[Pt. II] Ch. 29: [Interlude: Alvar] “I did not like how he was looking at me.”
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North of the Bridge, City of Feldaren
Saturday Evening

Alvar Leto had been in Feldaren for three weeks and was nothing but disappointed.  He’d heard great things about the city from older friends in his father’s court, and over the time he’d been here, had discovered that he was too young for every one of them.  At home, gambling and other entertainments were illegal, but if your silver or your banknotes were good, nobody cared if you were 15, or for that matter a baron’s son or a cobbler’s.  One could drink legally at 16, and if you stuck to the rowdier places in the port, nobody cared if you were a little younger, either. 

Here in Feldaren, everything was backwards.  Gambling was legal, but hard to find and strictly for those over 18, the local definition of adults.  The skin trade was supposedly legal, but highly regulated and equally out of bounds until he was 18.  Rumors of how much fun the place was could hang - he’d been sent away several times, however politely, and the drinking age was 18 as well. 

School was much more serious than he’d had at home, and with Saturday classes of all things! The Feldarenese girls his own age he’d met were utterly unimpressed by his family name, and all told he was getting fed up.  He would have been ready to just head back to Fenrik, but he didn’t want to give his shrew of a stepmother the satisfaction.

Fortunately, the one place where his name did carry some weight was at the embassy; his father was not just a baron, but part of the junta who’d been running the country since the last king fled.  The ambassador had been happy to share rum from his own supply, and while he didn’t have enough of a sense of any of the staff’s loyalty or interest in gambling with him directly, they had been able to find the address of a card room which would likely take him without questioning his age.

The neighborhood “North of the Bridge” had an unimaginative name, but it was easy to find.  It wasn’t supposed to be a nice neighborhood, but it reminded him of the port areas in his hometown of Hertsag. There were times when he couldn’t stand the locals’ insistence on cleanliness!

The place was upstairs, with its own entrance but above a bar.  Surprisingly small; it must have originally been an apartment.  Only one person was there, a woman only slightly older than he was.  She wasn’t really his type, fair almost to the point of paleness, and slender with mousy brown hair and likely rather plain below a little too much makeup.  The dress she wore did not suit her, although he wasn’t sure what would have.

His disappointment must have shown on his face, as she said, “Nobody’s here yet, but you’re welcome to wait.” 

Alvar was never happy to wait, but he had to smile that she wasn’t rushing him out or asking him for an adult identity card. She spoke English but with an accent that sounded like she grew up speaking Old Imperial, his own native tongue, and he replied in it, “I understand. There will be cards here soon, yes?

Later, yes,” she said, replying in the same language. “We just provide the tables and a dealer,” to which she gave a slight curtsy.

I’ll wait, thanks.”

She gestured to a sofa. “Do you want a drink?” she asked.

When he nodded assent, she stepped out.

She came back in with a glass of red wine.  It was fortified and very sweet, and he wondered for a moment how she knew that it was generally the style preferred in his home country.  He sipped, and grabbed a news magazine from the end table.  He hadn’t read more than a few lines before he passed out.

Consciousness came back slowly…

When he got his wits about him, he was not in the card room he’d left.  Wherever he was, the floor was cold, his hands and feet were bound, and someone was shining a bright light on him.

“Where am I?” he croaked; his voice weaker than he expected.

“You’re up quicker than we expected,” said a male voice from behind the light. “We’ll be asking the questions.”

“You’re brave for kidnappers,” he said. “Do you know who my father is?” Granted, he was a legitimized bastard, and his stepmother was none too fond of him, but he didn’t think she’d have him kidnapped.

“Not a clue,” said another voice; this was much rougher than the last. “Should we care?”

“My father’s part of the junta in Fenrik.  If you harm me, he’ll…” and a large arm reached past the light to belt him.

“Got it. We don’t care, then,” said the rough voice.

“Who is your mother?” asked a woman’s voice.  He thought it might be the one from the card room.

“One of the old Baron Torens’ younger daughters,” said Alvar.

“Damn it,” said the smoother man’s voice. “He’s telling the truth, or thinks he is.”

“With this many wards, how are you so sure?” asked the woman’s voice.

“I suppose we’ll have to test his blood,” said the smoother man’s voice.

The same large arm reached out with a blade and scratched his cheek.  It wasn’t deep, but he could feel a dribble of blood running down his face.  The man scraped it up using the same blade, and he could feel the warmth of an attempt to heal the wound.  He hadn’t heard any of the three voices casting, so their healer must have been very good indeed.  Unfortunately, instead of healing him, it sparked.

“Someone very distrusting must have cast his wards,” said the woman’s voice again.

“So, they did,” said the smoother man’s voice.  Then, away from Alvar, he said “is the blood a match?”

“It’s not,” said the rougher man’s voice.

“What a waste,” said the smoother man’s voice. “I guess we’ll need to be rid of him. Do you want to do the honors?”

“Gladly,” said the woman’s voice. “I did not like how he was looking at me.” 

Alvar started to struggle, but it did no good.  The woman stepped into the light holding a thin blade, and sure enough she was the same woman he’d met at the card room.  That was clearly a trap, and not for me! His last thoughts swirled between anger and thinking without her makeup, she’s prettier than I thought, and ended with a searing pain on the side of his head followed by darkness.