The Rogue's Retreat Inn, Acacia, Samovail Kingdom, Presque Terra
1st day of the Harvest Period, 780 years AGW.
"We are in dire need of funds," Winsonn said in a hushed voice, his eyes on the innkeeper. "I'm not even sure we have enough to pay for our meal..."
"Don't fret. Something will come up," Harnn replied, lifting his flagon of ale. "It always does."
"Like what?" Winsonn asked.
Harnn placed his drink down and said, "Like this." He nodded toward a man and woman who walked to their table. They looked uncomfortably at their surroundings and stopped before Harnn and Winsonn. "Would one of you be Harnn of Atlantia?" the man asked.
Harnn leered at the man, "That depends."
The man cast a nervous look around the inn. "What might it depend on?"
"Who you are and why you ask."
"I am Cedrikk, retainer of Lord Bristoll and this is my lord's sister, Karann, we want to offer employ to the Scoundrel, Harnn of Atlantia."
"Offer employ," Winsonn remarked. "Please sit." He stood, moved over and offered his seat to the woman. Cedrikk took the other vacant seat.
Harnn wanted to kick Winsonn in the pants. Offering these people a seat before they knew their true purpose was not something Harnn was comfortable with. He said nothing. Winsonn was the businessman of the two. Harnn provided daring and physical prowess.
Winsonn motioned for a serving wench. The wary innkeeper dispatched a girl to the table, but not before he warned, "Watch those two; something tells me they may try to elude their bill." The girl wove her way through the room, skillfully avoiding the roaming hands of several drunken patrons.
Winsonn ordered ale for the men and wine for Karann. After the girl left,he turned to business. "Now, about this offer . . .”
Cedrikk bent forward, obviously trying to keep unwanted ears from hearing what he had to say. "My Lord wishes to obtain your services."
"How is it," Harnn asked warily, "that your Lord knows of my services?"
Karann pulled a folded piece of wrinkled paper from her bag and laid it in front of Harnn. "This . . ." She opened the paper and turned it so Harnn could read it.
Harnn glared at Winsonn. What manner of foolishness is this! He wondered. "Where did you get this?”
Karann looked at him as if he were joking with her. "Why they are all over the Kingdom; on the walls of inns, on trees, everywhere."
"I see." He gave Winsonn a look that said: We'll talk of this later!
"My Lord," Cedrikk said, "would like for you to retrieve something that he misplaced."
"Misplaced?" Harnn said, skepticism in his voice.
"And your Lord is willing to pay to have this misplaced item returned?" Winsonn asked.
"Yes," The woman said, "I . . . I mean my Lord is willing to pay as much as one hundred talons for the return of this item."
"What," Harnn inquired, "is this item."
"Where was it misplaced?"
"In the castle of Eliass, Duke of Eldritch."
"For one hundred talons, you want me to sneak into a heavily guarded castle and steal back this necklace?"
The woman nodded. "Yes."
"I don't suppose that you could provide me with a description of this necklace and possibly a location within Eliass' Castle where I might find it?"
"Of course," she handed him a sketch of the necklace and he could see why she wanted it back. The main stone alone was as big as his thumb. It was certainly worth more than one hundred talons; at five hundred it would still be a bargain.
"I will have to think this over," Harnn said.
Cedrikk reached into the inner pocket of his cloak and placed a ten-talon silver on the table, "Maybe this will help you to make up your mind?" He stood up and beckoned for Karann to join him. "We'll be staying here at the inn if you should decide."
"How convenient," Harnn answered, picking up the silver coin, "so are we."
Cedrikk and Karann left the inn climbing the stairs that led to the rooms above.
Harnn spun the coin slowly on the table. Winsonn seemed preoccupied looking at the ceiling. "Scoundrel For Hire!" Harnn hissed. "Are you daft?"
Winsonn looked sheepish. "It's the latest thing. If you have a cow to sell you put up posters so interested parties will know of it. I thought it made good sense."
"You have these all over the Kingdom?"
Winsonn looked guiltier than before.
"Not just this Kingdom, right?"
Winsonn swallowed his ale and looked as if something foul had gone down. He shook his head.
"Atlandia, Pergonia, and Midlantia."
"Midlantia! You have these in the elvish lands?"
Winsonn pointed at the coin, "Well they did bring us a night's food and lodging."
Harnn heard the soft knock on his door. He immediately rolled out of bed and grabbed a dagger. "Who is it?"
"Karann, may I come in?"
Harnn opened the door and caught a quick glimpse of the flimsy robe that hid none of her charms as she dashed inside. She dropped her robe. Her eyes sparkled in the moonlight, "I've come to help you make up your mind . . ."
Later in the night Harnn lay with Karann resting in his arms. "Tell me how this necklace got misplaced."
Karann snuggled into his shoulder and said, "What does it matter?"
"Let's just say that whether or not I take on this job depends upon how truthful you are..."
She pulled the sheet across her breasts and sat up. "I don't see how telling you the truth can hurt. My brother has long desired Miriamm, Eliass' wife. Have you any knowledge of her?"
"No. Should I?"
"Miriamm loves no man, yet she uses all men. She loves precious things and will do anything if what she wants is valuable enough. In many ways, Miriamm is no different than the lowest of whores in Samovail."
Harnn kept to himself the thought that Karann's throwing herself at him to get her way was no different.
"To lure her into his bed my brother gave her the necklace." She turned to face Harnn and he could see anger sparkling in her eyes. "That necklace was mine! It was my mother's and before her, my grandmother's. He had no right to give it to her! He got all of the lands and income. That necklace was my entire inheritance and I want it back. It was not his to give."
"Fair enough. I'll get it for you."
She smiled and rolled on top of him kissing him passionately. Some time in the hour before dawn she left him.
SCOUNDREL FOR HIRE!
LOST ITEMS RECOVERED; BEASTS BLUDGEONED; ASSASSINATIONS PLOTTED; DRAGONS SLAIN; WIZARDS WHIPPED
INQUIRE AT ROGUE'S RETREAT INN, ACACIA: ASK FOR HARNN
Eldoritch, Samovail Kingdom, Presque Terra.
Harnn and Winsonn camped on a forest peak that looked down upon the valley in which Eldritch Castle sat.
"Tell me," Winsonn asked, "How it was you got Cedrikk and Karann to agree to two-hundred-fifty talons?"
"Never you mind, just keep your mind on business. Show me the map of the castle."
Winsonn's extensive network had produced a set of plans used to build the castle. "My sources say that the Duchess has her chambers in the southern corner. Here." Winsonn pointed to the desired point on the floor plan.
"How do I get inside?"
"The servants' entrance. It's guarded only in times of war and right now Eliass has an unsure peace with his neighbors. He's said to be a man of quick temper and generally disliked."
"I care not about all that. Just tell me what I need to know."
Winsonn pulled a large key from his pocket. "This will open it..."
Harnn grabbed the key and smiled. "This will make things easier. How did you get it?"
"I bribed one of the servants, as I said, Eliass is not generally liked." Winsonn turned his attention to the plans, "Now. Let's find the best route to Miriamm's chambers..."
The two Scoundrels for hire watched the castle for two days. Harnn wanted to enter under the protection of darkness and it would be the third night before the moons no longer shone. The afternoon of the third day finally arrived and Harnn prepared to make the trip down the mountain so he would be in position to enter the castle. It took him all day to arrive at his desired point. On two occasions he had been forced to take refuge as routine patrols passed through the area. As soon as it was full darkness he ran across the open ground that surrounded the castle.
At the moat he unraveled his rope and tossed it toward a tree that grew by the wall. The grappling hook landed with a soft thud and Harnn waited for several minutes to see if the noise had attracted the attention of a guard. When no one challenged or came to the parapet, he decided it was safe. He tugged on the rope anchoring it to a limb. He eased himself into the foul water of the moat.
Not a good swimmer, Harnn used the rope to propel his body through the water, taking care not to make a lot of noise. He pulled himself onto the far bank and heard the water roil behind him. He saw the back of a large amphibian break the surface, its snout and sharp teeth snapping inches from his heels. He immediately decided he would need to find a different exit from the castle.
He ran to the door, staying as far from the moat and as close to the wall as possible. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the moat monster swimming alongside and did not want to get close enough to the edge for the beast to jump onto the bank grabbing him in its powerful jaws. He finally arrived at the door and stepped into the recess in which it was housed. He fumbled for the key and it caught on his shirt, spinning from his hand. He silently watched it spin toward the moat. The key bounced on the stone walk. PING! It stopped bouncing inches from the moat. The beast rolled again.
Harnn stood, listening for sounds of discovery and watching the huge carnivore swirling in the water. Rather than risk a confrontation with the monster he decided to see if he could get through the door without the key. A quick inspection convinced him there was no way. The door was solid oak and locked with as sturdy a lock as he had ever encountered. Harnn decided to remain silent and still until the beast tired of waiting and left to seek easier prey.
Thirty excruciatingly long minutes passed without a sign of the beast. Harnn slowly crawled on his stomach, trying to remain out of sight as he moved toward the key. He stretched his hand out and grasped the key.
The monster exploded out of the moat; its front half slamming onto the bank. Harnn rolled right, away from the great maw. The beast's massive jaws slammed shut inches from his head. It rocked its gigantic head back and forth the powerful mouth trying to entrap him. Harnn rolled into the doorway and let out a deep breath as the beast slid back into the moat.
His hand shook and it took several attempts to get the key into the lock. Once in, it turned easily and silently. He pushed the door inward and stepped into an obscure corner of the courtyard. He ran across a small open area and found the door into the castle. In minutes he was slipping into Miriamm's chamber.
Harnn shut the door behind him and crept to the inner room. He saw the bed was occupied and watched for several moments. The sound of deep, even breathing led him to believe the occupant was asleep. He crept into the room. In minutes he located Miriamm's jewelry box. He slowly opened it and picked up the necklace.
"And just what do we have here?"
He spun around, dagger thrust forward. Miriamm stood beside the bed. She was silhouetted by low light entering from the window. She wore nothing. She smiled and her eyes sparkled with anticipation. "You won't need a dagger," she said. She looked at his muscular frame and added, "Not that one anyway..."
Winsonn looked at the sun. It had been two days since Harnn had entered the castle. Hoping to see some sign of him Winsonn had moved from the mountain top to the edge of the forest. If he did not appear soon Winsonn would have to assume he had been caught.
Just before sundown the castle's drawbridge lowered and a familiar figure walked out. Winsonn stepped out of the cover of the forest and waved to Harnn.
Harnn grabbed his horse's reins and began to walk. Winsonn walked along side wondering what tortures his cousin had been subjected too. Harnn did not look as if he had been tortured. However, he looked completely exhausted.
Without a word Harnn took the necklace from his tunic and dropped into his saddle pack.
"You got the necklace?"
Harnn merely nodded.
"They just let you walk out the front door?"
"I don't understand." Winsonn mounted. "Let's get out of here before they find out it's missing."
"They won't . . ."
"Eliass is away, on the other side of the kingdom. I was caught by his wife. Winsonn, you have no idea of what I have to do sometimes. It will be days before I can sit a horse again!"
X X X
A Conan-esque pastiche that caught my fancy, this thews and thaumaturgy tale left me wanting more. Further adventures of Harnn and Winsonn are greatly anticipated. Comments to the BBS, please. -GM