Hotshots: Part Seven
Roane was up late working. Frustratingly late. Mortman crouched, watching the window, though if he had to crouch much longer his muscles would seize up. He'd sent Kanrik and Paselle to check the perimeter. They were good enough in a scrap to handle any scouts of Mackaray's, and those two young hotshots would probably enjoy it. In the meantime, Mortman remained in place and watched as the Ruki defied the stereotype that old men adhered to the rule of "early to bed and early to rise."
He had decided to carry the smoke bombs himself, and had several different charms tucked into his tunic. They'd better be good ones, given the amount of money they'd had to shell out for them. Mortman had found it hard to chide Kanrik when he complained that they would have been better off stealing them – Mortman had had to run through a lot of his own money for this blasted job, and whatever their cut was likely wouldn't be enough to cover those expenses. He wasn't going to ask for any money from the lad and the lass, though – at least his gear was good. They could both use better weapons.
As he thought that, Kanrik and Paselle came back. Kanrik said, face alight, "Found one! Skulking on the other side of the house. And look at this knife he had!"
Mortman inspected it dutifully. It was solid work – a curved blade, with a contrasting swirl of golden metal reaching from the hilt halfway up the blade. The weight was good – this was definitely a fighter's weapon, rather than a work blade. "Nice find, Kanrik. Keep it and don't let the boss see it. I won't tell him."
Kanrik's grin widened. Paselle said, "We didn't hurt the fellow – Kanrik said that would get you mad at us. So we tied him up, gagged him, and put him under some bushes in the house next door. They're rich swanky folks – they'll have a gardener out there tomorrow if he can't free himself." She held out her own find. "We took his purse, too."
Mortman nodded. "Good work, you two. Same with the knife. Let's split the money three ways and not tell Galem we have it."
It wasn't a lot of money, but it was likely enough that Mortman wouldn't have to cut into his own purse to get himself back to the fens when this was done. That was enough for him at the moment – there was nothing about this mission that inspired him toward ambition.
At that moment, Roane rose and turned off his lamp. Mortman said, "We wait an hour. We want him and anyone else in the house with him to be sleeping. If they're woken suddenly it'll take them longer to figure out what's going on and come after us."
Kanrik clearly didn't mind waiting – he immediately took out his polishing cloth and started tending to his new knife. He said, "Look at the metal, that subtle grain in it – this is good steel. I bet that other guy stole it, too."
Paselle rolled her eyes. "You and blades, I swear. It's a hunk of metal!"
Kanrik hissed in indignation, "It is not just 'a hunk of metal'!"
Mortman hushed them both – the later it got, the more likely it was that their talking would draw attention.
Finally, the hour passed, and Mortman nodded at both of them. They went for the side of the house, and Mortman boosted Kanrik, the tallest, up to the window. He attached the ladder to the sill, and then they climbed it. Kanrik got the glass window open. Mortman had been prepared for chaos to break loose once they got the window open, but it appeared that it hadn't been alarmed in any way. Once they were all inside, Paselle pulled the ladder in after them, leaving it on the sill – it was nearly impossible to see from outside, and it would make for a quick getaway.
They were in a large, well-appointed room, its shelves crammed with books and trinkets Paselle and Kanrik cast avaricious looks around the study, but Mortman reminded them in a whisper, "Scroll first. Then goodies." Those extras he would make them turn over to Galem – a knife stolen from another thief was, in Mortman's humble opinion, completely fair game, but Galem would be extremely displeased if extra loot from the target was secreted away. Mortman had heard about what happened to the last poor dumb fool who'd tried that. A few of Galem's cronies got away with that sort of thing, but it wasn't worth the risk. He said, "Paselle, you've got the best ear of all of us – listen at the door for anyone coming. Kanrik, let's try the desk."
The top of the desk mostly had blank parchment, scribbled notes, and ink spread across it. So a drawer, then. Mortman had a feeling that the drawers might be magically alarmed. It would be an easy spell to accomplish – perhaps tie it to a timer, or to the light in the room, so Roane wouldn't set it off.
He ordered in a hush, "If any alarms go off, we open all the drawers as quickly as possible and grab anything scroll-ish or valuable. Paselle, you grab everything shiny that you can fit in your pack off the shelves and then get out the window. Hmm... make the first drawer count. If he's working with this scroll right now, he'd want it somewhere close by. Top drawers. I'll get the two left ones, Kanrik, you get the two right."
They threw the doors open.
Immediately, there was a repetitive shrieking sound, and the lights lit themselves. All the better to see the two cracked, dusty scrolls that lay in the drawer under Kanrik's hand. Kanrik grabbed them – Mortman went ahead and grabbed the scrolls in the drawers closest to him, in case they were valuable. As they did so, Paselle held her pack open and swept the contents of a shelf into it with a careless arm. It had been a statuette display.
Mortman reached the ladder first and threw it out, then clambered out and down. Paselle urged, "Faster! Faster! Faster!"
Mortman was going fast! But in the house, he heard a shout of, "The study! The study! Blast it, go to the study!"
Kanrik threw himself off the ladder halfway down – Paselle only went two more rungs than he did, and then they were all off running.
They'd just reached the street when there was a piercing scream, even louder than the alarms from the light-flooded house. "The scroll! They got the scroll!"
Mortman urged, "He'll have the whole street awake soon!"
Kanrik grinned fiercely. "Then run faster, old-timer!"
Mortman put on an extra burst of speed as they headed down the rich street, away from the closest guard post. "Eat my dust, you young hotshots!"
They ran until Mortman had a stitch in his side, but he wanted to be sure that they'd gotten clear of the immediate chaos. Then they slowed – running at night would draw suspicion. He reminded them, "Act casual. Act like you have a completely innocent reason to be out."
Paselle pointed out, "It's past midnight."
"Still pretend to be innocent."
Kanrik said, "She was pretending to be a kid sneaking out earlier. Maybe you caught us out late listening to the troubadours and you're dragging us back home."
Mortman nodded. "Good story. I like the way you think."
They all had their packs, and they'd gotten some extras to hopefully get out of Galem's bad books. Mortman was no closer to understanding how he'd gotten in those books in the first place, but he didn't like being there.
Kanrik said as they slipped into an alley, "You know, you're a pretty good thief. You'd get more money there than as a smuggler, I'd bet."
Mortman shook his head. "I've said it before and I've said it again – I like my boat and the fens. I'm happy there. You two sure you don't want to take up smuggling?"
Kanrik shrugged. "It's like you say. You're happy there, and Paselle and I are happy here."
Paselle grinned. "Yeah, we're happy. I think a couple of these statuettes might be gold."
"There they are!"
And several figures dropped from the rooftops surrounding them. One yellow Yurble said, "It's them, Mack! Those are the two who tied me up – and that one's got my knife!"
Kanrik snapped, "Not my fault if you're not smart enough to not get jumped."
Mortman muttered, "Not the time." They were outnumbered at least two to one, and Mackaray's crew probably had a few more in reserve on the rooftops.
Mackaray stepped forward and let his hood fall back. "Ah! Malcolm! Though I've got a feeling that that's not your real name, and that these two young hotshots aren't your niece and nephew, neither."
Mortman conceded, "Two for two. I'm Mortman, actually."
Mackaray asked, a subtle threat lacing his words, "And who's putting you up to stealing the Annals? I thought I'd made it clear that the Cove Smugglers had that one well in hand – though those Dagger Clan idiots don't listen to anyone without sand in their shoes."
Mortman said, "We're Thieves Guild." He heard the murmurs, and observed the way Mackaray's eyes narrowed. It wasn't exactly a name that warmed the hearts of men, but there was nothing Mortman could do about that. He continued, "Galem sent us on this, and he'll have our tails over a fire if we don't deliver. So I'm certain you're about to tell us that if we hand the scroll over without fighting, then you'll let us go without a fuss. But it won't happen."
Mackaray said, "There are... other arrangements... we could make. You two hotshots did get the jump on Ernad, after all, who's no slouch. The Cove can always use a few more smugglers."
Ernad scowled. Even with his clear disapproval, it was a temptation. First, because it would keep Mortman from getting himself thrashed in the fight that was about to happen, and second, because Mackaray was a far nicer man than Galem and likely to be a better boss as well.
Kanrik and Paselle were watching him – did he owe it to them to avoid violence?
He also owed it to Jig, Sparkle, Rilla, and Paolo to come back to them like he'd promised. He said, "I'm a smuggler myself, and my crew's in the Kiko Lake fens waiting for me. I can't desert them."
Paselle said proudly, "And we won't desert him."
Kanrik's grin was wide and entirely unfriendly. "And if I joined up with you, I'd have to give your buddy back that knife. I like that knife."
Heh. A pair of hotshots, indeed. Mackaray sighed. "Wasn't wanting to do this. Care to tell me which one of you has the scroll, so we'll only need to fight one of you?"
Mortman said, "Care to walk away? There's time to go break in somewhere else tonight. Leave it be."
Mackaray raised his eyebrows. His voice was cold as he asked, "Or you'll tell Galem about us?"
Mortman said, "Sweet Fyora, no. I don't dislike you, and I wouldn't do that to you even if I did. I'd just rather you walked away so no one tries to hit me."
A few of Mackaray's people snickered – Paselle and Kanrik did, too.
Mackaray drew his sword. "So I guess that's it."
And Mortman drew his own blade as Mackaray lunged at him and the fight began.
To be continued...