‘So, what can I do for you… gentlemen?’ The woman stood arms folded just inside the doorway.
Sergeant Henk looked over his shoulder. The rest of the squad sidled away from the doorway towards the corner of the street.
Sergeant Henk glanced over his other shoulder. ‘Sir?’
‘What now, Henk?’ The new captain sauntered across the road from under the tree where he was sheltering to keep the rain off his new breastplate. The captain’s armour shone, even in the flickering light from the torches outside the house.
Mrs Granch… er… the lady of the house wants to know what we… well, what we want.’ Henk saw the look in the captain’s eye. ‘Sir,’ he added eventually.
Captain Twill nodded. ‘Tell her we are here to close her down.’
‘What?’ Henk saw the look of shock on the faces of the rest of the squad. ‘What do you mean… sir? Close her down?’ Everyone in the town knew Mrs Granch’s house never closed. Although, if you arrived too early in the morning few of the girls would be working, especially if it had been a busy night. Market day nights were always busy, for example, so were religious festivals, holidays, weddings, funerals, birthdays, weekends and many other days not marked out on the calendar.
Mrs Granch had once tried closing on Tuesday mornings, but that had only lasted three Tuesdays, before demand demanded that she abandon the experiment.
‘It is a house of ill-repute,’ Twill said.
Henk glanced behind him at Mrs Granch. She seemed to grow larger. He took a step back. He’d been in there one night, celebrating his brother-in-law’s wedding anniversary when Mrs Granch had ejected a troublemaker. She hadn’t bothered throwing him through the door, or a window. She’d thrown the drunkard through the wall.
A well-built and solid brick wall.
Henk stood behind the captain. ‘Ill-repute?’ he said to the back of the captain’s well-polished helmet. ‘It has an excellent reputation. A house of high repute, if anything.’
Twill turned to look at Henk. He had to look up. Henk was a big lad as the ladies in Mrs Granch’s house often said of him.
‘But they sell sexual favours!’ Twill’s mounting indignation made him stretch himself taller and his helmet wobbled on his outraged head.
‘Yes.’ Henk said. ‘Very reasonable prices too. Excellent value for money.’ He smiled at Mrs Granch. She smiled back.
‘And comfortable beds,’ Kelder said from the back of the squad. He’d grown up on a farm outside the town and had never known a real bed until he spent his first week’s Watch wages on a single night in Mrs Granch’s place.
‘Good food and fine ale,’ Alchest said. From the size of him it was obvious this other member of the Watch was speaking from considerable experience. Rumour had it he’d once ate a whole pig.
‘But it is illegal to run a house of ill-repute in the city,’ Twill squealed as he saw the Watch squad pick up their spears and slope away.
‘Is it?’ Henk said. ‘Why?’ Even though he was a member of the Watch, it often surprised him what was legal and what was illegal, so he tended not to bother much one way or the other as long as people behaved themselves. He found it worked better that way. He put his arm around the captain’s shoulder. The captain flinched at first but Henk was strong as well as big. ‘Come back to the barracks, captain. The major will explain it to you.’ He turned the new captain away down the street back towards the barracks. He looked back over his shoulder as they walked away. ‘Sorry for troubling you.’
‘That’s all right,’ Mrs Granch said. ‘See you tomorrow, Henk.’