Midnight Prowlers by Jonathan McAnulty

The wall surrounding the estate was a large, Taldan affair. It fit well with the general feel of wealth that permeated the neighborhood and was complemented by the many trees planted all along the avenue. However, despite its daunting appearance, it was still just a wall and it did not greatly concern the two men on the other side of the cobbled street. They were more interested in the guards patrolling within. They stood beneath a stout elm tree. In the dark of the night, its shadow was sufficient to insure they remained unseen. According to the style of nocturnal burglars everywhere, each was dressed all in black.

“What do you think Smithson?” asked the smaller of the two.

“You tell me, Gardon” replied the other with good humor, “You’re the professional burglar.”

“You’re the better judge of character.”

The one called Smithson thought before replying, “Not the one with the scarred, swarthy face. The bigger one.”

“By the bow, I knew you were going to say that,” sighed Gardon with mock frustration. He shifted the stout, iron shod club at his belt so it would rest easier on his hip. He was a small, slim man with a pinched face and balding, straw-colored hair. Contrarily, Smithson, his companion, was tall, muscular, and possessed a full head of black hair. Smithson was armed with a sword. He also carried a bow of ebony wood in his hand.

“Say when,” whispered Smithson as the swarthy guard once more walked past the gate.

Gardon, mentally keeping time, said nothing at first. Then with a motion to his partner, he began to race across the street. Like a cat, he hit the wall at a run and scaled it. He paused for a moment at the top, and then, without wasting a single motion, he vaulted over the top of the wall and down onto the thick, lush grass of the yard: right in front of the second guardsman.

The guard was only momentarily startled. His employer was wealthy and had the luxury of being able to hire some of the best men in Absalom.

“That wasn’t smart, now,” said the guard grinning nastily. If one had been able to peer into his soul they would have realized the man loved his career; not because it paid well, which it did, but because it afforded him the opportunity to hurt people. He drew his sword and slowly cracked his neck. Hefting his weapon, he began to move, only to be interrupted by a large, heavy boot crashing against the side of his face. The guard fell senseless to the ground.

“Took you long enough,” complained Gardon

“I think I timed it perfectly,” replied Smithson. The guardsman moaned.

“Just a moment,” said Smithson to Gardon. He struck the felled man hard across the head with his bow shaft. The moaning stopped. “Alright then, carry on.”

They placed the unconscious guard beneath the shadows of a thick bush and then, waiting only long enough for the swarthy guard to pass by, they quickly circled around towards the side of the house. Once in position they waited again.

“What do you think makes people take to a life of crime?”

“Are you asking rhetorically?” replied Gardon.

“Is it the excitement of crouching in the dark or the potential for being caught?”

“I would imagine most do it for the money,” said Gardon thoughtfully.

“Shh, he’s coming back.”

They hid until the guard moved out of sight before Smithson quietly boosted Gardon up and onto the large balcony overhead. Gardon pulled himself over the stone balcony and then tied a thin black rope to the same, allowing Smithson to climb next. They pulled up the rope after him.

The door into the house was locked. Gardon, pulling a set of picks from his belt pouch, soon rectified that situation. Grinning jauntily in the dark, he pushed the door open. The resulting loud creak wiped the smile from his face. He tensed.

“Quiet,” hissed Smithson, entering first. The hall beyond was empty. Gardon breathed a sigh of relief and followed.

There was enough ambient lamplight coming from a stairwell to see that there were four closed doors against the left wall. The right wall had two doors and stairs going both up and down.

“Where to?” asked Gardon. He closed the door slowly behind him. It creaked again but not as loudly. Their footsteps were well muffled by the thick carpeting in the hall, nevertheless both men stepped softly.

“Could be the attic, or even the cellars. Yet I’m thinking the man keeps his treasures close to his bedroom. He sleeps on this floor. I wager we should begin here.”

“You’re probably right. We’re going to need a light to search the rooms.””

“Some burglar you are,” whispered Smithson, “Did you just now think of that?” Smithson pulled a glow-rod from his beltpouch. With a twist and a crack it flared to life. Smithson held it in his large hand so that only a portion of the stick was allowed to shine.

They tried the first door on the left. It opened easily. The room beyond was a library, tastefully decorated with expensive furnishings.

“Wonder what sort of books his lordship has,” said Gardon wistfully.

“We don’t have that kind of time,” said Smithson curtly. From the stairwell came the sound of a man’s laughter. “Business first.”

“Try the right side, there’s fewer doors taking up just as much space. If there’s a master bedroom I’m thinking that’s where it is.”

“Let’s be quick. That guard will ‘come to’ eventually.”

The first door was that of a linen closet. The door next to it was locked.

“That’s your department,” whispered Smithson.

“Just a moment,” replied his companion. He bent down, lock picks in hand, to work the lock.

“You would think a respectable member of the community could afford better locks,” Gardon chuckled as the tumblers fell into place. He turned the knob and pushed the door open

Smithson stepped through, noting that the blinds were drawn. As his partner closed the door behind them, he opened his hand, allowing the glow-rod to fully shine. It was a large bedroom that spoke to the wealth of the occupant. The bedclothes on the four poster bed were red silk. The toilet-set on the mahogany vanity was of gold. Two marble statues were being used as coat racks.

“The man has no taste,” said Gardon incredulously as he took in the gaudy room.

“No doubt,” said Smithson, but his interest was elsewhere. He pointed at the heavy oak door on the left side of the spacious room, “Try that.”

Tellingly, the interior door was also locked.

“I think this is it,” said Gardon excitedly. Smithson nodded grimly but said nothing.

Gardon set to work, but the lock was superior to the others in the house. Sweat began to bead on the small man’s forehead.

“Can you get it?” asked Smithson, after a bit. He watched intently, feeling the passing of time as the other struggled.

“Maybe,” Gardon responded, wiping his brow with the back of one hand.

A minute later this was amended to, “Maybe not,” then, “wait, I think…, yes, that does it.”

Gardon breathed deeply and pushed open the door. Smithson shone the light within. Both men gazed inside, momentarily speechless. Smithson handed the light to his partner. There were tears in his eyes.

Just then the door behind them opened.

“What is this?” began Lord Halsim Bloodwirth II. The stocky gray haired man took in the sight of the two intruders and his face turned purple with anger. He opened his mouth to yell for his guards. He never got the chance.

“Erastil take you,” snarled Smithson. With a fluid motion he drew an arrow and fired it at the paunchy aristocrat. The flying arrow glowed majestically for just a moment and then lodged itself deep in the man’s throat. Gargling in horror, Lord Halsim grasped the shaft of the arrow. His eyes widened as he collapsed to the floor.

“Very diplomatic of you,” said Gardon drily.

“Shut up,” said Smithson. He gazed sadly at the dying man for just a moment. Then turning, he walked over to the young girl who lay bound and gagged upon the floor of the windowless antechamber. As Smithson cut her bonds, Gardon fetched a sheet from the bed.

“It’s alright,” said Smithson soothingly, “He can’t hurt you. You’re going to be safe now. I promise you.” Taking the sheet from Gardon, the paladin wrapped the shivering child with it and lifted her into his arms to carry her home.

(Featured in Wayfinder, Vol. 3)