Career Choice, Part XIV – Last part!

The next stair to creak was the second from the top, with a distinctive two-part noise, followed by a long pause. Clearly listening. He thought briefly about stories he’d been told as a child and young man about raids and war and tactics. He kicked Hávarðr’s bed. “Hey, wake up!” he spoke normally, but it seemed loud in the near pitch blackness of the room. The squire couldn’t understand the words, but it was hard to ignore the noise and kick.

“Wha… what the hell, Jispin?” the squire mumbled blearily into the dark room.

“Can’t sleep. I go for walk.” His words were drawn from the minimal amount of the Kilpan language he’d picked up from the three-way conversations he, the knight, and his squire had had over the preceding few days. Jispin was a quick study.

“You… you’re crazy. Sure. Whatever.”

Soft footsteps and stair squeaks retreated downstairs, at least a couple. Any further than that and they were drown out by Hávarðr’s noisy tossing and turning and the mumbling of the wench he was with.

Jispin slipped his soft boots on, opened the window, and tossed a length of rope out, securing the other end to a rafter beam. The he lifted the door bolt and walked out, long knife drawn and ready but hidden. Seeing nobody silhouetted on the stairs or in the hall against the faint light of the common room downstairs, he sheathed the blade and walked noisily down. He heard no doors open or close. The faint light from the mostly banked fire in the hearth and a lone tallow candle lantern showed only two people in the room, both studiously ignoring him. One he’d seen earlier – a the city gate-guards, the one whose friend’s arm had been broken – and another, a hooded and cloaked stranger, slender of build, rat-like of face. If the foot sticking out from under his table where he slouched in exaggerated casualness was an indication, he was wearing soft-soled shoes. A slight projection from under his cloak indicated something was being hidden underneath, likely a sword from the position and angle. Jispin nodded a silent greeting that was studiously ignored, much as he had expected, walked past and out the door.

Outside he darted around the corner, down the alley, and up the rope he’d dropped. Back in the room he slipped over next to the door to wait. Shortly the creak of weight on the stairs approached, as he’d expected. They stopped outside his door, and the latch rattled. Another sound from high up, and the bolt rattled again, then slid free. Interesting. A hidden release. Sneaky. Smart.

The door opened, and he saw the vague silhouette of the slender man he saw downstairs. The footpad closed the door silently – Jispin noted for the first time that the hinges were well-oiled. The would-be thief then staggered and buckled, Jispin’s knife buried in his heart and the barbarian’s hand clamped like iron over the cutthroat’s mouth. The man was thinner than Jispin, and much easier to carry over to the window than the armored Crimean soldier had been to drag into the woods. He left the knife in to prevent a gush of blood in his room while he secured the end of the rope around the burglar’s neck. He lowered the limp form gently out of the window to the ground below, then followed after like a sailor returning from atop the mast on a sheet.

Looking up and down the street in the dark of night he could see little more than diffuse shapes amid darker shadows and the occasional patch of almost light from a candle or lantern. Thinking about what he’d see on the way in, he picked the man up with an arm over his shoulder as if helping a man deep in his cups home. He stopped frequently to listen, but all was silent. Three rows down, he dumped the man in a narrow alleyway. Searching him, he found a purse, a garrote, and several knives. When he emptied the purse and put its coins in his, he discovered to his dismay that the gold crown given him the evening before was gone! The wench had lifted in when washing his clothes! An expensive lesson in relationships, indeed. No wonder she’d become so accommodating! Ah, well, live and learn. He suspected by the feel of the footpad’s coin that he’d more than recovered his loss.

The last thing he removed from the body was his own knife, which he cleaned carefully on the man’s cloak, and with water from a nearby puddle. He cached the thief’s knives in the thatch of a roof across the way and two doors down, but left the more specialized tools of the trade on the body.

Then he returned to the narrow and twisting street outside his window, hunkered down in a dark corner, and waited for first light.

When he heard the sound of people starting to stir with the cock’s crow, he returned to the inn’s front door, yawning widely and walking with eyes half-lidded as if finally tired. He stumbled past a fretting and nervous guard from the gate, who looked repeatedly back and forth between the young Kurgen returning and the stairway.

“G’night,” said Jispen as he ambled past and upstairs, apparently oblivious. As soon as his back was turned he heard the man rise and rush out the door.

Returning to his room, he let himself in once he found the hidden catch, took the squire’s purse and stashed it high in the rafters along with his own in a second location where they couldn’t be seen even if the light was good, and went to bed.

His sound sleep was ended by the loud cursing of Hávarðr, claiming they’d been robbed. At least, that’s what it sounded like. The rope, the open window, the unlatched door, the missing purse – his third share of the booty price – was gone, vanished, disappeared! Thievery most foul in the night!

The innkeeper was properly mortified, and tried to defend his establishment by claiming he kept a night watchman on duty, vetted by the city gate-guard corps, when any well-to-do guests were about, and… where was he off to, now? Sir Andronikos pointed out that the guard would know well that they’d been paid in gold for a sizable quantity of equipment, and was likely in cahoots with a more lightly dressed burglar. Jispin kept silent and in the background, knowing that setting a scene and letting others do the talking while letting imaginations run wild was best when you are the youngest, smallest, and most disreputable. That way the blame does not fall your way when you call attention to yourself with words of a story that might in some way be contradicted.

When word of a dead man in an alley, a character long suspected of being a second-story man, with a knife-wound in his back and no purse or weapons other than his garrote, a two-man robbery with a double-cross was immediately suspected by one and all. The few words Jispin said about mourning the loss of his own coins to the wench along with his quarter-share than the squire held for him with his own third-share went unheeded, with a stern “we have bigger problems than that!” from the squire. Sir Andronikos’ purse had fortunately been unmolested, but that turned a very good deal into a marginal one at best. It was also one that left the knight in a somewhat tight spot – share out his portion again, or let his companion’s loss be theirs alone? The inn-keeper was apologetic and angry but understanding when the trio settled their bill for a single silver coin, loaded up (thankfully allowing Jispin to do most of the heavy hauling and packing), and left just after the noon meal.

Unsurprisingly, none of the wenches whom had shown so much favor to them the night before were around to see them off, and the gate guards eyed them suspiciously but said nothing as they set off with their much smaller train of animals (four spare mounts and two pack-mules in addition to the three they rode) than they’d arrived with.

“Such is the life of a mercenary,” mused the knight as they rode along the road out of town and neared the treeline. “As the winds of fortune blow, you may be high in the saddle one moment, laying in the ditch the next.”

“I hate ditches,” grumbled the squire.

“Well I, for one, like the soldiering life,” declared Jispin with a huge grin. “The food is good, the pay is grand, the women easy to understand, and the work is pleasant!”

The other two looked at him in surprise. A thin ray of rain-filtered sunlight broke through the omnipresent overcast, shedding wan beams of light upon their little part of the world, the first direct sunlight any of them had seen in weeks. Jispin reached back into the saddle-bag and pulled out a purse, which he tossed to Hávarðr with the jingle of coins, drawing exclamations from both of them. “They sent the noisiest of footpads to take it, but I convinced him to give up robbery for the rest of his life. I stashed the coins for safe-keeping. Your anger at being robbed was quite convincing, Squire Hávarðr.”

Sir Andronikos looked at him shrewdly. “You could have kept it, all of it, and we’d never have known.”

“Yes. But money like that easy to come by. People you can trust, much harder to find. I would have a difficult time on my own selling that plunder, and I’ve much to learn. I can you use you as much as you can use me.” The knight nodded slowly, getting the boy’s drift. “But I think I might be in for a third-share, next time. At least until you are back with your company.”

Both men laughed, deep, honest laughs.

Yes, he had indeed earned a third-share of the enterprise.

And what an enterprise they looked forward to.

== <> == <> ==

So, worth continuing? Comments, thoughts, etc., welcome.

18 thoughts on “Career Choice, Part XIV – Last part!

  1. What an incredible character! From the first chapter, I was sold on this wiley, sharp -witted and incredibly capable 14-year-old mountain boy with the survival skills of a Kit Carson and the courage of a Hero. Now that you have created him, his story must be told. Here’s the deal, you write the book and I will buy it and read it and give you a good review on Amazon.

    1. I’m noting more than a drop of sarcasm in your comment. If you are serious, you need to work on phrasing.
      But the character’s “he really is just that good” is a common theme of the various Conan-esque novels.

  2. I really like this story. I’d love to read more of this. I’d pay for it, even if you self-publish it like the first edition of TSCB.

  3. What? Young Jispin doesn’t get it on with one of the wenches? Not even the homely one who hardly gets any action? He was truly robbed! 🙂 Other than that, I like the ending.

    I like the lad. Cunning, resourceful, ruthless. Yet he finds a way to be loyal in the end. Time will tell what the actual mix of pragmatism and father-son is in play.

    Hávarðr should distrust this strange wild-child. There should be tension between them based on both the distrust, and the threat Jispin poses to Andonikos’s esteem. This is a hierarchical and competitive society. Returning Hávarðr’s money in the end is little or no net change. Yes, Jispin returned it, but he also made Hávarðr look less competent. It will take more to fix this relationship, which still might end in betrayal or blood.

    The story really moves when there is murder, battle, or skullduggery in play. Edit with an eye towards reducing the administrative downtime between the fights. Travel, camp logistics, and trade are real parts of this world, but not the ones we’re here to indulge in.

    1. Oh, I see the part where Andronikos tells Jispin that H is jealous. Maybe play that out more on H’s part.

  4. Alternate titles:
    The Barbarian Squire
    The Kurgen Squire
    Jispin’s Calling

    ‘Career Choice’ is contemporary and would be fine in TSCB’s universe.

    1. As a general reply to all your comments, wow. Thanks.
      This is the sort of feedback and comments I was really hoping for – are you sure you’re not an editor in your spare time?
      Some of it is a little hard to hear (in the sense they are pointed and accurate criticisms, and may take some work to correct), but the sort I really need to hear to improve my writing. Some great stuff, there.
      Ironically, just today at Castalia House, is a blog post about this exact sort of story.
      More comments (possibly) later, in line as I address them.

      1. You’re welcome. I am not an editor, but I am struggling (with overlapping issues) to be a writer. If there’s anything I can clarify, please let me know.

        Sorry about the places I misspelled your hero’s name. It’s not like it isn’t RIGHT THERE on the page above the comment box. D’Oh!

        1. Oh, I didn’t mess up the spelling? Why did I think there was a ‘e’ in there a moment ago?

          It’s late! That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

  5. Please continue.
    I noticed you used the word courser for horse and you used the word charger.
    I suggest that charger has easier recognition.

    1. I like books that make me look up words. Heinlein enjoyed doing that, he even said so explicitly (in “Number of the Beast” among others). Of course, when Rolf tosses around parts of medieval armor and weaponry I tend to have to reach for the OED — the college grade dictionary in my Nook reader gets totally lost by many of them, though it did have “greaves”.
      As for the story, I enjoyed it a great deal. Teenagers wise and strong beyond their years — at least by the standards of our day — make wonderful reading. This would be a fine YA story for that reason.

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