Twist’s friend from the Upper City, the one who worked as a clerk for the Merchant Guard, was named Rischule. He was clearly unhappy to be in the Undercity. “Why did I have to come down here?” he asked Twist again, glancing warily around at any other person who came within sight. The rain fell lightly, spattering their heads, while their feet grew mud-boots.

     “I told you, Hengist wants to talk to you. Ask you some questions.”

     Rischule shook his head, miserable. “Shit.”

     Twist glanced at him, wondering. Wondering how life was for this guy from the Upper City. They were of an age, thief and clerk, yet their lives were worlds apart. Upper City and Undercity. They knew none of the same people. They frequented none of the same taverns. The very fabric of their lives was completely different

     What would it be like? Twist wondered. What would it be like to live in the Upper City? To walk its streets and know that, even if the watch or the Merchnat Guard or even a cavalier stopped you, you could give a good reason for being where you were? Even tell them you worked for the Merchant Guard?

     What was it like to know you’d eat on any given night? To bathe regularly? To tarry with high-class girls smelling so sweetly of foreign perfumes? To haggle and deal with merchant princes every day?

     What was it like? Twist wondered. And then he looked at the youth by his side, this lad his own age, with his stringy blond hair and his pimpled cheeks and his scrawny neck and no strength apparent in his limbs…or his character, for that matter. Glancing around them like a nervous fowl, scared as shit to even be in the Undercity, much less going to a meeting with a thief to see another thief…Twist looked at his companion and was suddenly damned glad to be who he was and not some half-assed petty bureaucrat with no dignity, no spunk.

     “What’s this Hengist like, anyway?” Rischule asked suddenly.

     Twist grinned. “You’ll see.”


     When Twist walked into the Heaven’s Gate with a scrawny little teenager by his side, Hengist prayed a profane prayer to Mask that this wasn’t their valuable contact. Twist moved with his characteristic swagger. The other youth slumped. He seemed boggled by his surroundings.

     The two came to his table and sat. The blond boy wouldn’t look directly at Hengist’s face. The older thief put his forearms on the table and leaned forward. “Who the fuck is this?” he asked, twisting the last word with theatrical disgust.

     Twist clasped his hands behind his head and got comfortable. “This is Rischule, my friend from the Merchant Guard. Rischie, this here is Hengist. Our partner.”

     Rischule nodded to Hengist nervously. Still not meeting his eyes. Craven. No hero, this one.

     And possibly the single most deadly threat to their caper’s success.

     “Where’s Jess?” Hengist asked.

     “Couldn’t make it,” Twist said. “She had a wedding to go to. I’ll fill her in later.”

     “I’ll bet.”

     “Aw, come on! I didn’t mean that.”

     Twist laughed, while Rischule seemed to shudder in his chair. Suddenly Hengist thought of the young pirate Goat. There was something slippery about both of them, something dangerous, but in slightly different ways. Goat seemed the type to stick a blade in your back when you’d least expect it, for whatever reasons. This boy, however, would never screw up the courage to do violence, but he posed an even greater potential threat. A coward like this one could go chickenshit at any time and tell his superiors what was afoot. A platoon of Merchant Guardsmen could be waiting for them at Kengarn’s house—

     He chased the thought away. Yes, the boy’s fear could prove dangerous. But it could also be used. He was probably more afraid of Hengist than of the Guard itself. Hengist was the unknown, a man of undoubted violence, of frightening visage. If the boy had any wits at all about him, he knew what would happen to him if he betrayed them. Besides, he was, as Twist said, a partner. He’d get his cut and wouldn’t even have to risk his neck.

     Well, it was time to find out what the dullard knew.

     “Tell me about Kengarn,” Hengist said.


     “Not so loud.”

     “Okay,” the boy whispered. He paused, swallowed heavy, then began again. “Kengarn is a merchant prince — a big shot in the guild. You know, on their counsel and all that. He stays in Drogarth and sends agents out through the kingdom to deal for him…”

     He talked on for several minutes, telling very general facts about their target, most of which were of little or no use. A few facts did register as interesting and/or significant, however.

     ONE: Kengarn was a pervert. He bought little boys from a local slaver, and rumors had it he used them until they bored them, then killed them with a garotte while his cock was still up their asses. A sickness, but a weakness as well, to be capitalized upon if possible.

     TWO: Kengarn was one of the Mage Guild’s worst enemies in the guild council. He had begun the conflicts himself two months ago, attacking the price scale the wizards had set for protections, and had been quoted throughout the Upper City on the “unworthy bastards and their damned tricks.” This was why Rischule thought his house would be free of magiks. Hengist had to agree.

     THREE: The past few months, Kengarn had apparently developed a close friendship, or at least association, with a high-ranking officer of the Merchant Guard. This was potential trouble. If this officer decided to investigate the heist, he would undoubtedly have contacts in the Undercity, even though the guard rarely operated here, because most of the officers were crooked as the land around Drogarth.

     “What’s this officer’s name?” Hengist asked.

     “Livgren,” the youth asnswered.

     Rischule talked on a bit, and only one last point of interest was presented.

     FOUR: Apparently, Kengarn had been harassed for the past few days by one of the Baron’s cavaliers, who was following him everywhere he went, and had even taken a room in an inn across the street from the merchant’s house.

     “Which cavalier?” Twist asked.


     “Is that the new one?” Hengist asked. “The young one?”

     Rischule nodded.

     “Why is he doing it?”

     “I don’t know. I don’t think anyone really does. It’s all just gossip anyway.”

     Twist looked at Hengist, his eyes grim. “He could be a problem.”

     The scarred thief shrugged. “Just think of him as a guard dog. We’ll get around him.” He turned and looked the clerk in the eyes. “Thanks. You’ve been a big help.”

     The boy nodded stupidly. “Okay. Okay. I was glad to be.”

     “Uh-huh. Well…you can go now.”

     Panic flashed in Rischule’s eyes. “Alone?”

     “I’ll take you back,” Twist said. They both stood.

     “One more thing, Rischie,” Hengist said, beckoning the youth to lean over the table, where he could hear. “We’re trusting you, right?”

     The boy nodded, eyes wide and afraid.

     “That’s right. But I want you to know something. If you cross us, if you fuck us up at all, I’m gonna personally sew your balls into your mouth. You understand me?”

     Rischule jerked back and nodded. Terrified.


     “Get the hell out of here,” Hengist said.


...CHAPTER 12...