GRISELDA GETS HER MEN
I am sitting in Loud Lilina's one night with Treasure Trove Hurbi, talking of this and that, when who comes in but Griselda. This is not long after she and Wolfhead finish Lucky Eddi's run of luck, and if I am them I will be keeping quiet about it, for Eddi is thought to have important associates who may not care to hear of his bad luck. But the story is all over town, and I consider it very unwise of Griselda to be wandering around on her own without Wolfhead to look out for her, for she may be smart, but she does not look able to cope with the rough stuff. Yet here she is, wearing her little sword but without any other protection, and looking as if she has a few drinks on board as well. She glances all around the joint, and when she sees me she comes over, saying in a loud voice, "Why, if it is not the guy who knows Lucky Eddi! Say, I wonder where Eddi is now, what is left of him? I do not figure even a Rubble Runner will be able to stomach him, but maybe I am wrong; maybe they really will eat anything."
Then she laughs very heartily, although I do not think this so funny, at that. I cannot think of anything to say, but I do not have to, because two large guys get up and approach Griselda, going one to each side. Anyone can see that these are guys who have experience, and they are looking extremely hostile. One says, "We do not care to hear Eddi spoken of that way."
Now at this I get ready to go under the table, which I figure the safest place on such occasions, but I see Griselda smile just a little, and she looks from one to the other and says, "Well, gentlemen, if you do not like it you can do the other thing." And since they are commencing to do the other thing, pulling clubs and daggers and so forth, I make my dive, but I barely hit the floor before the two guys do also, and anyone can see they are goners, and the whole joint becomes very quiet. As I am getting up again Griselda starts for the door, and Loud Lilina begins to yell at her about the mess she makes of her nice clean floor. But Griselda turns at the door and looks at her, and Lilina becomes very quiet, indeed; in fact, I never know her so quiet, and the chances are it is the first time she is so quiet since she pops into the world.
When things settle down a bit, Treasure Trove Hurbi tells me that Griselda has her sword out and into one guy quick as a wink, and she turns so fast that he is still wondering what happens to his stomach when she carves up the other guy. So everyone can see that Griselda is plenty able to take care of herself, with or without Wolfhead, and she gets some respect around town. The story gets about that in fact she sets the whole thing up, and is aiming to get these guys because they are fingered to her as associates of Eddi's, and furthermore that she is after all of Eddi's associates. Some begin to offer to bet money that she will not get any more, because Eddi's associates are also able to take care of themselves, and moreover they are now forewarned, and know her, but she does not know them. Yet she is seen about Pavis day by day, and the odds against her begin to shorten.
Now it comes on a time when the Sables have some races outside Pavis, for the Sables stand good with the Lunars who are running Pavis now, and can come and go as they please. Most of Pavis goes out to watch these races, and maybe bet on them, and you can see many notable figures there. As I am standing watching a race and keeping close to a couple of Lunar officers, because I figure there will be little trouble near them, I see Griselda again, a little way off, in a pretty neat outfit and without a weapon in sight. A guy comes close to her, who is wearing a long cloak and does not look anything special, but she turns and says something to him. All of a sudden the guy is making movements in his cloak, but she moves so fast you can barely see it and plants a short knife that she palms from somewhere in his throat.
Now this is most disturbing for the Lunar officers, because, though they know that this kind of thing happens in Pavis from time to time, they do not wish to have it happen where they can see it, as they will have to investigate. So they go over to ask her a few questions, and I listen in. She states that she suspects the guy, and a Detect Enemy spell shows him up, and if she cannot protect herself against someone who is aiming to kill her there is no justice in Pavis. Well, of course there is not, or anyway not much, but the Lunar officers cannot admit this, and when the guy's cloak is pulled back, sure enough, he has a dagger out and there is poison on it as well. I remember that he looks surprised, though not so surprised as the guys in Lilina's. So the Lunar officers just warn Griselda that they have their eye on her and let her go.
Well, after this you cannot get any reasonable odds on whether Griselda will do it again, but she becomes a favourite to handle almost anybody, though you can get any price you like on whether someone will get her, and anybody will take your money with great pleasure. It turns out that this guy is a candidate for the Black Fangs, and quite fancied too, but the Black Fangs figure it is none of their business, and some say that they are even thinking of inviting Griselda to join, and will certainly not take a contract on her and ruin such a fine sporting event. Since she is known to speak to me, some guys even ask me if I have any inside dope on what she will do next, and I only wish I have, at that, for it almost seems like finding money in the street. For a while any stray corpse that turns up in Pavis is credited to Griselda, but she always denies it, and it does not figure, for these are ordinary adventurers and crooks, and plain bums, and not the high-class heavies who will be laying for her now, if any are. But nothing happens for a week, and people begin to say that Griselda has that old Praxian sign on Eddi's associates, and they scarcely dast to poke their noses out, for it is generally agreed that Griselda is pure poison, and if you hit her you will likely break your arm.
Now, all this does not make Griselda any more popular with the public at large. In fact, most citizens play the chill for her, because they find it unnerving that such a small doll should have so little difficulty knocking them off and show no sign of letting it bother her at all; and moreover they do not wish to wind up innocent bystanders killed in the cross-fire, as is apt to happen at scenes of violence, and such a scene is a sure thing around Griselda sooner or later, and sooner rather than later. If she cares that so few people will give her a tumble, Griselda does not let it show, but I judge that she may be a little lonesome, at that, for she will talk to anyone, and this includes Trolls. Few people around Pavis care to have much truck with Trolls, for it is well known that they have many nasty habits, and will eat you as soon as look at you, and the best you are likely to get out of them is a punch on the snoot. But Griselda seems to know their language much better than any self-respecting human has a right to do, and it is almost as if she seeks them out, and they are reported to show much interest in her.
Many criticise her for this and say no good will come of it, and that is how it turns out, but not for Griselda. One evening a bunch of four Trollkin come into Lilina's and approach Griselda's table with cheery cries, and before Lilina can yell at them to get out, for she tries to bar non-humans, they all of a sudden pull weapons and surround Griselda with obvious hostile intent. Now these are no ordinary Trollkin, for they do not act dumb the way Trollkin are apt to do, but handle their weapons as if they know how to use them, and it surely looks as if Griselda is up against it this time. But before the Trollkin can connect Griselda simply vanishes, and she must move very fast, because the next thing anyone knows there she is at the door, and one of the Trollkin is all out of breath, because he has a dart in his windpipe. Then she is gone and the Trollkin run after her, but it is judged from the cries of woe that are heard that they do not have much luck. In fact, Griselda returns a while later, and though she is panting a bit and covered with dust she seems none the worse. At once there is much excited questioning, for a lot of money is riding on whether she tops her previous best. But she just holds up two fingers while she is finishing her drink, and says, "I wing a third, but he and the last run off; too bad." Then she walks out, not forgetting to collect her dart on the way, and Lilina has some more cleaning up to do.
Well, after this the odds on Griselda are phenomenal, in fact they are practically out of sight, and some are ready to back her to outlast anything short of an army, though others insist that she has no really classy opposition as yet. So it is a great surprise to all when it is reported that she is seen going into the Rubble with Trolls, for those who go into the Rubble with Trolls rarely come back. Moreover, these are reported to be extra-tough Trolls, such as will give even Wolfhead pause for thought, but what is strangest of all is that they do not seem to have the arm on her, but are reported to be chatting back and forth, though she is all kitted out in full armour. Then a few days go by, and nothing is heard of her, and people begin going around saying no run of luck lasts for ever, and she is a gone goose. But personally I will not believe this, and so I am not surprised when she shows up again, looking like a cat that swallows a very tasty bird, in the company of some very important-looking Trolls. In fact there is a whole delegation in attendance when they come to People's Gate, and they seem to part on good terms.
Now it may be because I always give her a hello, for fear she will hold it against me if I do not, or because she is just bound and determined to tell somebody, but she comes over to where I am propping up a wall and takes me to the nearest bar and gives me the whole story over a drink.
"I finish my business," she says. "I run down Eddi's major associate in the Rubble, who finances these attempts on my life, and I figure I now do enough for my brother's memory. It is simple, really. I work out that Eddi's associates in the Rubble are likely to be Trolls, for they run most of everything there, but I need a connection to get me in and perhaps give me a little help. As it happens, I am acquainted with a very important Troll far away from here - do you ever hear of Pikat Yaraboom?" I nod that I do, and it does not take too much to figure out why he likes Griselda, for I believe I forget to mention before that she has hair as red as an Earth Season sunset, and everyone knows that Pikat Yaraboom likes red-headed women, though no one knows why. He is indeed a high shot among the Trolls, and my respect for Griselda goes up again, that she knows him.
"Well," she says, "Pikat Yaraboom has contacts in the Rubble and gives me messages for them, and finally I connect up with Trolls that know them. You may hear that I go off with some tough Trolls, but these are to protect me, for a deal is set up. I am to have a fair fight with Snargan Varsh, Eddi's associate, and this okayed by none other than Javis Gan himself; he has some time for humans, and moreover Pikat Yaraboom tells him that I am a tasty morsel, and if I lose what do I care if they eat me? We all swear oaths that no one is going to break, not even one of those Zorak Zorani, so all I have to do is win the fight, and I am home free.
"This Snargan Varsh is by no means a soft touch, but a big Dark Troll, and he has brains, but like everyone else he thinks I will be a push-over because I am small and not too strong. I have to swear that I will not use attacking magic, or throw stuff, or go invisible, which I cannot do anyway as I use up that spell, though I do not tell them that, so you can see I am giving him plenty of the best of it, and some Trolls are offering 2 to 1 and even 3 to 1 against me, but I am not allowed to put a bet on myself, as they do not feel sure of a pay-off if I lose.
"I do have an edge on him when it comes to getting in first strike, and he uses a mace which is most impressive to look at, but I can see that it has weak spots and will not be so good to parry with. I get in some jabs with my spear and parry most of his blows, and presently he is getting tired; I judge that he eats too well and does not train enough. Anyway, he drops his guard and gives me a chance to stick the spear in deep, and while it does not kill him it slows him down, and then I hack away at his mace with my sword until it snaps. I am taking some punishment, and have to do some Healing which gives him time to pull the spear out, but in the excitement he drops it, and then I lure him into grappling with me and stick my sword in his throat."
"Well, Griselda," I say, "that is all very interesting, and most impressive, but tell me why you are so long getting back."
"Oh," she says, "that is because, first, I take some time to recover, as I am not in very good shape by the end, and then I am invited to a victory feast, and this takes some time to prepare. Troll feasts last a long time, as you may know, but they do me a very great honour and I am bound to stick it out. Besides, they can say what they like about Trolls, but some of them surely can cook" - and here she gives that smile of hers which makes my hair stand on end - "Snargan Varsh and his Trollkin taste delicious."