Total change. The plenum of linty gloom will still have its moment, though.
The swordsman’s eyes looked like bird shit.
He was a white northerner from one of the frozen countries. Slim and clean-shaven, he was dressed in black leather trimmed with silver fox, his long black hair pinned with steel combs. If not for his ruined eyes he would have been handsome.
His right hand rested on the hilt of a long yataghan slung at his hip on a brass-studded girdle. His left hand held a cigarette which he smoked with an air of louche and delicate ease, as if he were in a club setting of velvet and crystal, and not standing in the strong but heatless sun in a corner of a makeshift rope ring at a town fair in a place very remote from comfort.
It was a mining town in one of the tiny, backward and poor principalities in the highlands between Usk to the north and vast Maghia to the southeast. The arrangements of nature in the region were such that little precipitation fell on the mountains, whose slopes of grey and brown rock and dirt vied to outdo one another in austerity like naked mendicants powdered with ash. Civilisation in this hard place was of a fierce, inbred and illiterate phylum. Horsemanship, boxing, gambling, dog fights and cock fights were the principal attractions at the fair.
Outside the rope ring a Maghian, an energetic, waspish little man in a fuchsia silk suit and a brown mink coat, was drumming up custom.
‘Sporting gentlemen, knights-errant, members of the gallant fraternity! Come and test your skill and nerve against the famous blind swordsman! A hundred marks to fight, a thousand if you win! You, sir! What’s that nice sword for, chopping carrots?’
Sometimes baiting worked, sometimes it didn’t. This time it did. The target, a flaxen-haired corporal from the town garrison whose moderately polished appearance suggested that he was from a better town, flushed and glared at the hustler…