Chapter 4: Plan B

After changing clothes, Baet had to rest. His right foot felt like burger, and when he finally took the opportunity to change his socks, it looked like burger too. He was not surprised. He ran until it was numb – and then he ran a little further. Now that he was no longer running, the soaring pain of the glass in his foot was beginning to sing above the fading numbness. Still, Baet was rather pleased he'd managed to keep the injury clean of outside interference and thanked his boots for their constant company.

Eventually, Baet limped his way back around to the house where he hoped to find Humbert. He leaned against a distant wall and watched the door, convinced that Humbert was in on the assassination from the beginning. It seemed like such an obvious ploy: steal from the duke, get him to chase, then ambush him far from home. Not only is the duke out of the way, but one of his own loyal guard serves as the patsy! Baet thought, a sentiment which further enraged the guard. He cursed himself for an idiot and wondered once more what Creigal knew. He wondered if the duke and his captain were still waiting – or did they run off the moment Baet turned his back? Is that why Carringten gave him the order to return to Gaurring Heart – because they didn't trust him and thought he might desert?

Did they think he might turn traitor...?

A darkness caught in Baet's heart, and he wondered what side he was on. Time to cast lots, and let bygones be bygones, he thought to himself.

Immediately, he scoffed. He felt used by Humbert, and there was no way he'd ever join Banifourd – even if he could! Banifourd! That smug, oozy prick – always leaning on his relation to the Politico Superiore! Baet thought. And his friends are just as bad! Garf is a brute and a bully, always looking for an easy target! Bence is a conniver and a lush, likely sauced out of his mind! And Willem!...

Baet frowned. Among Banifourd's lot, Willem was the only one he kind of liked. He seemed to be normal, even helpful and interesting at times.

Then he tried to kill the duke, Baet shrugged, his sympathy in short supply.

I'd never align myself with those ball-suckers! – he returned to the question of his allegiances once more – Nor would I run to ground and seek sanctuary in Minist! he thought, firmly on the side of the duke. He committed himself to bring his full compliment of wit and skill to bare against the duke's enemies, and his own!

Now all he had to do was figure out how to get at Humbert, who seemed to be holed up in a building with a good twenty armed men...

Baet frowned as he stared past the house and wondered how he might get his hands on the thief. He didn't like his odds. The house seemed to be some unofficial office of the watch with guards going in and out – thirty different guards in just over an hour.

He sighed and relaxed his foot at a convenient bench as he continued to stare down the street. He was quite confident in his disguise, and figured his enemies would have to get pretty close to sniff him out. He moved every few minutes and stared into the distance, seemingly oblivious to the house full of watchmen, as he studied the surrounding city.

This neighborhood was certainly not one of finery or opulence. Indeed, the neighborhood was run down and filthy in the full light of day. Several of the buildings seemed abandoned, or occupied by squatters. One visibly leaned and threatened to fall over into its neighbor. Others housed bars, brothels, gambling parlors. Likely there were a few drug dens hidden in some of the less scrupulous cafes and shops. One finds all sorts of distraction in these parts of the world, Baet thought. Indeed, Wibbeley reminded him of Rottershelm a little more with each passing hour, and he didn't like it.

Although Baet loitered, he looked fairly well to do and competent at the casual glance. Plenty of watch passed him on the street as he wondered from one spot to another, always affable to the passing poke. In return, they paid him the courtesy of leaving him alone. Still, Baet frowned to see so many men baring colors as he waited. If he counted the Ministrians, the armed men outnumbered the homeless – which was no easy feat! Too bad these Ministrians aren't the pretty priestesses instead of grim-faced shock troopers, he thought. How do they hope to win any recruits if they won't show the ladies?

"Hey dearie," A voice called with a sweet lilt as he stared into the distance. "You seem to have a little time on your hands."

Baet knew what she was before he turned. He'd seen a number of brothel girls as he waited. Although they made eyes at him, none bothered to approach – until now.

Still, he didn't expect her to be so pretty. He turned, and for a second, was stunned by the look of her. A tangle of blonde ringlets framed an exotic face that seemed Ministrian (though perhaps too pale and wide at the eyes). She cut a neat figure in a sheer gown that offered a view of lace-trimmed small clothes and a strong body several years junior to his own. Her smile was toothy, and there was a devious glint about her hazel-green eyes. "Come inside. Have a drink," she winked at him.

Baet's heart quickened as he stared at the pretty hooker. "Where you from?" he asked.

She seemed none too pleased with the question as she frowned at him.

"I have not seen features drawn in such a way," he continued with a smile. "Are you Ministrian?"

"Half," she gave a reluctant nod. "Half Trohl. My mother was a Bouge – but I barely knew either of them, and I know less of their homes and people," She said as she took a step back.

"Bouge?" Baet asked, unfamiliar with the term.

"One of the Trohl peoples," she shrugged. "But I've been in Wibbeley since I can remember: I am a Noeth by duchy and a Soat by kingdom," she finished. "Enough of my heritage," she leaned in with a wink and a grin. "Let's get a drink and speak of pleasure. Are you not hot under all these clothes?"

Baet backed away from the girl. "I should think another time might find us fast friends, my lady, but I have other matters to attend."

"Oh darling..." she began with disappointment.

Baet did not hear the rest of her words. His heart skipped a beat as he saw Bence walking up the street with a group of guards, rot-faced and glaring. For a split second, Baet thought he was caught – but Bence didn't see him. Not yet. Instead, Bence turned and studied the whores on the side of the street as the remaining troop plodded in Baet's direction. Baet spotted Garf as he tapped Bence on the shoulder, and pointed him up the street in Baet's general direction. Baet's heart dropped into his stomach. He realized if he didn't move quick, he was sure to be noticed. He immediately put his arm around the working girl's shoulders and spun her toward the door, then advanced with a bit of a hobble. "Mister, your foot..." she began.

"What does it cost to drink, taste, and touch in such a fine establishment?" He cut her off as he pushed through the decrepit door. "I suddenly find myself ravenous." Despite his words, his guts twisted in a knot of dread. At the moment, he doubted he could keep down half an apple!

The girl blushed. "Let us discuss such details over whisky or wine," she said as she led him into the brothel. She moved his hand to her breast, and although he found the sensation agreeable, he wondered what the hell he was doing. This was no sort of plan!

Several women lounged about the main room of the brothel. Most were Noethrin, but there were a few exotics. A few were Hebrinese, and a couple of the women were Ministrian with their dark hair and freckled skin. One looked like she might be a full blooded Trohl, though Baet was unsure (aside from Pearl, he'd never seen one of the race). Indeed, Baet was surprised the establishment was so very cosmopolitan – a fine mix of nationalities – and a good many were even attractive!

Most of the ladies ignored him because he was already accompanied by Pearl, though a few batted their eyelashes and promised not to be boring. Baet reconsidered his company for a split second, then remembered he wasn't here to attend the ladies at all, and turned his mind back to evading capture.

A grizzled and sour fellow stood behind the bar. "What'll it be?" he asked as Baet sat in the corner, near the hallway and stairs, with his back to the door. The bartender was well muscled and grim. Muskets decorated the wall behind him. Several were fakes, a number were obviously broken, and a couple were undoubtedly sabotaged, but there were likely a few that worked, and were probably loaded. Even if there wasn't, there was no end of knives, bludgeons, and usually a sword or two, tucked in convenient hidey-holes about such bars. There was no end of trouble in these places.

Baet smiled at the barkeep. "Whisky," he said, hoping it wasn't mere swill, or rancid. The bartender poured a decent finger from a questionable bottle.

"Coffee," the girl smiled.

Baet cringed. The barkeep turned and stepped back into the kitchen. He returned with a tin cup of the awful black liquid for the girl. "Diem, three bots," the bartender stared at Baet.

"For whisky?" he frowned as he considered it a steep price indeed!

"And the coffee, and the lady," the bartender pointed a thumb at the girl.

"Oh..."

Baet wasn't committed to the whore, but he thought it better to pay up and avoid an argument. So what if they did things a little different in the Noeth? Besides, it was only a diem three! It was cheap price if it kept him innocuous, irrelevant, and most importantly, alive! He set a diem and five bots on the bar. The barkeep eyed his coins and gave an approving nod as he tucked them away, then returned to polishing glassware.

"What's your name?" Baet asked as he turned back to the whore.

"Pearl," she said.

The doors banged open and Baet cringed. The gawk of the other ladies took on a festive tone as men spread about the lounge. Out of the corner of his eye, Baet caught the blue and white of a guard's tabard. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He was convinced Garf and Bence were now in the room. He hunched on the bar and tried to appear old as he kept his back turned. He was in a completely new outfit. He felt his best plan of action was to simply ignore the guards and leave them to their entertainments.

"And what about you?" she asked. "What is your current concern?"

Baet hunched to one side and leaned into Pearl in a playful manner. The reek of coffee invaded his space as he kissed her. "I should like to see a Pearl so far from the sea," He whispered as he ignored her question and caressed her arm. He leaned back with a smile and fingered his whisky as he wondered if it was a mistake to drink, or a mistake not to. "Have you ever seen the sea?" he asked. He didn't care what she answered. He only meant to distract her while he considered his options. The hallway appeared to be a dead end, and up the stairs was likely no better. He felt stuck and though his best option was to simply play it cool and not panic.

Pearl shook her head with a flash of disappointment. "Wibbeley is a long way from any ocean," she noted. "There are some grand lakes to the west, as one approaches Minist," she leaned close and kissed him the smell of coffee on her lips. "But they reek of Ministrians," she wrinkled her nose and pulled away.

"What do you have against Ministrians?" Baet asked as he glanced at her coffee. "Are you not half the race?"

"By no fault of my own!" Pearl frowned and struck him lightly. "I swear if I hear one more of them ballyhoo about the sanctity of their twin gods and beg for ritual – I'll cut off his hog!" Her face took on a savage look. It did not last. "No, I am not a Trohl or a Ministrian," Pearl said, smooth and lady-like. "I am a Saot, a true child of Wibbeley! One day I hope to see the ports of Rottershelm, Danyan, or even Balliwex! I wish to stand before the Sea of Danya and feel the waves crash upon my legs! And what of you?" she turned the question back at Baet. "Have you seen the sea?"

Before he could answer, a face approached over Baet's shoulder and surprised him. "Hey kid," said a man in blue in white.

Baet immediately gripped the hilt of his musket as he looked at the guard. Several painful-looking scratches ran down the left side of the stranger's face. The wounds were rather new, maybe a few days old, and lent a ghoulish air to the man as he stared at Pearl. Pearl frowned as she glanced back at the haunted guard. She quickly turned away. "Thank you, kind sir, but I am attended!" she sang in a snide manner as hostility rippled across her face. "You'll have to find other company," she pointed to the other girls.

The stranger glared at Baet. "You don't want this one," he said. "She's more than a dandy like you can handle."

"Grebs!" Pearl called across the bar.

The bartender turned, saw the man, and stomped over as he roared at the guard, "You got a bad habit sir, an' if you ain't careful, it's gonna get you hurt!" He snapped.

A majority of the room's attention turned to the corner. Grebs glanced about at the gathered guards a bit nervous – which made Baet nervous. Who knew what kind of trouble was about to erupt?

"Welen, we ain't here to fight," someone called across the room to the ghoulish guard. "...though you might be able to take one of two of the skinnier ones," he finished. Several of the others laughed. The comment broke the tension and most of the watchmen returned to their own matters.

"Come, Welen, try one of these others!" Someone else said. "Trissa here can teach you proper Minist ritual – not that shit Pearl invents!"

"It is a lovely thing to serve the true gods," One of the Minist women – presumably Trissa – called. "Come, sit. You can have my lap for a stool," she smiled.

"A fig for your false gods!" Welen raged, and the scars on his face made him look all the more angry.

"Gimme two figs," the lady replied. "And a branch for peace!" She added with a crude gesture, which inspired another round of chuckles from those few still paying attention.

Welen frowned and took a couple steps back. He leaned on a table as he glared at Baet and Pearl. "You gonna make a night of it?! Others be waitin'..!" He snarled at Baet from several feet away.

Baet frowned and leaned back just enough that the scarred guard might see the barrel of Thunder Maker. Welen noted the musket, blanched, and turned away.

Pearl smiled to be so defended. She leaned into Baet and took his hand. "Come with me, loving man," she said and hopped off her stool.

Baet downed his whisky and gave a polite nod to Grebs. He allowed Pearl to pull him across the lounge, only now he hobbled on his sore foot and moved slow as molasses. He exaggerated the injury as Pearl gently led him across the floor and through the tangle of whores and guards. He bumbled through the room, muttering apologies – making people look at him, only to see nothing with his hat pulled low. His eyes darted about the room with furtive glances, while his head barely turned. His enemies were in here – somewhere – and he refused to turn and have a good look.

Pearl led Baet down a long, dim hallway. She stopped at her room, produced a key, and unlocked her door. Her fine curtains obscured the view, but not the light. As Baet stepped into the room, he lifted his head and took a casual glance back into the main room. Garf faced directly toward him – but he did not see Baet. His eyes were down as he stared at the voluptuous mounds of the woman that sat on his lap. She sat with her back to him, arms lifted above her, as she combed and pulled his frazzled hair. One of his grizzly hands cupped a breast as the other moved up under her dress. There was a look of rapt fascination on the dangerous man's face – then she snapped her knees together and trapped his lusty fingers.

"Hey!" Garf complained, loud enough that the entire room looked up. With a raucous laugh, the large woman spread her legs once more.

Baet stepped inside Pearl's room, closed the door, and locked it; convinced he was still unknown. He looked about the room. and noted the door on the far side of the bed. "Does this go to the alley?" he asked with sudden hope in his heart as he made his way to the door.

"Where are you going?" Pearl asked. From the edge of her bed, she jumped on Baet's back as he unlocked the door to the alley. She kissed and nibbled at his neck as she wrapped herself around him. He turned on her – but she was so close. She put her lips on his and wrangled him up against the wall. For a moment Baet acquiesced.

"I don't know if this is the proper time..." he began to protest.

"I do," Pearl smiled and held him against the wall. She kissed him again and he realized she already had her shirt off. Her tits were perfect. "You're quite a looker," she beamed at Baet as the reek of coffee caught in his nose (it wasn't such a bad smell). She tugged on him and tried to bring him down to her bed.

Baet resisted.

"What? You got more waiting to do?!" Pearl asked, flummoxed.

Baet put his hand in her face, "I'm sorry. I have to think," he said. The others were in the lounge, distracted but dangerous. Baet wondered if he might somehow get the jump on one of them – perhaps in one of the rooms – perhaps caught in a compromising position.

Pearl slapped Baet's hand out of the way. "Hello!?" she snapped, not interested in being ignored.

"Wait!" He hissed as he tried to formulate any sort of plan. How many men might he expect to find still at the house? He imagined there were still far too many.

With her hand on his arm, Pearl dug her nails into his skin.

"Ow!" Baet glared at the whore.

Pearl wore an apology as she bit her lip. She leaned close to Baet's ear. "You don't have to say anything. You just go on thinking your deep thoughts, okay?" She teethed his neck. She kissed him again and again.

Baet tried to think about Garf, Banifourd, and Humbert – but his blood rushed south. Pearl pressed her body into his. How much time did he have...? She split his mouth with her tongue, and Baet found the sensation agreeable. Giving into her pressures, Baet kissed her back. She was warm and eager despite the taste of coffee on her lips. She was strong and enthusiastic as she pulled him onto the bed. After a few minutes of groping and necking, Baet was fully bothered. This won't take long, he thought. And then he could formulate a proper plan – or so he told himself. "Let me get my clothes," he said as he stood and began to undo his cloak.

Pearl smiled and dropped back on the bed. She kicked up her legs and pulled off her small pants in one quick motion. Eyes wide, Baet undid his belts and placed his weapons on the dresser one by one, as he stared at Pearl in all her unadorned glory.

"My my my. Loving man is a fighter," Pearl noted his muskets and knives. "You home from the war, loving man?"

"What war?" Baet asked.

"There's always some war," Pearl shrugged, "If you bother to go looking."

Baet gave a bit of a nod and pulled off his blood-stained underwear. "I am most certainly not home," he smiled.

"And with that mess, you must still be at war," Pearl said as she held out her arms and uncrossed her legs. "Come here, loving man. I have a stirring that needs strong hands," she purred.

Baet did as he was told. Pearl rolled him on his back. She was a vocal thing as they played hide and peep with Baet's soldier. She cooed and panted as she pushed against and pulled away. He swam her river as long as he could, but did not last long in her grip. Her mouth hung open, a mimic of Baet's awkward expression, as his soldier spit seed, and his mind erupted with light and euphoria. It was all over so quickly!

With a bit of a giggle, Pearl climbed off Baet and picked up her shirt.

Baet sat up. "That didn't give me long to think," he complained.

Pearl turned to him with a chastising look, "It is not a whore you seek but a wife," she said as she pulled back her hair and gave Baet a remorseful look. She climbed back onto the bed and over Baet on all fours. She took his spent soldier in hand and gently massaged the good man. "I can make it right," she said. "I'll take another dose of your seed if your willing to give a girl another diem."

"Another diem," Baet agreed readily.

Pearl smiled to hear it. "Let us give your kingly piece a minute to regroup before the next thrust," she said as she sat across his chest. "What game shall we play while we wait?" She put a finger in her mouth.

"I haven't been one for games of late," Baet shrugged. "You'll have to decide."

She paused as she thought for a moment. There was only one game she liked to play. They already played it once, and were about to play it again. "What's wrong with your leg?" Pearl asked as she pawed his chest.

"My foot?" Baet corrected her. "I managed to get a few shards of glass stuck in it."

Pearl sucked in her breath, "Ooo!" she cringed. "Can I see?!"

"You want to play doctor?" he asked.

"I promise to take my clothes off so you can have a nice look-see..." she spread her arms and smashed her chest against his face. "Please! I'll even get the glass out!" she said.

He squinted at her as he considered the offer. "You have to be super delicate," he told her.

"Delicate?" she smiled. "I'm the most gentle woman you ever met!" With that she jumped off the bed and grabbed Gore Tongue from his pile of belongings. "Mind if I use your blade? I'm not to touch the men's weapons – but I won't tell if you don't..."

"That blade is far too big," Baet protested.

"Nonsense," Pearl said as she crawled back on top of him. "Unlike you, I only need the tip," she smiled. "Now roll over!"

Pearl turned around as Baet spun onto his stomach.

"Which foot is it?" She said and slapped his ass with the flat of the blade.

Baet lifted his foot and Pearl grabbed it with her free hand.

"Ooo..." she began. "Loving man, you done yourself a bit of damage." She said as she gently peeled off the blood stained sock. She licked his messy foot to soften up the dried blood. "There's a bottle under the bed with the last few breaths in it. I suggest you fish about and see if you can't hook it. You might need it," she said, as she gently poked at Baet's tender foot.

Baet hissed and tensed.

"Got our first trespasser, eh?" she said as her prodding became more delicate and localized. Baet reached under the bed and found a bottle with half an inch of clear liquid in it. He took a swig and thought it burned like hellfire as Pearl cut her way to the first shard of glass.