tagSci-Fi & FantasyIn Shadowed Silence Ch. 02

In Shadowed Silence Ch. 02


In Shadowed Silence: Chapter 2

"We agreed the price at five, Olus," Aulric said impatiently.

The smith shrugged, spreading his beefy arms in a gesture of insincere apology. "Markets rise and fall, street rat," Olus retorted with a self-assured, yellow-toothed grin. He wasn't bothering to base this arbitrary price hike upon anything resembling a valid reason, and he didn't care enough to hide it. He had Aulric over a barrel and he knew it.

Just you wait, you big, ugly son of a bitch, Aulric thought, until I'm holding the cards. But he said only, "Something that doubles the prices of ore? Amburgey's holdings must be falling on hard times." He paused for effect. "Or maybe you are. My heart bleeds for you." His tone implied that the bleeding was barely a trickle. "A deal's a deal, smith." The young thief narrowed his brown eyes at the ogrish man.

Olus stood impassive, relaxed. He would. He stood a head and more taller than the 'street rat' he treated so lightly with, and outweighed him by the better part of a hundred pounds of muscle. There weren't many half-orcs, or even full-blooded orcs, for that matter, who could boast the height or mass that Olus Grogan did, human as he was. There were rumors of giant-blood in his line, and his size, coupled with a well-known brutish temper and greed did nothing to dispel them. His low brows sat just over wide-set piggish grey eyes and his slightly sloped forehead gave way to a head of short, wiry, coal-black hair. He wore thick pants and heavy boots, and stout leather gloves fit loosely over his ham-fists. His torso was bare but for the smith's apron, and it seemed every inch of him was covered in thick, coarse hair. He leaned haughtily against the anvil in his open-sided dockside shop, toying with a stout pair of tongs, casting a cold, dispassionate stare at the thief.

Aulric tried for a calm, loose stance, like a confident rogue who had not a care in the world, but his crossed arms lent it the lie. He chided himself for his defensive posture, but, really, faced with this wall of a man, who wouldn't be defensive? Well, maybe one of the insane paladins from the temple of Marek... likely the enforcers from the guild... Well, okay, probably a wizard, but you could bet none of them would stand within the giant man's reach. Except for the paladins. Paladins are all crazy. Aulric, for his part was certainly no paladin, and most assuredly not crazy.

"Take it or leave it, simp," Olus drawled in his gravelly basso.

He could have tried to play the sympathy card, or the long-time customer angle, but Grogan, Aulric knew, was no sentimental, nor was he likely to stop squeezing every coin he could get out of a customer, no matter how many times they let him wring their purses dry with his giant hands. Olus Grogan was a rock; unmovable, uncaring, and hard. And large, let's not forget large.

There were other rumors about the smith. He was very likely, the young thief thought, the most reprehensible person that he had ever heard of in the twelve years he had spent on the streets, since dipping out of the orphanage the Priestesses of Thalyssia ran near the docks. Hells, there were nobles who were less repugnant.

Ten silver coins in all. Even minus the four he had previously scraped together and paid already, that would almost exhaust everything he had left from the Amburgey housebreak he had pulled three days prior. He'd have but two to rub together with the lone copper remaining. He was going to have to dip into his gold for the fighting blade. Damn and blast. He grudgingly paid the remaining six silver of the balance.

"Help, I'm being mugged," Aulric groused tonelessly.

"Spare me the tears, jackoff," Olus grated. "Yer lucky I like you." He took off one glove to take the coins and dropped them in a pouch hanging from his wide belt. He then stood there staring at the thief with an odd expression that Aulric couldn't place. The moment stretched on to infinity, and it made him acutely uncomfortable, not leastwise since the crooked smith had his money, and hadn't given him the knives.

Aulric tilted his head to look up at Olus with a cocked brow, playing off his discomfiture as annoyance. His posture was right this time, for Grogan gave him a wide, crass grin and went to retrieve the brace of blades.

"Grab me a solid fighting dagger while you're back there, Grogan," he called after the giant man. An grunt was all he got in answer.

He gave the shop a once over while the massive craftsman had his back turned. The smith's tools were arrayed before him, all hanging from pegs driven into the huge stump the great anvil sat upon. The bellows were visible just beyond it, and the forge itself off to Aulric's right. He had positioned himself so that the oil barrel and water trough were between himself and the smith, just in case.

Not that I'm scared of him, He denied, even to himself, Oh, no. Not at all. Something in him wasn't convinced, even so.

To his left Aulric swept his eyes over a cramped collection of barrels and racks that held Olus's working stock; bars, sheets and ingots in iron and steel, along with a few a few greenish gold rods of bronze. Further into his shop, past the bottleneck the smithy's workspace formed, against the closed-off two walls of his shop were lined weapons and tools and bins of nails, half finished projects, and even a partly articulated pauldron (or so the thief thought the shoulder portion of plate armor was called). A low, blocky, open topped oven sat in the far corner with the odd tool, buckets of fine sand, and shelving half full of casting forms. Ah. He'd added a small foundry.

No hard times for Olus, then, huh? Pity.

Between the racks of finished and half-finished product was a door to the inside of the stone house the smith lived in. The door was partly open, and through it, the young thief saw a pair of wide, staring green eyes. He squinted into the gloom. A girl stood in the doorway, a haunted expression on her dirt-smudged face.

She looked to be somewhere between sixteen and nineteen, in an ill-fitting, filthy, ragged tunic of brown wool. Her thin arms were bared, wrapped around her middle as though she were cold, despite the heat of Loria's early summer afternoon. The sagging neckline of her tunic showed an expanse of the pale flesh of her chest, deep cleavage, and most of her right breast. The pink nipple peeked over the rough fabric, doing its level best to draw the eye.

The hem of the garment looked to have been hacked off with a dull knife, leaving her dirty but shapely legs bare. There was no way to approach decency in that tunic; it had been made too short to not show something off., and she had chosen to pull it low rather than hide what was, incidentally, a very nice breast. She wore no shoes, but had a shackle on one ankle. What he could see of a chain trailed farther into the house.

Gods, she's beautiful! The thought came unbidden, taking Aulric off-guard. Her cleavage had upped Aulric's estimation of her age, and he didn't feel like such a lech ogling her. Her green eyes bored into his, intense and vulnerable, and at once innocent and wizened. Even without the shackle, it was clear to Aulric she was abused. He knew too well that look. Came of being an orphan and being raised by whomever could find a use for you. Almost none of those uses were gentle, and considering who held her now... He tried to look away from those wounded, wide, green eyes and couldn't. Gooseflesh raised on his arms.

"You!" Grogan's voice grated at the girl, "Get inside. Now." Olus was standing a little to the thief's left, mostly facing Aulric. Either he'd noticed the young man's stare, or he had watched the whole creepy exchange. Aulric couldn't tell.

Dammit, Aulric, he mentally cursed himself, pay attention!

The girl's eyes widened yet more, and she frantically pulled the door closed. The huge man grunted, then rounded on Aulric. "You didn't see nothing," his deep voice rumbled. "Nothing." Olus leaned in closer, across the trough, pushing a thick finger into the wiry thief's chest. "Understand?"

Aulric smoothed his expression to neutrality and shrugged impassively. He held his hand out to receive his merchandise and check the dagger. Olus regarded him through eyes narrowed to slits, then nodded once and handed him the oilcloth-wrapped bundle.

He checked the throwing knives for edge and balance, and frowned. Each of the three were weighted differently. The fighting blade was nice, as far as he could tell; good weight and heft, and the blade rang nicely when he held it by the pommel and flicked the tip of the blade.

"Five," Olus stated. He grinned evilly. "Start saving up, street rat. That's gold I'm talking."

Aulric grimaced and made as if to hand the blade back.

The smith's eyes narrowed in greedy satisfaction. "But," he dithered, taking back the blade, "Since yer such a loyal customer," he began his pitch , "I could see my way to 4..."

The thief broke in, with a small chuckle. "Why am I getting the feeling that when you say 'loyal customer' you actually mean 'naive rube'?" He shook his head with what looked like amused scorn. "Come off it, man."

Grogan laughed. "This is why I like you, street rat. Yer funny. Yer tellin' me you actually think I'll go down to three."

"If you wanna make the damned sale," he stated boldly, "Yeah. You will."

"Ha!" Grogan belted out a loud, basso bark of laughter. "Tell you what, street rat. You have the three gold on you, right now, it's a deal."

Aulric smirked and fished a gold coin from his pocket. Olus's eyebrow arched, almost parting in the middle, and becoming the more customary two that most people have, but not quite. While the smith was staring at the first coin with surprise, the young thief produced a second from the money belt with his left hand and added it to the coin on the right. His smile grew wider, while Grogan started to obviously regret his words. Aulric gave it a few moments, until Olus let out a relieved breath.

He rolled the coins on his fingers and with a flourish, offered them upon his palm-- joined by a third glittering gold coin. Grogan's eyes bulged as though someone had walked up and shot him in the balls with a crossbow. That was melodramatic and maybe a little lame, sure, Aulric thought, but watching the ugly bastard's face fall like that? Worth it.

"A deal's a deal, Olus," Aulric drawled out. "Unless, of course, the market's changed in the last couple of seconds."

Olus said nothing and wore a dark scowl.

The thief turned to leave, feeling pretty satisfied with himself. His new fighting blade was a comforting weight at his side, and the brace of throwing blades rode the small of his back. All in all, he hadn't come out too badly in this one. He'd gotten practically bent over the anvil a time or two by Olus, with all the blades he'd had to buy in the past, those either ditched or lost. In addition, if he mulled over what he'd seen at the smithy, he might come away with a lever against Olus in the future. Though, trying to lever Olus Grogan might end up with Aulric bent over the anvil, literally.

There was more than one rumor about smith Grogan...

He suppressed a shudder. He wasn't surprised that Olus would buy a plaything like the wide-eyed girl, but the shape she was in... It dropped the smith another notch in Aulric's already low estimation. He had probably swiped her off the street, or perhaps bought her off an orphanage. The fact that he was so adamant about Aulric not talking suggested something more was at play here. Olus did not want anyone knowing about his little doe-eyed pet. Hmmm.

He was distracted by his thoughts by the time he rounded Olus's blocky stone house, heading northward toward the center of the grime-coated docks district. Before he had taken five steps, one of Grogan's shutters flew open, and missed hitting him square in the face only by virtue of Aulric's quick reflexes and a windmilling stumble off the muddy boardwalk into the equally muddy street. Leaning a bit out the window was the girl. She must have realized the near miss, for she covered a gasp with one hand, and thrust the other out the window, pressing a piece of yellowed parchment upon Aulric.

He could only stammer, "What the...?"

Words spilled from her mouth in haste. "Take it! Help me kind sir." Her voice was urgent and pitched low. "Please," she pleaded.

He mechanically took the leaf of parchment, and found himself once again pinioned by her eyes and tried to catch his breath.

She glanced nervously behind her, back into the house. "I've no time. The note explains things." The hypnotic quality of those emerald green eyes was far stronger, being so close. Aulric caught his breath. The young woman flushed slightly as he stared, clutching the neckline of the tunic she wore closed. She was trembling, like a rabbit in a trap. She looked down and away, her long lashes obscuring her eyes, then back into Alric's eyes once, twice more, before quietly closing the shutters tight, leaving Aulric alone on the walk with the paper and his confusion.

A thrill went through the young thief, one he couldn't account for on any conscious level. His knees felt watery. There was something very queer about that girl, dangerous, somehow. His instincts told him the whole situation was complex and murky, and he'd be better off walking away and forgetting he'd ever set eyes upon her, but her voice was still ringing in his ears, sending shivers down his spine. She was lovely even under the patina of grime, and something within him was drawn to her.

A mental image of a bath house unveiled itself in the thief's mind. His own hands cleaned the filth from the green-eyed girl's pale skin. Pitchers of warm water cascaded down her breasts and stomach, beading upon her skin and caught in the thatch of hair over her womanhood... His tongue parting those lips and sampling the sweet nectar--

Aulric shook his head to clear it. He'd never been given to daydreaming before, and that it happened in the open, in broad daylight... He shifted in his trousers, glad for the hem of his tunic.

Long years of being circumspect had led his hand to unconsciously fold the parchment into his pocket, and as his brain caught up to his reflexive action, he schooled his expression to an out-of-focus sort of inattention. He stepped off the walk to cross the street, to all appearances not having a care in the world.

Aulric was a thief, always looking for a way to survive in a city that did not care for him, if it were aware of him at all. His days and nights were constant struggles for survival, that left no room for distraction or indulgence. He knew this on a level so deep it had become instinctual. He didn't even have to think anymore to discipline his thoughts. Focus and vigilance were tools for survival.

That said, in Aulric's mind danced images of soft skin and green eyes...

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