Emile turned around very slowly and grimaced as he did so, expecting at any moment to feel cold steel between his ribs or to be smashed down with a mace. But the imagined violent end to his nascent career didn’t materialize. Instead, he was startled to be confronted by a girl of about eight years of age, wearing a pink night gown and carrying a doll shaped like a somewhat shaggy troll. He recognized the girl as Milicent, the young daughter of Albert Grootly’s only son, Widge.
“What are you doing up there, Master Marko?’ the young moppet asked.
Emile sighed with relief. The girl thought he was still in his role of Marko the Stonemason. Perhaps this ill-fated mission could succeed yet. Perhaps.
“Why, I’m inspecting the fire place, little Milicent,’ Emile said. ’But what on earth are you doing up at this time of the night? Shouldn’t you be asleep and dreaming of sweet cakes and the like?”
“I don’t like sweet cakes,’ Milicent replied. ’They make my teeth hurt. I came down for some water and fell asleep behind grand father’s chair. There is a nice rug there made from a bear. I like to sleep on it. What are doing?”
“Well, as I said, I am working on the fireplace, you see. I wanted to find out what it was like after a fire had been burning all evening. Whether it would hold up all right.”
“Why did you take grandfather’s picture off the wall? He will be very angry. He doesn't like people touching his things. And what’s that metal door in the wall?”
“Oh, that is where we keep special things from the house,’ Emile said.
“Like what?’ asked Milicent.
“Well things like, um, keys and well, II don't know, sausages… precioius things like that.” Emile hoped that she was buying all this. He wasn’t very good at making things up on the fly. He would have to work on that.
“Sausages?’ Milicent repeated. ’That doesn’t sound right. Wouldn’t they spoil and get all smelly?”
Emile was beginning to suspect that he may have to knock Milicent unconscious in a minute. She would certainly tell everyone in the morning about Marko’s midnight visit. But he couldn’t face the thought of doing away with the little child no matter how annoying and inconvenient she might be. Then he remembered the blind that he had secretly built for himself inside the hearth. Perhaps he could lock her in there for the meanwhile, finish his job and then leave a note somewhere that someone could find notifying them of her whereabouts. But no, that wouldn’t work, she’d still tell the same story and when they realized that Marko the Stonemason wasn’t who they thought he was, they’d have to go to his older brother, Maurice to get further information. What to do? Then he remembered his Potion of Forgetfulness. He always carried one in case he got caught and could drug his captors. It was a gift from his old mentor, the retired thief Tremaine.Convenient he thought.
“Say, Milicent, I'll be you didn't you know that there was a secret room behind this fireplace?” he asked. "Did you?"
“No, there’s not,” said Milicent, slowly and doubtfully.
“Sure, there is, look, I’ll show you. It’s right under here. We could go inside, and I’ll give you your water and tell you an amazing story.”
“Okay, Marko,’ said Milicent.
Emile held up his Cloak of Shadows to protect them from the fire as they entered behind the blind. Once inside, Emile held up his water flask and deposited a few drops from the vial of the Potion of Forgetfulness into it.
“What’s that?’ asked Milicent, innocently.
Gods, I hate children, Emile thought. They never shut up. He had never been fond of them at all. Probably because most of the children around him were bigger than he was and made fun of him all the time. And there was nothing he could do about it because, after all, he was a full-grown man. Which made it even worse. And, even more galling, he had to watch them as over the years they became taller than he.
“It’s special lemon flavouring. You’ll like it Milicent. You like lemonade don't you? Now drink up. There's a good girl.”
“You said you would tell me a story,’ Milicent said. She sat back against the warm bricks and sipped the drugged liquid.
“Yes, yes, so I did, didn’t I?’ Emile replied. “Well, let me tell you the story of the great thief. Once upon a time there was a masterful thief who, it was said, could steal anything from anybody at any time. Why if you weren’t careful, the master thief would steal the thoughts right out of your head! Just imagine that!”
“What was his name?’ Milicent asked, drowsy now and starting to nod.
“Oh, his name? Why his name was... Emile. Yes, Emile! The most talented and resourceful rogue who had ever slipped on a mask. Why, this Emile once stole a tiger right from under the nose of the king of Rill. A live tiger! Can you imagine the logistics needed to complete such a feat?”
There came no answer then because Milicent had fallen into a deep, peaceful sleep. A sleep so deep that when she awoke the next day she would remember nothing at all of the previous evening. Emile took the young girl in his arms and carefully carried her into the outer room. Then he laid her down gently on the bear skin carpet that she so liked. She would sleep there for hours, he thought. But time was ticking on. Even now he could see the first traces of light beginning to filter in through the curtains. He would have to move very fast.
Climbing up, once more, on to the fireplace mantle, he quietly opened the unlocked safe door. He was disappointed to find only a small sack of gold coins, perhaps twenty pieces in total. He had expected much more than that. He pulled a few papers out and then a small piece of silver jewelry and was about to reseal the safe door when he noticed another small bag stuck at the very back. He reached in and grabbed it out and jumped down from the mantle. He opened the bag and poured out onto his hand two objects. He grew excited when he realized exactly what he was looking at. One of the objects was a brilliant green emerald the size of a goose egg. It had to be worth thousands, he thought. What a find! This would certainly fulfill the contract and guarantee his acceptance into the Thieves Guild.
He placed the gem back into the bag and then glanced at the other object. It was a large black tooth. Not a human tooth but that of some sort of animal. He was about to toss it into the fire but stopped. There was something about this tooth that held his glance. Something mysterious. He decided to hold onto it for the time being.
He tidied up whatever he had disturbed in the room and then, wrapping himself once more in his Cloak of Shadows, let himself out into the hall. He crept down to the storage room and closing the door behind him, walked over to the window. He felt for the rope there but to his dismay found nothing outside. He leaned out over the window and looked down. The rope had fallen and laid there on the ground in a heap.
Emile looked down at the twenty foot drop and his heart fell. He certainly wouldn’t survive such a fall from this height. He was trapped there. He was sure he could hear the house beginning to stir now, a new day was getting under way. Soon the servants would come to the storage room looking for something or other and he’d be discovered. He must think.
Then he had a flash of brilliance. His oversized cloak! Unwrapping it from his body, he tied one end to the spike with a knot that he had designed himself and gradually lowered himself down the stone wall. He ended up hanging about twelve feet from the ground yet close enough to some bushes that would help to break his fall. Timing it carefully, Emile pushed himself out from the wall, flipped up the cloak which loosened the knot and he and the Cloak of Shadows crashed to the ground.
A few minutes later, limping back down the Two Hundred Steps, Emilie couldn’t help but wonder if this was going to be the hardest job he would ever do, or just become one of many.