Stories, poems and other musings from the mind of a writer who suffers from World Builder's Disease
Trimble gasped, and gasped again. She crouched with her back against the wet wooden wall of a moldering shop or some such. The rain had started up again, and that, of course, complicated everything. More important than seeing to her ankle, she grasped at the pouch hidden beneath her vest and sighed.
“Thanks be,” she whispered. She hadn’t lost it when she’d leaped down from the balcony and turned her ankle. It was still there, safe and secure. And she was rich!
She cocked her head, listening for any signs of pursuit. She was practically sure she’d lost Duke Calladon’s guardsmen within two blocks of his mansion, limping or no, and she now heard nothing but the slick, soft, insufferable prattle of the drizzle against the cobblestones. Checking once again that her pilfered prize was safe, she drew her dark cloak tight and attempted to rise. She cursed again at the fulguration that flashed up her leg. Of all the times to miscalculate a drop. She could swear she was cursed, or maybe plagued by a wichtling. That was her luck. Always bad.
Exacerbated by her hasty escape, walking wasn’t easy, but Trimble set her jaw and limped along, favoring the twisted ankle. All she had left to do was cross through Merland’s Ward, pass Guilder’s gate, and she would be home free, with only a few blocks remaining before she reached her destination, the tower of her employer. As Merland’s was inhabited mainly by scholars and other gentry, she knew the ward intimately. Gods, she’d burgled enough of their homes, business, and warehouses.
Even hobbling as she was, wet and grumpy, it was an easy two turns of the glass, and she found herself at Guilder’s Gate. The Gate would be tougher to sneak past, but at this late hour, and with those grim clouds blackening the sky and the obscuring rain confounding the lanterns, one with her skill, not to mention her talent, could sneak past the three gate guards easily unseen. She only needed to ensure that they didn’t notice her rain-limned silhouette. Stupid rain. Again, just her luck.
As it happened, there were only two constables posted tonight, and both were equally querulous over their soggy state. Conspiratorial grousing and one-upmanship of complaint allowed Trim ample opportunity to skulk past. Limpingly, but she managed. Once past the gate and its irritable and slipshod sentinels, she was afforded another, more extended opportunity to rest her throbbing ankle. She took her respite in a relatively sanitary alleyway, under the eaves at the rear of the Tallow Chandlers Lodge.
Luck’s changing, she mused as she eased down onto a solid crate that had been left in the alley, no doubt awaiting some carpenter or other to reclaim it. For now, it would serve her as nicely as if it were Queen Titania’s very throne.
“Well met, Abigail.”
She swung around, stiletto in hand, startled at hearing her name. As she went to rise from the crate, and as her ill luck would have it, her foot—the one directly adjacent to her injury—became caught in a wide gap between two cobbles and she went down, hard. The lightning pain flashed all the way up her body and produced a bright array of sparkles that momentarily blinded her vision. The slim blade clattered across the alleyway, dropped as she reached out to break her fall.
That voice… that voice was familiar.
Even before the glimmer had completely faded, she discerned a pair of pointed-toe Agnesines, making it clear to her exactly who the snide, arrogant, rapscallion who filled those priggish boots was. That, and his unendurable cologne. What was it with Agnesi men and their compulsion for overwhelming redolence? She silently cursed her luck.
“Zombata,” she sneered as she rolled over to face him. “I’d know that stench anywhere, Goat.”
“Heh,” he replied. By now, she’d blinked away the last of the stars. Despite the small hour, and dim light in the alley, the vicious point of Zombata’s long, slim sword hovered less than half a span above her breast.
“My darling Signorina,” he taunted, a mocking sneer on his habitually impeccable face, “earlier today, word comes to me that my old rival and one-time mistress Abigail Trimble–”
“Mistress my lily pink derrière,” she chided, “you miserable–“
He cut off her words as he pressed the tip of his striscia against her chest. “There she goes, ever the interrupter. I see you haven’t changed. Now, where was I? Ahh yes.”
Eyes now adjusted to the gloom, and glister free, Trimble took this moment while he was pontificating to scrutinize her former partner in misappropriation (and general mayhem). He was tall, as she remembered, dark and swarthy… and handsome as always, though she’d never admit it to his impeccably trimmed face. His immaculate mustachio and long black goatee complimented his pulled-back, waist long hair. His outfit was the same dashing type he’d worn those years ago, elegant and expensive. He was a fancy pony to be certain, but he hadn’t a scintilla of substance in his entire body. She’d known rain puddles deeper than him.
“A good friend of mine,” he went on, “tells me that you have been hired…” he paused to spuriously clear his throat, “… and by our old employer, no less. And what, I ask, has the beautiful signorina been commissioned to steal, but the legendary Cup of Igradon. So in my disbelief, I say to myself, now how much would this ‘Cup of Miracles’ be worth? And how much, pray tell, would Signore Galbrath pay for such a relic? I anticipate the old wizard would pay a prince’s ransom. A ransom that Signorina Trimble could have shared with The Goat, had she but included him in the heist.”
Of course, Trim wasn’t falling for this utter nonsense, but as Zombata presently had the upper hand–a temporary advantage at best–she had nearly no choice but to listen to where he was going with his prattling.
“Knowing you, and your talent for not being seen, I assumed that you had not only taken the job without entreating my assistance, but that you would also succeed in stealing the cup. Knowing you from old, and known your patterns–”
“Bottom line, Zombie. Get to the point. I’m tired. And wet. And I don’t particularly relish this cold, hard alley. And my ankle hurts. So if you’d please say, or do, whatever it is you intend, just please do it quickly.
“My, my, my, my… aren’t we–“
“To. The. Point!”
He scowled, but held out the hand not holding his sword, wiggling his fingers in a ‘hand it over’ gesture and said, “The cup, if you please”
With that sword so close to her heart, it didn’t really matter what she pleased. She frowned, and gently reached up and pushed the pointy end of his blade aside.
When he said, “Ah, ah, ahhh…,” and repositioned it back to her breast, she sighed and said, “I can’t reach beneath my cloak and retrieve it from my vest with this poking me. Move it.”
The rapscallion scoffed but withdrew the blade far enough so she could get at the cup. She pulled out the satin pouch and held it up to him.
“It is smaller than I expected,” Zombata said. “Take the cup out. I don’t want you slipping unseen while I fumble at it. My sword will stay right where it is, signorina.” Of course. They’d been through this kind of thing before, and he wouldn’t be taking any chances. He might be facile, but he wasn’t stupid. Alright, he was stupid. But clever. Maybe not clever either.
Still flat on her back, she peeled the satin away from the cup. It was gorgeous, and he was right, it was smaller than she too had imagined. It resembled a teacup, complete with a handle that reminded her of a circlet, but the whole of it was cast gold. Heavy, expensive. Around its circumference knelt figures of penitent men, each bearing a different, upraised gift.
While she unveiled the legendary cup, Zombata had produced a flask from under his own vest and tossed it to her.
“Pour,” he ordered. “Into the cup.” It was tricky, in that position, but she managed to pull off the cap from the flask and tip a bit of amber liquid into the cup. It was potent Brandywine, from the aroma. The good stuff.
“Now drink. You say that you’ve hurt your leg. We shall find out if this is indeed the authentic Cup of Igradon. Let us see a miracle.”
She narrowed her eyes but sipped the brandy from the little golden cup. Yes, this was the good stuff. She’d never stopped to think whether or not the artifact was genuine or not. She trusted her employer to send her after the actual item. But on reflection, she wouldn’t put it past Duke Calladon to substitute a reproduction into his trophy case, to protect him against thieves like her. Or perhaps he’d been swindled by a cleverly crafted counterfeit.
The liquid was quite warm going down, but did it feel like magic? She couldn’t say. But then again, the only reference she had was her own talent to become unseen. How was she to know what this would feel like.
Zombata, also knows as The Goat for his talents as a second story man, snatched the cup from Trimble’s hand and took a step back. “Get up, he told her. Let’s see if this truly is the Cup of Miracles.”
As she rose, she asked, “What will you do now? Take it back to Galbrath and collect MY reward?”
“If the cup is genuine, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Thank you.”
Brushing off the street grime from her cloak, she said, “And if it isn’t the genuine artifact?”
“Meh, what Galbrath doesn’t know…” he chortled.
“…could get both of us killed,” she finished for him.” Sard man! He is a wizard. A powerful one at that. Don’t you think he would see right through your inane ruse. You wouldn’t live long enough to spend one pence of your remuneration. God’s you are stupid.”
“Shut your mouth!” The look on his face was priceless. Then he said, “Well wench, did it work? Is your ankle healed?”
She flashed a shrinking smile and took one tentative step, then another. She let out an exasperated sigh and held out her foot out, twirled the ankle, then winced.
“Oww, it didn’t work,” she said disappointedly.
“Maybe it takes time,” he argued.
“How long should magic take? Besides, Galbrath was expecting me to return by now. I’d take it to him if I were you, forgery or no. You know him. He is likely to grow impatient and cast about looking to see what has become of me… it.”
“Gadsbudlikins!” he cursed, obviously in a quandary. “If it is a forgery, he’d have my hide for stealing it from you and also for the nerve of bringing him something other than what he wanted. My only chance, in that case, would be to hope it proved the real thing, and that the magic within simply took longer than this to work. Then I could undercut your fee by enough to make it worth his while to reward me.”
“Do you really wish to risk it? What if it is a forgery?” she asked.
Reading his face was like watching a child try to work out how to count out one too many coins from a pouch and the numbers didn’t add up. His eyes went wide when he realized what a predicament he’d gotten himself into. He tossed the little cup back to Trimble like it was molten. She, of course, caught it with practiced ease.
Zombata favored her with a feeble smile, and said, “No hard feelings, old friend?”
She returned the smile, hers smooth and just as practiced. “Signore Zombata,” she said, “it is as if nothing happened here this morning save two old colleagues who happened to randomly pass on the street and spent a moment or three reminiscing.”
Trimble watched Zombata the Goat round the corner and gave him an extra few moments to ensure he was well on his way before lithely skipping off in the direction of Galbrath’s tower.
He’d be expecting her, after all, and she didn’t wish to be too late returning with his pilfered prize. Perhaps her luck had turned.