Thief: A Fantasy Hardboiled (Ratcatchers Book 2)

Thief
Ratcatchers, Book 2

 

by

 

Matthew Colville

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

This is a work of fiction. Any relation to actual living persons, alive or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2012-2014 by Matthew Colville

Cover design copyright 2013 by Tim Denee

First edition self-published by Matthew Colville in 2014

All rights reserved. No rights to distribute or retransmit are granted.

Visit
facebook.com/ratcatchers
for early drafts of the sequel!

Find a typo, let me know, come back and see your name below.

Brock Heinz, LIz Steinworth, Raymond Lukes, Silvano Matthews

Dedication

Melody Anne Colville


I got the horse right here!”

 

Special Thanks

Once again, the inestimable Tim Denee supplied the amazing cover!

 

Beta Readers

In every instance these volunteers provided critical feedback that led to significant edits. The book within would be very different without them.

 

Aaron Contreras, Roland Cooke, Denise Harwood, Kurt Klockau, Raymond Lukes, Zane Lyon, Tamerlane Mohammad, Arthur Monteath-Carr, John Petersen, Shao Qu Zi, Jaime Sue, Manny Vega

 

 

Thief

 

 

The Players

In this city of Celkirk, in this nation of Corwell, blessed by Cavall and his greatest saint, Llewellyn.

The Hammer & Tongs

Heden
– The Arrogate. A quasi-official agent of the church. Owner of the Hammer & Tongs

Vanora
– A trull. Sentenced to death for demonic possession. Saved by Heden.

Ballisantirax
– a cat.

The Church

Conmonoc
– Bishop and Hierarch of the Church of St. Llewellyn, the Valiant.

Gwiddon
– His attaché. The man sent to spy on the king for the bishop.

The Abbot
– A secretkeeper

The Special Watch

The Castellan
– Master of the citadel. Enemy of organized crime. Also known as the ragman.

Aiden
– A newly minted special watchman.

Fandrick & Rayk
– Veterans of the special watch.

The City Watch

Domnal
– A captain of the watch in one of the city’s wards.

Teagan
– A watchman under Domnal’s command. Formerly a ratcatcher.

The Thieves

The Count
– Master of the Guild of Blackened Silk.

Garth
– His fixer.

Brick
– Master of the Cold Hearth.

Aimsley
Pinwhistle
– His fixer.

Calvus
– The Hearth’s alchemist

The
Truncheon
– Master of the Darkened Moon. Also known as the Midnight Man.

Roderick
Tam
– An alchemist.

The Rose Petal

Miss
Elowen
– Owner and proprietor.

Bann
– A demi-urq and Miss Elowen’s muscle.

Martlyn
– A trull.

Caerys
– A trull.

Special Guests

Hapax Legomenon

Occultus quaesitor
for the Lens, a wizard’s order

Zaar
– A blacksmith and former ratcatcher.

Richard
– King of Corwell.

Prologue

The last green holly berry bled out its color, turning a pale milky-white.

Bishop Conmonoc looked at the seven white berries, twirled the sprig in his hand. He tossed it onto the massive oak desk.

“I want you to leak word of this to the king,” he said.

Gwiddon took a deep breath, brought himself back to reality.

“Easily done,” he said, trying to read the bishop’s face. “What am I leaking word to him about?”

The bishop sat quietly staring in the direction of a bookcase for what seemed to Gwiddon an unnatural length of time. He felt he could see the gears whirring in the old man’s head. Finally, the bishop turned to him and took a deep breath.

“Tell him the north is no longer secure. Tell him to prepare for invasion.”

Gwiddon nodded. “I can do that,” he said. “I can point his men in the right direction, they’ll find out about the Green, learn about their duty, what happened to them. Convincing him an invasion is coming might be harder.”

“But well within the scope of your talents,” the bishop said, nodding deferentially to his attaché.

“It’ll be easier once we know more,” Gwiddon said. “Once Heden returns to the city. He’ll need to be debriefed.” He looked at the centuries-old sprig of holly, once immortal, now dead.  “There’s too much we don’t know about….”

“You will not wait, you will leak this information immediately. Already one town has been destroyed by forces rampaging out from the Wode, without benefit of the protection of the Green. More will fall. The king must do something.”

“Already one…,” Gwiddon said. “You know this?”

“I do.”

“Llewellyn told you this?” Gwiddon asked. He wasn’t sure why he was asking, something didn’t feel right. The bishop’s information covered strange territory and omitted much.

“He did,” the bishop said.

“Your Grace,” Gwiddon began, “Did Llewellyn tell you what happened to Heden?”

The bishop sniffed. “He did not think it important, neither do I. I understand he is your friend….”

Gwiddon took a measured breath, smoothed the front of his silk shirt, dared to interrupt. "He is an agent of the church, your grace. He was reluctant to go and I convinced him. At your request. He may now be dead, and I manipulated him into going."

"It is your job to manipulate people. And if he is dead, he died redeeming himself," the old man nodded at the holly berries.

Gwiddon was briefly overwhelmed with anger. “I wasn’t aware, your grace,” he recovered magnificently. He wished someone was here to watch his performance. Someone besides the bishop. “That Heden was in any need of redemption.”

“Don’t you see?” the bishop said. He appeared genuinely surprised that Gwiddon didn’t find this all obvious. “Heden is,” he paused and nodded a concession to Gwiddon, “perhaps indirectly, responsible for the collapse of our power.”

Gwiddon looked around the bishop’s private office, situated in the heart of the massive granite cathedral of St. Llewellyn. The largest building in all Vasloria. “When you say, ‘collapse…’”

“You lead a charmed existence,” the bishop said sadly, but not without affection. “In your capacity as my royal attaché, you enjoy the privilege of ignoring how far we’ve fallen since Aendrim.”

“You’re talking about the deathless.”

“I’m talking about our growing irrelevance in a world without them. The world Heden delivered us into. I intend to restore our standing.”

Gwiddon nodded. He understood. The church’s two great briefs were protecting Corwell from deathless and fiends. Fiends, more powerful, but far more rare. The church performed many mundane functions across the lives of the followers of Cavall and his saints, but these functions did not require a massive granite cathedral. Or a bishop.

“I will do as you ask,” Gwidd said. “The king will learn of the fall of the Green and I will plant the idea that the wode and its denizens are a threat.”

The bishop was pleased.

“It might speed matters along if I knew what reaction we want King Richard to have to this news.”

“Well, ideally, he’ll send the Hart into the north to investigate,” the bishop said. “But I’ll be satisfied if he comes to the inevitable conclusion that the church’s martial brief should be expanded to protect the people.”

“That last, I think is reasonable. But he will not send the Hart,” Gwiddon said.

The bishop frowned. “He will want first-hand knowledge of what happened in the Wode, who better to send?”

“The Hart are the king’s only way of exerting power in the city,” Gwiddon explained.

“What of the castellan?”

“The castellan does not work for the king.”

“He was appointed by the king!” the bishop said, his ignorance of local, temporal affairs showing.

“Appointed for life. Before this castellan, that meant three years typically. This one’s been running the city for nine. Best to think of it like this; the king governs Corwell. The castellan runs the city.”

“Interesting choice of words,” the bishop said, with a deferent nod to Gwiddon’s knowledge. “In any case, I will hold out hope Richard will deploy the Hart. It’s not critical either way.”

“Why the interest in the Hart? What do we gain?”

The bishop waved a wizened hand. “A tactical advantage,” he said. “Nothing more. Only one piece on the great board.”

“A game of shere,” Gwiddon said. “That’s all this is. You maneuvered your piece, now you expect Richard to do the same.”

The bishop smiled, mistaking Gwiddon’s criticism for admiration. “He
will
do the same, and he
will
choose the Hart, and this
is
a game of shere, and I intend to win!” the bishop said with some little glee. Exactly as though he was playing a game.

He noticed Gwiddon’s apprehension. “I must say, I expected you to see this more clearly. You are my first confidant in this plan. I thought you would appreciate it.”

It was clever, Gwiddon admitted, and it would probably work. He couldn’t tell the bishop his real reason for being concerned, but could not directly lie.

“I’m concerned about my friend,” Gwiddon explained. This was true.

“As I recall,” the bishop said with humor, holding up a wizened, bony figure, “
you
said we should not be concerned for  Heden. We should be concerned for the Green Order.”

“I was,” Gwiddon said. He looked at the holly.

“But they’re dead.”

Chapter One

In was easy. Getting out….

He reckoned three days. The ragman liked prisoners to stew for a while, wind themselves up before pressing them. Any longer than that and Alret would spill what he knew.

That meant a lot of talking, drinking, trading favors. He didn’t think of it as a three day job, he thought of it as three months. The time he’d have to pay on the back end for all the favors he’d owe.

He needed to know shift times, that was easy. A few drinks. He needed to know where Alret was kept, but getting that information direct meant blackmail and he didn’t have that kind of time. So some educated guesswork.

First he needed a plan of the citadel. Probably Brick had one, but he couldn’t use it or ask for it, or Brick would know what he was doing and that defeated the entire purpose of the Fixer. If he was caught, the ragman would string him up, but it ended there. If Brick could in any way be connected with this, it meant the whole guild going down.

A plan of the citadel wasn’t hard; it just required some lateral thinking. The place needed repairs, like any other. There were seven masons could be trusted with the job, so he burgled them all. That only took a few hours. Plans of the citadel wouldn’t be labeled, which actually made them easier to find. He’d have to return them later, but later he’d have plenty of time.

The composite sketch he was able to build from the burgled plans wasn’t complete, it wasn’t a perfect system and not all unlabeled jobs were secret repairs for the castellan’s secret jail, but it was good enough.

The place was huge, much larger below than above, and some of the rooms were oddly shaped. Probably their geometries affected whoever was held inside. That kind of thinking gave him a headache.

Alret wasn’t that kind of threat, which meant a cell in the first three levels, the mundane prisoners.

Now he just needed a catalog of who had been admitted, released, and when and this was by far the most arduous part of the job. But he was in his element. It meant talking to criminals, men who’d been inside. Most had no way of knowing exactly where they’d been held, but each had a piece of the puzzle.

After three days horse trading, he had a pretty accurate map of the first three levels, pretty accurate data on which rooms were currently occupied, and which were free the day they bagged Alret. He was looking at three rooms, all on level three. He gave the map one last look, ripped it up and tossed the pieces into the sewer grates as he walked up the road to the Tower, the entrance to the citadel.

Time to get to work.

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