Author: E.M. Prazeman

©2015 Wyrd Goat Press, LLC

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Mark guarded the money box at a small table beside his mother’s shrouded body. Butlers in dark overcoats, rich merchant’s sons dressed like lacy nobles and other regular patrons of his mother’s wine shop sorted through estate wares. Gray light outlined the shadowed people as they came in from the spring morning’s chill. Some perused the selection in the barrel room. Some touched Mark on the top of his head as they passed and whispered, “allolai protect you.” They stole bits of his composure and mussed his hair.

A tall, heavy-shouldered man came in. Mark looked hopefully, only to be disappointed.

His father had been missing for a whole day now.

Mark wormed his hand into the winding sheet and held his mother’s icy hand. Squeezed it. It didn’t feel like her anymore. More like raw poultry in a glove.

Thomas, one of the regulars, came over with his battered purse. “How about two gules for the two barrels of burgundy you have left.” His sweaty, dark-bearded face mounded into a smile.

Mark opened his mother’s ledger. She’d purchased the burgundy for two gules a barrel. The familiar lines of her tidy handwriting threatened to make his eyes tear up. He shut the ledger. “No.”

The smile smoothed away and Thomas leaned closer. “Come on, boy. That’s more than you’ve seen all day.”

Thomas’ forceful manner made his cheeks burn. Mark owned a certain fondness for him, but it felt too much like Thomas wanted to take advantage. “Make a better offer or leave off.”

“Here now,” Thomas said, reddening. “Your mother never treated a paying customer so! I wouldn’t cheat you. We’ve always been friendly, haven’t we, Mark?”

Thomas’ smile failed to disguise a glint of cold anticipation in his dark eyes. What did he really want? “They’re worth thrice more. And I can sell it by the carafe if I want.” His fears of losing everything his parents had worked for churned back up, though it wasn’t as bad as—

His mother had still been alive when he found her soaked in blood, gasping, unable to speak. He saw terror and pain in her eyes—

The bastard laughed. “By the carafe? The landlord won’t lease this place to a song boy. You have a day at most to make your money and run.”

Mark’s heart skipped. “Lord Jorbeth knows I helped keep the books. I’m old enough.” Older than the baker’s ten year old son, and that illiterate bully managed the store while his father slept all day. Mark’s face warmed as his temper rose. “And my father will turn up soon.”

“Take the money you have and run while you can.” The nastiness had left Thomas’ voice and his eyes widened with earnest. “I mean it, boy.” Was that real concern in his eyes? Thomas opened the purse and picked out two gules from a jumble of argen, cupru and bits. “Find me later. I know a place you can stay.”

A man like Thomas oughtn’t have that much coin.

“I can’t run,” Mark told him. “My father has an indenture and the only way I can pay on it is if I have the shop.”

“Never mind the indenture. I can protect you from the Church.”

Mark’s heart jumped. No one, well, maybe someone from the islands could protect him from the Church. But what did Thomas want with him, and why would Mark need protection?

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