Excerpt – Tales of Erana: Just One Mistake – Adult Dark Fantasy
(c) A. L. Butcher
The candle spluttered in the attic as the wind curled about the badly thatched roof. Glowglobes were currently beyond Coel’s means so in the small flickering circle of meagre light Coel assessed his night’s takings. The tavern wench had gone to her own bed or someone else’s and in many ways he was glad; any undue attention would be unwelcome in the circumstances. Coel had got away with the theft, at least he could hear no hue and cry from below or boots on the stairs. With luck, the fellow would either not miss the trinket or simply not recall his movements that evening. There had been no mistake, not this time.
Darkness oozed lazily in the remainder of the room, nosing into corners, under furniture and behind Coel, unseen, part of it detached. “That was quite a performance, bard. You have some talent, and not just your music. Although your judgement is flawed, it is never wise to steal from a thief,” the voice was smooth, like liquid velvet and very sure of itself.
Coel’s hand moved towards the dagger nestling in his belt; it would not be the first time he had been called on to defend himself, although that was how he had ended up in this mess he thought bitterly. Just one mistake, then another and now, it would seem, another.
“I do not know of what you speak! I am not a thief.” His brain caught up and he continued, “How did you get into my room? The door was locked. I’m not a bloody fool.” Coel could hear his own heart pounding. There was something about this man which frightened him. He felt like a mouse beneath the gaze of a cat. Perhaps the hangman’s noose would have been the better option.
The slate-grey cloak swirled around boots of ebony leather and the cowled figure chuckled. “That lock was barely a moment’s work. I must have a word with the owner of this place about his security. I have yet to find a door in Erana which will not yield to me. You may as well remove your hand from that blade, or would you bet your life you are swifter than the Thiefmaster? I doubt it, boy, I doubt it. Believe me when I say you would be dead before that knife left its scabbard. It would be a pity to waste such talent, would it not?”
Coel removed his hand from the dagger, his sense telling him that continuing to draw it would be a terminal decision. Instead, he placed his hand on the table and the voice breathed into his ear, Coel shivered, he had not heard the man move.
“I thought not. Sensible lad, if a lying one. This too can be a skill which can save your life, if it is used correctly and with assurance,” Darius told him.
This menacing shape was right behind him and Coel began to turn, opening his mouth to protest, and found a gloved hand on his jaw, firm but not unduly painful. “Curious are we not? This may sometimes serve you well. As for other occasions, it is wise to accept things as they are, this is one such occasion… Coel.”
The bard caught his breath, how did this man know his name? The sweat began to pool in his back, making his shirt stick unpleasantly to his skin. Had this man been hired to kill him? Had his mistake finally caught him up? Yet as Coel’s brain frantically grasped at any hope and his fingers tried to overrule his brain and reach for the dagger he realised the man had said he was a thief. A robbery, that was not so bad. It would not be the first time.
“This is not merely a social call; you are honoured for the Master of Thieves does not always test a potential recruit’s skills for himself.”
“I usually charge for my skills, music and other kinds, if that is what you prefer. I can be flexible, and my tastes are…varied. Perhaps just this once I might offer them for free. Take the coin and the trinkets, take it all.” Coel’s brain finally caught up with the conversation, “What do you mean potential recruit?”