Arcanum 1780: A New World
Tales - Bullhorn
Bullhorn leapt to the side as the armored carriage trundled past, splashing sooty water from the cobble streets onto his relatively clean pants, soaking and smudging them in equal measure. He cursed inwardly at his continued bad luck. Damn. I just stole these, too. They even fit halfway decent. He took a few stumbling steps to the side, dodging out of the way from the guards trailing behind the carriage. Once they had passed, he crossed the street to pause under an awning set in front of an ironmonger’s shop, staring at the retreating carriage. Filthy aristocrats, refusing to walk among us peasants. Disgusting. He wiped some snot dripping from his nose with a tattered sleeve, leaving behind a trail of soot and dirt. Just as well they didn’t. Wouldn’t remain too noble with a knife in the ribs. His smile betrayed a wreckage of bad dentistry as he shoved his way into the shop.
Today was just like any other – wander around New Smokey, pick up work, pick a pocket, then go for a stiff drink. Bullhorn was never the first to work and always the first to leave, and rarely held down the same job for more than a week. He had earned his name the first time he pulled work at a factory big enough to have a foreman – the moment the foreman hauled out the bullhorn to call the end of work, Bullhorn was already out the door, his pockets loaded with the day’s wages and a few trinkets besides. He was always bilking his employers of something or other, skipping to the next job to keep himself fed and his hands busy.
His grams always told him to keep his hands busy, because idle hands were the instruments of the devil. Certainly explains all the evil those lazy so-called nobles get up to. Bullhorn ground the soot from the shop into his palms as he strolled up to the tavern where the down and out wasted the coin they were able to scrounge together down here in the gutter of society. He found himself involuntarily spitting into the street. Disgusting habit. I should be ashamed. But Bullhorn wasn’t ashamed of much – there were days where he took a certain glee at his station in life, down here in the rough. It suited him – rough mannerisms, a rough neighborhood, perfect for a man with hands made rough from doing rough work.
But then, Bullhorn liked rough work. He enjoyed the feeling of a hammer in his hands, the heft of each swing filling his heart with glee regardless of whether he was striking metal or bone. He had gotten good at it, over the years – when work was slim in the factories, he had been offered an opportunity at making coin, running protection for a low-end moneylender. Being an older brother, the thought of providing protection tickled him, but not as much as the feeling in his stomach as he went to work on some poor unfortunate who had fallen behind on his payments. If they struggled and begged, it just made the work that much sweeter.
His fourth drink was barely down his gullet before the edges of his vision began to cloud. He heard muted shouting from the street outside, and without thinking, shoved to his feet. The door was barely open before Bullhorn had made his decision. The scene before him was a bit too familiar – a bunch of primped-up well-to-dos were putting the foot to a girl in a filthy, torn dress. He blood was already up – he never made the decision to grab the shoulders of one of the men and hurl him bodily into his friend who had been holding the woman down, sending them both sprawling into the street. There was no thought in his head as he kicked the third man to the side and crushed his windpipe beneath his heel. There was no pain when one of the first two punched him in the back, just a sledgehammer fist of retaliation to the temple. The man’s face slowly turned to an unrecognizable mass of blood and bone as Bullhorn continued to pound his face into the cobblestone, revelling at the noise and mess he was making, ignorant of the disgusted crowd that had gathered, ignorant of the gentle pulling on his shoulder until it came to be more insistent.
He wheeled around, bloody hands ready to do more work, only to stop short as he came eye to eye with the battered woman he had protected. His stomach fluttered in a way he couldn’t quite say he had ever felt before. “Come. We must go.” She led him blindly away from the crowd, through a twisting maze of streets, getting them lost in the smoke. They made quite a pair – beauty leading the beast, her beautiful features marred by the beating she had received, matched with his repulsive mug made more palatable for being smeared with blood, soot and sweat. They stopped behind an old, disused bakery, in an alley that now held more smell of old coal than freshly baked bread. It wasn’t until then he was able to get a good look at the girl he saved.
She was pretty, of course, but her beauty was her betrayer – the lines of her face, of her body, beneath the tattered rags she wore, spoke of her Spanish blood. In parts of New England, it would have been less of an issue, but here, none would have batted an eye if he had joined the other men in beating her. Instead, he protected her, and for what – so another group of highborn can rough her up, or worse? Foolish. And now you’re wanted for the murder of two more men. Bullhorn deflated under the gaze of her piercing green eyes.
“I’ve been looking for a man just like you for some time.” Her voice was harsh, tattered like her clothing, but without a hint of the lilt a woman of her background might have even after years of speaking proper English. “A man who isn’t afraid to do some work. Who’s good with his hands.” Her smile was barbed and crooked, all of the lines at wrong angles to each other, but he couldn’t stop listening. “A protector who isn’t afraid to take what he wants, when he wants it.” He felt himself nodding, slowly. “A man who knows how to listen to orders and do the work that needs doing. Are you that man, Bullhorn?”
His accepting “Yes” was hoarse, his breathing shallow, as his heart began to slow once more. How did she know my name? Must have told her. Damned drink, need to quit. He nodded, in case she didn’t hear the words as they scraped out of his throat.
She smiled again, a grotesque mockery of beauty that her face managed to hide. “Good. Because I have work to do in this city, and if you help me, maybe I send word to Luis. He might be able to secure you more regular work with my friends. Would you like that?”
Bullhorn nodded, but she was already on her way, as though his acceptance was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps, in a way, it was.
- Rase Cidraen