Watchmen huddled together, trying unsuccessfully to escape the freezing cold
that seeped inside their tent. Outside, the rain fell endlessly and sudden gusts
of wind made it feel as if some prankster was pouring bucketfuls of water on
their precarious shelter. The occasional thunderclap added to the mix to ensure
nobody would fall asleep at the night watch.
With a flapping sound, a spray of water and a general groan from the men
inside, the tent door burst open. The groaning stopped as soon as Officer
Jukarn's turnip-shaped nose showed at the other side. Rumor had it the gnarled
appendix was a souvenir from the day he head-butted an ogre that had wandered
into the city from the ruins. Rumor had it the ogre took the worse part in the
fight. Whatever the case, nobody thought it was a good idea to complain to him
about the weather. Not particularly since he would have to enjoy the ice-cold
rain for the remainder of the tenday.
“Perrim", he barked. “Rathole for you. Now".
“Damn, Officer, not the rathole again! Can't we wait until there's some more
light?" Perrim griped hopelessly, as it was every foot soldier's prerogative.
Just as it was the Officer's prerogative not to give a damn about it.
Officer Jukarn stepped aside to let Perrim slouch through the opening. Perrim
pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and uttered some curse about the
weather. He looked ahead to the Western Ruins and sighed loudly. “Who else is on
duty tonight?" he asked.
“Lopart and Kirnha are stationed by the wall. Murkin is making rounds for
another hour, and I'll send Algurden by dawn. He'll be relieving you. You're
carrying your sword, aren't you? You don't want to go in there empty handed and
get in a scuffle with a stinker pack like that Isgark blockhead did a month
ago". Perrin patted the sword under his rainwear, with a reassuring clanking
sound. “Ok, keep your eyes open and if you find trouble, call for backup. Don't
try to be a hero if those wrongskins decide to butcher each other as usual.
Get". He patted Perrin on the back and continued the round.
Perrim nodded and started walking into the Western Ruins. The name had stuck
from the old days, but the vast slum had been reclaimed by the city years ago
and was already rather densely populated by a mixture of returning old dwellers
and newly arrived immigrants, most of them working in the reconstruction of more
affluent areas of the city. And all of them poor. Every so often, lightning
illuminated the so-called houses that covered the neighborhood in a chaotic
pattern. The majority could barely qualify as huts, and the rare few made of
brick were mostly salvaged old buildings that still had one or two standing
walls. Still, the greater part of the Western Ruins was a relative haven in
comparison to the rathole.
There was no wall around it, but the few empty yards that separated the
Melvauntian section from the rest of the Western Ruins might have been just as
well solid brick and mortar. It could hardly make any difference in how
separated the men and women from Melvaunt were from the rest of the city. People
rarely crossed the uncharted border other than at dawn and dusk, when the
Melvauntians went to work in group and returned later in a similar fashion. And
of course, when tempers flared among the Phlanites and pogroms erupted, but
there hadn't been any of those since Perrim served in the Watch. He couldn't
understand why people from Melvaunt would want to come and live in a city that
hated them with a passion, and for good reasons. The city state east of Phlan
was a major contributor to the current state of desolation, and the average
citizen knew it all too well. But Perrim's brother, who was a mason, insisted
they were the most skilled workers that could be hired in the Moonsea. For so
little money, that is.
At least the rainstorm was now easing down to a drizzle, and a few openings
in the thick layer of clouds let the moon shine through. He lit a torch and
started his round through the rathole. The light would make him visible from
afar to the thugs that littered the area, and that suited everyone perfectly. He
slowly paced the run down streets, watching the candles being lit inside the
houses as the dwellers woke up and prepared for another backbreaking new day.
Several faces peered at the guard from the windows, quickly hiding behind the
rags that served as curtains if he ever looked back, their sickly pale
complexion betraying their owners' origin.
Perrim stopped suddenly, startled. It sounded like a shout. Yes, it was
definitely a shout, and his impression was confirmed by more and more cries as
he moved towards their source. He slid his free hand under his cloak and held
the hilt of his sword, prepared for any surprises. He sneaked through a maze of
back alleys and by then it was clear someone was being beaten, his cries little
more than a whimper as blow after blow landed on him. Perrin paused for a
second, this was probably some ashie gangs settling scores he could care less
about. The more they killed each other, the less trouble for the Watch. But what
if someone was mugging an innocent citizen? Perrim shook off his remaining
doubts and unsheathed his sword, moving ahead with the torch over his head,
maybe the approaching light would scare away the gangsters. But something was
unusual; a lot of light came out of the dead end street where the beating was
taking place. Definitely not the way the Good Folk, as the Melvauntian street
gangs called themselves, used to work. He decided to throw caution aside and run
into the alley.
“Stop there, you…" he shouted, and his words fizzled away at the sight of
Watchman Murkin pounding mercilessly on a fallen man, who was no longer even
trying to block the punches.
Murkin froze for an instant at the sight of Perrim, then asked “What? This
little stinker piece of crap owes me money. Are you going to help me get it
back?" He probably sensed the answer would be negative, and he added “Bah! Then
get on with your own business, I'm taking care of my own" and continued landing
blows on his half unconscious target, not paying Perrim any more attention.
Perrim was speechless, he knew abusing the rotters was common, especially among
the most veteran Watchmen, but this was too much. Murkin might very well end up
killing the man. And all for some debt? Why would that poor guy owe money to a
Watchman? He couldn't just stay there, motionless. So he gathered his strength
to say something.
And then it all went black.
A buzzing sound and a piercing pain on the back of his head waited to greet
Perrim as he woke up. He tried to stand up, but he soon found he was bound and
gagged. Images started to form around him. He was inside a building, or
actually, what was left of one. An entire wall had been torn down or simple
collapsed, and the light of dawn flooded the room where he was kept. Outside, a
garbage filled alley like so many in the section, and a fire burning several
yards away from the torn wall. A group of youngsters stood around the fire,
speaking among them in hushed voices. Their innuendo, attire and demeanor left
no doubt about it, they were Good Folk, gangsters of the worst kind. Then he
noticed Murkin lying on the ground, also bound and gagged and badly beaten up.
The group hadn't noticed that Perrim had regained consciousness, so he tried to
remain motionless and listen to their conversation, which was getting more and
“Woman, don't give me shit about this. They were touching our own, they gotta
pay. With blood". The burly man was speaking louder and louder, thrusting
himself towards the woman opposite him as if about to strike her, but it was
clearly a posture, street talk. The man was simply driving his arguments in the
best possible way. A smaller skinny man stood by him, staring coldly at the
woman, in defiance.
The woman spat at Murkin, and went on her own tirade, gesticulating just as
wildly as his counterpart and including a few obscene gestures. “I'll give you
as much shit as I want, Moose. You don't control your men, shit happens. Then
the filth comes a-calling and we all have to deal with your moping up? I say
bull. You want blood, you stand alone when the filth pours down the streets".
“You don't call the shots here! What you gonna do? Pout till we cry?" These
words clearly strung a chord in the woman, who pushed the man back with a
surprising display of strength. As soon as there was physical contact between
the two gangsters, more youths came into view as each side rallied and prepared
for an open confrontation. It was clear the fight, if any, would be very one
sided. Those backing Moose outnumbered the woman's group two by one at the very
least, and they looked like real scary thugs.
Perrim noticed the smaller man hadn't even twitched when tempers flared, and
he kept glaring at the woman while the two sides threw barbs, a few thugs
brandishing daggers and clubs. He then spoke up. “Enough". That had an almost
immediate effect in the other gangsters, who stopped the rain of invectives and
simply remained in place, ready to jump at each other's throat.
“Alright. No deaths. But, Viper", he said, still looking at the woman, “a
message's got to be sent. We can't let the filth walk into our house and touch
our own. That ain't happening. Not in my watch".
The woman took a deep breath and nodded. “So, what you gonna do about it
then? Let them walk?"
“Walk?" the small man shook his head. “Not a chance". And then he made a
gesture to some of his men, who proceeded to blast Murkin's kneecaps with their
clubs. That brought him out of consciousness, and almost sent Perrim back into
it. The guard's screams had to be heard throughout half the city. When they
stopped the clubbing it was obvious both knees were badly broken. Then the
apparent leader crouched by Murkin and started talking softly into his bleeding
ear. It looked as if Murkin was nodding, but it could easily be just pain
induced spasms. After a short monologue, the thin man stood up and pointed at
Perrim, who proceeded to royally freak out.
Moose came walking towards him, a dagger in his hand, a smile on his face and
a swagger in his step. Perrim struggled to free himself, but they had hog-tied
him thoroughly, and all he could do is to squirm pathetically, much to the
thugs' amusement. Moose grabbed him by the hair, and dragged him towards the
fireplace. “Come here, little fishy. We gonna play". He dumped him in front of
the thin man, who kneeled down to remove the gag.
Perrim tried to explain and beg for his life, but the man put a finger on his
mouth. “Shhhhh-sh-sh-sh. We're just gonna talk", he said. “Do you know who I
Panting, Perrim adventured an answer. “T-they call you Bird".
The man cocked his head. “That's what they call me. But do you know who I am?
I am a member of a community. I belong to my people, and I care for them. One of
our own is harmed, all of us are. And my folk and I can't just let that happen,
right? Right. We found one of our own had an accident, we took care of him".
“So Perrim", the Watchman shivered as he heard his name, “we know we're also
part of a greater community, we're good citizens. We found one of yours had
suffered an accident, and we took care of him too", Bird said as he briefly
pointed toward Murkin. “This poor man had a really bad fall and broke his legs,
a shame, really. The streets are muddy and slippery here, we could use some
cobblestone. If I were him, I'd try to get a more… stable position".
“Oh, Perrim, forgive my manners, Murkin and I chatted for so long I forgot to
ask you. How's the wife and kids? Little Jerry still wants to be watch, like
dad? I've heard it's a good, steady job for those who stick to it". That remark
brought laughter among the gangsters, and a jolt through Perrim's spine. “You
ought to stick to your rounds next time you're in the neighborhood. Let us do
our own policing. We take care of our own".
Officer Jukarn was about to sound a general alarm when he saw the two missing
Watchmen turning a corner and slowly advancing towards him and the other men.
Perrim seemed alright, but Murkin looked as if he had been trampled by a giant.
He was covered in blood and couldn't stand on his own, and was carried like a
sack of potatoes by Perrim. Three watchmen hurried to them and help them gain
the safety of the watch post.
“By the mercy of Ilmater, what happened to him?" asked Jukarn.
“He fell", said Perrim in a grim tone. “He slipped and fell".
“Those streets… they're muddy. He slipped and fell… I found him like this".
“Son, do you think I was born an idiot? He cannot possibly have gotten…"
“I thlippeth amd pheld! I thwear!" The officer's response was interrupted
abruptly by Murkin, precariously held by two guards while another frantically
arranged a stretcher. “I'm thoddy, thir! I'm thoddy!"
Jukarn looked back and forth to both men, almost in shock. “Perrim, whatever
happened there, you can tell me. In private if you will". But Perrim wouldn't
say anything else, he would just stay there with a blank stare, as if his mind
In two weeks, he and his family had packed up and left Phlan with no known