Sabine of the Ten Rings: Birds Not of a Feather, Part Two

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below. *** Sabine crouched in a patch of overgrown bushes outside Jas of Great Mass’s home and butchery. The harpy, Lenore, had granted

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below.

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Sabine crouched in a patch of overgrown bushes outside Jas of Great Mass’s home and butchery. The harpy, Lenore, had granted her the case of delivering the interloper. A few of the other greenest mercenaries in the bar were vaguely interested, but a desperate Sabine had undercut every one of them.

The guild is probably going to have words with you about this, Dahkhal said. Pretty sure this contract is against the spirit of the brotherhood.

“Good membership standing won’t mean much if I can’t keep from being gutted.” Sabine ran a finger along the handle of the sheathed short sword at her back and double-checked the pouches on her belt. Each was full of a few coins worth of tacky marcasite jewelry. “Wish he would just get out of there already.”

On the way back toward Jas’s house, the two formed their strategy. Sabine’s third husband, Kin Bumpstock, had worked as a humble hog farmer before he found the abandoned Sword of Worth as he fished at the edge of his father’s property line. As only her third spouse, Sabine still made an effort to love him. But as she was a princess and he at heart a simple, honest rancher, they had little in common. So on nights when they were in desperate need of conversation, Kin would regale her with tales of where her pork chops and bacon had come from.

“Pigs will eat anything put before them,” Kin used to say. “Papa lost his straw hat in the trough once and there was no getting it back. We brought a few of our boars to some pompous contest and one ate a pendant right off of a judge’s neck. Why, I’ve heard some people hook their privies up to the pens. How’s that for convenient? Eat pig, shit pig, pig eats shit, and then you eat pig again.”

Sabine glared at him, set aside her half-eaten plate of ribs, and went to bed. There was no joining of paunches that evening.

Still, memories like that could get her out of this mess. All she had to do was hide a few gaudy circlets in one of the pig carcasses, tell Lenore that was probably where Jas had picked up the ring, and she would be done with the case. All she had to do was wait for the butcher to leave the shop for a few measly minutes. No fewer than a dozen farmers and hunters came and went from the establishment with carcasses or cuts of meat, but the heavy butcher never stepped outside.

“You’d think he’d need a breath of fresh air or to sharpen his knives or something.”

It’s a butcher’s entire line of work to deal with vile things all day long. And, in this one’s case, all night long.

Sabine glared at Dahkhal’s ring. “Look, the vulture woman was weird to me too, but she’s the victim here.”

Who said the harpy was the nastiness he spends the night with? Because he sure didn’t last night!

Dahkhal roared with laughter as Sabine beat her fist against an adjacent tree. Just as her knuckles grew red from the strikes, Dahkhal shouted, He’s leaving, look!

Sabine looked up. Sure enough, just as the sun was beginning to set, Jas of Great Mass stepped out of the house, his apron caked with blood and sweat.

“Finally.” She kept her gaze on him until he raised a hand to wave toward the sky.

Sabine tilted her head and heard a loud, “Caw!” Out from the sky descended Lenore the harpy. She and the butcher walked first into an embrace with one another, then back into the house, hand in wings. Sabine groaned and settled back into her hiding place.

Over an hour passed before Jas again stepped out of the house, swathed in clean clothes, and struck off in the opposite direction from where Sabine watched. It took another hour for Lenore to fly off. Exasperated from all the time spent cowering in her hiding place, Sabine groaned when her joints audibly popped as she rose.

Seems the butcher’s determined to make you sore in every way.

“Every way but the one that counts,” she said. “If he charged by the inch, I probably could have actually afforded last night. What does that harpy see in him?”

You have any idea how the generative organs of ducks work?

“How would I know that?! Why do you know that?!”

Slizzer keeps a caste of one behind the bar. They’re great for opening stubborn bottles.

“Don’t you dare take liquor away from me! Bad enough I know what pigs eat.” Sabine opened the door to the butchery. Directly on the inside was the staircase that led up to the bedroom, a counter, and a room with a sign marked, Organizer. The stench from the last of these was the strongest. “Think the carcasses are in there?”

That’s my best guess.

Sabine pushed open the door, was struck by the putrid smell within, flinched backwards and blinked tears from her eyes. She’d seen traders and hunters come and go all day, and yet there were no fresh kills to be seen. Instead, most of the room was taken up by an enormous, rusty machine composed of many cogs, with chutes along its bottom. Each of the descents ended at a different labeled basket, “steaks,” “brisket,” “roast,” and the like. Nothing about the gigantic engine was clear to the young mercenary, save for a large crank on the side.

“What in the—what is that thing?”

The… er… Organizer, I suppose.

Sabine stepped up to a basket of sausage and wrinkled her nose. “Well, don’t think I can just hide a bunch of rings in one of those, not without breaking the skin.”

Stick them in the bedroom, tell the harpy he was just buying her presents.

“If I find his coin purse, he can pay me back for them while he’s at it.” It didn’t feel like a great plan, but Sabine had to play with the hand she’d been dealt. She scurried up the stairs and into the bedroom, opened Jas’s bedside table, and dumped her pouch of cheap jewels into it. As she turned to head out, however, a creak and a loud laugh echoed up the stairs.

“Oh Jas, you really know all about nasty work.”

“Tha’s right, my dear! And I know how to make a lot more than just little piggies squeal!”

“Twenty-seven hells!” Sabine blanched in disgust. “He brought home another loose woman? Two nights in a row?”

He’s an unpleasant wretch, but there’s almost something admirable about that.

Sabine cast a look toward the window and the bed, but the sheets she’d descended from that morning were gone.

Jus’ let me get the linens,” Jas said. “Some wily little badger tied them to the window this morning.”

“Badger? Why am I a—”

Kick aside that rug, Dahkhal said. Hide down there, like he told you to before.

It was another idea Sabine didn’t like, but she couldn’t afford a trespassing charge on top of the bounty on her head. Much as she wanted to escape and clear her name, and much as she didn’t want to be reminded of the big man’s grunts, she tossed aside the rug and slipped through the trapdoor.

As soon as she did, Sabine swallowed a scream. The passage did not slide into a tiny room as she’d expected, but a thin shaft that led directly downward into darkness. With her hands and knees pressed to the walls, Sabine caught herself and stopped the descent. And as the sound of the squeaking mattress above echoed down the shaft, she caught wind of the only thing more disturbing than another round of Jas’s pleasure.

Below her, coming up from the bottom of the shaft, rose the smell of rust and the stink of blood from the Organizer.

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