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Once Upon a Time, in Dusk
The night was silent but for the clop of hooves on wet cobblestones. A sliver of moon winked at the world from behind straggler wisps of cloud, silhouetting the grim spires of Grendirft. No light shone anywhere from that fortress.
The air was still and nearly chill now that the rain had gone away. A hint of corrupting flesh tainted the air of imperial Dusk.
It was not yet late enough in the season for many insects.
The black coach stopped, its right side wheels a yard from an unguarded drop-off into a moatlike canal that existed to carry off wastes rather than to present a defensive barrier. A waste chute debouched into the canal just yards upstream from the coach.
The driver tied off his reins. He climbed down. He assumed a stiff parade rest at the canal’s edge, but after a brief wait he turned, opened the coach door, and retrieved a boat hook. He now held that tool like it was a pole arm.
A corpse made a small plop as it hit the water. Momentum brought it to the surface where the coachman waited. He did not have to use the boat hook.
He pulled the girl from the canal carefully. She was slippery. The rain had freshened the water, so her brief immersion did not gift her with the sewer perfume she might have acquired on another night. She wore nothing. Any abuse she had suffered was not obvious. She was fifteen at the oldest. She did not weigh much. The coachman had no trouble getting her into his vehicle. He wrapped her in blankets and propped her in a corner. She looked like she was sick or drunk or asleep when he finished.
“You down there! What are you doing?”
That demand came down from eighty feet above.
The coachman’s heart, thumping already, now hammered although he knew no one could get down from there in time to identify or stop him. He had gone through this in dry runs a half dozen times. This was the first time he had been noticed.
He kept the coach moving sedately while departing the area. It was unlikely that anyone would check why a coach had been standing beside the waste canal, despite it being about the time when the Dominator’s henchmen disposed of the used-up virgin of the night.
Dusk’s gates never closed. What fool would invade the capital of the Domination, especially when the dread lord of the empire was in residence? No one living owned that much audacity.
The coachman was remarkable in having shown the daring he had.
There was no cause for the guards at the Jade Gate to disrupt his departure. A small donative did, however, change hands. That was customary. In return the soldiers were entirely cursory in their inspection.
The coachmen explained, “That’s my daughter. Fourteen and blind drunk, to my shame. But you can’t help loving them, whatever they do.”
The younger soldier chuckled. “See what you got to look forward to, Jink?” he told his companion, then said, “Jink’s got him three daughters coming up.”
Jink said, “They hit eleven, they go into a cage until I get them married. You probably ought to put yours on a chain,” he told the coachman. “Go on, now.”
The coachman climbed back up, snapped his reins, heaved a sigh of relief, and got his team moving.
He was racing time.
The girl would not last long.
Copyright © 2018 by Glen Cook