Excerpt from Stormgard

Jonmarc did not recognize the man seated at Linton’s table, but if he had to guess, he would have said the stranger was a minor city bureaucrat, a lesser noble, or even a fairly prosperous merchant, although what any of those types of people would be doing in a pub like the Hind and the Hound was unlikely to be legal. He remembered Linton’s comment about meeting with the head of the merchants’ guild, and wondered whether the tall, nervous-looking man was Linton’s contact.

Hard to believe that fellow is much good selling to customers, Jonmarc thought. He’s as twitchy as a squirrel.

Linton and the stranger resumed their conversation, and the outcome this time must have been satisfactory, because they toasted each other and knocked their tankards together before downing the contents in one draught. The thin stranger thumped his chest as if to prompt a burp, and then got up and headed for the back door.

Linton looked pleased, and sat back in his chair. But as Jonmarc watched, Linton’s expression grew concerned, then uneasy. He struggled to stand, and wobbled unsteadily before collapsing across the table with a crash, sending the tankards flying. Patrons at the next table cursed in surprise and skidded their chairs out of the way with barely a glance toward Linton, who lay sprawled and unmoving.

“I’ll take care of him.” Chessis’s nasal voice was barely audible over the noise of the tavern.

“Get him out of here before he pukes on my floor,” the tavern master shouted, and there was scattered laughter from those who weren’t working hard on their own inebriation.

Jonmarc tried to move forward, but the pub’s patrons were pressed too tightly together for him to do more than take a few steps. Vakkis appeared from somewhere, and together he and Chessis half-carried, half-dragged Linton’s limp body out the back door of the tavern.

Jonmarc struggled toward the door, trying to make haste without resulting to actually fighting his way clear. He had no idea of what he could do single-handedly to get Linton away from Chessis and Vakkis, and he doubted Linton’s sudden collapse was due to the ale alone. Linton’s capacity to drink without getting drunk was legendary among the caravan folk.

Poison, most likely, he thought. But did they kill him or just knock him out?

Jonmarc managed to push his way back out to the street and looked for a way to get to the other side of the building. The Hind and Hound was part of a block-long façade, and Jonmarc ran as fast as he dared to the nearest alley between buildings, hoping he was not too late.