In truth, I know exactly how I ended up back at the Sheaf.
Once I had accepted the end of my time as leader, I made the mistake of going into Jenny’s room. I just wanted to say goodbye to what could have been. I’m human, I have regrets. Even though I never really got to be with her, except in medical terms, I would still miss her.
And also, who knew what I might find lying about?
What I found was a very neat and tidy room, bed perfectly made and even some flowers in a vase. And an envelope on the bedside cabinet. With my name on it.
I opened it, of course. Mistake right there.
Kizwat. Hammer and Tong Hostel.
There was no other message, no explanation. She wanted me to know how to find Kizwat, if I had reason to. And as it happened…
The Hammer and Tong was a lot nicer than our inn. A small fountain in the courtyard; rose covered trestles against the walls; a guy playing flute as the guests picked from an extensive breakfast buffet.
Since Kizwat was staying here I couldn’t imagine it was very expensive, but the guests all gave off a similar vibe. From their clothes and their general demeanour I guessed they were all tradesmen or travelling merchants. People who knew how to find good deal.
I bumped into Kizwat by the sweet dumplings and told him what I wanted to do, he agreed immediately. So, a little while later, we pitched up at the Sheaf, prepared for the difficult task ahead of us. And by prepared, I mean totally unprepared. And by difficult, I mean suicidal.
“Yes, how can I help?” The same oily man as before sat behind his desk in the foyer. The smarmy look on his face fell away as he recognised me and Kizwat. “Oh… it’s you.”
“Yes, it is,” I said aggressively, although it’s hard to be threatening when you’re agreeing with someone. “I’d like to see the Guildmaster for the Blacksmith’s Guild.”
“Alright, let me just…” He bent down to get out the appropriate appointment book.
“No,” I said, “I don’t want to make an appointment. I want to see him now. All you have to do is tell me if he’s here. And if he isn’t, who’s next in charge?”
“Ah, well, I’m afraid that isn’t how—”
I took out a dagger and delicately picked at my fingernails, which was both awkward and slightly painful. But it did give the receptionist pause for thought.
“Is he in or not? A simple yes or no will do.”
The receptionist blinked rapidly, paying close attention to the dagger. “Yes. Yes, I believe he is.”
“You believe he is or he is? You weren’t too reliable last time we met, so you’ll understand why I’d like you to be specific.” I placed the tip of the dagger on his desk, where it immediately sank half-an-inch into the previously unblemished surface. “I killed a Mouse King once, you know. He wasn’t half as slippery as you.”
Yes, I was bigging myself up. Throwing my weight around. Giving it large. All the things I usually went out of my way to avoid. Today, I wanted to attract attention. Why not? You should try everything once, except for incest and morris dancing.
“That, ah, that was a misunderstanding, sir. No offence meant.” His smile had turned into a fixed grimace. The blinking-rate shot up. “The Guildmaster came in earlier. I signed-him in myself.”
It was quite liberating to act the bully and watch people cower before me. I could see the appeal—as long as they didn’t call my bluff.
“No problem,” I said, like I was letting him off the hook. “Now, inform them that I’m here and waiting. My name’s Colin. You never know, the Guildmaster might actually want to see me. All you need to do is your job. Properly.”
“Ah, yes. Of course.” He hit the bell on his desk and before it finished dinging, a boy appeared at his elbow. The receptionist handed over a quickly scrawled note and sent him running off. “We should have a reply in a few moments. You can wait over—”
“I’m fine here, thanks.” I remained standing right in front of him. What a dick. Bully Boy Colin, gimme your lunch money.
It took about five minutes for us to get a response, and it wasn’t in written form. Patrick Swayze and the Road House crew came up the stairs, all swagger and sleeveless shirts. Their magnificently coiffured leader stood in front of me with his arms crossed.
“You’re not going to start nagging me again, are you?” I said.
“I. Do. Not. Nag.” He was very emphatic on this point.
I looked past him at his men. They all made sure to avoid any head movements. “If you say so. We’re here to see your Guildmaster.”
“Yes. He wants to see you, also. Alone.” He glared at Kizwat.
KIzwat glared back. “Don’t think you can push me around, Ajay. I’m no longer unable to fight back.” He made a fist with his right hand and punched his left palm. The testosterone in the air increased exponentially. My fake hard man act looked pretty puny by comparison.
The sight of Kizwat rehabilitated arm shocked the men, who most likely had been involved in crippling him in the first place.
“Your arm… how?” Lion-O, whose name was Ajay, leaned forward, staring intensely at the arm.
“Where I come from,” I said, “we’re good at fixing things. And breaking them, too. Hold out your hand and I’ll demonstrate.” I did my best to keep my voice casual and nonchalant, even though my natural inclination was to look for the first gap in the wall of muscle in front of me, and make a run for it.
Ajay, my bouffanted friend, uncrossed his arms and put his hands behind his back. The miraculous transformation of Kizwat’s arm seemed to have a profound effect on how he viewed me.
“I suppose he can come with you,” said Ajay. “He won’t be able to go in with you to see the Guildmaster, though.”
“Yes, well, we’ll see about that when we get there. Lead the way.”
We could have made our own way to the guild office—Kizwat had been there many times and knew where to go—but I had no interest in sneaking around and turning up unannounced. Fine if we were doing a stealth mission, but this was more of a direct assault. Riskier, but less tedious.
To be honest, I’ve always disliked those games where you have to hide behind desks and peek around corners, waiting for the security guard to look the other way so you can creep to the next hiding spot. Thrilling.
This plan was all about fronting. Why would anyone be so brazen if they didn’t have something up their sleeve? And every time someone questioned one of my ridiculous claims, the only play was to double-down and make an even more ridiculous one.
You’re probably thinking the chances of this working weren’t good. But you never know, maybe I did have something up my sleeve.
Of course, one punch to the face and it’d all be over.
We went down six floors. It was early, so there weren’t that many people about. Some were neatly dressed, carrying files. Others, like our escorts, looked like enforcers for the Mafia. With so many guilds in one place, there was bound to be some argy-bargy. I wondered if there were any rival guilds I could get on my side if things went south and the blacksmiths refused to play ball.
Tunnels led away in all direction. Unlike the ones made by trolls, these had smooth walls and polished floors. The Blacksmith’s Guild offices were behind a large door at the end of a corridor.
A sign on the wall said:
The offices were wood panelled with a middle-aged woman behind a desk. She asked us to wait and went through another door.
We stood there, me dwarfed by real men on all sides. Every time I had a chance to think about what I was doing, sweat trickled down my back. To be honest though, I had given up on getting out of this in one piece. Now that I was all in, my only option was to go full retard.
The secretary returned and ushered us in. Despite what Ajay’s said, no one stopped Kizwat from coming in with me.
The Guildmaster was a potbellied man, probably in his fifties. He wore a burgundy robe with high collars and a gold chain around his neck Mr T would have found too showy. There was no desk here, just some large chairs around a roaring fireplace. Perfect for cigars and brandy. Neither were offered.
The Guildmaster was seated in the largest of the chairs, a wing-backed monstrosity with lion claws carved into the arms and feet. It wasn’t a throne, but kings have sat in less ostentatious affairs. Two more men stood either side of him. I was the smallest person in the room. Again.
“Your arm looks a lot better, young Kizwat.” The Guildmaster’s voice was full of gravitas and wisdom. He’d be great for movie trailers.
“Yes, Guildmaster,” said Kizwat. “No thanks to you.”
The Guildmaster shook his head. “As I told you before, we would never harm one of our own. I am glad you are healed.” He turned his attention to me. “I take it you are the one who claims to have killed the Mouse King.”
He didn’t sound too convinced, which was annoying. A good thing, since I find it much easier to act the dick when I’m annoyed.
“Yes, that’s what I claim. You have reason to doubt it?”
“The tests on the spike we were presented were inconclusive.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Just give me back the spike and I’ll have it verified by someone more competent.”
The Guildmaster rose to his feet. “I assure you, “ he said through gritted teeth, “the competence of our—”
I waved away his protestations. “Where’s the spike now? Misplaced isn’t it? An artifact that important and valuable suddenly goes missing when it’s in your care. I don’t know what you would call that kind of diligence, but competent wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind, don’t you agree?”
The Guildmaster sat back down. “Mistakes happen.”
“Yes. And when they do, restitution is expected. Either grant Kizwat the silver hammer that is his right, or compensate him for the lost artifact. How much do you think something like that is worth?”
“As I said, the tests were inconclusive. Without proof—”
“But we have proof,” I said.
Everyone in the room, including Kizwat, seemed taken aback by this.
“You have proof that this spike was used to kill the Mouse King.”
“Well, I don’t, but you do. In this very building. All we need to do is go see God and ask him if I’m telling the truth. If he accepts my claim, then you won’t even need the spike, will you?”
A cloud passed across the Guildmaster’s face. He seemed deep in thought. The men standing beside him leaned down and whispered in his ears, which must have been confusing.
The Guildmaster merely nodded and then raised a hand. The two men straightened up again.
“God is a busy man. He may not wish to be bothered with such trivial matters.”
“As I understand it, God’s door is always open to visitors, and I am a visitor. So, I’m sure he’ll make time to see me. Or perhaps you would rather not? The reputation of your guild is at stake, after all. Once it becomes common knowledge how you’ve treated one of your own guild members, people will start to question whether they can trust you at all. Is that silver blacksmith down in the southern district even a real silver blacksmith?”
“Fine,” said the Guildmaster. “I would be happy to seek God’s opinion on the matter. We will abide by whatever judgement he makes. The most important thing is to maintain the good name of the guild, even if it means admitting our failure to meet our own high standards. The loss of the artifact is clearly our fault, so we offer you an apology regardless of how this matter is resolved, and will compensate you appropriately. ”
Bluffs were being called all around.
“Excellent,” I said, although that wasn’t how I felt.
The plan had been fairly simple. Get God to verify the spike was mine. If it belonged to me, then taking it couldn’t be considered theft. You can’t steal what you already own. Whether Kizwat managed to get his silver hammer was only a secondary concern.
There was just one minor problem, potentially. If God was part of the blacksmiths’ deception, then he might lie in their favour. In which case, there was Plan B. If you think Plan A was risky…
But the way the Guildmaster spoke now didn’t sound like a man who was confidently leading me to his co-conspirator. He sounded genuine and sincere. Which meant either he was an awesome actor, or I had missed something.
Only God knew the truth, so we set off to meet him.
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