Part 2/3 of One Man's Treasure.
Part 1/3 of a short story I'm using to practice for the major works. Let me know what you think, drop your support if you want more!
Squib - Ep.1
The gates of Silkwood were tall and heavy, made of thick branchless logs harvested from the very swamp in which they stood, watched closely by a loose guard of men under pools of firelight. Entering would require marching up the gravel strewn road, waving friendly at the gate, drawing back ones hood, and stating who you were or what your intention might be at such a late hour. Squib knew all this because he’d watched it happen many times before. Which was why he always opted for a side route, shrouded in darkness, made possible by a grappling hook acquired in this very town. He always enjoyed his trips into town despite the very real dangers he faced. The rewards, however far outweighed the risks, and they did so particularly on this very trip. Squib scaled the wall with ease, pulling his small body up in a horizontal walk, then throwing his legs up over the top. He came down with a thud that left an imprint in the mud. The sack of goodies over his shoulder was adjusted. Casting a pointed ear he waited, breath drawn, listening for any alarm at his intrusion. Quiet as a practiced sneak, he edged his way forward, traversing building after building, clinging tightly to shadows in search of the house with the red door.
Squib knew the way and yet the fairly formal layout of the town disorientated him. He had trouble wrapping his head around the interior of the square palisade with it’s neatly fashioned buildings inside. Though the odd feature did help to unmuddle his tendency toward confusion. Such as the T-junction running through the northern half of town or the stone tower that soared near its center. He couldn't help but stare. It sprung out of the earth like a tree and its peak appeared to be home to a large number of birds. Squib had never seen it up close but from all the avian traffic he took it to have some manner of purpose. If Squib were completely free to move about he’d have investigated more closely- if for no other reason than to sate his curiosity. Seeing as he wasn’t free, he’d always erred on the side of caution and stuck to simple trade. He could only imagine what might happen should he be discovered in a confined space two tree lengths high in the air. If one of these humans got a hold of him, likely mistaking him for some sort of egg-thief, they might think to show him one of the open archways spaced periodically up the stony walls, and send him on his way; Nose first no doubt. Squib shuddered at the thought. No, best to stay on the mud where it was relatively safe. Best for Squib to stay where he belonged. Relatively speaking, of course.
Squib found what he was looking for, not so much from the colour but the familiar shape and stony steps that lead up to the red door. It was dark in this narrow slice of town and nobody had any business being there. Except, of course, for Squib. He gave the door a knock, a knowing, communicative tap, and then waited. Moments passed, slowly like swamp sludge. Squib’s ears piqued to listen, movement beyond the door, feet shuffling over floorboards, a faint light appearing through the cracks in the wall. Squib sank back quickly into shadow, disappearing beneath the black cloak he wore, blending seamlessly into the night. The door creaked open slowly allowing the light to spill over the stone steps. In the doorway stood a middle aged man, thinning around the joints, with fading hair, a scruff of beard covering his chin, and spectacles over his nose. He had a robe about himself, a candelabrum in one hand, and an expectant look to his gaze. Squib remained still and hidden, allowing the swamp crickets and distant, chirping frogs to greet the man in his stead.
“Well? Come on then!” The man said throwing the door wide.
Squib emerged, slowly, cautiously, looking this way and that. Confident no one was watching, no one had seen, he scampered inside. The door closed heavily behind them.
Already Squib had moved to take up residence on an overly sized kitchen room chair, the sack he carried was hoisted with both hands and its contents spilled out onto the table. Squib watched as the man moved slowly about his living space, retrieving his ledger and the chest in which he kept some of his prizes. The old man had gold, he always had gold, but Squib couldn't find much value in that. Not out in the swamps where he spent most of his days.
“So, what have you brought me?” The old man asked in a tired but friendly voice.
Squib had never asked why the old man had treated him so fairly when so many others had not, but he suspected it had everything to do with mutual benefaction, and the shiny gold discs Squib’s trade brought him. Squib began sorting the contents of his sack into something that resembled order, and small piles of assorted brick’o’brack began to form on the table.
“Good season, good stash. You be pleased with swamp goods.” Squibs said with glee.
His command of the humans tongue might have been garish to the refined ear, but Squib prided himself on his mastery. He wouldn't rely on it to get himself out of a sticky situation, but knowing he could communicate his thoughts and desires soundly to someone willing to listen was to have achieved something great, especially for someone such as Squib. “Good” was one of the first words Squib had ever learned, and it was one of his favorites. With the word ‘good’, he could convey so much of what he felt was important in the world, and as far as the humans seemed concerned ‘good’ was something to aspire to. Good outcomes, good times, and ‘goodies’ were all things Squib held very close to his heart.
The old man hummed as he shone his light over the wares. Squib could see his calculating eye, and watched as the slight twitches of his tongue, teeth, and lips denoted his tendency to form lists and ultimately do sums. Sums were not something Squib could command. He was not good where sums were concerned. Yet he knew the worth of his haul and his haul was.. “Good, yes?” Squib asked again, spreading a garish smile that showed wide rows of menacing teeth.
“Tis good.” The old man agreed. He reached for the chest which Squib noted had a well oiled hinge. Perhaps the best oiled hinge he’d ever seen, the smell of which tickled his nose every time he came. Like a dog at dinner it always gave him the warm tinglies. Something about getting treasures out of boxes at sparse intervals throughout the year could do that to him. The old man retrieved a small box and a package wrapped in thin leather, and passed them across the table.
“What is it?! Is this it!? Yeessss!” Squib hissed in excitement, almost doing a jig on his seat. He chuckled as he opened it, folding back the leather and revealing his own wooden box with its own oiled hinge.
“It arrived two weeks ago. Good timing, if I do say so myself.” The old man smiled but then busied himself with his ledger, already making notations.
Squib ran his tongue over his lips, savoring the moment, sliding the pads of his fingers over the smooth wood that someone of his standing had no right in ever touching. His thumb peeled up the latch. The lid folded back revealing a fat leather pouch three times the size of his fist. The old man spared a glance over the rim of his glasses as his hands busied themselves with a pencil.
“Hard to come by that was. Not to well sought after, but scarce enough to keep a thoughtful price.”
Squib pried open the drawstring revealing a fine purple powder with a greasy sheen. “Three handfuls, yes?” Squib asked.
The old man nodded, “Three handfuls. I should know better than to ask, but what exactly do you want that for, anyway?”
Already, Squib was tightening the drawstring to place the pouch back in its box and squirreling it away within his belongings. He had no interest in revealing his secrets to the old man even if he could sympathise with a curious soul. His eyes only narrowed at the thought, a sinister thought, crossing his mind at the painstaking process he’d put himself through to get this far. Still, some semblance of an answer whirled it’s way around his head and rolled its way out on his tongue, a chant more than anything, like a shopping list spoken aloud to keep him on his path.
“Two handfuls for payment. One handful for Squib.” He told him. But to who and what for, the old man would not know.
The old man only seemed to nod as though he’d been through all this before. “Oh yes, because that won’t leave me wondering more than ever, will it? Have it your way. Keep your secrets you green scoundrel. Hopefully not to the detriment of anyone I should know or care for…” Already the old man was busy within his book, murmuring all the while, as Squib spared him his own glance. They had an understanding. There was trust there, Squib thought. Enough anyway, at least for this. The old man had his secrets too, Squib could tell. It took one to know one.
“All is good, Old Tom not need worry.” He reassured, though Squib was never sure just how sure Old Tom could be. There stood a healthy level of caution between them, Squib thought. This was good. “Trade finished. Must go!”
The door swung shut behind him as Squib took to the shadows once more. The cool, wet air of the swamp splashed against his face but he felt warmed by the thrill of the package he now carried. Unlike the shrill, scared creature that slunk into town before, now Squib walked with a hastefull spring in his step that bounded more than anything. He barely even noticed the twang of foul air that tickled his nose as he rounded a corner and nearly bumped into one of the towns guard on the last pull of a piss. Squib startled, catching his feet about as quickly as he did his breath. The man was equally as surprised, albeit more frightened given his precarious state of vulnerability. He yelled, reaching for his weapon while correcting himself in one awkwardly dangerous movement. By that stage, Squib had already turned and fled.
“Goblin! There’s a goblin in the street!” The guard called as he gave chase.
Squib’s ears twitched at the commotion of noise that stirred all around; Somewhere a couple of dogs barked; Shouts from other men and the trampling of boots nearby; The mysterious absence of crickets and frogs normally present at night. Squib dashed for the shadows and squeezed through small spaces, but the town was so small his pursuers seemed to catch the curtails of his cloak wherever he went. He made back the way he came, drawing closer to the red door, a line of men funneling through the pathways behind him. The scraping of armor and clatter of steel spurring his heel. Wham! A hollowed block of wood struck Squib in the face. He caught whiff of fine oil and heard the smooth scrape of a well oiled hinge. All around gold sparkles caught the torch light as they toppled, coming to rest all around as Squib lay sprawled in a daze on his back.
“Sorry about this.” Old Tom whispered from above, then brought his chest of spilled treasures down hard upon Squibs head. The lights went out.
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