Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

The Promise of Wine
(Part 4 -- Conclusion)

By Peter J. Sanderson
About the author

"I am, for the moment, your humble servant, Vajna. I have conquered old age and learned the master spell that lets me rob youth from other men, but often has my passion for drink been my undoing. What is it that you wish of me?"

"My master, a guildmaster of thieves, was murdered by an upstart thief named Dresh and his accomplice, Belash. You may remember the guildmaster, Bakushja. He and his friend once diced and drank with you in your younger days."

"Indeed. Good stout fellows...mind you, they were hasty to laugh at my...ah...little problems. Murdered you say?"

"Yes. I need you to call his spirit to point out his killer and clear me of the crime. Then, not only shall you have the antidote, but this skull, and I will also flood your throat with the finest vintages of Jarram our treasure house has to offer."

"Lead me to this...ah, den of thieves then, Master Vajna, and we shall deal with these conspirators and toast your innocence."

Vajna led the necromancer back through the dark and narrow lanes of the Shambles. Lanejznac protested at first to travelling in the sewer but Vajna gave him the option of that or walking up to the front door and getting feathered with arrows. Within a few minutes they were sitting in the cell from which Vajna had only recently escaped.

"Now, thief Vajna, would you care to explain how you will get a word in edgewise? If you are free, you will just be killed on sight and justifiably so," Lanejznac said.

"I will not be free. Just take these," he said handing the necromancer his clothes and weapons, setting the empty vial on the floor, "and lock me in. Go hide in the secret passage and listen. When you hear them taking me away, follow a short distance behind...I'm sure an old grave robber like you can be stealthy enough. There will be no guards in the guild proper, only the exits. It is required that all Guildsmen not on door watch must attend the punishment of traitors. There are no exceptions so you may walk to the audience chamber unhindered. Now hurry, I think I hear footsteps."

"I hope you're right," the necromancer said, shaking his head and closing the cell door.

In a few moments it opened again. Dresh, Belash and two thief honour guards were waiting outside. Dresh came in, smiling, and scanned the floor quickly. Finding the vial, he placed his foot gently over it and motioned to the guards to unshackle Vajna and take him away. He flashed a smile at Vajna. "You have chosen wisely to take my...ah, mercy at face value, Vaj old boy."

"I wouldn't want to seem ungrateful," Vajna said, slurring the words somewhat to feign poisoning.

"Enjoy your bravado for the moment. You'll be screaming like a stuck pig in a few minutes," he leaned in and whispered in Vajna's ear. "You are a trusting fool. Your voice will be capable only of crying out wordlessly in a few minutes...and Vajna...I lied. The poison will intensify your pain immeasurably and keep you free of shock. You'll be awake to enjoy the whole thing. I only hope I will," he sneered at Vajna.

Vajna leapt at him straining at the chains that bound him. The guards yanked him back fiercely and one struck him with the flat of his blade. Vajna bore the pain and marched along. Shortly he was in the audience chamber of the Thieves Guild amidst a roaring crowd of thieves, arguing, hooting and yelling. The guards brought him up before the long table behind which sat the officers of the guild. Belash sat down at his place and Dresh moved into the crowd, near the long table covered with shining implements of torture. Injicvad-Cluj, a skeletal looking man with steel grey hair and a large toothy grin stood by, fingering a scalpel in anticipation. Kripiniac stood up from the table.

"Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out," he asked Vajna.

"I have a last request."

"We are not obliged to honour a last request."

"I think," Vajna said in a clear strong voice that made Dresh stare and turn ashen pale, "you will be obliged to honour this request. The means are at your disposal and it will convict a guilty man beyond all doubt." Looking at Dresh, Vajna saw his hand involuntarily move to his belt pouch for a moment then flash away when he knew he was being watched.

"Do not listen to him, he is mad, he is--"

"Silence, Dresh," Kripiniac said. "You have no right to speak here."

"Unless you wish to confess," Vajna said.

"If you have a point, Vajna," Kripiniac said, "I suggest you speak now or I shall ask Invicjad-Cluj to proceed."

"Lanejznac, step forward please." The necromancer stepped out of the shadows and stood before the guild officers.

"This is not permitted," Dresh bellowed.

"This is Lanejznac, a necromancer who can speak with the dead. He will ask the spirit of Bakushja to point out his true killer," Vajna said as Dresh turned beet-red. Gejushvic cut him off.

"Lanejznac, old fellow, good to see you! The years have treated you kindly. Are you still afraid of the--"

"Oh must these indignities be borne? Am I not doing enough already?" the necromancer said in an exasperated tone, his voice beginning to slur showing the signs of the poison.

"Magical evidence is acceptable here," Kripiniac said. "You may proceed."

"Wait," Vajna said. "Lanejznac, I must apologize to you for compelling you to come here. My offer of the wine is still good and I'm sure that Gejushvic would be willing to take a cup with us in memory of Bakushja. But first I wish to release you from your compulsion. You see, Guildsmen, Dresh wished to rob you of a demonstration by poisoning me. Instead, I feigned poisoning and used it on the necromancer for I knew no way of compelling him to assist me. That was wrong. I will not compound the sins committed here any further. Dresh, give Lanejznac the antidote from your belt pouch."

"I won't -- I mean I don't know what you're--" He never finished his sentence as Kripiniac motioned to the guards who seized Dresh by the arms while another fished a small vial from his belt pouch and handed it to Lanejznac. The necromancer gulped it down in one swallow.

"You are a decent and honourable fellow, for a thief, "the necromancer said. "I will have some of that wine after I have called the spirit of your master and departed friend."

"That will not be necessary," Dresh bellowed; "I admit freely to the killing of that old foolish wretch. And there is naught you can do about it!" He pulled free of the guards who were shocked at the revelation and he moved to one side of the room. "To me, my friends!"

Slightly more than half of the assembled thieves moved to join Dresh, including the majority of the guild officers. The rasp of weapons being removed from sheaths could be heard throughout the hall. Kripiniac stood where he was and spoke up.

"You have confirmed my suspicions but even I had no idea of the depths of your treachery. You have split this guild in two, Dresh, and soon the wolves will be at the door."

"You complacent fools have done it to yourselves! If you had followed me without question, this guild might have been great. Now you will have to be destroyed."

"No!" Vajna roared. "This is not a matter to be settled by the deaths of many...only one! The guild must survive. If the rumours are true, Dresh, then you have already sold your own compatriots down the river. If there is a battle, the watch will come streaming in here to kill all but those who have taken their gold. The guild must survive as I challenge you to a thief's duel. You have already murdered once; which of your followers will be the first to disobey you and pay the price? Will you pit your friends against each other until you snap at each other's throats like wild dogs? Can they follow a man without any bravery and honour? No, I say! You are challenged, Dresh, how do you answer?"

"I have no need to honour such a challenge. These men know whose hands holds the silver," Dresh said.

"Then, perhaps, friend Lanejznac, you should show these men that the hands that hold the silver might also hold a blade or a poisoned cup if they step out of line."

The necromancer nodded. He began to move his hands through a series of strange and quick gestures. He chanted in a low, grumbling voice and began to shake, his eyes rolling back in his head. No one stirred and the air became cold, and to Vajna, seemed thick, as if dense with an icy fog. His pulse drummed in his ears and the silence was broken, first by a younger thief crying out in fear, then by a low moaning which came from one of the passages leading out of the audience chamber. The padding of footsteps could be heard. Then a figure emerged from the gloomy passageway. It was Bakushja, garbed in his death veil and rich clothing, bloodless and pallid of flesh. He moved slowly, shuffling into the chamber.

Lanejznac approached Vajna and whispered into his ear. "Forgive the indignity of animating the corpse, but I feared the mere appearance of his spirit might be called a glamour."

"No apology needed, it appears to have had the desired effect."

In fact, the passing corpse of the dead guildmaster had brushed several thieves. A few had run out of the chamber and one had fainted. The corpse stopped a few yards from Dresh and from its quivering lips came a faint, hollow sounding voice that although unearthly in quality was unmistakably Bakushja's.

" it for your crimes that my rest has been disturbed ... Dresh...why did you kill me?" said the voice that issued from the corpse like a wind rustling through dry leaves.

"Away!" shrieked Dresh. "Away apparition! Back to the grave, with you!" And he fell on his knees trembling.

"And you...Belash," the voice hissed the name of the Master of Operations; "Why have you aided this rogue? Thieves of...the choice...for guildmaster is not a treasonous traitor...I give my support to sorcerer, let me return to my rest...may the god of thieves bless and keep you, Vajna and dear Gejushvic."

At a motion from Lanejznac, the corpse turned about and shambled back towards the hall from where it had come and descended back into the crypt beneath the guildhouse.

"Now what say you, twice convicted traitor to the guild, will you fight me?" Vajna bellowed. Dresh looked around for support from his comrades but Vajna's words had struck home. They wouldn't follow a coward.

"Shall we call this a sanctioned duel, then?" Dresh spat and glared at the assembled officers. There was silence. "Very well, I will show you all what kind of a man Dresh is. And you, Vajna, will die."

Dresh leaped at Vajna with his poniard drawn. Gejushvic tossed a poniard to the now unbound Vajna who caught it. The other thieves formed a circle around the two men who began to move around the circle and study one another. Then they came together. Dresh's dagger flashed out but Vajna blocked the strike with his forearm against Dresh's. Vajna's delivered a kick that landed in Dresh's gut forcing his air out with a whoof. Dresh fell back against the circle of thieves who pushed him back in to the circle. Vajna waited.

"Y-you," Dresh panted -- then lunged forward, "should have struck me down then, fool I..."

Dresh's face turned ashen. He looked down and saw that Vajna's knife had laid his guts open, his own knife hand held firmly at the wrist by Vajna.

"I knew you would try to turn my mercy against me...treacherous to the last. You failed to reckon that I had enough of being merciful to a dog like you."

Vajna gave a backhanded swipe with his poniard and buried it in Dresh's chest with a sickening crunch of steel on ribs. Dresh had been fumbling with the fingers of his free hand to hold in his slippery entrails. He gave a sickening rattle from his throat and collapsed in a heap of his own gore.

"You have a choice, followers of Dresh," Vajna shouted to the group of thieves who stood, looking shocked and dismayed; "You can elect a guildmaster now and act as one guild or we can fight amongst each other and be swept away by the watch and their swords."

"Wait," Gejushvic yelled. "Where is that cur, Belash?"

"Damn! He must have gone to the main entrance to let in the watch...look thieves how he has continued the betrayal!" Vajna said. "Now all who would remain living, breathing thieves follow me, for I know a secret way. First to the vaults and the map rooms! Seize everything! Guards, hold the narrow way into the lower levels! Hurry, there is no time to waste!"

In a few moments, all of the remaining thieves had rallied to Vajna's side and rushed to the lower levels beneath the Thieves Guild to carry out Vajna's orders. With their maps, tools and the more portable treasures they filed out the secret door and into the sewers where Gejushvic showed them to a safe location. Gejushvic and Lanejznac stood by Vajna as they closed the secret door that led to the now abandoned guildhouse.

"Did the men leave a few surprises for Belash and the watch?" Vajna asked Gejushvic.

"Aye," the old thief laughed, "but the great surprise is yet to come when the watch ask Belash what has become of the majority of the bribe that the city and the merchant's guild have put forward to stomp out the so-called 'thief problem.'"

"Look, you robbers," the necromancer said, "I think I have been put upon enough for one day...where are those vintages of Jarram you promised me?"

"You are right, Lanejznac, we must away to a thieves' wake for our dead mutual friend. Let us go put that bribe money to a proper use and celebrate a new day for the thieves of Livnoji. No more bureaucrats, no paper shuffling...just a reign of thieves the like of which no city in the south has ever seen!" Vajna slapped his hands together and started off down the sewer.

"Well, after that speech, your throat must be getting dry...I know mine is," the necromancer grumbled. "And I'd like to stop creeping around like a gutter-rat. We've some serious drinking to get to and I just happen to have a set of dice with me...not loaded or shaved as the dice of thieves might be..."

The necromancer saw the light fading as the two thieves left him in the quickly dimming light. The chittering of rats filled his ears. He gave a yelp and hurried after the two thieves and the promise of wine.

The End.

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The Promise of Wine is copyright Peter J. Sanderson. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)