“Who goes there?” he called out defiantly, “Show yourself or steady your heart for my wrath!”
He gazed around the room, scrutinizing every shadow, searching for the form of a man. He stood steadfast for several minutes, awaiting a challenge, but none came. He let out a long breath and felt the tension leaving his body. He lowered his spear, and shook his head as he turned to walk out of the room. It must have been the angry sounds of the storm and the optical tricks of the lightning playing with his mind. He laughed at himself for the ridiculous posturing he had just performed and began to walk slowly from the room.
Suddenly, lightning flashed, illuminating the room for a second. In that brief instant, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a black-gloved hand. He felt a cold noose close around his throat and tighten mercilessly. He tried to scream, but his voice had already left him. He feebly swung his spear behind him at his unseen attacker, but his arm had no strength and he felt the spear slip from his terrified grasp. Bright flashes and dark blotches clouded his vision, as he felt the cold veil of oblivion fall over him.
The grip on the garrotte cord around his neck relaxed, and his corpse collapsed on the ground with an audible thud. Two black-gloved hands reached out from the shadows and grabbed the body, dragging it into the darkness and away from searching eyes. A moment later, a lean, dark figure emerged into the hallway. He was draped in a black cloak, soaked from the heavy rain. As he walked, the sound of his footsteps was muted by the cloth wrapped around his feet, and by the years of experience of moving unheard, in places where he was unwanted. Without hesitating, he walked down the hallway.
As he approached the corner, he stopped, closing his eyes to focus on the sounds around him. He heard only the sound of water splashing on stone, but he did not move. Instead, he waited for a sign from the guard that had to be there. A few minutes passed, and finally the thief heard a man clear his throat and start walking down the adjoining corridor. The intruder waited until the steps grew fainter, then opened his eyes and darted around the corner and up to the tall double doors marking the entrance to the master bedroom. He did not bother trying the handle, but instead immediately began prying at the lock with his picks. It was a difficult lock to pick, and he was still working at it when he heard the footsteps of the guard returning. He did not falter or hesitate as he continued to work. Finally, he heard the satisfying click of the lock releasing. He swung open the door, squeezed inside the room and shut it behind him. He stood holding the doorknob, not wanting to lock the door for fear of alerting the approaching guard. He heard the guard return from his round and take up his post in front of the door. Motionless, he listened as the guard muttered quietly to himself, then cleared his throat again. A few minutes passed, and then finally, the guard started down the corridor on another round. The dark figure locked the door and released the knob, turning to face the room.
His eyes passed over the expensive paintings, the luxurious silks and golden trinkets, settling on the jewellery box on the desk. He noiselessly strolled over toward it. He leaned over the heavy gold and oak box, lifting open the lid. He pulled a small leather bag from his belt and carefully filled it with several golden and gemstone encrusted articles. As he placed a pair of diamond earrings into his bag, he saw the piece he had been seeking. The gold and silver necklace bore a large, exquisitely cut diamond in the centre, flanked by equally exquisite sapphires. He devoured it with his eyes momentarily, before gently adding it to his collection. The necklace was his hostess’ trademark. Wearing her blue velvet gown, her prized necklace and sapphire earrings, it was often said that no man could look into Karina Whitehands’ light blue eyes without his knees buckling.
The thief smiled as he thought of the crimson flush that would mar the beautiful noble’s face when she discovered her priceless ornament had been stolen while she was away for only one night on a short pleasure cruise. Whitehands, he thought to himself, how ridiculous. From what he’d heard about the noble, her hands, like the rest of her complexion, were tanned and not white at all. How pompous the Gaurvian nobles were. When a commoner was admitted into the nobility, Gaurvian tradition had it that a symbolic name should be chosen to become the mark of nobility for that person and their descendants. Karina’s mother had been famous for her milky white hands, so when King Rigar Stoneworth had pronounced her a noble, she had chosen the name Whitehands. Now, her daughter and everyone else in her line would bear that ridiculous name, no matter how inappropriate, until by some foolish misstep they lost their noble status and returned to a common life. It was even a mark of pride for some nobles when their line became so old, no one could recall why the name had been chosen in the first place.
He pushed the thought from his mind, focusing on the task at hand. He walked through an open door into the boudoir and over to the window. He pulled the heavy curtain open and stepped between it and the window. The sound of the rain pelting the thick glass was uncomfortably loud, and the thief glanced over his shoulder toward the door reflexively. The door remained just as he had left it, and so he undid the latch barring the window and carefully nudged it open. The strong wind blew stinging rain into his eyes as he looked out the broad window and down toward street level. A guard walked past below him, huddling under his cloak, hiding from the rain. The dark figure sealed his little bag and tucked it into his belt. He turned around and crouched, then swung his legs over the ledge. Gripping the wet stone, he dangled for a moment while he strained for purchase with his feet. Having found it, he released the ledge one hand at a time and gripped the stones making up the wall. Finding handholds and footholds where such things seemed impossible, he scrambled his way down the wall to the soft, muddy lawn. His hands, trembling from the effort and the cold, reached inside his cloak and uncoiled a rope from around his waist. Taking a deep breath, he swung one end of the rope over the wall that separated the Whitehands’ property from the city street. A sudden gust of wind blew the rope end back to the ground where the quiet shadow picked it up. Conscious of the guard that would soon be walking past, he threw the rope again with the last of his strength. The rope made it over. A moment later, the cord tightened and the man half climbed and was half pulled up and over the wall where strong arms slowed his fall to the stone-paved street. The arms’ owner grinned broadly as he steadied the smaller man. The two walked nonchalantly away from the wall into a side alley. When they stepped out of the alley, the big man spoke in a warm, friendly voice.
“I trust you had no real difficulties.”
“No one heard a sound, except one guard who will never speak of it.”
“That’s why they call you Simion the Silent!” laughed the big man.
“Right now I’d call myself Simion the Weary. I need to rest.”
“Naturally. Hand me the pouch, I’ll have Wendyll get started on it right away. Your work will be noticed all too soon.”
Peering into the pouch, the bigger man glanced at each piece. “The smaller pieces will be moved quite quickly. The larger ones will take some more time, and this we’ll have to keep hidden until some of the fuss blows over.” He grinned as he examined the glittering necklace. “I’ll meet you tomorrow evening. Sleep well.”
“Good evening, Cadius.”
The two men parted company. Cadius headed down another darkened alley, while Simion kept to the main road. The burglar pulled his cloak tighter around himself against the heavy rain. He walked quickly down the street, and then he turned into a narrow alley leading between two low, grey stone houses. He left the alley and headed back the way he had come down a narrow street parallel to the main road. He turned onto a cross street and started heading west, looking back over his shoulder. He did not suspect any pursuit, but preferred to err on the side of caution. He turned into another alley, then another street, and then leapt nimbly over a low fence, emerging back onto the street. Then, he went over another low wall and down a short flight of stairs to finally arrive at a light, narrow, maple door. He produced a small key from his pocket, unlocked the door and stepped inside, closing and locking the door behind him. He listened at the door for a few moments, but heard only the pitter-patter of the rain. He took off his soaked cloak and hung it over the back of a well-polished white maple chair. His one-room dwelling was small, but comfortable and well furnished. The owner of the building was a middle-aged, mute woman, who bore no affection for the city watchmen. Quickly stripping off his wet clothing, he carelessly put on his sleeping clothes and collapsed onto his mattress.
The raucous song of a distant rooster woke Simion from his slumber. Refusing to let go of his pleasant dreams of prosperity, he remained stubbornly in bed. A while later, he heard a heavy knocking on his door. His drowsiness vanished and a moment later he was on his feet, dagger in hand. He stepped up to the door and peered through the small keyhole. He relaxed as he saw Cadius’ smiling face. He opened the door and greeted his friend.
“You disturbed me.”
“Splendid!” Cadius mocked.
Simion grinned and shut the door behind him.
“While you were dozing, I was hard at work. I was able to peddle everything, except the necklace of course, which I have stored in a safe place.” As he spoke, the fence pulled a stained leather pouch from his belt and tossed it to the thief.
“I thought you said the larger pieces would take a while,” Simion remarked as he counted out the gold coins.
“And they would have if I hadn’t met a rather… liberal trader from Freshwater. Those Ornish certainly have an eye for value.”
Simion merely grinned in response. With all the coin he had now, he would not have to complete any more jobs for at least a couple of weeks. He felt himself in a very good mood. Cadius had also made off quite well if his demeanour was any indication, as it usually was.
“Let’s go for a walk,” suggested Cadius cheerfully as he walked out the door. Simion shrugged off his sleeping clothes and quickly put on some relatively clean blue trousers and shirt, leaving his cloak on the chair. He grabbed his key as he stepped out the door.
Cadius stood waiting outside, breathing in the mostly fresh morning air. Seeing Simion step out, he clapped him on the back and started walking down the narrow stone road. Simion followed, squinting in the bright daylight. They stepped onto a wider street, paved with large, flat, granite flagstones. They paused as a shiny black carriage led by a pair of well-groomed bay horses sped by. Simion looked up and down the street, observing all the activity. A cosmopolitan group of children darted in and out of alleys in a noisy game of chase, a street peddler pulled his heavily laden cart behind him while loudly advertising his low prices, a woman emptied a bucket of waste out of her second-story window onto the side of the street and a street-sweeper quickly picked up after the horses that had just passed. Cadius and Simion casually walked down the street, occasionally dodging small children at play and other threats. They turned down an alley onto another large street and followed it up to the docks.
Brockton was a large, and hence important, port in Kiynan. The docks were always crowded with longshoremen unloading ships, fishermen selling their catch, as well as merchants, traders, sailors and more milling about. Conversations in every language of the world could be overheard. Dozens of ships always crowded the port: long lean sloops, light yawls, even the occasional massive brig out of Tradewood. A multitude of banners flapped in the gentle sea breeze: the golden sunburst on black of Paladia, the violet ethereal smiling face on green of New Ornland, the silver swordfish on blue of Gaurvia, as well as the occasional Sea Tribe standard. Under the large banners of their people, many ships displayed smaller banners flying a family emblem or coat-of-arms. The variety of colours, sounds, smells and activities of the port were a wondrous medley, which also attracted many visitors.
Simion walked over to a fisherman grilling haddock and tossed him a copper. The fisherman smiled and pulled a tender fish off the grill. He wrapped it in a leaf of seaweed before handing it to the ravenous burglar. Cadius bought a fish as well, and the two strolled merrily down the docks, savouring their well-deserved breakfast.