The clouds hung low, oppressing the very air over Riverside. Torches pressed bright orange spots against the grey afternoon, flickering on broken windows of the Brown Dog and in the eyes of all those gathered.
Half of Riverside, it seemed, stared as the Watch dragged in wooden barricades and erected them just to the City-side of the halfway point on the Bridge. In the watery sunlight, steel shone on the ends of their clubs, at their belt buckles, and at shoulders where insignia of rank were pinned. It had been a terrible night—six or so dead, it was hard to be sure, and two dozen men and women dragged off to the City prison. The violence hadn’t quieted until just recently, after the long night and wild morning of brutal clubs, breaking glass, yelling, the occasional fire, and screams. Then the rain had come just in time for a lunch interlude, and the Watch fully withdrew, but Riverside had followed, keeping their eyes open, grumbling as they pushed nearer to line the river walls, to press against the threshold of their side of the Bridge.
Riverside had not been invaded in more than a generation—though generations on the labyrinthine island were short. These folk were not ready to back down, to slip away. But they’d expected the Watch to remove themselves all the way back to their prison and barracks, not wait, not keep control of the bridges. This was something new.
“What do you want?” someone yelled.
A brick sailed over the heads of the Riversiders and crashed into the Bridge several paces clear of the barricade.
The City Watch shifted, those five men at the fore gripping their clubs tighter.
Curses and screams followed the brick, then pebbles and rocks. Only a few hit any mark, and the Watch sneered, lifted wooden shields.
“Hold!” cried their captain, from behind the barricade.
Two men moved aside a piece of the barricade so that the tall captain with tired eyes could step around it, flanked by two additional men bearing long shields. The captain lifted a paper high, displaying it for Riverside. It was covered in elaborate writing and at the bottom was a line of seals from the City Watch and the Merchants’ Confederation.
“This is an arrest notice for the villain you all know as Shade—a criminal and a murderer, and guilty of the murder of one Ahtul Chel of the Kinwiinik. We know he has taken refuge on your island, and until you present him to us, Riverside is quarantined. No one in or out, on pain of prison or death.”
Cries were flung at him, along with more rocks and chunks of broken glass. The captain, nonchalant, walked a half dozen more steps toward Riverside, then set down his arrest note, and, with a lazy smile, weighted it in place with one of the thrown hunks of dark red brick.
There came a moment in the early evening when Riverside fell silent.
Glass lay scattered over the cobblestones like shards of sunlight, glittering dangerously. The broken windows gaped like open mouths with jagged teeth. Wind pushed at wooden signs until they squeaked gently—an unusual sound for such a rowdy neighborhood. Here had fallen a bench, its snapped legs piercing up to the blue sky; there an impressive pile of damp feathers clinging together, the guts of what had been a pillow. Tattered blue wool fluttered in the gutter, its origins impossible to know; uniform, flag, bloomers, or tablecloth, perhaps.
The quiet sucked at it all with a slow, dragging weight. Something would explode again, something snap into action, but for now, the City Watch remained withdrawn past their barricades and the residents slept, passed out, licked their wounds, plotted and gossiped and accused in dire, whispering voices. There had been two nights of violence: the first surprising and vicious, the second mostly Riversiders venting with drunkenness and fury and internecine outbursts.
A man limped along an alley, jaw clenched against the twist of his ankle, a brick in hand. Slippery...