Coffee Break Read – Old Habits Die Hard

He came round lying in the snow, soaked through and frozen. It was dark and the pain of the cold in his body was sharp. It hurt to move and muscles screamed into cramp when he tried. He managed to get to his feet, head swimming and staggered against the wall.
“Are you alright? Here let me help you.”
The solicitous arm came out to go around him, but the glint of metal in the other hand woke Durban to his danger. He rammed his elbow back into his rescuer’s solar plexus, which did no more than make the man curse and forced himself into a staggering run away from the alley and into the main street. There were more people there and his assailant, mercifully, did not mount a pursuit.
The welcome sight of a tavern gave him the strength to cross the road and he pushed open the door into the warmth, his steps uneven.
“We don’t want your kind in here.” The voice was accompanied by a firm grip on his arm and he recalled, belatedly, that he looked more like a night-soil sweeper than a man of substance and his dull eyes and lurching steps must give the impression of insanity or drunkenness. He gripped the arm that seized him and spoke to the bald face, his voice commanding if hoarse.
“I have money, but I have been attacked and robbed. Send to the castle, to the Castellan of Cressida. You will receive gold from him, I promise.”
The face, round as one of the moons, seemed swamped with uncertainty, but Durban’s grip on the world was faltering and he had very little idea of anything until he became aware of lying in the warmth and Caer’s face surveying him with slight concern. He mustered a smile in response and tried to sit up.
They were in a private room of the tavern and he had been laid on blankets by the fire. Someone had removed his wet clothing and the frozen flesh was thawed.
“I might have imagined myself dead and transported to the garden of the gods until I saw your hideous face,” Durban said weakly.
The hideous face broke into an answering grin.
“You will wake from death into the torment of those who have offended the gods and my face will not be there,” Caer told him cheerfully. “I shall be lying in the arms of a well-built nymph and taking my pleasure as I am enjoying watching your sufferings. What happened to you?”
Durban pulled himself up and looked rueful. “I was mugged in the street.”
“They took your clothes and redressed you?”
“No. I was in disguise. There are some problems one can tackle best from the bottom up, some information which will not reach ears that look washed and have lobes that are adorned with jewels.”
“You should have had an escort.”
“Ah yes, that would have worked,” Durban agreed, “a peasant with three hulking well-armed soldiers watching his every step and coming running each time he sneezed.”
“You have men who are more subtle than that,” Caer chided. “Why did you not have them with you? You could have been killed.”
“I am used to taking my own risks and I am used to working alone,” Durban said. “Old habits die hard.”
“And so could you.”
“But not today. It remains for me to thank you for coming to my rescue. I hope you did not trouble our Most Honoured master with the matter?” Durban said it lightly and looked around as he did so. “I don’t suppose you brought me any clothes?”
“I have sent for some for you – you were lucky you had not changed your shirt, the quality of the cloth was about all that convinced the landlord to send for me and not throw you out to die in the snow,” Caer said. “And, no, I did not tell the Most Honoured One when you sent for me, as I did not know it was you. But he has been asking for you. He knows you left your men and went alone, you will need to have something to say to him.”
Durban smiled.
“I think he will forgive me when he hears what I have to say.”
“He always forgives you. You always know what to say to him.”
“I always say what he wants to hear,” Durban told Caer guilelessly. “All I have to do is work very hard to make sure that he wants to hear what I am able to say to him.”

From Dues of Blood part three of Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook

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