The first card was The Fool, and a smile crept across the Lamia's face, the candlelight dancing in her yellow eyes. She knew by the looks of her customer that he wouldn't appreciate any snide remarks, but there was nothing to stop her from being amused by the furrowed brow of the youngish man in black.
"The Fool" she said, her voice a husky whisper for dramatic effect, running her index finger along the picture of the Troubadour and tapping the bulging codpiece with her black-painted nail.
"A sign of an adventurer on a quest, no?" she asked, poking at the serious man with the crossed arms and slightly sweaty forehead. He was hoping for good news, wasn't he?
"Perhaps the sign of a business venture to be undertaken?" she continued, moving gently into the direction she was certain the truth lay. The man shifted his weight around on the comfy chair as if it were covered in spikes.
"Or perhaps... a mark?" she nailed her eyes into his, and he blinked heavily. She did so too with her second set of eyelids, that sometimes shook men enough to get them over the edge and into the realm of superstitions even more firmly.
"Tsk" the man mumbled, still keeping his face hidden behind a scarf. But she knew. He was frowning, biting his lip. He'd thought he'd come here incognito, and here was this fortune teller who had figured him out already. Some thief he was, eh?
The second card was The Shooting Star, and the Soothsayer raised a brow.
"A wish? Perhaps one that was made, or is to be made? I see... so it is a personal matter, rather than mere business. The Fool had a wish..."
The thief in black grunted, then spoke.
"It seems you have the power to speak of the present and past. But where's the use in that? Don't your cards know the future?"
The Soothsayer smiled. She was getting under his skin, and he was opening up of his own volition. That was good.
"Oh, patience, patience..." she cooed, drawing a third card. This time it was The Shield.
"The Shield?" she pondered out loud, feigning confusion. Hearing this, the thief got on the edge of his seat.
Oh, he had ants in his pants alright.
"The Shield is an omen of either blocked passage..." she paused to tease him, seeing beads of sweat form on his forehead, "...or of a guardian" she finished. The thief slumped down on his chair.
"So what does that mean?"
"It means that The Fool's wish receives a guardian, or that his wish is blocked. As of now, we cannot say. There are four more cards left..."
"Hurry up with it!"
The fourth card pleased the Lamia. She hadn't taken too great a liking to this customer, but she was not malicious, and witnessing good omens was pleasant to her as well.
"The Flaming Blade" she said, hiding a smirk behind her hand.
"This is good?"
"The sign means, in this case, that there is an obstacle, but that this obstacle is overcome by The Shield"
His relief was palatable, but another worry grew in him. The thief believed in luck, after all, and he feared this good fortune had depleted him of whatever Fortuna owed him. Hmm. The Soothsayer swallowed. This man didn't seem the type to draw a blade over something like this, but he might still cause a scene. Should she cheat?
No. The cards were holy, and they could not be cheated without serious repercussions. The man would have to make do with what fate gave him. She drew the fifth card.
"The Broken Heart?" she said, unable to hide her own confusion. The cards were mysterious indeed.
"The Broken Heart. In this context it means not so much an unfortunate love-life, but a choice. A choice between two evils"
The thief rubbed his temples.
"Two evils? And this shield of mine won't be there then?" he asked.
"It may well be, but the choice still remains, and such is your fate. Two more cards to go, we shall see how it goes..."
The thief nodded as she drew the sixth card.
"The Baron" she said, her voice emotionless. She stared at the picture of the grossly fat man with fancy clothing and no face. An ill omen by all accounts.
"This... this is not good?" the thief asked in confirmation.
"No. As of this moment, this symbolizes the villain of the tale, the nemesis of The Fool. In other circumstances it may well have been a patron. But now? This is the source of adversity, a powerful foe with resources to pursue his goal. The Broken Heart and The Flaming Sword may be part of The Baron's repertoire. Have you angered such men or women recently, little thief?"
He shook his head.
"Then I'm afraid the worst is yet to come for you. Let us see if we can't find some solace..."
She drew the seventh card slowly, and as soon as she saw it, let out a chuckle.
"What? What is it?"
"The Phoenix" she said with a shrug.
"So what does this mean?"
"An end to the old, a beginning to the new. It's... not a very precise card. Under the best of circumstances it would mean overcoming adversity and growing stronger for it. Under the worst it means perishing and leaving behind a legacy in either word or deed, in some great work of art or maybe children"
The thief crossed his arms.
"So it doesn't promise me triumph over The Baron?"
"Agh! Just as well!" the thief threw coins on the table, more than her price was, and left the tent.
After the thief had left, the Soothsayer found herself pondering this fortune. The thief would attempt something because of personal reasons, he would face adversity at first, which he would overcome, be made to choose between two evils, most likely because of a wealthy and powerful enemy, and in the end, something new would begin. She should have offered him a rump at a discount, might well have been his last one that wouldn't leave him scarred.
The man stepped into the tavern in a boisterous gait, a stupid grin on his face and all the wondrous joy of a man in love in his eyes.
"A round to everyone, on me!" he cried out, a sure way to make friends quickly, or to get old friends forget their grudges.
"Ah, Jared old boy, what's the occasion?" asked the barkeep as he began to count in his head just how much money he would make from this act of generosity.
"Here, here Jared, old bean!" came the call of another customer as he came closer to the source of beer, and the rest of the customers began to form a crowd with the young man called Jared at the centre.
He was a handsome bastard, with hair neatly groomed and a face clean-shaven, his lips quite permanently stuck in a smug grin. His clothing was simple enough, with a clean shirt and trousers, a leather vest and shining boots, and not a single callus on his hands, a knife hanging from his belt on his right side, a purse on the left, and a rapier swung on his back. A rapier with an embroidered scabbard and some gold in the handle.
"Now then lads" the young man called Jared said to a crowd consisting mostly of men much older than himself, his own pint in hand, "Cheers!"
"CHEERS!" came the reply from those who knew him as well as from those who did not.
"Aaaahhhh" Jared said, wiping the foam from his face with his sleeve.
"I tell you lads, it's a time to celebrate indeed! I have just quit work at my uncle's place, and have received my last pay!" he said, tapping the bulging purse.
"Fuckin' hell Jared, whacha gone and done that fer?" asked a man missing half the teeth on the right side of his face, all of them from his upper jaw for whatever reason.
"I'll tell you lads, I'll tell you! Sam, put up some roast then, I haven't had any lunch so I'm starving!"
The barkeep nodded with enthusiasm and yelled the order at the little Kikimora who scurried off into the kitchen area.
"It's like this" Jared said, leaning on the counter, "I went to the camp of those tramps the other night, see, and asked that snake-woman of theirs to read my fortune!"
There was much nodding and this, many had done the same. Others smiled crooked smiles and poked each other with their elbows, saying something about Jared being an old dog who had gone and gotten some fortune alright.
"And believe it or not lads, but she foretold that it is my destiny to accomplish greatness! According to her, I will on this very day, that is today, not yesterday, encounter a fork in the road, with love down the other path and honour down the other! Can you believe it?"
There was a polite uproar at this, but lacking in any real enthusiasm. Fortunes were silly things, after all, even to superstitious folk, especially good fortunes such as this.
"Well then Jared, what do you think this fortune means?" asked Sam as he handed his new favourite customer the roast the little Kikimora had carried over with great difficulty.
"Isn't it obvious? Whatever will be, will be, but whatever WILL be, will be good! Honour or love, love or honour, what's not to like? I took my father's sword in case I'll encounter an opportunity to duel a knight or do battle with scoundrels in the defence of a maiden's honour. Huh, fancy that! Just occurred to me I could have it both ways!"
"'ave what fer both ways?" asked the man missing teeth.
"Honour and love both! All I'd need to do is rescue some damsel from distress as a swashbuckling hero or a knight does, and voila! I have done an honourable deed and earned love! Hahaha!"
An elderly woman, with no teeth stopped sucking on her unlit pipe for a moment and spat, missing the spittoon but ignoring her mistake, for she had more important things to think about.
"Them's bad thoughts in your head, young'un" she said, smacking her lips and shaking her head.
"How's that gran?"
"One ought not to even try to cheat their destiny. No good will come of it, mark my words!"
"Oh? If you think it such a bad idea, you can ignore my celebratory mood and not partake of the second round I'm buying! Got that Sam?"
"Aye, Jared, I've got that indeed" the barkeep grinned.
For several hours there were jubilations with Jared at their centre. He bought four rounds of beer for everyone, as well as some loaves of bread, wheels of cheese and several pheasants to pass around, and when people who actually worked for a living came in to parch their throats, the celebrations began to escalate and spread. The camp of gypsies and other miscreants nearby got into the mood for celebrating as well when they heard laughter and shouts of approval, and it wasn't long until the people forgot all about Jared and his silly fortune, getting intoxicated and singing and dancing for the sake of merriment alone.
It was around this time, feeling much encouraged by drink and positive reinforcement, that Jared left to pursue his destiny, strutting about with a wide, drunken gait, behaving as if he owned the town. It was in this manner that he had his first brush with destiny.
"Ey there doll, what are you wandering around in such a rotten neighbourhood on your own for?" asked the gruff, bearded man who most likely had Dwarf blood in his veins.
"I, err, uhh, I'm headed, looking for the... Soothsayer...." the girl answered timidly, twirling her hair around a finger nervously.
"Now, now, now, it's not place or time for yer kind, doll. All kinds of scoundrels about see? But tell you what, you give some coin and I'll make sure ye'll be safe and sound, eh?"
"N-no thanks, I'll, I'll manage..."
"Oh what's this then, eh? I'm offering you 'elp and ye're spitting in my face? Eh? That how yer momma raised ye? Eh?"
The gruff man came into her personal space, reeking of all manner of bodily fluids that hadn't been washed off of him in weeks. He grabbed her wrist.
"Give us a kiss then..."
Jared happened upon his golden opportunity as he stepped into an alleyway he mistook for a completely different one. He saw the man laying his hands upon the girl, and even though he was drunk, he saw the girl was not an Elf, but a human girl from a well-to-do family. And what man laid hands on a human woman against her will? No man!
"Unhand her, knave!" he shouted while fumbling with his sword. Getting the damn thing unsheathed while it was on his back was harder than he'd thought.
"Hah! Look at this clod! Walk along now, before ye hurt yerself" the gruff one said, spitting at him. Jared managed to pull out his sword and took a few uncertain steps toward the thug while making random swings at the air, as if trying to swat a fly.
"That's gold I see on the handle, ain't it? And a fat purse, too! Lucky haul today, lucky haul..." the thug mumbled as he licked his lips, still holding the girl's arm with one hand, pulling out a knife with the other. He'd cut this clown, take his purse and sword and maybe the vest and boots... oh, he had a knife too! All of it then! And then the lass... the lass!
"Now stay still like a good girl, doll, ol' Neville will get back to you..." he said twisting her arm hard enough to make her yelp. And then she stomped on his foot.
"Oi!" he cried out, letting go of her and giving her the backhand. He turned around to face the armed opponent, but by then it was too late. The rapier swished through the air and poked him in his fat belly, sinking in the width of two fingers.
"Oooohh..." he moaned, realizing his trouble immediately, being no stranger to injuries. He stepped back, feeling a burning pain in his gut, and blood poured out of him with ever increasing intensity as the blade plopped out. He turned and ran without looking back.
"Hah! That's right coward! You better run! Go on! Tell your friends how Jared overcame you in a single strike!" Jared shouted after him, wiping clean his blade on the hem of his shirt, which he tucked under his belt to hide the stains, then sheathing the rapier with some difficulty. It had been a stupid idea to put the sword on his back!
"I-is it safe yet?" asked the girl timidly, still on the ground, and only now did Jared remember she was the one he had set about to rescue in the first place.
"My fair lady, calm yourself! I'm here!" he shouted and knelt at her side, wiping her hair away from her face to reveal it. It may well have been the drink, or the exhilaration of the glorious battle he had just taken part in, but he fell in love with her at first sight. Her hair was a reddish brown and naturally curly, her lips rosy and cheeks flushed... though one more so than the other, what with the thug having hit it and all, but still, and her eyes the grey of sea on a cloudy day! Oh, what accurate fortune he had been given! Surely this was the woman of his dreams!
"I tell you Swiper, it's a certain catch it is! Jared, Otto Tanner's nephew, he's quit work at Otto's place, see? And he's got his pay for this month, all in one purse, with his savings and whatnot, and his fadda's ol' sword, this rapier with a gilded handle, and he's shitfaced he is!"
"Thank you Joe"
"Oh, alm for the poor, Swiper?"
The man in black threw three wooden pennies to the man with the teeth from his upper jaw missing on the right side of his face.
Things took a turn for the worse very quickly. Swiper, after locating his target, stayed back and spied that he was with a woman, some redhead, and they discussed things rather passionately, until the redhead handed him something and rushed off. A moment passed while Swiper hesitated, wondering if the woman wasn't an easier target than the armed drunkard, but seeing that fat purse hanging so heavily on Jared's belt left no room for confusion. Picking up his stride, Swiper began to formulate a plan of action. There was blood on the street, fresh blood. He could deduce what had happened, someone had attacked the redhead, and the hero had defended her honour. Not enough blood for a fatal wound, no corpse to be seen, and sure enough droplets of blood leading away from the scene as crumbs of bread... the assailant had not been anyone impressive. Swiper might have named over a dozen suspects off the top of his head, but thought it unnecessary. All he needed to know was that Jared was quick to draw his blade and to do battle. Hoping to avoid such a conflict, he had to approach carefully and cut the purse in a quick movement, disappearing out of sight as quickly as possible, preferably before the fool even noticed it was gone. There were only ten paces between them. He'd reach his mark soon enough, at an intersection where he might slip down another alley and be gone like the kiss of a Nightmare.
Then Jared bumped into a fat bald man and a bearded short man. Under normal circumstances such a thing would have been commonplace and treated as such, with a nod and an apology from both parties, and then everyone would have gone their merry way. Hell, Swiper had used this kind of trick in his career many a time.
No such behaviour followed.
"I demand and apology!" shouted the drunk young hero, eyeing up his supposed offenders, both of a more impressive frame than he, in width if not in length.
"Ahh, go home, you're drunk" said the shorter man dismissively.
“Drunk? Drunk am I? Oh, I am, I am! Drunk off of love and life! And you have offended me, come in the way of my bliss!” Jared shouted, making theatrical gestures with his hands.
The fat bald man scratched behind his ear and furrowed his brow. An apology was simple enough, but they obviously felt reluctant about it.
The Dwarf had different things in mind, though. He wouldn’t apologize. He’d sooner pick a fight. Swiper rubbed his chin as he observed the Dwarf spread his legs into a wider stance. He carried no weapon, not in plain view, anyway, and he most likely could handle a drunk with a sword. Swiper had learned to assume every Dwarf was a grizzled veteran of countless battles, and thus avoided underestimating them.
“You will not apologize, you boors?” Jared said, taken aback.
“Nnnnno, no I don’t think so” said the fat bald man, looking like the situation was awkward for him.
“Then you shall satisfy your debt of honour with blood!” Jared yelled, pulling out his sword. He never got it out though, because the Dwarf had delivered a left straight into his crotch. As Jared’s head fell downwards, the Dwarf followed with a right uppercut. Jared fell on the ground writhing in pain.
“Whaddya figure, the sword worth much?” the Dwarf asked his companion, who eyed it up with some interest.
“Worth more than what he’s got in his purse. You take the purse and the boots, I’ll keep the sword” he said, and the Dwarf wasted no time reaching for the boots. This was no good.
“Hold it right there!” Swiper shouted, with his hand on the handle of his dagger. He wasn’t about the let some damn out-of-towners steal his mark. Of course he wasn’t expecting to take them on in a fight, of course not, but he would certainly try to scare them off. His black clothing, the fact that he was armed, the fact that he was rushing to the defence of another man who was armed, hell, it was all the kind of thing a couple of guys in a strange new town might be intimidated by.
It was, therefore, to his surprise when the two laughed heartily at him.
“Will ya look at this, then? Little bugger is dressed all in black! Scary, ain’t it?” the Dwarf said, picking his nose.
The big man rubbed his nose to hide his smirk and coughed a little to excuse his laughter, then bowed stiffly.
“What aid may we be, Sir Assassin?” he asked.
Now that was a mood killer. His bluff wasn’t much good for him now, was it? He probably ought to run away. No shame in that, being sensible. There would be other marks. Ones that didn’t lead to such trouble.
Swiper’s appearance had distracted the two men, though. And this had given the unpredictable and now quite angry, not to forget ARMED, drunk the opportunity to get his sword out in the open and he swung it at the Dwarf. The blade cut open his shirt and drew blood from the bicep before the Dwarf had time to react and stomp on Jared’s stomach.
“SONNOVABITCH!” he shouted angrily, holding his wounded arms and kicking at the sword arm. The bald man was now pressing his back against a wall, eyeing up both directions the alley went, just in case this actually was an ambush.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Swiper drew out his dagger and walked with faux determination – but very small steps – toward the two men.
“Hands off him” he said, thinking he might still be able to get through this with a bluff. But the bald man produced two slim knives from his sleeves and stared him down. Uh-oh.
“You don’t have to do this” Swiper said, slowing down his advance.
The bald man said nothing, but advanced with surprising agility.
Swiper swallowed. He did not need this nonsense. He’d have a head start if he ran now. He’d be in some better lit street with some people on it in time if he ran now. He lifted a foot, preparing to step back and begin a desperate sprint. The bald man advanced on him even faster.
Someone opened a window and emptied a chamber pot on the street. The contents fell between the bald man and Swiper, taking everyone’s attention. Except Swiper’s. His foot hit a small stone. He picked it up. He aimed. He threw. Just as the bald man lifted his gaze up to him again, the stone hit him between the eyes.
“Argh!” he cried, staggering backwards and holding his head.
“Keep your racket down or I’m calling the guards!” shouted the old woman from the still open window.
“Let’s be off now!” the Dwarf snapped and ran off, with the bald man following quickly behind him.
That went better than expected, Swiper thought while putting away his dagger and sticking to the shadows. The old woman couldn’t see him, and with the two runaways out of sight, she shut her window again.
By then Swiper was kneeling by Jared, helping him up.
“We showed them where they could shove it, we did! Hah!” Jared slobbered. He had several broken teeth now. Not a very pretty sight.
“Sure we did” Swiper said, moving his hand to a position where he could swipe the purse from Jared’s belt. The drunk turned around and took him by the hand in a surprisingly smooth movement, and shook it.
“My good man! You are a true gentleman, rushing to the aid of a stranger to battle against, against renegades and thieves!” Jared kept going, leaning on him heavily and stinking of alcohol and blood. There was a trickle of blood on his lips from his mouth. He might need some help there.
“Yes, yes, I’m quite the hedge knight” Swiper said reassuringly, and tried to pry his hand away. The damn fool was squeezing too hard.
“Indeed you are! And I must, I MUST buy you a round! It’s the least I can do to a brother in arms!” Jared exclaimed, and Swiper shrugged. Why the hell not? The drunker the mark, the easier it got for him.
The two heroes found their way to an establishment that was still open, and Jared tossed far too much coinage on the counter in an absentminded way to get them something vile and strong. Swiper nursed his portion and let Jared enjoy himself, lamenting all the while the loss of those coins that the bartender would not give back.
He eyes up the other customers. A P’Orc winked at him from behind a frothy pint. Swiper quickly returned his gaze back to the table.
“I tell you brother, this is a rotten world if there ever was one!” Jared whined. He talked surprisingly well for someone who was drunk off his ass and had a mouthful of broken teeth. What a champ.
“Rotten, is it?” he asked conversationally. Working the mark up to a frenzy of ranting might get him to drink faster.
“Rotten, yes! To the core! Today I’ve saved a fair maiden from the hands of a dozen villains, and not long after I was assaulted by a dozen more!” he lamented his cruel fate.
“Dozens, was it?” Swiper said, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“Dozens, can you believe it? Of course, I could have handled them without your help, had I not fought so much prior, see…”
“Of course, yes. And, and that woman! Oh she was a sight to behold! Like an Angel without wings, she was! Nothing like those damn beast-women that are everywhere, a proper human!”
Now this was not smart. He was so loud that the other patrons could easily hear him, and many of them were Monsters. Others were the husbands and mates of Monsters. Sure enough, a bear of a man, wearing a chainmail shirt over some patchwork leather stood up from the table where he’d been sitting with two P’Orcs – and based on what Swiper could deduce, they were mother and daughter, with the daughter being the one who had winked at him before – and walk up right behind Jared, lower his massive, hairy hand on his shoulder, and speak in a smooth bass.
“You talking shit about my wife, you?”
Jared turned around angrily.
“And what’s this? Another barbarian beastfucker? You want I should fill you with steel?” he asked, reaching for his sword.
Swiper grabbed his hand.
“Not in here, not in here!” he hissed.
Jared turned to him now, his face flushed red.
“And I should let this brute go away after challenging me with impunity?” he demanded, spit and blood leaving his mouth.
“No, of course I’m not saying that, what I’m saying is you shouldn’t offend the hospitality of this establishment by turning it into a battleground!” Swiper managed quickly.
Jared considered this.
“I see. Yes, that’s very true, yes. You there!” he said, rising up to the brute, reaching below his chest.
“Name the time and place, and I’ll be there!”
The brute scratched his head.
“Like a duel?”
“Yes! A duel!”
The man shrugged.
“Honey?” he asked uncertainly.
“What is it dear?”
“Can I duel this brat for your honour?” he asked with a pleading tone.
The P’Orc considered this.
“Will it be nice and clean and not mucking about like that time you fought my sister’s husband?”
“Nice and clean, my little pork chop”
“I guess that’s fine then, you boys have fun” she said, waving him off and returning to some hushed conversation with her daughter. Whatever they talked about seemed to require a great deal of blushes and giggles.
The brute fixed his pants and tried to look manlier than before.
“Right then. There’s a bridge just outside the western gate, at midnight!” he said, sure of himself.
“Then so be it! At midnight!” Jared agreed, and the two shook hands. Then there was some awkwardness as they tried to figure out who ought to leave, since staying under the same roof was not really a viable option here. Swiper convinced Jared to take a bottle to go and they left.
A duel, huh? At midnight? Not particularly interesting, Swiper had to admit. He’d rather be counting whatever was in that purse by then without getting anywhere near a duel.
“Ah, damn!” cried Jared now, kicking a pebble.
“What, what’s wrong? Isn’t this right up your alley?” Swiper asked, chuckling to himself.
“Oh, it’s not the duel I worry about, but timing, horrendous timing! For tonight I agreed to meet the woman of my dreams at midnight! Oh, woe is me!”
That would be maiden he’d defended against the dozen bandits or whatnot?
“Who’s this woman then?” Swiper asked, leaning against a wall.
“Oh, a gentleman must not reveal such things! For the family of Ek is old and dignified!” Jared said in protest.
Ek, huh? That name did ring a bell. And their daughter would be Emine. Swiper whistled. That was not a bad catch at all.
“So you’ve got to pick between this rendezvous with the fair lady Ek or the hairy lover of P’Orcs? To me it seems like the choice is obvious. Go to her”
“Ah, you do not understand, oh my brother in arms! A man’s honour will not allow him to stand down from a battle or duel! I must go to it. But I would break her heart if I did! Oh, what a world, what a world!”
A plan formed in Swiper’s mind.
“I’ve a suggestion” he said.
“You go to her, and I’ll go to the duel as your champion” he said, unable to hide his grin. Could this really work?
Jared stared at him.
“You would fight in my place while I pursued the, the art of love?”
“Well I could go as your champion to the lady if it pleased you better…”
“Ah, ahahaha, aahh, ah, but surely I could not ask you to do this!”
“Why not? Just give me your sword, since I don’t have one. And your purse, too. You won’t be needing it tonight, and if I kill that poor fool, I’ll need to pay his family” Swiper suggested, shocked at his own cheek. Did he really just try that?
“Why… yes! Yes of course!” Jared said, and removed his scabbard and purse, handing them to Swiper without hesitation. Well that was easy. But could he go further?
“I’ve another idea” he said.
“Let’s change clothes. I’ve no doubt you’re a dashing rogue and all, but if you are sneaking to meet a lady at midnight, wearing all black would be better for you than what you have on you now”
“Of course, of course. It makes sense, it all makes sense! You sir, are my brother from another mother! I would have been lost without you!”
And so they changed clothes, and Swiper realized that yes, he had just robbed the shirt off a man’s back and felt no shame for it. Once they were done with the changing of their getup, Jared shook his hand once more and hugged him and swore eternal friendship to him and other such things before heading out to the meeting with the lady.
Maybe it had been a rotten thing to do, Swiper thought. But he wouldn’t miss his old clothes and sword and coins when he woke up by Emine Ek’s side, that was for certain. Tonight’s haul had been good, and so he decided to head home, whistling all the while. He’d fence the sword tomorrow. But his happiness did not last.
“Oi, Swiper! Over here!” came a familiar voice from the shadows, and Swiper turned to see the dirty form of Joe.
“What is it, Joe? You got your payment for the tip, are you expecting a share in the profits, too?” Swiper asked dismissively.
Joe shook his head and dandruff fell on his shoulders.
“No sir, no sir. There’s trouble about, Swiper, trouble about. A fool done assaulted two folk, a man and a Dwarf, two folk from the Guild, sir” Joe said, fidgeting fiercely.
A man and a Dwarf? Why yes, that rang a bell. From the Guild? What guild… oh dear.
“What other Swiper, what other? Well sir, they done got themselves all worked up, on account of an amateur assaulting them and taking their loot, sir, and they want that fool to hang, sir!”
Joe’s words sent a shiver up Swiper’s spine.
“And… they know who did it?” he asked, worried.
“Oh no sir, they’ve no names to give, being new in town, sir. Only could describe two folk, the mark and the one that was working with him, and let me tell you this, boy, there’s not a one in town who doesn’t know it was you come sunrise”
Swiper tossed a couple big, shiny coins Joe’s way.
“I’ll be taking my leave then” he said. “Where do you suppose I could hire a horse with little to no fuss? Somewhere they aren’t expecting me yet?”
Joe held out his hand, and another coin dropped in it.
“Western gate” he said. “Gods give your hoss speed, boy” he bowed and backed away into the shadows.
“Well then” Swiper said, rushing off.
That evening, unseen by anyone, the proverbial Hand of Fate sent into that city two agents. One, a Valkyrie, went to await Jared’s honourable death in battle at the bridge west of the city; the other a Cupid, who went to the manor of the Ek family to wait for Jared’s moonlight sonata to the fair daughter of the family. A man could only be in one place at any given time, and it was a simple enough choice to make, either one or the other. To take both was impossible. What then would be the repercussion of trying to cheat fate and choose both at once?