Monthly Archives: March 2016

It Takes a Thief, Part Five

Huzzah! Here it is, the penultimate installment of “It Takes a Thief.”

Parts One – Four.

It Takes a Thief, Part Five

The middle ring of Solaria was dirty and crowded, despite the gleaming gold-topped towers of the inner ring and the white wall that surrounded the entire city. The narrow streets were home to shops and bazaars, money-lenders, gambling houses, taverns, and inns. Business owners often lived in apartments above their shops. Slums and tenements were the norm for almost everyone else. Sections closer to the outer and inner walls tended to be cleaner and safer, with the Blue Caps, the city-state’s militia rarely penetrating into the poorer sections of the middle ring without cause.

    “It was all a lie,” Fayra was saying as she and Farris made their way through the narrow, crowded streets of the middle ring.

    Groups of men and women collected here and there, engaging in trade that was probably best left outside the open-air markets and bazaars. Shadowy figures watched them from doorways.

    “What was?”

    They passed an older man, his brown, sun-weathered face covered in scars. Sunlight glinted off the blade of a curved dagger that he had stuck in his belt. He was drinking something from a small, green bottle. The smell of that liquid burned Farris’ nose as the twins passed him. He watched the hauflins, but didn’t make a move to follow them.

    “What they say about thieves and pirates in the City-States. Look around, this place is a thieves’ paradise.”

    Farris knew what his sister meant. There was no shortage of thieves, assassins, beggars, and ne’er-do-wells in the streets of Solaria. That whole thing about thieves and pirates being executed without a trial was clearly a story told in other parts of the world to make merchants feel safe about visiting the Edolian Peninsula. Sure, the Blue Caps probably kept the inner ring clear of undesirables, but who cares if the common folk tear themselves apart. He had even seen the Cant–the secret language of the criminal underworld–carved over doorways and scribbled on paving stones.

    Fayra was right. The City-States of Edolia were a thieves’ paradise.

    “You’re not suggesting that we stay here, are you? Just forget all about Redcastle and bugger off to the City-States?”

    “What? No. The Seven Kingdoms are our home, brother dear. I’m not turning my back on them, and I’m certainly not giving a pompous fool like Redcastle the satisfaction of knowing he chased us off.

    “This might be a thieves’ paradise, but it sure as hells isn’t a hauflin’s paradise.”

    They had turned a corner into a narrow alley. Lines crisscrossed overhead, used by the residents to dry laundry. Steps led down to a sunken plaza. There was a single door and, above that door, hung a wooden sign. A crude painting of a bullfrog being impaled by a pair of pitchforks adorned the sign.

    “Here we are, twin of mine. The Frog and Forks.”

    “The Frog and–”

    “Forks. Uncle Carrow used to talk about this place all the time. The owners are a one-eyed dwarf known as Bullfrog and a hauflin named Fawkes. So–”

    “Frog and Forks.”

    Fayra winked at her brother and led the way to the door of the Frog and Forks. Inside, the tavern was very much like any other tavern in any other city. Patrons sat at tables scattered throughout the room, some playing cards or dice. Stools lined the splintered and stained bar. Shelves stacked with bottles of every shape and color lined the wall behind the bar. A pot of something bubbled over a fire in the small hearth at the far end. Most of the light came from a handful of short, fat candles placed about the room.

    “Hauflins! As I live an’ breathe.” The obese human behind the bar put down the grimy rag he had been using to clean glasses and squinted in the dim candlelight. “We don’ get many a’ yer kind ‘round ‘ere. If only Master Forks was about.”

    Hauflins have a reputation among members of the other races. Most consider them nuisances, always underfoot or sticking their noses where they don’t belong. They also have a reputation for sticking their nimble little fingers where they don’t belong. Many consider the entire race to be nothing more than grifters, tramps, and thieves. While not feared or shunned like trolls or the goblin races, it says a lot about a place that openly welcomes a hauflin.

    Fayra hopped up on an empty stool and leaned across the bar. Flashing her biggest, brightest smile, she asked: “You wouldn’t be Toliver, by any chance? Our Uncle Carrow always spoke very highly of a barkeep at the Frog and Forks called Toliver.”

    “Tha’s me,” the barkeep said. He smiled a toothless smile. “I know Carrow. He taught me how ta play Sticks an’ Stones.”

    Their uncle always loved that game. He never went anywhere without a deck of playing card and dice, just in case.

    “I’m Fayra and this is my brother Farris. We need help, Toliver. Can you help us? For Carrow.”

    Farris knew the large barkeep was going to help. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was naturally gregarious, genuinely liked hauflins, or, like so many men before him, was simply swayed by his sister’s smile and well-tied bodice.

    “We’re looking for someone,” Fayra was saying. She had climbed up and was sitting on the edge of the bar, leaning close to the awestruck Toliver. “A powerful man named Sekk. Boltus Sekk. Do you know him?”

    Farris had never seen an army lay siege to a city, but he was sure that siege towers and trebuchets were nowhere near as effective against brick and stone as his sister was against this poor slob’s defenses.

    “Boltus Sekk is one of da city’s most important people,” Toliver said. “He owns most of da middle ring. Very important. Very rich. Very powerful.”

    Toliver told them that Sekk lives in a villa on the edge of the Lake of Swans in the Eastern District of the inner ring. He didn’t know which villa, exactly, but he did have one important piece of information.

    “Dwarfs,” Toliver said. “Sekk’s personal guard are all dwarfs. Says dwarfs are da only fighters worth da name. Lotta dem drink here. I think dey must be related ta Bullfrog or somethin’.”

    And with that, Fayra and Farris now knew how to find Boltus Sekk. All they had to do was get to the inner ring and find the villa guarded by an army of dwarf mercenaries. For his part, Toliver was rewarded with a kiss on the cheek and a silver coin.

    “That was easy,” Farris said as he followed his sister out of the Frog and Forks.

    “Told you it would be. And do you know why?”

    “Wiles?”

    Fayra nodded. “Wiles.”

 

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It Takes a Thief, Part Four

In this installment of “It Takes a Thief,” a little bit of a history lesson.

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

It Takes a Thief, Part Four

No one knows if the Edolian Peninsula got its name from the Edolian Sea, or the other way around. What is known is that this jagged, rocky piece of land has played an important role in the growth of trade across all of Erden.

    Beginning at the foothills of the Midland Mountains, the flat plains of Edolia provide an easy land route between the kingdoms in the west and those in the east. The bays, coves, and inlets that dot the coast provide natural harbors for ships crossing the sea. Market towns and trading posts grew up around these land and sea routes. Small farms worked what little fertile land there was. Shepherds and goatherds tended their flocks on rocky hills, and small fishing villages were settled along the coast.

    Over two hundred years, the trading posts grew in size and wealth, eventually becoming cities. The five largest, wealthiest cities absorbed the smaller villages and farms around them, forming the City-States of Edolia. The city-states have no kings, no queens, no lords. Merchants, bankers, and traders are the city-states’ nobility. It is said that the navies of the Edolian city-states are the most powerful in the known world, but their sole duty is protecting the ports and harbors from pirates and privateers.

    “They say thieves and pirates are executed without trial in the city-states.”

    Farris leaned against the gunwale, the occasional moments of fresh air doing wonders for his seasickness. He watched the cliffs of the rocky coastline in the distance as the holk continued its westward voyage.

    He considered the words that had been spoken by the young soldier standing guard next to him. At least he thought the soldier was young. Hauflins retain a youthful appearance well into adulthood, making it difficult to guess the age of humans. Elfs and dwarfs were easy: assume an elf was older than it looked and a dwarf was younger than it looked. But humans? It was a guess every time.

    “Do you travel much?” he asked the soldier.

    “What? Oh, no. This is my first time away from home.”

    Youth, Farris thought. “You do know that most thieves and pirates rarely benefit from fair and just trials, right?”

    Their debate was interrupted by a sudden commotion on deck. Farris turned around to see the sailors hurrying about, climbing rigging and tying off lines. The ship’s sails flapped in the breeze. The hull creaked and groaned as the holk came about to round the Black Cliffs of Edolia at the southern tip of the peninsula. Solaria was the westernmost of the five city-states, often called “The Gateway to the West” in the Seven Kingdoms.

    As the ship rounded the Black Cliffs, Farris could see the tall masts of galleons and other large trading ships off in the distance. Smaller ships floated here and there and, although he couldn’t make out their markings, he was sure they were part of the Solarian navy.

    Solaria had three harbors: the Upper Harbor, the Lower Harbor, and the Outer Harbor. All three harbors were protected from the open water by massive walls of polished white stone. Watchtowers, manned day and night, protected the walls at regular intervals. Carracks, galleons, and other large ships docked in the Upper Harbor. The shallow waters of the Lower Harbor were safer for smaller ships. The Outer Harbor, where the city-state’s navy was berthed, encircled both.

    Beyond the harbor, Farris could just make out the three walls, made of the same polished white stone as the harbor walls, that encircled Solaria. The outer ring was the largest, surrounding the farms that helped feed the city-state’s population. The middle ring was home to shops and markets and the men and women who ran them. The inner ring was home to the wealthiest citizens of Solaria. Bridges, causeways, and gatehouses separated one ring from another.

    “That is a big city.”

    Farris had long since accepted the fact that his twin could sneak up on him. “Have you ever seen anything like it, Fayra?”

    “Never.”

    “They say the city-states are unlike anything the world has seen since the fall of the Daeneric Empire.”

    “Fah! That’s twaddle, brother dear. Khaladur means ‘Jewel of Heaven’ in Westronne, and I don’t think that’s the kind of thing the gods allow unless there’s some truth to it.”

    Farris questioned his sister’s logic, but said nothing. “How are we going to find this Sekk in a city that size?”

    “Skill, twin of mine,” Fayra smiled. “With just a hint of luck and a heavy dose of wiles.”

    “Oh, good. Wiles.”

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