So when Kasoria attached the word "unbearable" to his experience thus far with Ilos, he was barely exaggerating.
"Still stinks of shit down there." More scraping. The young man looking somewhere between a seizure and a limp as he dragged his boot across the damp wood of the pier. "Why in the hells did they have animals roaming about on the deck, anyway?"
"Stops them getting stir-crazy," Kasoria said, and didn't waste more words than that. He wasn't hear to sight-see, or enjoy Ilos' discomfort (although he was, of course). He kept his eyes on every crate and chest and pile of trash and cargo big enough to hide a lurking assassin. Boats lined the sturdy spit of wood that stretched into the mouth of the Southwood River, yawning and gaping until it split into an ocean that drowned the horizon.
Or would, if the fog wasn't covering it. And covering half the boats. So he had to keep his head on a swivel and his eyes constantly moving and all the while-
"Fucking stupid, if you ask me. And why couldn't we take a private boat, eh? Would have hardly been an extravagance."
"People take less note of the barges. Private boat, raises eyebrows. Wrong people remember visitors rich or important enough to own their own ship."
He didn't know why he volunteered the information. He could tell from Ilos' contemplative little "hmm" that loudmouthed as he could be, he still knew useful information when he heard it. But these cogent moments had been like clear skies in a hurricane. Ever since they'd left Etzos, ten days before, he'd been whining and complaining and scuttling off from their patch on the barge, demanding - demanding! - blankets and food and warmth and drink. More than once, Kasoria had looked down at his sleeping form and thought...
So easy. And who would care? I mean, really?
"'The wrong people'," the younger man repeated after a while, capping the words off with a short, bark of a laugh and a hawk of spittle into the black water. "Wouldn't be any of them around if we were taking care of business better."
Kasoria kept walking. Kept watching. He wasn't getting drawn into this. Ilos had been fishing more than once since they'd left the Big Rock. His tone careless, but his words... they made Kasoria's skin tighten. Hairs shudder across his scalp at odd moments. He'd always known Ilos had ambition; Vorund wouldn't have pulled him up from the gutter otherwise. But the last few seasons, the pressures and stresses, the new, shadowy threat that seemed to be looming over the South Side... now Kasoria saw something mutinous in Vorund's right hand.
Spoiling for a fight, is all, he told himself yet again, steel-capped boots beating out a steady beat on the boards. There was someone at the end of the pier. He's a kid. Wants to prove himself. Good with numbers and figures, true, but his blood's up, too.
You were like that once.
Kasoria blinked. No. He wasn't. So why was he lying to himself? More voices started to crowd his mind and he shook them away angrily, hair flailing for a moment like a nest of snakes. Damn it all, he didn't need to think this way! His master had sent him to watch the back of his second, his voice, his lieutenant, and so that's what he had to do. He couldn't afford to let anything slip and allow his mind to wander.
He knew whom he was meeting with, after all. Ilos didn't.
Ah. That was why he was truly nervous, he decided. Because their respective master couldn't be away from all his myriad of schemes and affairs in Etzos, so there the two of them were instead, lieutenant and enforcer, his left and right hands. Kasoria saw the wisdom in sending them both: Ilos alone would... Fates, it almost made him smirk into his chest-long beard at how she would have chewed him up, with his pomade and silk shirt. No... that was why Kasoria was there. A walking, breathing message from Vorund that said "yes, we know he's young, but he's still the underboss of Bangun Vorund."
"Our contact, I take it?"
"... then why are you going for your blade?"
Kasoria looked down and saw he was, indeed, holding the handle of his gladius. Thumb caressing the end of the hilt like a worry stone. He blinked and wondered if it would matter, drawing such a weapon, if she was... unhappy, with what he'd been up to a season ago. Because that was why they were down here, by the salt and the sand. If it was Etzos business, that's where they'd be discussing it. But they were in Foster's, and since Vorund's other enterprises had been studiously ignored by her, that left-
The Charon. Marvelous.
"Let it go, man," Ilos said with a suppressed groan, as if he was chastising a servant. Which Kasoria assumed he thought he was doing. "Just keep your hands keep and be ready to, I don't know, leap to my defense, or whatever it is you do. But I wouldn't worry." Ilos turned from the help to the figure standing straight as a hammered rivet at the end of the pier. Still mired in fog and darkness and yet seeming to stare right at them. "We're as valuable to her as she is to us, that's what the boss tells me. He even said-"
"Sir? We don't want to keep her waiting."
Ilos' jaw tightened and torqued for a moment, like something angry was trying to pry its way from his mouth. Kasoria just looked up at him with his half-closed, patient, doleful eyes. There were benefits to being five-feet-five-inches and skinny even in his good clothes: people looked down on you, literally and figuratively, and assumed the Fates had cursed you enough without adding to it. Ilos got that same expression on his face, sneering in his eyes if not his lips, and finally spat out.
"Come on, then."
He marched ahead, determined not to let this ragged little shit walk ahead of him when they met their contact with the Black Guard. Ilos' eyes were alight, burning with the fire of the opportunities blazing in his mind. Finally, he was making real contacts! Three arcs and Vorund had never trusted him this far, but now... well, bugger though all this nonsense with the Al'Arghael, it was making the old boy rely on him more. And now, here he was.
A windswept pier. A secret meeting. Captains of the underworld and the Fatesdamned Blackjack colluding. This is a big step, Ilos. Don't screw it up.
Kasoria kept his mind as clear as he could as they approached. The two of them stepped from the fog and their shapes lost their blur and shadowy lines. One of them in his late twenties, maybe early thirties. Neat, carefully trimmed facial hair. Silk, fine cotton, leather boots, and a half-cloak. Dandyish, if would have been if not for the broken nose and the mismatched knuckles that spoke of a young man that had come up hard, and taken a liking for the expensive prizes of a dark profession.
The other was shorter by a good few inches, lighter by a good few pounds. He was stiller. Lacked the swagger and confidence of the younger man he was trailing behind... or at least he seemed to. Because the eyes under a raging mess of black hair did not waver as they looked at her. Metal and leather creaked under his coat, the handle of a gladius peeking from his hip... and there were doubtless over sharp, definitive devices elsewhere.
"Wouldn't mind a few eels from Squiddy Jack's," Ilos said, grinning like a chimp as he repeated the phrase he'd been given by Vorund. The way this Blackjack bitch would know he was the one she had to speak to. "Safe trip, I trust?"
Kasoria slid across the salt-stained boards, almost without sound. He looked over the edge of the pier, then behind the woman, and finally back the way they came. Then he shifted his stance so he could see off into the bay, and back down the pier, with a twist of his head one way or another. Then he pointedly did not rest his hand on his gladius, but folded both together and let his betters talk.
He was the bodyguard, after all. Those blokes didn't talk; they watched.