Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Winding Road: Dancer Bellany Mendel

By Frank Gori


A rough calloused hand missed Bellany’s bottom by an inch. The hand belonged to a Minotaur who, despite appearing to have recently gained lucrative employment, proved to be a poor tipper. An inch would be as close as he came, though she enjoyed teasing him with missed opportunities. Amateurs could display graceful movement, but it took a true professional to control their every motion while seeming to lack grace. Life was a dance, and dancers were ever aware of inches. Inches were vital, inches were life. Inches were death.
The painful cost of imprecision was written in Bellany’s memories, if not her flesh. The lessons served her well: she had once dodged a mage’s bolt of lightning by an inch before opening his throat with an inch of steel. She had avoided her death by poisoned arrow, naked steel, claws, and magic by minding every inch. Her devotion to the inches made her a favorite tool for her sometimes lover and guild master Jax.
Tonight she was just a “little birdie,” waiting tables with her eyes and ears open to tonight’s dance. Later she’d sing what she had learned to Jax. She already had tidbits for his ear and they were just appetizers for the main course. Soon the Chaos Man would arrive, the meeting would begin and secrets would become hers to trade.
The bar was overfull of sweaty workers, practically buzzing with emotional energy. Someone stirred up the beehive tonight and the honey would be sweet to opportunists. Shenanigans would soon be afoot and Jax would be pleased at the news. Bellany could always count on a lot of work when Shenanigans was called, a corpse or two in the chaos was hardly remarkable. She’d feel the exhilaration of dancing with death once more.
 
Another useful tidbit she’d already gathered was that there appeared to be a new employer in the Workmen’sGuild. Roughly a dozen carpenters of various trade levels were carrying blue hand axes in the employer loop. Must have been a rich one too; from the looks of those hatchets, they were all masterwork quality. The men hired all had a desperate air to them. Each was mindful to protect their food and drinks and all shared that hard look.
 
Bellany swayed in graceful inches toward her next customer.  The bad-blood Orc Caravaneer was a bit of a disappointment thus far. His tips were generous and he was pleasant to look at, but he seemed immune to Bellany’s flirtations, which was just plain insulting. He was clearly distracted by his thoughts and frustrated with the predictable tardiness of the Chaos Man. He’d be easy to kill if she desired, though his bodyguard would likely be trouble. The lizardman had the aura of menace that comes when a man has befriended Daras. His deadly confidence was practically palpable and his predatory gaze constantly swept the room for threats. Not a simple bodyguard but a Sunder then, a true pro.  Bellany left him a drink, a smile, and moved on.
 
As Bellany moved on to her next customer, her thoughts linger a moment longer about the bad blood. Caravaneer Malleck’s attempt to blend in was comical, for starters his workbelt was out of date. Having an out of date belt meant you were either a fraud or you weren’t up on your guild dues. Whoever set him up with that belt from the merchant guild was either incompetent or spiteful. While lacking ornamentation typical to high ranking merchants, his clothing was unmistakably fine, which marked him as a phony to anyone who bothered to pay attention. Wearing that he was in the very least asking for a bar fight, and with tonight’s charged climate it could easily escalate to something much worse.

To her eyes every inch of him displayed a man accustomed to wealth and power. Those with money never understood. There is an assortment of little habits and assumptions made by the rich, behaviors painfully obvious to the poor. He was drinking the bar’s best beer while everyone else was drinking the cheapest, he tipped casually and often while everyone else tipped once and usually minimally, and his posture was too straight, a dead giveaway. Those who labored hard for a living didn’t have great posture. When your shift is over you relax and lean into your chair, and if you have to stand, you slouch. If Malleck was badly beaten and mugged no one in this bar would intervene. Heck, with the energy in the air tonight the workman would probably care less if an outsider was killed.
 
The thought hit her like a cudgel to the face, it’s not a coincidence. To many elements were awry, the belt being wrong, the Blacksmith bodyguard on a night where the buzz was on a rumored price increase, and the blue hatchets. A group of apprentices wearing the hatchets kept glancing at Malleck, she knew that he was a target. They must have wanted the Chaos Man too, or they’d simply act.
 
Wasn’t much of a logistical leap for Bellany to realize her presence in such a potentially hazardous environment was unlikely a coincidence. Jax lingered after their last dalliance, he left allot of pregnant pauses as though he held great news or expected some. Sending her into a deathtrap as a way to break up would not be out of her lover and guild master’s character. If he had someone tail her to the herb woman last week he might have cause.
 
Life was lived an inch a time, so she timed her “clumsy spill” in a way that doused one of the hatchet men in whiskey, and threw her into the arms of another. He wouldn't notice the prick or the poison until he took a few more steps, nor would his companion. She dealt with three of five, the sunder had to handle the rest.
 
The ring of a crossbow bolt striking drawn steel chimed a perfect beautiful note before someone yelled “Shenanigans!” and the bar erupted in chaos.
Surviving the night would be fun. Bellany vowed to herself she’d takes it an inch at a time.