Read The City of Ravens Online

Authors: Richard Baker

The City of Ravens (24 page)


Of course, unmasking Toseiyn Dulkrauth didn’t really prove anything about the shadow Jack. Even if he was satisfied that Mantis and Tiger were not responsible for the appearance of the shadow, Jack had only eliminated one possibility. Jack gave up and returned his attention to Illyth, the Game, and the discomfited Toseiyn Dulkrauth, watching warily to make sure that Lord Tiger did not find an opportunity to slip up behind him and put a dagger in his back when no one was looking.

As the Green Lord’s banquet came to a close, Jack returned Illyth to her manor and warned the servants there to be on guard for someone answering to his own exact description. “And you be careful as well,” he told Illyth. “I am not the sort of person checked by a single failure, and it may be that my evil twin is similarly persistent. He may try to carry you off again.”

“Don’t worry about me,” said Illyth. “The house guards are aware of the imposter now. They won’t let someone who looks like you get anywhere near me.” She laughed. “It wouldn’t surprise me if my father had ordered the guards to shoot you on sight or something like that. I’d better check into it.”

“Please do,” Jack agreed. He climbed back into his coach and signaled the driver. The man flicked the reins with a small sound of encouragement, and the coach rattled away from the manor house. Jack settled in for the long ride, thinking furiously about Dulkrauth’s hidden agenda and secret goals. “Some Game,” he remarked, considering the situation. “Murder, conspiracy, kidnappings, and all the brightest of Raven’s Bluff socialites and sycophants to weigh as suspects.”

“Did you say something, sir?” the coachman called from above.

“Do you know where the Cracked Tankard lies?”

“I do, sir, although I advise against it. A person of your station would find the place squalid and coarse, filled with lowborn ruffians plotting robbery, murder, and worse.”

“The very place!” Jack smiled, even though the driver could not see him. “Take me there at once!”

The hour was now growing late, and the Tankard was filled with local merchants, laborers, and clerks who preferred to take advantage of the tavern’s comforts over those of their own homes. Several huge roasts sizzled invitingly over the fire, and Jack comfortably settled himself in his usual place. Briesa had the night off, but Jack flirted with another of the barmaids and won himself an unusually large helping of beef. He had barely started on his dinner when a large boot came down in the middle of his chest and rocked him back on his chair, pinning him against the wall.

“Hello, Jack,” said Zandria. She held a dangerous-looking wand in his face. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

Now I remember, Jack said to himself. The Cracked Tankard is the place I come to when I want people to find me, interrupt my dinner, and threaten me with violence. “I need to find a new tavern to frequent,” he muttered. He

looked up at Zandria. The mage looked moderately charred, with black holes eaten in her leather jacket and an extremely close haircut, as if she’d angrily hacked off hair too singed to save. “Dear Zandria, is this uncomfortable approach absolutely necessary?”

“Where are the ring and the dagger, Jack?” the mage replied. “I found the Tomb’s riches; I fought a deep dragon to keep them; I lost comrades and friends in doing so. I have no patience whatsoever for your petty larceny. You stole prizes that I worked very hard to acquire, and I want them back.”

“You chased off the dragon? Excellent! When and where shall we meet to count out my two-elevenths share of the loot?”

“Your impudence was tiresome the first time you crossed my path, you sniveling little worm,” Zandria snapped. “How dare you bring up such a matter, when you abandoned the field and left my company to stand alone against that monster?”

Jack shoved Zandria’s boot from his chest and stood up as quickly as the blink of an eye, jamming one finger at her. “How dare you bring up the circumstances under which I departed the fight, when you went out of your way to make sure I would not show up in the first place! We had a deal, Zandria, and you broke it before I did!”

“You insinuated yourself into my company! I didn’t ask you to eavesdrop on my conversation with Ontrodes, I didn’t ask you to illicitly copy my notes, and I most specifically did not ask for your help!”

“But you accepted my aid when I had something useful for you, by which I refer to the solution to the Guilder’s riddle. You would not have found the tomb at all if it hadn’t been for my interference, and you sought to reward me by cutting me out of my agreed-on share. So who’s the thief here, dear Zandria?”

The mage’s eyes burned dangerously. “Choose your words carefully, Jack Ravenwild. You are an instant away from annihilation.”

Jack deliberately turned away from her to straighten his chair and took his seat again. He drank one sip from his mug and wiped his hand across his mouth. “Very well. Sit down, dear Zandria, and well examine the situation rationally. Both parties have claims and both have damages, so let us try to find a compromise that suits the situation.”

“I have no interest in negotiating with you. Give me what is mine, and count yourself lucky that you walk away in the shape you were born to.”

“I have always responded poorly to threats. In this case, I will make an exception. We have the Guilder’s hoard; I want my two-elevenths. And, aside from the hoard, we have the Orb of Khundrukar—presumably in your possession—which I also was promised a two-elevenths stake in.”

“I made no such promise!”

“Examine our contract, Zandria. The wording runs something to the effect of all items and treasures discovered in the Guilder’s Tomb and any other regions jointly explored.’ The Orb is certainly included in that.” Jack fished around in his coat pocket and found a small pipe. He rarely indulged in pipeweed, but this seemed like an appropriate occasion. He tamped leaf into the pipe and lit it with a minor magic. “I would be willing to forfeit my two shares if you will forfeit your claim to the Orb.”

“Impossible,” Zandria said. “The Orb is not subject to discussion.”

“If we remanded this matter to the local courts, I am certain they would uphold my claims on two-elevenths of the treasure, and they would assign me two-elevenths ownership of the Orb.” Jack puffed on the pipe a moment.

“However, I have no particular wish to engage in an ugly legal battle with such a dear comrade as you. I would prefer a more informal and mutually satisfactory arrangement.”

The mage glared at him for a long moment, thinking hard. Then she shoved her wand back into a holster at her hip and drew up the chair opposite Jack’s. “I’ll see to it you receive your two shares of the hoard. You give me the magical items you stole. You are bound by that contract, too, and I have a nine-elevenths ownership of the ring and the dagger. Does that meet your requirements?”

Magical items? Clearly, Zandria believed that the ring and the dagger were enchanted, which meant that they were more than mere baubles to be pawned at the first opportunity. In fact, magic rings had a reputation for potentially concealing extraordinary powers. Jack had thought that the gems and coins he’d stuffed into his pockets were the prize for his efforts in Sarbreen, a few hundred crowns of loot quickly converted into cash. But if he had a magic ring and an enchanted dagger in his possession, he might have scored far better than he’d thought.

Of course, there was no point in acknowledging this to Zandria. Jack carefully controlled his reaction and frowned studiously. “I accept two shares for the two items for the sake of argument, as long as we add the value of the ring and dagger to the hoard before calculating my cut, but the Lady Mayor’s advertised reward for your Orb is ten thousand gold crowns and a noble title. What value shall we place on that?”

“We cannot split a noble title,” Zandria said slowly, as if explaining weighty matters to a child.

Jack smoked and nodded thoughtfully. “I propose this: we place eleven marbles into a bag, two black, nine white. We shake up the bag and hand it to an impartial

stranger, asking him to draw one marble from the bag without looking. If he draws a black marble, I win the entire reward due the finder of the Orb. If he draws a white marble, you win.”

“I will not settle this question by gambling! Who knows how you might fix such a game?”

“We seem to be stuck,” Jack remarked. “Clearly, you want the title. I will settle for cash. I’ll give you ring and dagger for two-elevenths of the hoard (including the value of ring and dagger!) You give me the ten thousand crowns for the Orb’s reward and keep the title.”

The mage winced, but nodded. “Done. Now give me the ring.”

“Not so fast,” said Jack.

It was a shame to give up a chance at the noble title, but frankly, he preferred cash in hand, and he had too much on his mind to do a proper job of holding the Red Wizard over the barrel. Besides, he had no idea what Zandria might do if he made it too hard for her to deal honestly with him. He looked at Zandria and studied her for a moment, making a great show of thinking things through carefully and slowly.

“While I have no real idea of the value of those two items, your intense interest in them would seem to indicate that they are quite valuable indeed. Therefore, I will hold the ring and the dagger as security against my cut of the treasure and ten thousand gold crowns. I will redeem them when you make good on my agreed-upon share of the loot.”

“Security?” asked Zandria incredulously. “Your impudence is beyond compare! I should incinerate you where you sit, and take both ring and dagger from your smoldering corpse!”

“You might do that, of course, but you would be disappointed. You see, dear Zandria, I do not have either

ring or dagger on my person at the moment.” That, of course, was a bald-faced lie; the ring nestled in Jack’s vest pocket, while the dagger was tucked into his left boot. “Why don’t we plan on meeting here again in, say, two days? That will give you time to turn in the Orb and collect the reward. Do you agree?”

The mage rolled her eyes, but nodded. “Fine. I agree.”

“Excellent! Then let us share a drink to commemorate the agreement.”

Jack signaled the waitress, but Zandria waved her hand in disgust. “I have no interest in toasting your health, Jack Ravenwild. I will assemble the money you require. Be warned: if you fail to produce the ring and the dagger, I will not entertain any further negotiations. I shall simply kill you on the spot regardless of repercussions or arrangements. I admit that may cause me some small trouble, which is why I did not end your life tonight, but you will be a smoking corpse, Jack, dead as every slaying-spell at my command can make you. Do not try my patience again.”

The Red Wizard stood and turned on her heel, marching out of the room with her fury blazing like a brand in the night. Longshoremen and teamsters twice her size caught one glance of the expression on her face and fell over themselves trying to get out of her path. Jack raised his goblet to her back and smiled.

“Your health!” he called. “I shall see you in two days!”


Jack lingered another hour at the Tankard, enjoying the sense of security engendered by passing time in a room crowded with familiar faces while he planned his next move. Zandria had given him much to think about; he fished the ring out of his pocket and examined it

again. It was a single piece of smooth gray stone flecked with red, quite handsome in its own way, although not particularly valuable at first glance. He whispered a few words and worked a minor magic to detect whether or not it was enchanted, and blinked in surprise—the stone ring radiated magical power to any who could sense such things!

“Perhaps you might be worth keeping after all,” Jack said. He slid the ring back into his pocket.

The next Game event was three days off. Before then, Jack decided he had three things he needed to do. First, he needed to find his shadow double and take whatever steps were necessary to stop the fiend and discover its origins. Second, he needed to plan a safe and equitable exchange (or a shameless confidence game) to obtain the thousands of gold crowns that were rightfully his. And last, but certainly not least, he needed to stay out of the sight of the various parties who meant him I’ll, including but not limited to Iphegor the Black, Marcus and Ashwillow, Morgath and Saerk, Tiger and Mantis, and possibly the Warlord Myrkyssa Jelan.

“It is probably a bad sign when one’s enemies significantly outnumber one’s friends,” Jack said sadly.

He drained the last of his wine and stood up to leave. Jack was so distracted by the plots at hand that he almost walked right out of the Tankard’s front entrance with no regard for who or what might be watching. He paused in the rickety swinging door by the taproom’s mossy walls and ducked back inside at once, cursing his carelessness.

“Having just discovered considerable wealth on my own person, it would be unwise to stumble into my enemies’ hands again,” he told himself.

Instead, he made himself invisible and used the spell of shadow-jumping to whisk himself to an empty rooftop he knew of three blocks away. The tactic seemed to work;

he was not followed or accosted on his way to the Ladyrock. By the time he reached the hovel by the paper mill, midnight was hours past.

Jack passed the rest of the evening in a restless, vermin-pestered slumber. He eventually dozed off until well after noon on the following day, when he was awakened by a gang of neighborhood children engaged in a game of throwing stones through the rotting shakes of his cottage roof.

Jack groggily chased off the ragamuffins, ate a cold breakfast of old bread and hard cheese, and considered his schemes and designs. “My appointment with Zandria is not until tomorrow evening, leaving me a day, a night, and a day to occupy myself,” he observed to an attentive cockroach who shared his quarters. “I should keep an eye on Zandria to make sure that she doesn’t forget the terms of our bargain again. I should take steps to ascertain the current whereabouts of my accursed shadow. And I should also seek to unravel whatever plot Toseiyn Dulkrauth, the esteemed Lord Tiger, is up to. What to do first?”

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