QSFer Kim Fielding has a new MM high fantasy mystery book out: Blyd and Pearce.
Born into poverty and orphaned young, Daveth Blyd had one chance for success when his fighting prowess earned him a place in the Tangye city guard. But after losing his position to false accusations of theft, he scrapes out a living searching for wayward spouses and missing children. When a nobleman offers him a small fortune to find an entertainer who’s stolen a ring, Daveth takes the case.
While Jory Pearce may or may not be a thief, Daveth knows he certainly can’t be trusted. But Daveth, enchanted by Jory’s beauty and haunting voice, soon finds himself caught in the middle of a conspiracy. As he searches desperately for answers, he realizes that he’s also falling for Jory. The two men encounter dangers and magics of many kinds, including river wraiths, assassins, a necromancer, and a talking head that could possibly be Daveth’s salvation. But when everyone’s integrity is questionable and death is eager to dance, it’s going to take more than sorcery for Daveth to survive.
THE OLD lady clutched her shawl and gazed at me with watery eyes. “But I don’t have twenty briquets,” she said, voice quavering.
I spread my arms. “Then I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”
“But my granddaughter… she says the man was rich. He had fine clothing.”
Rich is a relative thing in the Low, and the locals are poor judges of wealth. They assume anyone who wears better than rags has untold treasures. But I didn’t say that, and the old woman wouldn’t have listened if I had.
“Look,” I said instead, “he may be rich, but I’m not. I have to pay rent for this place.” I waved my hands to indicate the entirety of my front room. “I have to pay for food.”
“When you find him, we’ll pay you. When he gives us money for the baby.”
“Yes, you’ll pay me another twenty then. But first you have to give me twenty now, or I’m not looking.” I’d likely find the fellow who’d impregnated the woman’s granddaughter, but even if he had some money, there was no guarantee he’d pay up. He might simply deny the child was his, and proof of paternity is damn hard to find. Or maybe he would pay and this poor old lady and her family would take the money and run, leaving me as hungry as before. That happened to me once or twice before I wised up.
“But it’s a baby, and they need so many things.”
“Bring me the twenty briquets and I’ll find your rich man—then the babe can have whatever it needs.”
I stood and gently urged her to her feet, then guided her by the elbow to the door. She gave me a final reproachful look before exiting into the afternoon crowds. In all likelihood she’d be back in a few days with ten or fifteen briquets, and I’d agree to take the job for that. I’d probably accept even less if no clients showed up in the interim. My cupboards had grown even barer in the month since I’d fucked Myghal, and my prospects had become no brighter.
Once she was gone, I carried her teacup to the dry sink that stood against one wall and gave the cup a quick scrub in the basin of water. Then I returned the cup to the shelf. I don’t own much, but I think more clearly with clean and tidy possessions.
My stomach rumbled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten, so I donned my cloak and headed to a food cart a few streets away. That was something I liked about being in my neighborhood—I knew where to get cheap food that wouldn’t poison me. I was wise enough not to ask what kind of meat roasted over the vendor’s small fire. Today I bought two skewers and ate them on the spot, following them with a tiny loaf of bread that tasted of sawdust.
My hunger staved, I considered going to the Weeping Wyvern for a pint of watery ale, but instead I returned home in case the old lady showed up with payment. Or maybe another client would appear. That, or the goddess Lyadra might materialize and shower me with gold coins from her basket.
As I stood at my door, fighting the recalcitrant lockspell, someone approached from behind. I whirled, hand on the hilt of one of the knives at my waist.
“Daveth Blyd?” The man did not hold a weapon. He was a decade older than me, medium height, and slightly built, his hair reduced to hardly more than a few wisps. He wore coarse workman’s attire, but it wasn’t his. His teeth were too good and his skin too fair, his carefully trimmed fingernails far too clean. He’d probably borrowed the clothes from a servant.
“Yes,” I said carefully.
“I’d like to employ you.”
Huh. Maybe Lyadra really would show up.
I conquered the lock, opened the door, and ushered him inside. While I lit lanterns to dispel the room’s usual gloom and hung up my cloak, my visitor looked around, disdain clear on his face. He took a chair before I offered, sitting carefully as if he were afraid it might collapse. I sat across from him at the wobbly little table. I didn’t offer him tea.
“What do you want?” I asked bluntly.
“I am Lord Uren.”
If he expected me to gasp with surprise or to genuflect, he was disappointed. I wasn’t at all shocked he was a nobleman—it was either that or a wealthy merchant. His name didn’t mean anything to me, but then Tangye—as the capital of the kingdom—overflowed with titled men and women.
“What do you want, Lord Uren?”
He straightened the sleeve of his tunic, then examined his fingernails. I’d have bet the queen’s treasure that his hands were soft. “I wish to employ you,” he said. Which he’d told me already, but I didn’t point that out.
“For what? You want me to see if I can catch your wife in bed with another lord?” Actually, she was more likely to be romping with the gardener or a tradesman, partly because they were more convenient for quick trysts and partly because more than one blue blood had found themselves drawn to flexing muscles and glistening sweat.
“The Lady Uren would do no such thing!” he snapped. “Her reputation is unsullied.”
I refrained from snorting, but only because I really needed this job. “If not the wife, then what? Thieving servant?” I hoped so—that was easy work.
But he shook his head. “Not exactly. However, I do want you to recover an item that was stolen from me. And bring me the thief as well.”
Interesting. Before I could agree to anything, I needed to know why he’d come to me and not to the city guard. They were usually responsive to serving and protecting the rich and powerful. Especially if they sniffed the possibility of a reward.
“Does this person live in the Low Quarter?” Even some of the guards were hesitant to come here.
Lord Uren made a moue of distaste. “No, of course not. Actually, I am not sure precisely where his home is, but I am quite sure it is not here.”
“Yet you came here to hire me. Was it my stellar reputation?”
“No.” He scratched absently at his leg. Perhaps a flea had bitten him. I hoped so. “You see, this incident is rather… embarrassing. I’d prefer that nobody learned of it. I’ll be paying for your discretion as well as your… skills.”
Ah. I rarely had wealthy clients, but when I did, most chose me for the same reasons: I didn’t run in their rarefied circles, and I had no cohort to tell tales to. The guards gossip worse than a group of drunken witches. You could safely assume that if one guard knew something, so did every one of his or her colleagues and their families as well. And word spreads fast. When I was a guard, I’d seen cases where half the city knew the murderer’s motive before the victim even realized he was dead. So if a person didn’t want the world to know about a philandering spouse or other humiliation, they turned to me and I kept my mouth shut.
“So what’s your story?” I asked, more comfortable now that I was coming to understand the situation.
“Several days ago I hired, er, an entertainer.”
I smirked. “What kind of entertainer?”
“He is a singer,” Lord Uren replied, eyes narrowed. “Quite talented. I was having a small party, so I hired him along with some musicians and dancers. But the next day, I realized a valuable item was missing.”
“What item?” I found getting information out of this man a tedious task, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I had nowhere else to be.
“A ring. It would be precious for the jewels and fine workmanship alone, but it is also an heirloom. It’s been in my family for over six hundred years.”
I wondered what my ancestors were doing six centuries earlier. Skulking through the Low most likely, wondering where their next meals would come from.
“Are you sure the ring’s gone?” I asked.
“Of course. I keep it in a box in my private chambers. I often wear it to morning prayers in order to feel closer to my forebears. When I opened the box the morning after the party, it was empty.”
“You’d just had a party, which means your house was full of people, including all your servants. What makes you think this singer— What’s his name?”
“What makes you think Jory Pearce is your villain?”
“The box was in the innermost room of my chambers. I keep that room locked and never permit servants inside unless I am there. None of the guests would have gone anywhere near it.”
I cocked my head. “But Pearce did.”
Even in the lamplight, I could see the flush spread over his cheeks. “Yes.”
“So Lady Uren’s reputation is unsullied, but yours… not so much?”
His lips thinned. “My lady and I have an understanding. She knows that my tastes are… varied. She lost interest in amorous pursuits some years ago and prefers to visit the Finches, so she permits me to do what I wish. As long as it doesn’t endanger our fortune or reputation.”
I was skeptical that his wife was truly so permissive, but it did happen. A lot of the nobles wed for convenience rather than love, and plenty of those couples maintain a public marriage while each partner plays around on the side. If so, Lady Uren was likely enjoying her own amorous pursuits somewhere else—with a pretty chambermaid, maybe—and not caring much what her husband did in his spare time.
“All right,” I said. “So you let him into your room and he entertained you with more than his singing. Would he have had a chance to steal anything?”
“Yes. It was foolish of me and I should have known better, but I stepped out for a few minutes to find a servant. I wanted more wine.”
He’d probably already had enough wine by that point. Enough to convince him that showing his prized bauble to an “entertainer” was a good idea. I didn’t mention that, especially because I couldn’t blame him. I’d made poor choices myself after downing too much ale.
I leaned back in my chair. “Why not let it go? I know the ring means a lot to you, but I’m sure your palace is filled with antique gewgaws with monetary and sentimental value. Why drag someone like me into it?” I didn’t ask another question, although I wanted to: Why pursue some poor singer over this thing? If Pearce were caught, a judge would immediately convict him for stealing something expensive from a lord, and by the end of the day, he’d be swinging from a rope in Hangman’s Square. Nobody deserved to die over a piece of jewelry, no matter how many generations of lords had worn it.
But Lord Uren’s eyes were devoid of compassion. “I’ve avoided morning prayers all this week—I told the servants I was ill. I can’t do that much longer, and soon everyone will notice that I am not wearing the ring. My good wife, my fellow members of the Undercouncil. As I said before, it will be an embarrassment. And my son will be deeply disappointed that he is unable to wear the ring someday.”
“Embarrassment and disappointment are worth hanging a man?”
I could refuse the job. But what was the point? Lord Uren would find another way to dig up Pearce. Besides, it was Pearce’s own fault for being a greedy fool. And I needed the money.
“Can I just bring you the ring? That will solve your problems.”
Lord Uren was not a large man and didn’t look as if he had any idea how to fight. I could have gutted him within seconds. Yet something in his gaze chilled my blood, and I was suddenly certain my would-be employer was a dangerous man. Tread softly.
“I require you to bring me the ring and Pearce,” Lord Uren said firmly. Of course—because his pride had been bruised. People react more violently to damaged pride than to physical blows. I knew that as well as anyone.
I lifted my chin. “How much will you pay?”
With a brief grin of triumph, Lord Uren removed a purse from his belt. He unfastened the knot and upended the contents onto my table.
I have to admit it—I gaped.
A tiny mountain of coins lay heaped on the wood, and they weren’t copper briquets or bronze remi. No, these were crowns, each a miniature artwork in gold and silver, each worth twenty remi or a hundred briquets. Enough of them to pay my room and board for the better part of a year.
I closed my mouth and gave Lord Uren a hard look. “This is enough for now. I’ll need this amount again when I bring him to you.”
He didn’t even blink. “Fine.”
Gods and goddesses. What could I do with that kind of payment? Almost two full years without worrying how to keep a roof over my head. I might even have enough to buy a little house of my own—at the edge of the Low perhaps—and never again have to worry about impatient landlords. The only time in my life I’d felt secure about my bed and board had been years ago when I was a guard.
“All right,” I said to Lord Uren. “Tell me everything you know about Jory Pearce.”
Kim Fielding is the bestselling, award-winning author of numerous m/m romance novels, novellas, and short stories. Like Kim herself, her work is eclectic, spanning genres such as contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, and historical. Her stories are set in alternate worlds, in 15th century Bosnia, in modern-day Oregon. Her heroes are hipster architect werewolves, housekeepers, maimed giants, and conflicted graduate students. They’re usually flawed, they often encounter terrible obstacles, but they always find love.
After having migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States, Kim calls the boring part of California home. She lives there with her husband, her two daughters, and her day job as a university professor, but escapes as often as possible via car, train, plane, or boat. This may explain why her characters often seem to be in transit as well. She dreams of traveling and writing full-time.
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