Dachne's best inn, the Maid and the Unicorn, was unusually quiet for an early afternoon. Two wayfarers were engrossed in a conversation near the hearth while the saloonkeeper and several farmers were contentedly gambling the day away. Even the serving wench was more attentive to her hair than to her customers. Which suited me perfectly.
I sat in a darkened corner sipping my wine while waiting impatiently for my client, Freik. Nestled in my satchel, the jewel pressed against my leg ...the jewel I had been commissioned to steal. I was eager to transfer it to its new owner. In exchange for a considerable amount of gold, of course.
"Why not just bring it to my establishment?" Freik had complained when I explained the arrangements. "Because I do not trust you," I replied honestly. Signed contract or not, I had learned long ago that a thief who wishes a long and profitable career trusts no one. Even, on occasion, himself.
Thus the Maid and the Unicorn. Still not a perfectly safe location, but a public one and neutral as well. Or so I thought.
Freik entered fifteen minutes late. His attempt at disguising himself was laughable; the cowled cloak only called more attention to himself. Yet the others in the inn paid no notice as he made his cautious way back to my table. He seemed only slightly reassured when he saw I was alone. "You have it?" he asked immediately, taking the chair across from me.
"I wouldn't be meeting with you if I didn't," I replied evenly. "Do you?"
He pulled a satchel from his pocket and emptied 50 gold crowns on the table. "Let me see it."
"Put those back in your purse first," I said, nodding at the currency after counting it. After he complied, I opened my own satchel and withdrew the jewel. It was a red ruby as large as a man's fist; I could understand Freik's desire to own it. I held it out long enough for him to see it, then returned it to safekeeping. "We will now set our purses on the table. I will take yours, you will take mine. Then you leave and our business is concluded."
Freik nodded and obeyed. "Just one second," I seized his hand as he was seizing his hard-bought property. I opened his satchel and poured its contents on the table. A shower of lead coins tumbled out. "I see you must have made a mistake and taken out the wrong purse," I said casually even as I increased the pressure on his wrist.
Freik grimaced and nodded quickly. "Yes, yes, so I did. Here," he fumbled in his cloak, "this is the right one."
Still clasping his wrist, I opened the new purse with the blade of my knife. Gold coins glittered within. Nodding, I released his hand and took my payment. "A pleasure doing business with you, Freik," I said, quite sincere. "If you ever require my services again, you know how to contact me."
Freik favored me with a grimace, then rose and left hastily. I stifled a laugh as the door closed behind him. Such an amateurish ploy to cheat me of my payment! I had noted he pulled the satchel with the gold from his left pocket, yet he pulled the second from his right. I could have done the same to him, of course, but that was against Guild rules. Honest thievery under contract was one thing; cheating your patron was quite another. Besides, the gold was more valuable to me than any jewel.
I was still savoring my wine and dreaming of my new fortune and ways to enjoy it when a man approached my table. He must have entered while Freik and I were in negotiations because I had not noticed him before. And he was a man I, or anyone, would have noticed. He towered before me, nearly as tall and wide as a pony. Yet the voice that emerged was surprisingly soft and high. "You are Brendell, I believe? A member of the Thief's Guild?"