Two weeks ago only three people had been in this tavern when he met with the two implementers. The little tavern had been empty except for Elijah and the two thugs, thugs if ever he’d seen thugs. Now he could not see across the room for the press of people. How could he have been so stupid. Of course, tonight, this week, this month, every public place in Ravenna was crammed with people. The noise of loud voices and raucous laughter hurt is ears. His head hurt. If he could find them they would have to shout just to have a conversation. No whispers in the corner at the small table.
He pushed his way through the crowd toward the far corner. Someone’s arm came out and hit him in the chest, not a blow just wild gesticulating. The man apologised. Elijah’s head hurt too much to respond. He just pushed forward.
A fight erupted in front of him.
“There is one God!”
“You deny the two natures of Christ?”
“Heretics, God is trinity!”
Benches toppled. A fist hit a nose. Shouting and fighting spread.
Elijah pushed on.
At the far corner the small table was still there. Four country clouts were drinking long after they should have stopped. How they could get so drunk on watered wine, Elijah had no idea.
Suddenly, the man at the far corner of the table stood, stumbled against the table knocking down the bench.
“I have to go out,” the fellow said and pushed his way through the crowd. The other three got up and stumbled behind him. The table tipped over spilling wine and cups.
Elijah felt a nudge.
“Hello, Elijah.” The two thugs pushed past him to right the table and benches, sat down, and motioned for him to join them. He couldn’t remember their names. He slid through more people and sat on the bench facing the thugs.
“So, what happened?” Elijah growled.
The wiry one started first. “It was him. Him who did it.”
The big, bulky one. “How did we know that deacon would be poking around? He saw us. There he was all pious with his candle, crossing himself, and then he heard us and turned around.”
Elijah let his anger show. “You’ve brought trouble on all of us. Didn’t you check before you went in? You had a key.”
The wiry one, “We didn’t know he’d be there. You said they all went to prayer after evensong. We just wanted to grab the cup and the book. You didn’t tell us the kid would be there.”
Elijah glared. “Do you know who ‘the kid’ is? Do you know? Triwilla will hunt you down.” His Syrian angularities grew sharper as his face tightened. His dark eyes glowed.
“We didn’t know. We didn’t know.” The wiry one whined. “You’ll have to pay us double so we can get away. You’re the one who wanted it done.”
“No,” Elijah growled again. His head was throbbing with the noise and dealing with these two. The responsibility was his. He’d been ordered to make it happen. He could feel fear welling up. A slave could be sold or killed for failure. Now he didn’t know what to do with these two idiots. “No hiding. No extra pay. Just go about your lives as if nothing had happened. The important thing is you have the cup and the book.”
“What?” Elijah stared at them.
“Well…” the wiry one started. “I… I…”
The bulky one said, “He lost them.”
Servatus watched the fog seeping up the channel in what was left of gray evening light. The supply ships due would have to wait until tomorrow morning to come in. He threw on a short cape and lumbered with an almost old man’s gait down the docks toward the headquarters of the Classe oarsmen and the office of the praepositus dromonariorum, chief military oarsman. Even though he was harbor master for commercial shipping, the military Goths were in charge of the basin. Any changes in scheduled activity needed a report. This evening a report seemed preposterous since the military were staged along the basin entrance where the fog came in first. The loading quays were up near the city. Procedures were procedures.
He could have sent a boy with a message but he felt like a long walk. Plus, Aliulfus was a tough but merry sort. There was usually an offer of a cup of wine and a story or two after his official report especially at the end of the day. Should I tell that joke I heard from the sailors about the redheaded girl and the spider?
Automatically he glanced around checking the just perceptible merchant ships already in the harbor. He heard the gentle lapping of water against hulls. Nothing else. All secure. His thoughts turned inward. There was a luscious redhead who worked out of the Taburnum Arachnia. No, no, that’s not how it started. Of all the girls at the Arachnia. No, that wasn’t it either. He would never match Aliulfus in story telling skills.
“Hey, pops, watch where you’re going. You’ll fall off the quay.” Even though it was Latin, it was that rasping Gothic accent so rough to his Caspian ear. The deriding laughter was a universal language. Five of those useless ruffians from the city surrounded him.
“You boys get along now. This is a business area. We don’t need your graffiti here.” The tall dark one with the absurd short and long haircut smiled in feigned friendship. What was his name? Some rich boy with nothing to do but cause trouble. Ah, Ragnaris. He called himself The Hun. “We’re just playing a game, pops. Watch.” He tossed a small leather pouch to the short, stocky blond one who tossed it to the muscular dark one who tossed it…The sack whizzed past his head, in front of his chest, behind his knees. He was bigger than any one of them. Servatus didn’t get to be harbor master without a few brawls along the way. He thought about the odds of five to one and decided he would not start a fight. Just yet. He wondered how he would get rid of them.
The tall one with the odd hair caught the sack as it flew through the air. Nodded his head at the others. All five waved and mumbled “Good evening to you,” some in Latin, some in Gothic. As one they turned and sauntered off into the fog calling out numbers in Gothic while they pitched the sack back and forth among themselves. “Fifteen.” “Ten.” “Eight.” “No, nine.” The game made absolutely no sense. They disappeared into the fog headed back toward the city.
He shook his head, then thought about the redhead.