Gerrod eased himself back in the comfortable armchair, picked up his glass of wine and drank deeply. A fine, sweet red all the way from Averleon. This was the way to celebrate Year’s Turn, no noise, no parties, just peace, quiet and an expensive barrel of wine.
He’d seen 72 nights such as this, but of them all, this was by far the most satisfying. The wood panelled parlour was warm and comfortable, and the servants couldn’t seem to do enough for him. The furniture was solid oak, generously padded and polished to a bright shine. A thick red carpet covered the floor, no sign of wear showing. A gold framed mirror hung on the wall opposite, Gerrod stood up to inspect his appearance before his client arrived.
With his nose barely an inch from the mirror, he tried to smooth the crow’s feet that spread from the corners of his eyes, laughing slightly at the futility he moved his hands to his hair and smoothed a few wantaway strands. As a young man he’d had beautifully dark hair, even for a northerner. Now in his twilight years it was more white than black, only the occasional wisp stubbornly defying the snowy onslaught. This last year had aged him more than it ought to have done, even his bright blue eyes seemed to have dulled slightly.
He thought back to the beginning of the year when he was in Hranstor and first intercepted the message. Six dead that day, including a guild apprentice, each with their own agenda for this small piece of paper. Jumping out of that window into the river had seemed like a good escape plan at the time, but the cold-water shock had nearly killed him. Fortunately, his men had reacted in time and pulled him from the clutches of an icy death.
Barely a month later the Blood Scholars had caught up to him in Alarston. They’d set a trap for him in the God’s Forum, if he’d not had his wits about him, he would’ve ended up in a dark alley, throat slit. Somehow, he’d given them the slip and been able to escape through the palace gardens and out of a concealed servant’s door. Gerrod didn’t know what the Blood Scholars wanted with the note, but they’d caused quite a ruckus to get it.
A couple of months after Alarston came the mess in Stonebrooke. He’d kept himself out of trouble until then, always two steps ahead. But in the city, he’d let himself get shaken down by the local ruffians, and the little wooden figure of Heldus that contained the real prize was taken. He kept a tail on the thieves until they boarded a ship destined for Shavan. The next part should’ve been easy as the guild’s best asset, Harry, was already there. Unfortunately, he got himself caught and exiled from the city; empty handed.
It turned out that the muscle heads in Stonebrooke knew more of the note than Gerrod realised. They’d taken it to Threftall where it fell into the hands of an actor, Jason, later revealed to be a handler for the Blood Scholars. Harry managed to remove it from Jason’s possession and hand it over to Gerrod. Much to Gerrod’s amazement their luck had held, and no damage had been done before it was back in their possession.
As he thought of this part of the story Gerrod had a sour taste in his mouth, he refilled his glass from the barrel and drank deep to cleanse his palate.
The orders had come through from the council that Harry was to be eliminated as soon as Gerrod had the note in his possession. They couldn’t have anyone on their books who’d been caught, if word got back to the client they’d withdraw the contract, something they could ill afford.
Outside of the theatre in Threftall, after Gerrod retrieved Heldus and his hidden treasure, he had some enforcers deal with Harry. It was a shame as Harry could have been very useful in the times to come, but orders were orders, and the Council didn’t compromise.
Gerrod sent word from Threftall to the client that he was in possession of the coveted note and was awaiting instructions. The reply was immediate. “At Year’s Turn go to the King Edward Tavern in Whitestar. Give the name Ollbeck and wait.”
So here Gerrod waited, warm, comfortable, and quiet. A cask of Averleon red wine at his side and a hot meal in his belly. Maybe it was too soon to retire?
A knock at the door interrupted Gerrod’s reminiscence.
‘Come.’ He called.
A spotty youth barely old enough to shave entered and bowed low to him.
‘Mr Ollbeck sir. A Mr Leyton to see you.’ Another bow and he backed out of the door, leaving it ever so slightly ajar.
Leyton approached holding out a hand to shake. He was tall and thin, probably in his late thirties and moved with an air of confidence. His light brown hair was slicked back, and his beard neatly trimmed. From his fine clothes, Gerrod guessed he was a man of money.
‘Yannick Leyton, pleasure to meet you Mr…?’ he said.
‘Ollbeck.’ Said Gerrod. He didn’t share his name with his operators, and he certainly wasn’t about to share it with a total stranger.
Ignoring Leyton’s outstretched hand, Gerrod filled his glass for the third time and sat back down, waiting for Leyton to begin.
‘You have the item?’ He asked, seemingly caught off guard by Gerrod’s dismissive manner.
‘I do, unspoiled and unread as far as I can tell.’
‘Good. Two hundred and fifty gold as agreed.’ He produced a heavy leather bag from inside his cloak and placed it on the table with a thump.
‘Hate to say it, but the price has gone up. Call it expenses.’
Leyton’s eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. Gerrod ignored him, picked up the tiny model of Heldus and carried on.
‘I’ve lost two good men and travelled through three kingdoms in this pursuit. I was never told of the Blood Scholar’s interest. Or why it was of such interest to the guards in Hranstor. Three fifty if you want to take it away with you tonight.’
Leyton had not sat down for their discussion, now he moved slowly toward Gerrod, a strange smile on his face.
‘Two fifty, take it and we’ll say no more. Final offer.’
‘Three fifty or leave.’ Gerrod shot back, unmoved.
Leyton drew a short dagger from his left sleeve. Pointing it at Gerrod he parted his lips and snarled at him like a wolf.
‘Game over, I’ll take it. Should’ve taken the offer when you had the chance old man.’
Calmly, Gerrod took another sip of the excellent wine. Looking Leyton straight in the eyes he smiled.
‘You people never learn, do you? Thieves don’t play by the rules.’
A blade suddenly appeared, sticking out of Leyton’s chest, dripping blood over his boots. His face went slack as he stared intently at Gerrod. His mouth worked noiselessly as bubbles formed at the corners.
The blade withdrew and Leyton collapsed at Gerrod’s outstretched feet, unmoving. Behind him stood Oran, staring down at the body with a look of disgust on his face. He’d entered through the door silently after the serving boy had left it open. Gerrod was thankful he’d instructed the boy of this detail; he wouldn’t have enjoyed a fair fight with Leyton.
‘Glad you didn’t leave that any later.’ Said Gerrod.
‘Shouldn’t have toyed with him so much.’ He replied, grim as ever.
How high Oran ranked in the guild Gerrod didn’t know, but judging by the scar on his face, flakes of white hair and confident manner, he was no apprentice. Caution would serve for now.
Gerrod poured Oran a glass of the wine and handed it to him, hoping to glean some information about their next move.
‘We’re two hundred and fifty richer, and still have the thing to sell. What’s our play?’ he asked Oran.
‘Get yourself to Dalanor. We’ve got five hundred on the table there. After that I never want to hear about this bloody note, or Heldus again. Are we clear?’
‘Got it. Who’s the new client?’
‘Man called Gail. Go to the hall of trade, he’s an administrator there. Tell him you want to register a smithing business for your brother.’
‘Right, shouldn’t be too much trouble.’
‘Make sure it isn’t. This needs to be finished this time. We’ll lose clients if this gets about.’
‘I understand. I’ll get the cleaning crew in here.’
‘I’ll leave you now, lock the door behind me.’ Without another word Oran set down his undrunk wine, picked up the bag of gold, and exited.
Gerrod checked the landing was clear, then shut and bolted the door behind Oran. He headed to the window and eased it open just a crack. He gave a loud whistle into the dark yard below. A few seconds later a whistle returned, followed by the flash of a lantern. Now the cleaning crew was on its way he picked up his wine and headed for another chair, the opposite side of the room from his deceased client.
He picked up the small figure that had caused him all this trouble and turned it through his fingers. Inspecting every tiny knot in the wood, every miniscule chip. As a child he’d dreamed of being a soldier, like Heldus, mighty and strong. He’d soon learned that his skills were more suited to the shadows. The unseen enemy is more deadly than one you look in the eye, as his father had said.
Gerrod’s fingers came to the tiny gap between the base of the statue and the warrior god himself. His nail found the crevice and suddenly he felt compelled to open it. It was against the guild’s policy to read documents meant for a client, but surely they’d never find out. As soon as he arrived in Dalanor he’d be free of the whole damn affair.
Curiosity winning him over, he prized apart the figure and unfurled the old, yellowing piece of parchment. It was wrinkled from being folded so long, with great care he placed it on the table and smoothed it out as best he could. It was written in a fancy hand, most likely a woman’s. One who knew her letters well, Gerrod judged.
I can confirm the information is correct. The boy rescued from Hranstor was indeed the illegitimate son of Prince Lothar, born in 66A3. This makes him the last surviving member of House Ravenmoore and true heir to the throne of Calladia. It is believed his presence with the Colborns was a ruse to conceal Lothar’s indiscretion.
I have faith we can count on the support of a few great houses when the time comes, my own included. We’ll be outnumbered so I pray it doesn’t come to strength of arms.
I trust the other arrangements are in progress as per our agreement. I assure you everything from this end is going smoothly.
Gerrod let out a long whistle and read the note again. Someone was planning to overthrow Queen Andeca and he held the key. No point trying to work out who J and K were, there were thousands of people with good reason to want her gone. She’d even been branded Queen Andeca the Cruel by men wise enough to stay out of her reach.
He decided that this information was better hidden from prying eyes. He folded up the paper carefully and re inserted it into its hiding place. Standing up, he drained his glass and headed for the door. Clutching the handle, he paused, thinking of the consequences of what he was about to do. If he sold the note as agreed, Calladia could be embroiled in another civil war and thousands would die. Destroy the note and let Queen Andeca carry on her reign of terror, thousands could still die.
Opening the door Gerrod smiled to himself at the irony of a senior member of the Thieves Guild trying to make a choice that was morally right. He stepped into the corridor and headed for the stairs; mind made up.