FEEDING THE FISHES
The man in the broad brimmed hat and dark cloak leaned closer into the sidewall of the building. Just around the corner the front door slammed shut, a key was turned in the lock producing a nerve-raking shriek for want of oil. He heard the steel bar drawn across the face of the door, slammed home and then padlocked. There would be no entry that way. A moment’s panic came over him when he heard heavy steps approaching but then Rixbur shouted “No! Not down there, Dog. We’re heading into town tonight. The cock fight, remember?” Dog grunted in reply and the others laughed for some reason – perhaps the Dog had made a gesture behind Rixbur’s back. How often had he seen that over the last couple of months? Nothing else was said.
He waited until the sound of the iron-shod boots of the hill-men disappeared into the general murmur of Low Docks Street and when he was sure they had all gone he slid out of the shadows and peered down the length of Red-dock Passage. Empty. There was nothing here but warehousing: no shops, no houses and consequently no one around to spy him out. The only merchant at all worried about theft in this generally safe City of Riverport had just left and taken his guards with him.
Angren smirked his “got you” smirk for a few seconds, savouring the victory even before it was achieved.
“Right Rixbur, you asked for it.”
On the left hand side of the house was a narrow cobbled alleyway that sloped down to the river. This particular storehouse was one of the more mouldered affairs that stood with their feet in the water with no pier between to keep the damp out. Towards the bottom end of the alley the cobbles were slimed from years of regular flooding and Angren found that he had to step very carefully indeed. It would be ludicrous to sprain an ankle at this stage. Close up against the water the battered remains of a wooden jetty were more of a liability than a help and he quite rightly decided not to trust the rotting timbers: the waters of the Hypodedicus here were cold and fast flowing and while Angren was a good swimmer he certainly did not want to lose either his cloak or his hat as he’d only just bought them and rather liked the style. The harbour beacons lit up the main docks away to his left but they were not bright enough to be of much use at this remove and so Angren had to wait a few minutes until there was a largish gap in the cloud cover: luckily for Angren the Thief’s moon was at slightly more than a half.
When the light came he purred in satisfaction: a single glance told him that he’d remembered it all aright. A few days before he had leant out of that door high up, the one with the derrick and pulley above it, and seen down below what seemed to be a course of bricks standing proud of the wall: a ledge just about the line of the first floor windows. He’d marked it because he couldn’t understand why it was there. Not for decoration surely? Now with the same course at the level of his waist he could see that the whole building below that line was by way of being a sturdy foundation, an extra support against the force of the river. And it had been well thought on, Angren decided as he studied the hollowed bricks down around the watermark.
Angren was well aware that the first floor windows were securely shuttered and bolted from the inside. That door on the second floor was not. He had made sure of that. The curious thing was that he had pulled the bolt free from its housing and tossed it into the river at least two days before he’d seen any real need to do so. He had still been working for Rixbur then.
He had with him a bail hook with a cross-piece handle. Driven into the mortar it gave him just enough leverage to haul himself up onto the ledge. Carefully he sidled along until he reached the first inset window embrasure and there he rested. The second section was less easy: the bricks were in places crumbled away and he was lucky that not one actually broke beneath his weight. The hardest part was when he realised that the wall he was clinging to had begun to slope outwards as it bowed with age. His fingertips were soon raw from having to dig them into the mortar layers above him. Eventually he reached the safety of the second window just as the clouds hid the moon once more. He bided his time, sitting on the sill with his feet dangling over the waters. Presently he began to rummage in the bag he had slung under his cloak. What came out was a coil of rope. Angren was very handy with rope. It took only three attempts to loop the line over the derrick just in the correct place. He took the precaution of tying together the lower ends in three large knots to the handles on the shutters. It would mean leaving the rope behind but it made the ascent that much easier: he virtually walked up the wall to reach the door.
Things were going ever so well. The bolt had not been replaced, the door swung open nice and easy, he swung himself inside. Then he tripped over something in the dark, fell with a thud, crashed through the poorly fastened trap door, plummeted twelve feet and landed shoulders first on a table covered with lots of hard metallic things. The thickness of his cloak probably saved him many a cut from the daggers he had scattered all over the floor.
The clangour woke something up. Two somethings. As he gasped for breath, wondering whether he had broken anything, a clattering of paws and a snarling, vicious barking came hurtling through the building to greet him. If the lanterns had not been lit in the room he had dropped into he would have been no better than dead meat. Two wolfhounds bounded onto the table as he rolled off it. The first weapon to hand was a small knife that he threw at the nearest dog but missed. He ducked under the table as they came for him, kicked at their heads and missed, rolled out on the other side and came up holding one of the pikes that had been laid beneath the table. At last he had an advantage. With his first swing he managed to whack the nearest dog with the pointy end, lopping off an ear. The dog howled in pain but the other snatched at the heel end of the pike and nearly pulled it out of Angren’s grip. The wounded hound came on again as he struggled to wrestle the pike free. It went straight for his throat. Angren ducked beneath the dog as it leaped, thrust hard with the pike at the other and then pushed upwards all in one flowing movement sending the wounded hound tumbling through the air. The audible snap as it crashed into the corner of the table gave Angren some hope. He looked for the second hound and saw that it was rolling on the floor clawing at the pike-staff that Angren had forced down its throat. The gurgling noise was horrible to hear. With as much kindness as he could muster Angren used one of the daggers to hand to break the dogs neck before he removed the shaft. The other dog was already dead.
“Well you two beauties were a bit of a surprise. I wonder where he got you.” He gave the dog’s mane a rough stroke. “Fine dogs you were too. Pity you were his.”
The next hour or so was the hard work he’d come for. The store of weapons in the place was considerable. Rixbur had everything: halberd, pike, lance, javelin, pig stick; swords of every style and size; mace and hammer and spike and several very unorthodox weapons. Angren had a plan for them all. He opened the two shuttered windows that overlooked the bay, peered out briefly at the full and roiling waters below him and then began the laborious task of consigning the stock to the bottom of the river. He kept only a few pieces for himself: a couple of rather secret affairs for emergencies and a beautiful diamond and ruby hilted dagger because it was far too pretty a toy to decorate a fishes gullet.
In the course of his labours Angren found the safe. He thought about it for a while and then went back to test its weight. There was no way he would be able to open it: the lock was a two key affair, probably Slaney made, very complicated and Angren was no lock-pick. But could he shift it? A straight lift? Not four hundred pounds of Dreffield cast iron. Could he tip it? He pushed hard at the back end and after a lot of effort he rocked it forwards and it fell and smashed the slate floor beneath it. That was as much as he could do: try as he might he couldn’t shift it any more. He was satisfied though: Rixbur would have the devils of a job to do to right it and with luck the lock would be damaged and hard to break through.
Rixbur’s desk was nearby. When he’d done all he could Angren returned to the desk, took a quill pen and a sheet of Rixbur’s best Rivelline writing paper, wrote a few words and left it there for Rixbur to find next day. It read: “Payment in full; received with thanks!” He didn’t indicate what the payment was for; he didn’t sign it. There was no point in leaving any proof that he’d been there but he knew that Rixbur would understand.
Wilf Kelleher Jones
A Song of Ages