The Seventh Moonrise Most Profound - Part 3
In which Mrink & Mrank make one final play for success.
The Seventh Moonrise Most Profound
It was an hour past sunrise by the time the two thieves completed their labors in the workshop. This left them only an hour to sleep before rising again, downing a few cups of thick and bitter local coffee before setting out to take care of their respective business. Mrink wouldn’t say where he was off to, and Mrank didn’t ask. He had enough to worry about, what with seeding a few bribes around the various city gates in order to grease their passage later that night. It was evening by the time he returned to the workshop, having arranged for a mule and a less conspicuous back-up cart to be waiting outside the eastern gate, laden with water and provisions for the four day overland journey to the coast. Arrangements were also made for another cart to depart from the northern gate, driven by a team of two hired locals who had been paid handsomely to leave a false trail by journeying a week’s distance before making their slow way home again. From the coast, Mrink and Mrank would board a ship and escape with their reward. Preferably to some place less hot and sandy. And far away from the local authorities who would take little time to connect the foreign confectioners to the sugar-glass windows left in place of their holiest of holy relics.
Mrank strolled into the workshop to find his partner staring wistfully at the trappings of the little life he’d built for himself. “Nearly ready?”
“Ready enough, I suppose.”
“You going to miss it?”
Mrink shrugged. “It’s not as exciting as proper thieving, but it was nice for a while. Can’t say I’ll miss reaching into that blazing hot oven a hundred times a day, though.”
“I’m well past ready to put this city behind us. I hear Reziavalle is nice this time of year. Fancy a visit to the famous card houses of Via de Strezza?”
“Bad luck to talk about spending the prize before it’s in our pockets,” Mrink said. He’d always been the more superstitious of the two.
Still, his caution and focus had kept them from the hangman’s noose on enough occasions for Mrank to humour him. He let the subject drop and turned his attention to the delivery cart where it had been backed into the workshop so the holy aspects could be loaded in for delivery to the Yislah. It was a tight fit, but with a bit of rigging to expand the canvas, they made it work.
“Is it just me, or is there a distinct lack of room for a man of your stature to stowe himself in the back of this cart what with all this priceless glass jammed in there?”
“I’ve rigged a sling in the undercarriage,” Mrink said with a sigh. “But don’t expect me to ride all the way out to the Yislah’s place down there. I’ll do my work on the roof, then I’ll sit the bench with you. Won’t matter much if someone sees the both of us after the shadow work is done.”
“Right. Long as it’s not me down there. I hate the damn sling.”
“At least the road won’t be two feet of muck this time. Remember Alabain? Three straight weeks of rain on that job, and we still got through it. We can survive one night of showers here.”
“Looks like we might have to.” Mrank stifled a yawn. “Sky is awful dark out there. Them clouds look ready to burst at any second.”
Mrink took one last look around the shop. “Let’s get going then. It’s a bit early, but if the rain hits, the streets should be empty enough for me to work unseen.”
The big thief went to the carriage and wriggled into the set of slings suspended beneath it. With a few tricky adjustments, he was able to tighten the straps enough to keep himself pressed tightly to the underside. No one would see him unless they bent low enough to peer beneath the false trim that extended below the edge of the carriage base proper. It was far from comfortable, but he’d endured worse for longer. Even with the detour of a false delivery, it was barely half an hour before the cart slowed to a halt in its accustomed spot behind The Seventh Moonrise Most Profound. He waited until he heard the shuffling footsteps of his partner fade in the distance before slipping free of his restraints. Once he was certain he was alone, he retrieved the modified leather case, strapped it to his back, and began to climb.
Mrink was midway through smearing solvent on the second window’s mortar when the first drops of rain marked their arrival as dark splotches on the dusty window ledge. At first the rain was pleasant. The temperature cooled noticeably, and the dampness was more pleasant to breathe than the stale dusty air that had thus far clogged his nostrils with black gunk. It quickly became apparent, however, that the layers of accumulated dust on the building was mixing with the rainwater to form a slippery film that made every step more dangerous than the one before it. Worse, the rain was washing away the solvent before it could do its work. Mrink had to resort to scraping the mortar away, a noisy process that was mercifully dampened by what had become a heavy rainfall beating a steady rhythm against the domed temple roof. And if the rain was any blessing in giving him cover with which to hide his trip to the cart in order to deposit the first two windows and to pick up the remaining false pane, it was entirely mitigated by how difficult it made climbing the increasingly slippery temple wall in order to snatch the last window.
Meanwhile, inside The Seventh Moonrise Most Profound, Mrank was facing troubles of an entirely different sort. Feeling puffed-up and proud over a job nearly done, he’d downed his first three cups more quickly than usual. There were no timepieces inside the little tavern, making it difficult to discern quite how long he’d been sitting there. After his fifth cup, he tried to ask the serving boy for the time, but his tongue betrayed him, speaking Aerdish, Kvastian, Cardhish, Lovok, and even a little old Vhentian. Anything and everything but the harsh dialect of southern Soccorro. The boy simply stared at him, then walked away, returning a moment later with a sixth cup of zhirsz.
By his eighth cup, Mrink had forgotten his own name and why he was sitting in a tavern instead of at home and in bed. Few other patrons remained by this time, but those who lingered over their cups cast frequent glances his way. Curious smiles that had begun bemused, transfigured into undisguised mockery. Though he’d picked up a bit more of the local language in recent weeks, he could understand none of what was being said about him. Panicked, he concluded they must be speaking in some sort of cipher. And what reason might they have to do so? His motives for idling in the tavern resurfaced like a slap in the face. The windows. They knew about the Yislah and the game he and Mrink been playing with sugar glass. It was as transparent as the forty-two aspects of Yeshwara themselves. They’d been played as patsies. Given a fool’s errand, only to be arrested and pinned to the sand so that ants could feast on their innards while the city laughed at the two worst thieves in all of Tellen.
“What are you doing in here?” asked a hulking mass that blotted out the lantern light behind it.
Slime dripped from the creature, splattering on the table while Mrank shrunk back, cowering against the plush velvet upholstery of his booth seat. He held his hands up for mercy, too terrified to do anything but blubber a prayer to Imrei who watches over those who sneak amongst the shadows.
“Shut your damn mouth, you idiot,” the creature whispered harshly. “Do you want everyone to hear you praying to the goddess of thieves?”
A glimmer of comprehension penetrated the fog in Mrank’s head. That voice sounded awfully familiar. Either the creature had consumed his partner and taken his form, or it was actually… “Mrink?”
“It’s been four hours,” Mrink said. “I got tired of waiting for you to come back. Let’s go.”
Too numb to speak, Mrank could only allow himself to be dragged from the booth. They were nearly at the door when he remembered he had yet to pay for his drinks. The coins in his purse all looked the same, so he plucked four at random and handed them to the serving boy, who seemed to have sprouted horns from his forehead at some point in the evening.
The boy’s eyes lit up. He clutched the coins to his heart and bowed deeply several times, babbling excitedly all the while. Mrink had no idea what the kid was saying, but he didn’t have much time to puzzle it over since he was otherwise occupied with being dragged into the street by the wrist. A swarm of tiny needles stung him from above, and it was only after looking directly into the sky and flinching away from the drops falling into his eyes and mouth that he realized it was raining heavily.
“Did you mean to give that kid silver dihrm?” Mrink asked as they hurried to the cart. “That’s probably more coin than he earns in a year.”
Mrink didn’t answer. It was all he could do to climb into the driver’s seat of the cart. The tiny awning extending out from the covered portion of the cart did little to keep the rain from splashing on his face, and he belatedly remembered to draw his cloak closed and pull the hood up over his head. Thus protected from the worst of the stormy weather, he reached for the reins… and missed.
“Gods, you really are smashed, aren’t you?” Mrink said. “I’ll drive. You focus on trying not to fall off the cart.”
Fingers aching from his labors atop the temple, Mrink took the reins and set the mule to walking. It immediately became apparent that Svevavevrum had not been built for rain. Decades of fine-grained sand that had been ground against the wide stone cobbles beneath boots and wheels had polished them to a slippery sheen. The selfsame sand normally provided enough friction for pedestrians and carts to keep their footing with little issue, but the sudden deluge of rainwater had washed away the only thing keeping the streets from becoming veritable sheets of glass. The irony was not lost on Mrink as he urged the poor mule away from the temple and towards the long climb to the Yislah’s villa. The entire heist had relied on Mrink swapping out the real windows for his fake sugar glass, and now that they’d successfully swiped the last of them, all forty-two priceless panes in the back of the cart were at risk of being smashed because the streets had become as slick as anything he could have produced in his workshop.
“Of all the bloody things to happen,” he grumbled. They were still several blocks from even beginning the climb to the Yislah’s villa, and moving at a snail’s pace. Any slower and they’d be sliding backwards. Wait, were they sliding backwards?
Mrink leaned over the edge of the cart. Thankfully, the ground was moving the right way. It was only a trick of the rain and the shadows being cast from the light of several flickering lanterns in the street behind them that made it seem as if they were rolling backwards.
That wasn’t right. Lanterns in the street? At this hour? In this weather? Mrink leaned out again, sucking his breath in at the sight of a dozen cloaked men approaching from behind.
“Mrank,” he said casually, “did you by any chance forget to deliver our special guild dues to the guildmaster?”
“Huh?” Mrank lifted his chin from where it had been resting on his chest as he dozed. “What’s this?”
“The bribe,” Mrink clarified. “Did you bribe the guildmaster yesterday like you were supposed to?”
“Oh, that. No. If you recall, I was a little in my cups last night, and what with us on our way out of town, it didn’t seem worth the trouble.”
“Ah, that would be it then.”
They rode in silence a moment longer before Mrank finally caught on that all was not right in the streets of Svevavevrum. “Mrink, have you noticed a rather large group of angry men approaching us from the rear? This may be the zhirsz talking, but I believe one of them is brandishing a rolling pin?”
“It appears an angry mob of sweets merchants have at last come to have a frank word with us.” Mrank briefly considered giving the mule a sharp kick in the rump, but it seemed unnecessarily cruel. The animal was doing its level best, and there was nothing any of them could do to help it move faster in such appalling conditions.
“Stop this cart at once!” a man shouted in heavily accented Aerdish as he drew even with them.
Mrink reached up to pinch the edge of his hood, miming a tip of his cap. “Evening to you fine gentlemen. Would that I could, but I fear we’d never get her moving again should we stop in this weather. As you can see, we’re not exactly making the best speed at present. Perhaps we can walk and talk?”
The rest of the men had caught up with the cart by this time, surging ahead to surround it on all sides. One man stepped in front of the mule in order to slice at the reins with a knife that looked more suited to a kitchen than threatening someone in the street. He stumbled and almost fell in his attempt to hack the reins free, but to his credit the blade was well cared for, quickly severing Mrink’s control over the mule. Confused and annoyed, the animal slowed to a halt, sniffing at the newcomers in the hopes of receiving a treat.
“Oh gods,” Mrank grumbled. “Are we really being accosted by a gang of bakers? Get out of our way, you imbeciles! We’ve business to be about.”
“It’s your business we’ve come to discuss with you,” the man beside them said. “You’re ruining us with your preposterous novelties. We are artisans with generations of proud history behind us. Who are you to trespass on our traditions?”
“Just a couple of enterprising travelers,” Mrink said with his most placating smile, “who had no intention of giving offense to any of you. Your complaints are duly heard and noted, my good man. Come the morrow, we will cease our operations immediately!”
“By Yeshwara you will,” muttered one of the men in the back. “We will make certain of it!”
“No need for troub—”
Mrink was silenced by the sound of something decidedly more sinister than a kitchen implement colliding with the cart’s rear wheel. The heavy thwack of an axe was followed by another, and soon there were several men taking turns swinging away at the wheels. Some of the axe blows caught the fabric covering the cart’s precious cargo, while others crippled the reinforced stays that had allowed Mrink to boost himself onto the first good handholds of the temple wall. Mrank had an excellent sense for when he could talk himself out of a sticky situation, and when the time for sweet words had long past. This situation was rapidly becoming the latter, if not a time for all out running away to save one’s skin.
“Blasphemy!” cried a voice from the back of the cart. There was a sound of ripping fabric. “See what these interlopers have wrought!”
“Mrank,” Mrink said calmly. “I do believe it’s time we take our leave.”
The severity of the situation seemed to have penetrated the surly little thief’s zhirsz-addled brain. “I wholeheartedly concur.”
The pack of merchants migrated to the back of the cart where they were pushing and shoving for their chance to peer inside and catch a glimpse of whataver had so agitated their co-conspirator. Taking this opportunity to alight from the cart, Mrink and Mrank strolled casually away.
“What sacrilege is this?” the merchant who’d first accosted them shouted. “Profane likenesses of the sacred aspects of Yeshwara crafted from sugar? This cannot be tolerated! Destroy them! Grind them to dust!”
Even amidst the heavy patter of raindrops bombarding the streets and buildings around them, the unmistakable sound of glass being smashed echoed behind Mrink and Mrank as they stepped into a narrow side street that led neither to their workshop nor the Yislah’s villa, but rather on a more direct path out of town.
“Pity we won’t be getting paid,” Mrank said, his voice devoid of any real concern. “It was a fun game while it lasted, though.”
Mrink nodded his agreement. “I’ll be sad to let the shop go, but the night’s not over yet. We’ve one more stop to make.”
“I hope it’s to an apothecary. This zhirsz seems to be getting the better of me, and this accursed rain isn’t helping either.”
“Our last errand won’t fix your hangover, but it might help your mood.”
Mrank said nothing. He simply followed his partner through several twists and turns, ears alert for the sound of footsteps indicating that the mob of angry merchants had discovered that what they’d been so angrily smashing wasn’t a fabrication of colored sugar. If pursuit ensued, it didn’t find them. After three-quarters of an hour Mrink stopped and knocked on a nondescript door.
A man in an apron opened the door and peered past Mrink and Mrank as though looking for signs of trouble. It didn’t escape Mrank’s notice that beneath the apron, the man wore clothing of cut and quality better suited to nobility than that of a mere kitchen worker. “I did not expect you to follow through on your end of the bargain. I take it our agreement stands?”
“That it does,” Mrink said. “Is the cart ready?”
“Loaded to your specifications.”
Mrink produced from his pocket the key to their workshop on the other side of town. He hesitated before handing it over. “You may experience some slight resistance from the other sweets merchants when you re-open.”
“You just leave that to me.” The man smiled broadly, then reached out to take the key. “Pleasure doing business with you. Now if you don’t mind, I have much work waiting for me.”
“What was that all about?” Mrank asked as they went around to the back of the building where a cart and an unamused mule stood waiting in a covered alcove. “Did you trade that man our workshop for a cart and mule? I’ve already procured a fully stocked conveyance for us.”
The two men climbed aboard, and this time Mrank took the reins. He maneuvered the cart out into the alley, and set the mule on a course for the nearest city gate.
Beside him, Mrink twisted in his seat to peek beneath the tarpaulin covering what looked like little more than the water and food stores they’d require for their crossing to the coast. When he turned back, he was grinning from ear to ear.
“That man was the third son of the Shekh,” Mrink explained. “He sought me out after seeing my centerpiece for the Shekh’s party. Offered to buy the shop and all the secrets of my arts.”
“Six hundred gold dihrm.”
“Not bad. A little better than half what the Yislah would have paid us, but a decent haul for half a year’s work.”
“That’s not all that’s in the cart,” Mrink said. “While you were smoking narghile and loafing about town—“
“Making important connections that kept us from getting our wallets emptied and our heads bashed in by the local thieves guild, merchant’s guild, and what passes for a local constabulary, you mean.”
”—I was banking our earnings from the confectionary shop with our friend there.”
“We turned a profit?” Mrank mulled this over. “I’d just assumed we were barely breaking even, what with the cost of importing all that sugar from Lovok. How much did we pull in.”
“A little more than seven hundred gold dihrm all told.”
“Seven hundred?” Mrank mulled this over before adding, “If I’d have known how lucrative this candy-making business was, I’d have suggested we set up shop a long time ago. Not here, though. Too much sand. Gets everywhere. It’s almost enough to make a man go straight.”
“Too much work, though.”
“Too much of the wrong kind of work,” Mrink corrected.
“Ain’t that the truth.”
They rode on in amiable silence. It was the silence of those accustomed to spending entirely too much time in one another’s company. Mrank pulled his hood down low to protect him from the rain that had already slackened to a light drizzle, daydreaming of how he’d spend his share of the prize. If he knew his partner, there was already another job taking shape in that big, knobby head of his. The sooner they rid themselves of this pile of coin, the sooner they could be about the business of stealing another.
Thanks again to all my paid subscribers, with special thanks to Founding Members, Henrieta and Jean-Paul, for making stories like this possible.
This concludes The Seventh Moonrise Most Profound. If you enjoyed it, consider clicking the like button or sharing a link to Part 1; it really helps with discovery!
See you Among the Stacks!