The Viper and the Urchin
Longinus sat at a corner table in the Hand and Tankard, surveying the room. He had swapped the black silks he wore as the Viper for simple leathers, the better to blend in with the crowd. He found it best to tone down his natural elegance when mixing with common folk. That said, he was unable to compromise on the cut of his clothes, and he had had his leathers tailored to within an inch of their lives. A shame that he was sitting down, really; they showed off his figure so exquisitely he should have stood at the bar, the better to be admired.
He listened to the talk around him, waiting for the gossip on the Viper’s exploits. He had spent the last few days locked away writing pamphlets about his most recent kill, and he had left them at the docks first thing that morning for a lucky few to find and read. He liked to think that his prose did more than inform the wider public of the Viper’s actions — it elevated their minds, too.
Which was why he was growing rapidly annoyed with the direction the conversations were taking: the weather, the upcoming Revels, and speculation as to whether the Old Girl, the Marchioness of Damsport, was going to pass the torch to her daughter. All of it without interest. It was incredible what mundane banalities the small-minded could find interesting.
Unfortunately, he had to rely on them to spread his reputation about town. His notoriety was improving, but it was nowhere near what it ought to be. The guards always tried to hush his activities, so he had to help things along by distributing his pamphlets. Notoriety helped him get commissions, but most importantly, one could only be an artist if one was spoken of. There was nothing worse for an assassin than obscurity.
At last, a woman he knew by sight on account of her starched white apron arrived. Mistress White Apron sat down and regarded the others around her table with the kind of smugness particular to a woman about to unveil a fresh piece of gossip.
“Have you heard the latest on the Smallport killing?”
At last! Longinus smiled. Mistress White Apron could always be counted on. Maybe he should find out where she lived and distribute his pamphlets directly to her door.
“Yeah, I hear it were that Viper character again,” said a sailor.
“Everyone knows that,” said the woman with contempt. “He leaves a card behind. But have you heard the particulars? Hmm?” She looked at the faces of her audience, so puffed up with self-satisfaction she almost seemed to be expanding. Longinus beamed. The saintly woman was about to unveil his new poison.
Mistress White Apron leaned forward. “I have it on good authority that he skinned his victim. Slipped the skin right off, like you do with a rabbit.”
Longinus almost fell off his stool. Skinned? Skinned? Had that idiot even read his pamphlet?
What is the point of me writing them if these simpletons blithely ignore them?
“Oh really? I heard it were poison,” said another woman.
“Not this time,” said Mistress White Apron. “I heard it from my cousin’s sister-in-law’s nephew. He works with the guards.” She lowered her voice. “I hear the Viper even drinks the blood of his victims, like a vampire.”
Longinus felt himself go green at the thought.
Ridiculous, this is ridiculous…
But there was nothing ridiculous about the image that was now firmly imprinted in his mind.
“You’re making it up,” said the sailor, obviously disgusted.
“I am not,” sniffed Mistress White Apron. “Just because you can’t handle —”
“If I might interrupt,” said a small pinched man at a table next to them. “I saw the body myself and…”
Longinus couldn’t listen to any more. The butchery of his art was almost as unbearable as the thought of the Viper drinking blood. He fumbled into his purse and produced two coins, which he threw on the counter before hurrying out.
The propensity of the common man’s mind to turn to the violent and bloody really was intolerable.
An Interview with Longinus
Thank you for doing this interview Longinus! It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Well of course it is. I’d love to reciprocate, but I don’t yet know whether your questions will be any good. Oh, haha. No pressure!
O-kay, let’s get right to it then. You’re afraid of blood – isn’t that a bit unusual for an assassin?
I’m not in the habit of enquiring after my colleagues’ thoughts on blood. For all I know it’s a widespread sentiment in our line of work. And I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. After all, no assassin worthy of the name would lower himself to use crude weapons like swords or knives – or in fact any other method that would result in bloodshed. They are the marks of an amateur.
There are many methods available to the elegant assassin – strangulation is adequate, as is drowning I suppose – but poison is obviously the most refined and therefore the only one worth considering.
Isn’t poison a little limited though?
Oh how little you know – the varieties of poisons are endless! You see the mark of a great assassin isn’t just in the execution of difficult jobs, but also in the variety of methods used. Poison, in its infinite variations is therefore the superior weapon.
For example, say I needed to kill someone in their sleep. Why, I have a poison for every possible sleeping position. There’s Deafly Silence – an auricular poison – that is applied with a funnel in the ear. Then Smells Like Death is an olfactory poison that can be waved under the sleeper’s nose, and –
Yes, alright. Let’s not go through every poison there is. Tell me about Rory. You two have a bit of a tricky relationship.
That girl will be the death of me. I have never in all my years met someone as rude and annoying. I am nothing if not a patient and generous soul –
A-hem! *Longinus glares*
As I was saying, I am nothing if not a patient and generous soul, but she tests even my limits. She is dirty, uneducated, crass, and worse she is grammatically incorrect. But I have to admit she has her uses, and an assassin such as myself should really have an assistant. So, I put up with her.
It’s for her good too. No doubt you’ll have noticed the effect my presence has had on her? She was a filthy street urchin when I first met her, and I’m sure you’d agree that she is now vastly improved. Almost respectable. It’s inevitable really: a man of my culture and elegance cannot help but elevate those around him.
Err, yes... I feel elevated as we speak.
Wait, why are you saying Rory’s your assistant? Isn’t she blackmailing you?
*stony face* No comment.
Okay, I guess I’ll move on. I understand you write?
Indeed I do! Mostly pamphlets detailing the exploits of the Viper – the name under which I work. I began writing them for purely practical reasons: to spread the word of my kills and build up my reputation. But, as with everything I do, I infuse them with such poetry that they are truly delightful little literary gems.
I wanted to ask –
Have you noted the expression ‘literary gems’? I don’t want to be misquoted now. Literary gem is the best way to describe my writing.
Yes, yes – I have it written just there.
I wanted to ask you about your fear of blood again. What caused that? Was it a trauma of some kind? Some difficult experience…
*Longinus looks troubled*
I don’t mean to pry, but if you could –
I have to go. I’m afraid I have a pressing appointment. *Longinus stands*
But I’m not finished!
Terrible shame, I’m sure, but I must dash. Especially if you’re resorting to this sensationalist nonsense. You could have questioned me about my poetry, you could have dug further into my skill with poison, or even asked me about my views on philosophy – and they are extensive – but no, you had to go there.
Well, I don’t know what I was expecting from someone so common. I’d ask you not to contact me again – I shan’t be giving any more interviews. Goodbye.
The Viper and the Urchin
“Put on the gloves that I bought you,” Longinus ordered. “You should always wear gloves when handling blades,” he added. “You will notice that despite my profession my hands remain smooth, delicate, my fingers long and fine, and devoid of calluses. Of course, in your case your hands are already ruined.
” He sighed. “We shall have to make do with what we have. An assassin’s hands are just as important as his clothing, you know. Both are the sign of a consummate professional. There is no greater insult than killing someone whilst inappropriately attired, and that extends to the state of one’s hands. You see, while these little people are beneath us, we can still grant them the small
respect of being impeccably groomed as we witness their final moments.”
About the Author
Celine Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China. Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.