Emile of the Shadows wrapped his darkening cloak around him tightly as he strode briskly past the market place and entered the Great Park that bordered the mansion of Alberto Grootly. The hour was three in the small morning hours and the streets were deserted except for the odd patrol of soldiers doing night watch, bored out of their minds as nothing much ever happened in Fall Landing.
Emile was breathing heavily now as he had run up the Two Hundred Steps to avoid running into one of those patrols by mistake. He had tripped on the first landing and rolled back down and had to start over. He had tripped on the cloak. He would have to shorten it some day. But as a Cloak of Darkening it was pretty great. It created, when worn in the right way, a shadow that existed without a light source. Perfect for hiding under if you got caught in the open or suspected that someone was approaching. The fact that there was a shadow area against a wall with no objects in sight didn’t seem to matter to people in general. Which was why it was a great cloak; it used basic human failings as its prime weapon. Still, it was a bit unwieldy as it had been stitched together for a full human shape and not a half-pint like Emile. It was only his ego that had stopped him from getting it altered years ago.
He paused by one of the great oaks in the park and peered up at the mansion windows. Mostly dark except for one or two on the second floor. The master, servants and pets of the household were all undoubtedly abed at this hour. Except for a couple of security guards, Emile reckoned.
He shivered slightly, more with excited anticipation than with the cold. He was about to embark on his first solo theft commissioned by the Guild and it had been left entirely for him to plan and execute. If he was successful and returned with the requested items and cash, he would be granted full membership with all that entailed including regular work.
Emile had planned the operation for months (the Guild had given him a year to locate the appropriate place and prepare the groundwork) and the day of commencement was finally here. He had started by ingratiating himself into the household as a tradesman in the stonework profession. His brother Maurice had given him the tip that Grootly was looking for someone to repair one of the study fireplaces. This had given him a couple of serious advantages. He had the opportunity to case the layout of the building and he was also able to rig a blind in the fireplace that would allow him to hide in case he needed it.
There were some delays as Emile figured out how to do stonework, a trade he had no idea about. The repair wasn’t a very difficult one and he had several contacts that helped him with the necessary tools and plans. He had accidentally dismantled the mantle at one point but had managed to stick it back up hastily with some glue and a couple of nails. He hoped that it was still in place and the error hadn't been noticed.
After he finished with the fireplace he had to get a strong idea of the schedule of the inhabitants of the household and when and where they might be at any given time of day. This he accomplished by dating a maid serving the mistress of the house. Her name (the maid’s) was Sylvia and although she wasn’t much to look at, she was a good-humored girl and it was easy to get her to agree to an evening of wine and dining at the Hogs Bottom, the best tavern in town. Besides, he wasn’t a particularly prized catch himself, being only four feet, nine inches tall.
Letting her down after he had obtained the information he needed was a bit more difficult as the poor dear had become quite attached to him and he had made the mistake early on of bringing her to his lair in the attic of the Church of the Orange Angel. He had had to blindfold her to get her up the stairs, but she had enjoyed that, being an adventurous sort. Somehow though, the next day when he escorted her back to the mansion, her blindfold had slipped off and she had recognized the church. So later, after he told her that he was sorry but that he had to end the affair, she had hounded him for two months, sitting on the steps of the church waiting for him to all hours. It had been highly inconvenient.
It had only been resolved when, after listening to services being held in the church and meeting some of the priests, she had decided to become a Sister of the Orange Angels and quit her job at the mansion and became celibate. It came as a great relief to Emile, obviously.
So that phase of the operation came to an end. Emile drew up vast architectural plans and practiced by going into a field not far from the town, tracing out the floor plan and timing out how long it would take him to get to the master dressing room and the room that served as Grootly’s study. He had located a safe there and felt confident he could crack it. All would depend on that, of course. Although there were several items and paintings of value around the place, it was the requisite cash demanded by the Guild that was the most important thing. That and the fact that it would have been hard for a four-foot something thief to make off with a six-foot painting.
Emile waited a few minutes by the tree to make sure nobody was lurking around in the shadows and then he made his way through the archway at the rear of the house. The gate here was only secured by a latch and was an easy entrance to the grounds. One of the last things he had done as Marko the Stonemason, was to make sure that the gate hinges were well-lubricated. And sure enough, as he pushed on the tall, iron gate, it opened noiselessly, and he was in the grounds. He closed the gate quietly behind him and dashed to the wall of the house that was located beneath the window to the storage room that he had marked as his entry point. Again, in his guise as a workman, he had jimmied the window so that it wouldn’t lock properly and had hammered a large spike into the frame of the window.
Standing below this window, Emile took out his rope from the sack on his back. He rolled it out, created a looped knot in the end and proceeded to throw it the ten feet to the spike and hook it on. This took just over an hour as Emile was so short he couldn’t get enough swing room to throw the rope properly. Why had he not practiced this more before this? He cursed himself and was on the verge of giving up on the operation for the time being when suddenly the roped loop hit and stuck on the spike.
Hand over hand he climbed up the rope (he was very athletic) and with a gentle push opened the windows and slipped into the storage room. He started for the door and immediately tripped over a bag of grain that, for some reason, was in the middle of the room. He cursed quietly and picked himself up. His wrist hurt from the hundred attempts he had made to get the rope up the wall. He hoped that this wouldn’t impede him from opening the wall-safe.
He opened the storage room door a crack and peered down the candle-lit hallway. Empty. Wrapping his cloak around him, he slid through the door and sticking closely to the wall, made his way towards the study. He was almost at the study door when he heard a sound and realized that someone was coming up the stairs behind him. There was no place to hide in the corridor and even his Cloak of Darkening couldn't conceal him in this narrow hallway. He would have to run for it.
He sped the final few yards to the study and flung himself inside hoping that nobody was doing some late-night studying in there. And also, that whoever was coming up the stairs wasn’t headed there. He crouched down behind the desk and waited for the footsteps, even now progressing along the hall, to pass by. The footsteps stopped by the study door. Emile could see the flicker of a torch beneath the heavy door. Only guards carried torches at this time of night. There was a pause, a deep breath, a yawn and the footsteps moved on. Emile sighed, and his heart eventually stopped its heavy, rapid beating.
He moved on to his work, and walked to the fireplace. The mantle had been taken away. Obviously, his handiwork in repairing the wood hadn’t lasted long. He hoped it wouldn’t come back to haunt him. His brother Maurice had vouched for his work to the head man of the household and he wouldn’t hesitate to force Emile to pay for the repairs.
The large portrait of Alberto Grooty was hung above the fireplace. Alberto Grootly was a particularly ugly man of advancing years and why he would want a picture of his grim visage was beyond Emile. How Alberto even used a mirror every day was beyond Emile.
He lifted the painting off its hook and there, behind it, was the safe. Emile took off his little black gloves and prepared to work at cracking the lock. He took a long tube out of his sack and fastened one end of it to his ear. The other end, with its wide opening, he applied to the safe door to hear the tumblers click as they fell into place. Gingerly, he started to spin the dials waiting for that click. One and a half hours later the first tumble clicked. It was now five thirty in the morning and the first servants would begin to stir in a half hour or so. Emile was disheartened. But he couldn’t stop now. But his wrist was really throbbing badly.
He took a deep breath and began again. Suddenly, the last two tumblers fell into place one after the other. How could this be, Emile thought? Then he realized that someone was standing behind him.