Chapter One – Favours “Dragmire, you’re looking old these days,” said the barmaid, supple lips and bosoms swaying to the beat of her foot padding to and fro behind the stained, oaken bar. The old watch man rolled his eyes at the wall and went back to his ale, licking the edge of his battered steel tankard as was his custom. He went about the consumption of his beverage like an ogre might a leg of lamb, tearing into it with impatience. I watched Molly tend to another silent, dreary customer and collected my thoughts. She had acknowledged my entrance a few moments prior, but discretion and business came before our little arrangement. When she had settled half empty glasses and flagons with her wares, she lifted up the hatch and let me through into the small room to the rear of the inn’s bar. The sound of droning mumbles and the patter patter of dusk merchants and errand boys from the streets beyond left us, and we stepped into the kitchen beyond the store room for some privacy. “You’re looking swelling as ever Moll’, I dare say you’re doing well from all this fame?” I tried to imply a friendly banter would be welcome before we got down to business, but put on a serious expression when I caught a glimpse of her stare. “Let’s not be plentiful with the charm with me Gavel, I ain’t got time. We ‘aver to be done’ away with it and you knows it.” She wagged her finger at me and picked up a large carving knife on the table at the centre of the kitchen. She chopped handy onions to ease the tension, as if she could not stand still to just look at me. Given our history, or rather, distinct lack of, I didn’t blame her. “Okay. You asked to see Thom about the Guard House, but he can’t get away.” “What was his excuse this time?” She rolled her eyes, and hit the chopping board harder and harder. Her strength, delighting her feminine wiles cleaved the soup ingredients into symmetrical halves almost as if they weren’t there at all. The juicy red skin of the home grown produce offered no resistance. I crossed my arms over my chest tightly and sighed. We had this discussion almost daily for two weeks, so I made a show of preparing myself to go through the motions. “He is snowed under with duty because of the festival; he has to maintain a full guard with no support from the Dock Land brigade because they are over watching the merchant fleets from the Western kingdoms.” With that, she seemed to relent, and I let down my guard for a moment. Though we had been through a great deal, me and Molly Lanier, her marriage to Captain Thom Lanier was still something of an enigma to me. She cleaved the last onion with a little more kindness than the rest and set the cleaver on its edge. She made a motion to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye with the sleeve of her free hand, and I tried to make out wherever or not it was the onions or the eroding presence of being abandoned. With a scoop, she deposited her work into a large pale and heaved it across the stonework kitchen floor to set it on the roaring open fireplace. The large, three tier grill that settled over the flames was already heaving with pots and pans, hissing and bubbling away, but she made room stubbornly. “If he don’t agree to it we ain’t done’ it.” That statement was expected, and I walked around the table to help her with the last adjustment with a hand of kindness. “I would not expect you to take any other stance Moll, I am not here to try and twist your arm.” I smiled at her dreamily, before wandering back to the table to lean against it suavely. I did suave well, for all the wonder it did me, and Moll appreciated the show of effort even though we understood one another’s boundaries all too well. “So why are you here?” The heady aromas of the kitchen took over my senses for a few seconds, with waves of stilton and brandy and chestnuts. They were an odd fusion, but the many patrons of the Antelope of Penny Lane had come far and wide to taste the food, and Molly always tried her best to accommodate her guests. I took up a large, red, juicy apple from the customary bowel at the centre of the table and rubbed it against my lapel. “I have come to ask you for a favour, for once.” She looked at me in a way she had not looked at me for in a long, long time. “No, please, don’t raise your suspicions. I am not trying to trick you, it is as honest and, well, for me, simple enough.” When my father died I had been given a choice. I had to choose between a life of my own, and the life my wretched mother wished to impose on me. I had fled that night, with nothing other than the clothes on my back and a whimper, and ran out into the cold rain of Rodham’s streets. Molly’s father had found me, and like all good Samaritans had taken me in. I became his son, and his daughter, the brunette vixen Molly my sister. When I became the Gavel, and took to the proffering of lucrative items beyond money, they had turned a blind eye to my ways as only family could. I had promised to never involve them short of necessity, and this was one of those times. She scurried every inch of me, trying to gauge some sort of shenanigans in my otherwise rigid body language. As she observed my form, she stacked three plates of steaming vegetables, set out by one of the many servants who went periodically back and forth from the upper kitchen to the lower gallery and strutted back through the store room into the bar. “Spit it out Gavel!” She shouted back over her shoulder reluctantly, and as the swing doors swung their little rattle fanfare, I skipped after her with a grin that could spines, and quite often did.