Saja winced, but instead of a death blow, the thief stepped back and allowed the other guildsmen to regain their companion. They did so with wary eyes that never left their assailant, gathering the tanner between them, and backing away.
Once they had fled the alley, the thief turned to Saja. Run! a voice shouted within her, but her feet remained still. His face was fair, except for a scar that ran along his nose like a dividing line between his cheeks. Dark locks fell almost to his shoulders, and the black trousers he wore were for a much larger man.
He smiled at her. “I suppose asking for a kiss as reward would defeat the whole noble gesture,” he said. “But perhaps you would give me your name? Such a detail will make for a better tale, when I tell my friends of your rescue.”
Saja started. The anger she’d felt earlier welled up again. “Rescue? After what you’ve done, no guildsman will show me kindness! No proper work! No food!” She knew she sounded ridiculous and ungrateful, but she was tired of men pretending to be her savior only to leave her desperate and alone.
“They wouldn’t have helped you before. Their kind is… let’s say, less than honorable.” The thief glanced at his bloodied dagger. He quickly wiped it clean and tucked it into his boot.
“I am called Lucendes,” he said. At Saja’s reaction, he added, “I am from the southern march of Maeldon, though I’ve lived in the Immortal City for many years.”
“My father trades with the Maeldonese. He says they are desert rats of impure blood, who scurry about hoping for the Sultan’s favor.”
“Then I can see he knows them well,” said Lucendes, widening his grin. Saja huffed and turned to leave, but Lucendes fell in beside her. “A moment, Saja,” he said, placing a hand upon her arm. “I did not just chance upon you. I have come to add my blade and wits to your formidable quest.”
Blinking, Saja stammered, “You know my name?”
“You wish to save your father, but the Tanner’s Guild won’t help you. So you are caught in the winds, without friend or family.”
“You knew? But then why did you ask?”
Lucendes shrugged sheepishly. “I may have overhead some of your argument with the guildsmen. Your voice held such misery, I could not rip my ears away. It is a fault of mine, this burden of altruism.”
“I didn’t see you,” said Saja. She frowned, trying to recollect the thief’s face from earlier, then shook her head. It didn’t matter. “But you are mistaken. I have no quest, only a need for food and work.” She swiped his hand from her arm and added, “Honest work.”
This time it was Lucendes who frowned, if only for a fleeting moment. She had caught him off-guard. Good, she thought.
“But what of your father?” he asked. “Wouldn’t his freedom answer all of your problems?”
Saja shook her head. “He’s a drunk, and he owes money to many people. He could be a captive of the Sect of Raast or the Horned Man, or perhaps dead.”
“To have such debts, he must’ve been a mighty man once. And maybe not so long ago? Tell me of him, and I will find you a warm meal.”
“Why?” Saja asked.
“Perhaps I like to help people. Perhaps your father owes me money, too.” Lucendes’ knowing grin returned. “Perhaps I desire you. Does it really matter why?”
Saja stared at the thief. Of course it mattered. But she couldn’t ignore her stomach for another passing of the sun, and the thought of food for so simple a price was too tempting. She didn’t care if it meant soiling her father’s name further. He’d vanished only a few days ago, but he’d disappeared long before.
…to be continued
Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.
© Craig Comer