Chapter 1: Chapter 1

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Abandoned

Reads: 102
Comments: 1

I’m an entertainer, a bard if I could be so bold as to use that title, as such I tell the stories of others and rarely get involved in the story myself. Mostly I don’t get involved because of professional pride, but also because I’m a devoted coward and most of the stories I collect have an element of danger to them. That being said, I have to tell you of one of the few times I did get involved.

I guess this story starts in a seedy little hole in the wall. If you didn’t know about it, you probably wouldn’t be able to find it since it was in a maze of back streets and alleys. It is the kind of place you go if you are trying to lose yourself or hide out from the local law. I was on the run because a small trinket had found its way into my pouch as I was entertaining a lady in her bed-chamber. I don’t normally steal, but I thought she wouldn’t miss it and she didn’t seem inclined to pay for my performance.

Anyways I had my head down and was nursing a beer as I thought about how to get out of the city when he came in. Normally no matter what I would have kept to myself in this place since that was the rule, but I smelled a story.

He wasn’t the typical customer of this kind of bar. He was a little grey-haired old man, he could have been somebody’s grandfather. His clothes once fine were worn on the verge of becoming ragged. He tried to look at every place at once, not like somebody not wanting to miss anything, but more like somebody worried about what the shadows hide. His hands wouldn’t stay still, fidgeting and shaking.

I watched him search the faces for somebody and when he didn’t find them, he started to make his way to the back. I pushed out the stool across from me as he passed. “Sit”

He looked at me and his uncertainly was written all over his face. He sat and leaned in whispering. “Are you him?”

I took a chance here. I figured this man was looking for one of two types of people in this place. Either he had to get out of the city like me or he was looking to have somebody killed. I had a plan for slipping by the guards and it would work as easily for two, so if that was what he wanted I would do it for a little gold and his story. Killing somebody wasn’t something I was ready to do for a story, but I would play the assassin long enough to get his story. But first I had to get him to tell me what I should have known if I was his contact. “Maybe why don’t you tell me what you need me to do.”

“I told your man when I gave him the down payment.” He glanced around getting more nervous. “You are one of them.”

He pushed the table into me and bolted for the door. I wasn’t expecting that, and it took me a second to recover. Before I could think about it, I jumped up and followed him. Once out the door, he started running and for an old man, he could move. As I said this place was in a maze of back streets and alleys and you could get lost in it easily or lose the person you are following, luckily, I was familiar with this maze. Ok maybe this wasn’t the first time I had gotten into trouble in this town, but usually, it isn’t my fault.

Anyways as he took off, I followed him keeping back a ways to let him think I wasn’t following. Now if it was just the feeling, I had had about him I would have let him go, but the way he reacted told me this was going to be one hell of a story. He ran like the local evil god was after him ready to roast him alive, so I figured he would be out of steam soon.

He collapsed in a little dead-end alley behind some boxes. He was still gasping to catch his breath when I stepped out of the shadows and made a knife appear in my hand. Stagecraft does more than entertain if you know how to use it. “Before you try to run off again let me explain something to you.” He seemed to give up and just sat there trying to catch his breath looking at me. “I’m not the person who you contracted to do whatever you want done. To be honest that person probably ripped you off figuring you wouldn’t go to the guards about him scamming you. I may be able to help you depending on what you want done.”

As he sat there trying to decide if he could trust me, I decided I had to lie to this man, telling him the truth wouldn’t be good since he was hiding from somebody so me telling his story at some point would not help with that. This wasn’t new territory for me, I had to lie in the past for a number of reasons, so I was fairly good at coming up with a cover story on the fly. “I can see you are in trouble and I have certain skills that could help you get out of trouble, but I need to know what it is.”

“Yes, I must disappear, but it has to look like I’m dead. The people looking for me have to think I’m dead or they won’t stop looking.” He seemed really nervous, but he was talking.

I figured it was best to get us off the street even if it was an alley in the ass end of the worse section of the city. “Ok, first we need to get someplace safe. I have a room nearby.”


 

I was renting a small room at an old woman’s house, it was more like a closet than a room, but I didn’t spend much time in it so before today the size wasn’t much of an issue. With both of us in it, it was cramp, and I start thinking I was overpaying by a lot, but that is off the point. I dug through my pack and came up with a bottle of whiskey, it was rot gut really, but it was good for medicinal purposes or to get somebody talking. I poured us each a shot which he quickly downed his and I poured him a second. As he indicated I should keep pouring I decided to find out what I was involved in. “Before you get drunk how about you tell me why you need to fake your own death.”

“I have a business where I buy the possessions of dead people that have no will and no living heirs. Usually, it is just a piece or two, but recently I was able to buy the estate of a rich old noble. He owned a house in the city, and I got everything in it for a very good price. How that works is I have a few days to move everything out, so I take a crew of laborers in and we work through the house packing everything and moving it to my warehouse. Once it is at my warehouse, I go through it to determine what is good and what is worthless.”

I nodded having heard of this type of business before; I also know many of these business owners are also fences for the local thieves able to slip a few stolen items in the possessions of a dead person. Even without the fencing of stolen goods on the side, it was a very profitable business.

“I have to admit part of what I enjoy about this business is being able to read the private journals, diaries, and letters of these people. While as it turned out this man had tons of personnel papers and I began to read them.” He looked up with fear in his eyes, so I quickly poured him some more liquid courage, wondering if he will finish the story before he passed out or I ran out of booze. “In the journals, he spoke of a city, a city of legend. You must have heard the stories of it.”

There is so many legendary cities that I had no clue which he spoke of, but if this man had writings that pointed to the location of one of these lost cities, it was worth almost anything. “I know a lot of stories about legendary cities, but I need a name.”

He laughed. “It has none.”

Some of you may have heard of this city but those who you haven’t let me take a moment to explain. Ages ago, some say in the very beginning of the multi-verse there lived a young warrior who became a legend in battle. The stories go that he could pick up any weapon and use it like a master, even a weapon he had never seen before. Beyond that, he was a master of tactics and strategy unbeatable. He fell in love with a woman of such immense beauty that all that saw her fell in love. She loved him back and so he built for her a huge castle for the two of them to live in. Around the castle grow a city, if the stories are to be believed it was the first city. In time he grows bored ruling and sets out with his army to conquer the neighboring cities. He enjoyed the thrill of the battle so much that he continued to seek out new people to fight. Back in his city, his beautiful wife ruled with the help of a group of advisors. But these advisors were jealous men who coveted the warrior’s wife and his city. They plotted behind his back to take what was his. They plotted with his enemies, but no matter how much of his battle plans they told the enemy he always won. Finally, they hired a group of mercenaries to attack the kingdom itself. The mercenaries would disappear as soon as he approached with his army so he was unable to beat them since they wouldn’t meet him on the battlefield. The kingdom he had built began to crumble and in anger, he returned to the city closing and sealing the gates forever. The name of the city and that of the warrior and his wife might have survived except that the advisors had escaped the city before it was sealed. They had gone on to advise other rulers and in time rule themselves. Still jealous of the warrior and possibly afraid that he may be aroused to come forth and conquer their lands now they did all they could to erase his name and that of his city from all history. In time these men died and were replaced, but the damage was done, and some say that it continues even to this day. Now most stories about legendary cities are just stories, but I have traveled the multi-verse and heard a version of this story many times, so I considered it real.

I had visited this world enough to know that there was no myth or legend on this world about the Lost City, as it is normally called. “What do you mean it has no name, all cities have names even cities that are gone still have names?” I figure that if I acted like I had no clue I may be able to draw something else out of him, possibly even see this journal myself.

“It had a name, but it was removed from history.”

“What does a nameless city have to do with you faking your own death?”

“I read this journal and it got me curious, so I start researching this lost city. The journal only mentioned clues but didn’t say what they were. I started looking into history and such, well actually I hired a young man to look for me. He did find clues about it and I started to piece them together. I don’t know what I was going to do with this information. I’m no explorer or adventurer; I just had this desire to find out the truth. Well then, I was grabbed out of my house and found myself in some run-down ruin of a building facing five shadowy figures. They told me I was digging into something that was best left alone and if I continued, they would kill me.”

“Let me guess you kept digging.”

“No. I stopped. I mean it was just something to pass the time, but last month the young man showed up dead on my doorstep. A note on him said, ‘You were warned now you must die’. The very next day somebody took a shoot at me. I took off and have been hiding ever since too scared to go home. Can you help me?”

As I have stated many times, I’m a coward, but this story was too good to pass up, besides it wasn’t going to cost me anything to save his life if he had the money. “It can be done, but it isn’t cheap and if you still have them, I need all the personal papers you got from that noble man’s estate.”

He looked like he was ready to cry. “I have plenty of money, but it and the papers are at my house and I don’t want to go back there. I think they are watching it.”

“I hope they are, it will make this easier. I need your address and the location of the money and papers.”

He quickly gave both and after telling him not to leave I want to set things up.


 

I checked out around the house and found nothing, but to be safe I broke in. I have to admit I’m a little rusty, but I got in and didn’t set off any alarms. The money and papers were right where he said they would be. Plenty of money and a ton of papers, 8 journals, several maps, and even a box of letters, but the biggest surprise was the tube. It was the kind used to transport paintings being shipped without a frame. Luckily, I have a few tricks so I was able to get it all out of the house and leave virtually no signs I was there.

So, as you may have guessed I haven’t always been the upstanding bard I am now today. I once ran with a more unsavory group and as it so happens, I happen to know the man who controlled the local illegal operations. Now you are wondering why I hadn’t just gone to him to get out of the city, well everything has a price with him, and friendship is one thing, but smuggling me out of the city would be business.

Bonera use to live in a rundown apartment building in the bad part of town, but as his fortune changed so did his address, now he lived in the nicer part of town. Get there was something of a pain since I still had to avoid the guards. Did I mention that the woman I stole from was the cousin of the local ruler, so the guards were motivated to capture me? Anyways it took me an hour to reach his house; it looked like the houses on either side of it except for the pair of large armed men standing at the foot of the stairs leading up to the front door.

I didn’t have an appointment and I wasn’t sure if Bonera would be happy to see me, but I had little to lose. I approached and one of the guards stepped forward. “What do you want?”

“I’m an old friend of Bonera and I came by to say hi. I would really love to surprise him so if you could let me just pop in without saying anything.”

“What you see a big guy like me and think you can just talk your way past him since he must be all brawn and no brains. You don’t go in unless the boss says you do and if he doesn’t, I’m going enjoy busting your face.”

“Just tell him The Bard wants to see him.”

“The bard, is that supposed to be some kind of codename or something?”

“It is what I go by, and he will probably remember that more than my name.”

I was standing in the open in the most heavily patrolled part of the city, so I was a little nervous as I waited to be admitted. Add to that the fact that the guard was giving me the evil eye and just waiting to bash my head in with his cudgel.

The door finally open and this young girl in a maid’s uniform poked her head out. “He may come in.”

I kept my cool and slowly walked up the stairs even though I wanted to bolt up the stairs to get off the street. Once inside the girl lead me to a door on which she knocked. “Send him in.”

Bonera grabbed me in a bear hug that felt like he was crushing my ribs. He sat me down and stepped back. The last time I saw him he was a skinny kid in rags and now he was a plump balding middle-aged man. His rags had been replaced with expensive silks and his fingers sparkled from the many jewel rings on his fingers. “My friend let me look at you.” Meeting somebody years after I last saw them is always awkward since I look the same. “How can you look the same after forty years, my friend?”

“Clean living.”

He chuckled. “Not you, my friend, but you can keep your secret. Come we drink and talk about the old days.”

I needed his help and so if he wanted to socialize some before we got done to business I couldn’t say no; besides free booze is free booze and he probably had the good stuff. We sat and a young girl served us our drinks. I raised an eyebrow at him, and he laughed. “No, my friend I have not changed that much, but many of those that I deal with find it hard to think when a pretty girl is in the room.”

I chuckled. “I guess you learned the benefit of distracting the person you are about rob.”

“One of the many lessons you taught me as we worked together.”

“I have been back a few times through the years and heard how well you are doing, I’m glad it is in part to the tricks I taught you.”

“I kept an ear out for any rumors of you my friend. There were stories of a man going by The Bard that performed for royalty and such in the city, but I never thought it was you until yesterday. You seemed so much more comfortable performing on the street and in taverns than for the rich.”

I shrugged, “Even I at times need money and they usually pay so much better than the few coins dropped when I work the market and I don’t have a nimble-fingered pickpocket to supplement my income anymore.”

He laughed and I saw the skinny kid that he once was again. “I’m no longer that nimble-fingered my friend, but we did have good times back then.”

We spend some time talking about the others we both knew from back in those days. Many were dead or rotten in the dungeon which is the most common end for street thieves. Those few that were still alive and free now worked for Bonera, I would like to think he had learned to look out from his friends from me. “So, my friend yesterday a cousin of the King misplaced her brooch and she is blaming a man that goes by The Bard and if the description is to be believed is your twin.”

“You know these royals always misplacing their property and then blaming others for their mistakes, but I’m not here about that.”

“If not that then what my friend, because I’m pretty sure you didn’t come by to catch up after all these years.”

“I need help faking a death and since you have the contacts, I thought you might be able to help.”

“What have you gotten involved in my friend? Are you running off with the wife of some rich noble?” He gave me a wink and smile.

“Nothing like that my friend. I was at that seedy little bar down in the maze you know the one. I was just laying low when a man came in in real trouble.” I didn’t want to mention the lost city to Bonera, he was a good man, but he was also a thief so he would want to find it for the treasure.

“You have not changed at all my friend, always claiming to be just a bard, but helping those in need.”

“I try to help those that have a story for me, something that I can retell and make some coin.”

“I never had a story for you to retell, but you took me in and taught me a trade and even help me make some coin of my own. You could have demanded a larger share, but you never did.”

“I had a reason.” I didn’t like this talk, it made me sound like some kind of hero and I am no hero. “So back to what I was saying this man pissed off the wrong people and unless he completely disappears, they won’t stop until he is dead.”

“I can help you with this, but my people are thieves, not assassins or warriors, so I need to know some details before I agree.”

I laid the story out for Bonera with only minor editing, keeping the Lost City out of it. In the end, he agreed to help for two reasons, money and the fact that the merchant had once worked with him. He needed a few hours to put things together so I headed back to collect the merchant and bring him here. He even offered to set the merchant up in a new business, a cover really for a fencing operation, but that is none of my business.


 

Back at my cramp little room the merchant had finished the bottle and passed out. I shook him awake. It took him a second to wake up and when he did, he looked scared and confused until he remembered where he was. “Did you take care of everything?”

“I took care of it, but you have to decide if you want to work with a bunch of thieves or not. If you work with them you will have some coin left, if not you are going to be without a job and money.”

“What exactly will I be doing?”

I explained to him what I had done also telling him that if anybody asks, he shouldn’t even mention the personal papers of the dead nobleman or the Lost City. He agreed and so we headed back to see Bonera.

In the end, Bonera took over the whole operation at that point and I handed over the money. I slipped the rest of his money back to the merchant before I made my exit. Don’t get the wrong idea, I didn’t take any of the merchant’s coins because I really didn’t need them. I still had to get out of the city, but I had already made my plans and put them into effect now. I had to get someplace safe and secure to examine the papers I had, and I knew the exact place if the owner had forgiven me by now.


Submitted: July 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Ian D. Mooby. All rights reserved.

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Danni Lee

I love it and I think you are a great writer and I can't wait to read more.

Wed, July 14th, 2021 3:59am

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Thank you Danni

Wed, July 14th, 2021 3:06pm

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