(Author's note): Who can say whether I will have continuity here. This is my first time back in quite a while and the whole idea is just scratchy. Since I finished Comps, the keyboard has been beckoning, so maybe I'll get some more written. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy it. I do not own WOT.
Renard enjoyed being a villain. He touched his face to feel the clean shaven skin and swore aloud yet again. "Blood and ashes." He had liked that pointy Tiarin beard and missed it dearly. The bloody thing set off his scar and made him look more rakish, more villainous. And, his chin felt cold without it. The beard he could grow again, but the wide-brimmed hat -she didn't have to burn that! It would take forever to find another which produced exactly the same effect. What good being bad without the ability to startle a tavern wench and make her break porcelain with just a grin?
That was the major problem with being a villain, of course. If you were obvious, people could pick you out from a league away, which made the practical pursuit of villainy difficult. Despite the necessity, all this sneaking about made Renard's fingers itch. He wanted to be obvious! How did that old saying go? For the nine perfect parts of a good job, one intolerable part yet remained. Escaping death at the hands of Aes Sedai or White Cloaks prolonged opportunities at villainy, but he hated the hiding part. Not that he liked all these goat suckers who gathered in back rooms to say their oaths and pretend they would get a piece of that eternal pie when the final day came. At heart, Renard didn't really care who won any last battle. That it would be the "last" was kind of stupid, he thought. How "dark" could the Dark One be if he didn't engineer opportunities to fight pointlessly from here until forever? Renard only cared that his affiliations made him villainous, not for any particular cause. He wanted to see it all burn, preferably as soon as he could set the flame. The day he realized he actually liked staring the other guy in the eye the moment his sword went in had been the most liberating of his life. No job better for a fellow happy to kill and who but the Dark One or Great Lord or Shai'tan or whatever you wanted to call him needed a devoted dagger man? Of course, not caring whether he lived or died kept him from ever being part of any useful decisions. All Renard really needed in life was to be directed toward his next victim, that and sleeping and eating and maybe a few bodily functions, but those latter things hardly mattered.
The common room of the inn was fronted by a series of windows looking out onto the street. The cut glass must have cost a pretty mark, but Tar Valoners paid through the snoot for appearances in their curvy Ogier-wrought city. Renard sat at a table toward the far wall, elbow propped leisurely at the window ledge where he had his chair tipped back on two legs so he could put his feet up on a table. Casting many a querulous glance, the fat inn keeper obviously disliked Renard sprawled in his common room, but clearly feared him too much to say a word. This inn was the most recent of a series. He had paid the inn keepers and been pleasant enough, but kept more or less to himself. Being pleasant to people was no fun at all and certainly ranked up there with hiding, but Renard remembered discipline from his time under Aes Sedai thrall. However much he enjoyed it, he could control his zeal on need. Still, he couldn't help taking small pleasure from being at least a little intimidating in some fashion. He almost wished a warder would come through that door and recognize him, but such amusement would put a crimp in keeping a low profile.
Tossing back a slug of apple wine, Renard let his attention meander up and down the street, which he could see quite well through the compound window panes. Common rooms were a great place from which to watch a street during the broadest of daylight if one sat back from the glass several paces or so and had no other windows behind him. Not that he felt like being quite that cautious. A sauntering Tanchican strumpet dressed in a clingy yellow something or other with many thin braids and a veil floating before her face brought his head around in a swivel. Nice rump on that one, something there to really bite into, though she did not move quite so well as a Domani. No matter. With a lick of his lips and an errant caress of his sword hilt, he let her pass out of memory. A vendor leading a pair of shiny coated black horses trundled his cask laden cart up the gently inclined street. Two hired laborers stacking crates in a shop front shouted at a passel of children chasing a hoop. The baker announced fresh buns through her street level window, taking a moment to adjust the kerchief holding back her hair before returning to her bakery. A stocky Shienaran warder with a sword hilt peaking over his shoulder followed a Tower guard in a black tabard stitched with the white flame, a wolf dogging a puppy.
"Hullo, beautiful," Renard swallowed the rest of his drink with a few drips trailing down his chin. He hunted wolves. Not supposed to kill any, now, but hunt yes! He clunked his chair flat to the floor boards and stood. One smile to the inn keeper and a serving girl set both pointedly back to their business. At the door, he flipped on his new hat, not nearly so comfortable as the old if a different color and shape, and tapped his left foot in time to count seconds. Ask a belle to the harvest dance, twitch back the edge of her swishing skirt and smile -what a throat! Then he opened the door and slipped out.
The warder and guard had passed off down the street to his right. Adjusting his dark green cloak to hide the scabbard at his belt, Renard set out after them. Delirious fools, so easy to track, the crowds stepped wide to give them space. An idiot and his color-shifting cloak. Renard had been happy to doff his forever: they were usually only good when there weren't any people about to kill.
Nice day! No clouds save those at the tip of the Dragonmount and a steady stream of summer mist wafting from the Erinin. Renard nabbed an apple off a produce cart in front of a shop as he walked. The shop keeper's head turned presented an opportunity he just could not resist. He sidled along a line of shop fronts, taking only a single bite before he decided he really wasn't so hungry after all and deposited the fruit among pears on another vendor's cart. This vendor glared at him, but thought better about having words when Renard smiled back. The vendor glanced up the street at the not too distant apple cart and had the temerity to utter a single curse and shake a fist when he thought Renard far enough away not to hear. Of course, Renard felt he was actually being quite generous since nobody else noticed the exchange and the vendor got away with his tongue. You really had to saw to get through a tongue...
The warder and his pet turned off the street between a seashell-shaped sculpture of a building façade and a tower that reached up at least a hundred feet in a swooping spiral. Renard wondered what it would be like to push someone off the high bridge that crossed over the street between that spire and its mate on the opposite side. Taking his time to stop a moment and admire a dove camped on the finger of a proudly puffed-up statue of some long dead Amyrlin, Renard followed along the narrow cross-street to another winding thoroughfare.
Ahead, the warder had parted company with the tower guard and was following a second black tabard who a shouldered a lengthy pike. The original guard was headed up the street while the new pair went down.
"Heh," Renard chuckled, shaking his head, "What game are you playing today, Kerene?" They seemed frequently to center their little ploys about this street crossing, though they did as much at others too. Hard to know whether this was real or a trick, yet. He debated following the warder just for the off chance of being discovered and having to carve his way to freedom, but the warder had been a decoy before. With a suffering sigh, he set out up the slope of the winding street after the guy who would be too easy to kill.
Bundled emotions nestled in the back of Renard's mind stirred uneasily, no doubt aroused by his heightened lust. He snorted angrily, "Not like I'm giving myself away," and earned himself odd looks from two muscular bearers hustling along with a sedan chair, "not much anyway."
The dark tabard followed along the thoroughfare generally back toward the Tower for a time, availing Renard an opportunity to ogle a seamstress modeling her own wares and pinch his nose at a stable in the process of being mucked out. "Could not pay me for that job," he muttered. The guardsman seemed to be taking his leisure, much to Renard's annoyance. The pointy inch at the end of a sword would work motivational wonders on that fellow if directed sharply into his backside. Renard closed distance on the bloody idiot twice debating all manner of incitement before the guardsman took a turn into another close passage between building fronts.
White-washed Tar Valon tipped into a few shadows if one knew where to look for them, in those rare nooks where Aes Sedai brilliance, or meddling, failed to quite pierce. Of course, the darkest shadow near a lighthouse is right at the base. Renard followed the fellow in. Ornately cut spires and corniced towers reaching upward hundreds of feet packed too closely together blotted out even the bluest sky. Three thousand year old culverts gasped the muddy scents of refuse poured where no one might think to look. Animal sounds sometimes echoed in the gloom, more often cats than dogs given Aes Sedai penchants, and often sounds of people, muttering and murmuring, barking laughter or coughing.
The black tabard splashed through a puddle up ahead.
Renard felt an excited itch along his spine. Why didn't the fellow ever seem to look back? Nobody was quite this daft. When following a stupid puppy, it sometimes made sense to watch out for the bitch calling it back.
On a lark, Renard took a left and put a curve of building between himself and the runt. Where to watch from in this maze? The one major problem with being few against many; they get more eyes! He jaunted along beneath a raised path that lifted into a spiral around a gold capped pinnacle high overhead and cut into a new alley parallel the guardsman's path. Renard felt some assurance that a woolheaded puppy would not suddenly get creative if he hurried. Flicking back his cloak to free his arms, he hit the wall at a run and vaulted himself to catch the lip of a plank covered window. Whistling an offhand tune as he climbed, he did a chin pull-up with strong hands and flipped his leg onto a raised bridge that cut from a low building to a high tower nearby. Quickly afoot, he trotted along the stone walk before hopping off onto a tiled roof that would follow the guard's previous path. He caught a stripe of sun between buildings as he moved in a crouch. By leaning out just a bit, he could see down into the alley below. The guard had passed further ahead than he would have hoped and was out of sight, so he needed to hurry. He had to squelch the urge to whistle "hunting hounds;" stalking predators weren't supposed to announce their presence.
"What are you…?" a woman leaning out a window just across the alley gawked at Renard as he went past, feet clattering on the tiled roof.
Renard waved and gave a grin, "Top of the morning to you, my lady! Care for a quick throw?" The woman sputtered at him at him in disbelief, but he was already too far away to hear her response except to be reminded of a bristling cat.
Ahead, the roof met a corner, marking a crossing alley between this building and another that stood several stories higher. Renard slowed himself enough not to skid out into space and leaned over for a look. He would have to climb quickly if the guardsman still maintained his lead. Instead of simply jumping across to the facing building, he drew to a screeching stop.
In the intersection below, the guardsman he had been following stood facing the Shienaran warder and guardsman he had decided not to track. The three men were conversing in clipped tones too low for him to catch from two stories above, though the warder gestured several times back in the direction Renard's prey had come from.
"Hoo hoo," Renard gaped involuntarily before clapping a hand over his mouth. Had they spotted him following somewhere further back? Kerene was a clever minx, she was. He thought about dropping a piece of roofing tile on the warder just to see what would happen, but decided it went against his current prohibition. The emotions curled in the back of his mind roused dully in response. Too bad she was in Tar Valon herself; with some distance he thought he could get away with something. "Right, right right," Renard muttered bitterly to himself.
When Nordel stepped out of one of the other alleys meeting at the intersection below, Renard bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. Nordel mopped his shiny bald head and gestured to the other warder, pointing off down yet another alley at a right angle to the one Renard had followed.
Hand to sword, Renard very nearly took a flying leap off the roof. The Compulsion through those emotions in the back of his mind suddenly surged to an overwhelming peak that kept his feet planted on the brink, his legs coiled and muscles straining, but not quite allowed to release. If only she were further away. If only! He growled in the depths of his throat, struggling for release. The muscles in his shoulder refused to let him unsheathe his steel.
With several long, jittering breaths, he managed to take himself in hand. No killing today. No killing yet. Calm skittered away. This one fight! He wanted this one fight with every fiber and had to fight down another surge holding him from moving. Standing tall at the edge of the tile roof, hand at sword, he twitched and rocked and fought.
"Fine," he grumbled, resigning himself to holding back the urge to send himself hurtling out into a spectacular two story plummet. "I get it. No killing today. Bloody witch," he stepped back from the edge and let his hand fall from his sword. If only somebody would give him a reason to draw steel. If he had just continued to follow the stupid guardsman instead of being clever and acting to prolong the hunt! He cursed himself for not having a little more foresight. She would never stop him if Nordel had drawn steel first, but he could never have known the man was waiting somewhere just ahead. It would be another day, now.
The four men in the intersection below finished conversing and headed off in four different directions. Whether it had been a trap that just failed, or a safeguard that had functioned perfectly, Renard could not be completely certain.
With a sigh, he chose to follow one of the two puppies. Maybe he would still get lucky today and find what his mistress wanted him to. He wanted to stop with these bloody boring games of skulking about in the shadows.