Chapter One

            “Who are you?”

            “Well, that would depend on who is asking.”

            “I assume you’re not Sir Christopher Talbart?”

            “To you, William, Henry, Walter?  I am.”

            “To others?”

            “I’ve had many names over the years, most know me as Patch.”

            My hands moved with lightning speed across the page, stopping only to dip the quill in the small inkwell at my side.  I never would have imagined finding my lost muse locked in a cell beneath the Tower of London.


* * *


            The human eye has the capability to adapt to the surrounding light.  If you were to step out of a dark room into the open sunlight, you would be momentarily blinded.  Similarly, if you were to extinguish the only candle in a room, you would also be blind for a time.  After your eyes have adjusted, your sight returns to you.

            I discovered that if I wear an eye patch that I can extinguish a torch and have about ten to fifteen seconds of time to act before my victim can see, simply by moving my eye patch over my newly blinded eye.  The other, having been in complete darkness, has no need to adjust.  I only need about five seconds to end a man’s life.

            The Guild taught me many things about life and about death, but I’m getting ahead of myself; you said you wanted the whole story.


* * *


            My mother was a gentle woman, from what I remember.  She died during child birth alongside my brother who, it seems, was never meant for this world.  I was only six at the time.  From that point on my sister and I were cared for by my late mother’s employer.  Frederick was an old, cruel man and he didn’t so much care for us as he sold us to the highest bidder.

            My sister, now thirteen, was forced into my mother’s occupation.  Frederick knew well the appetites old English men had for young girls.  I was put to work for a local weapon smith named Gerald Fitzsimons.  He was a short, stocky, Irishman who escaped to London to both be rid the constant fighting and to make a living doing what his family had done for generations.  He had large powerful arms that were devoid of any hair; I would learn soon enough that working the forge was the cause.  Gerald was a brash man, but fair.  Even though he told Frederick my pay was two pence per week, he always gave me an extra half penny, knowing full well my pay went straight to my keeper.

            I was given Sunday afternoons off, but Frederick would usually send me to the market to buy goods for the inn’s kitchen.  I always enjoyed trips to the market.  It gave me a chance to spend the money I had earned on sweets and other rubbish.  Sundays were especially busy as this was the day when surrounding villages would travel into the city to hawk their goods.  I began noticing that the street vendors were always preoccupied with customers, trying to sell them on how much better their potatoes were or how juicier their tomatoes were than the ones at the stall less than thirty feet away.  The bustle would become so congested in the market streets that the dirt from the road would begin to rise in clouds of dust covering the entire market in a haze.  Sometimes I would stand in line at a stall for what seemed like an eternity, only to be ignored by a good number of vendors because of my age.

            One Sunday, I decided to help myself.  I was hungry after shoveling coal into the forge all morning.  I was covered head to toe in dirt and soot.  I probably blended well with the infinite clouds of dusty haze that never had time to settle to the ground.  I discovered a stand full of apples surrounded by a throng on citizens.  The shopkeeper appeared to be a bit overwhelmed by the crowd.  It was late summer and one of the first weeks that apples had made an appearance in the market, making them quite popular with the locals.  I waited until the young man working the stall had his full attention turned to coins being placed in his hand and I grabbed an apple from the pile as I walked past.

            My heart pounded in my chest and I thought for a moment I would either faint or it would explode from my chest.  I turned at the nearest street corner and peered back at the apple stall, expecting to see the vendor in pursuit.  Nothing.  He was still selling apples, oblivious to the fact that he had one less than he arrived with.  I looked down at the apple in one hand and the two and a half pence in the other.  I smiled and took a bite from the apple, its juices pouring down my chin.  I shoved my meager earnings back into my pocket and wiped my mouth with the ragged sleeve of my coat.

            I returned to Frederick’s inn later that day a few farthings richer than usual.  I had decided that I would try and save my money from working for Gerald, but from this day I would save every bit of money I earned until I could make a life for me and my sister.  I dropped off the foodstuffs and glanced around the main seating area for Frederick.  He was normally waiting impatiently for me, always wanting whatever money was left over from the purchases and to berate me for being too slow, picking out poor produce, or spending too much of his money.  I shrugged off his absence I headed upstairs to my room to stash my pennies with the rest of my earnings I had made.

            My bedroom was plain.  It had a bed with a straw mattress, a small table next to it with a half-melted tallow candle, and a table against the wall holding a pitcher of water and a wash bowl.  I knelt on the far side of my bed and pried at one of the floorboards near the base of the wall.  I popped loose to reveal a small canvas sack.  I pulled the sack out, tossed the five coins in, and peered inside.  It wasn’t a sack of riches by any means, but I had been saving for a few years now and the sack carried a bit of weight.  I dropped the bag back into its hiding place with a light jingle of coins.  I replaced the floor board and paused.  A quiet sobbing could be heard through the far wall from my sister’s room.

            I opened my bedroom door and saw that my sister’s door was cracked open.  I crept to the open door and slowly peeked in.  My sister sat up in her bed, her sheets pulled tight to her chin.  Her eyes were swollen from crying and the corner of her lip was split and dripping blood onto the off-white linens.  Frederick stood at the foot of the bed, cinching his pants with a belt.

            “Next time you won’t struggle, will you?” he said, glaring at my sister.

            Emily tried to speak, but no words escaped her mouth.  She sat in silence, choking back tears.

            “Really, it’s no different than anyone else you service,” Frederick rationalized, “You should be happy that I was kind with you.  I’m usually not that gentle.”  He fastened the remaining button on his shirt and turned toward the door, “You should get cleaned up.  The sun will set soon and I expect you to turn at least five tonight, my pretty.”

            I pulled away from the door and moved as quickly and quietly as I could back to my room.  I grabbed the door and tried to open it slowly as to avoid having the hinges give off their tell-tale squeal.


            I winced at the sound of Frederick’s voice and slowly turned to face him.  The force of his backhand caught me off guard.  I left my feet sprawling to the floor.  My cheek burned and I could taste the bitter blood oozing into my mouth.

            “You’ll mind your own business next time, won’t you boy?” Frederick sneered, “I expect you downstairs in five minutes with my remaining pence from the market and to help John bring the produce down to the cellar.”  He glowered at me as he walked past and down the stairs.




            “Come on, Christopher; put your back into it!”

            I swung the hammer toward the anvil, striking the thin plate of glowing red steel *CLANG* and again *CLANG*.  I looked down at the malformed piece of metal, my brow furrowing in anger, and tossed it into the nearby vat of water which hissed angrily in response unleashing a burst of steam.  I looked up at Gerald in disgust with my inability to form a simple weapon.

            Gerald guffawed loudly at my display, “Did you think it was going to be easy, Christopher?”  He reached into the vat of water and pulled out the bent piece of steel, “We’ll save this for you to practice with later.”  He smiled and reached into a small pouch on his belt and held out his hand.  I reached out my hand to meet his and he dropped several coins into my palm.

            I quickly scanned the coins and counted five pence, “What’s this for?

            “For starters, lunch,” replied Gerald, “Head to the market and get a few potatoes, an onion, and a chicken.  Kill it on the way; I don’t want blood all over my shop.  I’ll roast it up the way my father used to.  Two pence is for your greedy keeper and one is for you.”

            “An extra half penny?” I asked in disbelief.

            “You’ve been a big help to me Christopher.  Don’t let Frederick convince you otherwise.  Now go on, you standing here isn’t filling my belly,” Gerald motioned to the door.

            I stepped outside and my mood instantly soured.  The entire sky was covered in pale gray clouds; a cold rain fell steadily from them covering the roads in a multitude of shallow puddles.  I pulled my thin cloak about my shoulders and threw the hood up, stepping out onto the road that led to the market square.

            Looks like I’ll be going to the market twice today and in such great weather,’ I thought, ‘At least the food will be better that the trash John serves up back at the inn.’  That thought made me smile as I treaded along the wide road, dodging the numerous mud holes and piles of horse manure.  The market was a short distance away, but my cloak was heavy with water by the time I arrived.  I pulled it off and pointlessly attempted to wring it out.  The rain was relentless and wasn’t showing any signs of stopping soon.  It wasn’t as busy as the usual Sunday.  A portion of the normal vendors’ stalls stood empty and the narrow roads between the rows carried only half the shoppers.

            I figured now I could truly test myself.  Stealing an apple, loaf of bread, or random trinket in the middle of a crowded market was easy.  Stealing a live chicken while only a few people milled about the nearby stalls would prove I could take anything I wanted.

            My target was a middle-aged woman.  Her dark brown hair hid beneath a hood pulled tightly about her frowning face except for a few stray strands which stuck to her rosy cheeks.  It was obvious that she wasn’t pleased to be out in the inclement weather.  She paced back and forth, occasionally calling out to a passerby, “Potatoes, corn, eggs.  Plump chickens here.  Sir, please, come have a look.”

            I began moving in closer, waiting for the right moment when something seized me by the arm.  I spun around on my assailant, “What are you doing?!” my voice edged with anger.

            “You don’t want to do this,” a man’s voice stated matter-of-factly.  His face was nearly invisible beneath a heavy low cowl.  He stood nearly a head and a half taller than me and spoke in a whisper barely audible above the rain patter on my hood.

            “Do what?” I wrested my arm from the man’s grasp, glancing around me to see that my chance at this chicken had ended now that everyone within earshot was staring.

            The man reached inside his cloak revealing a small coin purse.  With a swift motion he shook the pouch allowing its contents to jingle with the familiar sound of silver pennies.  “Follow me and I’ll make it worth your while,” he concluded, turning on his heel and walking toward a nearby alley.

            My mind began racing.  What should I do?’ I thought, feeling like a child for the first time in years.  London was not dangerous per say, but one would not consider it safe either.  Robberies happened, assaults, people went missing and turned up floating face down in the Thames.  The lure of money prompted my feet to begin following the stranger toward the alley.  Although it was nearing midday, the lack of sunlight made the alleyway unusually foreboding.  The cloaked man leaned against the gray brick wall with one boot propped up against it.

            “What’s this all about?” I questioned, still perturbed at the interruption.

            The man lifted the hood over his head revealing tightly cropped and slicked, black hair.  His skin was pock-marked and he wore a thin black mustache with a small tuft of hair on his chin.  His eyes were jet and seemed to bore through me.  I swallowed hard, my worried thoughts returning to me.

            “I know what you were going to, Christopher,” the man started.

            “How do you know my name?!” I exclaimed and took step backward.

            “Stop blathering and listen for a moment,” the man snapped.  His face hardened into a stern mask.  I froze, a chill ran quickly through my body and my hands began to shake slightly.

            “I know you were going to steal something from that vendor.  I know you’ve been coming to the market every Sunday for several months stealing from the vendors here.”

            “Are you here to arrest me? Are you with the city guard??” I asked defensively.

            “Do I look like one of London’s finest to you, boy?” the man replied, a look of disappointment in his eyes, “Use your head, Christopher, it’s your greatest asset.”  The man looked down at his hands and tossed me the coin purse he showed me earlier.  I snagged the pouch out of the air and quickly opened it to reveal a plethora of silver coins.

            My hands began shaking again.  There was more money in the purse than I had saved in over three years.  “W-why?” I said, choking on my own words.

            “I want you to go buy the goods you came to this market for,” the man said.  He walked over to me and placed his hand on my shoulder gently.  “You have a talent, but you aren’t good enough to be successful today.”  He paused for a moment, his stare made my heart seemingly pause with him.  “Go, buy your goods, and leave.  Once you get home open the purse.  One of the coins inside will be different than the others.  Then you have to make a very important choice.”  He removed his hand and turned back down the alley.  Stopping, he glanced back at me, “You can keep the money, but I never want to see you steal again for the rest of your days.  Don’t underestimate me on this.  I know where you live, where you eat, where you sleep, where you work; I even know your sister is a whore just like your mother used to be.”

            I opened my mouth in retort, but the man lifted a hand shaking his index finger at me in warning.

            “Your other choice is to take that purse of money and give it to your keeper, Frederick.”


            The man took three quick steps toward me, his hand clenched into a fist.  I flinched, falling backwards and landing hard on the ground.  Half expecting to be struck,  I glanced up at the man who was now smiling.

            “I told you to listen.”  He offered his hand and helped me to my feet.  “Give Frederick the money and show him the coin.  He’ll release you without question; trust me.  You’ll want to stop by Gerald’s on the way and show him the coin as well; he’ll understand.  Come to the north end of town to the Gilded Stag Inn.  Take this road north,” he pointed to a road that ran alongside the market grounds, “show the innkeep the coin, and he will take care of you.”  The man knelt in front of me placing both hands on my shoulders.  “Do this and I will show you a world of wealth and possibility.  Mark my words though,” his voice lowering as he took my hand in his, “if you don’t do as I say and I catch you stealing in this town again I’ll take you hands as payment.”  With his other hand he made a chopping motion, the light blow landing on my wrist.

            The man smiled again, stood and mussed my hair.  I pulled away, shaking the hair out of my eyes in time to see the man turn the corner of the alley.




            I sat on my bed staring at the small round coin resting in my palm.  The coin was copper and carried a polished sheen.  One side had a plain key embossed on it; the other held a skull missing its lower jaw.  This coin would free me from Frederick’s cold grasp.  I would be free to make a life of my own.  What about Emily?’  the thought replayed in my head repeatedly.

            I slid out of bed and grabbed the small candlestick from the bedside table and moved silently to the door.  I opened the door gently, allowing the lightly rusted hinges to move without sound.  The mezzanine was dark as was the common room below.  I glided down the hall on the balls of my feet, making sure to sidestep the warped floorboards that would creak loudly in protest should I land on one.  Arriving at my sister’s door I paused, noticing a dim light coming from beneath the door.  It was a bit late for my sister to still be working, but I put my ear to the door just to check.

            Hearing nothing, I cracked the door open and peered inside.  My sister looked up at me and smiled.  I entered her room and quietly latched the door closed.  I took the few steps to her bed and sat on the edge of it.  “Why are you still awake?”

            “I could ask the same of you,” she answered, “I’m having trouble sleeping.  I’m—I’m sore.  It’s been a long evening.”  She averted her gaze from me, looking down at the bed.  Emily never liked to talk about work around me.

            “I needed to talk to you,” I said, carrying a serious tone, “I met a man in the market today.  He gave me a chance to leave this place and try to make a life for us.”

            Emily looked up, confusion in her eyes.  “Why? How can he?”

            “It’s not important, Emily.  What is important is that I can leave here and Frederick can’t stop me.  I can start earning real money and come back for you.”  I smiled, excited at the prospect of being free.

            “Frederick won’t let you go,” Emily retorted.

            “He has no choice,” I replied, holding out the copper coin, “This will allow me to leave.”

            “A coin?” Emily giggled, “You can’t expect Frederick to let you leave because you have a shiny coin.”  Emily smiled, but doubt flitted in her gaze.

            “The man from the market gave me a purse with one hundred pence to give to Frederick.”

            Emily’s smile faded as she realized I was serious.  “You’re—leaving?”  Doubt left her eyes and was quickly replaced by tears.

            “I’ll come back for you; I promise.”  I wrapped my arms around her, trying to be of some consolation.  “You’ve made it this far.  I just need a little time to get on my feet and I’ll come back for you.  I’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning.  Just be strong.”

            “I’ll try,” Emily sobbed, forcing herself to smile at me.

            I reached into my jingling shirt pocket and pulled out a handful of coins.  “Here, take this.  I’ve been saving for a long time and I want you to have it.”  I dumped the small pile of pence into Emily’s outstretched hands.  “It’s only twenty-four pence, but it’s something.”

            Emily grabbed me in her arms, squeezing tightly and pecking me repeatedly on the cheek.  “Come back for me,” she whispered.

            I stood up and looked over Emily.  She had flowered into a beautiful woman.  Her shoulder length hair was the color of walnuts and her eyes as green as emeralds.  “I will,” I stated simply.  I was the one light in Emily’s dark world and I was leaving.




            “Damn them!” Frederick exclaimed, exasperated, “They have no business taking you away.”  He glared hard at the copper coin sitting on his bar top.  I stayed silent, not wanting to invoke his wrath any further.  By Frederick’s reaction alone I knew I was already the victor in this battle; no need to prod the freshly caged animal.  “Gather your things and go,” he finished, his voice settling in defeat.

            I swiped the coin from the bar, trying to hide my smile, and took the stairs by twos.  I popped open my floorboard safe and pulled a small blade from the hole.  I undid my shoddy belt and slid it through the dagger’s sheath.  The hilt of the blade was plain steel with a leather-wrapped grip.  Gerald gifted it to me saying that one day I would be on my own and may need this.  I silently thanked him, tossed my spare trousers and shirt into my pack, and slung it over my shoulder.

            I exited my room for the final time and made the short trip to my sister’s room.  The sun hadn’t even begun to crest the horizon yet, so I knew she’d still be sleeping.  I opened the door, creeping silently to her bedside.  I set my candlestick down on her bedside table and looked her over one last time.  Her chest expanded and collapsed rhythmically in time with her breathing.  Her face looked so calm.  I wished she could keep that face in the waking hours.

            I leaned over the bed, kissing her lightly on the cheek.  “I will come back for you,” I whispered.  Retrieving my candle from the table I left her room, quietly closing the door behind me.  I walked down to the common room, placing the candlestick on the edge of the bar.  Glancing sideways I said, “Goodbye, Frederick.”  His responded with a cold stare and silence.  I turned and walked out the door, leaving my old home behind me.

            The morning was very cool, steam rushing from my mouth with every breath.  It wasn’t much earlier than I would normally be heading to the Golden Axe, but Gerald would be without his apprentice today.  I frowned at the thought of not working the forge and anvil any longer.  I had almost gotten to the point of being able to hammer out a straight blade.

            The eastern sky had begun to change to a mix of blues and pinks as I arrived at Gerald’s shop.  I could hear the clanging of hammer striking steel from outside.  I opened the door and was greeted by the familiar scent of burning coal, soot, and red-hot iron.  The shop was small, but fit two workers comfortably.  The majority of the forge actually sat outside with its opening facing in a hole cut in the shop wall.  A large anvil sat in the center of the room where Gerald pounded away at a claymore he had been shaping over the past week.

            “Good morn to you, young Christopher!” he greeted me, always cheery in the morning hours.

            “Good morn, Gerald,” I replied sullenly.

            Gerald stopped his swinging and laid the hammer on the anvil.  “Monday is your favorite day; something is amiss,” he deduced.

            I held out the copper coin to him and he glanced at it, shaking his head.  He turned back to his anvil and plunged the partially formed blade into the blazing coals.  “You’re leaving then?  To those cutthroats?  Those thieves and murderers?” Gerald questioned in obvious disgust.  “I had thought better of you, Christopher.  I had hopes that you would be a master smith one day.”

            “I can do whatever I want!” I cried stubbornly, “They’re saving me.  Some day I’ll be able to save my sister too.  It’s more than you’ve done….”

            Gerald looked long at me, his disappointment palpable.  “Go then. Go!” he growled.  I had never heard Gerald get angry before.  Shocked, I took a step towards the door.  “I said GO!” he roared.

            I shoved the door open and stumbled into the street.  My mind reeled at what had just happened.  I thought Gerald would be happy for me.  I thought he would congratulate me for making my own way in the world.  I felt my jaw tighten and my throat swell.  Tears began to well in my eyes and I angrily brushed them away with my sleeves.

            “What do you know?!!” I screamed at the closed shop door.  I turned and ran toward the market place, tears streaming down my cheeks.  ‘No one understands; no one cares,’ my mind screamed back at me.  The only ones that mattered were my sister and the man from the market.  I stopped running and paused to catch my breath upon reaching the road I needed to follow.  The run had cleared my mind and dried my tears.  I turned north and continued past the market.

            After a few minutes I arrived at a large three-story wooden building.  A sign hung out front with a golden stag emblazoned on it.  The sun had crested the horizon and London’s citizens had begun about their business.  My business stood in front of me.  I opened the door and was immediately greeted by wafts of fresh bread.  My stomach growled, irritated at my neglect.

            “What can I do for you, my young lad?” asked the barkeep.  He stood behind the bar, using a ratty towel to wipe down mugs while nonchalantly sipping ale from another.  He was heavily set.  His gut hung over his belt and his shirt barely constrained the flesh beneath it.  He had a mop of black hair and an erratically bushy beard to match.

            I strode up to the bar and seated myself atop a bar stool.  I pulled the copper coin and slapped it down on the bar.  “What will this get me?” I asked, smirking.

            The barkeep laughed heartily and swiped the coin from the bar top.  “The better question is, are you ready for what this will get you?”  The man’s voice changed from humorous to grave in an instant.  He glared at me, moving one hand to rest on the pommel of a sword at his belt.  I coughed nervously and began sliding off my stool.

            The man guffawed nearly dropping the mug he was cleaning.  “I’m only kidding, boy,” the barkeep said reassuringly, a large smile stretching across his hairy face, “Come; follow me.”

            The barkeep walked out from behind the bar and held out his hand, “The name is Bernard Richards.  You can call me Bernie.  What might your name be, our young new initiate?”  He grabbed my hand as I approached, shaking it vigorously.  His hands were surprisingly soft, but still strong.

            “I’m Christopher,” I replied

            “Just Christopher?” he asked, disbelieving, “No surname for you, lad?”

            “I—“, I frowned at the mention of my family. “I don’t know.  I don’t know my father.  My mother died when I was a child.”

            “I’m sorry to hear that, Christopher,” the man said, patting my shoulder in condolence.  “It’s alright; we don’t need surnames where we’re going anyway.  By the way, nice blade you have here.”  Bernie held a small leather-bound dagger in his hands.  “Good quality too.”

            Realization struck me and I looked down at my waist to find an empty leather sheath.  “Hey, that’s mine!” I complained, reaching out for my knife, “H-how did you—“

            “All in good time, my boy,” he said, handing the blade back to me, “you will learn how I did that all in good time.  He weaved between the common room tables to the back of the inn and swung a small wooden door open.  “Through here,” he said plainly.

            Following, I stepped through the doorway.  The room was small and contained crates, sacks, barrels and multiple shelves holding various foodstuffs.  Bernie leaned into one of the shelving units with his shoulder and it seemed to give way for a moment.  An audible pop sounded and Bernie pulled on the shelf, a section of the wall moving with it revealing a passage behind it and a staircase leading down.

            I looked up at Bernie, surprised to see a secret passage hidden in and inn storage room.  I had not thought that my learning place was to be unknown to the average man.  Gerald’s words rang in my head, ‘Those thieves and murderers?’  I shook my head as if to physically shake the thoughts from it.

            “What’s bothering you, Christopher?” Bernie asked, seeing the bewildered look on my face, “Never seen a hidden passage before?  This won’t be the last one you see; we’ve got more where this came from.”

            I shook my head again, this time to let Bernie know that everything was fine.  He let out a chuckle and popped the lid on a nearby crate which appeared to be full of torches.  He grabbed one and lit it with a small flint box.  “Off we go then,” he said, plodding his way down the stone stairs.  I followed close on his heels, not knowing what to expect when we reached our destination.  The walls and floor were hard-packed earth.  The occasional wooden beam ran up from the floor to a similar ceiling support.  The only light in the tunnel was that from Bernie’s torch which cast flickering shadows off of us and the supports.  We came to several intersections as we walked though the tunnel.  Bernie never paused and it was obvious he knew exactly which path to travel.

            “Where do the other paths lead?” I inquired, curiosity nagging at me.

            Bernie stopped for the first time since entering the secret tunnel and I was following so closely that I nearly ran into his backside.  “The other tunnels are prohibited.  You’d ignore them if you knew what was best for you.”  There was no humor in Bernie’s tone this time.  He turned and continued down the musty tunnel.

            We walked for nearly five minutes before I saw the first rays of light up ahead.  As we approached the corner, Bernie paused and held out his hand, palm facing me.  I took heed and stopped as well, peeking around his massive form to see if he saw something I didn’t.

            “Step where I step” Bernie instructed carefully, “Do you understand?”

            I nodded my head in response, still unsure as to why we had stopped.  Bernie moved against the left hand wall, carefully stepping one foot in front of the other, following the wall as closely as his wide body would allow.  I followed trying to stay close to the wall as well.  As Bernie reached the corner he turned right, continuing to follow the wall as if skirting around a cliff face.  He continued along the wall for another four to five body lengths before stepping back out to the middle of the tunnel.

            “What was that all about?” my curiosity taking over again.

            “That corner has a pit dug in the center of it.  I know it may not look it, but that’s the point.  A few sticks are laid across it with a large canvas tarp covered in dirt atop that.  The drop probably wouldn’t kill you outright, but the multitude of sharpened stakes at the bottom would mostly likely finish the job the fall did not.  There is a path about this wide,” Bernie raised his hands, holding them apart about the length of Gerald’s smithing hammer, “Heed your first lesson as an initiate of The Guild, always proceed with caution as things are not always as they seem.”

            After a second corner, torches were ensconced on the walls, lighting up the hall that ended in a wooden wall with a small door set in its center.  Bernie walked to the end of the hall and halted at the door, knocking gently on it five times in slow rhythmic succession.

            “Who beckons?” a muted voice called from behind the door.

            “The keeper of the skull, the bearer of the key,” Bernie replied cryptically.

            “One of the chosen may enter,” the voice replied.  A latch clanked and slid from behind the door which swung wide.  A short, thin man stood on the other side of the door.  He had disheveled blonde hair, but his face was clean shaven.  “Bernie,” he nodded politely.

            “Paul,” Bernie nodded in return passing through the doorway.  I followed closely behind.  My nerves were on edge and I felt mildly nauseous.  Something about this place excited me.  It could have been the secrecy of its location, the danger of the path leading here, or the enigmatic entry.  I smiled, embracing the feeling.

            “Got a new one, eh Bernie?” the door guard said.

            “Yep,” Bernie replied, “I’m sure Gregory has his reasons.  He always does.  Come along, boy.”  He beckoned me follow once again as he continued through a doorway out of the small entrance and into a much larger room.  The area was cluttered with an abundance of weapons, armor, targets, and training dummies.  Several doors were staggered around the walls and Bernie walked up to one.  He knocked gently, but not in the same practiced manner as the first.

            “Enter,” a familiar voice responded from beyond the door.

            Bernie swung the door open and waved me through.  Behind a large desk sat the man from the market.  Upon seeing me his face lit up with a great smile.  “Christopher, you decided to come!  I knew I chose right.”  He stood up and walked around the desk, holding is hand out to me.  I shook it but stayed silent, still puzzled at what type of place this was.  “I haven’t formally introduced myself; Gregory, Gregory Dumont.  This is my home.  Welcome to the Guild.”

The End

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