A Dance of Cloaks
For the past two weeks the simple building had been his safehouse, but now Thren Felhorn doubted its safety as he limped through the door. He clutched his right arm to his muscular body and fought to halt its trembling. Blood ran from his shoulder to his arm, cut by a poisoned blade.
“Damn you, Leon,” he said as he staggered across the wood floor, through a sparsely decorated room, and up to a wall made of plaster and oak. Even with his blurred vision he located the slight groove with his fingers. He pressed inward, detaching an iron lock on the other side of the wall. A small door swung inward.
The master of the Spider Guild collapsed in a chair and removed his gray hood and cloak. He sat in a much larger room painted silver and decorated with pictures of mountains and fields. He removed his shirt, carefully pulling it over his wounded arm. He felt lucky the toxin was meant only to paralyze him. Most likely Leon Connington had wanted him alive so he could sit in his padded chair and watch while his ‘gentle touchers’ bled him drop by bloody drop. The fat man’s treacherous words from their meeting ignited a fire in his gut that refused to fade.
“We will not cower to rats that live off our shit,” Leon had said while brushing his thin mustache. “Do you really think you stand a chance against the wealth of the Trifect? We could buy your soul from the gods.”
Thren had fought down his initial impulse to bury a shortsword in the fat man’s throat. A terrible mistake in hindsight. They had met inside his extravagant mansion, another mistake. Thren vowed to correct his carelessness in the coming months. He had tried to stop the war from erupting, but it appeared everyone in Veldaren desired chaos.
If the city wants blood, it can have it, Thren thought. But it won’t be mine.
“Are you in here, father?” he heard his elder son ask from an adjacent room. Thren held his anger in check.
“And if I was not?” he asked.
His son Randith entered from the other room. He looked much like his father, having the same sharp features, thin nose, and grim smile. His hair was brown like his mother’s, and that alone endeared him to Thren. They both wore the gray trousers and cloaks of their guild. A long rapier hung from one side of his belt, a dagger from the other. Randith’s blue eyes met his father’s.
“Then I’d kill you,” Randith said, a cocky grin pulling up the left side of his face.
“Where is the mage?” the guildmaster asked. “Connington’s men cut me with a toxin, and its effect is troublesome.”
Troublesome hardly described it, but Thren wouldn’t let his son know that. His flight from the mansion was a blur in his memory. The toxin had numbed his arm and made his entire side sting with pain. His neck muscles had fired off at random, and one of his knees kept locking up during his run. He had felt like a cripple as he fled through the alleyways of Veldaren, but the moon was waning and the streets empty, so none had seen his pathetic stumbling.
“Cregon isn’t here,” Randith said as he leaned toward his father’s exposed shoulder and examined the cut.
“Then go find him,” Thren said. “And where is Senke? He was supposed to bring me word from Gemcroft.”
“Maynard Gemcroft’s men fired arrows from their windows as we approached,” Randith said. He turned his back to his father and opened a few cupboards until he found a small black bottle. He popped the cork, but when he moved to pour it on his father’s cut, Thren yanked the bottle out of his hand.
“Why isn’t Senke here now?” Thren asked.
“I sent him away,” Randith said. “With war brewing, I figured it best he help protect our warehouses.”
Thren grunted as he dripped the brown liquid across the cut. When finished, he accepted some strips of cloth from his son and then tied them tight around the wound.
“You should have kept him here,” Thren said when the pain subsided. “Where is Aaron? If you won’t fetch the priest, at least he will.”
“Lurking as always,” Randith said, contempt in his voice. “Reading, too. I tell him mercenaries may soon storm in with orders to eradicate all thief guilds, and he looks at me like I’m a lowly fishmonger mumbling about the weather.”
Thren held in a grimace. “There is a reason I am letting the priests have him. We will need their good graces whispering in the ears of the king. He must be nine, for whatever superstitious reason of theirs. It won’t be long now.”
He turned his head and raised his voice.
“Aaron! Your family needs you, now come in here.”
A short child of eight stepped into the room, clutching a worn book to his chest.
A shame Marion never saw him grown, Thren thought. He is her son, not mine.
Aaron’s features were soft and curved, and he would no doubt grow up to be a comely man. He had his father’s hair, though, a reddish blond that curled around his ears and hung low to his deep blue eyes. He fell to one knee and bowed his head without saying a word, all while holding the book.
“Do you know where Cregon is?” Thren asked. Aaron nodded.
Aaron said nothing. Thren, tired and wounded, had no time for his younger son’s nonsense. While other children grew up babbling nonstop, a good day for Aaron involved nine words, and rarely would they be used in one sentence.
“Tell me where he is, or you’ll taste blood on your tongue,” Randith said, sensing his father’s exasperation.
“He went away,” Aaron said, his voice barely above a whisper. “He’s a fool.”
“A fool or not, he’s my fool, and damn good at keeping us alive,” Thren said. “Go bring him here. If he argues, slash your finger across your neck. He’ll understand.”
Aaron bowed and did as he was told.
“I wonder if he is practicing for a vow of silence,” Randith said as he watched his brother leave without any sense of hurry.
“Was he smart enough to shut the hidden door?” Thren asked. Randith checked.
“Shut and latched,” he said. “At least he can do that much.”
“We have bigger concerns,” Thren said. “If Gemcroft is firing at our men, that means he knew what would happen tonight at Connington’s. The Trifect have turned their backs on peace. They want blood, our blood, and unless we act fast they are going to get it.”
“Perhaps if we up our offer?” Randith suggested.
Thren shook his head.
“They’ve tired of the game. We rob them until they are red with rage, then pay bribes with their own wealth. You’ve seen how much they’ve invested in mercenaries. They want us exterminated. No bribe, no offer, and no threat will change that. Their minds are set.”
“Give me a few of your best men,” Randith said as his fingers touched the hilt of his rapier. “When Leon Connington bleeds out in his giant bed, the rest will learn that accepting our bribes is far better than accepting our mercy.”
“You are still a young man,” Thren said. “You are not ready for what Connington has prepared.”
“I am seventeen,” Randith said. “A man grown, and I have more kills to my name than years.”
“And I’ve more than you’ve drawn breaths,” Thren said, a hard edge entering his voice. “But even I will not return to that mansion. They are eager for this. Entire guilds will be wiped out in days. Those who survive will inherit this city, and I will not have my heir run off and die in the opening hours.”