Yusef Scaleman was a prick.
Yorrin tried not to hold it against him. The money was good, and—more important to Aleksandr—he seemed genuinely convinced that he was in serious danger. Their job was to keep him and his estate safe, not be his best mates.
Good thing, Yorrin thought. Because he’s a prick.
He was from Rehova, one of the border kingdoms on the edge of Torathia. Most of those nations liked to fancy themselves kingdoms, with airs of nobility and kings. Nobody but their own people really believed it, since each so-called King paid tribute to Torathia and a tithe to the Church. If a Serpentes army wanted to camp out on their doorstep, none of those two-bit kingdoms would say boo.
As far as Yorrin had always heard, it was different on the other side of the Midland Mountains. The Middish kingdoms out there were far enough from Torathia that they were truly sovereign. Or at least their airs were a bit easier to swallow.
But Scaleman was a Rehovan. A noble, as he was quick to tell you. The kind of man that demanded respect. Their first day on the job, Yorrin nearly got them kicked out. He interrupted Yusef during their tour of the estate. Told him that the locks in his manor couldn’t keep out a teenage urchin with a rusty shiv, much less a determined thief or assassin.
Aleksandr had kept Yorrin and Scaleman away from one another since then. Yorrin was left to patrol the courtyard, a pretty enough blend of simple stone cobbles and dirt patches that would probably be lush greenery come springtime. The Scaleman estate was surrounded by a low stone wall, purely decorative. Even Yorrin could very nearly see over it. The front door of the manor was watched by one of Yusef’s two personal guards, a permanent member of his staff named Hezekiah. He was an older fellow, with droopy eyes that made him look sleepy no matter the time of day.
Yorrin knew that Aleksandr was likely keeping Yusef himself company. Bear would be “patrolling” the kitchens, most likely. And Dylan had been keeping an eye on the upper floors of the sprawling manor.
Yorrin didn’t mind being posted outside. In some respects, he preferred it. They’d been working for Yusef for several days now, with no sign of any of the dangers the nobleman was so convinced he faced. Patrols were deadly boring, almost as bad as being a lookout boy for second-story work. The cold night air helped. It kept him awake, kept him alert. And the sounds and smells and lights of the surrounding city reminded him of home.
Though as loud as that rushing water is, you’d think the Tyre was right outside the walls, Yorrin thought. The Limes is only this loud when you’re practically on top of it.
Yorrin’s idle thoughts were disrupted by the faint sound of crackling ice.
The walls were coated in a thin layer of frost, as was the muddy ground. Yorrin paused, shuffled back into the shadows, and peered towards the sound. He saw a small, dark shape drop down from the wall into the courtyard. An urchin, maybe, shrouded in close-fitting black cloth.
Yorrin stalked after them as they scouted around the perimeter of the manor. He quickly realized that he was dealing with something of an amateur. They kept out of sight of the manor, of course, but they never once looked over their shoulder. Yorrin started following closer and closer, until he was practically on top of them.
Finally, he cleared his throat.
The small figure leaped at the sound, spinning around. A lad, definitely an urchin. Adolescent, still stuck between a child’s features and a man’s. He choked back a cry of surprise.
“Hello,” Yorrin said calmly. He couldn’t quite resist smirking.
The boy’s eyes widened, shining bright white in the moonlight. “Oh, Tor’!” he cursed. His voice was hushed, little more than a terrified hiss. “I’m sorry! Please, don’t kill me, suh, please!”
Yorrin rolled his eyes. “Nobody’s killing anyone, boy,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
The boy swallowed, eyes darting left and right.
“The truth, now,” Yorrin said. “You here scouting for a crew, or all by yourself?”
“No, suh,” the urchin said. “I’m not—I mean—Not scoutin’ at all, really. Definitely ain’t got no crew.”
“Then what the hell you doing here? This is a rich man’s manor, boy. Men like this have coin to waste. He can pay to keep armed men patrolling his home all hours of the day and night. Savvy?”
Yorrin rested one hand on the hilt of his sword. The lad was no fool, he picked up on the body language instantly. He nodded. “Right, right,” he said. “Sorry. I’ll just—be on m’way now.”
“Hold up,” Yorrin said. “Not so fast. Answer the question. Why are you here?”
The boy gulped again. “I—”
Yorrin held up a hand, and the boy fell silent. Yorrin was about to speak, but he froze. That gesture.
Picked that up from Aleksandr, he realized. A simple expression of authority, so confident that the thought of not complying clearly hadn’t even occurred to the lad. Same way none of us think to fight Aleksandr about it.
The boy was still waiting.
“Don’t bullshit me, lad,” Yorrin warned. “You play straight with me, you get out of this just fine. You spin me a tale, and I will notice. And I won’t appreciate it. Understood?”
“Understood,” the urchin said. “I ain’t robbin’ the place. I got paid to be ‘ere.”
Yorrin narrowed his eyes. “Paid? By who?”
The boy shrugged. “I’unno. I mean, I got paid by Blind Ezra. But it weren’t him. Everyone knows Blind Ezra’ll pass on whatever job y’pay him t’pass on.”
Yorrin couldn’t help but admire the system of Misviyr’s underworld. Catspaws and intermediaries were common in Nasarat, of course, but nobody had ever thought to use a blind man like that. Or at least not to Yorrin’s knowledge.
“What was the job?” Yorrin asked.
“Jus’ this. Slip in, scout the area, see how close I could get to the house.”
Yorrin frowned. “That’s it?”
The urchin nodded vigorously.
“What then? When you’re done, if you hadn’t been pinched, I mean. You report back to Blind Ezra?”
The lad’s brow furrowed in confusion. He seemed to ponder the question for a moment. “Nah,” he said finally. “Jus’ this. Sneak in, scout around.”
That makes no sense, Yorrin thought. “This is sounding an awful lot like a tale,” he said.
Yorrin slid a dagger out of its belt sheath. The moonlight glimmered on the hard iron blade, and the boy’s eyes goggled again.
“It ain’t!” he protested, voice raising a little. “I swear!”
Damn me if I don’t believe him. The boy’s story didn’t make much sense, but it didn’t seem like the boy himself was the cause of that. I’m missing something, Yorrin thought. I’ve got to be. Something important. Something that makes this all come together.
He scratched his chin in silence, while the urchin kept staring at the blade.
Why send a boy in here to get intel, if you’re not going to use the bloody intel? And why send such a novice to gather your intel in the first place? The boy was just asking to get caught.
Yorrin froze. He could feel his own eyes widening, and he blinked to keep from making the same expression as the boy.
“Beat it,” he said, sheathing his blade in a quick, smooth motion.
Yorrin just shot the lad a dark look, and the urchin bolted. He scrambled over the icy wall. His feet pitter-pattered on the cobblestones outside the Scaleman estate.
Yorrin turned around, feeling suddenly on edge. He scanned the courtyard, and saw nothing of interest. Just Hezekiah, in his periphery. Still leaning on a spear in front of the main door. He probably was asleep. The old coot hadn’t even heard Yorrin and the boy talking.
Yorrin began to backtrack the path he’d taken following the boy.He kept his eyes on the ground as he walked. He scanned the ice, the dirt, and the stones. He studied every inch of it, and when he finally found what he was looking for, he stopped.
A patch of cracked, scuffed ice. Not Yorrin’s path, so he knew it wasn’t his boots that had disrupted it. He clambered up onto the slippery wall and saw faint handprints just above the disrupted patch of ice. Handprints like the ones he’d just made, climbing up to get a better look.
Someone had jumped the wall. Someone had stood in this spot. Someone with light enough feet that the only sign of their passage was the place they dropped down from the wall. While Hezekiah slept in the doorway, and Yorrin wasted time with some idiot boy from Misviyr’s gutter, a real intruder had slipped past him.
He’d been played.
He may be a prick, but Yusef isn’t wrong. Someone really is after him. And he’s good. Fast, quiet, and bloody clever.
Yorrin smiled. This job had just gotten a lot more interesting.