They made their way to the gates of Silver Falls, which stood wide, open and without a man at arms in sight. Quinlan was surprised they were not stopped. In fact, as he looked about he realized there were no guards on duty. A stable boy ran up to them saying, “Mister, do you need someone to watch your horses?”
Quinlan looked to Nola and Lorelei, and answered, “I suppose we do.”
They dismounted and gathered their things, and as the boy led their horses away Nola said to Quinlan, “Where are the guards?”
“Apparently, Silver Falls does not have any.”
Lorelei overheard them, and as they helped Julianna down, she said, “Silver Falls does have a militia, but as for the coming and going from the city, they could care less.”
They headed into Silver Falls, and their first impression was one of chaos. The buildings were made of thick stone on the first floor, but all manner of materials on the second. The stark contrast to the history of Silver Falls stood out as much as the variety of construction. The stout and sturdy foundations created by the dwarves when they inhabited these lands, were now topped by the less durable wood construction of Silver Falls current occupants.
The falls were, however, quite breathtaking. Pouring over the cliffs which Silver Falls rested against the water cascaded into what, they could not say. From their vantage point is appeared as if the city should be beneath the endless river flowing downward toward the town.
Quinlan adjusted Julianna in his arms, “We need to find a place to stay.”
Silver Falls was known throughout the lands for a variety of things, first and foremost that it sat upon the ruins of an old Dwarven silver mine. Second, it remained the only city to have a lake within the city walls and last, but not least, Silver Falls residents had the dubious title of “the worst luck in the whole land.”
Making their way through the narrow streets, Quinlan was hard pressed to keep from running into either stalls or other people, most of whom seemed intoxicated. But with every misplaced, misjudged move Julianna gritted her teeth as each bump caused her more discomfort.
They stopped at two Inn’s along their trek, only to find there were no rooms available, the festival had brought people from near and far for the festivities, so space quickly ran out. The second Innkeeper was gracious enough to point them in the direction of another, less frequented Inn which sat on the lakes edge. The wild-eyed Lorelei and Nola, who needed to keep pulling her along trailed behind the weary Quinlan. At last, they stopped in front of the Inn, named The Lakeside Inn and Eatery.
Nola opened the door, and they all went inside, the place was busy, and from what they could tell, most of the patrons appeared to be townsfolk combined with an assortment of locals from around Silver Falls. Woodcutters, hunters, herders, and farmers mixed together and singing praises for a good season.
Nola said, “It does not look very promising, I will go and see if they have a room.” She darted off to find the Innkeeper.
“I feel foolish,” Julianna complained.
“If you want I will put you down, but I believe you will look more foolish falling on your face with every step you take, or perhaps you could just crawl,” Quinlan’s weak attempt at sarcasm did not go over well with Julianna.
“I am sorry I am such a burden,” Julianna snapped.
“I did not mean it. I know this is as hard for you as it is for me,” Quinlan said apologetically.
Nola returned saying, “They are full as well, but the Innkeeper has offered us the use of the attic.”
“Seems we have no choice, we can always look for better lodgings tomorrow,” Quinlan said, “Lead on.”
Nola navigated them through the busy common room until they met the Innkeeper at the stairs. “The attic is not much to look at, but there is a roof to cover your heads in case it rains, and besides, those deciding to sleep in the streets often end up waking to have been stripped of everything.” He started up the stairs, “Be wary of the streets after dark, especially during the festival, the thieves are thick as honey.”
Quinlan snickered at the comment, to which Julianna only shook her head.
The Inn stood three levels tall, and with each flight of stairs, the foursome wondered if their weight would cause the building to topple over, for the stairs groaned louder with each step they took. When they reached the third floor, he led them to a narrow staircase which ended at a trap door. The Innkeeper pushed on the door and swung it open, then backed down the stairs.
“I have customers to see to, make yourselves at home. And if you are hungry the kitchen stays open all night.”
“Thank you,” Nola said as she handed him a few silver coins.
Quinlan let Nola go up first, and seeing the narrowness of the stairs, he hesitated.
“What is wrong?” Julianna inquired.
“I will never be able to carry you through such a narrow entrance. Unless…” He trailed off.
“You are not going to like this,” Quinlan said, and before she could respond he shifted her around and threw her over his shoulder.
“Put me down, I would rather crawl!” Julianna protested, but Quinlan ignored her pleas and climbed the final stairs.
The attic stood in poor condition, several pitchers sat about the room collecting rain from the numerous holes, and one section of the wall was completely missing altogether.
Nola was busy spreading out a bedroll for Julianna when Quinlan squeezed through the narrow entrance. He smiled and winked at her, “Thank you, Nola.”
Quinlan placed the infuriated Julianna on the bedroll and sat down slowly, “Now I remember why I became a thief, all this rescue business is hard work.”
Lorelei handed Nola the backpacks of Quinlan and Julianna and went to the large hole in the wall. “Well will you look at that, I believe we have the best view in Silver Falls.”
Quinlan and Nola came over, and the three gazed upon the falls, crashing onto the rocks and swirling in an endless whirlpool. Torches behind the falls illuminated the water in a brilliant silver sheen.
Straight below them stood the lake, the water lapped against the stone foundation some forty feet below. To either side of their precarious perch, similar buildings of only two levels encircled the entire lake. Several small boats, moored to a pier suggested the lake contained fish of one sort or another. Quinlan noticed the whole town was lit up. No part seemed to be cast in shadows, which he deemed odd giving the late hour.
They did their best to make themselves comfortable, but they all conceded they would have had softer beds lying in the woods outside the gates. Instead of trying to trek down to the kitchen Quinlan suggested they just eat what they had, dried meats and cheese.
Lorelei and Nola looked at each other and Nola said, “Perhaps we could go and search for Hamen and Arietta.”
“Arietta, what would she be doing here?” Julianna asked, surprise in her voice.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Arietta helped Hamen to gain access to the Manor. We assume they are both here because we discovered they were planning to flee together afterward,” Quinlan told her.
“Lady Matilda will be devastated to find out Arietta betrayed her,” Julianna said while wincing in pain as she moved to make herself more comfortable.
Quinlan turned to Nola, “I am not too certain it is safe to be wandering around the streets of Silver Falls after dark.”
“We will be fine,” Nola assured him, “After all Lorelei is a wizard, and I can handle myself.”
“Alright, be off with you,” He joked, “But stay out of trouble and do not be gone too long.”
Nola smiled, “I am glad to see you are concerned for us,” The two of them hurried down the stairs, excited to see the night life in this most fascinating of towns.
Quinlan lay down, his back and arms sore from carrying Julianna, not that she was weighty. In fact, her lithe form was no more than Nola’s.
Julianna, with some pain and even more resolve, managed to sit up and rest her back against the wall, she looked over at Quinlan as he lay there. “Quinlan, may I ask you a question?”
Quinlan opened his eyes and glanced over at her, “You may.”
“Why did you become a thief?”
Quinlan regarded her for a moment, “Do you remember the story I told you and Matilda in the garden?”
“For the most part, that story was factual, all the way up to me making friends with a merchant’s son. When I left home I figured I would find work somewhere, make my mark in the world. You know how young people think. I would make myself a king. Ha, the truth is I nearly starved, no one wanted a thin, scrawny boy to work their fields or chop wood.” Quinlan sat up and stretched, “I did, however, find something I was good at. You see, I have always been light on my feet, and good at figuring out how things work,” He beamed with modest pride, “Like how to use a simple piece of metal or two to unlock the most stubborn lock. Mind you I did not set out to become a thief, but as time went by I found the profession to be quite a challenging one.” He tried to determine what Julianna was thinking to no avail, she continued to do quite an excellent job hiding her emotions, so he continued, “Keep in mind, it started as a matter of survival, stealing food so I would not starve, and then one day I made a decision. I would steal only from those who would turn away a person in need. Those with enough to spare, but refused to. My “code” so to speak is to merely help those with too much wealth spread it about.”
Julianna contemplated his tale, and decided Quinlan, for all his faults was indeed a principled man. She had always considered people who steal as unworthy, devoid of honor and deserving a swing from the gallows. She had never considered what drove anyone to such lengths, but remembering the scars which crisscrossed his back and chest, Julianna began to understand how some may be forced to become something she had always deemed despicable. Then her thoughts turned to Trevil and his two men, they were supposed to be the honorable ones, not Quinlan, and yet they planned on raping her. Not really knowing what to say, Julianna gave Quinlan a slight smile, “Thank you again for saving me,” She shifted and grabbed her injured shoulder.
“I am no healer, but if you like I could massage that shoulder of yours,” Quinlan offered. “Unless you would prefer to wait for one of the ladies, mind you their hands may not be as talented as mine,” He smiled slightly and gave her a wink.
She was about to rebuke his offer, but instead she smiled and nodded, “If it would not be too much trouble.”
Quinlan, crawled over to sit beside Julianna, grinned and in his usual playful way said, “Trouble, I would never say placing my hands on such a lovely woman as you as trouble, unless of course, Nola returns, in which case you and I may both be in some explaining.”
Quinlan laughed, and if she could have without pain, Julianna would have as well, but as it was, she just smiled and allowed Quinlan to try and alieve some of her discomforts.
“So are you and Nola a couple?” Julianna asked.
“Hmm, good question,” Quinlan thought about the inquiry as he massaged Julianna’s back and arm around her shoulder, not wishing to rub directly on her torn shoulder blade. He would be a liar if he said he did not fancy Nola, but even a bigger liar if he tried to convince himself he no longer desired Julianna, “To be honest, I do not know, I saved her from the gallows in Estroy, and in return, she gave herself to me. As to whether we are a couple or not, I have not yet decided if she cares for me or just wished to repay my heroism with her virtue.”
“I see,” Julianna unambiguously changed the subject, “So what do you think Nola and Lorelei are up to?”
“Heaven knows, I just hope I do not end up having to break them free from Silver Falls’ dungeons!”
“Is it true you broke Nola out from the dungeon in Estroy or did another?” Julianna asked.
“Yes, it was I, and do not act so surprised, I am able to fight when I need to.”
“You seem to be an awful thief, Quinlan.”
“I will have you know I am one of the best.”
“I did not mean to question your skills, it is just thieves are reputed to care only for themselves, take advantage of everyone, and most importantly, care for no one,” Julianna remarked.
“Aye, that is me,” Quinlan laughed and seeing Julianna shaking her head negatively he stopped trying to play the part of a “typical flippant thief,” “You actually have it completely wrong about me. I take advantage of no one, and though I care about my own hide, I would storm the gates of hell to save a comrade in need.” He sighed in resignation to his admittance of his true self, so to somewhat place Julianna off-guard he changed his massage to lightly running his fingertips across her shoulder and neck, at which point a shiver ran up her spine. Quinlan smiled and said, “As for caring for others, I thought you may have guessed by now, who I care for.”
Julianna, somewhat electrified by his soft touch found herself wanting more, so she immediately said, “Thank you for the massage but I think I should try and get some sleep.”
Quinlan smiled, hearing the cracking in her voice, hoping he was beginning to break away her cold demeanor. “As you wish my dear Julianna, and if you need anything, do not hesitate to call upon me.”
She allowed Quinlan to help her lay back down and actually smiled when he tucked her in. Julianna had never been more confused about a person’s actions. Quinlan seemed to her in all aspects an enigma of contradictions. Thief or hero, sinner or saint, she simply seemed baffled when she tried to comprehend what his motives truly were. As she closed her eyes, she fell asleep quickly. The events of the day, and the weakness brought on by pain immersed her into a much-needed slumber.
Quinlan made his way over to the hole in the wall and watched the waves lapping against the building for several minutes, contemplating the days to come. His mind remained in turmoil, for if they were successful and won back the Heart of Silver Falls. What would he do then?