The streets of Stratholme never were the most pleasant place for life. Maybe only when the blue blood was running in your veins and you could afford to pay for a group of soldiers to protect yourself. Little Jennie didn’t even have enough nobility in her blood for anyone to miss her, once she is dead. There were whole legions of left for death orphans, like her, in the city. However, she had something else. She was able to keep a cool head in all kinds of situations, even when she was in the middle of raging brawl. She was always able to calculate when it was good to strike and when to disappear. She made a plan for every eventuality and a backup one just in case. She knew well that they will come in handy. They were helping her survive. She looked at Lukas’s fighters one more time, she engraved their faces into her mind. Then she carefully snuck away.
Lukas’s gang was far stronger than Jennie’s. All youngsters over ten years old, every one of them already killed someone. In normal case Jennie would avoid them, surrender to them a bit of her territory to prevent meaningless and likely very bloody conflict. Only this time she couldn’t. She got into a clinch near the Hollow and also on Beggar’s market. Two strong child gangs were pushing at her territory, they were coming there to steal and they were destroying her livelihood. She couldn’t attack one, because the other would use the moment when little Jennie would be healing from injuries and turned her children into a pile of dead meat. That’s why she was looking at Lukas’s gang, strongest and most famous ruffians far and wide. When she defeats them, others won’t dare to attack her. She will be protected by an aura of fear. This part of the plan was good. But how to make it so that she would win in the second part as well? How to defeat Lukas?
Gossips. False accusations. Intrigue. Those will be the key to victory. Jennie split tasks between her children and she herself was thinking how to pull it out. She was now spying on everyone from Lukas’s gang separately, she was trying to draw the most accurate map of their relationships. They were ruffians, everyone wanted to rule, to be on Lukas’s good side and take his place once he will have to leave. Maybe it will be enough to flatter here, add something to the truth there or provoke one against other. As her children were bringing one report after another, Jennie’s plan was taking a clearer outline.
“So how much did you make for it, Kev, eeh?” a freckled boy from Lukas’s gang smugly asked the other one with greasy hair. They were alone in a wooden shack. Their meeting here was not a coincidence, Jennie arranged it. Similarly to that, she also arranged that both of them brought their friends and hid them nearby. “What are you spewing about?” said the second youngster. “About peaching on us for Red Rats and for Dogs, obviously,” chuckled the freckled one. “What peaching? You are a rat,” said the greasy one. “I know too well that you are sending girls to Lukas to pull information from him. You want to kill him and become a leader yourself.” “Me? It is you who joined with enemies to beat us so that everything is left just for you!” shouted freckled one. Little Jennie was happily listening on the roof of the shack. The argument soon grew into a fight and the first painful screams were heard. The hidden ruffians ran in and the brawl started raging in its fullest. Little Jennie hooted like an owl. Little children appeared from nowhere. They carefully closed the door of the shack, covered it in hay and light aflame. Those, who hadn’t died in the brawl, burned to death.
“So it was you?” asked Lukas. He could have been already fifteen, he was almost two meters tall. “Yes, it was I who did it,” confessed little Jennie. She had to look up at Lukas, even though he was sitting. “Such little girl kills half of my gang and then insolently walks right here. That’s some audacity, right Rad?” he turned to his right hand. “Big impudence, Lukas,” said Rad. “So what shall we do with you, pipsqueak?” Lukas began to think. “I would surrender if I was you,” little Jennie jumped into his speech. A wide smile appeared on Lukas’s face. “So I should surrender to you, pipsqueak? And what if I don’t want to? Then what?” “Then this,” said little Jennie. She jumped towards Lukas like a snake and a rusty dagger appeared in her hand. Jennie stabbed him in the crotch and then once again into his belly. Lukas yelled out like a beast and started cursing like a devil. Little Jennie kicked him into the wounded belly, picked up a brick and crushed his skull. Everyone standing there was like frozen. They never saw such brutality. Jennie’s aura of fear started working on them.
Little Jennie was no longer little. Lack of food and life in slums didn’t leave much of a mark on her body. One could even say that she was beautiful if she could afford to use bathhouse services. Her children grew up just like her. They no longer needed her, they were able to take care of themselves. Jennie missed the old days. Back then she would have someone who depended on her, liked her and whit whom she felt good. But now? Now she didn’t have anyone. Who would even care for a dirty girl who just crawled up from a mouse hole? She wandered the streets of Stratholme, she was stealing to keep herself alive, and she was trying to live with the world around her. It was during that time when she caught the eye of Synco, member of one of many local gangs. It took just a few pleasant words and Grey furs had a new member.
Jennie was learning quickly. She knew how to survive since her childhood days. Now she was learning what does civilization mean and what can one do to indulge in its pleasures. It didn’t take long and from a student became a master. The streets of Stratholme belonged to Jennie, just as taverns, brothels, shops, markets and government buildings. The time, when Jennie’s influence will grow so much that the leader of Grey furs will have to challenge her, was unavoidably approaching. That old fart rather died on his own than to live to a day when this young weasel would cut his belly open. Jennie took control of the Grey furs and she even started to threaten the territories of other gangs. For a long time she kept them guessing, she was giving them false information, she was letting them win in unimportant skirmishes, all that while she was building ground for the final strike. The Night of Silent Knives was approaching, a memorable event in the history of Stratholme.
Rad couldn’t understand what was happening tonight. He was to meet with some other members of his gang, but instead, he just found their corpses with slit throats. He wasn’t even able to put it straight in his head and a bolt from a crossbow flew over his shoulder. Now he was sneaking through one of the old sewer pipes, which smelled worse than him, and hoped that he managed to shake off that mysterious attacker. When he was crawling from the tube he looked back. He was able to see even in absolute darkness, that was a gift from his father, a great mage he has never seen. He enchanted mother’s foetus so that luck would follow him and that he could get from whatsoever hassle. Rad had to admit that this was a success on his father’s side. Nobody was in the pipe behind him. Rad sighed in relief and started to climb to the nearest roof. He always had the feeling that things seen from there are clearer and more organised. He was nimbly moving across the smooth wall thanks to the rough and sticky skin on his palms, another gift from his papa. He climbed to the top and started jumping from roof to roof until he got to the temple of Light. It was a rather simple church because that was how the faith demanded it. However its tower was tall, from its roof, Rad’s eyes could see the whole city. What he saw, however, didn’t make the young thief happy. Everywhere in the streets was too much life. Somewhere he saw just shadows, moving under cover of darkness, elsewhere the deed was already done. People were mobbing around dead bodies of their fellow citizens. Multiple places were burning. One of them Rad knew well. It was the secret base of his gang. He had no doubt that he will not be far from the truth if he assumes that the other places are bases of other gangs. Tonight someone wiped out the entire underworld.
“Report?” said Grey Jennie. “Mission accomplished, madam. On all fronts. Nobody important escaped us, the timing was perfect.” “Hmm, yes?” Jennie almost purred. Then she smiled widely and shown now beautiful white teeth. “Good job, Synco. Now I’ll go to hear out captives and those who came to plea for mercy.” She took an embroidered coat, such could be worn only by daughters of the richest merchants and aristocrats in the city. With brisk steps, she left the room and headed to the cellars. In cells of the city prison, which belonged to her for a couple of weeks now, were lying thieves and outlaws of various kinds. Majority of them was sitting with their heads hanged between knees. They were defeated and what more by some young girl. They lost respect for themselves. “Hey, you,” Jennie pointed and one young man, “I know you from somewhere.” The young man came to the bars and looked at Jennie. He was not squinting nor hanging his head. “I knew that you will make it far when I saw how you killed Lukas,” he said. “I am Rad, member of his gang, which you destroyed. I was also a member of one of the gangs you annihilated yesterday. And now it looks like I am yours.” Jennie nodded and gave a signal to guards to release Rad from the prison.
It took a year and a half before the king made his decision, but in the end, he agreed to the requests of Stratholme nobility. He sent Loricius’s legion to quell the rebellion in Stratholme and to restore order. It was not enough for Jennie that she controlled the underworld, she decided that she will take control over the whole city. She knew that she will anger not just local nobility, but also the king. However, she just had to try. It was a game, grand, thrilling game. Capabilities of the king’s council, whole political and militaristic system of the kingdom against her intellect. She couldn’t resist it and she didn’t even want to. The result was that the local bishop and earl Graymoore together awarded her, with a grand celebration, the noble title of Baroness. And also that now fifteen thousand of Loricius’s men stood in front of the city gates.
“I am offering you a deal, sir,” said Jennie. She was standing unarmed in Loricius’s tent, facing, as many times before, a much more powerful opponent, than herself. “I am listening,” answered Loricius. He was young, couldn’t be more than thirty years old. Even so, he was accompanied by the reputation of a brilliant leader and a great soldier. He earned his scars in wars with toll priests and in skirmishes with Alterac. “I will give the city of Stratholme to your hands. Without a fight. I will hand over an excellently working spy network, which could, after small adjustments, work for the kingdom. I will let myself be captured and be transported to the Capital to the Royal court. Without a fight. And in exchange, you will allow me to convince you during the journey that for the kingdom I am more valuable alive.” “Interesting deal,” Loricius was nodding his head, “and what if I won’t accept it?” “You will accept, sir,” said Jennie “All who refused my proposals are now dead.” She smiled sweetly and let a tip of a dagger slide from her sleeve. Big enough for Loricius to notice.