A Most Unusual Applicant
A Story by Aaron Canton
Jadie spent the next two days visiting the bars, inns, and taverns that Viscosa’s officials preferred to pretend didn’t exist. She sat at dusty counters that had never seen a washcloth, hugging a ragged outfit to herself as if they were the only clothes she owned and pretending to drink the strong, bitter beer that was the only beverage such places sold. A watcher with a keen eye would have seen that every drink she bought was discretely spilled into the sewer, floor basin, or convenient potted plant, and might even have noticed her cocking an ear just slightly whenever someone new came into the bars, but few such watchers patronized those establishments. That was why individuals who wanted their affairs to remain discrete often met in such venues. And that was why, after just two days of eavesdropping, Jadie had what she needed.
Specifically, she had the name of the person who would help her destroy Edwin Nemeroth.
When she reached the Adventurers Guild headquarters at the Renzeya estate—where a shifty-eyed man in the Bloated Nymph had mentioned that the mercenary named Barrows would wait—she looked completely different than when she’d sat next to that shifty-eyed man and listened to him ramble about the criminal underground to a thoroughly uninterested barmaid. Her hair was now in a short ponytail, as was popular with adventurers in the area, and she had stopped in her room to put on a clean, comfortable blouse with several concealed pockets and spaces for hidden weapons. Four knives were on her person: one in a sheath on her hip, two hidden within her blouse in such a way that a trained warrior would see their outlines and assume she was a warrior or adventurer, and one tiny knife hidden under her sock just in case things got violent. Two small, exotic flowers in her hair completed the ensemble.
Barrows wasn’t hard to find; the thug in the Bloated Nymph had mentioned that he had blue eyes and a greying beard. Only one such man in the guild headquarters fit that description. She approached the stocky, muscular figure sitting at the back table and slid into the seat across from him. “Mr. Barrows,” she said. “I have a proposition for you.”
The man’s eyes flicked to meet hers with a bright intensity that looked out of place on his otherwise slack, tired face. “Have we met?” he asked.
“No,” Jadie said. “My apologies. I’m Truda Varset, and I work for a man who…will remain nameless for now. But he’s heard of your plight, and he wants to help.”
Barrows tilted his head back for a moment, then waved to the bartender. Once a fresh beer was placed in front of him, he asked, “And what plight is that?”
“You’re a mercenary hired by a village in Warus. The village paid you to help them in their war against the next town over, but that town made an alliance with the gnomes, and now they have better arms and armor than anything your band has. You need better weapons, shields, helmets, everything.” She smiled. “My employer and I might be able to assist you.”
“Hmph.” Barrows quaffed half his beer in one gulp. “Let me guess. One of my idiot subordinates got drunk and told some bar my life story.” Before Jadie could answer, he shook his head. “But why do I need you? I can go to the local blacksmiths just as well as you can.”
“Because the local blacksmiths can’t help you.” Jadie lowered her voice. “None of them make anything better than the gnomes. Only the private armorers for the Viscosa elite guards have the weapons and armor you need. And they don’t take private contracts…which is why you’ve spent the past two weeks trying to find someone to steal the guards’ gear from their depots.”
Barrows’ eyes narrowed. “I know nothing about that.”
“Uh-huh.” Jadie rolled her eyes. “I’m not with the guards, Barrows. If I was, you’d already be arrested. I’m with another individual who can get you the armor and weapons you need—if you’re able to pay.”
Silence stretched between them for several seconds. Finally, Barrows said, “And I’m supposed to believe you could rob depots guarded by Viscosa’s elite guards…why, exactly?”
“You want to test me?” Jadie grinned to herself. She already had a few trinkets she’d stolen from the pockets of wealthy merchants in Viscosa; she could present any of them as proof of her skill. Or, if he wanted to see her in action, she’d scouted out one mansion on the north end of town that looked a lot harder to break into than it actually was. “I’ll—”
But before she could finish, Barrows reached into his pack and took out a handful of coins, which he slipped into his pants cuffs, sleeve cuffs, and various pockets on his outfit. “Take one of the coins,” he said. “And I’ll believe you.”
Jadie paused. “What?”
“I’ve got thieves in my band, and the mark of a real thief is that they can steal something right out from under a target’s nose,” said Barrows. “If you’re good enough to get into the guard depots, you’re good enough to grab a coin even while I watch you.” He smirked. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Jadie took a moment to think before shrugging and getting to work. She placed her hands on the table, inching them towards Barrows, who raised an eyebrow as if he couldn’t believe she would try just snatching the coins. But at the same time, Jadie worked the vines wrapped around her arms, coaxing them to unwind. They slowly slipped out slits on the underside of her sleeves, reaching beneath the table—
Barrows suddenly thrust both of his hands down and seized Jadie’s vines. “Nice try,” he said. “And nice magic; you’re part elf, I’m guessing. But no—”
Jadie lunged forward, and before Barrows could move to block her, she yanked a coin out from the breast pocket of his shirt.
The mercenary blinked as Jadie struggled not to cheer or laugh. “All right,” he sighed, his mouth twisting upwards with amusement. “You’re clever, I get it. Maybe you’ve got a chance.” He interlaced his fingers. “What price are you talking about?”
Jadie named a fair value—at least, taking into account the risk she’d be running if she’d actually had any intention of breaking into the guard depots. Before Barrows finished nodding, however, she said, “But there’s one condition. We need that in writing. Just to make sure there’s no disputes after we deliver the merchandise.”
Barrows stared at her. “Wait. You’re seriously asking me to write a confession, so that if you get caught you have something to trade for leniency?”
“No. The letter will say that we approached you—which is what happened—and it will be countersigned by my master as well. Even if we wanted to betray you, we’d be hanging ourselves if we gave that letter to the authorities. Besides, we both know Barrows isn’t your real name. The guards wouldn’t know who to arrest even if we turned you in.”
“Then…” Barrows frowned. “What’s the point?”
“Because, while the guards wouldn’t know who to arrest, I’m guessing other criminals know who you are. If you try to change the price later, we’ll show the letter to every thief, fence, and assassin in town. Everyone will know Barrows doesn’t pay what he owes. You’ll have to make a whole new alias…wasting all the time you spent building up this one.”
Barrows was silent for a few more seconds. “Then I just have one more question: How do I know you’ll use your real name to sign it? Like you said, we’ve never met.”
Jadie took Nemeroth’s signet ring from her pocket and laid it on the counter. “My master’s signet ring,” she said. “Absolute proof of his identity—and as he’s my employer, proof of mine as well.”
Barrows held the ring up to his eye and examined it closely. “It’s legitimate,” he said at last. “And if it’s stolen, then if you turned that letter in to betray me, you’d be arrested for robbing a noble.”
“Exactly.” Jadie smiled. “You’re perfectly safe. Let’s write out this contract, and in a week, you’ll have as many swords and suits of armor as you could want.”
It took a little bit longer for Barrows to decide and another hour for the two to hammer out the exact nature of the contract. But in the end, two papers stating Edwin Nemeroth would ‘obtain’ gear from the Viscosa guard depots and sell them to a Warus mercenary at the agreed upon price were signed by Barrows, sealed by Jadie, and slipped into their respective pockets. All she needed to do now, Jadie thought, was get the letter in her pocket into Nemeroth’s possession and have the guards find it. Then it would be over for him.
When she rose to leave, she tripped and stumbled into Barrows, and after pushing off of him and apologizing, she felt someone watching her. When she turned, though, she only saw an average-looking man slipping out a side entrance. She shook her head and made herself leave the adventurers guild as planned.
It was time to uphold the honor and glory of the Westwick Thieves Guild!