Tag Archives: Erden

It Takes a Thief, Part Six

Here it is! The final, exciting installment of “It Takes a Thief.”

Read the first five parts here.

It Takes a Thief, Part Six

If the middle ring was cramped, crowded, and crime-ridden, than the upper ring was a paradise. A wall higher than any wall the twins had seen in the east separated the middle ring from the upper ring. There was a single gate, guarded by a dozen Blue Caps at all times. If there were any doubts that the plutocrats of Solaria were aware of the crime and poverty that thrived on the other side of that wall, those armed soldiers would quickly dismiss them.

    Farris and Fayra had managed to slip through the gate with the throngs of servants who made daily pilgrimages to the markets and shops of the middle ring to acquire food for their masters’ daily meals. The twins had liberated a pair of the long, homespun tunics worn by Solaria’s servant class. As long as they didn’t draw too much attention to themselves, they should be able to move about freely.

    They spent the next two days exploring the upper ring, careful to avoid the daily patrols of the Blue Caps. Open-air plazas, lush parks, and public gardens stretched as far as the eye could see. Everywhere they looked was another marble statue, gleaming colonnade, or ornate fountain. There wasn’t a shop, stall, or tavern anywhere. Walled estates and villas stood in stark contrast to the slums and tenements of the middle ring. Overlooking it all were the white columns and gold-topped domes of the Solarian senate and courts.

    The Lake of Swans was the largest of two man-made lakes, the other being the Lake of Joys. Both lakes were surrounded by palatial homes, but the twins knew their quarry’s villa was beside the Lake of Swans. However, that still left dozens of possible homes to search.

    “I wish we knew more about this Sekk,” Farris said. “It might make it easier to figure out which of these houses is his.”

    Fayra was absently fiddling with the simple cloth belt that kept her tunic in place. “Like what?”

    “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe he has a favorite kind of tree or something.” He thought for a moment. “Like, maybe he really loves red-fan pine, so we just need to find the villa with a lot of red-fan pines.”

    “We already know that Sekk employs a troop of dwarfs as his private security,” Fayra said. “What more do you need?”

    That was a key piece of information, and Farris said as much. “So we just knock on every gate until a dwarf answers?”

    “Must I think of everything, dear brother?” When Farris didn’t answer, she added: “Know any dwarfen drinking songs?”

    Redcastle’s soldiers didn’t allow them to take any weapons ashore. But, they did allow Farris to bring his lute and Fayra her lockpicks.

    Dwarf drinking songs were deceptively complicated. The words didn’t matter, as long as the music that accompanied them perfectly matched the chaotic, life-threatening tumult of the largest battles ever waged. As far as Farris was concerned, other than the spell-singing used at the elf courts, the only thing harder than dwarfen drinking songs was goblin yodeling.

    Farris started playing a few notes of random songs as he walked around the Lake of Swans. Fayra kept several paces behind her twin, enough to be able to see the reactions of those around the,. After warming up, and playing most of a particularly popular Daenarian wedding ballad, Farris launched into the best dwarfen drinking song he could think of.

    Farris could feel the stares and looks of disgust he was getting from the average Solarians he passed. He paused by a marble statue of a particularly well-endowed archer and launched into his third verse, a rousing tale of the slaughter of the troll siege of King Barven’s mountain stronghold.

    Fayra walked by, glancing appreciatively at the statue. She stopped and leaned against one of the the trees that lined the path around the lake. She tilted her head to one side before moving on. As Farris continued to sing–he was now recounting everything he knew about the Seven Thanes and the Orc Invasion–his eyes shifted in the direction Fayra had indicated.

    There were four villas along this stretch of lakefront, each with the same high stone walls surrounding them. Something about the fourth villa, the one furthest away, had caught Fayra’s eye. It took Farris a few second, but then he saw it. The gate was open and several short, stout figures could be seen gathered in the opening and glancing in his direction.

    Dwarfs. They had found Sekk’s villa.

    Once the sun had set, the twins stashed their tunics and returned to Sekk’s villa. There was just the single gate, most likely guarded by at least two of Sekk’s dwarf soldiers. The walls were too high for Fayra to vault over, at least without her quarterstaff or grapnel, both of which were still in the possession of Redcastle’s men. Time was a factor, especially with the regular patrols of Blue Caps.

    “You’re going to have to throw me,” Fayra whispered.


    “Yeah. Throw me and once I’m on top of the wall, I’ll reach back down and pull you up.”

    Farris shook his head. “This better not be Stormreach all over again.”

    He gave his sister a boost, which was all she needed to get enough height to grab the wall’s top edge. Fayra hauled herself up and, hooking her feet over the inner edge of the wall, leaned back over and reached down to her brother. Farris took her hands and scrambled up the wall, using his twin like a living ladder. He clambered to the top of the wall and helped his sister back up.

    They could hear the raucous laughter of the dwarfs at the gate. Fayra was sure there would be at least one guard walking the grounds. Trees provided cover between the wall and the main house. The twins sprinted from tree to tree, thankful that it was a particularly cloudy night. A sky full of stars would have been an additional obstacle they didn’t need.

    An arch in the villa’s outer wall led to a small courtyard. A small fountain babbled in the center of the courtyard. Beyond the fountain, three steps led up into the villa. A faint, flickering light could be seen illuminating the villa’s interior. Sekk was home.

    The villa’s main hall was decorated in silk curtains and draperies of every color: deep purples, bold blues, vibrant reds. The floor was a mosaic of brightly-colored tile. Plush sofas, divans, and cushions filled the room. Fires burned in two large bronze braziers at the far end of the hall.

    The room had a single occupant. Seated behind a low table, upon a mountain of cushions, was Boltus Sekk. Sekk was a disgustingly fat man, with greasy black hair pulled back into a ponytail and a long, scraggly beard. His eyes were small and dark, his lips thick and wet. As the twins entered the hall, Sekk popped an olive into his cavernous mouth and smiled.

    “And here they are,” he croaked. He sucked on his fingertips, one hand and then the other, then clapped his hands. Two servants appeared from behind the curtains and removed the table.

    Sekk lifted his ponderous bulk off of the cushions with a grunt and lurched towards the hauflins. He was dressed, like every other member of Solaria’s moneyed class, in a brightly colored silk robe embroidered with golden thread and matching gold slippers. Something glinted in the flickering light of the braziers as Sekk moved across the room. Something hanging around his neck. A simple gold ring on a chain. It had to be the trinket that contained the fragment of the black mage’s soul.

    “You knew we were coming?”

    Sekk stopped, looking down at Farris. “Of course, my dear boy. It was my idea.”  A familiar form appeared from behind one of the silk curtains. Broad shoulders, neatly-trimmed beard and hair, matching scarlet doublet and robe.

    “Lord Redcastle? What in the nine hells of the Eternal Jailer is going on?” Fayra looked at her twin, hoping he had a clue. Farris just shrugged.

    “Think of this as an audition,” Sekk grinned, his thick lips sliding across a mouth full of crooked, yellow teeth.

    “An audition?” The twins asked in unison.

    “Of course. You may not know this, but I am one of the wealthiest men in Solaria. In all of the City-States, actually.” Sekk was preening. “That often requires creative thinking and alternate avenues of activity.”

    Fayra nodded. “Theft.”

    “I prefer not to label such things. However, I do believe your talents would greatly benefit my business enterprises.”

    “Okay,” Farris said. “I get it. You’re a greedy, amoral asshole. But, what’s in it for Redcastle?”

    Sekk giggled. It was grotesque hearing such a childlike sound coming out of a creature like Sekk. He reached up and stroked the ring that hung around his neck with thick, flabby fingers.

    Redcastle vanished. In his place stood a tall, gaunt figure dressed all in black. The figure wore a long, hooded cloak that, along with a thick, black scarf, concealed all of his face except for a pair of sunken, bloodshot eyes. Those eyes were locked on the hauflins, barely blinking.

    “Are you kidding me!”

    “I get it,” Fayra said. “So, if we say no, you’ll just order the Black Mage to force us to work for you. Right?”

    “Intelligent as you are beautiful,” Sekk croaked, licking his lips.

    “That’s it. I’m done.” Fayra charged Sekk. She was fast. Too fast for most men, and certainly too fast for someone of Sekk’s corpulent bulk. Sekk barely had time to react as Fayra jumped at him. She grabbed the gold ring with one hand. With her other hand, she vaulted over Sekk’s shoulder, snapping the delicate chain that held the ring.

    “What? No! Stop her!” Sekk’s face was purple with rage, spittle flew as he bellowed commands. The Black Mage remained motionless. “I said, stop her!”

    “Sorry, Sekk,” Fayra said, holding up the ring. “No ring. No control.” She tossed the ring towards the mage, who caught it in the pale, skeletal hand without looking. “This means you’re free now, right?”

    Realization dawned on Sekk, but it was too late. He tried to flee, heading for the nearest door as fast as his stubby legs and slippered feet could carry him. The Black Mage turned his unblinking eyes on Sekk, who simply froze in place. Turning back to the twins, the Black Mage said one word in a raspy voice: “Leave.”


When they got outside, Farris and Fayra were surprised to see that the dwarfs had abandoned their posts. Maybe they had seen what was going on inside the villa and had no desire to face an enraged Black Mage of Malashir. Maybe they had been under the mage’s control just like Sekk had planned to do to the twins.

    “Can we get the hell out of here?” Farris pleaded.

    “I don’t know, twin of mine. Solaria could have an awful lot of opportunities for two enterprising and ethically flexible souls such as you and me.”

    “Nope. This place is weird and I want to go back east. The eastern kingdoms make sense.”

    Fayra looked at her brother and smiled. “Fine.”

    “No boats,” Farris insisted.

    “No boats.”


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?”


    Fayra nodded. “Wiles.”


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?”


    “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.”


It Takes a Thief, Part Three

Part Three of “It Takes a Thief,” in which our intrepid hauflin heroes find themselves on a slow boat to Solaria.

Part One.

Part Two.

It Takes a Thief, Part Three

“I hate you.”

    The twins were chained in the hold of a ship, the only light coming through cracks in the wooden planks overhead. Farris sat with his arms wrapped around a large bucket, usually used for cleaning the ship, now being used to hold the meager contents of a seasick hauflin’s stomach.

    “I mean it, Fayra. I ha–” he belched, choking back bile before retching into the bucket for the fifth or sixth time since they left the docks at Redcastle. Neither of them expected the bucket was going to be emptied any time soon.

    As soon as they had agreed to help Lord Redcastle, the two hauflins had been chained and escorted by a half-dozen soldiers to the Redcastle docks. The twins watched as one of the soldiers approached a holk moored to a dock along the eastern bank of the West River. The soldier spoke to a thin, hawk-faced man who was overseeing the sailors making the ship ready. He was shabbily dressed, like the other sailors, but his age and bearing told them he was the master of the ship. The soldier handed the captain a folded piece of paper and a small purse.

    Fayra and Farris were brought on board and taken below. They could hear the sailors on the deck above, singing and swearing as they unfurled sails, tied off riggings, and loosed moorings. Fayra made note of a few particularly harsh phrases, never knowing when a venomous taunt would come in handy. They cast off. Everything around them rocked and creaked as the holk sailed south down the West River, heading to the open waters of the Edolian Sea.

    If this was what river travel was like, Farris–and his stomach–was not looking forward to sailing on the open sea.

    “It won’t be that bad,” Fayra said.


    “The Edolian Sea.” How did she always know what he was thinking? Some would have called it a twin-bond, but Farris had seen his sister do it to strangers, too. Some people could just read others, he guessed.

    “A ship this size wasn’t built for the open sea,” she continued. “We’ll likely sail along the coast of the Edolian Peninsula. The water shouldn’t be too rough.”

    Farris retched into his bucket again. “H- how do you know all that?”

    “Sailors can be … friendly. In the right circumstances.”

    Why does she always have to over-share? “Okay, sea dog, how long do you think it will take?”

    “Hard to say. A larger trader could sail from one of the bigger ports in Dal Varris to Solaria in about six days, if the weather cooperates. A ship like this? Maybe twice as long.”

    Farris lost what little color remained in his cheeks. “Twice as– Twelve days? I’ll be dead by then.”

    “Have faith, brother of mine.” She glanced at the platter of bread crumbs and wooden mug on the deck between them. By her best guess, this was their second day on the river. So far, they had been visited three times by either a sailor or a soldier who brought them a chunk of hard bread and a mug of watered-down ale. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep them alive until the ship reached Solaria. Unless her brother vomited himself to death before that. If Fayra’s estimates were right, the next meal should be arriving any minute now.

    Someone opened an overhead hatch, letting sunlight into the dark, empty hold. “Listen up, you water rats,” the twins recognized the voice of one of Redcastle’s soldiers, “breakfast time. Now don’t go trying anything funny.”

    The soldier, still wearing a full suit of armor even at sea, made his way down the narrow steps. Partially blinded by the sudden light, Farris was still able to see the outline of a drawn sword in one hand and what looked like a large mug in the other.

    “My brother’s not well. Apparently sea travel does not agree with him.”

    The soldier laughed. “And why the hell should I care?” He had wedged their bread into the top of the mug, which he dropped to the deck, barely in reach. He kicked the empty plate and mug aside with a smirk.

    “Simple. If he dies, we won’t be able to complete Lord Redcastle’s little errand.”

    “Then you die, too.”

    Fayra smiled. “Wrong. When he dies, I no longer have a reason to behave myself. And when I stop behaving, you stop breathing.”

    “I thought you were thieves, not assassins.”

    Farris retched.

    “When I kill you and your men, it won’t be assassination. It’ll be retribution. And it will be divine and just.”

    The lack of emotion in the hauflin’s voice made the soldier take a step back. “N- none of th- that…”

    “Easy, friend, easy.” The old, honey-tongued Fayra was back. “All we want is to get some fresh air. Say, twenty minutes every hour. We’ll even take turns.”

    Farris belched, clinging tightly to his bucket.

    The soldier glanced at the seasick hauflin, a look of complete disgust on his face. “Very well. We were ordered to see you made it safely to Solaria. Beginning tomorrow, you each get time on deck.”

    After the soldier had left, Farris looked at his sister and smiled weakly. “Remind me never to cross you.”

    Fayra ripped off a piece of bread, dipped it in the ale and popped it into her mouth. Chewing, she looked at her twin and smiled.


It Takes a Thief, Part Two

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?”


It Takes a Thief, Part One

New year. New goal. I want to write more in 2016, and one of the ways I hope to keep myself motivated is by publishing serialized short stories on the ol’ blog. (I’d like to think that knowing a bunch of folks are waiting for the next installment will be enough to keep me going.)

So, without further ado, here is the first part of “It Takes a Thief”:

It Takes a Thief, Part One

“This is all your fault.”

     Farris looked up and frowned at his twin. “My fault?” Easy for her to say. “Easy for you to say.”

     “It is easy, brother dear.” Fayra stood up on the creaky, splintered wooden pallet that served as a bed in your finer dungeons and jail cells throughout the Seven Kingdoms. She stretched like a lazy house cat, moving her head in slow circles so her long, auburn topknot swayed back and forth.

     “You’re the distraction,” she said. “Our present accommodations would lead one to correctly assume that the rubes were not properly distracted.”

     “I guess the highly-trained professional soldiers employed by a city’s lord protector are a bit more … observant than the sloppy drunks with clubs that we’re used to.” With a defeated sigh, Farris leaned back against the stone wall and closed his eyes.

     “Besides, you’re the one who wasn’t happy hitting villages and market towns. No–” he threw his arms up– “you’re better than that. You had to try your luck in one of the biggest cities in Dal Varris.”

     “Redcastle ain’t that big.”

     “That’s what you take away from this?”

     Fayra laid back on her makeshift bed. “I’m just saying it’s not like we tried pulling a snatch-and-grab in the capital. Now Rivercross, that’s a big city.”

     Her brother scowled. “Maybe we should have tried one of the northern kingdoms. Castrova or Ilsenor. Some of their cities are guarded by cavalry and archers. We could have been run down by horses or shot in the head at twenty paces. I’m sure that would have been much more exciting than this!”

     “Come on, Farris.” Fayra leapt from her perch, somersaulted, and landed in front of her brother. “What would father say?”

     “If you plan to scale a wall, wear sensible boots.”

     She thought for a second, then grinned. “Our boots are the most sensible,” she agreed. “If only that soldier hadn’t taken my grapnel, we could be out that window and over the wall in a wink.”

     Farris looked at the small window, the perfect height for a human to stare longingly at the outside world, but out of reach for even the tallest hauflin. Of course, if they were able to reach the window, the small opening would be large enough for the twins to slip through.

     “Wishing you still had your grapnel does us as much good as me wishing I had a hippogriff.”

     Farris watched his twin’s grin widen from mischievous to devious, as a familiar twinkle flashed in her eyes. “If we can’t go out the window, guess we have to use the door.”

     “But they took our picks.”

     Fayra shook her head, clearly disappointed. “They took the picks they could find, twin of mine.” She fidgeted with the laces of her bodice, eventually producing the delicate lock picks hidden within.

     She saw her brother smile for the first time since the Dal Varran soldiers clapped them in irons. “Mother would be so proud,” he said.

     “Assume the position.”

     Farris crouched by the heavy wooden door that stood between them and freedom. He barely felt it when Fayra jumped up onto his shoulders. She ran her fingertips across the panel that the guards used to check on them. It wasn’t much smaller than the window.

     Pointed ear pressed against the wood, her nimble fingers probed around the edge of the panel. She bit her lip in concentration as she tapped the wood. It was locked, obviously. But, from the sound, it was just a simple latch. Slipping one of her picks into the narrow space between door and panel, she found the bolt and lifted. The sound of the unlocking bolt was louder than she would have liked–and she felt her brother tense beneath her–but when she slowly opened the panel, she saw that the corridor outside the cell was empty.

     “Step two, brother dear.”

     Farris stood slowly, hands on his sister’s ankles to steady her. Fayra took hold of the lintel above the door and lifted herself off her twin’s shoulders. It was a tight fit, but she was able to wriggle through the opening feet first. She dropped to the floor without a sound. Once on the other side of the door, it was a simple task to pick the lock and free her brother.

     “Splendid! A truly remarkable display!”

     The voice didn’t belong to her brother.

     A few paces down the corridor, a door had opened and three soldiers wearing the red and gold livery of Lord Redcastle filled the hallway, swords drawn. Behind them stood a robust figure in scarlet doublet and matching robe. Fayra could see the sparkle of the jeweled rings on his fingers. His sandy hair was cut short and his beard neatly trimmed. A silver circlet sat atop his head.

     Lord Redcastle.

     “I wouldn’t try to run,” he offered with the wave of a hand.

     The twins glanced over their shoulders. The corridor behind them was now filled with armed men.

     “Hauflins,” Redcastle said, more to himself than to anyone else in the corridor. “We don’t get many hauflins in these parts.”

     “You do,” Fayra said. “They just don’t get caught.” Farris caught his sister’s jibe and frowned.

     Redcastle chuckled. “As you say. Now, my little snatch-purses, let’s you and I have a little chat, hmm?”

     “In the banquet hall?” Fayra asked. “I’m famished. I haven’t had a satisfying meal since I nicked that apple from a traveling merchant on the road from Southway. Between you and me, that slop you serve prisoners in positively dre–”

     “Enough!” What little charm Lord Redcastle had been displaying had vanished. His face was flush as he stepped towards the twins. “You have two options, you pointy-eared pieces of shit: Put your skills to work for me and steal something I desire, after which you will be free to go. Or dangle from a hangman’s noose at dawn.”

     Neither Farris nor Fayra said a word, and Farris was thankful that his sister was smart enough to hold her tongue. They both knew better than to trust Redcastle’s word. Their silence was apparently beginning to annoy the nobleman, who snapped his fingers. The soldiers, and their swords, moved closer to the twins.

     “Now, what do you say?”