Even after she and Karag were led to a private room in the back of what proved a pleasant little tavern—complete with dark wood booths and antique table lanterns—Lisette couldn't quite believe the dwarf's claim that he'd get her connected with the banker. Yet the dwarf wasn't one to offer reassurances, and she wasn't one to ask for them, so she simply fell to repairing the musket while he assaulted a large platter of ribs and downed mug after mug of frothy ale.
Proof of Karag's story arrived within a quarter-hour of him asking the tavern keeper to relay a message. A large man in the blue coat of the city guard trooped into their room, closing the door behind him with elaborate care.
Lisette set aside Kerrigan's rifle. Loaded.
Karag glanced up and swallowed quickly before dabbing greasy lips with his napkin. "Lisette Demonde, this is Lieutenant Vech Marill. Lieutenant, this is Lisette Demonde. A bounty hunter."
Vech was large and thick, and between that and his grim demeanor he might have resembled one of Belvar's thugs if he hadn't carried himself with pompous dignity. His uniform, from the cuff of his pants to the collar of his coat, was immaculate, and his well-groomed mustache ends extended an absurd thumb-length beyond his face.
The lieutenant trod heavily across the planks and bowed. "Charmed," he told Lisette.
"As am I." She had decided against rising, so as to leave the question of who socially ranked whom more uncertain. "Karag told me he had connections in the guard. He didn't mention they were so gentlemanly."
Karag grunted and downed a long swig from a foaming mug of ale.
"Won't you join us?" she asked.
Vech pulled out a chair across from her and took a seat.
"She spoiled my work for you, Lieutenant," Karag growled between mouthfuls. "She royally tupped the whole situation with Belvar. You'll have to find a new spy."
"I saved his life," Lisette said. "Twice."
Karag grunted but didn't correct her. She saw Vech's eyebrows twitch with interest.
Lisette explained. "Karag and his bagman were jumped in an alley where I just happened to be. We got out together. Then, when Belvar proved uninterested in my business proposal, he became combative with both of us."
"A business proposal?" Vech's mustache twitched disapprovingly.
She passed over the bowman's warrant. Vech unfolded it, lingering for a moment upon the bloodstain in the corner. Kerrigan had been carrying it.
"Is this blood?" Vech asked.
Lisette nodded once. "This assassin is after one of your prominent citizens." She artfully brushed hair from her forehead and fixed Vech with an intent gaze. "Some of your men misconstrued my activity earlier today, and gave chase."
Vech blinked. "Wait a moment. Were you the one firing arrows willy-nilly from rooftops near the Centre Street court? That's not—"
She tried to keep irritation from her voice. "Not me. That was the bowman."
Vech frowned and touched his mustache.
"He was planning to shoot his target," Lisette continued, "but I surprised him so he aimed his arrows at me."
"Do you have a license?" Vech asked.
Lisette studied him for a long moment, hoping he wasn't as thick as he seemed. Then she reached into a small belt pouch and handed over a sheaf of stamped papers. She waited as he unfolded and read over each of them, knowing he'd find all of it in proper order. There wasn't only an official Andoren seal affixed to the bottom of the primary document, there were all the proper signatures, and additional bounty licenses from Isger, Druma, and Absalom.
He handed them all back. "You should have reported your activity to the guard immediately upon entering our jurisdiction. A less lenient man might see fit to bring you up on charges."
"And you're a lenient man?" She gave him her best smile.
It worked, and the big man returned one of his own. "I'm willing to provide concessions for a... newcomer to the city."
"I just want the bowman, Lieutenant. He's stalking someone in banking who's known to have some underworld contacts, a Jhon Dronsbech. I thought Belvar might introduce us."
Vech's brows rose.
She'd learned Jhon Dronsbech was a prominent and prickly citizen, a member of Oregent's city council, and she'd been worried about how someone in the guard might react to information that an assassin was on his tail. "If you value his safety," Lisette said, "I suggest precautions be taken sooner rather than later. The bowman is quite deadly."
"Jhon is a wealthy man, with his own security."
Lisette arched an eyebrow. "It's your affair."
Vech fingered the end of his mustaches, twirling them between finger and thumb. "I'll ride out to speak with him at once."
"I'd like to accompany you," Lisette volunteered.
He looked surprised. "You? Why?"
"To bear witness. He may not believe just how dangerous the bowman is."
"You have personal experience with this killer?"
"Yes." Something in her voice drew Vech's eyes to hers for a long moment. Finally, he nodded.
Her eyes flicked to the dwarf. "I'd like him along."
"Karag? He still has half a pig to eat."
The dwarf wiped hands on his napkin. "She wants me to earn my keep. If the bowman's there, I get two-fifths of the bounty."
The officer's eyes narrowed. "You think the bowman will be there?"
"He'll be wherever the banker is," Lisette said, "looking for opportunities to strike. I hope to flush him out with the game."
Vech seemed to think long and hard about that. "I'm not sure I like your analogy, but very well. Dronsbech's a touchy one, and your story might make him a little more receptive."
Vech ordered a carriage and brought along a pop-eyed corporal he assured her was an excellent swordsman. She eyed the slim young man dubiously as the carriage got underway, and the soldier, Culcumber, proved irritating almost on the instant. He pointed at the rifle, just visible in the gloom owing to the open curtains and the full moon.
"What's that?" His voice was thin, sharp.
"A ranged weapon."
"Is it magic?" Culcumber asked.
"Then what is it?"
Lisette was far more interested in watching the lay of the land as they approached the city gates, so she decided to head off further questions. "It's a gun. From Alkenstar. I carry four. The longer ones have greater range; all have excellent stopping power. And no, I won't be telling you anything else about them." At that she fell silent, then pushed the curtain aside to consider the passing streets.
As they rode out north of the city, Vech attempted small talk a couple times, but Lisette kept her answers curt. Didn't the chatty soldiers realize they were heading into combat? At least Karag was silent.
Before much longer they turned off onto a country lane. A manor stood in the lee of a hill ablaze with light. Lanterns strung on poles ascended the hill, and figures strolled up and down dressed in wild garments with fantastical masks. A band of a dozen musicians, dressed alike in green finery, sat on dark benches, plying their trade on violins, cellos, and woodwinds, and it made a merry sound on the evening air.
Great. What more perfect cover could an assassin encounter when closing in on a target?
The same thought must have occurred to Vech, who was eying the perimeter.
Dronsbech at least had an ample force of guardsmen—grim mercenary types wearing dark red tabards over leather armor. Two came immediately to inspect the carriage. Vech motioned for the others to remain within and dropped to the ground.
The guard who stepped forward to meet him was a well-built veteran with a crooked lower lip. His eyes flicked brightly over the uniform coat and Vech's insignia. "Are you an invited guest, Lieutenant?"
"I've urgent news for Mister Dronsbech." Vech put his shoulders back. "His life may be in grave danger."
The fellow's expression clouded, and he studied Vech for a moment before coming to a decision. "Come on, then. Who's the rest in the carriage?"
"One of my men, and witnesses to the assassin who's after your master."
"Assassin?" The guardsmen's eyebrows climbed a little higher. "Alright." He glanced at his companion. "Laltros, you're in charge of the gate. Might want to call up Murgan."
The talkative guard led them off toward the manor, eyeing the rest of Vech's group with curiosity.
"You'd best get Dronsbech up to the house," Vech said. "From what I've learned, it's a credible threat."
"What kind of assassin?" the guardsman asked.
"A bowman," Lisette answered.
The man frowned, then increased his pace and led them through a side door into the manor house, where they threaded past a trio of servants bearing food-laden platters.
The guard then introduced a frowning servant as Darvus, Dronbech's seneschal, who informed them that the master was with some guests in the garden.
"But who are these?" Darvus asked in a droning voice, indicating Lissette and Karag with a slight gesture.
"They need to see the master," the guardsman answered. "Shall I bring him?"
Darvus's frown only deepened, and his balding forehead creased: he was one long visage of disapproval. "This is quite irregular." He sighed. "Very well; go find Master Dronsbech." As the man hurried off, Darvus nodded to Vech. "I suppose you can wait in the master's office. Be so good as to follow me." He directed a dark look toward the dwarf and stepped off the marble to a parquet floor, highly polished, and then to an ornately carved oaken door. "A moment," he instructed, then stepped through into the darkened space to light a wall lamp and another on a desk.
Lisette entered, followed by the others, and saw then they stood within a finely appointed space, complete with an expensive carpet of green and gold, a wall-long bookshelf, a window overlooking what appeared to be a courtyard garden—for Lisette could see walls beyond the flowers—and a mahogany desk with various shiny knick-knacks.
Darvus stepped back from the desk lantern and cleared his throat. "Make yourselves comfortable." He pointed to leather upholstered seats and regarded Lissette again, haughtily. "Why is it that you're here, again?"
Lisette returned the man's gaze. "I have information that may help your employer avoid considerable danger."
Darvus studied her for a long moment, then considered each of them in turn before departing, pulling the door shut behind him. It closed with a click.
Next to the door was a wide, floor-length mirror that reflected the group: the dwarf, now studying the view through the window; Culcumber, nervously considering the book spines; and Vech, fingering his mustache with a look of disappointment, apparently noticing that one side drooped further than the other.
Lisette stationed herself near the mirror and waited for the sound of approaching steps.
Darvus opened the door and entered, reviewing the room before gesturing with a sweeping motion.
Jhon Dronsbech entered behind him. The banker was a tall man with a widow's peak and stooped shoulders, and he scowled at them all from under high, supercilious brows.
He tapped his ivory-handled cane and was opening his mouth to speak when Lisette snapped up her rifle and fired.
Coming Next Week: Blood and explanations in the final chapter of Howard Andrew Jones's "Bells For The Dead"
Want even more Lisette and Karag? Check out the new Pathfinder Tales novel Stalking the Beast, available now!
Howard Andrew Jones is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Plague of Shadows and Stalking the Beast, as well as the independent historical fantasy novels The Desert of Souls and The Bones of the Old Ones. He's also edited eight collections of literary giant Harold Lamb's work, and currently serves as the Managing Editor for the iconic sword-and-sorcery magazine Black Gate. For more information, see his website at howardandrewjones.com.
Illustration by Kelly Perry