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The Old Firm

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Jollyrei

Angelus Mortis
Staff member
I seem to have written an open-ended short story. I hope you will excuse me (again) for "borrowing" some of you for this. It started as a bit of a one-off when I was in my office on a rather dull afternoon, but there are a number of hanging points that will probably lead to additional short sections. I apologize to Madiosi in advance, since this will likely make his job of compiling things rather difficult.

Anyway, since I probably will write something more using these characters (and others), I will put it in its own thread.

Picture if you will, Mr. Jollyrei and Mr. Phlebas, apparently just two functionaries in the service of Rome with a job to do. They may not be exactly as they seem.
 

Jollyrei

Angelus Mortis
Staff member
A Simple Job

“Good Calends, Mr. Phlebas?”

“Quite good, Mr. Jollyrei. Quite a decent little party. You?”

“Not bad. Just a quiet Calends this year. I did get down to Capri for a day of sun. Nothing too stressful.”

Picture Mr. Phlebas and Mr. Jollyrei, the former of average height and athletic build, the latter tall and slim, some might call him thin. Both are of indeterminate age. They are strolling along a path up the hill from the city below. It’s Roman, but it’s not Rome. They are dressed in black hose, white tunics, and each sports a black leather jacket. The jackets do not have words stitched on them.

“Did you hear about Mr. Windar?” asked Jollyrei.

“No,” said Phlebas. “What about him?”

“Said he didn’t like this business anymore. It didn’t “speak to him” or something,” said Jollyrei. “He closed up shop and went into business with Mr. Wragg.”

“Really,” said Phlebas. “Don’t understand that, but to each their own. So Wragg and Windar, eh?”

“Windar and Wragg, actually,” said Jollyrei. “Apparently it sounds better.”

“Could be,” said Phlebas. “What’s their line?”

“Punishment of slaves, flogging, scourging.”

“Contract stuff?” asked Phlebas.

“Yes, but they do a good line in walk-ups too,” said Jollyrei. “You know, chap has a slave who spills wine on the proconsul’s wife, he can take the slave down to W and W directly and have him whipped while he waits.”

“Nice,” said Phlebas. “Sort of a discipline emporium.”

“Apparently they also have the government contract,” said Jollyrei.

“Really?” said Phlebas. “I thought that was Apostate’s gig.”

“Yes,” said Jollyrei, “it was. Unfortunately there was this cock-up with the daughter of the Proconsul’s neice, twice removed by marriage.”

“I don’t even know what that is,” said Phlebas.

“Sort of a distant relative,” said Jollyrei. “The girl was caught in flagrante dilecto (that means having a damn good fuck, I think) with a large Nubian. They assumed he was a slave.”

“Tricky business,” said Phlebas.

“Quite,” said Jollyrei. “Anyway the girl was pulled off to Apostate’s place. He wasn’t there, but his major-domo gave the girl 20 of the best with a leather braided thing. Warmed the skin a bit, I fancy.”

“And the Nubian?”

“30 lashes with a flagellum. Cut his back to pieces.”

“Lucky to get away with his life, I’d say,” said Phlebas. “Flagrante dilectoing a Roman girl like that. I’d have crucified him.”

“They didn’t know who his owner was,” said Jollyrei. “They didn’t want to destroy property without notifying his master. Good thing too, it turns out.”

“How so?”

“The Nubian turns out to have been an emissary of a tribal king of Punt. Dignitary. All a bit of a diplomatic embarrassment.”

“Oops,” said Phlebas, and meant it.

“And that’s not the half of it,” said Jollyrei. “The major-domo failed to check the dates on which the dilecto incident took place. Turns out it was the middle of Saturnalia.”

“When licentious behaviour is permitted,” said Phlebas.

“Right,” said Jollyrei. “Anyway, neither of them should have been punished at all. Apostate was furious.”

“I daresay,” said Phlebas. “So what happened?”

“I think he had the major-domo flogged and sold to the galleys. The girl was going to make a big deal of some sort – religious discrimination or something, but Apostate decided he’d had enough and retired. He’s an artist now. Paints crucifixions and such. They say his depictions of lewd poses and gnashing teeth are all the rage. He has a staff of 30 slaves reproducing tablets for connaisseurs.”

“Crux porn,” scoffed Phlebas. “Can’t imagine anyone would go for that, Mr. Jollyrei.

“You’d be surprised, Mr. Phlebas.”

“Apparently,” said Phlebas. “So when did all this take place?”

“A few months ago,” said Jollyrei, “just after Saturnalia. What’s the date now?”

“I haven’t the foggiest,” said Phlebas. “Year 47 or something now, I think.”

“So Saturnalia would have been in 46,” said Jollyrei.

“No, 48,” said Phlebas.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, years count backwards. Next year will be 46.”

“How in the underworld does that work?” asked Jollyrei.

“It’s what this Jewish prophet from Judea told me,” said Phlebas. “It’s 47 before some birthday or something.”

“You mean we’re counting back towards the birth of some guy that hasn’t even been conceived yet?” asked Jollyrei.

“Seems that way,” said Phlebas, shrugging.

“Better be a big thing in the year zero,” said Jollyrei.

“What’s that?” asked Phlebas. “We don’t have a zero.”

“Some Arabian idea,” said Jollyrei. “It means "nothing".”

“Means nothing to me either,” said Phlebas. “Ah, here we are.”

The two men crested the top of the hill. There was the usual murmur of anticipation as Mr. Phlebas and Mr. Jollyrei arrived. There were the five or six tall poles planted in a semi-circle. There was a small crowd of spectators, who were doing the murmuring.

There was a man with an easel with a parchment attached and a palette of pigments. The pigments favoured earth tones and a fair bit of red. The man was holding up a thumb toward the semi-circle of poles and looking along his arm at it, as if this would either make the poles or the thumb more prominent.

“Ah, Mr. Apostate,” said Jollyrei.

“Heard you went into a new line of work,” said Phlebas affably.

“Should have done it years ago,” said Apostate. “You know, I thought this would be a retirement hobby, but the sestertii just keep flying in now. I may have to buy more art slaves.”

“Good job,” said Phlebas. “That’s how it goes with these startups – you get in on the ground floor and you’re gold.”

“Oh, look,” said Jollyrei. There’s the other guys.” He and Phlebas left Apostate to contemplate whichever other bits of his hands he might find appropriate in preparation for painting, and went to meet the other two men in the clear circle around the poles.

“Mr Wragg, Mr. Windar,” said Jollyrei. “What have we got today?”

“Mr. Jollyrei and Mr. Phlebas,” said Wragg. “Thought it would be you.”

“People like a professional job,” said Phlebas.

“Indeed they do,” said Windar. “And we have delivered a professionally flogged subject for you.”

“Barbarian slave girl today,” said Wragg. “Arguing with her mistress and then hitting the master’s heir with an amphora.”

“And that’s crucifixion?” asked Windar.

“Ours not to reason why, gentlemen,” said Jollyrei.

“Indeed not,” said Wragg. “Purely professional interest.”

“Of course,” said Jollyrei. “The flogging business going well?”

“Oh yes,” said Windar. “The walk-in discipline clinic is very popular. We’re planning to branch out into other cities. A chain of Double W establishments, for all your disciplinary needs.”

“Well done,” said Phlebas.

The murmur of the crowd suddenly increased in volume. A bored looking cohort of legionnaires was working its way slowly up the trail to the top of the hill. In the middle was the girl, a slim, fit, attractive young woman under a stout patibulum.”

“Ah,” said Jollyrei. “I spy, with my little eye, Mr. Phlebas, someone that’s going to be…”

“…howling in pain in a minute, Mr. Jollyrei” said Phlebas.

“If it’s all the same to you,” said Windar, “I don’t need to watch this. Seen enough of these.”

“No worries,” said Phlebas.

“Get the girl in the refreshment tent to give you a squeezed citrus drink. She even has ice from the mountains. All the rage these days. On me.”

“What’s the point of the ice?” asked Windar.

“Makes the drink cold,” said Jollyrei. “New fad.”

“Modern rubbish,” said Wragg, as Windar strolled off to a colourful tent at the side of the hilltop. It seemed to be popular with some of the ladies in the spectators as well.

The legionnaires pushed the girl into the clear circle. She stood there panting. Her shoulders and back were laced with an artistic criss-cross of lashes, and her nicely rounded bottom was similarly treated. The small of her back was clear. The firm of Windar and Wragg clearly knew their business – flogging without damaging any sensitive organs.

“She’ll last a couple of days at least,” said Wragg. “We didn’t damage anything important. Didn’t do the front either. Wouldn’t want to spoil the look. She’ll look pretty good up there too.”

“I’m sure Apostate will be pleased,” said Phlebas. “Better get started, eh?”

“Right,” said Jollyrei. He turned to address the girl and the soldiers. “Good morning,” he said cheerfully.

The soldiers grumbled something and the girl just glared at him.

“So, what have we here?” asked Jollyrei.

“Barbaria, a barbarian slave, sentenced to crucifixion for assaulting her master’s son,” said the Optio.

“Well, that seems straightforward, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Phlebas?” said Jollyrei.

“Indeed, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas.

“Let’s get that patibulum off you then,” said Jollyrei. He pulled out his dagger and cut the ropes that bound the beam to Barbaria’s arms and shoulders. Phlebas lifted it off and carried it over to the centre pole.

“Anything you want to say before we get started?” Jollyrei asked Barbaria.

“He was an idiot,” said Barbaria. “I don’t suppose it matters that he was going to rape me.”

“Not at the moment,” said Jollyrei. “Seems a bit harsh, perhaps, but there it is.” He took hold of her arm. “Come on then.”

Phlebas took hold of the other arm and they marched her to the patibulum, spun her around, and pulled her down onto her back on the rough grass.

“Look,” said Barbaria, “I don’t suppose you could just let me go. I mean, I could promise not to do it again.”

“What?” asked Phlebas. “In front of all these witnesses?”

“We do have a professional reputation to consider,” said Jollyrei.

“But I’m innocent!” said Barbaria, as her arms were stretched out on the patibulum. Jollyrei and Phlebas each tied down a wrist.

“Not according to the charges,” said Jollyrei. “She has a lovely figure, does she not, Mr. Phlebas?”

“Yes, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “Very nice breasts.”

“Nipples nicely tumescent,” said Wragg. He seemed to be sweating slightly.

“Very poetic, Mr. Wragg,” said Jollyrei. “I liked that description, Mr. Phlebas.”

“Mr. Wragg has a romantic soul, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas.

Jollyrei picked up a hammer and fished a large square spike out of a leather bucket at the base of the pole. He placed the point on Barbaria’s left wrist and brought the hammer down. Barbaria’s body bucked and arched and a ragged gasp escaped her. On the second blow of the hammer she screamed.

Phlebas hammered in a similar spike on the right wrist, Barbaria’s legs kicking and her body twisting, trying to escape the pain. Four blows of the heavy hammers was all that was needed to seat the nails and fix her to the beam. She lay on the ground gritting her teeth against the pain.

“Up we go,” said Jollyrei. “Do you mind taking the ladder, Mr. Wragg? Our usual support staff seems to be missing.”

Wragg set a ladder against the pole and climbed up. Jollyrei and Phlebas each took a side of the patibulum and lifted Barbaria up onto her feet again. She staggered backwards as they manoeuvered her against the pole, gasping and sobbing as she was lifted up, stretching onto her toes and then off the ground. Wragg pulled the patibulum into the notch in the pole and secured it with some stout rope.

“Feet outward, I think, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei.

“Considering the artistic presence, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas nodding toward Apostate who was poised over his easel with his brush.

Barbaria’s feet were soon securely lashed with her knees pointed out in a diamond shape. Jollyrei got two more of the square spikes.

“Would you care to…” he asked.

“No, please go ahead,” said Phlebas.

Jollyrei placed a spike at Barbaria’s instep and hammered hard on it. Feet were harder. You had to have the feet properly lashed to the stipes or the subject pulled free. A person could get kicked and seriously injured. In this case, the bindings held. Barb howled in pain as the first spike went through her foot and into the stipes. She was exhausted and out of breath and only sobbed quietly, shuddering as the other foot was similarly fixed. Then the bindings were removed and she hung on her cross, suspended on her four nails.

“Oh,” said Jollyrei. “We seem to have forgotten something, haven’t we, Mr. Phlebas.”

“We have, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. He reached up and tore Barbaria’s loincloth off her, leaving her naked and exposed, her body on display to the crowd. There was a murmur of appreciation. The soldiers were already marching down the hill back to the city.

“She is lovely,” said Wragg.

“Are you alright?” asked Phlebas.

“Just a slight cold, I think,” said Wragg. “I’ll be fine.” His eyes never left Barbaria. Apostate was painting furiously, anticipating a sellout edition of his portraiture.

Suddenly there was a commotion, and some shrieks of surprise, a yelp of pain, from the crowd. The refreshment girl ran past in a panic. A large horse erupted from the refreshments tent carrying a red-haired woman with elvish features and piercing eyes. She wore some sort of mail armour and carried a long sword. She was also quite annoyed.

“Trouble, Mr. Jollyrei?” suggested Phlebas.

“As you say, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei. He drew his Roman short sword, as did Phlebas and Wragg.

“I am Erin the Brave,” said the elvish woman in a steady and stern voice, which still managed to be melodious. It was the voice of someone who, if they told you to do something, you would want to do it. Phlebas thought that would be especially true if she told him to remove all of her armour. Unfortunately, he had also heard that Erin the Brave was not inclined to give those sorts of instructions to men.

“You will release Barbaria at once!” said Erin. Phlebas felt that was an instruction he should obey and turned to start lowering the cross.

“What are you doing?” asked Jollyrei.

“Well, she did say…” said Phlebas.

“What are we? Some sort of servants to elvish women in metal dresses now?” asked Jollyrei. “No, Mr. Phlebas. We are an ancient partnership, the Old Firm. We burned down Troy. You and I buried Agamemnon. We will handle something as simple as this crucifixion.”

“Um,” said Wragg pointing to a spot behind Jollyrei. Jollyrei turned his head to see the blade of a longsword at his neck and the clear steady eyes of Erin looking at him.

“Release her,” said Erin, twitching the sword blade against Jollyrei’s neck.

“On second thought, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei, “I may have to defer to your clearer judgment in this instance.”

“Thought you might,” said Phlebas. “So we take her down?”

“I would suggest so,” said Jollyrei, looking annoyed. “Before things become even more inconvenient.”

Wragg and Phlebas lowered the cross and with the help of heavy pincers, the nails were pulled. Wragg wrapped clean cloths around Barbaria’s wrists and ankles, wrapped her in his own cloak, and handed her up to Erin. Only then did Erin’s sword leave Jollyrei’s shoulder.

“I told you I would always come for you, my Lady,” said Erin to Barbaria. “You,” she said to Jollyrei, “are fortunate she lives. If she had died…” She left the point hanging as she slammed her sword into its scabbard, wheeled her charger around and was off down the hill away from the city.

The crowd was standing dumbstruck.

“Well,” said Phlebas. “That was different.”

Jollyrei was standing and staring after the disappearing charger with a sort of ferocious intensity. He was breathing heavily.

“I think that was no ordinary slave girl,” said Wragg. “Oridinary slave girls don’t get rescued by elvish warriors.”

“Nobody gets rescued by elvish warriors,” said Phlebas, “in our normal experience.”

“Never seen anything like it,” said Wragg. “The procurator is not going to be happy.”

“Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei.

“Yes, Mr. Jollyrei.”

“I have considered the situation, and I have a thought.”

“Indeed, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “And that would be.”

“Bugger the procurator, Mr. Phlebas, and this whole bloody town.”

“What then, Mr. Jollyrei?” asked Phlebas.

“We find her, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei, “and we do her again properly. Thank you for your help, Mr. Wragg,” said Jollyrei, shaking Wragg’s hand. “We will no doubt meet again. Best wishes to you and Mr. Windar in your disciplinary venture.”

“Cheerio,” said Phlebas. He and Jollyrei sauntered down the hill in the direction that Erin had gone. Wragg wondered if they were really abandoning the city just like that. It certainly seemed like it. He wondered how much he actually knew about Phlebas and Jollyrei.

“Fortunately, our elvish friend did not do anything silly and inconvenient like cutting off my head,” Wragg heard Jollyrei say. “I hate when that happens, Mr. Phlebas.”

“Very nasty, Mr. Jollyrei,” agreed Phlebas. “Takes a while to sort out that kind of thing, not to mention the mess on your clothing.”

“Indeed, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei. “Indeed.”

“That redhead with the horse ruined my portrait,” said Apostate irritably.
 

Barbaria1

Rebel Leader
Staff member
Great story. Very clever dialogue and action.

So Erin has my back and Phlebas and Jollyrei have my loin cloth. Apostate captured my spread open legs and the gnashing of my teeth on canvass, or was it a piece of white marble or a scrap of parchment? Wragg, as usual, witnessed the whole thing and kept his head down low. And, by the way, my Master's kid is an idiot and I am innocent! The injustice of this whole experience has convinced me that the time has come to foment a rebellion, or at the very least crash something!
 

phlebas

PRIMUS POENUS
Staff member
the former of average height and athletic build

True, for a given value of "average". I think I would be quite at home among the Romans.

“Crux porn,” scoffed Phlebas. “Can’t imagine anyone would go for that, Mr. Jollyrei.

We live in crazy days. Don't know what anyone sees in it :rolleyes:

“Means nothing to me either,” said Phlebas.

Groan!

“Yes, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “Very nice breasts.”

Not that I'm paying attention, mind. It's just a day's work. See a lot of breasts in this line of work, oh yes . . . . . . . .

“On second thought, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei, “I may have to defer to your clearer judgment in this instance.”

Ever the sensible one. Yet there is something odd about this . . . .

“No, Mr. Phlebas. We are an ancient partnership, the Old Firm. We burned down Troy. You and I buried Agamemnon. We will handle something as simple as this crucifixion.”

Ah, now we are on interesting territory. I like it :) A little of Croup and Vandemar, Goss and Subby?
I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain


Step aside, Mt Apostate, my colleague and I have some serious business to attend to.

He wondered how much he actually knew about Phlebas and Jollyrei.

Indeed :D
 

windar

Teller of Tales
They are dressed in black hose, white tunics, and each sports a black leather jacket. The jackets do not have words stitched on them.

What's Latin for Hell's Angels?
“Windar and Wragg, actually,” said Jollyrei. “Apparently it sounds better.”
MUCH!!!
“Some Arabian idea,” said Jollyrei. “It means "nothing".”
Indian, I was told by Priya, that exchange student at the Uni I ran into picking up trash on the street. Naked she was too...
“Oh yes,” said Windar. “The walk-in discipline clinic is very popular. We’re planning to branch out into other cities. A chain of Double W establishments, for all your disciplinary needs.”
And, for a modest extra fee, we can furnish a nice cream to ease the wounds so the slaves can be back to work quickly.:devil:
The firm of Windar and Wragg clearly knew their business – flogging without damaging any sensitive organs.
Very professional, we are, eh Wragg?
“But I’m innocent!” said Barbaria,
:duke:

Barb just can't stay up on the cross these days. Someone is always showing up to rescue her, whether it's Goldman with the NYPD SWAT team, Erin the Brave (who has her back, but who has her front?) or the Sultan.
 

Loxuru

Graf von Kreuzigung
Good story Jollyrei, funny dialogues.:clapping::clapping::clapping:

Counting down to the year zero? Must be possible!:D

But : :);)

Wragg and Windar?
Double W?
W & W?

The Romans had no letter 'W''.:oops::doh:
Strange, that these smart men Jollyrei and Phlebas did not notice it during their conversation?:confused:
Check out whether W & W is not a ghost company, created to evade taxes!:(
 

Eulalia

Poet Laureate
Staff member
Well, the moral is, don't crucify stroppy slavegirls who've got horsey redhead girlfriends from a mythical place with an X in it
(yes, the Romans had X, it was useful for crucifying on, like T - but have you ever tried nailing anyone to a W?)
You only need to advertise, you'll find plenty of us willing crux-girls only too happy to let you nail us up to model for Apostate -
see Stilet2's new thread
www.cruxforums.com/xf/threads/questionnaire-execution-by-crucifixion.6342/#post-340250
:p :devil:
 
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Wragg

Chronicler of Crux
Staff member
So Wragg and Windar, eh?”

“Windar and Wragg, actually,” said Jollyrei. “Apparently it sounds better.”
So it does.. win-DAR and WRAGG.

Poetry! ;) :)

(And I get my whole name in capitals :rolleyes: )

in flagrante dilecto (that means having a damn good fuck, I think
So Eulalia informs me. She very well educated ;)

(And knows a damn good fuck when she sees one :D )

“Oops,” said Phlebas,
Sometimes, Phlebas is the master of the mot juste :)

“Modern rubbish,” said Wragg,

Warm drinks never harmed me when I was a boy.:rolleyes:

“That redhead with the horse ruined my portrait,” said Apostate irritably.
I know. Damn shame. I was going to buy that from you. :mad:

(Mind you, I'd have had to find somewhere to put it where Mrs Wragg won't find it :doh: )

Genius, Jolly! Pure genius! :clapping::clapping::clapping::clapping:
 

Wragg

Chronicler of Crux
Staff member
Good story Jollyrei, funny dialogues.:clapping::clapping::clapping:

Counting down to the year zero? Must be possible!:D

But : :);)

Wragg and Windar?
Double W?
W & W?

The Romans had no letter 'W''.:oops::doh:
Strange, that these smart men Jollyrei and Phlebas did not notice it during their conversation?:confused:
Check out whether W & W is not a ghost company, created to evade taxes!:(
Fear not, Lox! You don't actually pronounce the 'W' in Wragg. So it's 'Rag', and they had those - Phlebas pinched Barb's!

Don't know about Windar, though.. If you don't pronounce the 'W' you get 'Indar'. Is his first name 'Bob'? :confused::confused::confused::confused::confused::confused::confused:
 

LittleSiss

Sorceress
A Simple Job

“Good Calends, Mr. Phlebas?”

“Quite good, Mr. Jollyrei. Quite a decent little party. You?”

“Not bad. Just a quiet Calends this year. I did get down to Capri for a day of sun. Nothing too stressful.”

Picture Mr. Phlebas and Mr. Jollyrei, the former of average height and athletic build, the latter tall and slim, some might call him thin. Both are of indeterminate age. They are strolling along a path up the hill from the city below. It’s Roman, but it’s not Rome. They are dressed in black hose, white tunics, and each sports a black leather jacket. The jackets do not have words stitched on them.

“Did you hear about Mr. Windar?” asked Jollyrei.

“No,” said Phlebas. “What about him?”

“Said he didn’t like this business anymore. It didn’t “speak to him” or something,” said Jollyrei. “He closed up shop and went into business with Mr. Wragg.”

“Really,” said Phlebas. “Don’t understand that, but to each their own. So Wragg and Windar, eh?”

“Windar and Wragg, actually,” said Jollyrei. “Apparently it sounds better.”

“Could be,” said Phlebas. “What’s their line?”

“Punishment of slaves, flogging, scourging.”

“Contract stuff?” asked Phlebas.

“Yes, but they do a good line in walk-ups too,” said Jollyrei. “You know, chap has a slave who spills wine on the proconsul’s wife, he can take the slave down to W and W directly and have him whipped while he waits.”

“Nice,” said Phlebas. “Sort of a discipline emporium.”

“Apparently they also have the government contract,” said Jollyrei.

“Really?” said Phlebas. “I thought that was Apostate’s gig.”

“Yes,” said Jollyrei, “it was. Unfortunately there was this cock-up with the daughter of the Proconsul’s neice, twice removed by marriage.”

“I don’t even know what that is,” said Phlebas.

“Sort of a distant relative,” said Jollyrei. “The girl was caught in flagrante dilecto (that means having a damn good fuck, I think) with a large Nubian. They assumed he was a slave.”

“Tricky business,” said Phlebas.

“Quite,” said Jollyrei. “Anyway the girl was pulled off to Apostate’s place. He wasn’t there, but his major-domo gave the girl 20 of the best with a leather braided thing. Warmed the skin a bit, I fancy.”

“And the Nubian?”

“30 lashes with a flagellum. Cut his back to pieces.”

“Lucky to get away with his life, I’d say,” said Phlebas. “Flagrante dilectoing a Roman girl like that. I’d have crucified him.”

“They didn’t know who his owner was,” said Jollyrei. “They didn’t want to destroy property without notifying his master. Good thing too, it turns out.”

“How so?”

“The Nubian turns out to have been an emissary of a tribal king of Punt. Dignitary. All a bit of a diplomatic embarrassment.”

“Oops,” said Phlebas, and meant it.

“And that’s not the half of it,” said Jollyrei. “The major-domo failed to check the dates on which the dilecto incident took place. Turns out it was the middle of Saturnalia.”

“When licentious behaviour is permitted,” said Phlebas.

“Right,” said Jollyrei. “Anyway, neither of them should have been punished at all. Apostate was furious.”

“I daresay,” said Phlebas. “So what happened?”

“I think he had the major-domo flogged and sold to the galleys. The girl was going to make a big deal of some sort – religious discrimination or something, but Apostate decided he’d had enough and retired. He’s an artist now. Paints crucifixions and such. They say his depictions of lewd poses and gnashing teeth are all the rage. He has a staff of 30 slaves reproducing tablets for connaisseurs.”

“Crux porn,” scoffed Phlebas. “Can’t imagine anyone would go for that, Mr. Jollyrei.

“You’d be surprised, Mr. Phlebas.”

“Apparently,” said Phlebas. “So when did all this take place?”

“A few months ago,” said Jollyrei, “just after Saturnalia. What’s the date now?”

“I haven’t the foggiest,” said Phlebas. “Year 47 or something now, I think.”

“So Saturnalia would have been in 46,” said Jollyrei.

“No, 48,” said Phlebas.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, years count backwards. Next year will be 46.”

“How in the underworld does that work?” asked Jollyrei.

“It’s what this Jewish prophet from Judea told me,” said Phlebas. “It’s 47 before some birthday or something.”

“You mean we’re counting back towards the birth of some guy that hasn’t even been conceived yet?” asked Jollyrei.

“Seems that way,” said Phlebas, shrugging.

“Better be a big thing in the year zero,” said Jollyrei.

“What’s that?” asked Phlebas. “We don’t have a zero.”

“Some Arabian idea,” said Jollyrei. “It means "nothing".”

“Means nothing to me either,” said Phlebas. “Ah, here we are.”

The two men crested the top of the hill. There was the usual murmur of anticipation as Mr. Phlebas and Mr. Jollyrei arrived. There were the five or six tall poles planted in a semi-circle. There was a small crowd of spectators, who were doing the murmuring.

There was a man with an easel with a parchment attached and a palette of pigments. The pigments favoured earth tones and a fair bit of red. The man was holding up a thumb toward the semi-circle of poles and looking along his arm at it, as if this would either make the poles or the thumb more prominent.

“Ah, Mr. Apostate,” said Jollyrei.

“Heard you went into a new line of work,” said Phlebas affably.

“Should have done it years ago,” said Apostate. “You know, I thought this would be a retirement hobby, but the sestertii just keep flying in now. I may have to buy more art slaves.”

“Good job,” said Phlebas. “That’s how it goes with these startups – you get in on the ground floor and you’re gold.”

“Oh, look,” said Jollyrei. There’s the other guys.” He and Phlebas left Apostate to contemplate whichever other bits of his hands he might find appropriate in preparation for painting, and went to meet the other two men in the clear circle around the poles.

“Mr Wragg, Mr. Windar,” said Jollyrei. “What have we got today?”

“Mr. Jollyrei and Mr. Phlebas,” said Wragg. “Thought it would be you.”

“People like a professional job,” said Phlebas.

“Indeed they do,” said Windar. “And we have delivered a professionally flogged subject for you.”

“Barbarian slave girl today,” said Wragg. “Arguing with her mistress and then hitting the master’s heir with an amphora.”

“And that’s crucifixion?” asked Windar.

“Ours not to reason why, gentlemen,” said Jollyrei.

“Indeed not,” said Wragg. “Purely professional interest.”

“Of course,” said Jollyrei. “The flogging business going well?”

“Oh yes,” said Windar. “The walk-in discipline clinic is very popular. We’re planning to branch out into other cities. A chain of Double W establishments, for all your disciplinary needs.”

“Well done,” said Phlebas.

The murmur of the crowd suddenly increased in volume. A bored looking cohort of legionnaires was working its way slowly up the trail to the top of the hill. In the middle was the girl, a slim, fit, attractive young woman under a stout patibulum.”

“Ah,” said Jollyrei. “I spy, with my little eye, Mr. Phlebas, someone that’s going to be…”

“…howling in pain in a minute, Mr. Jollyrei” said Phlebas.

“If it’s all the same to you,” said Windar, “I don’t need to watch this. Seen enough of these.”

“No worries,” said Phlebas.

“Get the girl in the refreshment tent to give you a squeezed citrus drink. She even has ice from the mountains. All the rage these days. On me.”

“What’s the point of the ice?” asked Windar.

“Makes the drink cold,” said Jollyrei. “New fad.”

“Modern rubbish,” said Wragg, as Windar strolled off to a colourful tent at the side of the hilltop. It seemed to be popular with some of the ladies in the spectators as well.

The legionnaires pushed the girl into the clear circle. She stood there panting. Her shoulders and back were laced with an artistic criss-cross of lashes, and her nicely rounded bottom was similarly treated. The small of her back was clear. The firm of Windar and Wragg clearly knew their business – flogging without damaging any sensitive organs.

“She’ll last a couple of days at least,” said Wragg. “We didn’t damage anything important. Didn’t do the front either. Wouldn’t want to spoil the look. She’ll look pretty good up there too.”

“I’m sure Apostate will be pleased,” said Phlebas. “Better get started, eh?”

“Right,” said Jollyrei. He turned to address the girl and the soldiers. “Good morning,” he said cheerfully.

The soldiers grumbled something and the girl just glared at him.

“So, what have we here?” asked Jollyrei.

“Barbaria, a barbarian slave, sentenced to crucifixion for assaulting her master’s son,” said the Optio.

“Well, that seems straightforward, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Phlebas?” said Jollyrei.

“Indeed, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas.

“Let’s get that patibulum off you then,” said Jollyrei. He pulled out his dagger and cut the ropes that bound the beam to Barbaria’s arms and shoulders. Phlebas lifted it off and carried it over to the centre pole.

“Anything you want to say before we get started?” Jollyrei asked Barbaria.

“He was an idiot,” said Barbaria. “I don’t suppose it matters that he was going to rape me.”

“Not at the moment,” said Jollyrei. “Seems a bit harsh, perhaps, but there it is.” He took hold of her arm. “Come on then.”

Phlebas took hold of the other arm and they marched her to the patibulum, spun her around, and pulled her down onto her back on the rough grass.

“Look,” said Barbaria, “I don’t suppose you could just let me go. I mean, I could promise not to do it again.”

“What?” asked Phlebas. “In front of all these witnesses?”

“We do have a professional reputation to consider,” said Jollyrei.

“But I’m innocent!” said Barbaria, as her arms were stretched out on the patibulum. Jollyrei and Phlebas each tied down a wrist.

“Not according to the charges,” said Jollyrei. “She has a lovely figure, does she not, Mr. Phlebas?”

“Yes, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “Very nice breasts.”

“Nipples nicely tumescent,” said Wragg. He seemed to be sweating slightly.

“Very poetic, Mr. Wragg,” said Jollyrei. “I liked that description, Mr. Phlebas.”

“Mr. Wragg has a romantic soul, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas.

Jollyrei picked up a hammer and fished a large square spike out of a leather bucket at the base of the pole. He placed the point on Barbaria’s left wrist and brought the hammer down. Barbaria’s body bucked and arched and a ragged gasp escaped her. On the second blow of the hammer she screamed.

Phlebas hammered in a similar spike on the right wrist, Barbaria’s legs kicking and her body twisting, trying to escape the pain. Four blows of the heavy hammers was all that was needed to seat the nails and fix her to the beam. She lay on the ground gritting her teeth against the pain.

“Up we go,” said Jollyrei. “Do you mind taking the ladder, Mr. Wragg? Our usual support staff seems to be missing.”

Wragg set a ladder against the pole and climbed up. Jollyrei and Phlebas each took a side of the patibulum and lifted Barbaria up onto her feet again. She staggered backwards as they manoeuvered her against the pole, gasping and sobbing as she was lifted up, stretching onto her toes and then off the ground. Wragg pulled the patibulum into the notch in the pole and secured it with some stout rope.

“Feet outward, I think, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei.

“Considering the artistic presence, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas nodding toward Apostate who was poised over his easel with his brush.

Barbaria’s feet were soon securely lashed with her knees pointed out in a diamond shape. Jollyrei got two more of the square spikes.

“Would you care to…” he asked.

“No, please go ahead,” said Phlebas.

Jollyrei placed a spike at Barbaria’s instep and hammered hard on it. Feet were harder. You had to have the feet properly lashed to the stipes or the subject pulled free. A person could get kicked and seriously injured. In this case, the bindings held. Barb howled in pain as the first spike went through her foot and into the stipes. She was exhausted and out of breath and only sobbed quietly, shuddering as the other foot was similarly fixed. Then the bindings were removed and she hung on her cross, suspended on her four nails.

“Oh,” said Jollyrei. “We seem to have forgotten something, haven’t we, Mr. Phlebas.”

“We have, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. He reached up and tore Barbaria’s loincloth off her, leaving her naked and exposed, her body on display to the crowd. There was a murmur of appreciation. The soldiers were already marching down the hill back to the city.

“She is lovely,” said Wragg.

“Are you alright?” asked Phlebas.

“Just a slight cold, I think,” said Wragg. “I’ll be fine.” His eyes never left Barbaria. Apostate was painting furiously, anticipating a sellout edition of his portraiture.

Suddenly there was a commotion, and some shrieks of surprise, a yelp of pain, from the crowd. The refreshment girl ran past in a panic. A large horse erupted from the refreshments tent carrying a red-haired woman with elvish features and piercing eyes. She wore some sort of mail armour and carried a long sword. She was also quite annoyed.

“Trouble, Mr. Jollyrei?” suggested Phlebas.

“As you say, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei. He drew his Roman short sword, as did Phlebas and Wragg.

“I am Erin the Brave,” said the elvish woman in a steady and stern voice, which still managed to be melodious. It was the voice of someone who, if they told you to do something, you would want to do it. Phlebas thought that would be especially true if she told him to remove all of her armour. Unfortunately, he had also heard that Erin the Brave was not inclined to give those sorts of instructions to men.

“You will release Barbaria at once!” said Erin. Phlebas felt that was an instruction he should obey and turned to start lowering the cross.

“What are you doing?” asked Jollyrei.

“Well, she did say…” said Phlebas.

“What are we? Some sort of servants to elvish women in metal dresses now?” asked Jollyrei. “No, Mr. Phlebas. We are an ancient partnership, the Old Firm. We burned down Troy. You and I buried Agamemnon. We will handle something as simple as this crucifixion.”

“Um,” said Wragg pointing to a spot behind Jollyrei. Jollyrei turned his head to see the blade of a longsword at his neck and the clear steady eyes of Erin looking at him.

“Release her,” said Erin, twitching the sword blade against Jollyrei’s neck.

“On second thought, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei, “I may have to defer to your clearer judgment in this instance.”

“Thought you might,” said Phlebas. “So we take her down?”

“I would suggest so,” said Jollyrei, looking annoyed. “Before things become even more inconvenient.”

Wragg and Phlebas lowered the cross and with the help of heavy pincers, the nails were pulled. Wragg wrapped clean cloths around Barbaria’s wrists and ankles, wrapped her in his own cloak, and handed her up to Erin. Only then did Erin’s sword leave Jollyrei’s shoulder.

“I told you I would always come for you, my Lady,” said Erin to Barbaria. “You,” she said to Jollyrei, “are fortunate she lives. If she had died…” She left the point hanging as she slammed her sword into its scabbard, wheeled her charger around and was off down the hill away from the city.

The crowd was standing dumbstruck.

“Well,” said Phlebas. “That was different.”

Jollyrei was standing and staring after the disappearing charger with a sort of ferocious intensity. He was breathing heavily.

“I think that was no ordinary slave girl,” said Wragg. “Oridinary slave girls don’t get rescued by elvish warriors.”

“Nobody gets rescued by elvish warriors,” said Phlebas, “in our normal experience.”

“Never seen anything like it,” said Wragg. “The procurator is not going to be happy.”

“Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei.

“Yes, Mr. Jollyrei.”

“I have considered the situation, and I have a thought.”

“Indeed, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “And that would be.”

“Bugger the procurator, Mr. Phlebas, and this whole bloody town.”

“What then, Mr. Jollyrei?” asked Phlebas.

“We find her, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei, “and we do her again properly. Thank you for your help, Mr. Wragg,” said Jollyrei, shaking Wragg’s hand. “We will no doubt meet again. Best wishes to you and Mr. Windar in your disciplinary venture.”

“Cheerio,” said Phlebas. He and Jollyrei sauntered down the hill in the direction that Erin had gone. Wragg wondered if they were really abandoning the city just like that. It certainly seemed like it. He wondered how much he actually knew about Phlebas and Jollyrei.

“Fortunately, our elvish friend did not do anything silly and inconvenient like cutting off my head,” Wragg heard Jollyrei say. “I hate when that happens, Mr. Phlebas.”

“Very nasty, Mr. Jollyrei,” agreed Phlebas. “Takes a while to sort out that kind of thing, not to mention the mess on your clothing.”

“Indeed, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei. “Indeed.”

“That redhead with the horse ruined my portrait,” said Apostate irritably.

Clever or in Philly ... we say, Clever! :p
;)
 

Jollyrei

Angelus Mortis
Staff member
2 - The Old Firm

Barb must have lost consciousness. She dreamt of pain, searing pain in her back, red weals from a whip scoring her shoulders down to the soft curve of her bottom. She felt pain in her wrists and feet. Agonizing and throbbing pain, accompanied by the grinding of metal on bone. In her dream she was panicking, overwhelmed by the pain that washed through her, sending her over the edge into madness and then…

The pain receded, borne away on the undulating, rolling waves. She was sailing, floating gracefully, as if she was free. She tried to open her eyes, but couldn’t see her body. She almost panicked again, but the feeling was so soothing. She felt safe.

The waves stopped and she was half awake. Arms were holding her, lifting her down. Erin, she thought. Erin rescued me from the cross.

“You were right to bring her here,” said a female voice, “are you pursued?”

“Phlebas and Jollyrei,” said Erin’s voice, and there seemed to be a shudder. The names meant nothing to Barb, but she remembered the deceptively friendly manner of the two men who had crucified her. They were scary. No. They were terror.

“I left them in the other time,” said Erin. “They won’t be able to follow.”

“We will see,” said the other voice. “They don’t just give up. We must find out who sent them, and end their contract. Otherwise they will just keep coming.”

“Unless they die,” said Erin with steel in her voice.

“They don’t die,” said the other woman. “Bring her in. We need to tend to her quickly.”

* * *


“What are we doing here?” asked Phlebas.

“We are resting, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei, “conserving our energy for the resumption of the hunt.”

The two were in a cellar of a ruined fortress – it was damp, and contained considerable evidence of collapsed pillars and arch stones, but one corner of the underground works had remained with most of the floor above it serving as a ceiling. The sky could be seen to the north, where the building itself was all but gone, and the only thing remaining was a staircase leading up. Inexplicably, considering the Romanesque surroundings, both were wearing gray silk Saville Row suits.

“Fuck,” said Phlebas, sitting down heavily on a stone. Jollyrei was reclining on a fallen pillar that served as a divan. He gave Phlebas an amused glance.

“Fuck,” he said, “or fornicate. A clever choice of expletive, considering our current lodgings. Did you know, Mr. Phlebas, that these undercrofts with their arches and pillars were, at one time, referred to as “fornications”. It is said that certain ladies would sell sexual favours from these archways.”

“These ones right here?” asked Phlebas.

“Well,” said Jollyrei, “perhaps not these very ones, but certainly ones like them.”

“Can’t see them doing much trade here, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas.

“Astute as always, Mr. Plhebas,” said Jollyrei.

“So, really, why are we here?”asked Phlebas.

“Because your nose lost the scent of our quarry, Ms. Barbara Moore, and that elf on a horse that rescued her,” said Jollyrei.

“Went to the elvish places, didn’t they?” said Phlebas. “Can’t smell them there, Mr. Jollyrei.”

“Quite so, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei. “I am aware of these little details. And that is all they are – details. No doubt, our Ms. Moore, with her well known penchant for finding trouble, will reappear presently. We are, after all, the personification of trouble, are we not, Mr. Phlebas.”

“Famous for it, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “Too bad about the crucifying job though. I liked that one.”

“We all have to branch out, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei, “move with the times.”

“Is that why we’re dressed like this?” asked Phlebas.

“We are dressed like this,” said Jollyrei, “because we are men of consequence, men with whom people must reckon, and because I was tired of not having on a decent pair of trousers with pockets.”

“That’s a good point, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “Look what I have in my pockets.”

He fished around in the breast pocket of his jacket as Jollyrei sighed and pushed himself into a sitting position. Phlebas hand emerged from the jacket holding a set of three matched stilettos.

“Very nice indeed,” said Jollyrei. “And what do you propose to do with those elegant little toad stickers?”

“Practice,” said Phlebas. There was a blur and the daggers shot across the room and into an old wooden beam in a precise equilateral triangle.

“Don’t like elves rescuing our commissions,” said Phlebas.

“No,” said Jollyrei, “the Lady Erin will need to be taught a lesson in courtesy, as well as the binding nature of the commercial agreement.”

“How did she know we were crucifying Barb anyway, Mr. Jollyrei,” asked Phlebas.

“Now we hit the interesting question, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei. “Someone has been a bit loose with information. Mind you, the announcement of the crucifixion was public, but someone must have leaked the identity to Erin – someone who knows how to find Erin.”

“Not us then, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “We can’t find her. Just said that a moment ago.”

“That,” said Jollyrei drily, “and the fact that we would hardly call Erin ourselves to ruin following through on our own contract.”

* * *


Barb woke up in a haze. The pain was only a dull ache now in her wrists and her legs. Her back tingled, as if itchy. That’s good, isn’t it, she thought. If there’s an itch, that means things are healing. She opened her eyes.

She was in a bedroom. Not a Roman bedroom. An English or Scottish country bedroom. Wood beams on the ceiling. Whitewashed walls. A chest against the wall. The bed had a metal bedstead with brass balls on the four corner posts. She was lying naked under a quilt – the quilt had small rabbits and chickens in alternating squares. The whole scene was completely ridiculous, considering she had just ridden through the night on an elvish horse, away from the site of her own crucifixion by the Romans.

Why had she been crucified? She couldn’t remember doing anything wrong. She had been a slavegirl. Somehow she knew she was not a slavegirl anymore.

“Ah, awake are we?” said a Scottish voice. A slim, small, but well toned young woman with dark hair and inquiring eyes was regarding her from the doorway. The woman was dressed in a short plaid skirt and sweater, barefoot. “You gave me a bit of a fright,” said the woman. “Haven’t had to deal with a crucifixion in a while.”

“In a while?” croaked Barb, and realized her throat was very dry.

“Yeah,” said the Scottish woman. “They haven’t happened around these parts in about 2000 years, well, not the Roman ones. I’m Eulalia, and you’re Barb.”

“I know who I am,” said Barb.

“No you don’t,” said Eulalia. “None of us do. We know you’re Barb Moore, and we know that in that timeline you were a slave. Who you actually are is something else. Erin thinks you’re a Queen or a princess or something. Anyway, you have to be someone if the Firm is after you.”

“The Firm?” asked Barb. None of this meant anything. If she wasn’t a slave, who was she? Even so, she somehow knew she was Barb Moore. It didn’t sound like the name of a princess.

“Phlebas and Jollyrei,” said Eulalia. “I’ve never met them, but we know about them. Here,” she handed Barb a glass half full of water, “you’re probably a bit dry.” She smiled.

Barb smiled back and gratefully sipped at the cool liquid, feeling it soothe her throat.

“They’re nasty,” said Erin, coming into the room.

“Who are they,” asked Barb, “and why do they want me?”

“Bogiemen, monsters, if you like,” said Eulalia. “Knowing who you are would help us find out why they’re after you, and why it’s important.”

“It’s important to me,” said Barb, “staying alive.”

“I expect so,” said Eulalia, “but it might also be important to us to keep you that way.”

“I will always come for you,” said Erin.

“So who would know something,” asked Barb.

“Whoever tipped off Erin to come rescue you,” said Eulalia, “and I have some idea who that might be.”

“Who?” asked Barb.

“Wragg and Windar,” said Erin. “You can’t go to them,” she added to Eulalia. “They’re about as dodgy as they come. They were the ones that flogged Barb to begin with.”

Yes,” said Eulalia, “which is odd, but they did tip you off for some reason. There aren’t that many people around who know where to find the elves, and even fewer that would think that Erin would be interested in stopping one Roman crucifixion.”

“I still say they’re dodgy,” said Erin. “Be careful that they don’t betray you to those other two.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” said Eulalia.

* * *


“One day,” said Windar, “you’ll push your luck too far.”

Windar and Wragg were in their shop, which doubled as a whipping emporium for patrician ladies who felt they wanted or deserved punishment. W and W did not quite understand why they wanted it, and indeed the upper class female clients didn’t want the judicial treatment of bone and lead-tipped whips used for criminals, but the softer leather whips that left red marks, but didn’t threaten overall health. Anyway, by day, the shop and the two proprietors scourged prisoners and those destined for the cross, and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings they “entertained” a more upper class clientele.

Windar’s arm swept out and gave the long leather whip a good flick with his wrist. The leather connected smartly with the pale bare skin of a blonde woman, bound to a polished whipping post. She gave a soft gasp.

“I don’t know,” said Wragg. “It just didn’t seem right, you know, leaving her to the gentle ministrations of Jollyrei and Phlebas.”

Windar looked at the woman hanging from the post, and selected a shorter, multi-thonged whip. He showed it to Wragg, who nodded. Windar brought the whip hard against the woman's bottom. She shrieked in what sounded like pain, but might also have been pleasure.

“Why not?” Windar asked. “I mean, you know I don’t like crucifixion any more than the next guy, less in fact, but why…”

“I liked her,” said Wragg. “I saw someone there I recognized, and I couldn’t just leave her there.”

“I noticed that didn’t stop you scourging her with the number 4 bone-tipped,” said Windar. He gave the pale back of the woman against the post another couple of hard lashes, bringing out red welts, but no blood. You could be sure of exactly the right amount of pressure from W and W. That was professionalism.

The woman was gasping, breathing hard, which made her pretty breasts rise and fall. Her legs were trembling which made her bottom move enticingly.

“Purely business,” said Wragg. “Something didn’t feel right. Anyway, I couldn’t just stop with that centurion watching. We do have a reputation to uphold. You missed a spot,” he added pointing to one of the woman’s shoulder blades.

The lash snaked out and connected perfectly with the shoulder and striped down her back. She jerked and spasmed and then hung limply for a few seconds. Windar looked at Wragg and raised an eyebrow.

“Very nice,” said Wragg.

“You had the hots for one of the Romans’ victims,” said Windar, “so you called Erin.”

“I was right though, yeah?” said Wragg. “Erin wouldn’t have come if she wasn’t important.”

“Erin?” asked the woman. “The Elf Girl Warrior?”

Wragg and Windar looked at each other. Then they went and cut down the blonde woman.

“What do you know of Erin, Domna Messalios,” Windar asked the upper class lady, offering her a goblet of wine.

“She is an elvish warrior woman,” said Messalios, “which I know because I am an Amazon.”

“Great,” said Windar.

“Please call me Messaline,” said Messaline. “I think we will be, how shall we call it? Involved together? Who was this rescued woman?”

“Barb,” said Windar. “Her name was Barb, or Barbaria – so called because she was a barbarian slave girl. Suddenly, the Elf Warrior is charging down Romans, and those two, to get her away.”

“Yes,” said Wragg. “Very impressive, I thought. Anyway, I can’t see how that could come back onto us. After all…”

There was a knock at the door.

“Are you expecting someone?” asked Windar.

“No,” said Wragg. “There’s nobody but Messalios, er, Messaline booked in.”

Windar went to the door, but didn’t open it. “We’re closed,” he said. “Please come back tomorrow.”

“It’s urgent,” said a female voice. “Erin sent me.”

“Damn,” said Windar, and opened the door. His hand darted out and grabbed a small soft arm. There was a muted shriek of surprise, but at the same time soft, because the person grabbed wanted to stay quiet. He pulled the arm and the person attached to it into the shop, quickly shutting the door, and pushing the visitor against it to get a better look.

“Oh, you,” he said. He let go of Eulalia.

“Nice to see you too,” said Eulalia. “How long has it been?”

“A couple of centuries,” said Windar, “or it will be, anyway. We moved the wrong way.”

“How did you know?” Wragg asked Eulalia.

“You’re the only one who knows to call Erin,” said Eulalia. “and why. Who is this,” she asked looking at Messaline.

“Messaline. Apparently she’s an Amazon. And you’re wrong,” said Wragg. “I don’t know why. I had a feeling. I didn’t know what to do about it, so I let Erin know.”

“So you have no idea who Barb is?” asked Eulalia.

“Nope,” said Wragg. “I’d like to,” he added, Windar rolled his eyes, “but normally I don’t react like that to girls I think are attractive.”

“Yes you do,” said Windar.

“Okay,” said Wragg, “but I don’t think they’re important enough to call Erin about.”

“Well, you were right,” said Eulalia. “Erin is sworn to protect Barb.”

“She does a very strange job of it,” said Windar.

“Barb isn’t easy to protect. She isn’t an Elf. She’s human, and she’s disoriented, and she doesn’t know why she’s being thrown around in time. She only remembers she was a slave.”

“And she’s got the Firm on her trail,” said Wragg. “That’s enough reason to call Erin in my books.”

“We’ll have to find out who she is,” said Eulalia. “I really hoped you’d know something. Now I’ll have to do this the difficult way, and there’s no guarantee it will work.”

“And what’s the difficult way?” asked Windar.

“I won’t say,” said Eulalia. “Then you can’t tell anyone where I’ve gone. Look, I need you to do something for me, keep something for me.”

“Okay,” said Wragg, “what?”

“This,” said Eulalia. She pulled a small wooden box, inlaid with mother of pearl, out of her cloak and handed it to Wragg. Wragg and Windar stared at it, but didn’t open it.

“You know what it is,” Eulalia said.

“Yes,” said Wragg. “Are you sure it’s necessary?”

“I hope not,” said Eulalia, “but if something happens to me, you have to bring it back to me. Erin will know where to find me then. I just hope it’s worth it, and I need the insurance.”

“Of course,” said Wragg.

“Afterwards,” said Eulalia, “whatever the outcome, Barb can’t stay at my cottage. They’ll know where she is. She’ll have to be moved to a new place.”

“I’ve got one,” said Wragg. “I haven’t been there in a while, but it’ll do.”

“Good,” said Eulalia. “I hope this works. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” said Windar. “You’ll bloody well need it.” And she was gone, through the door silently and into the night.

“Well,” said Windar, “this sucks!”

“I dare say,” said Wragg. “Still, the prospect of meeting Barb again is nice.”

“What about our plans to open a chain of Flagellation Emporia to leave our children?” asked Windar.

“Neither of us even has a wife, never mind children,” said Wragg.

“That is a point,” said Windar. “So, where…

“The Abbey,” said Wragg. “I have to stay around here a bit, in case…well, in case,” he said glancing at the small wood and pearl box. “You’ll have to go and get the place ready.”

“Just like old times,” said Windar.

“No,” said Wragg. “New times. I only hope Jollyrei and Phlebas don’t follow us there.”

“I don’t suppose Erin will rescue us too?” said Windar. He was pulling off his apron and leather tunic and putting on what appeared to be a Victorian butler’s suit.

“Perhaps I can help,” said Messaline.

Wragg and Windar stared at the naked blonde woman. She was holding a long sword.

“Perhaps,” said Wragg.

* * *


“Stand up against that wall,” said Jollyrei. “I’ll show you what I can do with them.” He was holding the three stilettos in one hand. So far the small knives had been used to kill 14 robins, two small frogs, a large furry spider, and a deer. Even Jollyrei had to admit the deer was quite a feat, demonstrating Phlebas skill and ruthlessness, considering the stilettos weren’t longer than about 4 inches each.

Not to be outdone, Jollyrei was going for finesse and showmanship now.

Phlebas left off turning the deer over the spit where it was roasting, and went and stood with his back to a rotting wooden wall of the cellar. “Okay,” he said, “go on.”

Jollyrei’s arm flashed and the stilettos buried themselves one next to each ear, and the other above Phlebas’ head.

“There,” said Jollyrei. “And I did that with my eyes closed.”

“So what?” asked Phlebas. “I don’t see what’s so impressive. You didn’t even hit one of my ears.”

“Okay, Mr. Smartie,” said Jollyrei testily. “Why don’t you show us how it’s done.”

“I don’t mean to interrupt anything, Gentlemen,” said a Scottish voice. “But I was wondering whether you might answer a couple of questions.”

Phlebas and Jollyrei turned to look up at the attractive dark haired woman on the crumbling staircase.

“You seem to have us at a distinct disadvantage, Madame,” said Jollyrei. “However, I should note that we are not normally in the information business and many of the people who ask us questions….”

“…end up dead,” said Phlebas.

“I think,” said Eulalia, “that I have something you might want, provided I get the answers I want.”

“This intrigues me,” said Jollyrei, “if only for pure audacity. Please descend and we will discuss it.”

“And then we’ll probably kill you anyway,” said Phlebas.

“Come, come, Mr. Phlebas,” said Jollyrei. “Not before tea. We must get acquainted.”

“Of course, Mr. Jollyrei,” said Phlebas. “Where are my manners?”

Eulalia walked down the stairs into the cellar hoping she was doing the right thing. It certainly didn’t seem to be the sensible thing.

to be continued...
 

windar

Teller of Tales
Why had she been crucified? She couldn’t remember doing anything wrong.
That's what all the suspects I've ever arrested say, Moore.
“Wragg and Windar,” said Erin. “You can’t go to them,” she added to Eulalia. “They’re about as dodgy as they come.
Dodgy? I beg your pardon?
You could be sure of exactly the right amount of pressure from W and W. That was professionalism.
You see, not dodgy at all:D
Messaline. Apparently she’s an Amazon.
I thought the Amazon was called Alexa:confused:
“So you have no idea who Barb is?” asked Eulalia.

“Nope,” said Wragg. “I’d like to,” he added, Windar rolled his eyes,
Trust me, Wragg, she's trouble...

I'm glad you took this one up again, Jolly. And it was seamless. I have to write fast, otherwise by the time I get to the end I've completely forgotten the beginning:doh:
 

Barbaria1

Rebel Leader
Staff member
No doubt, our Ms. Moore, with her well known penchant for finding trouble, will reappear presently.

As are my habits ... getting in trouble and reappearing ... I don’t know how or why I do it ... I just do.

“No,” said Jollyrei, “the Lady Erin will need to be taught a lesson in courtesy, as well as the binding nature of the commercial agreement.”

Watch out, Erin ... these guys don’t play nice!

The bed had a metal bedstead with brass balls on the four corner posts

Whew, for a moment there I thought I was back in Cruxton Abbey ... all four posters seem alike after a night in one there.

“No you don’t,” said Eulalia. “None of us do. We know you’re Barb Moore, and we know that in that timeline you were a slave. Who you actually are is something else. Erin thinks you’re a Queen or a princess or something. Anyway, you have to be someone if the Firm is after you.”

Now I’m really confused. Thanks Eul! I think.

“Wragg and Windar,” said Erin. “You can’t go to them,” she added to Eulalia. “They’re about as dodgy as they come.

Understated. They are Moore than dodgy as they come!

Eulalia walked down the stairs into the cellar hoping she was doing the right thing. It certainly didn’t seem to be the sensible thing.

At this point in Jolly’s tale, it’s impossible to know what the right thing might be. Eul has as good a chance of getting things right as anybody. At least no one would describe her as “dodgy”.
 
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