The next installment of “It Takes a Thief.” Read Part One here.
It Takes a Thief, Part Two
The twins were taken from their tower cell to the main hall on the ground floor of the keep. The hall was large enough to hold several hundred guests during feasts and other festivities. Two large hearths kept the hall warm and vast tapestries, many in the red and gold colors of Lord Redcastle, kept out the draft. At the far end of the hall, upon a raised dais, was the high table and a single, ornately-carved chair. Two simple stools had been placed before the dais.
The soldiers led Farris and Fayra to the stools. Without a word, two soldiers lifted the hauflins and placed them each atop one of the stools.
“I expected more … things,” Fayra said, looking around the hall. Her head seemed to dart around, but her eyes moved methodically–counting doors, measuring distances.
“Quiet,” Farris hissed. He was sure he could feel the point of a sword pressed gently against his spine.
“You’re no fun.”
Two servants entered from a side passage carrying covered platters. They placed the platters on the high table, arranged before the single chair. The covers were removed, revealing fresh fruits, cheeses, bread, cold meats, and sausages. Two more servants appeared, younger than the first. One set out a single plate and tankard, both made of silver. The second, a boy of seven or eight, carried a silver pitcher. The boy took his place behind the chair as the other servants withdrew.
“Look, brother. Lord Redcastle is going to invite us to join him for supper.”
The door the twins had been brought through opened again and Lord Redcastle marched into the hall. He walked past the twins, sparing them not a glance, and climbed the dais. He sat and motioned for the boy to fill his cup.
The twins watched as their captor ate. He’d break off a chunk of hard, orange cheese and stuff it in his mouth, barely chewing before washing it down with the frothy ale. When the greasy sausages and slices of cold beef were gone, Redcastle soaked up the congealed fat left on the platter with a piece of hard, dark bread. He drained his tankard for a third time and sucked the grease from his fingers before wiping what remained on the front of his doublet.
“Now,” he barked, barely concealing a wet belch. “About my offer.”
Farris felt his mouth water and his stumble rumble as he watched the servant return and clear away the remains of Redcastle’s meal. He didn’t even throw them a half-eaten apple.
“Will the servants be bringing our food next?” Fayra asked.
Redcastle leaned back in his seat. “Are all hauflin as vexing as you?”
“Does vexing mean useful?” Fayra smiled. “Because last time I checked, you needed us.”
Redcastle chuckled the way one chuckles when they are too far away to choke someone who annoys them. “You are impertinent. But, as much as I’m loathe to admit, you are also quite correct.”
“Lot of words to tell me I’m right.”
Farris jabbed an elbow into his sister’s side, well aware that it wasn’t going to do any good.
“Now, my brother and I may not be highborn members of the human aristocracy,” Fayra went on, ignoring her brother’s elbow, “but we have skills. Skills that you seem to need, Your Lordiness. So give us the job and let us get to it.”
Redcastle sat quietly for a moment, then started clapping. “Bravo. For such a small girl, you have very large balls,” he said. “Very well. What do you know about the Black Mages of Malashir?”
“We know better than to fuck with them.”
“What my brother means–”
“What your brother means is that the Black Mages are soulless, daemon-spawn capable of the darkest, vilest magic known to the mortal races. They can kill a man from leagues away and make it last for a full year. To cross a Black Mage is to court a fate worse than death.”
Farris stared at Redcastle. “My statement stands.”
“Indeed. But, what most people do not realize is that the Black Mages have something of a weakness. A Black Mage will always have a small possession on their person–a ring or pendant or the like–that holds a fragment of their soul. Keeping a piece of their soul outside of their body makes it impossible to slay a Black Mage.”
“Arebus must not like that,” Fayra muttered.
“Perhaps,” Redcastle nodded. “That may be why such items are cursed, allowing anyone who possesses it to control the Black Mage whose soul is contained within.”
“The Eternal Jailer does not like to be denied his prize.”
“I wouldn’t begin to guess the thoughts and motivations of our most divine and holy gods. Why it works does not concern me. I care only that it does work.”
Fayra shook her head. “We are not picking a Black Mage’s pocket.”
“Nor would I ever ask such a thing.” Redcastle leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “There’s a merchant in Solaria. Boltus Sekk. A fat, greedy, stupid man, who was somehow lucky enough to gain possession of a fragment of a Black Mage’s soul. That is what you will do for me. You will go to Solaria. Locate Sekk. Identify the trinket that contains the Black Mage’s soul. And steal it for me.”
“What’s going to stop us from ordering the Black Mage to kill you?”
Redcastle held up a finger. “First, you’re thieves, not murderers. Second, without the proper incantations, the Black Mage’s soul will devour your souls, small as they might be.”
Fayra looked at her brother, who simply shrugged. Black Mages. Soul fragments. This was a lot more complicated than picking purses.
“So, my little friends, are you in or are you out?”