This story was inspired by a tweet from Saladin Ahmed (which, if you haven’t bought his book what are you waiting for?) about an assassin trying to get paid by a kingdoms bureaucrats.
He stretched on the chair, back popping. Little heat reached these chambers, most of it coming from the sunlight streaming in the large windows along the back wall. The scribes wore woollen cloaks and kept small braziers at their desks. There was a lot of books and scrolls in the Finance and Archives Dept. and they couldn’t risk fireplaces shooting out sparks. He’d asked once why they couldn’t just put up screens and all he’d gotten was a dirty look.
“Number fifteen,” a scribe called out. He glanced down at the scrap in his hand, despite having long since remembered the number written on it. There was some vague hope that it had maybe changed, that perhaps he would move up.
He shifted again on the stone bench. Even through his leathers the cold was seeping into his bones. I’m getting too old for this shit, he thought. This is why people get apprentices. Sitting around waiting on paperwork was no task for a craftsman of his experience and ability. It was simply preposterous. It…
His fingers tapped on his knee. Why the hell did they have to do this personally? Should just be able to have the papers delivered and the gold sent. He had performed a service and deserved his pay in return. Bloody accountants always had to…
“Number seventeen.” He glanced down at the paper again. The number hadn’t changed but he was just one away.
Ha! Some fool must have let his bladder get away from him. Probably had brought drink, the amateur.
He stood up quickly and walked over to the desk before anyone had a chance to cut him off. He handed over the paperwork, everything filled out in triplicate, signed by all appropriate parties and even in the proper colour ink.
The clerk flipped through the pages. “You are Derik Goodman?”
“Yes, of course.”
“This is a rather large sum.”
“It was a rather large job.”
“Mm.” The clerk flipped through the pages.
“Look, General Potter signed this. Said it was good to go.”
“Yes, well, we are operating under budget constraints. This is more then I’m allowed to release at once.”
Derik took a deep breath. “I want, I need my money. Just give it to me.”
The clerk handed the file back. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m not authorized. You’ll have togo to the level 2 offices upstairs.”
“They will give me my money?”
“Yes sir. Just give the clerk this file. Number nineteen.”
He took the file, standing still a minute eyes closed before turning on his heels. There was no point arguing with this clerk.Besides, security was never far away. He stomped upstairs. There would be hell to pay over this. Somehow. An angry letter at least.
The upstairs office was smaller. They didn’t deal with the general stuff, mainly overseeing what the bean counters under them did. (Literally. The king was fanatic about knowing exactly how many beans were in the royal storehouses.) There was only two other people waiting, a soldier and a lady. He snatched the scrap of paper. Number four.
“How long you guys been waiting?”
“Two hours,” the soldier said. “They don’t even serve breakfast.”
The lady sniffed. “That would be why I brought my own. I would think a soldier of all people would understand the importance of being prepared.”
“And I would think the kingdom would understand the importance of paying off its mercenary troops. Before they, you know, decide to just take what’s owed them.”
“Those unwashed bandits? They wouldn’t get past the city gates. The city guard would destroy them. And if the Kings Guard was called out…” She shook her head. Derik thought it must be nice to live with such certainty.
“And what brings you here, milady,” he said, in his most bland unaccented voice.
He was amazed that her nose reached even higher. “That is hardly something I would discuss with one such as you. It is private business.”
“Hardly private if your asking the treasury to pay for it,” the soldier said.
“It is the duty of the treasury to provide for the Queens needs. I am her lady in waiting. And that is all any needs to know.”
“Number two,” came the dry voice of the clerk. It didn’t sound like he talked much. The lady rose from her seat, gathered her skirts and entered the office.
“Then there were two,” Derik said. He pulled a flask from one of his inner pockets and took a healthy pull. He held it out to the soldier. “Mercs, eh? You must be Captain LaGrange.”
The soldier took the flask and drunk. “I don’t know about must but that’s who I am. But not many would know that. You would be?”
“I did some scouting work with the cavalry. Always way ahead of the line but I heard Colonel Breskin speak highly of you. Said nobody else had ever did as well with those sell swords.”
The captain fidgeted on his seat. His way of blushing, Derik supposed. “Ah well, just doing my job. The bastards haven’t paid you yet, either?”
The Queens lady in waiting marched out if the office and past them, tucking a small bag into her skirts. “Good day, gentlemen.”
“Well she must have been persuasive.”
LaGrange laughed. “Nobody wants to piss off the queen. Haven’t you heard? The king is sickly and she is next in line of succession.”
“Indeed? That is interesting.”
“That’s me, mate,” the captain said, standing up. “Need any work, look me up. They’re sending me out to the western forests after bandits. Could use a good scout.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.”
He watched the captain enter the office and slid a dagger from a hidden sheath, tossing it in his hand. So honourable and trusting. Yet LaGrange was doing a good job commanding the mercenaries, who usually ran off anyone from the regular army sent to lead them.
So the king was sick again. Must be serious if people were all ready bowing to the queen. She was young but seemed to have a good head on her shoulders, from what he’d heard. But then, she was Lord Gretans daughter and he didn’t believe in not educating a child because it was a girl. Mayhap she’d even keep that head where it belonged. The kings cousin had been eying the throne a few years now.
The big question for Derik was did he care? He exclusively worked for General Potter so wasn’t likely to be asked to remove the queen or anyone else in the line but he was a subject of this realm. He wasn’t sure anyone who wanted that throne badly enough to kill for it deserved to sit on it.
He decided he would keep his ear to the ground, see what went down. Protect the queen if need be. Being owed favours by the queen and Lord Gretan was no small thing. And it was never a bad thing to be remove some competition.
The door slammed open, rebounding off the wall and almost hitting the captain in the face as he stormed out. “Gods damnit, but I won’t be able to control them with no pay! They’ll storm the fucking city.”
“That sounds like exaggeration, Captain LaGrange. The funds are not available at this time.”
“It’s on your head then.” His boots beat an angry rhythm as he stomped to the stairs. “Good luck,” he muttered to Derik as he passed.
The clerk was still standing in the door. An old man, a few last whisps of grey combed over his head. “Number…” He started wearily. “Oh sod it. No one else is there. Get in here.”
“And good morning to you, good sir,” Derik said, settling in the seat before the chief clerks desk.
“Let’s see the file.”
Derik handed it over and leaned back as the clerk looked through. “Every i dotted and t crossed,” the old man said. “As always, General Potter is exemplary with his paperwork.”
“This is a rather large sum.”
“So they told me downstairs.”
“They were right. Unusual in these days.”
“It was an unusual and rather large job.”
The clerk tapped the paper on the desk. “It doesn’t say what you do for Potter.”
“That’s because it’s a secret. Only Potter and the king are privy.”
“So I’m to release funds on the generals say so?”
Derik shrugged. “He is the kings spymaster. Consider it vital national defence.”
“I’m not sure that’s enough”
Smiling, Derik leaned forward, eyes glinting. “I killed a man. Stabbed him while he sat on his chamberpot. While the body thrashed and shat all over itself and the floor.”
The clerks eyes went wide but Derik wasn’t done. “Then I dumped the body outside a brothel on the waterfront. One which caters to tastes that are…wrong. Which is how one kills both a man and his good reputation. And both those tasks are what I am being paid for.”
The clerk gasped. “The minister from the Island Kingdoms! The entire trade mission has been recalled.”
“Yes. Along with their spies. Who can no longer map our defences. And maybe now there won’t be a war.”
The clerk reached for his quill pen and scratched out a cheque to be drawn on the treasury. He shoved it over to Derik.
“Number five,” he said, voice still quivering.