Tailfin strolled along the docks in the evening light. No – he skipped along. He’d been under water for a week, and finally putting his legs to work again was a strangely delightful experience.
Merilyce had saved his life, or at least, she had released him from an eternity of boredom beneath the waves that Arynlock and his man had sentenced him to. No – Madrik had sentenced him. The upstart gangster had called for them to ‘feed him to the sharks.‘ Him. Tailfin?
He would deal with the ambitious bastard soon enough, once he’d returned to his office and made sure everyone knew he was still alive; once he’d ensured that his criminal empire was running smoothly and hadn’t simply fallen to pieces in his absence.
He thought back to his time beneath the waves; the sharks circling him helplessly, their teeth not sharp enough to saw through the chains. He would gaze upward, staring at the changes in light above. That’s how he knew it had only been a week; any longer, and he would have given up counting the days.
For a change of scenery, he would search the sea floor for anything interesting. Unsurprisingly, there was no shortage of bones scattered in the shifting sands – most of them rough from the savage gnawing of the tailsharks, few of them there by pure accident.
He had also happened upon a bag of gold, neatly fastened shut, just waiting for someone to collect it. Collect it he had, and he’d brought it to the surface. Some wave of kindness or madness had seen him hand it over to Merilyce. The poor girl deserved a reward, but a whole bag? It must have been madness. Tailfin wasn’t infamous for his acts of kindness.
There was someone else in Merilyce’s boat with her. A scribe. The Scribe? An interesting thought passed his mind, one that he would hold on to for later. First, he needed to get back to his office.
When he looked up from his feet, clearing his mind of his more generous thoughts, he saw he’d already arrived. The gambling den, his gambling den was right before him. There was a massive man standing at the entryway with a stunned look on his face.
“T… T… Tailfin?” he stammered.
“Get out of my way!”
“Ah… yes, boss…”
Tailfin smiled as he passed the doorman. He could smell fear, and that foul scent always made him happy. He walked confidently through the main room past the tables full of punters throwing away their money, and headed to the office at the back. Another large man stood at the door. His favourite henchman, he noticed.
“Tailfin?” he said with a shocked expression. “You’re alive?”
“Do I look dead to you?” he demanded.
“Do I look alive to you?”
“Ah… yes, I suppose so. Boss.”
The henchman was still blocking the door. Clearly far too much information being processed by his limited mind.
“Get out of my way,” he warned.
“Ah… yes… no… it’s just… Madrik…”
Tailfin pushed past the henchman and kicked the door with all his strength. It swung open, and Tailfin charged through, fuming.
“Madrik!” he shouted. “What the godsdammed—”
“Tailfin!” interrupted Madrik with a huge grin on his face, leaning back in his chair. “How wonderful to see you again!”
Tailfin fell into stunned silence. Madrik was expecting him?
“You remember Tally, don’t you?” added Madrik.
“Hello, Tailfin,” said Talyreina. “I’m glad to see you are doing well.”
Tailfin was stuck firmly on the back foot. Somebody was playing games with him, and he didn’t like it. Not when he wasn’t in control of the game.
“You two took over my business while I was… away?”
“Just kept things running smoothly, really,” said Madrik, waving his hands. “Think nothing of it.”
Tailfin stared at the two for a moment longer. Something was happening that he couldn’t quite grasp. He glanced around the room to see what else had changed. Nothing, so far as he could tell. Not even the papers stacked on the desk that made him look busy at all times. Nor the desk that was clearly intended for one person.
“You didn’t think to bring in a bigger desk?” asked Tailfin. “Or do you need to hold each other’s hands while you are working?”
They both flinched at that. Perfect. A small grin spread on Tailfin’s mouth.
“Madrik, you have always been all show. A few muscles, fancy jawline, scars in the right places – just what girls look for in a gangster. But when it comes down to it, you have always been too stupid to make anything of it.”
Yet he’d done a damn fine job of climbing the ranks. But Tailfin wasn’t ready to give him credit for that just yet.
“Your bravado is your undoing,” he added, despite the fact that bravado is half the job description wrapped up in a clenched fist.
“You should be dead by now, at least twice,” continued the crime-lord. “Only luck has kept you alive this long.”
It took a hell of a lot more than pure luck to survive the desert run. Twice.
“Luck, and, maybe your new girlfriend.”
Tailfin’s smug tone only got worse as he watched Madrik shrink back into his seat. He was enjoying this. Every drop of sweat.
“Don’t piss yourself right there,” he added. “You’re in my chair. Now tell me, how did you know I was still alive?”
Both of them looked nervously to one side of the room. Tailfin hadn’t noticed the man sitting in the corner. He recognised him, but couldn’t quite place him.
“And you are?” he asked.
“Discreet, sir. I believe I was just about to let myself out, sir. On your orders, of course, Mr Tailfin.”
The strange man casually walked toward the door, and strolled through it, straight past the dumbstruck henchman who was still holding up the broken door.
“Wait,” said Tailfin. “You look familiar. Have we met?”
“It’s certainly possible,” said the man, shrugging casually, “although I suspect a successful businessman such as yourself would never forget a face worth remembering.”
Tailfin watched the odd man walk out. He suspected he had missed something there, but couldn’t put his finger on it. He certainly couldn’t admit to it. Seven days – a lot had happened without his knowledge. He needed to catch up.
“Right, Madrik,” he said, turning his attention back to the desk. “Get out of my chair.”
Tailfin was comforted to notice that the henchman was standing behind his shoulder, supportively flexing his muscles while holding up the door. Madrik tried to stand up calmly, but failed miserably. Tailfin suppressed a smile, pointing Madrik and Talyreina to the uncomfortable bench against the wall. He walked around the desk and dropped into his chair, his feet automatically lifting onto the desk, his fingers interlocking as he tapped them on his chest.
“It occurs to me,” said Tailfin, “that an upstart such as yourself who managed to secure my desk and hold it for a week might have some promise after all.”
He sat quietly for a moment, feigning considering the situation. Actually, he was feigning the feigned expression. He was considering the situation, but a successful crime-lord had to keep up the appearance of always knowing what to do, and only pretending to think in order to give people enough time to start sweating.
“Perhaps we should get you two your own desks – a nice office too, with your own henchman to watch the door. Perhaps you could… handle some of the less important tasks for me.”
Eager expressions raced across the faces of the two. Tailfin liked it. He liked to watch people’s eyes when they realised there was a price to pay. There was always a catch.
“But of course you will need to prove you are… capable.”
And there it was. Madrik’s smile vanished, and Talyreina eyed him suspiciously, shifting nervously.
“Does the proving ground happen to be somewhere out in the desert?” asked Madrik. “I think I’ve already passed that test.”
“No, nothing so life-threatening,” smiled Tailfin. “There is a well-to-do gentleman named Arynlock. You’ve met him. Somehow, you made it off his boat without a chain tied to your feet.”
Tailfin couldn’t help but notice Madrik flinch. There was a story there. He would need to come back to that.
“Arynlock?” said Madrik. “We… we bought our way off his ship.”
“Then you will have no problem with your test,” said Tailfin, nodding. “I want him done for. Dead. Without a pulse. No chance to mess with my business any further. Understood?”
The two nodded nervously, glancing at each other conveying messages just beyond Tailfin’s reach.
“You bring me the proof – solid proof – and you two become my number-two man. Number twos. Number two men. Numbers-two. Number… you report to me.”
Tailfin glanced at the henchman, who was shuffling, itching to say something.
“What is it?”
“Seconds. Short for second-in-command. Madrik would be your second. Tally would be your second. Together, they would be your seconds.”
The henchman had a brain after all.
“Only if they bring me proof,” he said, turning back to his prospective seconds. “Otherwise, we shall see how long they last chained to the bottom of the bay. Get out.”
Tailfin watched them race out of the room, and giggled to himself as they vanished.
“I need to find somebody. Where is that lackey of mine? The one with half a brain… with the accent.”
“Tyke, boss? He’s with the city watch. They went up north to investigate a shipwreck.”
“The city watch? They?“
“Madrik thought they needed a boost, boss.”
“Fine. Who’ve I got that can find someone in a hurry?”
“I’ll get someone on it, boss. Who do you want found?”
“No, The Scribe.“
“Yes, The Scribe.“
“Dammit! Send someone down to that fishermen’s tavern. Find the girl, she will know.”
“Yes, the girl!“
“The girl in the tavern, boss?”
“Godsdammit!” said Tailfin, rubbing his temples. “The only girl in the fishermen’s’ tavern! You have more than enough to go on. Have The Scribe sent to me, or bring him to me in a sack. Doesn’t matter.”
The henchman hesitated for a moment, glanced around, then shuffled out awkwardly. The door fell to the floor.
* * *
Tailfin had had enough already. Being the meanest guy in the city was a tough job – a stressful job – and his migraines were getting worse as the years passed. He had plans to retire soon, to get a nice place up the hill overlooking the bay, and live out his days reading books instead of breaking bones.
A week below the water had been calming, if a little boring. He still didn’t know how he had survived for seven days without air, and he wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing the topic. There were likely some fairly dangerous answers at the end of that quest.
He strolled along Sevryne Street, bearing away from the markets, heading towards a bakery that he had visited a number of times over the years. The sweet old lady always refused to serve him. Probably the only person on Renryre Island with the guts to do so.
“Good morning, Nelysse,” said Tailfin. “How are you today?”
“Morning, Tailfin,” said the old lady. “I am very well, thank you for asking. How are you? I heard you were dead?”
Tailfin couldn’t help but chuckle at that. He supposed that word had got around. Nelysse looked a little disappointed to discover it wasn’t true.
“As you can see, that’s not the case,” he shrugged, glancing at himself. “But I am peckish. How about a little cake?”
“As you know, it’s against store policy to serve lowlife criminal scum.”
He wanted to laugh, but the cake actually looked rather enticing. He drew his dagger, almost uncontrolled.
“There are two ways this is going to happen,” he said, allowing Nelysse time to deduce her options.
She stepped back with a shocked look on her face. Tailfin had never bothered threatening her before. Why now? It wasn’t like him.
“What happens next?” asked a voice behind him.
Tailfin turned to find The Scribe sitting at a table in the corner, casually scribbling on a parchment.
“You?” said Tailfin.
“I heard you were looking for me,” said The Scribe.
Tailfin looked around cautiously. Yes, he was looking for The Scribe, but he hadn’t expected The Scribe to find him first. Nelysse was still nervously watching him, and he decided to put the dagger away.
“What can I do for you, Tailfin?” asked The Scribe.
Ignoring the bakerwoman, Tailfin walked over to the table.
“I have a job for you,” he said. “I am retiring soon, you see. And I need someone to write my biography. A memoir, if you like. How I became what I am, and how it gradually comes to an end.”
“I don’t tend to write things retrospectively,” said The Scribe after a moment’s consideration. “But I suppose I am interested. Any thought on what this book will be called?”
“Yes, actually,” said Tailfin proudly, “A Tail Of Revenge.“
“A Tale Of Revenge?”
“Tail, spelt t-a-i-l.”
“A Tail Of Revenge?”
“Yes. As in, Tailfin.”
“That’s just silly.”
“Well, anybody who reads the title will think you can’t spell. And then they won’t bother to read it.”
“They will read it.”
“Because I’m Tailfin, and I will bloody well make them read it!”
The Scribe nodded calmly for a moment, considering. Then he looked up at Tailfin with a smile.
“Fair enough. I will do it for free, in a manner of speaking.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, I need to collect something – a trinket. I could use a man of your skills to help me retrieve it. And along the way, you can tell me your story.”
“Sounds like we have a deal,” said Tailfin, holding his hand out to shake. “We just need to go past my office, and then we can go collect this trinket of yours. Where is it?”
“Far to the south on the isle of Littleren. There is a large stone there, the druids use it for rituals.”
“The Godstone?” exclaimed Tailfin. “I know exactly where is it. I’ve been there!”
“What an unexpected coincidence,” said The Scribe dryly. “Let’s finish your business here, then we can get on our way.”
Tailfin hesitated. He was sure he’d missed something; another something. Dead certain. But then, he appeared to be immortal, so what did he have to lose?
* * *
Tailfin and The Scribe arrived back at the office to find the henchman waiting with a pleased expression. A sack was wriggling on the floor.
“The scribe, boss.”
“No, The Scribe is standing next to me.”
The henchman glanced down at the sack.
“Might be a different scribe then, boss.”
“Just… get rid of him,” said Tailfin, rubbing his temples.
“In the bay, boss?”
Tailfin sighed. How had he done this for so long. Four decades already. He had been a boy when the mainland had vanished. A clever boy; opportunistic. It had only taken him a few years to rein in the chaos, and build up his underworld. Back then, he had loved his work, but as time crawled on, it became just business. A transaction here, a desert run there, an accident indoors, a property acquisition, another body found in the bay. Business.
“Just lose him outside,” said Tailfin. “Then round up all the muscle you can find, and meet us at the docks before the next bell. Got it?”
The henchman vanished with the sack hanging over his shoulder, and Tailfin was left to pack his things while The Scribe watched in silence. It made Tailfin oddly uncomfortable.
“What is it?” asked Tailfin.
“I’m observing my subject,” said The Scribe, with a rather creepy grin. “Learning, so that I can capture your character as I write.”
“Fine. Let’s head down to the docks. We can walk in silence if you like?”
They stared at each other for a while until eventually Tailfin broke contact, looking away in annoyance.
“Fine. Let’s go.”
They reached the docks a short while later, and found the henchman waiting with a dozen armed men, all of them classically brutish, the perfect crew for this sort of job.
“Right,” said Tailfin, “hop in the tender, all of you. We’ve got a job to do.”
The men all began piling into the tender, which wasn’t designed for a dozen men. All of them except the henchman.
“I can’t swim, boss!”
“I remember. So, would you prefer to climb into the boat, or be thrown into the bay in a sack?”
“Ah… neither, boss.”
The henchman turned and sprinted, vanishing into the distance.
“I suppose he won’t be coming with us then,” remarked The Scribe.
Tailfin and The Scribe joined the bruisers in the boat, and watched them paddle in desperate confusion while the boat swung in circles. It took a while to get them into a synchronous motion – even then it was rather a sad display.
“I hope you aren’t planning on having this bunch paddle us all the way to Littleren?” asked The Scribe.
“Of course not,” said Tailfin. “See that ship over there…”
The tender bumped into the side of the luxury ship, and the men scrambled up the ropes. A short commotion on the deck quickly died down, and Tailfin and The Scribe followed them onboard.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” said Tailfin to the crew being held hostage by his men. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Tailfin. Welcome aboard my ship.”
“Your ship?” protested the captain.
“Yes, my ship.”
“This is Arynlock’s ship.”
“I know who’s ship it was.”
The crew stood startled a moment longer before the captain relented.
“No harm will come to my crew?”
“None at all, assuming they follow orders.”
“Where to, then?”
“Littleren. It’s a little—”
“I know it. Claims more ships than it allows safe passage. Too risky. Besides, we’d need to fight the Whalebreaker current to get there. This ship isn’t made for the high seas, nor are my crew trained for it. This is a luxury ship, it stays in the bay.”
“That doesn’t sound like following orders to me, captain,” said Tailfin without a hint of humour. “You can die here, or you can attempt to land on Littleren. What will it be?”
The captain sagged, his arms metaphorically bound.
“Prepare to sail!” he called, then turned back to Tailfin. “Your cabin is the largest in the sterncastle, over there.”
“Thank you, captain,” said Tailfin, smiling as he strolled towards his cabin.
“And your cabin—”
“Thank you, captain,” said The Scribe calmly as he began walking. “I know where it is.”
* * *
After settling in, Tailfin called The Scribe to his cabin for a meal. Arynlock’s ship was well stocked with fresh food, always prepared to entertain guests, evidently. Tailfin could relate – a successful businessman, whatever his business, should always be prepared for the unexpected.
The Scribe sat quietly, observing Tailfin, making him ever more uncomfortable.
“Right. How do we get started?” asked the crime-lord.
“We go back to the beginning,” said The Scribe. “In fact, further back. To before it all began. Think about the first crime you ever committed. What happened before that, what drove to you crime?”
Tailfin struggled to recall that day, forty years back. Helen had been a city in chaos, its citizens stunned, staring out into the empty ocean, their pockets left unguarded.
“The mainland disappeared, along with the city watch,” said Tailfin, shrugging nonchalantly. “I saw an opportunity, I took it.”
The Scribe began inking his parchment, nodding as he listened.
“And when did you know you were more than a petty criminal; when did you decide to become a crime-lord?”
“I always knew,” he said. “I never doubted it; never questioned it; never considered anything else really.”
“Never thought about a change of career?”
“I suppose I have considered it over the years,” acknowledged Tailfin. “But Helen needs me. Renryre Island needs me. Without me, the city would fall into chaos. Crime would run amok, uncontrolled. The powerful would be robbed, and the hierarchy of society would fall. Merchants would be put out of business; all trade would fail. Renryre Island would be reduced to an island of savages. I couldn’t do that. This island means too much to me.”
“And yet you want to retire?”
Tailfin sighed deeply, his disappointment clear.
“I want to retire, yes.”
“You were gone a week. Helen was still there when you returned.”
“Yes. I suppose Madrik held things together. He and his girlfriend.”
“Madrik? You think Madrik stepped in? No, he was just a face, as was Tally. Arynlock is the one who stepped in.”
“Arynlock?” exclaimed Tailfin. “The man who threw me to the sharks?”
“He knew what he was doing.”
“He planned that?”
“He plans a lot of things,” said The Scribe, shrugging. “Sets things in motion. Moves the pieces, if you will. If you really want to retire and leave Helen in good hands, Arynlock is your man.”
Tailfin sighed deeply, rubbing his temples.
“Arynlock…” he said. “I sent Madrik and Tally to kill him just this morning.”
I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter XIV: A Tail Of Revenge
Next, Chapter XV: Which Way’s North (coming soon).
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