by R L Davis Hays
After hurrying to the eastern side of Nothshore, he had climbed atop an accommodating tree to observe the activity around the Wayward Inn. He spied at the windows until he found one particularly promising room — a small, dull, corner room; it had only two windows, one on the western side and one on the northern. Very possibly the office.
Sitting in the large oak branches for near an hour staring at the room, speculating on how to access the barred windows, he noticed that the northern sill was considerably wider than the others. An inner wall had been constructed in the office, allowing the pincher to conceal his lockbox from his employees.
This had led Keinigan to inspect the outer wall more intimately, which yielded a few dry-rotted boards just above the first floor level. Weighing his possibilities, he waited until he saw Wendal leave through the front. With the boarding house subdued, he had climbed up, pried the boards loose quietly, and then wriggled into the small interior of the false wall.
He was able to slink through the maze of beams and braces; his eyes adjusting to the darkness. The thin illumination of blocked moonlight and sparse warmth, visible to his fae sight, left him to rely more on his other senses. Much to his discomfort.
Grime and rat droppings were thick, and the space he had crammed into was not much wider than his chest. Forced to take shallow breaths (which seemed preferable to him considering the stinking contents of this crawlspace) he wrestled through an area that was good for nothing, barring perhaps to hide dead bodies. His mind was aglow with an image of his prize; a small box stashed beneath the second story window frame.
The splintered wood of a crossbeam snagged his head by the velvet ribbon so sweetly placed by Lyla. Wincing, he reached up to free it, only to flail in the confines. A cringe of dread braced his nerves as he jerked his head, ripping several hairs from his scalp. Tears stung his eyes, but with an angry snort, he started to move again. Dust that had collected over decades kicked up around his face, tickling his nose dangerously. His entire body squeezed shut as he tried not to sneeze. A moment passed before he could recover.
The effort it took to stay quiet was costing him precious minutes and driving him slowly mad with thoughts of the filth covering him. With each sweaty second, he could feel the contamination seeping into his skin, but he dared not rush.
He had seen some ladies in the windows of The Wayward house, and any strange noise could alert them to his presence.
Twisting his head around, he saw the solid blackness of a surface less than an arm’s length from him. It ran from the floorboards to the ceiling. He guessed by the distance from his entry spot that this was the encasement below the widened window. With an awkward bend of his arm, he released his dagger. Grabbing it tight, he shifted to lie on his side, maneuvering the dagger deftly along the cracks of the board obstructing the box.
As he ran his fingers down the crevice, he found what he needed. A rat hole. The vermin that had left their trail of droppings for him to follow had also done most of his work for him. By the splintering on it, he judged that the whole partition was brittle and rotting. He grinned eagerly in the dark.
With sweat rolling down his forehead and stinging his eyes, he worked. Patiently, with his breath making puffs in the sawdust, he whittled bits of plank away with his dagger tip.
After an eternity, Keinigan had a hole large enough to push his arm in, up to the elbow. That was all he needed, he hoped. It was near midnight, and the occupants would be returning soon.
His hand touched the bottom of the lockbox. His coveted goal was near, but his mind compulsively reminded him that he was lying in vermin refuse. Fortunately, the furry residents of the nest were occupied elsewhere. He tried to focus only on his undertaking. Angling his dagger at the corner joist of the box in order to give the best pry point, he heard noises beyond the inner wall. He froze.
A person was milling about in the office.
Minutes ticked slowly in his brain as he listened intently, his muscles cramping and screaming for movement. Loose strands of hair pasted to his forehead by sweat and dirt itched him, making a panic of misery well up inside his chest. He fought to hold it in.
Footfalls came closer to his position, and he heard a scraping sound followed by a click above his hands. The image of Wendal, opening his lockbox with his suntanned hands just a mere half-mark away from a thief enclosed in his walls, popped into Keinigan’s fevered brain, and a giggle tickled him mercilessly.
There was a heavy thud on the board above his dagger tip and (for the briefest instant) Keinigan saw a splinter of dim candlelight at the corner seam.
Optimism fluttered in his soul as he realized his luck. The box was weakened already; his job just got a whole lot easier. His palms tingling, he waited for Wendal to close the wooden lid and leave the house. Hearing a faint creaking clack as the office door shut, Keinigan counted to twenty and then he positioned his dagger on the place where he had seen the flash of light.
Biting his dust covered lip to douse his giddiness, he popped the pommel of his dagger hard. The board gave a little. The nails straining to grip it in place, the wood groaned in objection. Loudly. Pausing in slight alarm, he craned his neck to listen for any noise inside the house before wedging his dagger in again.
He wiggled his tool; pushed again, and was rewarded with sudden movement, as the seam ruptured. His pulse surged. The board bent, opening under the weight of the bags nestled within. Still restrained by the opposite joint, the bottom did not crash down as he feared it might but, he was able to worm one nimble hand inside the hole. It touched the cloth of a small sack. With barely a breath, he painstakingly extricated his prize, allowing the board to relax and close.
Now, he was anxious to get the hell out of there.
The chill night air was drifting in through the loose entry fracture as he squirmed out backwards, finding his way blindly like a giant maggot with his feet thrashing in midair and dust clouding around his head. Finally, finding a foothold on the windowsill, he yanked himself free and hopped to the ground.
He crouched below the casement for a moment, certain that someone was aware of the activity. All was quiet around him. It had been a risk coming out hindquarters first; his fears had conjured images of a circle of thugs and Wendal watching him grapple out only to pin him to the wall with swords. But, there was no one.
Keinigan was scraped, cut, aching, filthy, and somehow had never been more elated. The more rational part of his brain was astonished by the depths to which he would go for money. He glanced down at the small sack in his hands, testing its weight. It felt as if there were at least fifty silver pents in coin and gems. Hysteria bubbling up from his insides, he had to quickly dash into the back alleys, heading for the city entrance before it erupted.
A heavy, spring sun was coming up over the horizon, showing its shy white face between sullen clouds as he was nearing the city of Eddermont to repay Big Lukas.
Keinigan thought to himself, “Problem solved. I’ll finally have some left over.”
Translations from Jorthus series available from Amazon.com. Visit the author page for more information on the books, or join the conversation on The Worlds of Jorthus page on Facebook. http://rldavishays.webs.com/apps/blog/