Because I've become horribly addicted to the characters I made for my second novel I decided to take each of them for a very short spin in a vignette and also provide a little sneak preview of sorts.
The first one is Matteus. I wouldn't worry about it getting too spoilery if anyone actually cares about that stuff.
Glistening sweat froze in the plummeting temperatures of the late Riatan winter. Bare feet skidded across cracking tiles, trying to support the groaning weight, as a man clad in nothing more than a bit of chemise he could grab from the floor before making his daring escape through the fluttering shades made his treacherous way across the shadowed rooftops.
Behind him, Matteus heard the shrill shrieks as his momentary paramour tried to stop her bull of a husband from climbing out the window after him. The cold night hung in the air of Falcrine like a heavy cloak buffeting the typical city clamor as thieves plied their trade. Only the splinter and creak of tiles slipping from their place and plummeting to the ground broke through the silent streets.
Skittering, he paused at roofs edge looking helplessly across an alley with salvation a neck-breaking jump away. Matteus dropped to his hands and peered down, hoping, but not expecting, to find a ladder. And the night had started so well with a full purse, a full mug and the promise of a very active bedroom.
It was the scar upon his cheek; far more alluring than any amount of coin, honey drizzled poetry, or strapping backside (not that he was lacking in that department). As soon as a woman spotted his scar, she’d already written a back-story inside her delicious head before he need utter a word. The trick was letting her tell him what it was so the dashing rogue who saved carriages from runaway babies could sweep her off her delicate toes.
And it would work so well too, if husbands would bother to remain at the brothels for as long as they normally visit.
He tested the tensile strength of the rather useless bed curtains with his hands, the seams giving way almost instantly. No use as a rope unless he was in the mood to meet the Raven Lady tonight.
As he stood up something whizzed past his head, the aim off thanks to his sliding unpredictably upon the iced roof.
His head cracked around in time to watch a bear rear up and hurl another rock, this one missing even more in the bluster of emotions and cracking even more tiles that insurance would refuse to cover under act of asshole.
Gods damn them all! Husbands were supposed to be weak things with runny eyes and wrists the size of noodles, not this hulking monstrosity - more animal than man - bearing down upon him. What a time to leave his sword, and bow, and knickers behind.
Matteus backed up as the man-bear approached, steam pillaring from his rampaging nostrils lightening up the frozen air. He half expected flames to shoot off the sides of his face. If there was one thing Falcrine’s did well it was overreacting.
He tried to hold his arms up in a “now, now; mistakes were made, but this is no reason to resort to murder,” but his foot slipped and he pin wheeled his arms trying to retain a semblance of balance and not meet with a broken jaw.
Unfortunately, to the good people of Falcrine (and a small island nation off the coast of Duneclaw), this was considered a grave offense on par with waving ones bare buttocks upon a great-aunt.
The man-bear roared, he actually threw his head back and roared, stomping his feet up and down like a bull about to charge. Matteus glanced towards the window and the silhouette of the woman watching with rapt attention, most likely hoping her husband would squash the man she brought to her bed like an olive.
Stepping back once more, he crossed the roof’s crest and stood precariously like a cockerel about to announce the dawn. Trying to find footing, he stood carefully and, as the wronged man began to charge, he raised his fist up to punch back.
That little movement was all it took to throw off his narrow balance. Iced tiles gave way, and his feet lurched forward, sliding free from their narrow grasp of friction.
“Shit,” was all Matteus got out before his chin hit the roof and his face met with shattering terracotta. His head bounced along the grooves, while his naked body slid down the roof like a sled upon a wintry hill before running out of roof and settling for smashing his body upon the street below. Man-Bear peered down over the roof, trying to spot his downed prey, but could only see the tracks left by him in the missing tiles.
Matteus thought about moving, rolling, even breathing; but that all seemed as likely as the Emperor deciding maybe beheading everyone who dared to wear purple wasn’t such a nice way to spend Modranicht after all.
Terracotta lay shattered and smashed around him, outlining his bruised and bleeding body; but the important thing was that he was still alive, until Man-bear figured out there was a ladder on the other side of the roof. Moving would be a good idea, suggested one part of his brain, while another made the rude gesture back at it.
Once again, a preternatural amount of luck shined down upon the naked man bleeding upon the cobblestones as the familiar scent of tobacco cut with orange and clove wafted into his nose. A man approached, his long nose poking through a fur-lined hood and billows of smoke from his disgustingly preferred blend framing him in the wintry air. His gentlemanly air was slightly betrayed by a limp from better-forgotten younger days.
“What mess have you found yourself waded in this time, compagno?” the voice was the only warmth upon the frozen street but even it cracked along the edges like broken roof tiles.
With a mouth full of miraculously unbroken teeth Matteus lightly picked his head up and said, “You know me, Cosimo; all the bastards are spending their evenings reclining naked upon the frosty ground. You should truly try it some time, it opens up the humors wonderfully.”
Cosimo unbuttoned his cloak and draped it around the naked shoulders of his oldest friend. Aging fingers tried to peel the man up from the road, but his slight frame offered little help. Instead Matteus gritted his teeth and tried to get himself vertical.
It took a few rolls, a few slips back, and a large rush of very obstinate blood to his head but eventually he stood in the waning lamp light trying to cover as much of his shame as he could with the small cloak while looking upon his savior.
But that was always Cosimo’s job; while the other three whored and thieved their way into enough trouble to single handedly keep the bribery economy booming, he was always there to break them out or chase off angry fathers/guardians. No one was certain why he’d joined up with their little band of cast off bastards, but he was as steady as the northern wind and could be just as cutting.
“I should leave you for the guards to find, assuming Lady Winter did not claim you first,” the man leaned up against Matteus to give him support and lead him slowly down the street.
“Yes yes, you always say that, yet you never do,” despite the blood seeping from his forehead Matteus still grinned upon his friend, who struggled with the newly added weight.
“Let me guess, it was a shapely ankle that lead to your sprawling unclothed across the night’s ground?”
“Not just an ankle, there were entire delicious sections of her that would make marble masters weep for days.”
Cosimo sighed; it was always the same with this deceptively not young man. The passage of time, which had done little to affect Matteus’ visage, also seemed to leave his character unchanged as well. Their fellow compagno’s had both succumb to a dangerous case of the stupids years ago, one from trying to outrun a centaur and the other raving while the pox ravaged him.
Only Cosimo, through years of careful planning and saving, managed to carve for himself an unexpected semblance of civility against his birthright, “One day it will claim you, you know, and you’ll find yourself bed or grave-ridden.”
Matteus smiled, “And how is Domitilla?”
“Off visiting with her parents. You are very lucky indeed, for she’d toss you back out upon the street.”
“Such a loving, gentle woman,” Matteus joked; it unnerved him to think of his old friend as married, settled, decaying in that tiny inn he owned until the end.
Cosimo resigned himself to the hell he would get later from his wife, “Come, let us wash and bandage you up. I believe there are still a few old healing potions left in the basket.”
“Clothes would be nice too, perhaps something in velvet.”
“Do not look a gift mercenary in the teeth.”
“You’ve really done it this time,” Cosimo said as he dropped his walking hat upon the narrow table, he’d barely made it ten steps out the door before the streets rang with gossip.
“Done what?” Matteus asked as he whacked into the boiled egg in front of him and recoiled at the innards oozing from the crack. His old friend was a life reviver in many ways, and his tracking skills were none to compare, but his mastery of the kitchen left most stomachs aching for the sweet embrace of death.
“You do not know?” Cosimo shook his head, “No, of course you don’t.” The night had been a long one of healing wounds and feigning interest in Matteus’ tales as he wyrmed his way across the Empire and into as many beds as possible. The fact that his friend did not notice his disinterest was a perfect example of why he stopped traveling with him all those years ago.
“The news is all across Falcrine, and soon enough shall make its way to Avar herself; a man dared to defile the Praetor’s wife.”
Matteus paused in his egg slurping, “Oh, oops.”
Cosimo massaged his temples, “Yes, ‘oops.’”
“Well, give it time. From the eyes she was giving me, I’m certain she’ll have some new beau she can lure to her web for her husband to maul upon. In the mean time I’ll visit with the western counties; I hear they finally got a horse.”
“This is no laughing matter, the man is also a close relation to the Emperor.”
“I believe they are already drawing lots to see who gets to dangle your intestines from the city flag pole,” Cosimo glared at Matteus, but even the threat of draw and quartering rolled off his massive back like a duck in water. He looked away with his next thoughts, not wanting to look his old friend in the eye, “I cannot protect you; if the council learned of my involvement I would lose my home, my inn, my wife.”
“No big loss there,” the ox shrugged.
A hardened fist slammed onto the table, shattering what little was left of the egg, “Gods damn you! I’m over fifty now, I cannot give up everything I have worked my bones for to chase after you like a nurse maid while you continuously play the part of wounded adolescent. Even if you still look the part, maybe it’s time you stopped acting it.”
Matteus frowned. It had been this way with Prisco and Fabian in the end, both slowing as their age caught up to them and shooting jealous daggers at the man it seemed to have forgotten. He’d never admit it, but it bothered him just as much to watch his boyhood friends succumb to the grave dance, but he thought Cosimo was different. The man was born to be a middle-aged grouch and seemed to revel in it; these should be the best years of his life.
Without saying a word, Matteus rose from the table and mumbled about finding his shoes. Luckily Cosimo’d been able to smuggle his kit out of the rented room before the arrest warrant hit the streets.
The old man watched his friend with weary eyes as one does a baby bird stubbornly attempting to walk its way out of the nest rather than fly like the rest of its brethren. “I do know of a captain that runs some illegal goods on occasion out of the Heathen territories. He could smuggle you out.”
Matteus grinned wide at that, “Perfect. Wait a few years with the towel heads, sample some of the exotic wonders, and, when the Praetor’s died down, come back.”
Cosimo shook his head, “No, I am sorry my friend. You may be able to outrun assassins,” at that Matteus frowned and looked away, not wanting to remember what he lost to the ones chasing after his family name, “and other jilted lovers, but as long as the Empire stands so does this warrant. Even your unnaturally long life will not dull it.”
He looked around, trying to shake off the dread of leaving behind the only land he knew and feign nonchalance at the prospect of a lonelier life, not that his old friend was buying it for a second, “Ah, a fresh start, just what I could use. No more bumping into forgotten lovers who I owe money and pigs to. Um,” his voice dropped low, afraid to ask the burning question for the only part of the world he dared care for, “would you mind tending the…the graves?”
“Of course, my friend,” it was agreed long ago to never bring up either woman’s name around Matteus lest he lapse into that raging monster who got them banished from the Avar court.
“Then I suppose that’s it; off to new adventures, new heights, and all that other clap trap, people who were exiled blather on about before getting eaten by a dragon,” he slapped on his scabbard and slotted on his giant greatsword, trying to not bang it into the low ceiling of the cramped room.
Before heading towards the basement and the secret tunnel to the harbor and a life as a Duneclaw mercenary, he turned and winked at Cosimo, “Give Domitilla my love.”
The poor, beleaguered man snapped a spoon in half, cursing to the gods, before accompanying his friend for the last time.