Chapter 3 – The Prize
Luck favored her as her crossed arms blocked a downward strike. Daelynn pushed back, sliding her hands up the attacker's arms, grabbed a wrist and twisted, hard, turning the attacker away from her. Cold metal brushed her bare arm. A knife! She twisted harder, hoping to force the blade from her opponent's hand. The attacker gasped in pain, cursed and slammed an elbow into Daelynn, throwing her back against the bedroom door.
The elf was forced to relinquish her hold. She braced herself against the door and swept her foot out, attempting to push and trip up her foe. That had been her intent, but the attacker was quick, turning the fall in to a roll and coming up on their feet. The elf drew her dagger and a shuriken as her opponent turned to face her, blade held at mid-guard.
The servant's mask had fallen off and she stared with wild shining eyes at Daelynn; a cruel, crooked smile on her face. The knife in her hand was longer than Daelynn's small dagger and she held it with a confidence and ease that un-nerved the elf.
"You've messed with Guild business girl. Too bad for you", the 'servant' said. "You had the look of someone searching for something down there in the exhibit hall. And I saw you out in the hallway below, near the study too. Not sure where you got. Let me guess. The window ledge? Ha! I should have checked outside before l closed them shutters! And then I spied you at the end of this hallway. No guest uses the back stairs."
As she spoke the woman moved to Daelynn's left side, away from the elf's dagger hand. Daelynn watched her movements. Slow, steady, sure footed. Her knife never wavered. Did this woman want Daelynn dead for no more reason than they were out to steal the same item? She looked tough and sure of herself. Daelynn suspected that she'd not best her in a fair fight, but also doubted very much a guild thief would fight fairly. As Sir Roland had said, this was a real job and failure's price was high.
The 'servant' was waiting for Daelynn to make a misstep. The elf obliged. She made a lunge at the woman, but it was only a feint. The thief had been expecting that; she simply moved back a half step, drawing her own weapon back slightly. This presented Daelynn a slightly better target. Her shuriken flew out of her left hand straight and true into the female thief's side.
Throwing stars seldom caused serious harm – they were used mostly to distract or delay. The human was unsure of what had hit her or how badly she was injured; Daelynn took advantage of that confusion and struck again. Leaping forward, she blocked the woman's knife hand and brought the pommel of her dagger down on the woman's unprotected head. The thief had no chance to block with her left and arm as she had instinctively cradled her wounded side with that hand. Her rival was tough; Daelynn had to strike her again before she fell to the floor, unconscious.
The elf took a moment to catch her breath, straighten her gown and flick back a lock of dark hair that had fallen across her eyes. Now what to do? After pulling her shuriken from the thief's side she decided to leave her where she lay and set about searching for the Trysech.
Where does one hide a treasure? She stood in the center of the chamber by the bed and surveyed the room. A large wardrobe, some shelves holding neatly folded clothes, a small night desk in a corner, a large mirror on the far wall, and the very large canopied bed, were all that was in the room.
The small desk was tidy but a bit dusty. The ink bottle was dry and the quill beside it quite blunt, indicating that the desk was not much used. His lordship likely wrote in his study or dictated to a scribe, she thought.
She moved to the mirror. It was firmly mounted on the wall. She regarded her reflection; smoothing the gown, adjusting a seam, and tucking her hair back into place. It was then that she noticed the wardrobe reflected in the mirror.
The wardrobe was large with four tall narrow doors. One door was slightly ajar. Had the thief started her search of the room at the armoire? Or, had another servant or the lord himself left the door open? Daelynn crossed the room, laid a hand on the knob of the wardrobe door, ready to pull it wide open and look inside when a groan sounded from the thief on the floor. With consciousness returning the servant was moaning and trying to move. The elf turned away from the wardrobe and moved back to the thief. Stripping a sash from one of the curtains of a bed post, Daelynn tied the thief's hands and feet together and behind her. She used her knife to cut a strip of the lining from her damaged gown and used it to gag the woman. There was not much blood from the throwing star wound. Satisfied, Daelynn returned to her examination of the wardrobe.
The partly opened door just demanded to be peeked through. She put her hand on the small knob again and was about to open the door wider when a frantic, and muffled, sound issued from the thief's throat. Daelynn looked over at her. She was lying on her side, frantically struggling against her bonds. Her eyes were watching Daelynn intently. When she saw that the elf was looking at her she started to shake her head vigorously in negation.
Ha, thought Daelynn. Worried I'm going to take the Trysech and leave her to Lord Kessik! Daelynn smirked at the thief and returned to her task. The thief's frantic sounds doubled in intensity and she tried desperately to wriggle her body away from Daelynn and behind the bed. The elf recognized an honest distress. She walked over to the thief and knelt beside her. The woman's head shaking and moaning stopped. She almost looked relieved. Daelynn frowned and after a moment's hesitation, removed the gag from her mouth.
"What is your problem?" she unkindly asked of the bound woman.
Still partly dazed from the blow to her head the 'servant' managed to gasp out one word. "Trap!"
Daelynn harrumphed. Likely just a stalling tactic, she thought. But she did not open the armoire door. Instead, taking the small lantern from the bedside table she brought it close to the wardrobe and began an inspection of the partly open door. At the bottom of the door she saw a fine, dark wire running from the back of the door into the wardrobe interior. She found a similar wire attached to the top of the door. Both wires were pinned to the inside of the door. Using her dagger, she carefully unfastened the wires, then stepped to one side and pushed the door open several inches. The bound woman lay watching intently.
Daelynn tentatively peered around the door into the wardrobe. A black damask cloth was draped over something. Suspended above the cloth was a capped glass container slightly larger than her closed fist. It held a green smoking liquid. The two wires ran into the container. Opening the door by more than a few inches would have brought the wires within the glass vessel into contact with each other. She wondered what would happen then? The glass appeared to be thin and delicate.
The elf slowly reached in to the cupboard without jarring the wires or the glass container. She pulled the black cloth back to reveal a flat, semi-circular shaped piece of metal. It was made mostly of gold into which beautiful blue stones were set. The workmanship was exquisite. Her fingers traced swirled designs and letters etched in the gold. They were in a language she did not recognize. The object appeared old, possibly ancient.
The thief was now glaring at the elf maid. Daelynn smiled at her, wrapped the disc in the black cloth and slipped it beneath her gown. She partly closed the door to the wardrobe, reattached the wires and shut the door. She knelt again beside the thief, holding the woman's own knife up before her eyes.
"I cannot risk having you captured. They'd make you talk and tell of what you saw." The woman's eyes grew wide. "You warned me about the trap, although that was to save your own life as you feared it could kill us both. No matter."
The elf moved the knife down to the restraint joining the thief's bound feet and arms and cut part way through it.
"You should be able to work your way loose in a little while. And just in case you are faster than that, I will take your pretty knife. I have no wish to feel your blade between my ribs, should you catch up to me before I leave this place."
The female thief muttered something uncomplimentary. Daelynn smiled again, returning the gag to her mouth. She slipped her new knife into a leather strap she wore on her left leg, beneath the gown. One last quick check in the mirror and the elf moved to the door. Listening briefly at the door, and hearing nothing of concern, she then slipped into the hallway and made her way to the rear stairs.
Quickly making her way down two flights of stairs, she entered the exhibition hall and crossed to its far side. It was crowded and noisy. Perfect. She nodded to several masked guests, who nodded back to her, others lifted glasses in a salute or waved at her. Looking down the last set of stairs she espied Sir Roland standing near the cloak room in conversation with a tall, bearded, masked and elegantly dressed man of middle years.
About halfway down the grand staircase she felt the Trysech start to slip. Daelynn slowed her pace. That helped. She left the stairs and walked slowly towards Sir Roland. The damn object was heavy and not well secured beneath her gown. It started to move downwards again. Daelynn took a deep breath and pushed her stomach out, pressing the stolen object against the contours of her gown
"Ah, my dear there you are!" Sir Roland stated, speaking as Master Berwick. He indicated the man beside him. "Lady Smantha, may I present Lord Kessik our host for this evening's fine gala?"
"Lord Kessik?" Daelynn repeated in a soft eastern drawl. "I am so delighted to meet you!"
A curtsy would have been appropriate at this point but if she did that then the Trysech would crash to the floor. She decided to forgo the curtsy for a friendlier and more intimate gesture, drawing her arms in towards her side while still clutching milord's hand which was now mere inches away from the stolen treasure beneath her dress. She leaned forward; praises came gushing out.
"Beautiful. Amazing. Words cannot describe the delight my eyes have beheld in your halls."
Lord Kessik had been hearing such tributes all evening and was not yet tired of them. Smiling and nodding he remarked on a few of his favorite exhibits. Yes, she had seen that. And, yes, she had marveled at those. She had let go his hand but kept hers clasped in front of her. 'Master Berwick' interjected at one point, indicating a late arriving guest. Kessik, the dutiful host, excused himself and went to greet the late-comer himself.
Daelynn saw that her cape and his cloak were near, draped over a chair. "Master Berwick," she intoned, hardly moving her lips and speaking softly. "If you could don your cloak and help me with my cape? We must leave. Quickly."
The old thief, noting an urgency in her voice, asked no questions and obliged her request. In the moment required to settle their outer garments Daelynn adjusted the sliding treasure, making it more secure. Within a few minutes they were settled in their coach and off the grounds of the Kessik estate. A small lantern had been lit, providing both light and heat to the coach. It was pleasantly warm. Daelynn let out a long, slow breath.
"Ye look disheveled, yer gown is torn and ye're flushed. Were ye up to business or pleasure this evening?" joked the man.
"Any reason a girl can't have both?' she replied tartly, refusing to be intimidated or discomfited. She pulled the Trysech out from beneath her gown. "Sadly, purely business."
She handed him the prize. "There was someone else looking for this," she remarked.
"Oh? Do tell."
She related her confrontation with the human female thief, and her disarming of the trap. Roland was silent for a few minutes. Nodding to himself he pulled a small flask out of a pocket, opened it and took a quick nip. He placed it back without offering Daelynn any.
"The trap is more than I expect'd from Kessik. He usually depends on guards and locks. Oh, and dogs. Means he's nervous. I expect'd others to be intr'sted," he said. "But did na think they'd be in play so soon. It appears that the private and pers'nl details I p'rchased were also sold or passed ta odders. If the Guild's involved, best ta move quickly."
Using his walking stick the old gentleman tapped out a simple sequence on the coach roof. The driver made a sharp change to their direction of travel and increased speed. Sir Roland wrapped the Trysech in its soft, black cloth and placed it in a small, hide-away beneath his seat.
"Ye did well tonight Lady C'orillae. I recognize the woman, yer opponent, from yer descr'ption. She's a well-trained guild member. Not a Master Thief, but not street riff-raff like the Black-Scars either. She's a blood-thirsty bitch, and ye're right. She'd ha' killed ye just for being in her way."
Daelynn acknowledged Roland's compliment with a nod and a smile. She had done it! What an amazing feeling! The strain of the last few hours caught up to her. In the warmth of the coach her nervous tension faded and she dozed.
The coach came to an abrupt halt causing Daelynn to jerk awake. She opened the shutter and saw that she had been taken home. The fine misty rain had lifted. The skies were clearing and stars shone brightly. It must have been near midnight. She turned to the man.
"My apologies, Sir Roland. I did not mean to sleep."
"Na problem girl. Happens after a job. Ye passed the test. As I understand, ye take instruction at the College in mornings. So yer afternoons will now be put to a bett'r use than wandering markets and inconveniencing street gang toughs. Be at ma house after midday. Busy days ahead as yer trainin' starts tamarra."
Daelynn nodded to the man and stepped out of the coach. Opening the tall gate to her uncle's property she climbed the stone steps to the large wooden door where she waved a dismissal to Sir Roland's driver. The squat man touched his gloved hand to his cowled head, shook out the reins and guided the coach into the street. She watched until it disappeared down the road, then stepped into the house. Closing the door behind her she addressed the large mastiff standing guard in the entryway.
"Best dinner party ever, Big-Boy! I am off to bed. 'Busy days ahead as ma trainin' starts tamarra'", she said, addressing the dog using Sir Roland's lilting intonations.
The dog cocked its head at the strange speech coming from its mistress. The girl laughed, scratched the beast's ears, and started up the stairs to her bed.