(As noted before, the very start of this chapter is lost, so we begin in the midst of things...)
...didn't have a room on the first floor -- glad to be one of the few who actually lived in the palace at all. But it was the only home he'd ever known, unless you counted one buried in the grave of memory from long ago. And Hengist did not.
Down the corridor to his room, his cubicle, a small square space with a cot and a wooden chest which served both as a table and a place to keep his possessions. Atop the chest was a metal dish on which a yellow candle stood in hardened wax. There was no window.
Hengist didn't bother to light the candle, undressing in the dim torchlight from the corridor. He dropped his gray clothes and pouch to the stone floor, not caring where they landed, but his sheathed dagger remained with him as he barred the door and collapsed on the cot. He lived in a palace of thieves, and even though he'd never known his fellows to prey on one another within its walls (out in the street was another matter), he hadn't lived for over thirty years by letting down his guard.
He blew out the candle and was quickly asleep.
"An' so I asked Jess if maybe she was interested, an' she said 'Sure, who else you gettin'?' I told her I wasn't sure yet, but that I'd ask you when I saw you. Three of us should be enough. She likes working with you, Hengist. Says you're a true professional. She trusts you."
"She's a slut." Hengist bit into his chicken leg, part of his late breakfast.
"Aw, what the hell's that got to do with anything? She climbs like a goddamned cat, an' she's as good at locks as you. An' this is so simple it should be magik. I've even got the layouts of the place."
Hengist stopped chewing. "How'd you manage that?"
Twist smiled and told him about a certain friend he'd been developing in the Upper City, a friend who worked as a clerk of some kind for the Merchant Guard, and all he wanted was a taste of the loot after the fact. Hengist grunted and seemed to return his full attention to his grub.
They were a regular sight in this tavern called The Heaven's Gate (because that gate was opened here often, usually violently), where so many crooks seemed to gather. The older thief and the younger, two of the best, both of dubious parentage, some said they'd been fucked out by the shadows themselves.
Both were lean, of average height, and muscled like circus tumblers, though Hengist stood an inch taller and was broader in shoulder and chest. His hair was shaggy brown, clipped short over the eyes for practicality. His eyes were brown and cold, don't-give-a-damn eyes, killer's eyes. He might've been marginally good-looking, but as a little boy he'd barely survived the pox and carried terrible scars on his face and other parts of him. He dressed in grey peasant's clothes and soft buskins. A child spying him might think him a troll, or some bogey of the night.
Twist was different. At first sight, he looked like some young bravo or dandy from the Upper City, all in green and scarlet, his wirey length strutting like a cock. But the first hint of his danger came when one noticed all the steel he wore. No sword, but knives. A band of them cross his chest, matching scabbards on his forearms, hilts sticking from his boots, and a foreign blade long as his shin at the hip. He looked dangerous, just as he intended. His eyes were burning black, his nose crooked and beakish. His hair and brows were jet, thick and wavey. His smile was a taunting sneer.
"You say it's a jewel hocker?" Hengist asked.
Twist nodded. "Yeah. But not just any shop. It's owned by a merchant-prince named Kengarn. Runs gems an' ore out on ships every week. The swag'll be huge."
Hengist swigged water to wash down bread. "If he's that rich, he's got magik protecting him."
Twist shook his head. "Nope. My friend tells me the Merchants' Guild an' the Mages are at each others' throats over this an' that. He said it should be clear, if we do it soon."
"So what? You in?"
The older thief turned his scarred face up, stared into the younger's eyes. "I tell you what, Twist. I might be. Depends on how I feel. Right now I feel like shit. I'm tired and I'm sore and my stomach ain't right, so just shut the fuck up right now and we'll talk about it later." He ate the last crusty corner of his bread.
Twist didn't say anything. But he grinned.
He was sure Hengist was in.
After breakfast, Hengist left Twist and wandered down to the docks. He'd heard that the Broken Heart had come in during the night.
It was easy to find, one of the largest ships in the harbor. He strolled along the wharf a while, smelling fish and nodding to fishermen he knew, and had almost decided that a dinghy hadn't come ashore yet when someone called his name.
He turned. A tall, bronze-skinned man with grizzled blond hair and a goatee was striding toward him, a huge grin across his sun-wizened features. "By the spirits, it is you, you scarred son of a snake!"
Hengist smiled slightly. "Tory. You're still alive? They haven't cut you down yet?"
The big man stopped before the thief, looking down at him, crossing muscular arms covered with curly hair and adorned only with bronze bracers across his great chest. "Cut me down? Me? Nay, my friend. Though I must admit they've tried a few more times."
For the first time, Hengist noticed the smaller man lurking by Tory, almost behind him. Thin black hair falling in his face, a scrape of whisker across his chin, sunburn peeling on his nose. The eyes of a rat, small and alert. He couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen. Hengist instinctively detested him.
Tory saw him sizing the kid up. "Ah, you don't know this lad, do you? He joined our crew in Gratielle. His name is Goat."
"My name is Mikkel," the kid said. Quietly. Nearly a whisper, so much so Hengist barely caught the words.
"Yeah, that's his old name. But his crew name is Goat. So that's what he likes being called. Right, Goat?"
Goat nodded. He didn't seem to give a shit one way or another. He was looking away, watching something behind Hengist. He seemed bored.
"Is your skipper still breathing as well?" Hengist asked.
Tory laughed. "Ah, yes. You know Kritman. Tough enough to have a kraken for breakfast, an' still eat a shark or two after. We did come close to losing him a few months back, though. I'll tell you about it by a glass of beer, whatcha say?"
"Is the bastard himself around?"
The big man shook his head. "Nah. Still sleepin' on the Heart. Gettin' old. Needs his rest. But he'll be glad to see you. You will come out to the ship, won't you?"
Hengist nodded. "Got nothing better to do. But where's the boat?"
"Ah, Critias took it back. He'll be back in about an hour. Plenty of time to drink a few. My treat. The past while has been good for us."
Hengist agreed, happy to have someone else buy anyway, but also knowing argument would be useless. These pirates spent months at sea, and when they got into a port they liked to spend. Not to mention raising all sorts of hell.
So the three walked along the Row, and found a table in a tavern called Ol' Brinesnoot's. Tory promptly called up three glasses.
"So tell me about Kritmann." Hengist gulped down a few mouthfuls. He hadn't realized how thirsty he was.
Tory laughed. "Ah, yeah. Old Kritmann. Meanest fuckin' sea-dog I ever known. But we almost lost 'im in Inslar...
"This is how it went. We been in port a couple days, right? An' we been having a bit of fun here an' there -- nothing unusual, just regular ol' fuckin' and drinkin'. An' you know how Kritmann is. He's an old fart, but he tries to get around like us youngsters, right? So one day, the ol' bastard stumbles his way into the shiny streets -- the rich parts of Inslar, you know? -- and he sees this fine lookin' tail just a swishin' along, golden hair shining in the sun. An' he decides he wants a piece. An' he's been drinkin' for like fifteen hours, with a couple or three of those spent passed out on the floor somewhere, so what does he do?
"He plays it like the most charmin' dandy you ever seen. He just walks up to her, grabs a tit with one hand and her ass with the other, an' says 'Hey, sweetie, le's go off an' fuck.'" The big man laughed, shaking his head.
"So what happened?" Hengist asked. Goat was sitting with his chair tilted against the wall, nursing his beer. He didn't seem to be listening.
Tory went on. "Well, that girl just kicked him nice an' proper in the balls, stomped his foot, an' screamed her lungs out.
"Let me tell ya, Kritmann may be old, an' he was sure drunk, but he didn't live to see fifty by being stupid. Not all the way stupid, anyway. He ran on away from there, coughing and gasping for breath, the pain just sloshin in his guts, right? An' it might have stopped there, but this wench was somebody important, an' the first we know of this shit is when we hear Kritmann hollerin' down the street. We look up an' see him runnin' at us like a fool, with a whole platoon of troopers in his wake.
"Well, we were drunk too. An' there was like eight of us there, not countin' the skipper, an' there was only fifteen of them, an' them not drunk. So what do you think we did?"
"Hard to say."
"Did we fight? Did we kick their asses? Hell no! We turned tail and ran, in all the directions we could find, hollerin' for support.
"Well, the Inslarians didn't hardly know what the hell was goin' on, nor did the folk in the street. All they know is that suddenly these soldiers come chargin' into their midst, swords swingin' over their heads in a very threatenin' manner, an' then we're all screamin' and runnin'. So these innocents, who aren't too keen on the soldiers anyway, start screamin' and runnin' and panickin' too. Next you know, the word spreads through the streets that royal troops are attackin' the dockside, and the good citizens turned out with brooms and knives and whatever else they could find, and pretty well ripped those dumb soldiers apart right in the street. Not a one lived to tell the tale.
"By that time, we'd done struck out to the Heart with a boatload of women and booze, figurin' to stay floatin' for a few hours, you know, out of harm's way. It wasn't until we went back ashore later that we found out our little riot had built up to hellacious proportions. Half the dockside population got together and went marchin' up to King Adrian's walls, with torches an' whatnot, and the old boy must've had no idea what in hell was happenin'. Must've looked like a revolution or something, maybe the Pitducés back from the grave. But in no time he found out that one of his officers had sent those soldiers barrelin' into the dockside all because of some wench gettin' pawed and he had the guy gutted on the palace wall to make the crowd happy. An' it worked. All that hell because Kritmann went where he shouldn't an' got inappropriately frisky!"
Hengist chuckled. "That's quite a story. But you said you almost lost the skipper. It sounds like he got away clean."
Tory's eyes went wide, and he sat up straight in mock surprise. "Why, it was that wench! If old Krit hadn't been so quick, she woulda beat the hell out of him!" He laughed loudly, and drained his beer.