Needs-Be-Met [Short Story]

A little post-Valentine’s present to my lovely followers.

Needs-Be-Met

This drink, thought Colin, is absolutely the most disgusting swill I’ve ever tasted in me whole life.

He took another sip, eyeing the Qarlight crowd. Nothing too interesting to keep his gaze for more than a second. They all seemed duplicates of the same man – as if somewhere in Locurr there were a mold of a muscled, salt-skinned, grizzly-bearded fifty-odd swab with a permanent grimace.

Skorn, he thought. That was the kind of name for this kind of sailor. Two dozen Skorns packing this tavern full to brim, and he couldn’t find a damned reason to be here a moment later than he had to be.

But he didn’t need to be here. So why was he here?

Must be something I ain’t seen yet.

He downed the last swallow of his drink, the muscles of his throat pulling tight to keep the venomous whiskey from seeping into his stomach. The barkeep noticed his empty glass and moved as if to bring him another, but stopped as another patron hammered on the bar with one fist.

I should leave before he makes his way back to me.

But there was something here, wasn’t there? Why the hell else would he be here?

Colin’s mammy had always told him, “You is one shit-stain of a child, but by Providence above, you can find the right moment as though you was being led to it on bridle.” He’d had difficulty figuring that one out as he got older – especially with the move to a more coastal locale. But the memory rang in his head, clear as a ship’s horn on a cloudless night.

No, he was here for something, and he had to wait for it. Colin resigned himself to another whiskey.

If he wasn’t so bored, he wouldn’t have noticed the door sliding open. As it was, his eyes just so happened to be pointed in that direction when the traveller entered. She was trying to act all inconspicuous, but you could see she wasn’t from here on account of her cloak. There wasn’t no one in all of Locurr who’d wear that shade of shimmery gray; they dealt in enough fog rolling through the bay as it was without dressing like it.

The woman didn’t receive much attention as she made her way around the perimeter of the tables, ducking between Skorns sharing an ale together or the occasional Skorn throwing back whiskeys alone. Even the barkeep, distracted as he was with the horde of rabid Skorns crowing for one last drink before closing, didn’t see her.

But Colin did.

And she seemed to see him. She made waves towards him, padding across the oaken floor and taking a seat at the back-corner table next to his downturned whiskey glass. Her cloak was pulled up around her head, but he saw the tip of a smooth, pale nose and the curve of a smile. No, wait, the other one – a frown.

“You’re a hard man to find,” she said.

Colin had a rule for situations like these: Pretend to know what’s going on.

“Well, I had to be here,” he said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t’ve found me.”

The traveller cocked her head at him, the folds of her hood deepening.

“So, can I get you a drink? I’d stay away from the whiskey, personally, but – ”

“Were you not made aware of the business?” she said.

“I was just getting to that, woman. Calm your balm.”

He gestured her in closer.

“You have what I’m looking for?” he said in the ghost of a whisper.

She gave a barely perceptible nod.

Can’t wait to see what it is.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s find a more private place, yeah? I have a room upstairs.” He hadn’t known how long he would have to wait at this shithole-in-the-wall.

She nodded again, and rose as he stood.

“What the shit do you think you’re doing?” he said in a fierce whisper.

She glanced at him, startled, and he finally got a glimpse of her face under the hood of her cloak. She was Vellish, sure enough. And she looked kinda plain. Only thing special about her was her frown. Well, that, and she wasn’t a Skorn.

“We supposed to leave at different times,” he said. “Otherwise it looks like we came here together.”

“Right,” she whispered, her face coloring. “I apologize… I didn’t… well, I haven’t done this before.”

Me neither.

“Just meet me up in room twelve in five minutes,” he grumbled, pushing back his chair.

“Five minutes?”

He rolled his eyes in an exaggerated circle. “Yes, ma’am. Five minutes.”

Should give me enough time to figure out what’s going on.

* * *

And after all that, all she needed was a damn dagger keened.

To be honest, it was insulting. Colin had played some real majestic folks in his time – captains, merrymen, even a lordling once – but he’d never stooped so low as to be a smith. Hell, he wasn’t even sure how he would go about it.

Kiri sat on his bed, lit by the low light of Qar shining through the open window. That was her name – Kiri. Those damned easterners never could figure out how to make a name sound proper. Oh, what’s your name? Flellim? Pleased to meetcha, Phlegm.

“How long will it take?” she said, fidgeting with the material of her cloak.

“Depends,” he said, pretending to study the edge of the blade. Thing was definitely dull, but the tip still looked like it could stab someone good. People would waste money just because they couldn’t kill a person the way they wanted to.

It was definitely of an unparalleled quality – that much even Colin could tell. A wicked, curved thing with flares and barbs along its length, it wouldn’t have looked out of place tucked into a blackscourge’s jerkin, or thrust up to the hilt in a baron’s chest. It had been crafted from some strong shimmery bronze metal – probably bronze – with some accents painted in purple and crimson.

Now how, Colin thought, does a woman like this find her way to a dagger like this?

“Maybe a couple of days,” he said, finishing his inspection. “I got a lot of cargo on my ship, so to speak.”

“Money isn’t an object in return for haste,” Kiri said.

He nodded, thinking to himself.

“Right, then I can have it ready for you tomorrow night.”

The frown deepened. “Is there no way – ”

“Sorry, are you a smith? Do you know how to sharpen this thing?”

“Well, no, but it couldn’t possibly take more than – ”

“Let me explain something to you,” he said, standing from where he’d been leaning against the desk and pacing to the window. “You might find some low-rate metalman in the wharf district who’d be willing to bring this thing back in an hour with some nicks along the sides and a half-assed job. You want that, door’s over there.” He turned from the window to face her, lit from behind by Qar. “But you want that thing to cut a string that’s layed atop it… you want it to move through skin like butter… you’d best leave it to me and pick it up when I damned well tell you to.”

Hell yes. Nailed it.

Kiri sighed, nodded. “As you wish.”

“Now, before you leave, I need your word this thing won’t be used for anything illegal, yeah?”

She stiffened, but stayed silent.

He let the moment stretch before letting out a hearty belly laugh. “Oh, child, you shoulda seen your face! Nothing illegal.” He wiped a pretend tear from his eye. “I’m just jerking your anchor. You go on and get. I’ll start on this thing first rise tomorrow, and we’ll see if we can’t get it to you by Roelight. Sound fair?”

She nodded and stood from the bed. “You have my most sincere gratitude, sir.”

“Gratitude don’t buy the bread,” he said, ushering her to the door. “But that hundred chits you’re gonna bring me will.”

* * *

Colin didn’t see himself as a conman. In his opinion, a conman was like a common thief – willing to take advantage of poor folk for his own ends, not seeing the bigger picture of things. A man like that deserved to scrounge for his next meal.

Colin was a needs-be-met. He’d invented the position himself after his first forays into the area. People came to him – he always did seem to be in the right place – needing something, and he would do it for them. It didn’t matter what it was; sometimes, he wouldn’t even know what he was supposed to do until it happened. Then, all of a sudden, he’d be showered with praise and chits and maybe even a personal thank-you.

There was only one rule to being a needs-be-met.

The thing the person hired you to do was never the thing they actually wanted.

It had never failed to steer him true. A woman wants her cattle brought to market? Turns out she actually wants her husband killed. A child is looking for his friend? What he actually wants is for his mammy to pay him more attention.

As such, being a needs-be-met required a lot of research. Colin had been holed up in Locurr for only a year or so now, but he knew the right people to ask about a dagger like this. Within a few frantic hours of shuffling around, paying tips to the low folk of the city, he’d found out exactly what the dagger was for.

It had been made to kill a king.

The King of the Coast, actually. Warren or something, his name was. Apparently, he’d been threatened near four years ago by a man wielding the exact same dagger. Poor fool had put more thought into posturing than regicide; he was captured and hung before you could tip your hat.

When the waves had settled, the King had created an unmarked grave and a bereaved widow – Colin supposed that was Kiri – and continued to rule as though nothing had happened. Or, well, not exactly – apparently he’d increased tariffs on the ships arriving from around the world to pay for a larger, ‘justified’ standing guard. Poor farmers and merchants in the area were starving now, unable to buy any of the food being shipped in.

From what Colin had heard about Warren, he seemed like the kind of king who would probably make the world a better place by dying. But Rule #1 said that Kiri didn’t actually want to kill him.

So what was it, then?

* * *

When he finally got it, the answer seemed obvious. She thought she wanted to kill him – hell, Colin couldn’t blame her there – but she actually wanted to be caught killing him. Folks did strange things like that; they would want to try to succeed at something but ultimately fail. Colin had had his share of needs-be-met jobs with the exact same procedure.

The only problem was, apparently there was something magical about the dagger – so said Colin’s contact in the seedy part of town. Kiri had funneled all her money into imbuing the thing with strange powers, such that if she tried to kill King Warren, she might actually be likely to kill him.

Well, Colin couldn’t have that.

He made up his mind and slipped the dagger under his cloak – a good mucky brown garment, as was custom here in Locurr.

He left the tavern, found himself a strong roan, and left the city.

* * *

It seemed like the stupidest people in the world were guards.

Colin couldn’t say for sure, because he hadn’t met all the guards in the world, nor all the stupid people. But in his opinion, if a man walked up to you and said I have a magical dagger that someone was going to use to kill the king, you didn’t throw that man in a holding cell. You let him talk to the king.

Sure, there was a point to being cautious. But if he’d been an assassin, wouldn’t it have been the stupidest thing in the world to announce it beforehand?

Well, actually, that is what Kiri’s late hubby did.

Colin’s thoughts were interrupted by the impending arrival of the king. He could tell even before he saw the guy – the heavy clank of full armor compared to the pitter-patter of his guards’ footsteps from down the corridor.

What kind of king arms himself but not his guards?

King Warren appeared, resplendent in full plate painted gold, his flowing tresses floating in the breeze. Or, that was how Colin preferred to imagine him. Right now, underground and lit only by flickering torchlight, the man looked like an old suit-of-arms and his hair was plastered flat to his neck.

“So,” he said. His voice, at least, was impressive.

“Yep,” Colin said.

“You say there is a magic dagger.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“One that a man used to kill me four years ago.”

“That’s right, Your Majesty.”

“And now his widow intended to use the same dagger to slay me?”

“Absolutely, Your – ”

“Enough. You will speak when spoken to.”

Colin was silent.

“You said you had the weapon in your possession, that you wished to turn it in to me so I would be safe.”

Colin remained silent, but cocked an eyebrow.

“And yet when my guards searched you, there was no weapon to be found.”

Colin nodded.

“….you may speak now.”

“Well, it looks like it was part of the magic,” Colin said, reaching towards the back of his shirt. “They couldn’t see it, but it’s here, on my oath. See?” He pulled the weapon out and held it in both hands.

Immediately, an unseen force jerked the dagger from his hands and hurled it across the room, burying it up to the handle in King Warren’s eye. His body hit the floor before either of the guards could even react.

Well, I’ll be dipped, Colin thought. Looks like Kiri did want him dead after all.

* * *

Colin bowed his head, and the magister placed the crown on his brow. A growing cheer rang out from the courtyard of the Coastal Castle as the citizenry from Locurr all the way to South’s End Bay praised their new king.

What a strange law, Colin thought. He’d been sure the guards were going to run him through when they saw Warren dead on the ground – seemingly by his hand. Instead, they were coronating him.

Colin spied Kiri somewhere in the crowd by her silvery cloak. All he could see of her under the hood was a granite scowl. He waved to her; she turned to leave.

Never been a king before, he thought, beaming for his public. Guess the people of the Coast have some needs to be met.

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2 thoughts on “Needs-Be-Met [Short Story]

  1. Earlier, I wrote a post about Stephen King’s advice to start with a character in a situation and write what comes naturally, instead of plotting your story out. So I gave it a shot. The situation was, “Dude is sitting in a bar waiting for someone, but he doesn’t know who” (I know, super original, right?) and this is what resulted. All things considered, not bad.

    Like

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