Over the week that followed, Merrick held true to his word. He jumped between watch shifts, following some schedule known only to him, seeming at times not to sleep at all. By week's end, he'd covered two thirds of the city, and spent at least some time with a better part of the Watch. The only watchmen he ignored completely were those who came from the Rogue's guild, and were busy getting integrated into the how and why of aboveground business. There hadn't been any real trouble yet, but it was obvious who was and wasn't a recruit. Zero was not a cruel taskmaster, or a merciless general, but he made certain that anyone who wore the sigil of the Rogues was sharp in mind and body. Next to the recruits, most of the watchmen appeared out of shape, and a few looked downright slovenly. It wasn't a matter of strength or fitness- or not entirely. There was just something about the rogues. Something like a coiled spring.
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The only exception to this was Auristen, who looked like bad company, even standing next to Merrick. His lean, weathered face and sharp eyes moved endlessly, even when they sat and talked over beers at the Seven Stars. Merrick took time to thank Kylia, goddess of chance, that it was this man who had come to him first.
The weather changed early in the week, the unseasonal cold spell finally breaking under the pressure of summer. Folk awoke one morning to find the sun high, bright, and hot in the sky, and for the days following there was little to obscure it. Dark clouds would often gather at the horizon around dusk, and lightning could be seen flashing inside their mushroom tops. This was normal for summer, but Wekli, who had never seen it before, grew jumpier every day. He went up often, at sundown, to watch the thunderheads, and came down when the cool of night descended, more wide-eyed than ever. Near the end of the week, he swore up and down- though he shared this only with a few- that he had seen a cloud in the shape of a raven, a harbinger of doom.
Both Merrick and Lunice wondered if it had been wise to keep the ranger penned up in a city too long, but they kept their thoughts to themselves.
Merrick woke early, dressed, and went downstairs. He had an ale, then another one to keep it company. He sniffed at the bacon, but decided not to have any. The guild common room was all but empty at that hour, and he decided he was glad for that. He didn't really want to talk to anyone.
This turned out to be untrue when Lunice came in a couple minutes later. She was carrying a bundle of dark blue cloth in one hand and some kind of hat in the other. He found he was happy to see her.
"Morning," she said. "Feel ready?"
The elf shrugged. "I don't blame you. Now, I found this nice midnight blue cloth- it was hanging in front of a window- and made a few quick changes. It should look fine as a cape, if no one gets too close. And since I know you won't wear a helmet, and you ought to have something on your head, I found this hat." She handed it to him.
"It's got a feather in it."
"It's a small feather. Believe me, it's necessary."
"I like the hat, but the feather has to go. Even if it is small."
"I DID say it was necessary, yes?" She sighed. "Watch." She snatched the hat back and took the feather out. She showed the featherless round-brimmed hat to him. "Now it's a traveller's hat."
"I like traveller's hats."
"Yes, but you're pretending to be a Captain today, remember?" She stuck the feather back in at a jaunty angle. "See? Now it's the hat of a captain of the guards. Somewhere between a nobleman and a commoner, with elements of both. Perfect."
"Has anyone ever told you you're grumpy in the morning?"
"Nope." He smiled a little. "No one had the nerve."
"I can see why." Lunice tossed the hat and cape to him. "Go get dressed. You want me to send up coffee?"
"Coffee would be most appreciated."
"Done. Now go."
He met Auristen at the watch house an hour later. Their procession was ready and looking almost as nervous as Merrick felt. He and Auristen had made the wise decision to leave known Rogue's Guild members out of the procession, just in case the Council got a whiff of it. The Rogues were still officially criminals by the writ of the Council, though the last person tried solely on the basis of belonging to the guild had been ten years ago...and he had been let go.
The only exception they made to this rule was Lunice, who as a tall and regal elf, all but emanated authority and majesty when properly attired. She had changed, since Merrick saw her in the common room, to a tailored outfit of blue and silver. Her broadsword hung at an angle across her back.
Auristen was dressed fairly similar to Merrick. He had originally been wearing nothing over his graying hair, but when he spotted Merrick's hat, he ran to fetch a similar one of his own.
"So," Merrick said, as Auristen adusted his hat. "Are you expecting any trouble?"
"Not really. Why? Are you nervous?"
"Very. Are you?"
Auristen cocked an eyebrow. "I've done this seven times since I first took up a position in this city. I've been interrogated by Aventil himself. I've spoken to Coraleus and been glared at by Silverscale."
"So this is old hand to you?"
"Are you kidding? I'm terrified." Auristen grinned, then went back to fiddling with his hat.
It was summer, no question. Merrick found himself sweating under his outfit and cape. People turned to watch as the procession passed by. It reminded Merrick of a similar procession he'd been a part of, a long time ago, on an island far to the west. The dress had been more motley, but the occasion had not. The townsfolk had planned to sacrifice the better part of their livestock in a long and bloody ceremony atop the hill. They had also planned to sacrifice him, since they had decided he was a devil sent by evil spirits to blight their crops. He'd been in chains then...but still calmer than he felt now, odd as that was.
They made their way up Main Street toward the Upper City and the palace. Once they reached the white-stone streets of the Upper City, a pair of palace guards bracketed the procession on both sides and led the way forward to the doors. A third guard, this one with a stripe of purple across both shoulders indicating rank, looked them over.
"And you are?" he said.
"City Watch, here to speak with the Council," Auristen said. "You should know that, sir."
The man ignored his comments. "Does the Council know you wish to speak with them?"
Merrick stepped forward, ignoring the sidelong glance from Auristen. "Young man," he said. "The Council is expecting us, you are expecting us, both of you know why we are here. You are doing nothing but causing trouble. Now either give me a valid reason to continue dealing with you or move aside. We are going in."
The guard glowered at him, but after a moment, he stood aside and gave orders for the massive doors- used only for ceremony- to be opened.
"That was...interesting," Auristen said.
"Now you see who you've hired as your captain, eh?" Merrick grinned. "Ready to go?"
"Wonderful. Me neither."
They stepped into the palace.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.