Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wrai's Main Skill Comes into Play -- Stealing

Reitz pulled his horse up beneath the drooping branches of a stand of big oaks. "Ayla and Patul can go to the inn while I show you the house. We'll be off as soon as you lift the medal," he said.

"Not so fast." Wrai turned his horse to gaze at the town in the darkening shade. "You know where the house is so that means you've been there before."

"Of course. We tried to buy the thing," Patul said. "It's an elderly widow. I hoped that she'd be glad of the gold, but she wouldn't even talk about selling. We wrote to her first and then went to her home."

"All three of you?"

Patul shook his head. "No, I was afraid all three of us showing up with frighten her so I went by myself. Maybe I should have taken Ayla with me. The woman wouldn't let me past the door."

"And you don't suppose she might connect this medal disappearing to the stranger who showed up at her door and just happened to be at the inn when it disappeared?" Wrai turned back to the three and gave them a searing look. "I intend to come out of this little venture alive and with my hands still attached. So I'll give the orders when it comes to stealing."

Reitz cleared his throat and shifted in his saddle. He had the good sense not to argue though.

Patul lifted a pacifying hand. "You're the one who knows this business."

"Good. So you went to her house. What's it like?"

"A sturdy cottage, really. Yard filled with rose bushes. Tidily kept." Patul's eyes narrowed as he thought. "Too tidy for her to do all of the work, I'd say though she seemed a sturdy body. She answered the door herself and I didn't see any sign of anyone else around."

"Any barking? No sign of a dog?"

Patul shook his head again. "Nothing like that."

"And it's a small house, you say?"

"Nothing more than a cottage."

"Most likely she has a girl come in to help occasionally then. Not likely to have a servant live in besides having to feed and clothe them. If she's not rich..." Wrai tilted his head as he considered it. Sounded likely but he'd have to see the place. "No stopping at the inn. Once it's full dark, you'll show me the place and ride through to the other side of town. Find the first stand of trees and keep out of sight until I join you."

"That makes sense." Reitz sounded reluctant, but by now the light had faded enough that Wrai couldn't make out his face. "The moon will be at half tonight."

They dismounted and let the horses crop at the sparse weeds under the trees. Wrai pulled his black jerkin, breeches, and an old worn hat out of a saddlebag to change. A cool breeze came up rustling the branches together, and the moon rose to cast its greenish light over the landscape. They rode at a steady walk up the Whorlton road and through the little town. They passed a couple of townsmen making their way into the local inn; otherwise, the street was still. It was a nice enough town with stone cottages spaced along the street, most with gardens and outhouses. Wrai had ridden through a couple of times on his way to somewhere more profitable.

In the moonlight, he could make out the jumbled lines of the slate roofs and a few trees shading the yards. About halfway through the town, Patul made a sound in his throat and nodded toward a cottage. Wrai slid from the saddle and tossed Patul his reins. By the time they had ridden a horse's length past, he was already in the dark recesses of the garden in the deep black shadows under an oak tree.

The scent of sweet damp and old roses clung to the garden air. A tiny glint of light peeked through the closed shutters. He slid around to the rear of the house and squatted within the arch of a vine-covered trellis to watch, tipping his hat to be sure no light would catch his face.

The back door opened, the glimmer of a candle showing a plump wrinkled face. "Out you go, you old rascal," a high wavering voice said. Then the house went dark. A cat nosed at him and he scratched a ragged ear. It purred, winding around his leg. All he needed was a cat following him into the house. He pushed it away, and after a while, it slunk into the night, no doubt to find a rat for its dinner. From a nearby house, the sound of a squalling baby broke the night. Wrai dropped to a knee to make himself more comfortable and flexed his shoulders as they began to cramp.

A drunken voice shouted an oath followed by the sound of wood shattering. "Stupid goat lover."

Another crash followed and the sound of running footsteps. There was a clatter of hobnail boots and a jangle of armor as the watch came running up the way. The torch they carried made wavering shapes in the night. Wrai caught his breath, ducking his head to be sure the shine of his eyes was hidden. Damn, the last thing he needed was the watch to see him lurking.


A sound of blows and groans followed, then they dragged a dark shape between them back up the road. Breathing a sigh of relief, Wrai waited. The town quieted. An owl hooted. A couple of cats tangled, yowling. After a while, there was nothing but the rustle of the wind in the trees.

Wrai rose and slipped across the narrow space of the yard to the window. He studied the shutters and, as he expected, they were closed by a bar. He could raise it but there was always a chance that would make noise. He frowned. If the door bolted too, he wouldn't have any choice but to chance it. He knelt to examine the lock in the moonlight and smiled. Large and sturdy. Just the kind an old widow would think would protect her treasures. The heavy old thing gave way in a few second.

Cracking open the door, he listened. The house was still until a snorting came from another room. He slipped inside only to find the blasted cat twisted around his ankles, purring at him again. He stopped a stumble with a hand on the wall and silently chuckled. He'd certainly lost his touch in the years since he gave up the trade if a damnable cat could trip him up.

The room smelled of rising dough and herbs and under it the scent of beeswax polish. He reached up to brush his fingers over a bunch of herbs that hung from the rafters. Another snort came from the left side of the house. His eyes had adjusted to the dark, and he made out the shape of a doorway ahead toward the house front. He would hope that the old body didn't keep her treasures in her bedroom. With the cat determinedly rubbing at his ankles no matter how he shoved it away with a foot, he made his way into the other room.

Here the floor was polished to a glow in moonlight that peeked in through the shutters. Tables swathed in cloths sat everywhere interspersed with spindly chairs. Each table was crowded with pendants and statuettes.

He couldn't help the sigh, and he rolled his eyes. How long in the blazes of Hedrin would it take to go through all these gewgaws? The stupid cat kept rubbing up against him as he eliminated first one table of folderol and then another. On the third, centered in front of the window he saw it, gleaming in a ray of moonlight. He scooped it up and hefted it. Not as heavy as he'd expected. Lighter than the others, but the rune was similar as well as he could see.

The woman gave a snort like she'd been stuck. He froze, heart pounding, but the bed creaked and she settled back to a rhythmic snore. He shook his head at his jumpy nerves. Dumb bastard. Been out of the game too long to be doing this.

Slipping the medal into his tunic, he stood still for a moment to be sure she had settled into a deep slumber before he moved toward the door. She'd miss the thing as soon as she woke. He had no doubt of it, so he strode steadily through the dark streets until he was past the last house. The moon lit the road before him until a bulk of trees rose on the side.

Reitz called out, "Here."

Wrai vaulted into the saddle and handed the piece over to Patul with a grimace. What business did he or these mages have stealing from some old widow? Faceless Goddess help him, this wasn't a night he'd be proud of. He'd take money from someone who risked it, and he'd rolled more than a few honey-fat noblemen. But curse him if he could see a reason why rich mages should be stealing from some old biddy.

Pah. She was probably a mean old shrew who kicked puppies. He shrugged but still frowned.

"Let's get out of here." He glared at Patul and jerked the reins of his horse.

"Wait," Reitz said. Hoofbeats clattered in the distance accompanied by the clatter of harness.

Bollocks. Surely, the woman hadn't found her loss so soon. Ayla sucked in her breath, and he laid a hand on her arm. "Shhh..."

Militia cantered the road, the low light glinting off their armor and weapons. The lord's banner snapped as one held it aloft.

Wrai's breath caught in his chest. A coincidence? Normal patrol? They'd seen several on their way, but it wasn't a risk he cared to roll on.


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