Three ruddy bronze coins clattered on the straw mattress, threatening to sink into its mite-ridden depths. Arta gave her client the demon eye. It was a look which made any man cower and, no matter how great a warrior, he would move his hands to protect the jewels a man prized most.
Stories were told of Arta’s wrath in taverns and brothels near Tor Avlon. They were worth re-telling, as it often earned the bard a free horn of mead or two, but few took the risk. After all, they were dark tales to hear, let alone to speak.
Her client hurried out through the doorflap, feeling at once as if his coin had been wasted. What use was it paying for a chance to see such a wondrous lady, if he left in fear for his life?
“Just be glad you got out alive.” his mates would say when he told them as much, and they were not wrong.
Arta reached beneath the mattress, after collecting her wage, and brought out the treasured object. It was a rough lump of iron formed in an indistinct shape. A bubble could be seen where the molten metal had cooled, trapping the air beneath.
That was Arta’s second favourite thing about her treasure. She turned it over and smiled a warm look of affection. Sticking out from the iron ball was a long, thick hunk of bone. It might have come from a man’s finger, if that man had been the size of a bear.
“Hello, father.” she whispered. “How’s the afterlife treating you?”
She chuckled at her joke, but dropped the object and scrambled back as a coughing voice choked out from it.
“A black deed, to jest with the dead. Who holds Utter’s sword?”
Arta blinked. The voice was that of an old man, distorted as it fought its way through minute fissures in the sealed orb. Crawling nearer, she whispered in a gruff voice, heavy with threat.
“I’m a mighty Saxon warrior. Who dares speak to me?”
“That’s not important, my voice is coming from a distant place. You must find someone on my behalf. Go to Tor Avlon and seek out the girl Arta.”
“Why would I do that?”
“You must kill this girl, or see all of Angland burn. But be warned, others have been dispatched on this same errand. They may betray you for the reward.”
Arta’s throat was dry and sweat pricked her spine. “What reward?”
“Life.” he replied. “Life, eternal.”