Drunkards stumbled out of the tavern, swaying in an ale-soaked stupor. I sidestepped out of their way as they staggered past me, catching the door behind them to slip inside. The fires in the hearth filled the room will stale, warm air. I blew a stray dark curl from my face, casting a glance around the room. Homing in on a group of men by the fireside, I noted from the material of their clothes and the way they carried themselves, they were not from this side of Faerseton. No, they must be from Howlester, high upon the hill, in the shadow of the walls of Faerseton Fort. None from these lower areas wore such fine fabric, though these men donned their most ordinary clothing for sure.
I headed towards the bar, turning over ideas in my mind for what trick to play tonight. Card tricks? Bar bet? They seemed likely to be gambling men. A bet they could not win and swift fingers to take more than was given would do the trick. And that would ensure another few nights in the Boar’s Head, for what little good it would do.
I turned at the familiar voice, seeing the owner’s wife looking over at me. “Sorina, how are you?”
“Not bad. You having your usual?”
I shook my head. “I won’t be staying long.”
“I bet.” She winked at me.
To this day, I wasn’t sure if she knew what I did for a living or if she was making other assumptions. I smiled and headed away from the bar, casting my gaze back over to the group of men by the fireplace.
I made my way across to their table, painting a smile on my face as I watched the barmaid collecting tankards dodge their wandering hands. Pigs.
Their attention immediately turned to me.
“Can I interest you in a bet?”
“What kind of bet?” A dark-haired, stocky man leaned towards me.
I rested my hands on the table. “I bet that I can place your drink on the table in such a way that you cannot drink it, without spilling a single drop.”
He frowned. “How would you do that?”
“Take up the bet and I’ll show you.” I smirked.
“What do I get if I win?”
“I’ll buy the next round.”
A cheer arose from the group.
“But,” I continued, “if I win, then I get some coin for my trouble.”
He reached into his coin purse, hanging loosely from his belt, and set a silver on the table.
I took a playing card from the cloth pouch at my waist, lifting his drink with my other hand. Placing the card securely over the top of the tankard, I flipped it over and placed it down on the table. Then I removed the card with a quick swipe, leaving the tankard upside-down and the ale inside certainly undrinkable.
The men looked at the tankard in surprise before erupting into raucous laughter. The dark-haired man reached into his purse, handing over another silver with the one he’d already set out for me.
“Bloody good trick that,” he said.
“Thank you.” I pocketed the coins, eyeing his coin purse. “Would you care for another trick?”
“Go on then, lass.” He leaned closer, eager to see what I would do next.
And for my next trick, I thought, I shall make a rich man’s coin purse disappear.
I pulled out the pack of cards, replacing the one I had already taken out, and shuffled them briefly before spreading them out in a fan before him. “Pick a card, any card.”
He selected one.
“Don’t show it to me. Remember that card and put it back into the pack.”
He did as I said, whilst the rest of the men watched intently.
I began shuffling the cards with one hand, drawing their attention to the cards even more. Whilst their attention was on that, I slipped a hand towards the man’s purse. It didn’t take much to unfasten and I swiftly tucked it away in my cloak, fastening it to my own belt. Keen to get away, I stopped shuffling the cards.
“Take the top one. Is that your card?”
He plucked the card from the top of the deck. His expression of wonder turned to a frown. “No.”
“Oh. Clearly I need to practice that one.” I chuckled.
“Good effort anyway,” another of the men said, throwing me a copper.
I caught the coin and tucked it away with my cards in my pouch. “Thank you.” I bowed my head and left their table, heading for the door.
As I passed through the doorway, someone nudged into my shoulder, knocking me off balance. I glanced up, catching sight of a man. He steadied me, his hand at my waist.
“How much?” he mumbled, ale wafting off him with each word.
I pushed him off me. “I’m no street-walker.”
He shoved me back against the tavern wall. “How much?”
I spotted a glint of metal at his waist. A dagger. As he leaned closer, I drew the dagger, pressing it to his throat. He paused. Glimpsing a purse at his waist, I leaned closer, snatching that too.
He stumbled back a couple steps, but I pursued, holding the dagger level with his neck.
“Keep the bloody knife,” he growled.
When he backed away this time, I let him go. Once he’d disappeared down the street, I smirked to myself, fastening the purse to my belt and sliding the dagger in beside it.
“I saw that.”
I glanced over my shoulder to see a tall man with long dark hair worn loose over his shoulders staring down at me.
“Saw what?” I turned to face him. “That man accost me? And you did nothing?”
“It was quite clear you knew how to defend yourself.”
“That I do.” I spun away from him, eager to be gone.
But he grabbed my arm, pulling me back.
“However, I was referring to the purse you just stole.” He pulled me closer, reaching around to pull the purse from my belt.
“Hey!” I wrenched my arm from his grasp. “Give that back.” I tried to grab it back from him.
He held it higher, out of my reach. “Is this your twisted sense of justice?”
“So what if it is?”
He nodded. “I could abide that.”
I narrowed my eyes. He was getting on my nerves now. I elbowed him in the torso and he buckled, giving me the opportunity to snatch the purse back.
“As nice as this has been, I have places to be.” I tied the purse back onto my belt and strode away.
“Do you even know who I am?” he called after me.
“No one important, I’m sure,” I shouted back over my shoulder.
He laughed and shook his head.
Who did he think he was anyway? The head of the King’s Guard?