Type of Short Story: Novelette
Summary: Nerris, Dist and Jhareth are three boys from Oak Forest who want something better than their lives as common folk. They have come all the way to the city of Orrigo, the location of the famed fighting school Gauntlet. It is a place that has produced many of the best warriors in Tormalia, and they aim to be among them.
It's nice to look up at the sky, but watch where you're stepping.
"This is what I call a weapon," Dist said, his eyes shining almost as bright as his blond hair.
"You like it?" The old man stopped his conversation with Jhareth to address Dist. Despite being a bit shaky, his voice carried across the dimly lit room. "It's said to be the bow of one of Saint Bendel's most trusted men. He drove away the demon worshippers from these lands with shafts that turned to pure light as they sailed through the air."
"I wish I could afford it." Dist had a knack for archery, but never enough money to buy a proper bow. The ones he made had a tendency to shoot crooked.
"I'll buy it for you after we pull off this job," Jhareth said.
"What job?" Nerris asked. "I thought we were applying for work in Lord Feigh's household."
Jhareth had kept them waiting for nearly two hours before finally returning to Bendel's Square and bringing them to this musty place. He said he had been to the underbelly of Orrigo, looking for a forger. It had taken all of the money he had earned playing the streets, but he bought them reference scrolls from some lord or another saying what good servants they had been, complete with a fake seal.
"When I found the man I was looking for, he told me of this shop," Jhareth said. "Old Delwen here has been looking for some bodies to infiltrate the castle, so the forger referred me."
Infiltrate? Nerris didn't like the sound of this.
"Your friend Jhareth assured me he is the best thief around, and even picked my own pocket to prove it," Delwen said. "Now that I've had a look at you three, I think you're suited for the task. You all have a trusting look about you."
Dist took his eyes from the bow and looked to the counter. "Jhareth, what--"
"There is an idol in one of Lord Gaviel's storerooms," Delwen said. "I saw it once, when I worked there long ago. It belonged to his father, and I doubt the young lord even knows it is there. It is certain he does not know its worth."
"So why not offer to buy it from him?" Jhareth asked.
The old man's lips pursed. "It is not the sort of thing civilized men admit to owning. The idol is not very large, and can be carried with one hand. It is carved in the likeness of a lesser demon, a recreation of a being not seen in this world for over two millennia. It is blasphemous for a follower of Clystam to keep one in his possession, but I know for a fact it was in the castle as recently as three months ago. I offered to take it off the lord's hands, but we could not agree on a price. A fortnight later, Lord Feigh died of that illness that spread through town. Lord Gaviel is a devout man, and if he finds it, I am afraid he would sooner see it destroyed."
"So the job is to steal from the Lord of Orrigo?" Nerris shook his head. "Jhareth, this is the dumbest idea you've ever had."
"It's stealing," Nerris said. "It's wrong. How many times must I tell you that?"
Jhareth rolled his eyes, and Delwen cleared his throat. "I would pay handsomely, of course. Twenty golden marks for safe delivery."
Nerris shook his head. Had he heard that right? "Twenty?"
Dist looked at Nerris, his mouth slightly ajar. "That could pay for a full two years of tuition at Gauntlet."
Nerris clenched his teeth. The start of term for Gauntlet was nearing, and this way they wouldn't have to wait for a year while they saved up their wages sweeping floors and emptying chamber pots. Still, theft was theft, no matter what ends it served.
"Nerris, I know you're a man of morals," Jhareth said, as if reading his thoughts. "It's risky, too. I am aware of that. But this is Gauntlet we're talking about. We've dreamed of nothing else since we were old enough to duel with sticks. Besides, how do you think families like the Feighs came into power in the first place? Their ancestors didn't serve others. You're right, stealing is wrong, but such is life. A man has to get what he wants however he can get it. What does it matter if he picks a pocket or takes it at swordpoint?"
Dist looked to him, wondering what he would decide. There was sense in what Jhareth said, and he obviously wanted to do this. Nerris clicked his teeth while he mused. If Lord Feigh didn't even know he had this idol, would he miss it? He would probably destroy it anyway, if he did know.
"All right," he said, giving in. "I hope you have some kind of plan, Jhareth."
"I have maps of the castle," Delwen said. "You won't be able to take them with you, so you'll have to memorize them here." He disappeared into the backroom.
"I can't believe I just agreed to that," Nerris said to Jhareth's wide grin. "Dist, are you all right with this?"
Dist shrugged. "If nothing else, I'm tired of having to skip meals. This job is worth a larger sum than any of us have ever seen."