Shadows of Barden: Episode 2
The Sea Witch rocked gently against her mooring lines at the fifth dock in the city’s harbor. Even at night the warf district was a hive of activity, both legal and not so much. Barden was often called the City of Thieves, but it was also the trade capitol of Thelos. Commerce never stopped in Barden, ships vie for docking space all day, and unload long into the night, inns and taverns never close, and money flows like gold and silver rivers through the districts. The Sea Witch was one such ship, finally given the clearance to unload her cargo. The crew had been sequestered on the ship all day and they were chomping at the bit to finish their work and be released to enjoy the entertainment Old Town had to offer.
“Mind if I take a look, my boss might be interested in picking up some of your goods before they hit the open market,” a young man, smoothing a close-trimmed goatee, approached the foreman.
The man was clearly busy, and didn’t give much attention to the man. He was dressed in good, but inexpensive clothes, a clean shirt and dark red vest over leather pants and high boots that were folded down just below the knees. His hair was in a tight pony tail under a wide-brimmed red hat whose band sported a white feather. A brown cloak covered the rest. The foreman just waved his hand and barely took his eyes off the crew unloading crates and bags onto the dock.
“Go ‘head, but ya don touch nothin til it’s all accounted fer,” the balding seadog grumbled.
The man’s vibrant green eyes sparkled as he turned to the piles of cargo that were being carefully organized and stacked. Another man was making notes in a log book and directing the crew on where to place each parcel. When the young man approached, the quartermaster with the log book took more interest than the foreman did.
“What’s your business?” The quartermaster split his attention between the young man and directing the crew.
“Robert duPree, for the merchant Saunders,,” Robert said with a smile. “Saunders sent me along to see if there’s anything he might be interested in purchasing before the goods are shipped off to the markets.
The quartermaster nodded, “Goods unaccounted for are over there.”
Robert touched his hat brim in thanks and strolled over to the pile indicated by the quartermaster. His eyes were moving, though, taking in everything the crew was bringing off the ship. He reached his destination, but still he scanned the cargo coming off the ship. While he watched, two other men approached the foreman from the landward side of the docks. The three exchanged words, and a small sack changed hands and disappeared into the foreman’s jacket. When they started toward the piles of cargo the quartermaster turned as if to speak, but Robert called out.
“Is this all the silk to be unloaded?” Robert was holding up the end of a bolt of silk for the quartermaster to see.
The quartermaster forgot the two others and stepped over to Robert.
“Let me see that,” the quartermaster took note of the color, and a number burned into the wooden board the bolt was wrapped around. He checked his log, turning a couple of pages back to find his entry. “Yes, one bolt of Wujing silk, emerald green.”
Robert nodded and thanked the man, but his eyes never left the two newcomers. He fished out an appropriate amount of gold coins and dropped them into the quartermaster’s hand. Picking up the bolt, Robert touched the brim of his hat again, and headed back toward the city, following the two men. They were good, he had to admit. He almost missed the smaller one slipping the small iron lockbox beneath his cloak. He was certain none of the crew saw it, and the quartermaster had been suitably distracted by Robert’s question.
Robert followed the men through the warf district into Old Town, staying far enough behind that he could see their course, but they did not suspect they were being followed. He carried the bolt of silk under his arm and loosened the end of the fabric as he walked. The street became crowded near a pair of popular taverns, whose revelers were spilling out into the cobbled street from the establishments’ open porches. Covered patios and balconies in the area often turned the streets in Old Town into open parties of their own as musicians moved out into the night and patrons stumbled from one tavern to another. The crowd slowed the two men in front of Robert and he picked up the pace.
The road became blocked, and the two men stopped to let a drunken party of young sailors move past. The group was singing a bawdy song about some maid who likely didn’t exist and they cared not a bit that they were in people’s way. Robert took his opportunity and rushed ahead, slamming into the shorter of the two men and dropping the bolt of silk at his feet.
“Oi, watch yerself,” the man shouted in surprise.
“Of course, goodman. Completely my fault,” Robert apologized, but lost his balance and caught himself on the other’s coat. They both bumped into the first man and went down in a heap, feet tangled in the silks.
“Gods, what’s yer problem,” the taller of the two looked back in frustration.
Robert leaped to his feet quickly and held out a hand to the smaller man, “Please, let me help you.”
The man grudgingly took his hand and let himself be hauled up to his feet. Robert made a show of dusting off his coat and muttered his apologies again. He had been watching the crowd carefully, and turned the shorter man just in time to cause him to bump into someone passing by. The short man growled and shook off Robert’s hands.
“That’s enough, you. Just watch where yer walkin.”
“Of course, of course. Entirely my fault, but that man,” Robert pointed vaguely into the crowd. “Did he just pull a box out of your coat when he passed?”
“After him Tate,” the shorter man said to his companion, who was already looking over the heads of the crowd.
Many people were moving away from them. He must have seen one that looked particularly suspicious because he began to shoulder his way through the crowd, shouting at the unfortunate stranger. Seeing a large street thug storming in your direction would be enough to make almost anyone run, so the poor soul did, and the chase was on.
Robert took a moment to gather the bolt of silk, but soon ditched it behind some crates in a nearby alley. He turned left at the next main street and crossed, stepping into a tavern which was quieter than most. He hung his hat and cloak on a peg near a table and ordered a beer, letting the serving girl know he would return after a stop at the privy. He never did.
Exiting the back of the tavern, Robert turned up another alley, pulling off his vest and turning it inside out to reveal black wool rather than the red. He pulled up the tops of his boots until they were hip-high and stopped to knock off detachable heels, which made him two inches shorter. Finally, he pulled off his goatee and released his ponytail.
Meghan exited the alley and turned up the street, walking at a casual pace. She pulled the shoulder bag, that had been under her cloak, to her front and patted the solid bulk of the lockbox within. She found a secluded spot many blocks away from the docks, and Old Town, to see for herself what she’d acquired. Rumor was, the shipment was precious gems from the east. The lock was no trouble for her skills, and she took a breath to steady herself. A lockbox full of gems would be more wealth than she was likely to see in her lifetime.
Opening the lid, she frowned. No gems, no coin, nothing inside but a small glass sphere. She picked it up and turned it in her hand. At her touch the clear ball began to fill with a swirling green and black smoke. She wanted to drop it back in the box but her hand would not obey and she could not take her eyes from it. From the smoke a small sigil began to appear, wreathed in fire. She’d never seen the sigil before but she was certain it was nothing good.
“Who...are...you?” A voice spoke in her mind, the words drawn out and spoken slowly. It sounded far away, but it made her feel like she needed to climb out of her skin.
The shock of the voice seemed to snap her back to reality. She dropped the sphere into the box and closed it quickly. She returned it to her bag and looked around, hoping no one had seen her while she was fascinated by the thing.
“Lord Luck is not with you tonight, Meghan,” she said softly to herself.