Tales From Grimshaw - The Dying Man & the Guest. Part 1

This one's both abrupt and long winded. Proceed with caution.
I mostly wrote this little thing to do some fun dialogue and talk a little about the world. I can only hope you all can bare through it.


Thunder played in the skies above the old city of Grimshaw. Thick sheets of rain blanketed the streets like a death shroud, making the squat stone buildings that lined them only vague silhouettes in the cold. Men and woman rushed to their homes for shelter; a few drenched guardsmen stood grim and watchful, one hand holding a lantern whose dim light glowed wanly before them.
    Among the abandoned streets and flooded alleys of the old city stood the door of a decrepit flophouse, too leaky and filthy now to attract much custom save a few thieves and beggars that wander in from the street. The owner of this dismal establishment, one Malcolm Shanks Harlow,—M.S. to what little there still remained of his friends—sat in a torn armchair by the hearth, smoking a melange of drugs he couldn’t name and thinking about death.
    M.S. had been an actor in the bad-old-days, when Baron Holtzmann still ruled Skytop and Grimshaw was a much rougher place. Back then what most people called the police was just three coppers with one pistol between them; one was a drunk, one a moonjuicer, and the other worked for the Thieves Guild. Back then the gentry preferred killing one another in broad daylight rather than sneaking and scheming; back then there were no railways or opera house or theater. No. Back then an actor was a traveling man with a troupe behind him a long list of country plays and random performances to do before he even thought about Grimshaw. An actor would dream of preforming Mardu in Old Market Square or Rutgur’s Island or, if God was feeling extra kind to his humble servants, maybe even a tavern in Broadside. Though whatever the job, you could be sure that it was going to be hard, degrading as a human being and, most of all, humiliating. The audience would throw bottles and glasses at you, shout and interrupt your lines. Heckle you and even rush the stage if they were in a mood for it. If all was going well, however, you’d need to quaff a glass of moonjuice or poppymilk to even survive the first two acts and God forbid if there was a third!
    Now that was fuckin’ actin’! M.S. thought lazily as he took another drag. Times have changed that was for sure. Now the Astermarks are in charge and with them came something that had left Grimshaw for almost a century: Law and order.
    It was strange to see armed coppers walking the streets at all hours, actually watching for outlaws and cutpurses. It was strange to feel like you didn’t have to carry a dagger or single-shot wherever you were going—though M.S. always had one, just in case. It was strange to know all this. Strange, but also, comforting.
    Mr Harlow never liked to feel comfortable. Good job he got sick last year.
    “Eastern Fever,” the plague doctor proclaimed at the top of his lungs. M.S.’eyes had gone wide, fear spread down his spine.
    “No, no—no, no! That’s not right now. you don’t know that!” he’d shouted, coughing at each word. The plague doctor backed away from him,waved waved a bundle of sage around himself.
“I speak only that which I see, sir. And I see the Long Death on you. May God give you peace in the world-to-come, for you'll find none here. Next!”
    That had been the worst day in a very, very long time—three years at least. A new record for the old boy. Now he knew he was going to die, and much quicker than he'd thought. Eastern Fever, or the Long Death as it’s called in Westport, was a hard, painful disease that racked the lungs and made you wish for a knife in your neck. Someone told him once that poppy seeds, gnarl-grass and a few other things he couldn’t remember, tended to dull the pain and make the coughs hurt less—at least for a while. So he had sent Martha, his wife, to fetch some everyday and they had actually helped a little. Until now. Now he was running out of money and the stuff he was smoking was the last he’d be able to buy in weeks if not months. That is unless someone decides to stay at the house, though he doubted that.
    “You lazy shit-for-brains!” A shrill voice called down from upstairs.
    God be good, M.S. thought, “What have I done now, my sweet angel?”
    “Well that's just it, now isn't it? you've done fuck all!” Mrs Harlow came bounding down the stairs, her skirts dirty and tattered from scrubbing the floor. “You’ve done nothin’! You just sit there smokin’ and complainin’! God be good husband, if there wasn’t a copper outside I’d kill you for your damn laziness.!”
    “My dear,” he said, putting on his stage voice. “Nothin’ would make me happier than to be rid of you and all your damn shoutin’. I mean, for the love of all, woman, I’m dyin’ here! Give me a little room to shuffle off my mortal coil, as it were.”
    “You’re not shufflin’ fast enough, I say.”
    “You say,” he took another drag and blew the plume of smoke into his wife’s hair. “You say for too many things for your own good, wife. Now, what have I not done to make you shout like a fuckin’ banshee at a dyin’ man?”
    She took a deep breath and stared at her husband as if he was dumbest man in the city. And, sitting there by the hearth, fatter than he should be, clothes stained brown and red from the bloody phlegm he hacked up every now and then, he certainly looked the part. “You didn’t clean those trout Hared brought us last night. You didn’t beat the carpets, nor did you get a new case of wine or grog from the General Arms. You didn’t clean the tables after those ramblers left or even tried to fix the leak in the room upstairs! And—”
    “And. I. Am. Dyin’. What part of that don’t you get, woman? Dyin’ men don’t have to fuckin’ do shite if they doesn’t want to, and I doesn’t want to just now. And why should I, huh? Not like there’ll be much custom tonight or the next and so on. Do you know how many people came in for a night only this month? Three. You know how many all of this year? Seven. Seven I say! And yet you want me to fuckin’ clean trout and buy wine and fix roofs, for what? Two or three more nighters the whole of winter? No. That’s just a waste of time, time I don’t have to waste no more.”
    “You little—” Martha was cut off by the door slamming open and the sound of rain flooding in from the doorway. She and her drugged up husband looked shocked and amazed at the doorway and the tall, cloaked man who stood there, holding a sack over his shoulder and staring back at them from behind a hood. In one swift movement he stepped in, shut the door behind him, threw off his sack and cloak, then rushed towards the hearth. Even though the fire was almost to embers he seemed to soak up the heat as if it were water. His body begging for more as a babe begs for mother’s milk.
    “Food,” the man said, his voice harsh and M.S. immediately recognized the deep accent of Broadside in that voice. An accent he had heard far too many to mistake.
    “It’s three for a bowl of porridge,” he said.“Six for trout and ten for boar.” the man threw a wet coinpurse at Martha, a pile of coins spilled out of it and onto the floor beside her feet. She looked down, confused, amazed and dazzled.
    “Food.” the man said again, this time demanding instead of asking. “Water—no! Wine or beer. A bed and more logs for this fire. And quickly!” immediatly Martha hopped to his orders, fetched their last three bottles of ale, their best cut of roast boar—which was cold and salted but she threw it in the ever heated stew pot—when he came back she had a bundle of dry oak logs and set them by the fire. When the food came he devoured, it barely leaving enough scraps for the rats. The wine went down as well. Two of the bottles was gone before M.S. could ask him his name and by the time he did ask the third was halfway gone.
“John,” he took another swig from the wine, gasped for air, then another. “John Holland. And you’re Malcolm Harlon.”
    “Harlow, actually. Malcolm Shanks Harlow. This is my wife, old hag.”
    “Old hag!” she cut in from the kitchen, “you’re older than me!”
    “And how,” M.S. went on, ignoring her,“Did you come to know of me and my...humble establishment?”
    "Does it matter?” John Holland said, a might eerily
   “Well, can I at least know where you have come in such a deluge. It wasn’t far, was it?”
    “Fairholm far from here?”
    “Quite a ride, I should say.”
    “Than quite a ride I have had. That room ready yet?”
    Martha nodded and told him where it was. After he had gone she counted out the coin he had given her, mouthing the numbers and keeping track with her hands. “Forty sovereigns...” she was shocked, then; “Forty fuckin’ sovereigns!”
    “Here now, let me see.” she moved to her husband, but fainted after two steps. With an effort and a good deal of hacking Malcolm Shanks Harlow rose from his seat, bent down to where the coin pouch had fallen, and gasped. He didn’t need to count them. “Abyss take me!

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