The building’s interior was filled to bursting with the most unsavoury people Grace had ever seen, which was saying something for her. People that she had worked with on previous ventures had been worthy of at least the fourth circle of Hell, yet she had barely entered the Doxie before the sulphurous glow from a sea of lamps revealed other mercenaries resuming past quarrels, drunken patrons randomly picking fights, and gamblers arguing that they had lost their bet through low-handed tactics. Many patrons looked like they had just walked off the fishing boat. Yet, many more wore clothing that would barely classify as rags, their arms and chests covered in battle scars, and some missing eyes and ears.
She weaved between the tables, a buzzing hive of harassment as she did her best to avoid the groping hands of the many inebriates. One fellow rallied his impaired co-ordination long enough to loop an arm between her back and cloak, firmly grabbing a buttock as he pulled her into his lap. His tablemates cheered their approval at his catch while he took his hand from his tankard and moved in for a grope. Revolted by his yellowing teeth and noxious breath, Grace grabbed a handful of his greying hair, wrenching back hard as she firmly crashed her forehead into his nose. As his hands flew instinctively to the damaged area, she grabbed his tankard and punched it at the protecting extremities, punching again once his ruined nose reappeared. Removing herself from his lap, she straightened her clothes, and left the unconscious uncouth howling in pain, the stunned tablemates watching her as she continued to move into the innards of the building.
Reaching the balustrading, Grace could see the building consisted of four internal levels, all of which seemed to be holding enough people to seriously strain the floorboards. From her vantage point, she could see the railings of the lower floors were surrounded by people watching the action below. Two pits sat on the lowest level, sunk low enough to be below the level of the lake. One pit was empty, while the other was occupied by a pair of hulking men, bare-chested and throwing bared knuckles at each other.
The man next to her gave her an appraising look before speaking. “Who’s your money on, good-looking?”
Grace gave him a slightly offended look before considering the combatants below. “I just arrived. Who is winning?”
“Bah, it’s been almost three hours now that those two have been fighting.” He pointed to one of the fighters. “See the balding guy who looks like he’s chiselled from stone? I heard that he’s a Witsrezländer, supposedly famous but not this far north. The other guy, with the long blonde hair and ridiculously waxed moustache, he’s from Melbigu. They started fighting to prove their worth to Sebas, but neither has been able to get the advantage.”
She noted his mention of the recruiter. “I am looking for Sebas.” She considered the layers of the tightly packed establishment. “Where in this crush can I find him?”
“He’ll be on the bottom floor, somewhere near the fighting pits. Can I get you a drink?”
Grace considered the man. His features erred towards the plain side, yet his striking blue eyes lifted them towards handsome. Seeing the eager glint in his eyes, she thought he could be of some use to her.
“How about you take me down there to see Sebas? Help me do that, and I’ll buy you a drink. Do they serve food too?”
Seizing his chance, he held his arm out to her. Looping her arm through his, they pushed and weaved their way towards the descending stairs.
“I’d be surprised if there’s any food left in their kitchen, considering how many people are here. Never hurts to ask if there’s a spare serving of fish and chips available to you.”
The thought of cooked potatoes and cooked fish forced Grace to focus on not drooling. As they reached the bottom floor, they saw that the two fighters had resumed their contest, empty pitchers of beer sitting to the side of their combat zone. The second pit had also filled, now containing a very well-dressed man, his bright red silk vest and shiny black pantaloons a world away from the fisherman’s garb of his opponent. The fancily-dressed man’s face flushed red at the verbal tirade of his oppressor, who was berating his mother and questioning her honour. The silk rippled as he flew into action, his movements graceful as he dodged and spun around the flurry of fists issuing from his challenger. The fisherman quickly began to tire, his focus and balance both abandoning him in his attempt to keep pace with the fleet-footed fighter. The aristocrat kept spinning and eluding him until the fisherman fell on his buttocks, eyes spinning widely as the crowd hooted their derision. His opponent moved in quickly to plant a punch on his jaw, adding the man’s consciousness and dignity to the list of things he’d stolen from him in the last three minutes.
Her newfound ally guided Grace towards a raised table close to the pits. Upon the dais sat one man and two ladies, the pair not far removed from the doxie painted on the sign outside. The man wore the prevalent fisherman’s garments, though the quality was several notches above everyone else. She was not able to consider his face before she and her friend were spun around by a solid set of hands. The pair quaked in their boots as they looked up into the angry face of the Doxie’s guard, who was flanked by Grace’s bloodied harasser.
– ♥ –