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