A Thief in the Night
Brashani stood before the fireplace of the great hall. The fire in the hearth was close to dying. He gestured and the fire flickered out; he gestured again and broke out in a sweat.
Molin narrowed his eyes at his companion. “What are you doing?”
Brashani wiped the perspiration off his face. “Absorbing the heat from the logs so I can rearrange them.”
“That’s what the fire poker is for,” Molin replied with a smirk.
Brashani turned and glared at the other wizard. “Using the poker will hardly let me place the logs precisely for a long-lasting fire.”
The senior mage laughed. “But it’s faster and less tiring my way.”
“Must you argue about everything I do?” Brashani snapped. Anger tainted his voice; his arms flailed wildly about.
Molin’s eyes widened. “Just trying to give you the benefit of my experience.” Brashani heard sarcasm, but he doubted Molin intended it.
“And I’m trying to tell you about something outside your experience,” the fire mage retorted, pointing to himself. “I would think you’d open your mind and try to learn from it.”
Molin said nothing. Brashani crouched and reached into the hearth; he arranged the logs to his liking and added fresh wood so that the fire, once relit, would last until dawn.
The younger wizard stood and gestured. Fire sparked and played about the wood before igniting it. The embers at the bottom of the pile glowed red and Brashani felt the heat from the blaze.
Satisfied that the fire would keep them warm through the night, Brashani brushed his hands against each other, in an attempt to remove the charcoal from them. He heard the clock tower in the town square ring out six times like a church bell tolling the death of a local lord. The last chime sounded as Frank entered the great hall carrying their dinners.
The two wizards ate in silence while Brashani contemplated the last few days and puzzled out his next move.
Six o’clock and no word from Evan. As I expected. He’s doing whatever he feels he needs to while I’m stuck here unable to help.
He chewed a bit of his food and swallowed.
And there’s not much I can do about it either. I wonder what he found out …
He tried to guess what Evan had done this afternoon.
He probably checked with the harbormaster to determine what ship the sailor arrived on. And he’s probably having it watched. The harbor guards can surround it and make sure no one boards it. But beyond that …
His thoughts trailed off as he found himself unable to guess what else the Michaeline priest might have accomplished.
Then he thought about the elf he had seen earlier in the day.
Assuming he’s a burglar, I can also assume he came here to see what precautions are in place so he could plan the theft. But he didn’t leave any spells behind, so either he’s not a mage, which I doubt, or he will use whatever magic he needs, as the situation requires. Given the energy and concentration required to make any spell work, either he is going to use very simple magic or he knows the spells in his repertoire very well, making them easier than normal to execute.
He thought about that for a moment. Simple magic wasn’t particularly harmful or useful for incapacitating anyone; its purpose was to help apprentices learn the fundamentals of their craft. And if I were the thief, I would want something that would take out a guard quickly without raising the alarm. What magic did that leave?
His eyes narrowed and he rubbed his chin. Does such a spell even exist? Hmmm … Probably some kind of mind or body control incantation that’s a prerequisite for necromancy. A chill went down Brashani’s spine and he shuddered involuntarily. Well, if that’s the case, I never learned it, which is just as well. Those things are best left alone.
Brashani finished eating and glanced at Molin. The elder wizard had finished his meal too and was drawing out a long pipe.
Good idea. Brashani took out his pipe too.
Both mages stuffed their pipes with tobacco and began puffing.
So where does that leave me? Brashani wasn’t sure. He needed to keep his eyes open and monitor the situation. Hopefully, he would be able to stop the thief. If not, it would not be for lack of trying.
The clock tower tolled eight o’clock. Few visitors to the Grey Horse entered the great hall at that hour. The two mages settled back, ready for an uneventful night, at least for them. From the common room, Brashani could hear people carousing, talking, and laughing. Things in there sounded quite lively.
Typical, he thought. On an average night, Frank usually had the common room full and, from the sound of it, that was the case again tonight. Brashani imagined the activity across the Inn; his mouth watered in anticipation of some beer. The wizard licked his lips, then caught himself and dismissed the thought. As much as he would enjoy an Old Troll ale right now, he had a job to do. He puffed on his pipe some more and created a small ball of fire in his right palm. Idly, he made it float into the air; a small fiery trail extended out behind the sphere as it moved.
“Practicing your act?” asked Molin.
Brashani peered up at him. “Yeah. St. Sebastian’s week will be over in three days and we’ll all go back to our old jobs.”
“Most likely,” replied the other wizard.
The night wore on and the crowd in the Grey Horse’s common room dwindled until only those staying at the Inn occupied tables. After about an hour of amusing himself with his hand fire, Brashani ended the spell, stood, and stretched. He put away his pipe and went over to the fireplace to see how much of the wood had been consumed.
Molin stood and came over to the fire. “Sorry about what I said earlier. And thank you for setting the fire. Once I get a chill in my bones, it lasts for hours.”
Brashani gave the other mage a sidelong glance and wondered why Molin hadn’t bothered to keep the fire going. If he had, Brashani wouldn’t have bothered to arrange the wood and reignite it. As the fire mage pondered this question, he realized that he had not seen Molin do much of anything for himself. Was that because it was too hard for him to do anything, or was it because, as a court mage, he was used to having things done for him? If the latter, it was possible Molin didn’t know how to make a fire.
How sad, thought Brashani, and another idea burst upon him. It suddenly makes sense why he argues with me. He’s probably not used to anyone disagreeing with him. Life outside the King’s court must be hard for him.
“Glad to help,” said the younger wizard at last and he smiled.
Molin eyed his companion. “You are?”
“Sure. And if you need assistance with anything else, let me know.” Brashani grinned again.
“Thank you.” Molin paused and narrowed his eyes. “Why are you being so nice all of a sudden?”
“I owe you a lot. You helped me get a job here and get back on my feet. Why shouldn’t I be nice?”
Molin didn’t answer immediately. He just stood there glaring at Brashani for a few minutes. Finally, he said, “You’re welcome, but you don’t owe me anything.”
“If you say so.”
“Just do me one favor.”
“Let the past go.”
“Upset over my outburst to Evan this morning?”
“No, but there’s no point getting angry over events you can’t change. If you could do something about them, then your anger serves a purpose. But you can’t and neither can I, so let’s just make the best of the situation.”
“And resign ourselves to being second-class citizens.”
Molin grimaced. “I wouldn’t put it that way. We are just doing the best we can.”
“I’ll think about it,” replied Brashani.
The clock tower struck midnight as Frank looked around the common room and ran his hands through his hair. He was alone in the room; all the Inn’s patrons had retired for the evening. Frank wished he could withdraw to the comfort of his bed too, but he still had to clean up and lock the front doors. He pulled the key to the main entrance out of his pocket and headed for the lobby.
He walked into the foyer and saw James, Iriel, and Daniel coming out of the sleeping quarters the guards shared with Cook. James yawned as he walked. Halfway across the vestibule, he stretched before he continued into the great hall with his companions.
Behind the registration counter, Evan stood watching the scene.
“What are you doing back there?” Frank asked Evan.
“Because Bigsbee refuses to have professional guards stand watch and this is the most strategic area of the Inn. There is only one way in and out of the great hall, so if someone wants to steal the gem, he’ll have to get by me first.”
Frank grunted dismissively. “But there hasn’t been a theft in Clearbrook for years.”
“I know but I saw an elf in the Inn earlier; I think he’s a thief.”
“A thief!” Frank chortled. “Here? Ridiculous.
“Maybe,” responded Evan. “But he was staring intently at the Elf-gem and that kind of attention concerns me. So I’m standing guard here and watching everyone who passes by.”
Frank shrugged. “Suit yourself; but I think you’re crazy.” Stepping toward the front doors, Frank saw Molin and Brashani emerge from the great hall. Molin smiled and waved at both Frank and Evan before continuing across to the lobby.
“Evening,” Brashani said to Frank.
“Pleasant dreams,” returned the innkeeper.
Brashani paused for a moment to talk to Evan. “Learn anything interesting this afternoon?”
“A few things,” replied Evan. “I’ll tell you in the morning.”
“As you will,” said Brashani. “If there’s anything I can do to help …”
“I’ll let you know. Best get some sleep now.”
Brashani didn’t want to rest, but he didn’t want to push too hard either. He inclined his head to Evan and then crossed the lobby and disappeared into the sleeping quarters he shared with James and the other guards.
Frank locked the door and went back into the common room to clean up.
Brashani heard the clock tower strike one in the morning and he yawned. He was tired and wished he had some coffee. He sighed.
Just a few more hours until the Inn opens, then I can go to sleep.
He wondered if Evan had called for him. Was it possible that he had and that Brashani had missed it? He thought about getting up to see but the straw mat was comfortable now and his own exhaustion kept him from moving.
His eyes drooped and his head fell to his chest, but an instant later he was awake again.
Can’t fall asleep on the job. Can’t. Won’t.
His eyes drooped again and stayed closed. He dozed, believing he was still awake and ready for action.
The clock tower chimed twice as the sailor approached the Grey Horse Inn. Darkness covered many of the Inn’s features; nonetheless, the pale moonlight was just enough for the seaman to see the front doors clearly and the three wooden stairs that led up to it.
Testing the door, he found it locked. The elf rested his hand on the keyhole, ignoring the chill from the late-autumn night air and the cold metal door handle. The sailor concentrated, slowly probing the workings of the locking mechanism. He tried to move the latch; it wouldn’t budge, as if the cold air had frozen it into its current position. The elf pushed harder. The lock responded with a resounding click. He turned the knob and opened the door a crack to peer inside.
Evan was watching the fire in the hearth when he felt a stab of cold air. He turned to face the front door as he silently drew his sword. One of the doors was ajar. More than that he could not discern; the night’s darkness seemed to envelop the entryway, making it hard to see beyond. Wasting no time, the demon hunter stepped out from behind the registration counter. Evan’s fatigue flared as he moved; his limbs suddenly felt like lead weights. He yawned and felt his eyes close. Shaking his head, the priest inhaled deeply once to throw off the sensation. He took another step toward the door, wavered, and then collapsed on the floor — asleep.
In the great hall, Daniel sat in one corner while James and Iriel snuggled next to each other in another. Iriel kept stroking James’s hair while the bard kept grabbing her hands and putting them back in her lap because he felt this was neither the time nor the place to flirt. If they had been alone, James wouldn’t have minded. Hell, he probably would have initiated something and gone a lot further too. But as it was, Daniel’s presence was intimidating, and flirting in public was not appropriate in front of a teen; even one who had mastered Qua’ril.
A noise from the foyer made Daniel open his eyes and James look up from where he sat.
“Did you hear something?” the bard asked Iriel. Daniel jumped up and assumed a classic Qua’ril fighting stance; legs spread and bent slightly, arms raised and bent at the elbow, and body bent forward, ready to defend himself from an attack.
“I did not,” she said.
“I’m sure I did,” said James after a minute. “And look, Daniel is up, too.” Prying himself loose from Iriel, James stood. “I’m going to go check.”
Iriel sighed, immediately missing James’s body heat. She hugged herself. “Very well. Faroth mane.”
James appreciated the elven wish for good luck as he stood. He hoped he wouldn’t need it, but he uncoiled his whip just the same. He stepped forward and saw Daniel’s eyes flutter and close; the lad collapsed asleep an instant later. Surprised to see his friend crumble to the ground, James ran to him. Iriel stood up, her eyes wide and round. The bard took only one step toward Daniel before he yawned and dropped his whip, collapsing in slumber. Iriel unsheathed a dagger from her boot and peered toward the doorway.
She saw very little. Then she made out the faint figure of someone moving in the shadows. Carefully aiming, she threw her weapon just as sleep overtook her.
The sailor leapt to the dark corner near the entrance of the great hall when Evan collapsed. He saw Daniel stand and cast a Sleep spell on the lad without hesitating. Even as he completed that spell, the seaman could hear someone else approaching. He froze, peered into the room, and prepared to cast the spell again. As the human came into sight, he cast Sleep once more to eliminate the threat.
The elf crept deeper into the room and saw the form of another guard moving in the darkness. Without a second thought, he cast Sleep once more as a dagger whizzed past his head and buried itself in the wall. If he had been even a second slower …
He dismissed the thought and scanned the room for anyone else moving about. Satisfied that all the threats were dealt with, he entered the room stealthily, careful to avoid the sleeping forms of the guards.
In three strides, he was standing before the display case at the far end of the room. A small topaz gem rested on velvet inside the enclosure. The sailor gazed at the Aglari and then placed his hand on the glass top. He felt several magical wards of protection. They were powerful and expertly set, but they were nothing he couldn’t dispel and remove. He set to work.