Short Stories and other Scriblings

The Book –  ‘If books could kill…’

The red silk cover of the book shone in the moonlight and the gold and silver thread embroidered in the front cover glinted as Kurt bent further into the light to study it.

The design was in the shape of some kind of bird, wings raised in flight to lift it out from the fire that raged at its feet. The gold and silver contained in that picture alone could let Kurt live like a Prince for months. His dirt-encrusted hands lifted the cover and quickly flicked through the pages of the book. There were no pictures, only the jumble of ink marks that he recognized as writing.

Kurt could not read but he could write his name, a fact that he was proud of. A priest had taken pity on Kurt and taught him to scribe his name when he was a boy and every chance he got Kurt would practise writing it. The priest had told him that there was a power in names and that one should learn to control their own. But Kurt did not need to read or write in his line of business and he had seen no mystic powers at work whenever he scratched his name on a bit of parchment. It was enough that he could read if his name appeared on the City’s wanted lists and to lay low until it came off again.

Closing the book with a snap, he slipped it into his bag and bent again to look through the rich robes of the comatose man lying in the filth of the alley. Blood was caked in the man’s hair and his face was already puffed, bloodied and bruised from the beating he had received.

Deft fingers picked out the three hidden pouches, the jewel encrusted belt and the large gold broach that was pinned at the base of the man’s throat. All the while Kurt hummed happily to himself, thinking that the Prince of Thieves had blessed him this night. He had only come into this alley to take a piss on his way back to the rat hole he called home and found this unconscious man in the far corner. Kurt had had a bad night all round and was beginning to think that he would not be able to pay his monthly dues to the Glyd on time. The Glydmaster did not look favourably on those who could not cough up ‘the goods’ on their designated payment date. Kurt had seen many examples of the Gyldmaster’s displeasure floating in the river Ghalais. He did not care why the man was left in this condition or why his valuables had not been touched. He only cared that now they were his.

He shivered at the thought that it might have been him. But not now. Here in his hands Kurt held enough wealth to pay his dues for a year and still have enough left over to live comfortably on.

Stuffing the rest of his newly found wealth into his bag, Kurt stopped to finger the rich material of the man’s cloak. It looked thick and warm and would service Kurt a lot better than this frayed and battered coat he currently owned. But he decided against it. A rich cloak like that worn by one such as himself would draw unwanted eyes. The last thing he needed was a curious City Watchman on his back.

Dropping the fold of material, Kurt took one more look at the man’s face. He was still out cold but at least he was breathing. He certainly would not like to be him when he came to. He also would not like to be around when someone eventually came looking for him. “It’s been good doin’ business wit ya,” Kurt said giving the unconscious man a jaunty salute of thanks.

Rising quickly to his feet, Kurt turned and left the narrow alley and travelled the dark streets of the city towards the hovel he called home. It was late; probably an hour after midnight and the streets were virtually deserted except for the City Watchmen who walked their rounds but Kurt knew how to avoid them. He also knew how to avoid the other undesirables that hunted the streets waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pounce on. Most of these undesirables knew him and would think nothing of thumping him for the bulging bag he now carried. There was no honour among thieves – except between fully paid Gyld Members.

Kurt picked his way through the winding backstreets of the city, passing the sleeping houses and shut up shops. Everything was quiet and peaceful. It was also nice and clean in the Merchant’s Quarter of the city. As he slipped quietly across a wide stone paved road, Kurt entered the common part of the city near the Wharf Quarter. This was not the poorest however. The poorest part of the city was on the other side of the Wharf Quarter and that was where Kurt was heading. The Tanner’s Quarter.

Kurt could feel the form of the book as the sack bumped against his side as he moved. He adjusted the mouth of the sack on his shoulder to try and shift the book off of his back but it kept slipping back into a position to jab him in the small of his back. After a few moments of this he gave up. He was nearly home and he needed to keep his wits about him, he could suffer the jabbing of the book for a few blocks more.

As he moved closer to home, the harsh smells of the nearby tanneries assailed his senses. He was used to the smell now but when he first moved into his current digs, the constant stench made his eyes water and caused him to throw up at the mere hint of food. Now the smell did not worry him but it is a deterrent to others who might want to do him over. No one who did not have to live here could endure the smell for long. Though he did have a problem with the smell clinging to his clothing and hair, but a good dusting of charcoal can get rid of that.

Kurt crept carefully to the corner of his street block and peered carefully around the edge of the large warehouse that dominated the street he lived on. The run down boarding house that he called home was nestled in between this warehouse and what passed for the local Ale House. It was some of the heavy’s from the local Ale House that Kurt wanted to avoid.

The Tallow is the only Ale House that catered for the Tanneries and their workers and because of this it reeked. It also had a sizable custom which Kurt often took advantage of when he was getting a little hard up for cash. The Tallow’s heavies knew him and they knew his reputation, one night he failed to hand over to them a cut of his takings and ever since they have always tried to reinforce the need to share by ‘roughing’ him up a little. But as he looked around the corner Kurt saw no sign of the Ale Houses’ heavies. The Inn was quiet so Briee, the owner of The Tallow, probably sent them home early. Kurt decided to make a quick dash to his front door; once he was inside the building he would be safe. The Tallow’s heavies were as terrified of his landlady as most of her tenants were.

Keeping to the dark shadows that were thrown by the warehouse, Kurt edged his way carefully along the walls, making his way slowly to the weather beaten front door of the lodging house. It always pays to be careful even if you are sure that no one is around. Kurt’s caution paid off. As he made his way to the edge of the last shadow before jumping to the door, Kurt thought he heard movement behind the stack of cases and empty barrels that sat in the corner where the boarding house meets the sidewall of The Tallow.

Kurt froze in mid step, keeping within the shadow cast by the warehouse. It was dark enough here so that anyone causally looking would not notice him. Kurt’s sharp eyes scanned the wooden boxes for any sign of movement from a waiting thug but he could see nothing. And all the while he stood watching, the corner of the book dug into the small of his back as if trying to prod him forward to take a closer look.

After a few more heartbeats of watching Kurt crept slowly forward, moving pass the door to the boarding house towards the stack of wooden boxes. Curiosity had gotten the better of Kurt, a trait that he usually never gave into; he suddenly wanted to know what had made the noise.

Adjusting the bag on his shoulder in an effort to move the book away from his back, Kurt carefully looked over the top of the boxes to the space behind them. He expected to see one of the thugs fast asleep but he breathed a sign of relief at what he did see.
Curled in the corner in a nest of fur and cloth was a large black cat. She was lying on her side while four small kittens suckled from her belly. She blinked golden eyes at him but otherwise did nothing else at his intrusion.

Letting out a pent up sign, Kurt turned back to the door of the boarding house. Letting himself in, he quickly rushed up the stairs and up to the landing that lead to his room. Two other rooms shared this landing and Kurt knew where every creaking board and knothole was on this floor. He had walked this floor many times without making a single sound that could alert the disreputable occupiers of his neighbours.

Kurt adjusted his sack across his shoulders and began to cross the landing with a surprising agility. He could hear no sounds as he passed each closed door so either the occupants were asleep or not in (of course any respectable person should be tucked into their crib at this time of night). As Kurt reached his door, he drew his dagger from his belt and slipped it quickly between the door and the frame, lifting the blade quickly as it caught the latch, he opened the door and slipped quickly into his one room abode.

Closing the door behind him, Kurt tossed the bag onto the wooden crate that he was using as a makeshift table.

….How should this end?  Should  the owners of the book show up?  Should Glyd members arrive to collect their dues?  Should the book be possessed and try to kill him?  Or something else that I haven’t thought of?

Help me decide by leaving a suggestion in the comments 🙂

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