Chapter 6: Strained Relations

Despite the cumbersome knife, Pearl proved to have a steady hand and a delicate manner as she pinched bits of glass from Baet's foot. "I should ask a diem for each shard I find," she grinned as she extracted yet another sliver.

As she worked, Baet winced and sighed his relief. "If I were a richer man, I should happily pay it. How many do you have?"

"Seven so far," she poked about his foot in search of more. Once again, she licked the blood from his foot.

"That is gross," Baet stuck out his tongue.

"I cannot see my work," Pearl slapped his ass with the flat of the blade. "And it gets all over my hands."

Baet glared at her over his shoulder.

"Is that the last of 'em?" she asked.

Baet considered his foot as she gently prodded about. Sore as it was, there was no sharp pressure from any remaining glass. "Darling, you've done good," he breathed a sigh of relief.

Pearl stepped off the guard and approached her dresser. She removed a roll of gauze from her drawer.

Baet wondered at her neat manner as she bandaged his foot. "You should be a nurse," Baet smiled. "Yours is a wonderful bedside manner."

”Shush, you. Now roll over and let me finish my proper work," she ordered with a devious grin. She sheathed Gore Tongue and tossed in onto the pile of Baet's possessions. Baet rolled over. "I see your king is well rested," Pearl smiled as she settled over him once more. "He stands at proper attention!"

Baet sat up, and rolled Pearl to her back. "Let's go slow this time," he said as he stared into her bright eyes. He hoped one day to have such a pretty girl to call his own. He kissed her again.

After a minute or so of such tender touching, Pearl squirmed and pulled away. "What are you doing?" she glared at Baet. "You are awkward, like a boy! I need a man's passion! Do you want me?! Make me feel it! Take me like you want me!" She slapped his face.

Stunned, Baet recoiled. His cheek burned with the strike. She put a lot of muscle into the slap! For a second, they stared at each other. The anger increased in her eyes, and Pearl slapped him again. He tried to duck the blow, but she caught him on the ear. Infuriated, Baet slapped her back.

Pearl's head snapped to the side. A line of blood appeared on her lip. She stared at him as shock, pain, and anger rippled across her face. God, she was beautiful – and he made her bleed. Baet felt like an asshole.

Pearl licked the blood from her lips. "Hit me again," she purred.

Appalled at the idea, Baet leaned away from her.

Her look turned to one of remorse. She laid back on the bed with a moan. "Come, lover, the war is over. I hold a sheath for thy blade." She spread her legs and arched her back. "Don't you want to put your brat in me?" she squirmed under him.

Despite her rude behavior, his desire burned. "No more hitting?" He asked, uninterested in the violence.

"Promise," there was a softness in her eyes. "Please..." she begged, with a frown on her lips and her arms outstretched. "Would you leave me like this?"

Slowly, Baet settled over Pearl. Her eyes were bright and she wore a welcome smile. She was gentle and enthusiastic for a good dozen pushes – then she sunk her nails and raked Baet's back with a vengeance. Several of her claws broke the skin and drew long gashes across his skin. Baet gasped. He tried to pull away from her, but Pearl sunk her nails and refused to let go. Horrified, Baet stood, and picked Pearl up in the effort. She was a small thing, and light, thank the gods.

With her nails still digging into his skin, Pearl bit Baet's shoulder and produced another river of blood. Baet screamed as pain and confusion raced through his mind. He could not figure out why she was attacking him. He grabbed her hair in a knotted fist and pulled her away. She gasped, and although it broke her bite, her nails continued to dig in his skin. With his free hand, Baet squeezed her tit as hard as he could.

Pearl screamed and retracted her nails. Baet disentangled himself and threw her across the room. She landed in a heap just off the side of her bed as she cradled her offended breast.

"Look what you've done!" Baet huffed. He turned his back as blood ran in thin rivers from her scratches and bite. He clenched his fist and thought he might indeed hit her again. He stood over her with an increasingly flaccid billy and tried to shake off his anger.

Pearl reached under her bed and produced a knife of her own. She pointed it at Baet. "Stop using me like your sister!" She raged. "Come, boy! Your fire lacks heat! Now fight hard, or fuck off!"

There was a knock at the door, and a voice called into the room. "Pearl?" It was the gruff voice of the barkeep, full of concern and trepidation.

Baet realized he was being incredibly loud with Garf in the other room. He blanched. What if Garf should hear him and recognize his voice?

"I'm fine!" Pearl snapped at the door. "Mind the fucking bar, Grebs!"

A defeated sigh came through the door. "You know Felicia don't want you getting so much blood on the sheets..."

"God dammit! I don't tell you how to pour!" Pearl snapped and threw her shoe at the door. "Don't tell me how to ride!"

A sigh issued from the far side of the door, followed by heavy footsteps going away.

Baet stood stock still for several seconds. Pearl glared at him with her knife in hand. Her gaze softened, and she relaxed. She reached overhead and stuck the knife in the wall as if she'd done it a hundred times before. Indeed, now that he looked, Baet recognized dozens of scores over her bed.

"Come, loving man. I'm worth the effort, aren't I?" Pearl whispered as she tried to lure him closer.

Baet believed she was likely to stab him if he thought to proceed. God, she was beautiful – and damned near the craziest woman he'd ever met!

Baet realized this was not the place to be. He had work to do, and this was an egregious mistake. He turned away from Pearl and began to dress in a bit of a hurry.

"Oh what?! So now you're done?!" Pearl roared at him.

Baet did not bother to respond – though he eyed her over his bleeding shoulder.

As he dressed, Pearl stood. She watched him intently, and he wondered if she might rush him. After several long seconds, she turned and pulled on her own clothes. She finished the task long before he did, as it pained him to pull on his shirt. "You better leave the coin! " She yelled at him. "Just because you don't want to finish, don't mean you get my efforts free and clear!"

Baet kept his distance as he latched his belts. He secured his weapons as he kept Pearl in sight. In a huff, Pearl leaned heavily against the inside door. She glared at Baet as he continued to dress.

With all of his clothes on, Baet produced two diems. and set them on the dresser, one at a time – after all, he couldn't have the house coming after him. "For my foot," he put both diems down with a click. "And for the insanity," he flipped her off.

She stomped over and snatched the diems off her dresser. "Fuck you," she snapped at him with her face inches from his own. "You couldn't ride my mother to satisfaction."

Baet backed away and opened the door that led to the alley. He slipped through with his nerves raw and on fire. His whole body sang with rage at having such a good time so thoroughly and pointlessly ruined. Pearl slammed the door behind him. The lock produced an audible click.

Baet turned and immediately noted the man at the end of the alley. He was dressed in a watchman's uniform and smoking what smelled like conicle. As he approached, Baet recognized the man. He kept his hat low and the man didn't look at him until it was too late. Without hesitating, Baet smashed his elbow into Banifourd's face. Banifourd crumbled from the blow. Baet grabbed the man and flung him headlong into the opposite wall of the thin alley. Banifourd just managed to get his hands up before he collided with the bricks. He bounced off the wall and flopped to the ground in a heap.

Blood drained from the Banifourd's nose and mouth. Baet stepped over Banifourd, "that's for Haddelton." Baet put a knee in Banifourd's chest. and held Gore Tongue to his throat. Banifourd finally got a good look at his attacker. He groaned though he held very still.

"What are you doing here, old buddy?" Baet grinned at his former colleague. "Fancy colors. I see Garf wears the blue and white. Is it a coincidence that finds us all at the same house?"

"I have a stake in the place," Banifourd answered with a croak.

"Lucky for me," Baet noted. "Who knew you had such connections this far north?"

Banifourd glared at Baet as if he was daft. "My mother is from Wibbeley, you clueless..." he trailed off as he eyed the knife suspiciously. "My connections to the Noeth are why Creigal brought me – lucky me."

Baet felt stupid for not knowing. "What happened to the others?" he changed the subject.

Banifourd groaned and squirmed under Baet's knee. "It wasn't me! It was Garf! It was always Garf!"

Baet slapped the man with the edge of his knife. Banifourd sucked air as he tried to back from the knife, but the ground wouldn't let him sink any lower. Baet leaned in close. "Now quiet like," he said. "You attract attention, you're the only one that's sure to die."

Banifourd gulped.

"What of Edderfeld?" Baet asked.

"Killed by Garf. I swear it!" Banifourd confessed in a harsh whisper.

"Barkaloe? Ainju, Launden?"

"The same. Garf murdered 'em all!"

"And Bence? Where was he during all of this?"

Banifourd said nothing.

"He's a traitor, isn't he?" Baet asserted. "I seen the way he looks at you."

Banifourd gave a subtle nod. "He loaded the horses, then kept the innkeeper and his family from interfering."

Baet snorted. "Not surprised that lickspittle don't have the iron necessary to lift a blade. Where is Humbert? Is the Count protecting him? Did you coax him to steal from the Duke?" Baet could only hope to pin everything on the traitor – but such wasn't the case.

Banifourd shook his head. "Humbert is long gone. He turned for Land's End – back in Gaetilly."

Land's End?! Baet's heart sunk. From here, Land's End was half way to Tallia! He would not be able to confront Humbert and take back what he stole. Not for several more weeks at the very least. Then he smiled as he thought Creigal might end the hunt altogether – since Humbert was so far away.

Banifourd continued his confession. "Bence was a coward. It took half us the night to convince him Launden was no Fifth Guard! He went on and on about Launden's medallion – a crumbled pillar with an iron core!"

"Fifth Guard?" Baet replied. "Don't you know, half the escort is former Fifth Guard?"

Garf stared at Baet, shocked by the assertion. "I don't... I didn't think it was real... Are you...?"

"What do you think?" Baet smirked.

"What other secrets does Creigal keep from his nobles?" Banifourd blanched.

"I'll ask the questions," Baet reminded him.

"It was all Garf!" Banifourd squirmed. "You have to believe me! It was all Garf's doing!"

For several seconds Baet considered this . Finally, he leaned in close... "What about Haddelton, you snake?"

Seized by horror, Banifourd floundered. Unsure what to say, he huffed and choked as he struggled to get free of Baet's knee.

Baet had everything he wanted. He hit Banifourd in the side of the head with the butt of Gore Tongue – maybe a little harder than he intended. Banifourd's head lulled to the side. His eyes glazed and closed. Unconscious, Banifourd curled into a fetal position.

Baet spit on the man and considered sticking Gore Tongue through his heart. He deserved no less for what he did to Haddelton: blood for blood. But some part of him thought it was right to leave the man alive – or at least as much as he was. Banifourd twitched several times, and Baet wondered if might not die anyway. Chances were Banifourd was already dead, his body just going through the process of shutting it all down...

Baet frowned and decided to leave it up to the gods. If Banifourd lived, he'd suffer a good bit first. Indeed, he might never be right again. He'd seen what a good blow to the head could do to a man. Baet wiped his bloody hands on the downed man's coat, and stepped away. He looked up at the sky and realized it was only a few hours after noon. Pearl took little time indeed, and despite her disagreeable temperament, she did a surgeon's work getting the glass from his foot! With victory in his step, Baet decided it was time to return to his master and deliver the news. He was happy to think he'd be mostly sober by the time he got there.