Nasarat smelled like home.
Yorrin could tell Aleksandr preferred the open air of the road. The big Ruskan obviously fancied himself a stoic, unreadable warrior, but the truth was he wore his heart on his sleeve. Or on his nose, as the case may be. His was wrinkled in disgust as they walked down the muddy street.
“It's good to be back," Yorrin said. "Don't you agree, Pete?"
Cross-Eyed Pete glared down at them, and did not reply. Aleksandr had given the smarmy son of a bitch the saddle, ever since they'd left Misviyr. Yorrin hadn't minded having to walk, since every minute he'd spent on Aleksandr’s terrifying beast felt like one good buck away from a bone-crushing fall. At first he'd been afraid Pete would ride off with the horse, since Aleksandr mostly let him ride alone. But the monster of a stallion was totally loyal to his master; Dascha went where Aleksandr told him to go, and nowhere else. Pete was no fool, either. After the first time he snapped the reins, only to be met with an indignant snort, he realized why Aleksandr had given him the horse without a second thought.
No, Dascha was Pete's gaoler as much as any of them were. The long journey back to Nasarat had been tiresome, hell on his feet, and colder than a Svard's ears. But, mercifully, it had also been uneventful. Now Yorrin would be lying to himself if he pretended he didn't feel a thrill of excitement building inside him. The further they walked down Broad Street, the larger the Serpentes keep loomed ahead of them.
“You missed it?” Aleksandr asked. “Nasarat is…” he trailed off, clearly searching for the right word. Finally, he settled on “Crowded.”
Yorrin chuckled. After his time away, he was a little surprised at how refreshing he found the familiarity of Nasarat. He smelled the brine of the Encircled Sea, and the spices of roasting kufta skewers. He heard the din of the markets, the merchants, the tourists. And he saw a couple of urchins working a simple gab-and-nab job on an unsuspecting mark, one boy distracting the fellow while the other picked his pocket.
A thought came to him, sudden and unbidden. One that he nearly pushed aside. But as they walked, something inside him told him to act. He slipped ahead of Aleksandr and Pete a few paces, sidling up alongside the two boys and their mark.
“Hey, little brother!” He said to the Gabber. The urchin shot him a glare at this intrusion. “Ma sent me to fetch you. Sorry, sir, he botherin’ you?”
He clapped the fellow on the back. With his other hand, he reached down to where the Nabber had fished a purse out of the mark’s cloak. Like in any good lift, the pressure from Yorrin’s hand on his back distracted the mark. It was a simple thing to slide the purse back where it belonged.
The man looked surprised. “No, not really,” he said. “The one lad was just spinning some tale. Your brother, you said? You don’t look—”
The mark wasn’t a total fool. His eyes went wide. His hand immediately went to his purse, and he visibly relaxed when he felt it still tucked away where it ought. The two urchins scattered in opposite directions. The man looked at them, confused, then back to Yorrin.
“What— What just happened?” He asked.
“Nothin’. Don’t you worry about it. But keep that close, yeah?” He nodded at the man’s purse.
“Yorrin! Everything is... alright?” Aleksandr had navigated the crowd and nearly caught up with them. From a few paces away, he looked the mark up and down, trying to figure out what Yorrin was doing.
“Peachy,” Yorrin said. “Coming.”
Without another word, he turned and made his way back to Aleksandr and Pete. Once they’d put a bit of distance in, Aleksandr spoke. His voice was low, quiet, just meant for Yorrin’s ears.
“You steal from that man?”
Yorrin felt a little indignant at that. But it wasn’t exactly an unreasonable question. He exhaled in a little hmph.
“Then what was?”
“That,” Yorrin said. “What was that.”
“Da. What was that.”
“He was getting pickpocketed by a couple of orphans. I’ve seen it—” He cleared his throat. “Done it. Plenty of times.”
“You see this? Through crowd?” Aleksandr sounded surprised.
“Yeah. Sure. Crowd’s not that big.”
“And you give this man his money back?”
“Barely,” Yorrin said. “They hadn’t really taken it yet. I just made sure it stayed where it was."
Aleksandr nodded. “Is good, Yorrin. Was right thing to do.”
Right, Yorrin thought. I suppose it was.
In truth, he hadn’t been thinking about what was the right or wrong thing to do. When he saw the kids working the mark, the first thought he’d had was simply: Aleksandr wouldn’t like that.
“I figured,” was all Yorrin said.
He was quiet the rest of the way to the Serpentes Keep, deep in thought. When he heard Aleksandr announce them, he blinked out of his reverie. A few militia eyed them warily as they crossed through the keep gate, a stone tunnel with menacing murder holes lining the walls and ceiling.
Brother Paul was waiting for them on the other side. He seemed to be in the midst of running some militia through a drill, as a dozen young men battered one another with staves. Yorrin was a little amused to note that the Serpentis carried two sheathed longswords, one at his side, and one strapped awkwardly across his back.
“You’ve returned!” Paul said. He looked them over. “And with Peter of the Rose, it would seem.”
“Sir Knight!” Pete said. “Please, sir, I beg of you. These men waylaid me, kidnapped me, dragged me here against my will! Seize them, they—”
Yorrin saw Aleksandr give Dascha a discreet gesture, and the horse stomped his front hooves. It was barely a rear, but Pete yelped in terror. Aleksandr approached Dascha, soothing the horse, and helped Peter out of the saddle.
“I ask Peter to come with us,” Aleksandr said to Brother Paul. “Explain himself. Or call me liar, and face my reply. He choose to come to Nasarat.”
Paul frowned. “Peter, is this true?”
Peter nodded. “Yes, fine! It’s true. He threatened me, he did!”
“I make no threat,” Aleksandr said. “I only ask this thing: Do you call me liar?”
Yorrin could’ve kissed the dour Ruskie noble. Aleksandr exuded righteousness. But when he asked that simple question, there was such an air of menace to it. As a knight, he was well within his rights to demand satisfaction for such a slight. It wouldn’t do Yorrin any good, dangling from a gallows, but Peter wasn’t about to get hacked to pieces in a duel just to jab a stick in Yorrin’s eye.
Least I hope not.
“Enough,” Paul said. “Let’s keep this simple. Peter of the Rose.”
Peter shook Aleksandr’s hand off of his arm, and offered no thanks for the assist. “Yes?”
“You claimed you saw this man, Yorrin, fleeing the scene of the murder.”
“And Sir Aleksandr Kerensky, you claim you saw Yorrin that same night, miles away, outside Nasarat.”
Paul sighed. “Alright. So one of you is mistaken.”
“In Misviyr, you tell me something,” Aleksandr said. “Say again. Please.”
Pete hesitated. Before Aleksandr, or even Yorrin, could encourage him Brother Paul stepped in. “Peter, if you would like to revise your statement, now is the time. Speak.”
“I didn’t get a good look at his face, is all,” said Pete.
Paul took another step closer. He wasn’t a large man—taller than Yorrin of course, and water is wet. But he was shorter and leaner than Aleksandr. Still, he was a Knight Serpentis. Anointed servant of God, warrior of the Church, defender of Torathia.
Pete was a con-man, a liar, and a coward.
“Peter of the Rose,” Paul said. “Can you positively confirm it was this man, Yorrin, that you saw?”
Pete swallowed. “I suppose not. Not— Not for a certainty.”
Paul turned to Aleksandr. “Aleksandr Kerensky.”
“You are certain it was Yorrin that you saw?”
“Da. We spoke. I look him in eyes. Is same man.”
Paul reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. He sighed deeply. “Peter, go step inside, please. We’ll need to speak further, to get a new testimony of what you saw.”
Pete hopped to obey, scurrying towards the stone hall of the Serpentis Keep.
“It appears you were falsely accused,” Paul said, meeting Yorrin’s eyes for the first time since they’d arrived.
“No shit,” Yorrin snapped.
The Serpentis blinked. He clearly wasn’t accustomed to being spoken to that way. Fine by Yorrin, as he wasn’t accustomed to being grilled by fucking Serpentes. Paul decided not to press the matter. He turned back to Aleksandr, reaching up to unfasten the baldrick slung over his shoulder. He offered Aleksandr his sword hilt first.
What’s it called? Kholodny? That sounded right.
“Thank you for offering this up as evidence of your sincerity,” the Serpentis said.
Aleksandr accepted the blade. His shoulders sagged, and he exhaled a breath that sounded like he’d been holding in since they left Nasarat days earlier. “Thank you,” he breathed.
Aleksandr held the sword in silence, eyes closed. After a beat, Paul looked to Yorrin.
“Yorrin, called Quickhands.”
“You are hereby cleared of the charge of murder, and released. You’re a free man. That said, I would watch myself, were I you.”
“Can’t blame you for that,” Yorrin said. “I watch myself, too. I’m a laugh a minute.”
The Serpentis did not look amused. He just shook his head, turning around to follow Peter.
Aleksandr strapped Kholodny back to his side. He looked much more relaxed, serene almost, now that his family sword was back in his possession. He turned to look at Yorrin,
“I’m free,” Yorrin said. The words sounded odd.
“Da. As am I. I have Kholodny returned safely to my hand.”
Yorrin nodded. “No disgrace for you and your family then. That’s good.”
“Is very good.”
“So then,” Yorrin said. “What’s next?”
Aleksandr scratched his beard. “Is good question,” he said. Then, he smiled.
“I think I know that look,” Yorrin said. The truth of the words surprised him. They’d scarcely been traveling together for a fortnight. “What is it?”
“Pirates,” Aleksandr said. He gestured out towards the Encircled Sea, hidden behind the walls of the Serpentes Keep.
“Is why I come to Nasarat,” Aleksandr explained. “Pirates, plaguing the shores of the Encircled Sea. They are looking for sellswords. And you will need money, to live honest life.”
“I suppose I will,” Yorrin said. He grimaced. “But… Pirates?”
“Da,” Aleksandr said. “Pirates!”