“You’ll get caught.”
“No I won’t.”
“Yes, you will.”
“No. I won’t.”
Mharko sighed in exasperation. His pint-sized companion stared back at him from behind a tall mug of ale, much larger than one would expect a halfling could imbibe.
“I’ve never been caught,” Duin said. “Well, except for that one time in Bhurny. And that other time at Ghorvo’s Rest. And maybe one or five other incidents… But I’ve never been jailed. Exactly.”
“We’re not talking about some hamlet out in the woods,” Mharko said. “This is the High City Guard. You’ll likely end up in a deep hole, forgotten forever, if not simply run through with a pike and tossed off the Reach.”
“They don’t scare me,” Duin said. “I’ve avoided worse. Why, one time I—”
Mharko cut him off with an outstretched hand and a dismissive hiss. He’d heard the story before, or at least one very much like it, and was in no mood for a tall tale from his short friend. Duin took a large gulp from his mug and wiped the froth from his lips, then looked expectantly at the young aristocrat who had so rudely cut him off.
With a sigh, Mharko gave in to Duin’s pleadings, making it clear that this was not his first choice of action.
“Fine, Duin, I will assist you. But if you return from the High with more than a trinket I’ll turn you into the Guard myself.”
Smiling ear-to-ear, Duin slammed his mug down on the table.
“Spedoinkle!” the halfling said. “I knew you’d come through, Mharko! And I promise, just get me in the door and I’ll do the rest. Nothing big or important, just skimming some cream off the top. I’ll be a mere shadow on the wart on the arse of the rich. They won’t even know I’m there. Well, at least not until I’m gone, because they’ll be missing things. But they won’t know it’s me, because…”
Mharko sipped his ale and let the halfling ramble. He couldn’t help but smile at Duin’s exuberance; it was contagious. The young noble was himself giddy at the thought of putting one over on the high-society types who filled so much of his day-to-day world. A little rebellion was good for the soul, was it not?
“He’d better not be late,” thought Mharko. “I’m not waiting around for the Guard to catch me at mischief.”
The plan was for Mharko to open a little-known door in the High City wall for Duin to slip through unnoticed. It could only be opened one way—from inside the wall—and there was only a short window of opportunity between guard patrols. This operation depended on precise timing for success.
Mharko watched from a thicket of trees in the green belt inside the wall. The first guard patrol walked past the hidden passage, and he waited until their footsteps had faded into silence before slipping up to the gate.
“One…two…three…,” Mharko said softly to himself, counting off the seconds until the next patrol would pass. He had no intention of being here (or anywhere near the halfling) when they arrived.
Mharko’s fingers traced the cracks down the brick at eye level, their sensitive pads searching for the subtle rise which marked the hidden catch. Mharko took one last look over his shoulder and pushed. A section of the wall cracked open, just enough to grip with his fingertips. The slightest effort eased the door open silently on well-oiled hinges. Making just enough room to slip through, Mharko left the door open behind him. Closing it would only slow him down on the return trip.
Enchanted stones along the floor glowed a pale blue, guiding Mharko through the narrow passage. Reaching the other end, he pulled the lever to open the exit door. A quick glance around the dark street showed no sign of Duin.
With soot-blackened face and hands, Duin crept silently along the Low City streets toward the appointed rendezvous. He was early, several minutes ahead of schedule, and waited around the corner from the Wall Street which followed the contour of the High Wall.
Glancing around to make sure no one wandering the streets might come upon him unexpectedly, the halfling’s eye fell upon something wedged into the cobbles of the street in front of him. Something that glinted faintly in the moonlight. Never one to pass up something shiny, Duin bent closer to the street.
“Spedoinkle!” he said to himself.
It was a full gold piece, which some poor passerby had lost from his pouch or purse.
“Someone’s loss is my gain,” Duin thought.
But the coin was stuck fast, likely wedged in by the weight of passing pedestrians, horses and carts. No matter. Pulling out his dagger, Duin went to work prying it free. It was a fair amount of work, and took more time than he really had, but finally his purse was one coin heavier and his spirits one coin lighter.
With a renewed spring in his step Duin stepped to the corner to see if Mharko was waiting at the hole in the wall. He made it just in time to see his partner in crime get pulled back by the collar, fresh prisoner of the Hookspire High City Guard.
The last hour had been a blur. Mharko remembered looking out upon an empty street where he should have seen a thieving halfling, and then waiting several tense minutes for Duin to appear. The next thing he knew, Mharko was being dragged roughly back through the passage, assaulted by accusations of murder, treason and mayhem, a tactic undoubtedly meant to frighten him into obedience.
The only fright Mharko felt was the inevitable involvement of his father and the shame he would bring upon the house of Scaramanga. And while he had no desire to follow his father’s footsteps into wizardry and politics, he was nonetheless accustomed to the life of luxury befitting a noble of the High City. He had no wish to jeopardize his easy ride.
Hoping he would be able to find a way out of his predicament without involving the higher authorities, Mharko remained silent throughout his questioning, finally being thrown into a small dark cell to await the captain’s interrogation in the morning. He had no doubt such an interrogation would be accompanied by a more physical means of persuasion, and he’d be required to bring attention to his heritage to avoid serious injury. If only that damned halfling had been where he was supposed to be!
In resignation to his fate, Mharko leaned back against the wall of his cell and closed his eyes. He began to formulate the precise wording he would use to minimize the impact to his house and his father, if not his own reputation. Lost in thought, he almost missed the sound of someone else in the cell clearing his throat.
“Odd,” Mharko thought. “I was certain I’m alone in this cell.”
Mharko let out a yelp of surprise when he opened his eyes to Duin’s blackened face inches from his own.
“Duin!” he hissed. “Where were you? And how did you get in here? Did they catch you, too?”
“Of course, not,” said Duin. “I told you. I’m not going to get caught. I came in here to rescue you; I saw you get nabbed by the guards. Hoo, you should have seen the look on your face, too! If I were an artist I’d draw you a picture and—”
“Duin! Shut it! How are we going to get out of here? What happened to the guards?”
“Oh, don’t worry about them. They’ll be out for hours, yet.”
Duin led Mharko out of the cell and down the corridor to the guardroom. Three guards sat motionless around a small table, their heads meeting as they slumped over the remains of a card game. Duin retrieved a copper piece he’d missed on the way in, then continued toward the exit. Mharko reached out to touch one of the guards, to make certain they were alive, but Duin stopped him.
“Ah. I wouldn’t do that, Mharko.
“Are they alive?”
Duin just stared at him, aghast.
“Of course they’re alive! I’m no murderer. Eye for an eye and all that, but these fellows never did a thing to me. But if you would like me to—”
“Sorry. Just don’t touch them. It’s best to let sleeping guards lie.”
Unable to argue the logic of that statement, Mharko followed Duin into the street.
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