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Joker and Thief Part 3

Berran was relieved to see Peter as he finished his songs. He had gotten the job done without incident. Now all they had to do was get out of there with their skins. Harrold, the steward, approached him as musicians began to play dancing music and guests filled the floor. “Very well done, lad. I think the king and Lord Robert were very impressed.”

“I thank you. I was not sure about performing that last song, but the story you told us inspired me.” Barren knew that to be the truth of the matter. The old man’s musings gave him inspiration for a new song. Pity that if they are found out, he will never perform that song again. But maybe another singer will remember it, and it will pass along that way.

“Yes, yes. Marvelously done,” Peter said as he approached the two. “That being said, I believe we should return to our chambers and collect our things. We have a busy evening of riding ahead to get to Mulbrooke before tomorrow.”

“Of course,” Harrold said, leading them back towards their chambers. As the three walked down the corridor, they passed several portraits. Some of them were of more great lords and ladies. Others were of great battle scenes. Barren recognized one image and paused before it. “Harrold, could you tell me about what great battle this painting depicts?”

Harrold studied the painting for a moment. The image showed armor-clad men on the beach, fighting off half-naked warriors attempting to flee to several long boats. The warriors were clad in loincloths and strange leather capes. Their faces were painted vibrant colors, and carried spears as their weapons of choice. “The Expulsion of the Sealords of the Traders. They had attempted an invasion of the mainland of Moria when there was still an empire. The Trader Islands supplemented their wealth from trade with raids on the coastal villages. At first, they were successful due to their sneak attacks and picking weaker targets. But then Lord Calven Tarrey got work of Trader’s vessels nearing the coast. He sent a large force to face the invaders and decimated their forces. After that, the Traders never tried to raid the north coast of the empire and never attacked the kingdom of Tarsa again.”

Berran nodded as he saw Peter signal to him. “Ah, yes. I remember hearing that story when I was a child. Well, let us continue.

Harrold guided them back to their room. When they arrived, he produced a small sack of coins. Handing it to Peter, he said, “Here is your payment for the evening. And Lord Robert instructed me to give you a little extra; the song about his grandfather touched him indeed.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Berran felt pride mixed with guilt from the compliment. Indeed being told that one of the greatest lords in the kingdom, and the king’s brother to boot, enjoyed his song made him very happy. Yet knowing that what he and Peter had done would be considered treason made him feel a bit hollow.

“Well, I will leave you, gentlemen, to gather your things. This note will explain to any guard and the gatekeepers that you have permission to leave the feast early for another engagement. I will send a serving girl to you with some food for your journey. I wish you a safe journey until we meet again.” And with that, the steward left the men alone.

As they began to pack their things, Berran spoke in a low tone to Peter. “So you found the letter?”

Peter smiled. “Aye, lad. It took a bit of searching, but I found the right one. And by tomorrow, it will be in the hands of the guild master and to whoever his client is.”

Berran nodded and was quiet again for a long moment. As he finished bundling his things, he spoke again. “Do you think we are doing the right thing? You know, giving this message to the client. We don’t even know who it is or why they want it. What if it has really dire consequences for the kingdom.”

Peter looked at Berran for a long moment. The familiar smile was not there, but a stern look the Berran rarely saw took over. “Berran, what happens when this letter is delivered is none of our concern. Somebody is taking an interest in Tarsa striking up a trade agreement with the Trader Islands again; this will affect its relations of Tarsa with several neighboring kingdoms. For all we know, it could be Lustra, Morian, or even Isum. The politics of the great kingdoms is none of our concern. Only the contract. Do you remember the words we spoke when we became members of the guild? No loyalty to king or lord, only the brotherhood. And when we make a contract, we fulfill it; or die trying.”

“Aye, I remember,” Berran replied. Every member of the guild spoke those words. And making no allegiance to any kingdom meant that many from all over the known world came to join the guild. Berran knew at least one safe house in every realm of the old empire and even several as far off as Isum. Only the guildmasters knew those names. Such an inclusive policy prevented former loyalties to one’s homeland from affecting a job, and not knowing who commissioned a contract helped.

The door to their room opened, and Shanna walked with a bundle of food. “Some food for your journey, gentlemen. I take it your performance well?”

Peter smiled at her. “Quite well, indeed. We should have no trouble taking our leave of here. I would suggest you make your exit as soon as possible. While I do not fear our deed will be discovered for quite a while, I would rather not take the chance. Remember to meet at the inn by midnight.”

Shanna nodded. “I do wonder, what will I do once I am gone? I certainly won’t be able to return, and working in another of the castles may prove too risky for me.”

Peter tilted her head towards him and smiled again. “Do not worry, my deal. The guild and I will take care of you.” He gave her a little kiss on the forehead. As she turned out the door, Peter spoke to her again. “Oh, and if any of the guards ask, we made love in one of the storerooms during Berran’s performance.”

Berran looked at Peter with a raised eyebrow. I wonder how many conquests you brag about are simple tales to cover your tracks while you are doing your thieving. She giggled and reddened but still walked out the door.

Peter touched the side of his nose and winked. “That, my friend, is something you will never know. Though I do not worry about our work being discovered at the moment, you never know if his master will need to look for a letter and find our card.” Now let us be off.

Berran’s eyes widened. “You truly left one of those stupid cards at the scene of one of the most dangerous jobs we’ve done? What if they find it before we get out or make it a mile down the road?”

“Relax. I put it at the bottom of a stack of letters. Chances are it won’t be until tomorrow before it is found. And even then, they won’t know which letter it was, or if it was a letter at all that was taken.”

Berran gritted his teeth. “Let’s just get out of here. Now.” Peter was about to say something else, but the look in his comrade’s eyes told him that it would be better to simply do as was suggested. They calmly picked up their things and made their way out of the chamber.

They had little trouble navigating their way to the front gate. They showed their note to the guards, and their weapons were returned. Peter made a show of examining his sword and was pleased to see no smudge on it. Making their way to the stables, Peter caught the ear of a young stableboy. Reaching into the coin purse, he produced two silver coins. “We have a lady friend that shall be joining us shortly. One coin is to make sure she has a horse ready. The second is to make sure you don’t tell anyone. You seem like an honest lad. Do we have a deal?”

The body nodded and quickly pocketed the two coins. Berran wondered at the wisdom of paying the stableboy. But that was more money than the boy was likely to see in his lifetime. It was enough for the boy to leave and go somewhere else if he was in fear of being found out for his part.

Berran guessed it was around ten at night when they came to the Pale Mare Inn. The Inn was quite full, which Berran was thankful for. The more of a crowd, the less chance they will be noticed or remembered. The ale went down easy, and the meat pie filled his stomach. While they had a package of cold chicken and hard cheese in their packs, Peter thought a hot meal was well-earned. Also, they would probably be thankful for the extra food for the trip home. After this, it would be no stops until they reached Ferrytown; after that, it would be off to the safe haven of Durrow in Thubria until things died down. If events went as Berran feared they might, that could be a good while.

“Penny, for your thoughts, my friend,” Peter said to Berran across the table. “We should be celebrating. We got away clean with our prize in hand. We’ll be in Ferrytown by dawn and then the safety of Thuria. Luckily for us, they are not an interested party in our cargo.”

Berran nodded. “True, the last thing I want is to be involved in whatever trouble that letter causes. Who would be able to use the treaty as a means to start a war?”

“Lustria, if you must know,” a third voice spoke over Berran’s shoulder. He looked up to see the welcome face of a fellow guildsman. Golden Bill Tanner grinned down at him with his flowing blonde hair and silvery beard. He took a seat with his friends. “Lustria has been trading in slaves with the Trader Islanders for decades now. It has been a lucrative agreement, but good king Darran abhors the practice. He had a good amount of appeal to the Traders, and his agreement would pressure the islanders to end the trade indefinitely. Lustria could claim Tarsa was trying to destroy them economically. Therefore they have no choice but to fight for their trade rights.”

Berran lowered his voice, “Is it such a good idea to be discussing these things in public? What if there the king has ears here?”

Golden Bill looked around and laughed, “Very doubtful, my friends. Half of these people are too drunk to remember anything, and the guild owns the other half. And as for you boys being caught with the package, have no fear.” Bill placed a sack clinked with coins on the table and a note bearing the guildmaster’s seal. “I am to take over the package from you, gentlemen, and make my way to the guild house to its delivery to our brothers in Lustria. You boys may finish your meal and make your way to Thuria, where Alistair awaits you; he will be very pleased.”

Peter almost choked on his ale. “Alistair himself is meeting us?”

“Indeed, the guild master has been very pleased with your work. This job will surely get you two further in his grace. Now, if you will excuse me,” Bill took the letter from Peter and made his way out of the inn.

Peter sat as if struck for a long moment. “The guild master himself…Berran, our fortunes are looking quite well indeed.” He picked up the coin purse and looked inside. The smile told Berran that they had been well rewarded. Peter looked back at him. “What say we have another round as we await our lovely traveling companion?”

“So you care about the girl,” Berran laughed at Peter.

Peter nodded. “I think it would be best to take her with us. You never know. She could prove useful in another job.” At that moment, he saw Shanna walk into the inn. Her smile told both men that she had gotten away without incident. “Aye, she could be useful indeed.”

Shanna joined them at their table, and Berran motioned the barkeeper to bring her a cup. They toasted their success, and Peter addressed his friends.

Shanna cocked her head. “I thought you were going to Merryburrow.” Peter swallowed hard and then smiled at her. “I am sorry, my dear, but we had to ensure our escape in case you were caught. Had we missed you and you were not followed, you would have been given our true destination by that man.” He nodded towards a tall fellow sitting at the bar. He nodded back to Peter.

The girl looked hurt. Berran spoke up, “It was for your protection as well. You could plead that you were deceived if you were followed or captured. Lord Robert is a merciful man and probably would have simply been dismissed. But if you join us on our journey, you will be safe once we reach Ferrytown.”

Shanna looked hurt as she stared at Peter and Berran. Then she took a long drink from her ale. Wiping her mouth, she gave them a weak smile.

Peter smiled and laughed. “Indeed. Let us raise our glasses to this fine company. Peter Lightfingers, Berran the Wit, and Shanna the Fair.”

The three finished their cups, made their way out of the inn, and mounted their horses. Berran breathed in the night air and smiled. He had to admit, they did make a great team. And though he was sure that their actions tonight would head to conflict, they would be far away and safe long before that happened.

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