They had been waiting an hour, talking quietly over the crackle of the fire. Braum was nursing a small flask of ale as they sat, waiting. Upon the revelation of Dallin, Braum had sent David, the other sentry present, to rally half a dozen troops to patrol inside the keep itself, they would watch for anything out of the ordinary.
For any of the local smugglers, it wouldn’t be an unusual sight in Blackden, Braum had told the commissioners. Braum was fond of occasionally sending out men to watch over the town, it amounted to nothing more often than not, but gave the criminals the feeling that they were being watched.
Braum knew the mercenaries and smugglers of the town would treat as they always did, with contempt and negligence, but they would stay out of sight, an interloper, mightn’t be as accustomed to the move.
Braum also sent a messenger to bring in the on duty sentry at the time of Dallin’s arrival to give a report on the conversation he’d had with the bandit. The man didn’t have his home within the confines of the keep, he happened to live in the smaller dwelling of Myrtle nearby. It would take some time before they returned. It would give Braum plenty of time to go through details with Aaren, not that the man was providing many answers.
“In a town like this, everyone has a way of getting the information they want” He told them. Aaren was up and pacing around the office room. It galled him to that this man could be so close and yet still out of reach. It left an unbearable tension and weight resting on his shoulders, tension he wanted nothing more than to relieve himself of.
This left Eamonn sitting in uncomfortable silence, he sat looking unobtrusively around the room at the very plain walls all the while his teacher paced irritably around the room.
A further ten minutes passed before the expected knock came from the door and the familiar acceptance of “come” echoed from the headman. Admitted to the room was the unexpected form of David, along with a young boy, perhaps ten years of age. There was a look of fear that was evident in the young boy’s body language. He looked desperately around the room, like he were being interrogated. It gave the impression of a confused and regretful boy. Being summoned to the office of the principle law-keeper would be nerve-racking for someone his age.
The boy was wide eyed as he looked around himself, taking in the atmosphere of the room. Eamonn noted, with some misgivings, that the boy did not look comfortable. The sentry, knelt down in front of the boy, whispered something to him, the boy nodded at the man and turned to Braum, still seated behind his massive desk. The headman leaned forward now, gestured for the boy to move forward, trying his best to look as harmless as possible.
“Hello” he began pleasantly, “my name is Braum, would you be able to do me a big favour?” he asked with a grin. The boy looked down at his shoes, nodding at the question. “Can you tell me, what you told David? About the man that you saw” he added those last words to remind the boy of what he’d said, hoping that it would help ease some of the feelings the boy had about being here.
The youngster, looked around again at David, the sentry, he smiled and nodded for the boy to go ahead.
“Yes, sir.” the boy replied in barely more than a whisper, “It was yesterday, when I was outside playing with the charcoal my mum gave me to draw with, I was drawing a jump path to play with my sister. It was going to be the biggest one ever. My sister went first and that’s when I saw them talking outside the building next to my house.” The boy looked like continuing on and then hesitated.
Aaren decided the boy might need a bit of a nudge. “Who were they? Were they friends of yours?” he asked the boy. For his part the boy resolutely shook his head, but didn’t say anything. “Did they look like bad men?” Braum questioned.
This time, the boy scrunched up his face, “I don’t know, my mum calls those people ‘scraggly’. They looking around like they were waiting for someone, I think they noticed me watching them because they went inside.” the young boy explained.
Aaren looked at Braum, eyes raised and head tilted to the side as if to say, what do you think?
“Where do you live?” Eamonn put in. The boy looked at this new stranger, he liked the look of this boy, the cloak he was wearing made him seem mysterious, he smiled at him as he replied. “Mum and I live on the left corner of the housing estate with my sister, near the jewel guild” he answered.
Aaren looked questioningly at Braum, there was a note of recognition in Braum’s eyes. “The guild was our trade exchange building here in Blackden.” Braum told them, “It was where we kept our stores of jewels and gold until about five years ago. The owner abandoned it when the conversion rates tumbled, he couldn’t continue his trade and was forced to sell and leave it. It’s been dingy and corrupted place ever since. At times it’s been frequented by smugglers, the storage facilities offer them ample space for any stolen goods or gold they can get their hands on, they usually clear out quickly once word got out about their absurd prices or me and my men step in and stamp them out. No matter how many times it happens, in all my experiences, they can’t help but charge too high a price on their stock. It doesn’t take long for their momentum to dry up and sometimes they forsake their gold and abandon the building again. It has been a while since anyone has been there.”
Braum looked at the boy. He was glad to see that he and his mother were of the lucky few who hadn’t fallen prey to the threat that inhabited most of Blackden these days. “Thank you, young fellow, what was your name?” Aaren asked. “I’m Simon, and my mum is Sarah” He responded confidently.
“Thank you for this, Simon. David, can you please take Simon back home to his mother, and give them this.” The headman said, passing the sentry a small satchel, “Just a little something for you and your mum, Simon, as a reward for being such a brave boy”. The boy waved as he made his way out of the room with David, who closed the door behind them.
They waited the fifteen minutes for David to return before they got down to business, each of them realising they had a lot to plan for over the next day or so. During that time, Aaren and Eamonn had been told about the guild, Braum had supplied them with an old map and Aaren quickly set to pinpointing the entrances and possible ways to penetrate the building. Aaren sketched out spots for surveillance for the following day along with back-up plans in case they were forced to retreat. The alleyways and corridors were narrow, some opened out into larger openings, and some winded back through into the main streets that were well populated.
There were rudimentary floor plans that gave the basic outlay of the structure and contents of the building. Aaren saw a room set aside that would be the coffers that had contained the supplies and trade stores years ago. It was be locked from the outside and he instantly crossed that off the list as a possible entry point. The little group around the desk was steadily growing as David pulled up a chair beside his chief. He looked around the room, a question was on his mind, “Where’s Hammond, I thought you said you were bringing him in?” he asked.
Neither Eamonn nor Aaren took their eyes off the plans, Braum decided to fill the man in, he leant over slightly to speak quietly to his guard. “He came in, we debriefed him, nothing we didn’t already know, he said that Dallin came in and that he’d be here for a few days waiting for a friend of his and that he’d be attending a meeting here a couple of days after that. Now our only problem is trying to find out when those couple of days started”. Aaren quickly stole a glance at Braum but kept his thoughts to himself, he was still skeptical about telling Braum more than he felt necessary.
Aaren considered the sketching one more, looking at a particular point in particular. “Is there any way of looking into the building from above, any overheads or openings that we can perhaps get to and observe?”
Braum pulled himself closer to the table and took the map slowly out of Aaren’s hand and rotated it to find the spot. “There is one, but there is no way for you to get to it without being seen, and even if you did, you’d be seen by people on the inside, its directly on the top of the building, which would cast a shadow into the building, even at night the moon would give you away, we’ve lost several men in the past who’ve tried the same.” The headman responded.
“And besides” David added, “The only way to get onto the roof is to climb, there simply aren’t any other buildings tall enough for you to be able to get across onto it, and using a ladder would certainly give your position away.”
That seemed to be the killing blow to his hopes of an ambush. Eamonn however, saw a different path to take. “Who said anything about penetrating into the building? Why not simply draw them out, then sneak in ourselves, have someone create a diversion while the rest of us scale the building and drop in on them? We could use the boy to help us. As he said, whoever is inside already knows of him and would dismiss him as a threat, he could give us the go ahead when they’re inside, that’s if he’s up to it of course.”
The other three men looked around at one another, thinking over the proposal, looking for the obvious or hidden flaws this may present. Gradually they each nodded in acceptance of the idea. There was one thing that needed to be stipulated, and it was Aaren who voiced the concerns, “Who is going to create the diversion?” Aaren inquired, “Not to mention the question of how we’re going to get them all in there in the given time” asked David.
Eamonn thought hard over the questions. “Maybe some of the sentries could do it.” He said in a small voice. David’s brows raised at the suggestion, he didn’t want to be one of the ones tasked with leading that.
Aaren took the map again, he noticed something about the positioning of the building, he fumbled in the pile of maps to the side and found the one he was after. He mumbled to himself for a moment, taking the sketches of the building and the layout of the streets around them that had been drawn up hastily. “As you said earlier, Braum.” he started, without looking up at the headman, “These smugglers are only ever interested in themselves, they only ever want to do things that benefit them, I shouldn’t think there’d be more than say half a dozen of them, so we’d need a dozen on the inside. For who is creating the diversion, why not you David? You’re a sentry so you’d be recognised easily you could say you’re wanting to run a quick check on them since they’re not meant to be in the area anyway” David was already shaking his head at the suggestion, “The smugglers would never fall for it, they’re smart and if this guy is the one leading the whole thing and he’s as good as you say he is, I doubt he’d let one of his men out just to satisfy my curiosity.”
Braum however, saw an opening, there was the expected moment of hesitation as the group thought over their plan of attack, and he took advantage of it. “We can use some of my prison guards, every year we have a celebration of some form for the harvest season” the statement drew a disbelieving expression from Aaren, he quickly pressed on, “We have an event about now, we were planning on it in a few weeks, I could contact the marshal in Myrtle, we usually do it in tandem with them. We’ve had something cooking over the last few months. We were hoping that we could save it as long as possible and have it coincide with our launch of the tournament season at the start spring.”
Aaren considered the idea, “What kind of things have you been planning?”
Braum thought quickly over the plans he had, scratching the top of his head. “A feast, a lights display, one of our local apothecaries is fantastic with black powder. In fact, he sent word late last week that everything was ready to go. Understandably, there’d be men patrolling the inner streets of the town looking out for any trouble makers, the sounds would more than cover any noise we made, any of the others should be able to help us with the raid. David,” Braum saw the man’s attention was fixed him and the normal expression as he waited the series of orders to be fired out. Braum thought it was an appropriate simile when he thought of the explosive propelled light display they’d be expecting in a couple of nights time.
“First thing in the morning, I want you to round up those who will be off duty tomorrow night, I want you to brief them and set the perimeter around the guild. How many were you thinking we’d need once the diversion started?” The headman directed the question at Aaren, assuming that, with a firm plan in motion he’d be the one to set the details.
Braum was surprised when Aaren looked to his student to give the answer, “Eamonn?”
He let the boy some time to think, this was the perfect opportunity to see the boy’s line of thinking, and to assess his progress in the short time he’d been with him. “We’d probably need two sentries to give the diversion and a further two on watch that could relay the message for us to go. What is it that this apothecary will be doing, by the way?”
Braum made a dismissive gesture, “Just a light show that we have planned. It should cause enough of a racket, we’ll make sure we tell everyone about it, if word reaches the smugglers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they hear it.”
Eamonn nodded, “Good enough.” he said. “We’ll wait until the apothecary has started and we’ll look to force our way in with say…fifteen men?”
Aaren looked sidelong at the boy, “Are you asking us or telling us?” he asked at the boy’s non-committal tone. “We’ll arrange for it to be in the early evening,” Aaren added, moving back onto the task at hand. “Any earlier and they’ll see us and any later and it’d be out of place with the rest of the celebration, they’ll begin to wonder why we’d left it so late” Aaren added.
Thinking ahead of the rest, David furthered the diversion plan, “Once they first hear, they may even try and get a glimpse of the display, meaning there could be even less men to take down.”
There was one small detail to cover, up until now Aaren had been waiting for Braum to voice it “When will it happen?” The headman asked. Aaren was ready with an answer, “An hour after sunset, you make sure you’re around the corner from the guild, we’ll meet you there.”
Braum shook his head, not thinking of the time of day “What day will it be happening?” Aaren’s mouth formed an ‘O’ shape as he seemed to finally understand what the head man was asking him and then answered him in a serious tone, “Three days’ time.”
Braum looked at him quickly, waiting for the explanation he knew was coming, “If I know him as well as I think I do, he likes to bide his time, he won’t try to rush it, he’ll be expecting it that someone has followed him and he’ll be cautious for those first few days until he feels safe that the trail behind him is cold. Only then will he make his move. If he arrived the afternoon we did, that makes it three days from now, which gives us enough time to prepare the feast, any sooner and the cooks would be a little exasperated with us.” He concluded with a grin.
Both David and the headman nodded in confirmation of the plan, shook hands with Aaren and Eamonn then, assuming the disguise of men in custody, Braum called for the on duty guards to escort them out of the building, back to the inn for the night. He stopped them as they went to leave with a final question they hadn’t asked, “How do you plan on getting inside the building? I thought you said there was no way in?”
Aaren smiled, “Don’t worry. I’ll have that sorted out.”