“There he is,” Yorrin said.
He didn’t gesture. He didn’t even nod his head. Just a flicker of his eyes, but Aleksandr caught the movement. He tracked Yorrin’s eyes, very slightly turning his head to put the target in his periphery.
A tall, lean man swept into the Blackened Shield. He wore woolen clothes, tailored but not garish. His hair was halfway to gray, while his beard had gone the full distance. He spoke with the barmaid and Aleksandr caught sight of his face. His left eye drifted listlessly to the side, but his right was sharply focused on the woman in front of him. He murmured a word to her, she laughed, and he handed her a coin.
“I see him,” Aleksandr said.
‘Cheap Pete’ shuffled over to a table. After a moment Matt made his way to him. They conversed in hushed tones.
“You ready?” Yorrin asked. “This might get messy. Somehow I doubt he’ll come easy.”
“I am ready.” Aleksandr gently touched the hilt of the dagger at his side. He’d fished it out of Dascha’s saddlebags and fastened it to his baldrick. Somehow, he did not think his wood-axe would be as inconspicuous.
“Time to move. Matt’s waving us over.” Yorrin slid out of his chair, and began crossing the room. Aleksandr followed close behind.
Cheap Pete—Cross-Eyed Pete—watched them with indifference as they approached. Aleksandr saw as the man’s expression slowly changed. Brow furrowed in confusion, single good eye growing more intense as it stared at Yorrin. He mouthed something, perhaps simply “No,” though Aleksandr couldn’t say for sure.
And then they were at his table. Yorrin grabbed a chair, sitting in it backwards. He folded his arms over the back of the chair, grinning at Peter. Aleksandr stood behind him.
“Hey, Pete!” Yorrin said. “It’s been too long.”
Matt frowned. “Hey, Yohn, you said—”
“Run along, Matt,” Yorrin said, his gaze not breaking contact with Peter’s good eye.
“Yorrin,” Peter said, teeth clenched.
Matt looked at Yorrin, then back to Peter, then to Aleksandr. After a brief silence, he raised his hands in a placating gesture and backed away.
“What are you doing here?” Peter asked.
“Don’t you mean: ‘How are you still alive?’”
Peter swallowed. “Yes. That.”
“I made a new friend, Pete,” Yorrin said. He grinned, and gestured towards Aleksandr. “Aleksandr Kerensky, Cross-Eyed Pete. Cross-Eyed Pete, Aleksandr Kerensky.”
“Kerensky?” Peter frowned, and studied Aleksandr for a moment. “That sounds like a Ruskan surname. Ruskan nobility have surnames.”
“That they do,” Yorrin agreed.
“I am third son of Bayard Valentin Kerensky, lord of Pripia,” Aleksandr said.
“The hell are you doing with a two-bit thief like Yorrin?” Peter said.
“Clearing my name,” Yorrin said.
Peter opened his mouth to reply, then paused. His eye darted between the two of them. It settled on Aleksandr and, when he next spoke, his voice had changed completely. He affected a manner of speech much more noble than the low-class Middish he had been using.
“Whatever he’s told you, Sir Kerensky, was undoubtedly a lie,” Peter said. “Yorrin is a ruffian, a thief, and an inveterate liar. He is well known for such depredations in Nasarat.”
“This voice you use,” Aleksandr said. “Strange. Is a sort of… lie? Sounds nice. Pretty. But false.”
“Not at all, sir. Here in Misviyr, I sometimes find it useful to put on a lower-status affectation. It helps to fit in. But, as many good folk in Nasarat could attest, I am no common criminal. Not like him.”
“Hey,” Yorrin protested. “I’m an uncommon criminal, at the least.”
Aleksandr stifled a chuckle. For once, he actually understood one of Yorrin’s bits of wordplay. But Peter just huffed a dismissive breath. “There—you see? He even admits it. Whatever he accuses me of, I can assure you—”
“Enough,” Aleksandr said. “Too much talk. You accuse Yorrin of murder.”
Peter’s eye lit up. “Indeed I did, sir! I saw the deed myself! He—”
“Was with me. Outside Nasarat, an hour at least. By horse.”
Peter froze. His eye darted around, as if looking for some new lie to seize upon. “With you?” He said.
“Da. He stealed from me.”
“Stole,” Yorrin murmured.
Of course. A foolish mistake. “Stole,” Aleksandr said. “So he could not do this thing you say. He did not murder. Is a lie, I am thinking. So I come to bring you back to Nasarat. You will tell the Serpentis the truth.”
“He stole from you. And for that, you wish to clear his name?”
“Clear it of crime he did not commit. Da.”
“Sir,” Peter said. “Be reasonable. The man has robbed you. Rest assured, you are not alone in this. Deception comes to him as easily as breathing comes to normal men such as you and I.”
Aleksandr crossed his arms. “You are man of false faces, Peter. ‘You and I?’ No. Is you and he, I am thinking.”
“He’s saying you’re a thief and a liar, like me,” Yorrin told Peter.
“Not like you,” Aleksandr said. “You stole, but you do not lie like he does.”
Yorrin shrugged. “Not to you, I suppose.”
Peter licked his lips, eye darting between the two men. “Sir Kerensky, I’m certain we can find some sort of solution, here. We—”
“Da,” Aleksandr interrupted. “Is simple: You come to Nasarat. Tell Serpentis the truth. Solution.”
“I’m afraid that’s not a solution I am altogether comfortable with,” Peter said. “Perhaps if—”
“Well, if you’re ‘not altogether comfortable,’” Yorrin said. He modulated his voice into an excellent impression of Peter’s faked noble’s accent. “Suppose I’ll just toddle off then, back to Nasarat to face the gallows.”
“Enough, Yorrin,” Aleksandr said. “Peter. Stand, and come with us. Do what is right.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I insist.” Aleksandr had never taken one of the chairs. He was grateful for that now, as he loomed over Peter. A solid wall of muscle and mail.
“What good will any of this do? I won’t recant, you know. I saw what I saw!”
“You saw Yorrin kill this woman?” Aleksandr realized he had never learned her name, which he found a little disquieting.
Peter opened his mouth to reply, but paused. His mouth hung open. He snapped it closed. Less eagerly, he said “I am not calling you a liar, sir. But I saw him, yes. Saw him standing over her body. I was down the street from the alley where she lay, ”
“I also saw him. In front of me, miles outside Nasarat. Same night. Same time. How is possible? Yorrin is some sort of black wizard, able to exist in two places at same time?”
“I don’t know!” Peter said, growing red-faced with frustration. “But I’m not a god-damned liar, you Ruskie bastard!”
Aleksandr did not change his expression. He just uncrossed his arms and deliberately rested his right hand on the hilt of the dagger at his side. The red drained out of Peter’s face in an instant. Yorrin snickered. In his periphery, Aleksandr could see that a few eyes in the Blackened Shield were on them now. That could prove to complicate things. Peter was known here, seemingly respected, and they were not.
“You are not liar. I am not liar. So, must be that one of us is mistaken. Da? Serpentis in Nasarat, he asked me if maybe I was confused. Confused about time of night. I do not think so.” Aleksandr met Peter’s good eye, and gazed into it pointedly. “And you? Is possible you make mistake? This man you saw, is certain this was Yorrin?”
Peter did not respond right away. He seemed to chew this question a bit, taking it seriously. Finally, he sighed.
“I suppose it’s possible I was mistaken,” he said. “It was dark. The man looked like Yorrin to me. So that’s what I told the men that asked.”
“You saw his face?”
“No, but the man I saw was short, and had the same build.”
Yorrin laughed outright. “Oh, that’s beautiful,” he said.
“Is possible this was a different man, then,” Aleksandr said. “And when the Serpentis—”
“Militia,” Yorrin interjected. “Militia rounded me up first.”
“When militia spoke to you, you say ‘was man, so much tall, looked kind of like Yorrin’? Or, you say ‘was man, so much tall, is Yorrin. I know this man’?”
“You expect me to remember exactly what I said?” Peter scoffed. “How should I know? I said one of those, yes.”
“Is a man’s life you are playing with, Peter,” Aleksandr said. “Da, I expect you to remember.”
“Fine, yes, alright?” Peter stood up, glaring at Aleksandr with his good eye. “I told them I’d seen the little bastard do it. Looked close enough like him, and after all the shit he’s pulled… He’d hang one day or another, with no help from me. So why the hell should I care?”
Aleksandr met the glare and verbal onslaught without flinching. A silence began to stretch into the empty space between them. After some time, he broke it.
“Because a man should not pay for what he did not do,” Aleksandr said. “And I am thinking you and I both know the truth: Yorrin did not do this thing.”
Yorrin scooted back in his chair, getting out from between the two of them.
Peter sighed, visibly calming himself. “Maybe not,” he said. “It’s not important.”
Aleksandr heard footsteps approaching behind him.
“You are wrong,” said Aleksandr. “Is very important. Is why you will come with us, to Nasarat.”
“I don’t think I will,” Peter said.
Aleksandr felt a hand fall on his shoulder. “Time to go, friend,” spoke a gruff voice. “Looks like Cheap Pete’s done talking.”
“You will take your hand off me,” Aleksandr said. His voice was quiet, and he did not turn to face them. “Please.”
The hand tightened on Aleksandr’s shoulder.
“You’re not welcome here any more, Ruskie,” the man’s voice growled. “Move, or be moved.”
Aleksandr reached up and grabbed the man by the hand, whirling around as he did so. He twisted the man’s hand in his grip, and the man groaned in pain. Aleksandr forced the man’s hand up at an angle, the motion driving him down.
“God damn! Stop!” The man yelped.
He was big, but it was as much fat as muscle. Dressed in rough leather and wool, a simple cudgel on his belt. Aleksandr saw the barmaid and Matt watching nervously from a distance.
“I said please,” Aleksandr reminded him. “I am speaking with Peter, is no need for—”
Behind him, Peter suddenly made a break for it. He rushed past Aleksandr, running for the door. Yorrin sighed loudly, standing up. He lifted the small chair he’d been sitting in and hurled it across the room. It caught Peter in the back, and the man staggered to the ground.
Yorrin crossed the room at a stroll. All eyes were on them now, but nobody intervened. Peter stumbled to his feet just as Yorrin reached him, and Yorrin kicked his legs back out from under him.
“You—what are you going to do with Pete?” Matt asked.
“He falsely accused my friend of murder, in Nasarat. We will return to Nasarat. He will tell truth.” Aleksandr released the man he was holding, and took a step towards Yorrin.
The man lunged for him, swinging his fists in wide, wild blows. Aleksandr ducked the first one, though the second caught him in the side. He felt the thump through his mail, but from the way the fellow grimaced Aleksandr knew the punch had given his foe the worst of the exchange. His injured hand recoiled, and Aleksandr grabbed him by the wrist. With his other hand Aleksandr delivered three fast, fierce blows to the man’s face. His mailed glove left bloody imprints, and when Aleksandr let go of the man’s wrist, he collapsed onto the ground. He made faint groaning noises, and did not rise.
“I am sorry,” Aleksandr said. He turned around and joined Yorrin, trying to ignore the horrified stares of the other patrons.
Yorrin pulled Peter back to his feet, twisting one of the man’s arms behind his back.
“Let me go!” Peter shouted, struggling.
“We asked nicely, Pete. Look where that’s led us,” Yorrin said. He looked over at Aleksandr. “Ready to go?”
Aleksandr nodded. “Da,” he said. “Peter…”
“Alright! Alright! I’ll come along, just—god damn it, Yorrin, that hurts! Let go of me!”
Yorrin let go. Peter rubbed his arm, his good eye darting angrily between Aleksandr and Yorrin.
Aleksandr spared one last glance at the barmaid, who was still staring at him with a look of shock and fear. He reached into his purse and pulled out a large handful of silver. Far more than the cost of a drink or a meal. “Apologies,” he said. He laid them on a nearby table, nodding at her.
She gulped, eyes wide. “Th—thank you!” she said.
Aleksandr turned around, following Yorrin and Peter out the door.