THE BIGGEST FISH
Barrand knew well the dangers of Caliet. It was a saying among its denizens of the inner city, that little fish were eaten by bigger fish. He rubbed his hands over the rag which served as a blindfold for his ruined eyes and took in the sounds of the night. The crickets cheeped their song and somewhere could be heard the padding of a cat. He smiled at the brief hiss and scuffle which followed, glad that it had trapped its prey.
A selskirt attempted to solicit business from a tradesman. The murmurs of negotiation continued as cloth shifted against timber. A soft groan followed, coming from the ground. His good cheer wafted away over the fallen man, “the smallest fish.” Footsteps shuffled swiftly toward the sound. They were soft, too light to be a man’s. Metal jingled. A “bigger fish” had struck.
A moment elapsed before cloth dragged on stone. The dragging ceased to be replaced with running footsteps. She hitched her dress now, the sound of her exit leading to the left where he knew the street forked.
The alley was too quiet. No scuttling of rat, cockroach or cat stirred.
‘Woman, beware!’ He shouted.
He felt the vibration of her flung against the wall along with her panicked squawk.
‘And what do you have there, my fair one?’ A gravely voice queried.
He trotted over to the scuffle as quick as he dared without tripping.
‘Please do not kill me,’ wailed the selskirt in a restricted voice.
There was a hand around her throat. Squirming sounded against the wall. A “bigger fish” had swallowed her. The striking of timber against stone filled his senses. By the force of the blow where it struck the wall and the source of his voice, he knew he was a taller man; powerful, and wielding a cudgel.
‘Come to stop me, have you?’
His hand slapped onto the pommel of his sword, but then his grip relented. Footsteps shuffled furtively beyond the vagabond, too light for anyone else to hear, but too heavy to be that of small beasts.
‘No need,’ Barrand whispered; “Bigger fish” were coming. ‘Run!’
Only the woman managed to dart past him. A grunt emanated from the spot she had been and something heavy dragged on the paving stones.
They said nothing but he knew they crept closer; the tunnel dwellers, cannibalistic lepers who lived beneath the poorer quarter, feasting on thieves, cutthroats and the poor; anyone who would not be missed. The softest whisper emanated to his right, the sound of a knife leaving its sheath and he thrust; his sword finding yielding flesh. An agonised groan ensued and the thud of his victim struck the street.
Footsteps shuffled closer. There were four of them. His blade whistled once from right to left, sending them back, and edge closer again, this time more cautiously.
He readied his stance to take them, but the unmistakable sound of steel scraping stone grew louder behind them, the “biggest fish” of all.
‘Not him,’ wailed one of the vile marauders.
Their lives would end in moments. He knew they faced the most dangerous thing on Caliet’s streets…the one men called The Forgotten One.
The whoosh of his axe ended with a gargled scream. One of them squawked and grew silent after a sickening snap. Again the axe “sang” and he heard something slide from the wall. A meaty thud followed. The last of them fell at his feet. He could hear no breathing.
Silence followed for an eternity as he still held his sword forward.
‘Is that meant for me?’
Good humour edged the voice which emanated out of the darkness.
Barrand smiled, re-sheathing his blade.
‘Of course not my friend, it is good to see the poorer quarter is safe for another night.’
‘Well good night and safe journey. Not that I have any need to tell the great “Barrand.” Tell me, is it true what they say, that you can hear a butterfly flap its wings and snatch it from the air?’
‘Aye, but my skill came at a cost,’ he said, tapping his blindfold.
‘I have my burden too as you know. Anyone can play with a good hand; it takes a man to play with the cards he has been dealt.’
A creak sounded down low. It was the tightening of The Forgotten One’s hand on the haft, rising higher, and stopping at his shoulder. The conversation was over.
‘Good night,’ Barrand said.
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