Medievia Mudslinger

April 21st, 2002

The Color of My Reasons - By Portilius

Iíve never really been too worried about killing people. Thatís what I told people I know and they believed me. Thatís what I tell myself and I believe it. If there is enough reason then Iíll do it.

Why, then, do I hesitate about killing the old man in front of me?

It doesnít really sound sensible. Even I have to think about it to get the situation straight in my own head and even then it admits to little sense. Yes, I have killed before. People want other people dead. I never ask why because I generally donít want to know, but people seem to want to tell me.

"I want to destroy the economy of Riverton - kill maybe a score of merchants and this pouch of gold is yours," one man said. I wonít say who he was - professional confidentiality and all that. He tipped some of the coins from his pouch and I glanced at them in the torchlight - the glow from the flames made them appear red. I did that. You may have heard about the financial crisis, but you wonít have known who did it. I nearly made the newssheet that day. If you ask closely youíll find out who made a lot of money that day, but Iíd advise against it. He may hire me again.

Another man wanted a certain bejeweled necklace for his wife. Sheíd taken a fancy to it at a dinner party they had all attended and he could not find its like at any jewelers. His love for her greed made him willing to pay me gold to... acquire it. He didnít care how or why, just that it had to be acquired no matter who had to die in the process. For some reason people come to me if they want something doing. Maybe I have a reputation for getting jobs like that done. You tell me.

Yes, I got the necklace, a garrison of soldiers got in the way but I always get the job done, and delivered it. He was more than happy at this and handed the gold over immediately. I was still fresh from acquiring the necklace, however, and managed to stain the gold red. Ironic, donít you think? It always struck me as such, but I never have worried about it.

A pirate acquaintance of mine had been harassed by the Trellorian guards during one of his... operations. You may want to know how I know him but Iím not saying. I dealt with the problem for him and, as soon as heíd conducted another operation I got my cut. Weíre both professionals and understand each other and the system.

Iíve performed many similar tasks and the reward has always been gold, but the tasks have always been at the expense of anotherís life. Gold for life - I may as well be in the guards, eh? Iíve heard their wages are worse, but that they get more time off. A good pension, but a short life for most of them. Whatever.

Yes, I said I need a good reason. Every time I go to the bank I can see a good reason - or at least several thousand good reasons. Morals are for priests and I have yet to find a good reason to pray.

This old man before me, though. If he were awake then he would have a reason to pray. It would be so easy to end his life. Why then do I pause? My dagger is ready and he is vulnerable - one of the easiest jobs Iíve ever had. One of the best paying as well, I suspect, judging from the man who had hired me.

He was a fat merchant but obviously successful. The rings on his fingers looked to be real gold and the gems were not glass. The guards he had around him when I talked to him looked professional and such men donít come cheap. I donít either, but you know that anyway.

Of course the merchant had wanted to explain why he wanted the old man dead. They always do. Iíll never understand it but I listen anyway. Heíd traded to the manís village - if I said it was cold and in the mountains then thatís enough of a clue for Iíll be gone from here soon - and had dealt with the people there. Heíd needed a nightís stay and had fallen for the girl after seeing her. Her father, though, had taken an intense dislike to him. I never let personal feelings interfere with business but I could see why. Still, the merchant continued, if I could... put the old man out of the way then he and his treasure chests would be grateful.

A lot of people like to use euphemisms for killing. I cannot see why. Itís usually a simple enough process. Maybe thatís just me. So, I called a dragon and flew off to the village I mentioned, the village where I now stand. Itís cold up here and donít let anyone tell you otherwise. They even have a tame dragon here, if you can believe it. They tell me that to my face to, but Iíve never seen it.

I found the girl easily enough, a young woman tending the garden at her cozy home. I could see why the merchant wanted her. She has a full mouth and bright eyes and a gorgeous face. The merchant had been right about her looks. She hardly seemed to miss the merchant, though. Her song filled the air and charmed the birds as I passed by.

The Town Hall was near and that was where her father worked.

I say worked, but in reality he sits on a stool asleep most of the time. Heís old, but I think I mentioned that.

So now Iíve found him, an old man with a bunch of streamers dangling from his hands as he snores gently. Why do I hesitate? My knife is sharp and his neck is open to a quick blow. Heís had a full life and yet I stay my hand.

It would be doing him a favor, killing him like this. It would be quick and relatively painless instead of living into complete infirmity. His joints are already swollen with the ague and he cannot be comfortable. He could even be dead before he wakes. I would be back on my dragon and headed for the merchant for my gold before anyone discovers his death, and yet I stay my hand.

Iíd be doing his daughter a favor. In a few seasons he would be unable to leave his bed and she would have to tend him for many years. Would she be pretty enough to attract a husband after that? He looks healthy other than his joints. Iíd be saving her. A lingering death like that would cause grief every time she saw him, helpless in his bed. One quick funeral and she would be free.

Would she thank me? I doubt it, and yet it would be in her best interests. I hear the noise of children outside and it brings me out of my reverie for a moment. Theyíre excited about the celebrations tomorrow and heís supposed to be helping arrange them. Can I really ruin their childhoods?

I can. A step forward and a quick blow. It is done and blood has splashed on my hands. I am a professional after all and I will have my reasons. I see the woman in her garden as I pass, just another nondescript figure in the dusk. My dragon comes to me at a call though it glances at my hands with disapproval. It knows but says nothing. It knows my work and I do as well.

I think empty thoughts as the dragon flies back to my current employer. The wind seems so clean up here, but I cannot care for that.

The merchant is waiting for me as I land. Have I done it? Is she free? Of course Iíve done it - have I ever let him down? He pours the gold into my hand, his excitement obvious from his quivering jowls. He slows as he sees the stains on my hands. I glance at them - they are the color of the streamers the old man had held. They give him pause but I demand my pay. Nobody would expect less of a professional.

He gathers himself and makes sure there is enough gold. A little tip comes my way as well. I donít need it, but who am I to turn down money? I need a wash.

I take my rest that night in a bar. Drink helps me relax and think. I can hear her voice singing, but I try and forget it. I can see her face and I push it from my mind. The next tankard brings it all back.

The dragon doesnít ask why I am returning to that mountain village the next day. I donít return to the scenes of my business - a professional thing, you understand. I think the lizard knows but who can tell when you are talking about another species?

I arrive the next day at noon. The merchant is going to arrange to arrive in a day or three with a wagon of goods so as to have a convenient reason for his visit. Iíll be there at the funeral, offering sympathy and a friendly face. Iíll have been in the village for a few days more than the merchant. Iíll have the advantage of years and a lean physique. Iíll let others decide on relative attractiveness, but I do not fear the competition.

He has a lot more money than me but I have my few thousand reasons in the bank. I can support us for a while. Weíll be far from here in a few days anyway, but I will not say where I intend to go. The merchant will object, but I only did what he paid me to do. He said nothing about taking the girl for myself.

Of course, if he objects too much then I may be able to find a reason to kill that isnít tainted red.


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