Simon and his sister, Zahra, were playing with a small balled piece of leather, filled with an inflated pig’s bladder inside. The ball hit the side wall of their house and Simon was enthusiastically shouting his victory.
“That’s not fair!” Zahra was shouting indignantly. “You always draw my square too big, you can hit the ball anywhere you want and I can’t get it back!”
Simon went red, the game was fair, he had drawn the squares to be the exact same size, Zahra never liked it when she lost. “You always pick that side!” he argued, “And mum made sure that they were the same.”
Zahra screwed up her nose, it was true, their mum had checked earlier that morning when Simon was drawing the squares to see that they were the same size, but that didn’t mean it was true, Simon was younger and Zahra took the opportunity to remind him of it. “Well I’m older and that makes me smarter and better than you.” She said.
A man stood by, the children had been playing their game for a while and what had started out as an amusing deterrence while he was on watch, had fast become an ongoing tussle of insulting, nonsensical arguing and he’d become sick of it.
He sighed audibly and drew the attention of the squabbling children. He glared at them and shoved his way through the door, shutting it firmly behind him.
The two stared in silence after the man had retreated into the building. “Let me redraw the squares” Zahra exclaimed. She ran forward, grabbing the charcoal up and set herself on scrubbing out the marked lines. Simon ran across to intercept her and soon the street rang with their enthusiastic cries of “you’re out” and the peals of laughter that overcame them.
Aaren smiled. The children were providing a good cover for him and Eamonn as they watched, unseen, from the shadows of the side alley. He moved forward, in a half crouch, out of the darkness, trotting quickly towards the front of the jewel guild. Eamonn stayed, watching from the shadows, his crossbow trained on the entrance of the building. If worse came to worst, anyone who showed themselves through the door would find themselves on the end of one of his bolts.
Upon returning to their room at the inn, they’d organised it with Braum to venture into Myrtle to retrieve their equipment and weapons before the sun had started to rise.
They were here to reconnoiter. The thoroughfares surrounding the guild were wider than their neighbours and it afforded the guild the necessary space to protect it from would be attackers. Aaren, his back to the timbers shifted along the wall towards the small window on the door. Eamonn, positioned as he was with a barrel cask in front of him as he was kneeling, was forced to raise his weapon as Aaren wanted moved across in front of the door to peer through the small grated window into the room inside.
By his reckoning the front room should be empty, the man that had been on watch all morning was the only that kept them at bay. With him out the way, Aaren was free to approach the door. He stood by the front door, set in the recess as it was, as the door opened out into the streets, the admitter would have the protection of the recessed walls. It wouldn’t be until they stepped out into the thoroughfare that they would be exposed, whereas Aaren would have to step into the recess to look into the building. It was yet another well engineered part of the structure.
Aaren nodded at Eamonn as he stood by the entrance. Aaren stood straight and breathed deeply. He would have to do this blindly and with hope that no one would choose this precise moment to exit the guild. Without another thought he spun around the corner, retrieving his dagger from his scabbard and keeping it close by his side just in case.
As he’d expected, the front room was empty. He shrunk back from door, mouthing to Eamonn that it was clear. He looked up at the sight of a woman on the adjacent roof was hanging out her clothing on a ling that stretched out in the sun from the roof top awnings.
Aaren cocked his head to the side. He was brought back to the current situation as he heard the door click. Someone was coming.
Quickly, he dove around the corner, pinning himself up against the wall as a man came out of the building. Aaren breathed a sigh of relief as he realised they had gone in the opposite direction.
He peered over to where Eamonn was stationed and beckoned him over, the boy rose and cautiously made his way over to his teacher. Bringing his mouth up to Eamonn’s ear, Aaren breathed the words quietly into his student’s ear. “Potential lookout atop the adjacent building.” he said. “We’ll wait an hour or two and see what we can do about it.”
Eamonn nodded. These streets were fairly empty and they’d need to take their time if they were seen walking around these areas.
It was the market day. As they made their way back through Blackden they could see an abundance of stalls that populated the main streets, however none were set up next to the guild. Most shoppers would use the main facilities of the town, if travelers were seen in these parts it would make the locals suspicious.
Aaren had been hoping there would be some people moving throughout the rest of the town to help disguise their movements, but he couldn’t hope for everything. It the late morning, the attraction of finding a good sale in the market would be a primary focus for many and that would draw people away from the quieter parts of town.
Earlier that morning, he’d been watching the movements of the building from within the safety of their room, looking for anything they might have missed in their preparations. Eamonn had suggested they have a look at the guild for themselves before the townspeople started to rise, Aaren had rejected the notion quickly.
“They’ll have someone on the lookout, they would have seen us being escorted through the town, we can’t suspect that they had no one watching, we’ll need to risk a look when there are others around. We’ll try to use Simon and his sister as a distraction, like we had planned.” He’d said to the boy.
The guild was the largest single story building, and it commanded the area much like a castle’s keep, it dominated the western zone of the town, highlighting their expected difficulty in penetrating its walls, as Aaren noted the laneways on either side were twice the width of those seen throughout the remainder of the town, anyone on duty would find them if they made any noise, that was the reason for the lights display later that night, the noise and the lights would throw off the smugglers and it should give them ample time to deal with them.
Eamonn was sitting by his bed in the inn, mending a part of his cloak, he’d ripped a series of small holes in it after they had been scouting around the forests and then trying to get into the grounds of Blackden, Aaren had given him some time to sow the damage.
The older man entered the room now, bringing a bowl and spoon and a flask of water in with him, when Eamonn looked up questioningly at him, he decided to explain. “I was hungry so I stopped by downstairs to grab a bite to eat. Thought I’d bring you some, if you wanted it, I was just going to wash up” He said. Eamonn simply nodded his thanks, he didn’t realise that he was famished, he weaved the last thread of material through his cloak, tied it off the end and cut the remaining strand off using one of his knives.
Shaking the cloak out again, and looking at his handiwork, presenting it also to Aaren, the older man tilted his head sideways and made a hand gesture that said “not bad”. The youth wrapped himself up again in his cloak, ready to go.
“It’s nearing mid-afternoon, we’d best look at heading out again.” He called to his mentor. Aaren was busy washing off the dirt that creased his face, he sighed deeply then turned to the window looking out at the sun, which was at its highest point.
“You ready for this?” He questioned, keeping his gaze out the window, taking in the view, Aaren knew as Braum and David did, that ordinarily the market stalls would close up shortly before dusk, it gave them enough time to get to the local tapestry for some dinner and drinks. But this was different. It had been announced that morning that this was to be the two day annual festive celebration of Consumption, the end of the yearly warmer summer seasons and the beginning of the colder wet seasons.
It was a day dedicated to those who had helped manage the town’s supplies and to thank the harvesters and croppers after their hard efforts in summer. It signaled the beginning of the plantation periods, where many would sow and grow the crops, fishermen would do their best to bring in fresh fish to supplement their storages. Only in winter did lakeside towns like Blackden enjoy the luxury of red meat and hardy vegetables, the salads and fresh fish that sustained them in the summer when life was easier to bear would start to thin out. The townspeople would celebrate long into the night, with market stalls opening for far longer than usual and communal feast would take place on the first day. The second day would feature the bulk of the festivities, and the show the apothecary had in stock would be one of them. Aaren figured many would be out enjoying their food and drink in the cool night air, enjoying one another’s company, safe in the knowledge they’d had another successful season. The town would be bustling with people right up to the moment the night’s feasting concluded.
They stopped by the eating house to return the bowl Aaren had brought up and stepped outside, Aaren decided they should spend some time getting to know how the market worked and headed there now. Eamonn fidgeted nervously as they maneuvered their way through the street. Aaren let his student catch up to and touched his shoulder, “Calm down, alright? Take a deep breath and just stay by me.”
Aaren saw some of the panic drain from his eyes, it still lingered thought. This was his first mission with his mentor and Aaren wasn’t sure that he was coping well with the added stress. Swordsmanship and training with his crossbow was one thing, fighting armed men who had the intention of causing him serious harm was another. Once again, Aaren placed a supportive arm on Eamonn’s shoulders, hoping to calm him.
Aaren had been worried the situation might be too much for the youngster, then he had to face facts, he was always going to have a first mission, it he didn’t face it, he would never feel comfortable.
“I should be fine” Eamonn replied, he appreciated his teacher’s concerns for him, but he realistic enough to see that, as an apprentice, he would find himself in far worse situations than this in the future and in those situations he mightn’t have the same support he had now.
If there would be any danger, he knew he could rely on his mentor and his own skills to come through, it was one of the reasons, he realised, why Aaren had made it such a priority for Eamonn to constantly practice his skills in either mock single combat with Aaren or in simple weapons drills. There was a look of confidence in the boy that eased Aaren’s concern. “Let’s get going then” he instructed.
They found David and Braum by the market stalls, dressed in their casual attire walking along looking through the stalls for something to buy. Eamonn also noticed there were another half dozen men, women and children he saw carrying out similar tasks around the street. David was busy haggling over the price of a new belt with a shopkeeper, so the two commissioners made their way to Braum. The man didn’t see them initially as Aaren brushed past two rather burly men, hastily apologized for his action and reached in front of Braum, picking up a small woven basket.
“Any news?” he asked the headman in an undertone. Braum noticed the man for the first time. Quickly, he stole a glance back to his left to see Eamonn looking through many contraptions that were sitting in a bin. The boy had a curious smile as he looked through some of the bizarre items he found.
Braum looked back at the writing apparatus he had in his hand, examining the quill pen for any unrefined edges, “Nothing so far, the boy came by a few minutes ago with his mother and sister. He stopped to tell me that that someone had just arrived, an older looking man, I stationed a sentry nearby, if the boy sees anything else, we’ll soon find out.” he told Aaren, who nodded in agreement of the move. Aaren quickly asked for the cost of the basket, thinking it’d be a handy replacement as a fruit bowl on their table back in his cabin, “Thirteen bronze.” The shopkeeper replied in a tone that brooked no haggling. Aaren shook his head roughly and put the basket back where he found it, thirteen bronze was a little steep.
The next shop along was a fruit stall with apples, pears and oranges in abundance and some strange spiky looking round fruit that he hadn’t seen before. Aaren gestured at the item and one of the shop tenders came over after a quick word to the keeper. “A sweet sort of apple, tangy but very juicy.” the man said, with a slight accent.
Aaren flashed him a confused grin that made the tender hesitate on his next question, “Would you like to buy some?” the tender wondered. Aaren quickly shook his head in refusal and gestured to the apples, “I’ll give you four bronze for two green apples.” he said to the tender. The tender seemed to consider the proposal, turned to the shopkeeper who had been observing the discussion who gave a peremptory nod of the head. “Four bronze will do.” he said with a smile, Aaren handed over a five bronze piece in exchange for the two apples and was given a one bronze piece in return.
He took a bite out of the fleshy outer of the apple, it was ripe and succulent and there was just a hint of tart to it. He tossed the other to Eamonn who likewise took a massive chunk from the fruit, also marveling at the taste. Soon after, the entertainment began, there was performers lining the street with magic tricks and others with daring acts including a fire eater and a blind folded man throwing daggers at a target his colleague was standing in front of, all things that seemed to grip and excite people as they passed by.
Several men were milling about the crowd, handing out skewers of tenderized meat and others with flagons of ale for their enjoyment. At a look from Aaren, Eamonn stepped forward to one, helped himself to four skewers, two each of the beef and chicken, and quickly handed the man some money, the man was momentarily caught off guard by the boy’s eagerness to pay for the food, all of the food they were handing out was to be free of charge, he tried to refuse the boy’s offer.
“I’m not from the town, I came in for the festival” he said, still offering the ten bronze piece, the man flushed, nodded his thanks at the boy’s generosity and handed him an extra skewer, “Pork.” he explained with a smile. Eamonn nodded his thanks and headed back to Aaren, handing him three of the skewers.
It took him a few moments before Aaren noticed the three different types, “what have you got there?” he asked, suspicion evident in his voice, “He wasn’t expecting that I’d pay him for it, so he gave me an extra one, he mentioned that it was pork, the others are chicken and beef” he told his master.
Aaren frowned in indignation, “Then that should be mine to eat, I was the one that paid for them.” he insisted, “Yes, and I was the one that got them.” Eamonn replied, taking off most of the pork meat in one mouthful, a smirk plastered to his face, Aaren glared at his pupil before walking away to meet up with Braum as he took a mouthful from the chicken skewer.
“The balcony? Are you sure about this Aaren?”
Aaren took Braum by the arm, leading him away from the bustle of the street to the side walkways. He kept the smile rigid on his face and took a large chunk of the pork skewer into his mouth and grunted happily, pointing down at the skewer to accentuate the expression. Chewing loudly, Aaren licked some of the residue from his thumb and forefinger, the tone of his words though belied the mood he was creating, “There was an entrance to the rear, an emergency exit by the looks of it. The lock was old and it wouldn’t stand much of a beating. My guess is that it hasn’t been used for some time, if we can get access to that door, we should be able to get to the staircase and therefore up to the roof. I’ll take Eamonn with me shortly and we’ll inspect it. We’ll use the front door though.”
Braum had shot him a look before he added that extra statement. If anyone saw the broken lock, it’d be replaced before tomorrow and could spoil their plans.
“Any idea what we’ll do once we’re up there?”
Aaren shook his head, “I won’t know until I can get a look at the rooftop, we might be able to rig some way of getting across, but I can’t know until then. Eamonn and I will come up with something. Where did you want us to meet you?”
“People will see us going to my office.” Braum said with some conviction. “The town marshal of Myrtle will be giving the speech on our behalf. He’s good with his words.” Braum stated. “I’ll need to be in attendance for that, I suggest you meet me at the end of that.”
Aaren nodded quickly, “How long does that give us?”
Braum considered the question for a moment, he looked up at the skyline, the sun would set soon, “Maybe an hour, certainly no more than two.” He replied.
“Good enough, we’ll get moving now in that case.”
Lifting the skewer up to his mouth, Aaren pulled the last piece of meat, eating it quickly and dropping the skewers in the small fire nearby to burn.
Eamonn was with David, listening to one of the storytellers as she steadily built the tension to the story about the fateful events that involved a dwarf and his dragon. Eamonn saw the older man coming and nudged David unobtrusively. Eamonn nodded at David as he pushed his way back through the crowd to meet his mentor.
“We need to get moving. We have an hour to see what we can find atop that building.” Aaren told him.
The market stalls were starting to thin out as the townspeople headed off to the entertainment or to the town square where the feast would soon be in full swing. Some curious bystanders looked at the two commissioners in hope as they went past but none were surprised to see them continue on their way.
They past a corner into the side street as someone came around, passing them in the street. Aaren shot the man a smile and waited a few seconds before darting into the walkway of a nearby home. Eamonn was a little slower to react and followed him a moment or two later. “What was that all about?”
“Just wanted to see if anyone noticed us.” Aaren replied.
“And are you satisfied?”
Aaren nodded and stepped out into the street again, looking for the corner of the next bend in the street to guide him. It was long in coming as they stopped short of the bend, Aaren peering around the corner to see if anyone was on watch. He retrieved his long dagger from its scabbard, “Keep to the left of the bend and try to see if anyone is there.” He told Eamonn.
“Me?” Eamonn’s tone was slightly shrill. The street was quiet, eerily so and it didn’t seem very welcoming.
“Yes. You. I’ll stay here and watch your back, keep a knife ready just in case. Remember to aim high like I taught you.”
Eamonn looked at Aaren doubtfully. They had left their swords and crossbows in their room to avoid attracting attention to themselves. Eamonn wasn’t so sure now that it was such a good idea. Aaren slapped him in on the shoulder encouragingly, “If you keep left, I can cover you, and you know I will.”
Eamonn drew his dagger and held it by his side. His boots made little noise as he stepped slowly along the cobbles. Aaren kept the dagger close by, he felt the soft leather in his fingers as he slowly turned it in his hand. Eamonn edged his way along, shifting the weapon into his left hand and brought it up above his waistline in preparation, his eyes were riveted on the corner point. He reached the corner and without hesitating scanned the front of the guild. He was careful not to have more than the side of his face show and without looking, gave Aaren the thumbs signal.
Aaren waited until the boy turned to see him and held out both hands, palms facing downwards, and tilted his head distinctly. The sign to stay put for the time being.
Aaren sheathed the dagger and made his way closer to the emergency door of the building. As he had thought, the lock was old and there were copious amounts of rust surrounding the hook part of the lock. He pulled experimentally on the device and felt it give a little. He touched the backing of it as it latched onto the door. The latch itself was newer but it too had evidence of rust. Aaren thought a single well timed swing on the right angle should easily break through.
Aaren clicked his fingers and Eamonn directed his attention to him as Aaren beckoned him over.
“Tomorrow night we’ll use this lock to get in, we’ll use the front door for now. Is there anyone around?”
Eamonn quickly shook his head, “No one in sight, if there’s anyone still in the guild, they’re keeping themselves quiet.”
Aaren nodded, “We’ll head up there now, the front door should be unlocked, Braum said it’s a temporary accommodation and no one should be in there today.”
They retraced their steps out onto the main street again and walked down the adjacent alleyway. Aaren knocked quietly on the door, when there was no answer he pushed the door open quietly and moved in.
The room inside was sparsely decorated, a few chairs around the central eating table and a single relaxing chair by the staircase. Aaren motioned for Eamonn to lead the way, and they quickly strode up them. The timbers groaned slightly underfoot, but nothing that could be heard from more than a few feet away. There was a small corridor at the top that separated two rooms, one for washing up and the other that would be the bedroom. Eamonn headed to the bedroom door while Aaren went to the wash room.
Quietly, Eamonn nudged the bedroom door open and peered in. The bed was made and there was a mirror on the wall over the corner desk and a large wardrobe cupboard that’s doors were open. Like the rest of the room, it too was empty.
“Eamonn.” Aaren’s words carried to him by the vacant timbers of the hallway. Eamonn closed the door quickly and retreated towards his mentor.
Aaren was in the room, standing by the window. He shook his head in return. “I just figured out how we’re going to get across.”
Eamonn looked at him, puzzled. Aaren vaulted over the opened window, disappearing from Eamonn’s view as he made his way around to the side. There was a sudden clicking noise and Aaren reappeared by the entrance of the double doors that led out onto the balcony.
Eamonn approached carefully, he looked to Aaren for an explanation but his master merely pointed over to the rooftop of the guild. Eamonn smiled. There was a canopy that rested on the ceiling. At some point the cloth canopy had been shifted as it wasn’t quite covering the full ceiling, offering a meter long gap near the corner.