes swept over his ruddy face, his thinning hair, his expanding paunch.

‘Might be I can do you a special price, what with the celebrations and all.