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I was born William Edward Kingson. My mother had been a maid in the Keep of king Henry. I was the bastard son he refused to acknowledge like several others. My mother ended up marrying the captain of his guards. He was the one that taught me how to use weapons and how to fight. I was fourteen when the king became ill. Captain Mambly arranged for me to work as a caravan guard leaving the kingdom.
For four years I traveled the world and learned many things. When I returned to Eustria it was to learn of my mother’s death. She had died not long after the captain who had died shortly after the king. The whole kingdom was changed. It was hard or impossible for people to leave and the nobles ran over everyone. The only real job I could find was as a bar breaker.
I knew better than to let my half brother know I was here, he would have me killed like he had the other three bastards. The captain had taught me many things and shown me things I never thought about. While the large city sprawled on both sides of the river, the nobles retreat and the king’s Keep was on the island in the middle of the river. There were two bridges to the retreat. They both had huge stone arches at each end of walkways.
What people did not know was that inside each arch was a small room with stairs. The second floor spanned the width of the road and had a narrow walk that allowed men to walk the length on the bridge from arch to arch. I had sold my horse a week after arriving, I could not afford a room and had remembered the gate houses. Everyone was very carefully around the river because of the river snakes. They were poisonous and came out during the day to sun themselves on the warm stones.
For almost a month I worked at the tavern and things got steadily worse. I was barely paying for enough food to keep me going. The conditions in the city only got worse for almost everyone. The only ones that had it easy were the nobles and their favorites, that also included the richer merchants. The night I was fired for breaking up a fight a young noble started was the start of something else.
I stood watching the dark house for a long time before finally crossing the street and moving down the alley beside it. I stopped halfway down and stood listening. I turned and used the cracks between the stones to start climbing. On the third floor I carefully pulled myself onto the narrow window ledge. I pulled a very thin dagger from an arm sheath and slipped it between the windows. I lifted and the inside latch came out of the lock.
I quietly opened the window and slipped inside closing the window behind me. I silently moved through the room and opened the door before slipping out. I made my way to the servants stairs and then went down. On the first floor I moved through the dark hallway to the study door. A moment with my dagger tip between the door and the frame was enough to unlock the door.
I slipped into the room and closed the door before pulling the tiny metal dark lantern from my belt. I opened one shutter as I moved towards the desk. I only glance at the other door with its large ornate lock. I sat and used the lantern to go through the desk. In a side drawer I found a couple of stacks of gold coins. I took them and the small bundle of candles. I took the ornate key from the top drawer and moved to the side door.
When I entered the room it was to see a few small chests. The first two chests held copper pennies or brass six pieces. The next chest held small bags, I opened one to find rare spices. I pulled them out to fill the small pack I was carrying. There were two chests left, the first held silver pieces and the second had gold. I hesitated and then lifted the chest of silver and poured it into the chest of gold coins.
I carried the heavy chest out and locked the door. I put the key back in the desk and went to the door to listen. I closed my lantern and quietly opened the door and moved the chest into the hall before closing it. I made my way back to the window I came in and set the chest down. I unwrapped the cord from around my waist and tied it to the chest and leaned out to lower it.
I wrapped a piece of twine around the latch and looped one end under and the other over the window. I slipped out onto the sill and closed the window before pulling the twine that went under the edge of the window. The latch closed and the twine slowly went through at the top of the window and then came out the bottom. I slowly made my way down and lifted the heavy chest.
I carefully made my way through the alley. I waited and listened before crossing the main street and slipping into the dark alley on the other side. It was to dangerous to move through the dark here. I carefully opened a shutter on the lantern and moved slowly down the alley. I turned right between two buildings and squeezed through until I was on the lip of the river.
I moved back to the right watching my steps and looking for snakes. I came to the darkly tarnish door and shifted to pull the old key from my sash. The heavy door opened silently and I slipped in before setting the chest down and closing the door behind me. I opened the shutter on the lantern wider and looked around before slowly moving the two locking bars into place in the door.
I lifted the chest and crossed to the spiraling stairs and headed up to the next floor. I walked to the narrow table and gratefully set the chest down. I removed the lantern from my belt and set it on the table too. I pulled the pack off and removed the bundle of candles before lighting one from the lantern. I set it in an empty glass globe and stripped before crossing to set the pack on another narrow table beside a small iron stove. I removed the pouches of spices and tossed the empty pack aside.
The room was twelve feet wide and twenty feet long. My sword and bow were on a shelf near the other end of the room and below them was the rolled cloth that held my chain shirt. I used a basin of water to wash my face and hands before putting out the candle and lantern. I slipped into bed and relaxed before falling asleep.
I woke to the sounds of morning traffic crossing the bridge heading towards the retreat. I sat up and glanced at the chest before climbing out of bed. I poured the dirty water into the drain hole in the side wall. I dressed and went to the chest before filling my belt pouch with silver pieces. I slipped out and locked the door behind me before carefully moving along the river chasing a couple of smaller snakes into the water.
I moved through the city until I reached the farmers market. I opened my pouch and pulled out a single piece of silver. I started across and stopped when I saw the small group of homeless huddled together at the edge of the market. I sighed and turned to head for them, I stopped in front of them and gestured to the sausage roll vendor, “Follow me and I will make sure everyone gets fed.”
I turned as they hesitated and started walking toward the vendor. It took awhile and I had to pay before he started handing out sausage rolls. Everyone got two and I left with three less silvers but feeling a lot better. Everyone heard about the merchant being robbed before the city even started getting busy. I bought a few small spice pouches while listening to the rumors. I had an idea about food and after spending the day walking around I headed towards the river. I picked a spot that was not to far from the city commons.
I found several large snakes on the cobbles of the street and it was not hard to catch them and remove the heads. I cut the heads off six inches behind the back of the head and gutted them and skinned them before walking to the common. There were several groups of homeless around and I headed towards one with a small fire going.
It was a family with two young boys and a little girl. I smiled as I knelt and reached for the stick the older boy held. I cut a chunk off one of the snakes and held the end out to him, “keep turning it until it cooks.”
He looked at his frightened mom and dad and I shrugged, “Their only poisonous if they bite you not if you eat them. You just have to be careful with the heads.”
It was not long before I had several groups cooking snake. I went back to the warm cobblestone street several times for more snakes. As the night closed in the people began moving further away from the river. I slipped away and went back to the bridge. I was already thinking ahead and laid back to relax and wait for it to get darker.
I quietly opened the bridge catwalk door and slipped out. I carried a small bladder of lamp oil as I moved across the bridge. On the retreat end I opened the catwalk door into the gatehouse and stepping in. I oiled the tarnished hinges before quietly moving down the stairs with just a sliver of light from the small dark lantern. I oiled the hinges and waited before slowly unlocking the outer door.
I used a couple of pieces of rag to cover the hinges as I opened the door. The faint squeal did not sound very loud but I waited and looked into the dark as I listened. From the other side of the arch I could hear the two guards talking and finally stepped out. I closed the door and locked it before using the shadows to move along the wall.
After a hundred paces I turned and walked into the night. I used mostly rear alleys that led behind estates of nobles. I stopped behind the large estate of Duke Fiestel and waited. I ignored the distant servants gate and jumped up to grab the top of the wall. I pulled myself up and glanced over before moving to lie along the top of the wall. I watched for a long while and then dropped off and moved silently towards the manor.
I moved to the left corner and used the larger stones for hand and foot holds. I climbed slowly, careful not to make a sound. On the second floor I moved to the right until my foot touched a window sill. I moved over more and then pushed the slightly open window. It pushed open more and I held still and listened to heavy breathing, I finally moved and slipped into the room. I glanced at the bed and the fat man sleeping there.
I quietly moved to the door and listened before opening it and slipping out. I moved to the servant stairs and went down. On the main floor I looked out before walking down to the study. I knelt and used a slim dagger to pry the lock open. I slipped into the room and went straight to the standing wardrobe. I pulled the small heavy chest out I knew held small gold bars and carried it to the desk before setting it down.
I walked around and knelt to pull the end drawer out. In the very back was the key I was looking for. I left the drawer open and stood. I crossed to the door and listened before opening it and silently moving to the door across the hall. The key opened the door and I cracked the dark lantern to see two chests instead of just the one I remembered.
The first held smaller coins of copper and brass and the second held both silver and gold. I could barely lift it but moved it out and then across into the study. I went back and brought the second chest into the study before I went back and locked the door before going into the study and closing the door. I crossed to the window and opened it before going to the desk and putting the key back where I found it. I lowered the small chest the few feet to the ground and then the bigger ones.
I used twine to close and latch the window before dropping to the ground. I hesitated and then lifted one chest to my shoulder and squatted to grab the smaller chest. Walking to the far wall was difficult since the two chests probably weighted close to two hundred stones. At the wall I squatted and lowered the smaller chest first and then the large one.
I went back for the other chest and carried it to the wall. I used the cord from around my waist to tie one chest and then climbed the wall and lifted it to the top. I slowly lowered it down on the other side and then dropped down beside it. I untied the cord and went back over the wall, one at a time I brought the two over.
When I finished, I carried the chest with coppers and brass to the corner where a large barrel of rain water stood. I slowly slipped the chest into the large barrel and went back to the other two. I lifted the large chest to my shoulder and then squatted to lift the smaller chest. I moved back the way I had come only much slower. When I reached the wall I could not hear anything from the bridge and moved slowly. I finally lowered the small chest and pulled out the key.
I unlocked the door and hesitantly opened it but this time it was quiet. I slipped in and set the chest down before going back for the other one. I carried it in and turned to quietly close the door and pushed the locking bars into place. I left the larger chest and crept up the stairs and out the catwalk door. Glancing down I saw the two guards sitting on crates and leaning against the wall.
After crossing to put the smaller chest in my room, I returned for the other heavier one. Once I had both chests in my room I stripped and washed before lying back in bed. Tomorrow would bring a lot of screaming and the city guards were going to run around looking at everyone and everything.
I woke to the morning traffic and got up. I refilled my pouch with silver before looking around. I emptied the shelves on one side of the room and used them to climb to the ceiling. I pushed open a trapdoor and climbed up into the archer perch. I turned and pulled the heaviest chest up before sliding it into a corner. I did the same for the smaller chest and then the merchant’s chest. I closed the trapdoor as I climbed down and put everything back onto the shelves.
I grabbed a few small spice pouches and slipped out to make my way towards the marketplace. Like the morning before I gathered the homeless lingering around the market place and fed them. The city was alive with guards and everyone was talking about another robbery, this time in the retreat. At noon I bought a huge cauldron and a sack of vegetables before heading towards the city commons.
It almost seemed like they were waiting for me. A few of the older boys held the cleaned and skinned bodies of snakes. I got a young girl to start bringing water to fill the cauldron while setting it down and dumping the vegetables. Two women got a fire going for me while a couple of men made a tripod to hang it. One at a time I cut the snakes up and tossed them into the water.
The women gathered and started cutting the vegetables while I brought out the pouches of spice and set them out. It was not long before the aroma of the cooking filled the commons. I handed a young man a few silvers, “Take a couple of boys with you and buy a sack of rolls and another sack of vegetables.”
He hesitated and then nodded before slipping away with two younger versions of himself. The few guards that came through looked but ignored us. As the day wore on even more people appeared to be fed. An older woman and her husband stayed nearby. I spoke with them and found out they were turned out because they could not pay the king’s taxes.
That was the theme as I talked to others. When the cauldron emptied we refilled it and several young men were always hunting snakes as they lay out sunning. As evening slowly approached the large crowd slowly began to slip away. I had one young man hide the cauldron before leaving. I slipped into the gatehouse silently and lay back on my bed to relax.
I woke at the tolling of the midnight bell. I slipped out the catwalk and quietly crossed the bridge. The guards seemed more awake tonight as I slipped out the door and moved down the shadowy wall. I was back fifteen minutes later with the heavy water logged chest. After closing and locking the door I moved up the stairs and out the catwalk door. I carried the chest down to the first floor and set it on its side to drain.
I slipped out the door and used the small dark lantern to move away from the river. I stayed in the shadows and used alleys to move across the city. The large manor I was heading for stood against the outer wall. I entered using the side entrance and crossed the yard and tried the side door, it was locked. I moved to the trestle covered with ivy and slowly climbed up.
I climbed onto a second floor balcony and moved to the door. It opened smoothly and I crossed the room as the occupant continued to sleep. I moved through the house quietly until I came to the large door into the attached warehouse. I pulled a thin bladed knife and went to work on the ancient lock. A moment later it was unlocked and I opened it and slipped in.
I stood still and listened a long time before turning and heading towards the back. The office had a large oak drop bar with locks on both ends securing the door. The merchant had a bad habit of using old ancient locks. I pulled the small steel cheater bar I had taken from a fighter right after I had returned to the city. I slipped it inside the locking bar and twisted.
I dropped the lock and moved to the other one, a moment later I lifted the bar and carefully set it aside. I entered the large office and crossed to the other door. Inside the inner office I found the heavy money chest with its lock open. I set the lock on the desk before lifting the lid on the chest, I closed it and picked it up. I went back through the warehouse but left out the side door that had been locked.
I moved back across the city using the alleys. Inside the gatehouse I climbed up and moved everything off the shelves and lifted the chest up to the archers perch. I pushed the chest into a corner and went to bed. I woke early and climbed out of bed stretching. Today was laundry day and I stuffed my dirty clothes into a sack.
Downstairs I righted the chest of Copper and Brass coins before filling a large purse with them. I fed a small crowd at the sausage stand again and then headed to the cleaning lady that did my wash. After I dropped the dirty clothes off, I went back to the marketplace.
I bought tubers and other green vegetables as well as a large sack of bread. When I arrived at the commons they already had the cauldron over a small fire. During the day I listened to gossip that said the king was sending his militia into the street to patrol at night. The two merchants were practically begging their patrons for funds to continue their business. I heard about Baron Gregory offering to finance both merchants for sixty percent of their businesses.
It was a relaxed jovial commons with women and children moving around and men talking in small groups. I spoke with a few of the men about a carting business now that Merchant Harris was out of business. I gestured around at everyone, “We would have plenty of people willing to work.”
They looked at each other and finally nodded. I looked around, “Does anyone know of a large empty warehouse?”
A short grey breaded man grinned, “Yes.”
I smiled as I stood, “We need to find some carts and wagons.”
They nodded and turned to other men while I headed out of the commons. I used the back alleys and was careful when I slipped around by the river and into the gatehouse. I used a large pouch and filled it with a few gold pieces and a lot of silver. When I met the other men in the commons it seemed as if the air was alive with hope.
There were ten of us that walked through the streets to see the large warehouse. The moment I saw it I knew it was what we needed. It was outside the city gate against the wall, it had a huge dirt corral on the far side for horses and wagons and a tannery beside it I knew all about. We went back through the city to Magistrate’s Square. Since the warehouse had been abandoned I paid the city clerk one gold piece and two silver and it was ours.
Next were a few stops where I let different men bargain for carts or wagons. I gave the only two gold pieces left in the pouch to an old man that had once been a farmer. He left to find a few horses while we moved carts and wagons by hand through the city and out to the warehouse. We placed the carts inside leaving room between them and the wagons in a separate part of the corral.
We returned to the commons and everyone was talking. I made another stop on the way and set the full sack of hard bread down while one of the men that had been with me set a huge wheel of cheese beside it. There were a lot of chunks of snake being roasted over fires. We talked about sending someone out to different places to talk to people.
I knew that if Baron Gregory managed to back both the merchants it would be harder for these people to get started. I mentioned letting anyone that needed a place to sleep go to the warehouse. I left early and slipped through the streets and alleys. There were a lot more guards and Militia out as the afternoon slipped by. I slipped into the gatehouse unseen and went upstairs to lay back and rest.
I woke to the guards arguing below me about some of them sleeping while others watched. I moved to my clothes press and changed to darker clothing. I went through the catwalk door and silently crossed to the other side. The guards below were plain to see as they played dice together. I slipped out the door quietly and moved away into darkness. There were more patrols but it was easy to avoid them as I moved across to the area around by the other bridge.
Baron Gregory’s manor was larger than it should have been for his rank. I climbed the ten foot wall and carefully moved the glass on top before lying down. I watched as a single guard walked around the manor itself. I dropped to the ground after he turned the far corner and quickly moved to the manor. I used a wooden trellis to climb up to the second floor.
I vaulted over the rail onto a small balcony and knelt, waiting for the guard to come and go. Several minutes later I turned to the window doors and used a thin bladed dagger to pry the latch up. The door opened quietly and I silently entered. I could see the fat Baron snoring in his bed and moved across the room to the other door. I put my ear against the door and listened before opening it quietly.
I heard voices from downstairs as I moved down the hall to the servants stairs. I used the edge of each stair as I moved down to avoid making any noise. On the ground floor I slipped out and into the shadows in the hallway. I waited and several minutes later a guard walked in from the great room to check the study room door. He returned to the great room and I swiftly moved to the door.
The slim bladed dagger went between the door and the jam before I pushed it down and wiggled it. The door popped open and I pulled it open even more. I stepped into the darkness and closed it quietly behind me, making sure it locked. I pulled the dark lantern out and glanced around and moved to the strong room door.
The baron had taken a few precautions and there were two new locks on the door. I set the lantern beside me on a bookshelf and pulled out the two thick wires I carried. A traveler had shown me how to do this a couple of years before. I pushed the stiff wires I carried into the first lock and moved it around until I heard a click. The second piece of wire went in and I turned both.
The lock dropped open and I moved to the other lock. It took a little longer but it to finally opened. This was not a room so much as a thick walled closet. Inside were four chests, each one held a different type coin. I was able to put all the silver and gold together before moving the chest to the study window. I went back and poured as much of the copper coins into the chest with the bronze as I could. What was left was only a handful and those I put in my own pouch.
I carried the chest over beside the other one and closed the dark lantern. I pulled back the curtain slightly and looked out the window. I watched and waited until the guard went past and opened the window. I moved the two chests out onto the narrow stone patio and then closed the door. I hid the second chest between two bushes and picked the other chest up.
I moved out onto the lawn and stopped next to a bush by the wall. I set the chest down and waited for the guard. After he had come and gone I picked up the chest and moved to the wall. I knelt to tie a cord around the chest and then quickly climbed up the wall. I pulled the chest up and lowered it down the other side before the guard came back.
I untied the cord and went back over the wall for the other chest. That was the way I moved the chests, one at a time. When I closed the gatehouse door after carrying in the second chest, I set it down and lay down on the cool floor. When I was rested I moved the chest to the second floor and then across to my room. I carried the second chest in and used the cord to lift it to the archers perch. I filled two large pouches with copper and bronze coins before lifting that chest up as well.
I slept lightly and woke to shouting from below. I moved out of bed and went down to listen as guards and soldiers argued about someone sneaking across the bridge during the night. I went back up for my two pouches of coppers and bronze and then finished dressing before slipping out of the gatehouse. I had been thinking and knew I would not be able to stay at the bridge much longer.
I moved to the butcher shop and bought a hundred weight of sausage. Next was a visit to the baker for a huge sack of hard crusted bread rolls. I found all the homeless waiting in the market square and had help carrying everything to the commons. I sent three older boys to the edge of the city to buy wood and had a man bring a cart around to bring the wood to the commons.
I set everything down as people began gathering and prepared a fire. When I turned around for the sausage several women were already there. It was not long before the rumors started about Baron Gregory. Almost all the people had gone to my warehouse to sleep the night before and had been outside the city gates. I moved around talking and after breakfast a few men that had left returned saying this merchant or that farmer needed wagons or something moved.
I pulled an older woman away from a fire. She had been a scribe when she was younger, “You are going to be our bookkeeper.”
She looked at me and then grinned as life seemed to come back to her face. I gestured around us, “This is our company. When someone gets a contract they bring it to you.”
I looked at the men, “The old office in the warehouse needs cleaning. The whole warehouse needs cleaning for that matter. You know what it cost to do things in the city, if the merchants or noble will not pay it, than we do not move it.”
They looked at each other and then grinned and nodded. I gestured around us, “No more hanging around the commons, everyone goes to the warehouse. I want some of you to find me two large stoves. We need large rocks to make a fire pit and wood to build benches. Everyone else can go through the city announcing our business.”
They looked at each other and then moved away. It was not long before everyone was moving around excitedly and leaving. I caught a few older boys and fished a half dozen silver pieces out of my belt pouch, (turning it upside down to do it), “Go buy a hog and some potatoes and greens and bring it to the warehouse.”
They grinned and nodded before disappearing. I slipped away and went back to the gatehouse. I had to be very quiet as I climbed up and filled my pouch with silver. I packed everything I owned and slipped out. When I walked into the warehouse it was busy as women swept the floor and men brushed down the cobwebs from the walls. I set my things down inside the office and grabbed three older girls.
I led them to the ladder that went to the top of the office, “Go up the ladder and clean the top. You girls are going to be sleeping up there after I get someone to put up walls.”
They grinned and gave me quick bows before scrambling up the ladder. I found an old man that looked lost. I put my hand on his shoulder, “Do you know how to build walls?”
He nodded, “I do my lord.”
I shook my head, “Not lord, my name is William.”
I dropped a bunch of silver in his hand, “Grab some of these strong young lads and get some wood.”
I gestured to where the girls were cleaning, “I want walls around the edge so the young ladies can sleep up there safely.”
He looked and then nodded. I grinned, “I want you to teach these young boys how to do it so do not try it by yourself.”
The old man grinned, “I will make it happen.”
He turned and his arm reached out to grab a boy’s shoulder. It was a busy day but I still managed to listen to the gossip about the thefts that were plaguing the city. I do not know where they found the two large iron stoves. They were both dirty and had some rust so I knew no one had been using them. I set them up outside the office and got a few men to start on chimneys.
The stones for the fire pit were from fields and I had several girls and boys wash them. I had four men working to build the pit and another four building benches around it. The fire pit was beside the warehouse and almost against the city wall, making it a perfect heat reflector. All the time this was going on, men came and went hauling carts or wagons.
The fire pit was finished quickly and two women took it over as a new fire was built. They started to cook the waiting hog and other food appeared. The boy I had given money to grinned and dropped two silver pieces into my hand. It was as if everyone had come alive again and hope was in the air. Several men actually stopped farmers on the way home that afternoon. The dinner that night seemed like a feast. Even the horses came to the fence to be close.
Several guards came around before heading back to the gate. After dinner I talked a few men into emptying the water trough and carrying it inside the warehouse for the women to bathe in. You would think I was their new saint when the women found out. When it was finally bed time I slipped into the office and grinned at the old scribe when she lifted her head to look at me. I spread out my bedroll and lay down with a sigh.
I rested for several hours and finally slipped out of bed and dressed in dark clothing. The old scribe slept on soundly as I slipped out of the office. A few people were restless in the warehouse but no one saw me slip out. I headed away from the gate and silently headed for the distant river. At the riverbank I stripped and put all my clothes in a large leather bag I knew was water tight.
I walked into the river and swam to the middle before heading towards the wall. I had to stay away from the bank where snake mostly stayed. I tied the bag to the metal bars that went from the wall down into the river. I dove and swam down to the bottom before grabbing the bottom of the bars and slipping under where the river had washed away.
I swam up and untied my bag before swimming down river. A hundred paces away from the wall was a small stone pier on the royal side of the river. Just past it a dozen more paces was a small building half in the water, on the upriver side was a set of hedges.
I crawled out of the water and moved into the hedges. I opened the bag and quickly dressed before I moved into the nobles retreat moving carefully through the silent streets. The estate I was heading for was richly decorated and patrolled constantly. The walls were patrolled inside and outside but there was one point that was always in the dark.
It was a back corner and my shadow drifted from a dimly lit street after two guards walked past. I went up the wall quickly and lay along the top. Inside, a guard was just walking past and I waited before dropping off the wall. I moved quickly and quietly across to the large manor house. I went up using the large cracks in the building stones.
Just under the roof I paused until another guard walked past below me. I reached up to grab the roof and released the wall. My body swung out as my other hand reached up. I pulled myself up onto the roof and carefully moved sideways. I moved up to a roof vent and pulled a small thick bladed knife. I slipped the blade into the bottom crack and pulled it sideways.
A moment later I was lifting the vent before quietly crawling into the attic. I closed the vent and pulled the dark lantern out. I opened it a crack and moved down the attic until I reached the stairs leading down. At the door I listened for a couple of minutes and used my dagger again to spring the door lock. I knew the countess would have put at least one guard on her counting room but I knew something she did not.
I used the servants stairs down to the second floor. I crept down the empty hallway to the second from the last door. It was unlocked and empty, these were guestrooms and the countess never had guests. I crossed to the wide fireplace and crawled forward passed the fire grate looking down. I was surprised to see a light and then realized the countess probably locked some pour servant into the counting room for the night.
I turned and lowered my feet into the wide chimney, with my back to the wall I slowly moved down. When I reached the bottom, I knelt and looked out of the fireplace. I saw the guard lying with his head facing the other way next to the door. I silently crept forward pulling the tiny vial from inside my shirt. I took a deep breath and unstopped it before holding it down in front of the guards face.
I waited and waited and finally pulled the vial back and replaced the stopper. I shook the guard but he just kept snoring. I turned to the two large chests against the side wall and moved to look inside. I shook my head at all the gold coins, the countess had always been a miser, I moved both chests to the fireplace. I unwrapped the strong cord from around my waist. I tied one end to the first chest and pulled the chest closer before standing on it.
With my back to the wall I moved up the chimney to the next floor. Hauling the chest up was hard work. After I got it up and moved into the room I went down for the other chest. This time the chest seemed much heavier but I knew it was just my imagination. After I got the chest into the room and wrapped the cord back around my waist. I picked up the first chest and moved to the door.
I pulled the two cloth shoe covers out to hide the black suet and tied them on before leaving the room. I walked to the end of the hall and carefully opened the narrow door. I went down the steep dark steps quietly until I reached the bottom. This was a narrow hall that led all the way to the back of the stables. I set the chest down by the crack of faint light coming under the stone door.
I went back up to the room and carried the other chest down. I set it on top of the other chest and moved to the door. The locking lever clicked and I pressed on one side of the door. The whole door turned and I slipped through into a stone walled stall. The single lantern in the stable was dim and the horses shifted around. I peeked out of the stall and then went back through the door to bring the two chests out.
I closed the door and lifted one of the chests. I carried it down the center isle to the far end of the stable and set it beside the large pile of manure. I brought the second chest and set it beside the first. I listened beside the side door that opened down from the wide front gate. I lifted the locking bar and set it beside the door. After hearing the outside guard walk past I opened the door and turned to lift the top chest.
I set the chest down outside the door and then pulled the door closed before lifting it again and walking across the street. I moved as fast as I could and still stay quiet. I slipped around the wall and into a narrow alley before I set the chest down and turned to wait for the guard again. After the guard walked past I went back for the other chest. I carried the chest out and turned to the door. I set one end of the locking bar in the bracket before slipping my dagger under the other end and closing the door.
I lowered the dagger, feeling the bar drop into place before turning to lift the chest and moving towards the alley. I was barely in time and watched the guards walk past before heading towards the other end of the alley. It seemed to take forever to move the two chests all the way to the river. I sank both chests in the small building that was half in the water after filling my pouch.
This was an old abandoned boat house. I undressed and put my clothes back into the waterproof bag I had used on my swim before. I slipped into the water and moved to the center before swimming upriver towards the wall. By the time I staggered out of the water on the other side of the wall I was beat. I dried off and dressed quickly before heading towards the warehouse.
It was quiet when I slipped back into the warehouse. When I laid down in the office the scribe stirred but did not seem to wake. It seemed that I had just closed my eyes when I heard the commotion from the warehouse as everyone began waking up.
I sat up and grumped and the old scribe snickered, “Stay in one night and you might get some rest.”
I looked at her and she just stood and began dressing. I striped and changed into soft grey clothing before heading out. Someone had already started the two stoves and I grabbed two men. I pulled out a single gold piece, “We need some hams and fresh eggs for breakfast. Also try to get a half side of beef for tonight.”
They grinned and the one with a freshly scraped face nodded. I turned to watch as people woke and started moving around. I caught the old man that had started on the walls around the top of the office, “After you finish with the girls loft come see me. I think we are going to build a second floor with walls where everyone can sleep.”
He turned to look around thoughtfully, “That is a big job.”
I grinned, “We can do it together.”
He looked at me and grinned before nodding. I caught an older boy and fished out a silver piece, “As much tea as this will buy.”
He nodded and ran out as I went outside. I stretched and headed to help water and feed the animals. By the time I got back to the warehouse there were a few guards there and everyone was talking about the robbery of Countess Tresliss. Breakfast was a feast with not just ham and eggs but someone had found porridge. One of the women had asked the guards if they were safe from this thief and the guard had snorted.
The day was spent sending runners out looking for work, talking to farmers coming into the city and men leaving with carts or wagons. By the end of the day we were showing a healthy profit. We had also brought in beams and thick posts bought from farmers quietly to start building another floor. I listened to every rumor and one bothered me.
It hinted at the homeless doing all the robbing. A lot more guards came by than normal and I stopped one of the guards that was warming his hands beside the fire pit, “Has anyone gone through the gates at night?”
He looked at me, “I would not know.”
I looked around, “Well, if the thief lives outside the city walls he has to go through the gates doesn’t he?”
The guard seemed surprised but nodded, “Yeah.”
He seemed to think about it and finally left. I went to bed early and woke to a guard poking his head in the door, I looked at him and he closed the door. I dressed and went out to find a couple of men awake and talking to two guards. It seems the guards and army had been doubled again and they had been walking around. I went back to bed and woke to a young boy prodding me awake. I looked at him and he smiled, “Momma said to wake you.”
When I came out it was to the smell of tea. The women were toasting bread and cheese with left over ham from yesterday. I spilled most of the gold from my purse into the small box being used for the warehouse funds. We worked on the second floor as runners came and went. When someone yelled for a cart or wagon a man always jumped to go.
The rumors going around were about a Baron caught in the streets last night. The guards and militia were so angry they had beaten him. Several more homeless families appeared and were accepted into our group. The second floor seemed to fly together. We had it half done before it was dinner time. This time a farmer had come to us to sell a couple of butchered sheep.
As the sheep was being cooked several guards came by and the talked turned to another wealthy merchant that was starting to point fingers at us. The guards shook their heads, “That stupid ass just wants the king to seize everything you have so he can move in and take over.”
Everyone was angry but the guards snorted, “The guard commander pointed out to the king that everyone here stays outside the walls so it could not be your group.”
I moved away to think and decided to pay the merchant a visit. It was late when I lifted my head and looked across the dark office. I slipped out of the bedroll and turned to fix it so anyone looking in would think I was still there. I had prepared for this, the office window had been oiled earlier and opened quietly. I slipped out and moved to the wall before heading towards the gate in the shadows.
I found a spot I could use and started climbing the rough stones of the wall. I hesitated at the top and listened before slipping over. I crossed the guard walk on top of the wall and went over the side. The climb down was much slower as I felt for foot holds in the dark. I moved away from the dark shadows of the wall and silently made my way through the city.
When I entered the gatehouse I could tell no one had been in it since I left. I went up to the archers perch and filled my purse with silver before leaving. I knew the merchant was probably planning something so instead of his home, I went to his shop. Merchant Dillon was a silver smith and had a huge shop. I used an alley and climbed the shop wall next to his.
I knew he had apprentices that normally slept above the shop. I went over the roof of his neighbor and down through the attic vent into his shop. I moved slowly and quietly to the ceiling hatch and opened it. A careful glance showed no one around and I silently dropped to the second floor hall. I moved to the stairs and crept down. There was a bell over the door that would ring if anyone opened the door but that was it.
I walked through the shop and into the back work area where several forges were. I turned to walk to the single office and looked around before pulling a thin bladed knife. I wedged it between the door and the jam and slid it down to the locking latch. I wiggled the blade and shifted it down more as the latch moved into the door. Finally there was a click and I slowly pulled on the door.
It opened silently and I put the knife away as I moved into the office. Along the back wall were bars of silver and what looked like a lock box. I did not think the lock box had been here long since it blocked anyone from getting at the silver easily. It was not hard to force the lock on the box. I opened it and grinned at the gold coins inside.
I looked around and grabbed a large bag lined with velvet. It was probably used to carry new silver items to their owners. I filled it with all the gold and then took my pack off. I carefully put the silver bars and the gold filled bag in the pack and left. I closed and locked the office behind me and went back through the front. Upstairs I glanced up at the open hatch and sighed before stripping off my pack and setting it down.
I unwound a cord from my waist and tied one end to the pack and gasped the other end. I jumped and caught the edge of the hatch before pulling myself up and in. I turned and braced myself before pulling the pack up. I untied and rewound the rope before closing the ceiling hatch and carrying the pack to the vent.
It was slower going as I retraced my steps over the roofs. Back in the alley I headed to a section of the wall I only dimly remembered. This was the real reason I had come tonight. I had to wait some time before crossing a street. When I reached the large inn I was looking for, my childhood memories returned. I was very careful moving into the inn stable yard.
I slipped into the stable and silently walked down the wide isle between horse stalls. At the very end was the old grain room. I checked the hinges and pulled out a small bulb of oil. I squirted the oil on the hinges and put it away before slowly opening the door. It opened quietly and I closed it after I went in. I crossed the dark room feeling along one wall.
Along the back wall I found the old thick door that blended into the wall. It was only because of the rusty lock that I found it. I fumbled in my shirt for the small skeleton key I had carried for the last ten years. The lock clicked open and I smiled before pushing against the door. This had been an old postern gate, long ago this inn had been built here and the stable built against the city wall. They had never even thought to brick up the small door.
I had to stop to oil the old hinges a couple of times before I got the door open enough to squeeze through. I turned and closed the door before feeling my way across the other pitch dark room. I stumble several times before I found the door and opened it. The building built against the wall on this side was an old tannery that had gone out of business.
It took a little while to make my way out a side door. I silently moved along in the shadows of the wall, several times guards walked by just paces away. When it was clear I moved to the open office window. I lowered the pack through the window before climbing in. I tucked the pack in the corner and stripped before relaxing under my blanket.
I woke at just the hint of movement, I rolled and sprang for the window and the man halfway through it. He was just stepping down to the floor when I slammed into him. He yelled and tried to turn as I stepped back and kicked into the back of his knee. It buckled and I spun him as he fell, the scribe was screaming as I moved towards the man. He came to his feet with a dagger in his hand and I shifted back.
The office door burst open and two guards and a small crowd of men started to enter. The man turned and I kicked him between the legs. As he folded and dropped to the floor the two guards came forward to grab him. I looked around at all the people, “QUIET!”
Everyone shut up and I nodded to the man struggling in the guard’s hands, “He was climbing in my window.”
I turned and moved to my bedroll and some clothes, “Let me get dressed.”
The guards pulled him out of the room and the crowd followed them. I dressed quickly and followed to find everyone out front crowded around several guards. A lantern was brought as I moved to the guards and one yanked the man’s head up. I shook my head, “I do not believe it.”
The man tried to stand, “I was just trying to…”
A guard slammed a short night stick against his head, “We do not care what you were trying scum.”
Two of them bent to grab his feet and they started dragging him away. I turned around, “alright it is over, everyone back to bed.”
I pushed my way through and headed towards the fire pit. A little later a few men walked up dressed and sat beside me as I coaxed the dead fire back to life. I shook my head and sighed, “I knew Merchant Dillon was trouble but…”
The men snorted, “He was rich and trying to steal from us.”
I nodded and looked around, “We need some wood slats on the windows and a few of us to start a night watch, maybe just two hours every night each.”
They nodded and then one grinned in the firelight, “All the rich people getting robbed and we catch the thief right here.”
The man next to him slapped his shoulder, “More like he was trying to take advantage of the other robberies.”
Everyone nodded and more men started coming out. I sighed as I glanced at the sliver of sun that was starting to rise, “I really hate getting up before the sun.”
Everyone laughed again and I shook myself, “Okay, first order of business.”
I looked around, “Once the sun is fully up we go back to soliciting. We also start checking with the farmers coming in. Some of the younger boys and girls can go around to houses, see if they want to buy fresh produce. We also need to finish the second floor so everyone will have a place to sleep safely. Once the second floor is finished we need movable dividers on the main floor to put excess items.”
I thought about it and grinned, “Have everyone put it out about merchant Dillon breaking in while we were sleeping. If they know we were here and someone was trying to rob us they will look elsewhere for the thief and stop pointing fingers at us.”
Everyone nodded at that and I looked around, “Have some of the younger men go back to the commons when it is nice and warm. They should walk the streets and cobblestones for vipers. Have them cut the heads off and use those coil tongs to throw the heads into a buckets to be burned. The snakes they bring back we clean and skin. We can broil the snakes but the skins we clean and stretch to make belts and belt pouches.”
The men all grinned at that and I glanced at a couple of women that were struggling with buckets of water. I sighed, “I think the women need some help bringing water in for bathes.”
I stood and went to help and the others began talking. It was a little while before breakfast was passed around and people began pulling carts and wagons out. Men and women started on the second floor as I headed into the city with an older lad. I bought several large barrels of flour and bolts of clothe to make new shirts or dresses. All the talk was about Dillon, his body was hanging from the central square for everyone to see. I think the guards knew he had not been the real thief but the other merchants and nobles were worried.
I sent the lad back with my purchases and orders to fetch those he could not take himself. I went to walk the streets in the noble section. They were no longer letting people through that did not have a reason to be there. I had been thinking about doing a few things and returned to the warehouse and found it in turmoil. The king had sent a tax collector even though he was not due for another three weeks.
Needless to say our money was gone. I was angry but did not let it show, instead I went inside and closed the office door before going to my pack in the corner. I pulled out a couple of large handfuls of gold and moved to the tin we used for our money. I carried it to the middle of the gathered crowed and held up a hand. When it was quiet I handed the tin to the woman that was our scribe and opened it so several people saw.
There were gasps and whispers back through the crowd as the old woman looked into my face. I shrugged, “We do not need to put this on the books since it is an anonymous donation.”
People laughed and the scribe grinned as she closed the tin, “I will put it in a private ledger.”
I nodded and gestured, “Lets get the sleeping floor finished. Tomorrow the lads can start on partitions for privacy.”
The crowd broke up and the women moved outside and the next thing I knew they were busy making shirts and dresses. The large corral was busy as farmers arrived with their produce and men transferred it to our wagons or carts. They headed into the city and runners started coming and going. I was helping with the heavy beams or other chores around the warehouse.
I also started a private project, in one back corner I threw up walls for a large room. I had a few men help me bring in three new water troughs and set up a small copper boiler in one corner. I had the scribe give a runner a single gold piece and sent him to a pottery maker. I ordered several pieces of clay pipe that was normally used in the rich houses to get rid of waste.
I also sent the old trough back to the corral and placed a new one a few feet in the air just outside the warehouse room I was building. We had a few more people join us and they were welcomed and put to work. At the end of the day we sat around the fire eating a nice dinner. I smiled at a large group of women that were frowning at the trough in the corral, “Go look in the room I built downstairs.”
They looked at each other and left, when they did not return other women went to see what was wrong. Finally all the women and older girls were gone and the men chuckled. They were the ones to help build the room and knew it was a bathing room just for the women. That night I slept outside by the fire pit, I managed to slip away in the middle of the night.
I used the river again to swim to the noble’s island. This time I used a couple of empty barrels to float the chests to the bars under the wall. I let the chests sink before letting the barrels fill with water. I swam down with them and under the bars before slowly surfacing. On the surface I drained the water from the barrels and corked the bung hole. I drove and pulled the two chests under the bars before surfacing.
I used a rope to slowly pull them up and tie them to the barrels before swimming to the bank. One by one I carried the chests to the back of the warehouse. I dried off and dressed before lying down. I woke to men coming out and threw the dark blanket off me. A guard had been sitting at the pit staring into the coals and jerk in surprise, “SHIT!”
I stood and stretched as he laughed, “I did not even see you there.”
I smiled, “It is better than a thief stepping on me as he climbs in the window.”
He grinned, “True.”
The day started off with reports of two thieves caught in the city. Both were caught in the act and were hung. The second floor was almost done as runners headed into the city. Carts rolled out with a few wagons as everyone became busy. I headed into the city to Magistrate’s Square. I paid the city clerk for the old tannery and left.
I stopped at the tannery on the way back to lock the door to the room that had the doorway through the wall. At the warehouse there was a huge crowd of new people, they had just arrived from other cities. I sighed and pulled the old man that was in charge of building the second floor aside, “Go to the old tannery next door and see what we will need to clean it up.”
He looked at me, “The tannery?”
I nodded, “We might be able to just add another floor and make it into a someplace people can sleep in.”
He grinned, “I will take a couple of boys and girls too.”
I pulled a couple of men aside that had experience with wagons and began drawing a wagon with different springs. When I finished I looked around and shook my head, “I sent old Jacob next door, go look and see if there is room to build wagons like the one I just showed you. Also go see the blacksmith and ask how much it will cost to make the new springs.”
They nodded and left as I turned back to a couple of women that were approaching me. The next thing I knew I was sending them to buy more fabric. I also sent lads to the market for fresh baked bread and a few other things we needed. I checked on Jacob later and found them cleaning everything. I made a point of removing the lock on the back room and replacing it. I grinned at Jacob, “No windows for some thief to step on me.”
He grinned, “spoil sport.”
The rest of the day was spent trying to organize people for Jacob and paying for material. I also moved a dozen large empty barrels into the city and down a alley beside the river. The women made a point of going to bathe together as the men stayed around the fire pit and talked. The upper floor in the warehouse was finished and as it began to get dark everyone went to bed. I moved my belongings and waited a little and then carefully moved the two chests to the room in the tannery and buried them in my room.
I locked the door and slipped through the wall. There were small patrols of guards in the streets. I silently moved to the bridge and slipped in. Upstairs I moved things around and climbed to the archers perch. I moved the chests down one at a time and then moved them down to the door. I opened the outer door and started moving the chest out and along the river bank.
After the last one I went back and closed the door and locked it. One by one I tied the chests to the empty barrels and slipped them quietly into the river. After the last one went in I stripped and put my clothes in another empty barrel and waded into the river. I tied the lead rope around my waist and started swimming towards the middle of the river, towing the floating barrels behind me.
I was exhausted when I finally reached the wall and then pulled each barrel to the bars and untied the chest. They sank to the bottom and I released the barrel to do the next one. After the last one was untied I tied the barrel with my clothes to the bars and dove. I swam down and under the bars before coming up on the other side. I pulled my clothes out of the barrel and untied it before swimming to the bank.
I dried off and dressed before slipping through the shadows to the fire pit. I was warming my hands after building the fire up a little when a guard appeared. He looked at me, “Up late?”
I nodded, “Trouble sleeping. I thought I heard something by the tannery but did not find anything.”
He turned to look into the darkness, “The king was talking to the commander about a curfew.”
I frowned, “Has the thief struck again?”
The guard shook his head as he warmed his hands, “We think he left.”
I sighed, “I should go try to sleep.”
He watched me walked out and down to the empty looking tannery. I thought about what he said and shook my head, “It is not over, to many of you bastards still run things.”
I left the door open and fell asleep quickly.
I was up with the first hint of dawn and dressed before going next door. Men were already moving around and some headed towards the gates to catch farmers heading into the city. I caught a few of the older boys, “find a boat and go to the down river wall. I have been thinking and merchants sometimes just throw empty barrels in the river. The city guards only clear the bars once a month and I do not think they have done it for a long time.”
They looked at each other and I cuffed one, “Think boys, what do merchants always need? They buy new barrels all the time. What if we provide a few to them?”
They went from frowning to grins. I nodded, “pay attention while near the river and watch for snakes.”
They sobered and nodded and I gestured, “One of you go look to see how many barrels there are and one of you see if we have an empty wagon to use to haul the barrels back here.”
I let them work it out and went to check on the tannery. Everything was going smoothly so I went into the city. I was shopping for fresh bread when I almost ran into Duke Edwards. I turned and crouched while bending my neck as I finished buying a couple of large sacks full of bread rolls. He was arrogant, rude and stuffy as always. He was also one of the few that might recognize me.
When he stomped off I paid the baker and left, I was thinking the whole way back. The warehouse seemed happy and full of barrels when I got there. I had to smile at the huge supply the boys had brought back. I clapped one on the back, “Now you get some of the boys and girls to go around to the shops and ask if they need barrels.”
He grinned and nodded as he started yelling names. I helped here or there as men moved wagons and carts around. All day I was thinking about Duke Edwards, he was a powerful noble. He was also out of favor with my brother because he took care of the people in his duchy. It was right before dinner that a large group of families arrived.
Jacob was next to me and murmured that they were from the far side of the city. They were homeless and everyone just shifted around and we made room. I slipped through the streets that night, it was after midnight as I silently made my to the bridge. I slipped in and climbed up to cross above the guards. I slipped away from the bridge quietly on the other side.
The large estate I went to was close to the river fork and the king’s Keep. I used a small side gate to enter. I watched the guards before crossing to the manor and climbing the wooden trellis. I quietly slipped onto the second floor balcony and crossed to the door. It was unlocked and I slipped in before standing still to let my eyes adjust.
“It took you long enough.”
I looked towards the fireplace to see the faint outline of the duke sitting in front of it. I looked at the bed and he snorted, “You know she has always slept soundly.”
I crossed to the other chair and sat beside him, “You saw me.”
He chuckled, “I would have had to be blind not to.”
I hesitated, “Have you told my brother?”
He snorted again, “As if he would even consent to see me.”
I looked at him, “what are you going to do?”
The duke smiled, “Besides watch you rob the rich snobs trying to destroy the country?”
I smiled, “You know about that too.”
He nodded and shifted, “Duke Brasalow is close to your brother now. He whispers in his ear and most of the laws or decrees come from him.”
I frowned, “I thought Brasalow was a baron?”
The duke snorted again, “He was until your brother removed Duke Patrick and put Brasalow in his place.”
I thought about that, “What happened to Patrick and his family?”
He sighed and finally shifted, “he was supposed to be hung and his family turned out.”
I looked at him and then grinned, “they are here?”
He nodded and I sat back, “any chance you can get them out and to the warehouse I am using?”
The duke looked at me, “Why?”
I smiled, “Well, it is not as nice as here but I could use him.”
He smiled and then laughed, “more schemes for the poor?”
I nodded, “For the people.”
The Duke grinned and sat back, “I will send a list with him.”
I stood, “do not make to many waves uncle.”
He grinned and nodded to the window, “those guards may be mine but they report everything to your brother.”
I slipped out of the manor and then the estate. I hesitated before moving towards the king’s Keep and a large estate next to it. It was fairly simple to slip in and across to the manor. I was able to use a side door and shook my head at the lack of guards. I found the study and unlocked the door before going in. Another door was locked and I opened it to see several large chests. Each one was filled with gold and silver coins.
I closed and locked the door before locking the study door behind me. By the time I crawled into bed it was almost time to get up. The morning was as busy as every morning with finding food for everyone. I glanced up when a cloaked man and woman walked up to the fire with two young children. I smiled, “welcome uncle.”
Duke Patrick smiled, “hello William, how was your adventuring?”
I grinned, “enlightening.”
I smiled at his wife, “I am glade you are safe.”
She smiled and glanced around, “nice place.”
I looked around, “it is growing.”
I sighed and looked at Patrick, “will you join me?”
He nodded, “What can I do?”
I glanced around again, “I started a business to give them hope. I need someone that knows business. Those that are struggling inside the city can use a good money lender. I think if they have... uncounted funds they may fair better.”
Patrick grinned, “and be in your debt?”
I shrugged, “our debt. My brother might not always be in power.”
He nodded, “True, most of the loyal nobles are keeping their heads down but that may change.”
I looked around, “can you make a list of those that are still here in the city?”
Patrick nodded, “easily.”
I snagged an older boy walking by, “I need two of you and one of the older girls that knows her numbers.”
He grinned, “sure, we were just going after a nest of snakes that was reported by a guard.”
Patrick hissed and his wife paled. I sighed, “Tell them to use the long sticks and remove the heads a few inches...”
He grinned, “we know.”
I nodded and let him go before looking at Patrick, “One of the things I learned while traveling.”
I smiled as I thought and looked at him, “Check out the old tannery for space for you and your family. Start with the smaller merchants like the bakers, blacksmiths and butchers, also any farmer that need help let... Jacob or my scribe know if they just need helpers.”
Patrick nodded and looked around, “Who do I see about the money to lend them?”
I raised an eyebrow and he nodded before turning away. I went to see the scribe to tell her about the new man named Patrick and what he was doing. After that I went walking around inside the city. I listened to the rumors and gossip as well as complaints. There was a lot that had been sent to the king and gone unanswered. I was returning when a new proclamation was posted.
It was a new tax the king was imposing on the shopkeepers and merchants. When I reached the warehouse men and women were arguing and I pushed my way to the center, “Quiet!”
I looked around, “the tax is for the merchants and shopkeepers. I am the listed merchant here.”
I looked around at everyone and smiled, “We do not have to tell the tax collector the profits do not come to me.”
It was a moment before they laughed and things lightened up. A couple of farmers stopped on their way out of the city to sell some of their food to us. Patrick and his family seemed to blend in with the others as everyone pitched in to get things done. His wife and daughters slipped away with the other women. When he looked around and ask where the women had gone all the men chuckled.
After it got dark everyone slipped away to their beds. I made sure Patrick and his family had someplace to sleep before going to my room. I slipped through the wall and moved through the shadowy streets. Tonight was going to be busy. I slipped into the gatehouse and crossed over to the nobles retreat. I moved more carefully now. When I reached the estate that Brasalow had taken I waited and watched.
Like before there was not any guards, I slipped into the estate and into the manor. I picked the locks again as I heard laughing in the great hall. I lifted the first chest and silently carried it out and across to the wall. I went back for another chest and then another, there were four chests altogether. I had to keep using relays to move the chest through the retreat.
I knew that if Brasalow had influence with my brother every house would be searched. I moved the chests all the way up to the old half sunken boathouse. I had to move a few snakes away before sinking them in the river. I went back to the bridge and slipped across before moving through the city. I took extra time to move old hay in front of the door into the granary before slipping through.
I went to sleep and woke to the tap at my door.
When I opened it Patrick and a couple of men were there, “Yes?”
Patrick smiled, “The guards are searching in the city. The thief struck again and stole everything the new duke Brasalow had.”
The other men nodded and I opened the door wide to show I was in a night shirt, “build up the fire and start the stoves. When the guards show up have them escorted so we know they do not take anything.”
The men nodded and left. Patrick grinned, “Have a fun night?”
I smiled, “actually I did.”
I turned to get dressed before following him out. It was almost noon before the guards got to us. Their search was through if done reluctantly. We had wagons and runners out when Patrick found me working on the loft in the tannery. He grinned, “I have a few customers.”
I nodded and straightened before using the new stairs and going to my room. I quietly uncovered one of the chest as Patrick watched from the door. I scooped out what he needed and then covered the chest again. He grinned and slapped my shoulder before leaving. I went to check some of the other projects including the new wagon some of the men were building. I also moved four large empty barrels to the edge of the river inside the city.
That evening as we ate I called a meeting and after everyone gathered around I had different people give reports of how things were going. We had another dozen families join us during the day but they were settling in. All but one dress shop in the city had gone out of business so I suggested starting one here. Several times the guards walked by or came to the fire to warm their hands.
It seems my brother was pissed and heads were rolling. A new curfew law was in effect throughout the city. It was supposed to start as soon as the sun set. As it grew dark everyone went to their beds and I slipped into the shadows, I waited and moved towards the river. The older boys had been hunting snakes along the banks all day. There were only a few snakes moving as I stripped and hung my clothes on the corral of another abandoned warehouse.
I slipped into the water and swam out to the middle of the river before turning to let the current carry me towards the wall. I ducked and swam down and under the bars before surfacing on the other side. I was careful swimming to the side with the waiting barrels. I quietly moved the barrels into the river and started swimming across. I let the current pull me down the river a little as I swam until I finally reached the old half sunken boathouse.
I used rope to pull up the chests of money and secured them under each barrel. The swim back up the river towing the barrels was accompanied by loud grumbles and flashes of lightning. I sank the chests again and let the barrels go before swimming down and pulling each chest under the bars. I surfaced on the other side of the wall and looked around as lightning lit up the area.
I swam to the bank and walked out before using a rag to dry off. I got dressed and carefully slipped along the wall and down to the tannery. I saw guards several times but managed to reach the safety of my room. I lay back thinking and grinned before getting up. I carefully went through the door in the wall and moved hay back to cover the grain door before slipping through the city as it began to rain hard.
It was easy to get into the gatehouse and cross over. All the guards were huddled together under whatever they could find. I moved through the silent streets straight to the king’s Keep. I slipped around the outside walls to the river fork before going to the small door hidden in the wall. I used a long thin dagger between the door frame to lift the inner locking bar.
I closed the door after I was in and used sulfur matches I kept wrapped to light a tiny lantern on the wall. I checked the floor for snakes before stripping out of my wet clothes. I used the lantern and followed the narrow way into the Keep. This was one of the old hidden escape routes out of the Keep. When I came to the other end I hung the lantern before blowing it out.
I pulled the wooden lever and the thick panel opened. I stepped into an old dusty room and looked around with a smile. Once upon a time this had been my room, now it was just another small dusty room left unused. I closed the panel and crossed to the other door. I turned to pull a small dusty cloak from a peg and wrap it around me before slipping into the hall.
I moved down the hall and glanced up the stone stairs before quickly moving passed them. At the other end of the hall was a small linen closet. I opened the door and glanced towards the stairs as I heard footsteps. I slipped into the closet and closed door before feeling for the back wall. I pushed on the right side and the wall pivoted. I slipped into the small space and carefully pulling the wall back into place.
The space I was in was a bare pace wide and two long. What it had was a wooden crosspieces like a ladder. They led up behind each of the linen closets on the upper floors. I moved up in the pitch blackness and used my hands to feel along the wall. On the third floor I pulled and tugged to pivot the wall. I carefully slipped into the closet and closed the back wall.
I listened before opening the door and looking around the empty semi dark hall. I closed the door and walked down the hall to a room at the end. I listened before opening the door and slipping in. I glanced at the man and woman sleeping on the bed before moving to the side of the fireplace. The embers of the fire still gave off light so I was able to find the stone I was looking for.
The sides of the fireplace extended out before angling towards the wall. I pushed the stone in and the one below it had a hole like a handle. I looked at the sleeping couple before pulling on the lower stone. The wall grated a little as it turned and pivoted. I glanced at the bed before slipping in on one side carefully. I held the rough stones and pulled the wall closed.
I shifted over in the pitch blackness feeling with my feet. The small hole seemed a lot smaller than I remembered but I managed to climb down through it. I listened for a long time after I reached the floor below. I finally felt around until I found the stone lever and pulled. I pushed and the wall opened to another room with glowing embers lighting it.
I slipped into it and glanced around at my brother’s study. Against the far wall was the treasure chests with crests on the wall above each. I went to the large desk and looked around before taking the pouch of gold to one side. After that I moved each of the chests into the space beside the fireplace. I had to stack them to make them fit and then I went to the wall that held my father’s sword.
I took it down and put it with the chests before climbing onto them and turned to pull the wall closed. Going back the way I had come seemed to take a lot longer but the thunder and heavy rain seemed to cover any noise I made. When I reached my clothes I dressed and opened the door to see the river swollen. It was almost to the door as I turned and slipped a dagger under the locking bar.
I closed and locked the door before moving along the Keep walls. It was simple to get back to the bridge and cross over. When I reached the inn and the stables I almost walked into three guards huddled together in the stables. They were trying to stay dry so I had to slipped back into the shadows. I managed to climb up to the stable loft window and climb in.
I stayed there and listen to the guards grumble angrily. It was almost morning before the rain slowed and they left. I slipped back into my room and locked the door before stripping. I put warm, dry clothing on and lay back on my bed. I woke to knocking on my door and went to help get the day started. It was late morning when the rumors started.
The king was furious and the guards were tearing apart every hiding place in the city to find his treasure. Patrick glanced at me as he talked to a merchant wringing his hands, I shrugged and he shook his head. I went into the city and locked the door in the granary as well as block the granary door completely. I put an old rusty lock on the door in my room and made sure there were no signs it had been opened.
I sent all the older boys out along the area beside the river to watch for snakes and they were returning with dozens when the squad of guards showed up. A tight lipped duke Brasalow watched as they searched everywhere. While he was there I stayed back so he did not see me. When they searched my room they broke the lock off the door and tried to open it. When they could not they tossed everything in the room around and left. Even the soldiers and guards quarters were searched which made them angrier.
My brother ordered constant patrols and people stopped and detained. There were quiet rumors and whispers of the barons talking together. That night after everyone was asleep I slipped out and went to the river. I carried an oil wrapped package with my clothes and weapons. I spent an hours pulling chests out from under the wall. When I finished I swam down river letting the current move me.
When I got to the king’s Keep and swam ashore I opened the package. I dressed and used the hidden door and moved through the Keep. Even before I reached my brother’s chambers I heard his drunken bellows. The guards that were supposed to be guarding his door were nowhere to be seen. I opened his door and walked in to see him and duke Brasalow drinking by the fire.
Brasalow turned to snarl, “We said do not disturb us!”
I bowed and walked towards them. He swayed when I reached him and pulled my dagger and struck. It slid up under his jaw and into his brain. I let him fall and turned to kick my brother as he stood. I moved after him as he struggled to find the dagger on his belt. I grabbed his hair and slammed his head into the wall and let him slump to the floor.
I glanced around before walking to the filthy bed and pulling the sheets off. I cut them into strips and tied them together before going to my brother. I lifted him to my shoulder and carried him out. I used back hallways until I reached the door up onto the wall. As I walked around the wall towards the front of the Keep several guards looked at me and stepped aside before following.
When I was over the gates I dropped my brother and tied one end of the sheets to a metal stanchion before kneeling and making a loop. I put it around my brother’s neck and lifted him and dumped him over the wall. As he jerked and strangled I turned to the guards, “My name is William Edward Kingson. My father was King Henry.”
I gestured over the wall, “That rotten piece of dung was my brother.”
I looked at each of them as they stirred, “I am King now. Does anyone have a problem with that?”
They looked at each other before looking back at me and shaking their heads. I nodded, “First I want your officers, all of them. Next I want every noble brought to the great hall.”
I gestured, “We have work to do.”
They straightened before nodding and murmuring together as they split up. I walked back along the wall leaving my brother swaying and jerking on the end of the sheets. I walked down to the great hall and found several officers waiting. I walked towards the new gilded throne my brother had used and kicked it off the platform. I gestured to one of the officer, “bring that chair behind you.”
He turned to see a common chair the footmen use and grabbed it before bringing it to me. I set it down and sat, “Now gentlemen we are going to put this realm in order.”
I looked at them as a couple more walked in, “I want the army and every guard assembled before the Keep gates. As of now you work for me and the people, the curfew is over.”
I glanced at the doors where dozens of guards and soldiers stood, “As soon as we speak with the nobles they are returning to their estates. Your job is not and has never been to gather around the king to guard him. Your job is to protect the kingdom.”
One shifted, “what about the king’s treasury?”
I smiled, “I will worry about paying you. The first thing I want to see is the border deployment plan back to the border forts.”
I pointed one old officer I knew, “Captain Trent, you are now the army’s Marshal. Get with the other captains and start making movement plans.”
I pointed to the senior city guard, “cut the guards back to regular shifts. No more stopping citizens just because they are walking.”
He nodded and I sat back, “As soon as the army and guards are gathered I will speak to them.”
I glanced at the door as a couple of barons struggled in, “go ahead and get with your men.”
I waited as the barons walked to me, a few looked like they wanted to say something. It was another hour before the rest of the nobles came in and I stood, “My name is William Edward Kingson. My brother is dead and I am king.”
I let my words sink in before looking at each of them, “the time of corruption is over...”
A baron I did not know stepped forward, “why should we follow you?”
I smiled, “Because if you do not I will strip your title and cut your throat.”
I looked at the other nobles, “our kingdom is dying. You and my brother have strangled the common people until we have little commerce and many farms lay fallow. It is your responsibility to care for your people and your lands. The fewer people there are the fewer taxes. We need to provide them enough to live on and not take everything they have or they will leave and you will have nothing.”
They were looking at each other as others joined us. I looked at each of them, “I want each of you to return to your lands and do an accounting. We need to know how bad it is through out the kingdom.”
The morning was spent talking to people before I began to walk through the city. People came out to see me since I had a couple of guards with me and a clerk taking notes. When I walked into the warehouse the people stared and whispered. I gestured to Patrick and he grinned as he walked to me, “your highness.”
I lifted an eyebrow, “return to your estate and find out how much damage that idiot did before returning.”
I gestured to the old scribe and then Jacob. They came to me slowly and I smiled, “you two are in charge here. Make sure everyone is cared for, if you need help let me know.”
They started to bow and I caught them. I looked at the scribe, “in my room I buried a treasure, use it.”
She nodded and I looked around, “I might visit for a nice dinner sometime.”
The weeks that past were not easy, there were a few nobles that did not take me seriously. I did as I had threatened and hung their bodies. I also recovered the money in the river and added it to the treasury. It only took a few years to bring the kingdom back from darkness. A few times every week I slip away to spend time at the warehouse but many of those that had come here had homes again.