“The Guild opened my senses and made me truly aware of my surroundings. They taught me to move like a shadow. Knowing when and how to move can be the difference between going unnoticed and visiting the gallows.
“Everyone has a pattern. Daily life is just a set of routines. Observing peoples’ schedules and habits stacks the odds in your favor.
“Locks are simply a few tumblers holding pins in place. Trip these with a couple simple tools and no door will ever bar your way.
“The easiest way to lift someone’s purse is by distracting them. If you can keep their attention diverted they almost never realize their pouch is twenty pence lighter until it is too late.
“The quietest way to kill a man is to puncture his lungs or put a blade in his windpipe. If you can’t breathe, you can’t scream.”
* * *
I had watched Jacob Williamson for fourteen days. Every morning he left his house just after dawn and traveled to Rosilyn’s Bakery to break his fast on a fresh loaf of bread. After his meal he would continue on to his place of work, Williamson Tailoring. The majority of his daylight hours were spent there, mending and altering clothing for the wealthy and noble.
His schedule fluctuated on his way back home. Some days Jacob would visit the marketplace to buy goods for the night’s meal. Some days he would take that meal at the local Boar’s Snout Pub which stood a few blocks from his home. On those days he would not return home until well after dark and for every two steps forward he would take another to the side or backward. Jacob led a simple life. This would make it easy for me to take his not-so-simple belongings.
The task at hand was straightforward, as it should have been for my first job. After dusk enter the Williamson estate, go to the main gallery on the second floor, and retrieve a broadsword. The sword itself was gifted to Jacob by a noble lord for his work on his daughter’s wedding gown. It was purely ornamental, crafted of solid silver and studded with precious jewels.
My reward for this heist was any valuables remaining in Jacob’s home. Any coinage that I came across was mine to keep and any other items of value could be fenced upon my return to the Guild.
I watched over the Williamson estate for two nights prior and came to the conclusion that Jacob lived alone. He had no wife, children, or servants, and no one visited him within my two weeks of scouting. The house was quite large. An iron gate and fence enclosed a small lawn of bright green grass. Stone filled the lower story of the house, encasing an iron-wrought oaken door. The second story jutted out slightly wider than the lower floor. Wooden beams crisscrossed, supporting a shallow roof with a stone chimney which billowed white smoke every night. Large paned windows covered the second floor at regular intervals, but the first floor only held two small arched windows the size of a cat.
I stood against the wall of a nondescript building staring patiently at the door to Williamson Tailoring across the road. Waiting for Jacob to emerge from the day’s work, I mentally checked the equipment I brought with me. I would have to follow Jacob to ensure that he would be making his occasional visit to the Boar’s Snout today. This would give me the time needed to complete my task.
Gregory had promised that if I returned with the sword in hand without raising an alarm, I would be given more challenging and lucrative missions. I had trained rigorously for three years for this moment and although I was only fourteen, I had accomplished more than many did with five or six years of training. It was unusual for the Guild to give missions to someone so young. Others near my age were only allowed to walk the streets picking pockets and swiping the occasional valuable from a vendor stall.
My wandering mind snapped back to focus as the door to the small tailor shop opened and Jacob appeared. He closed the door behind him, locking it and stuffing the small key ring into his coat pocket. He turned and began down the long road that would lead to both his house and the Boar’s Snout Pub. His shadow stretched far in front of him as he walked, the setting sun barely showing over the tops of the buildings.
I waited a few moments for him to get a head start and began my slow, steady pursuit, mindful of my own cast shadow. This evening was the deadline for this mission. I had been given a gracious period of two weeks to complete my task. Within that time I had watched Jacob make a visit to the Boar’s Snout on three separate occasions. This was the night I needed his fourth stop to happen.
Fortune smiled on me as Jacob took the detour that would lead him away from his abode and on to the pub. I kept my slow pace until reaching the intersection and turned in time to see him step inside. Increasing my gait, I passed the intersection. My target lay just ahead, barely visible in the growing dusk.
Alleyways surrounding Jacob’s house, both side alleys attaching to a back alley that ran parallel with the entire length of road I traveled. I glanced about, seeing nothing but empty road, and ducked into the first alley. Having scouted the house multiple times, I was well aware of the building’s entrances. There were a total of three doors, the main entrance on the street as well as rear and cellar doors. Eight windows surrounded the second floor, two for every side of the house.
Reaching the back alley, I casually glanced about ensuring I passed unnoticed. The alley was narrow and lengthy. Night was quickly approaching and shrouded everything in concealing darkness. I slid my leather pack from my back and retrieved my set of picks. I had checked the lock on this door several days before and knew exactly which tools I would need to spring the lock. With a few measured twists, the lock rewarded me with a satisfying click.
I replaced my picks and hefted the pack to my shoulder, taking a second glance up and down the alley before gently opening the door. I padded lightly inside, closing the door softly behind me. The room was black as ink. I knelt, setting my pack on the floor and feeling about for the candle and tinderbox I brought. I struck the flint a few times, and eventually birthed the flame needed to light the wick. The candle’s light revealed a spacious storage room. Bolts of various cloths were stacked against every wall along with dyes, threads, and needles. A narrow stairwell in the corner led down to the cellar below. I figured a few of the bolts would be rather valuable, but my expertise didn’t lie in fabrics.
I crept through the far doorway into the next room. Although my observations told me that no one would be here, I moved in silence. The Guild taught patience to be the greatest of virtues and that through caution the unexpected becomes expected. The room’s contents were lavish. Paintings adorned the walls, a great stone fireplace rested against the wall facing the front door. The hint of ash and pine still lingered although the only remains was cold soot and ash. The skin of a massive wolf lay spread in front of the fireplace, its head posed in a toothy snarl. A polished, cherry wood table sat off-center in the room with four matching chairs. It was set with gleaming silver flatware and candlesticks.
‘Ah, my expertise does lie in silver,’ I thought, digging a large canvas sack from my pack. I popped the half-melted candles from their sticks and stuffed them in the sack along with the other silver pieces. I moved to the large armoire that stood closed against the wall nearest the table. Swinging the doors wide I discovered the remainder of the silver plates, knives, forks, and spoons. I quickly moved them to their new sack home and closed the cupboard doors.
On the opposite side of the room, a grand winding staircase led to a balcony running the length of the room. My true target laid in wait above, so I cinched and slung the sack over my shoulder and moved up the oaken stairs. A connecting hall branched off from the balcony ending at the back wall. A small table stood against the end wall; a silver vase sat atop it, fresh wildflowers sprouting it. Two closed doors mirrored one another on each side of the hallway. I passed the doors, lifted the vase to my face, and took a deep breath. The delightful scent made me smile, but it quickly soured as I thought of Emily trapped in Frederick’s brothel. Emily loved flowers. ‘A gift for you, Emily.’ I dumped the vase’s contents onto the wooden floor in a light splash and stuffed the small vase into my coat pocket.
I returned to the set of doors and swung the one on my right open. The hinges responded in silence and the open door revealed a posh bedroom. A great pillared bed laid against the far wall, silken drapes hung from a canopy shrouding the bed in darkness. A tall mirror stood against the opposite wall along with an intricately carved wooden desk and matching armoire. I high-backed upholstered chair sat in front of the desk covered in supple, red velvet.
I rifled through the desk drawers for anything of value, but only found the usual desk contents, a few sheets of parchment, a couple quills, two inkwells, a stick of sealing wax, a plain signet stamp. I continued searching, dropping a silver letter opener into my sack of treasures, and came across a small velvet pouch with its drawstrings pulled taut. My curiosity piqued, I pulled apart the simple knot and revealed a thick, black iron key.
I tossed the pouch back into the desk and fingered the key’s dulled teeth, ‘What prize will you reveal for me, my friend?’ I opened the doors to the armoire and frowned upon seeing it filled with nothing but clothing. Checking the bedside tables revealed no other prizes and ended my search in the bedroom.
Moving across the hall I opened the second door. I wouldn’t have used the term gallery as Gregory had, but there was a significant collection of art stored here. Body length candelabras stood between each of the grand wall hangings. I lifted my waning candle and lit several of them, illuminating the room in a flickering, warm glow. I blew out my original candle, plucking it out of its stick and dropping it to the floor. The candlestick itself found a new home among my other silver goods.
My footsteps were hushed by the luxuriant scarlet rug that ran the length of the gallery. At the end of the carpeted walkway stood a refined wooden stand; in it rested a lustrous, silver broadsword. Its hilt was encrusted with rubies and sapphires that sparkled wildly in the flickering candlelight. The pommel held a single immense diamond. The hundred-faceted orb cast rainbows dancing across the walls behind it. The entire length of the blade had elaborate script in an unknown tongue engraved into it.
I swallowed hard, the sudden realization of the ornamental weapon’s worth crashing upon me like an ocean’s wave slamming the shore. I moved unhurriedly, the glittering mass of gemstones mesmerizing. I set down my sack of silver and crouched before the incredible piece. I lifted the sword from its burnished stand, its heft increasing my amazement. Only after removing the sword did I notice the diminutive, iron-bound chest resting against the wall behind it.
Setting the sword tenderly on the rug, I lifted the heavy stand aside and retrieved the nondescript key from my pocket. Inserting it into the keyhole, the lock popped as anticipated. I let out a small, childlike giggle upon setting eyes on the mound of silver coins. Another velvet pouch lay on top of the pile and it revealed an assortment of cut gemstones on opening.
I started merrily scooping out coins into my bag, very pleased that Gregory had given me the chance to prove myself. My reverie suddenly shattered upon the sound of a heavy door slamming shut. Time suddenly froze. ‘Jacob’s home early,’ my mind screamed. My heart thudded heavily against my chest and my mind raced for answers on how to escape unseen. I knew I only had a few moments before Jacob would realize his table was void of its adornments and would begin the hunt for an intruder or worse, call on the guards.
I cinched my prize sack and pulled my pack open. Producing a small iron pronged hook, I pulled a coil of thin rope from my belt loop and tied a solid triple knot around the hook’s eyehole. Hefting both bags onto my shoulder and grabbing the jeweled sword, I dashed for the corner window of the gallery.
“Who’s there?!” Jacob’s voice echoed from the floor below. “I-I have a sword and I’m not afraid to use it!” he threatened meekly, his voice cracking in fear.
I smiled at his weak attempt at intimidation and pushed the windows wide, affixing the hook securely to the sill. “Sorry, Jacob,” I whispered, “nothing personal.” I hoisted myself over the edge and repelled one-handed into the side alley below. The moment my feet touched solid ground I sprinted to the back alley, turned the corner and never glanced back. My grapple hook and rope were a small price to pay for a fast escape. The Moonlight Inn was only a few blocks away and I was certain I’d make it there with ease. It had been some time since I last visited Emily and there were plenty of places I could hide both myself and my stolen goods.
“GUARDS!!” Jacob’s voice boomed from the alley, “I’ve been robbed!”
I slid in the rear door of the Moonlight Inn, placing my picks back into my belt pouch. I darted quickly into a side storage room. Barrels, crates, and sacks littered the room carrying an assortment of provisions to keep the inn’s kitchen running. John, the inn’s cook and barkeep, bustled about the kitchen chopping a multitude of vegetables with a large, dulled cleaver. No doubt he was making the inn’s staple, potato and leek stew. After five years of choking down bowl after bowl of the foul concoction, I wondered if they ever actually sold any.
I buried my sack amongst the others in the room and lodged the broadsword along the floor behind the short wine rack at the back wall. I peeked out into the kitchen and seeing that John had left momentarily I slithered out the back door, latching it quietly behind me.
I breathed a sigh of relief entering the wide, empty street that past the inn. The London city guards were a lazy lot. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if they didn’t even respond to Jacob’s wails of distress. Even if they had, I escaped cleanly. The responding guards would give Jacob condolences and the empty promise that when the apprehended the offender the king would have his head. I had no plans to lay my head on the block any time in the near future.
The house next to the inn belonged to a short, hunched old lady who seemed to like nothing more than gardening. While growing up, she was always tending the flower boxes that adorned her small home’s front step. I bent down and plucked three daffodils from the nearest box for Emily’s new vase. ‘Thanks, old lady Fran.’
The sun had only been set for about an hour so I figured the inn would be busy. The busier the inn was, the less I had to deal with Frederick’s attitude. I swung the inn door wide. I was greeted by the low, chaotic roar of the full tables and bar. Laughing, drinking, gambling, womanizing, and general merry-making filled corner of the inn. The smell of bread dominated the air over the scents of ale, sweat, and the wretched potato and leek stew. ‘The evening must have brought with it many customers tonight,’ I thought wistfully. John only baked bread in the mornings and made enough to last the day. ‘Not tonight, I guess.’
Beth frantically poured ales, plopped bowls of stinking soup down on tables, and gave icy stares at the occasional drunkard copping a feel. The wench had served the tables here for as long as I could remember. She had a plain, worn face. Her light brown hair was pulled tight behind her head; the tendrils that escaped the hair band stuck to her flush cheeks with sweat.
The inn’s clientele consisted solely of men. The only women in the room, other than Beth, were Frederick’s whores. They were scattered about the room, wrapped in stained dresses with loose bodices. Some stood at the bar coercing free drinks from the patrons, others sat on patrons laps or played with their hair, laughing at every mundane joke spilling from their customers’ mouths.
Emily sat at a table, smiling and laughing with a middle-aged man with graying salt and pepper hair and thick matching beard. He poured Emily a drink from the opaque bottle at their table. She happily took the small cup of brown liquor, drained it, and winced. Her cheeks flushed and she placed the cup on the table with a smile.
I could feel my heart start to pick up and my neck hairs prickle. I clenched my fist unconsciously as I moved to couple’s table. “Emily, how nice to see you again.”
She glanced up, obviously surprised to see me. “Christopher!” she squeaked in excitement. She stood up, throwing her arms around me in a warm embrace. “It’s been so long,” she whispered in my ear.
The man at the table stood up and shoved my shoulder hard. The attack caught me unaware and I took a quick step back to avoid falling into a neighboring table.
“I paid my money!” the man growled, “she’s mine for tonight, little man.”
His breath reeked of whiskey, even from a distance. I straightened my jacket and glared at him in disgust. “My sister can’t be bought,” I stated simply, staring coldly into the man’s eyes.
He dove at me in response and drove me hard into the floor. My breath left me for a moment as I struggled to free myself. The man, thrice my age and weight, pinned me to the ground, cocked his arm back, and slugged me square across the chin. I tasted blood pooling in my mouth and felt a rivulet run from my nose down my cheek. He pulled his arm back for a second strike, but was seized mid-swing.
“Noooo!” screamed Emily, holding tightly to the man’s arm with both hands.
He climbed off of me and turned on Emily, raising his other hand and bringing the back of it hard across her face. She sprawled to the floor, blood dripping slowly to the wooden floor as she began sobbing. The man turned his attention back to me as I fought to regain my senses. The room had cleared around the center and a hush had fallen over the room.
“I said she’s mine,” the man muttered angrily. He took a step toward me, his eyes wild with fury.
“That’s enough!” shouted Frederick from the balcony above. He slowly worked his way down the staircase, keeping his eyes on the rowdy patron.
The man smirked at Frederick. “You think you can stop me?” he asked, threateningly.
“No, but I can.” John emerged from the crowd with a short sword in hand. “I suggest you walk out that front door before I slice that fat gullet of yours open.”
The man, realizing the odds were stacking against him, stepped backwards slowly toward the door. The crowd parted as if the man had an invisible barrier surrounding him.
“I don’t want to see you in this establishment again!” Frederick yelled after the man as the door swung closed behind him.
John looked down at me, shaking his head with the slightest of grins. I took his proffered hand graciously and he hauled me to my feet.
“What, in God’s name, did you do to him?” John inquired, curiously.
“He didn’t do anything!” Emily exclaimed, Frederick helping her to stand. She hurried to my side, dabbing my broken lip with a cloth.
John shrugged and climbed atop a nearby chair. “Nothing more to see here!” he announced, “Get back to your drinks, food, and women.” He hopped off the chair and returned to the kitchen.
Frederick waited a few moments and then approached me and Emily. “Emily has work to do,” he stated, coolly. Emily was the only power Frederick held over me and he used it whenever possible.
I sneered at him, digging a hand into one of my belt pouches and pulling out a handful of silver pennies. I slammed them on the table next to us and glared at Frederick. “She’s mine for the night,” I snarled, taking Emily’s hand in mine and leading her up the stairs to her room.
“Thank you, Christopher.” Emily said sullenly, her eyes locked on the floor.
“Why are you still doing this? If you keep living this life you’ll end up like mother….” The words had left my mouth before I had a chance to stop them. Emily’s open palmed slap was deserved. I turned with the blow, staring blindly at the wall.
“You have no right!” she cried. I turned back to look at her; tears were streaming down her cheeks freely now. “Mother was a good woman—“ Emily’s voice caught in her throat. She buried her face in her hands.
I knelt next to her bed and wrapped my arms around her. “You don’t need Frederick any more. You can do something else with your life,” I whispered gently in her ear, “You should have enough money by now to—“
“I don’t have any money,” interrupted Emily, looking up at me.
‘So much innocence lost in those emerald eyes,’ my mind wept.
“What? What do you mean?” I asked in disbelief. “You’ve been here for over eight years and you don’t have any money?”
“Frederick says that it’s the cost for my upkeep,” she replied.
“Upkeep?! Emily, you’re a person, not a damn fire that requires logs to be fed into it to keep the fire going.” I stood and began pacing the room. The mere idea of what Emily was saying was incredulous.
Emily stood, seeing my choler rising, and stilled me by putting her hands on my shoulders. She gazed into my eyes and smiled weakly.
“Please, don’t cause any trouble. My life is comfortable here,” she pleaded.
“Comfortable?” I asked, “Is it really. How about the man who tried to knock my teeth out downstairs? Does he make you comfortable??” I shrugged Emily’s hands off and walked to the window, pushing the glass open and letting the autumn breeze rush in.
“He was just drunk. He’s normally very gentle with me.”
I shook my head in revulsion, trying to rid myself of the thought of that man touching my innocent sister. I slammed my hand on the window sill, the pain helping to clear and focus my mind.
“I have to go,” I said, turning to face Emily again. I hugged her and gave her a peck on her cheek. “The next time I return, you’ll be coming with me. I want your life to be full of beauty and wonder, not slovenly drunkards and abuse.”
I cut her off immediately, pressing my finger to her lips. I shook my head slowly indicating to her that the conversation was over. Reaching into my coat I produced the small silver vase and held it out to her. “Your gentle customer trampled the flowers.” I opened the bedroom door, looking back one last time. “The time is nearing, Emily. I’ll soon have enough money to care for both of us.” I flashed a sincere smile her way before closing the door behind me.
I walked past my old bedroom door; the muffled sounds of moans and heavy breaths made my skin crawl. I continued down the stairs, stopped at the very bottom step by Frederick.
“You’re done having a good time with your sister then?” he inquired snidely, “She’s really a sweet girl…” I brushed past him, paying no heed. “…tastes like warm honey.”
I turned on my heel, bile rising in my throat. “Don’t push me, Frederick,” I warned.
“Well, now that you’re finished up, she can get back to work.”
I lunged forward snagging his collar with my fist and pulling his face to within an inch of my own. His breath was short and wheezy and smelled of rot.
“I paid for her for the night,” I reminded him, my voice dripping venom. I shoved him hard into the stairs and made my way to the front entrance. I turned back on Frederick before opening the door. “All night,” I threatened, pointing a finger at him and cocking my head slightly. I kicked the inn door open and stormed out into the night.
I walked around the side of the building to the back door to retrieve my belongings. I cracked the door open, peering inside. Beth stood at one counter ladling stew into two bowls. She scooped them both up and backed through the double-hinged kitchen door into the common room, leaving the kitchen empty.
I moved quickly through the door into the storage room, pulled the sword from behind the wine rack and uncovered my two bags, slinging them onto my shoulder. I made a final glance into the empty kitchen and slid out the door into the night once more.
“Ah, the Sword of Ares’ Wrath.” Gregory hefted the broadsword, inspecting the gems set throughout its hilt. “Such an amazing piece. Do you know where it came from?” he asked. Knowing full well I didn’t know the answer, he continued, “It was crafted in Greece and taken during the Roman conquests. The sword passed hands and ended up in England during the Roman occupation here. The sword eventually made its way into the hands of King William I, God rest his soul. Our friend Jacob Williamson, a renowned tailor, created a good portion of the king’s wardrobe. This sword,” he held it up to emphasize the point,” was payment. Now it’s ours.”
He set the sword down on his desk and looked at me quizzically. “Where are the other stolen goods?” he asked.
Taken aback, I responded, “Sir, you said I could keep what I found.”
“Hmm,” he pondered, placing one finger against his temple, “I think I said you could keep what you found if you didn’t raise an alarm. Did you raise an alarm, Christopher?” Gregory inquired, innocently.
I looked down at my feet. “Jacob called for the city guards,” I looked back up at Gregory and pleaded, “but I had already escaped by then. Neither Jacob nor the guards ever saw me.” I obediently hoisted the sack of silver merchandise onto his desk.
Gregory pushed his chair back from his desk and stood over the canvas bag. He opened it and began plucking items out.
“Candlesticks, plates, spoons, coins? Christopher, you have quite the nose for silver, don’t you?” he asked, rhetorically. He reached to his belt a pulled a small coin pouch, tossing it hard my direction. My hand instinctively met the pouch inches from my face, creating a light jingle as the coins inside shuffled.
“There’s your payment. Be off. I’ll summon you when another mission presents itself.
I frowned, frustrated at my own failure, and turned away from Gregory’s desk. I considered the pouch’s heft in my hand, figuring between eighty and one hundred twenty pence inside. “At least it’s something,” I thought, shoving the purse into my larger belt pouch. If I was to ever free Emily from the captivity of her impoverished life, I’d need more money.