Jethec and Theon, Thieves of the Damned
Jethec recognized it at once from the new cloudiness clinging to his cap in the morning, fading into dewdrops as the sun rose. Then the vapors of his breath, their white tendrils persisting longer and deeper into the day. The crunch of loose earth and the pungent sweetness of fresh ice. Winter—it bred more troublemakers by the day.
Maybe the fishermen would fare better in the coming days. The frosts would aid in keeping their wares which hadn't gone off yet, and masking the stench of those which had. But the vegetables came up black and bitter which could be exhumed at all. Animals grew thin and lethargic as if their masters had become cruel in the night. The smart folks were out buying what they could with what they had before it demanded siege prices, but prices were already creeping; a slab of saltpork which had cost a few bolts of wool before now cost the whole sheep, its own meat tough and tasteless, but enough of a delicacy once the pigs and chickens were eaten. No one knew how long the next winter would last; it would be their first in this set of circumstances. An interesting way to starve.
Already not all in Tarne's old public square were so concerned with the rising prices, though. The streamers and ribbons and little paper flags were fierce in the autumnal breeze, and someone was glancing around at their colors as an excuse to look over his shoulders, to survey his surroundings, to check who was watching. He was trying very hard to look like he looked at nothing in particular. He didn’t see Jethec the way he in turn was studied with a yawn and a listless wink. The boy scratched his face; the stress was making him sweat more than the other passersby. Amateur.
Jethec could not have looked more obvious if he tried, although he scratched at his neck, too, and at his arse and the backs of his knees. But he, unlike this boy across the walkways with the saltgrasses springing from their cracks, hadn't a worry at all. The door behind him was rusted shut. Afternoon suns still cradled Tarne in warmth, for now, that the men in the mayor’s colors still had little more to fuss over than yesterday’s stale sweat soaked through their gambesons. Until the scratching, fidgeting fools gave them some work to do.
Jethec’s careful deliberation was all undone when a warrior came near. The flowing red cloak denoted him as a member of the City Watch, making the common folk move in a wide berth around him. He gazed through the visor of the signature helm
of the Watch, to speak to Jethec. “You’re coming with me.” He grabbed him by the arm before Jethec had a chance to object, forcing him into a side alley.
“‘Good morning, Jethec. How do you do, Jethec?’” But before the mere guard had time to actually worry, though, the City Watch guard had removed his helmet, revealing the much-expected compatriot.
“Sorry, but this news couldn’t wait until tonight.” Theon grinned, a cold, empty smile. “We’ll be eating fine tonight, lad. That warehouse near the castle, the one we thought was impenetrable? Well, when I was promoted, they gave me a map of tunnels under the city. And one of them leads right into it.” He flashed a piece of paper. “We could crack this tonight.”
“You don’t just carry this around, do you?” said Jethec. Still, something about the parchment had captured his jellied gaze, no need to guess why.
Theon narrowed his eyebrows. “I show you this, and that’s what you care about.” He shoved the paper back into his trousers. “Anyways, we’ll need to move on this as soon as night falls. I have no doubt some of my so called ‘comrades’ in the City Watch have the same idea we do.” He drew his blade. “You do the thieving, and I’ll gut any fool who tries to do the same.” Theon sheathed his blade again. “Find me in the barracks at nightfall. You’ve always been quieter anyways.”
“Hold on.” Jethec shoved at Theon’s shoulder, hoping to pin it there against the cobblestone wall. To give him a good, thought-provoking jab, at the least. Jethec took pause to peek over his shoulder, his eyes half-concealed under their steel brim, and when he turned back he had relinquished half the strength in his voice. “No one will find this slightly suspicious? The food goes missing the same day they gave a map of the stores to some rookie?“ Their glares met, Theon’s the prettier, and issued from a taller head.
Theon thought for a moment, staring into Jethec’s cool gaze. He thought for a moment, stroking his chin. After a moment, he let out a sigh. “I suppose you have a point there…Well, you are the brains. What do you suggest we do, Jethec the Genius?” Theon asked, jesting his fellow thief. “After all, you must have a solution to solve all of this. Your great wits are on a whole other plane compared to my simpleton mind!” Jethec the Genius
does have a nice ring to it. Alliteration and all.
“Look, I’m not stopping you if you
want to upgrade to the dungeon suite. But if you’re so sure that this thing is getting blown tonight, don’t you think the higher-ups know it, too? Let’s lay low tonight. Eliminate some competition; look good for the officers.” He was counting on his sausagey fingers. Raising the ring finger as he inhaled, paused, chewed on the next point. “Protect the goods, let the heat die down, and we have them all to ourselves next week. With it vanishing just one sackful at a time, no one will be the wiser.”
Theon smiled. “Like I said. You’re the brains. Where would I be without you?” He pulled his helm back on, stepping out of the alley. “That’s your last warning, thief.” He said loudly, just for any nosy citizens who were curious as to what a guardsman and someone as…unique...as Jethec were doing together.
Clutching his hands, cradling them against his belly for warmth, Jethec led the way out from behind the wall. “Where are you stationed today?” he asked innocuously.
Theon grinned. “I’ll be living the good life. For today at least. Guarding the interior of our lordship’s castle.” He said the last bit mockingly, bitterly. “But if it keeps me warm, so be it. After then, I’ll be freezing my ass off guarding that damn warehouse.” He shrugged. “However, this’ll be well worth my sorry ass once we get what we need.”
“If you’re right about the raid then you’re right. Better start thinking now about how we’re gonna ask for our promotions, eh?”
Theon laughed. “Pretty soon I’ll be a Captain.” He bowed. “I’ll see you,” He was interrupted by a bout of shivering. “If I don’t freeze to death first.”
“Yeah. Let’s talk tonight, at your place.“
Theon nodded, turning with a flourish, before walking back towards the castle. He could barely contain his excitement towards a warm eight hours ahead of him.
Speaking of promotions, though, Jethec scanned the market for that boy from before. Dead and listless as it was, for the life of him the thief had vanished somewhere, not to be found, with one fewer parsnip resting on an old dirt farmer’s stall.