He waited until dark. That was patient of him. It meant he endured a whole extra day of the spittle-filled name calling, the derisive snorts, the urination … His own, that of passers by, and the barghest curs. By the time he opened the stock at midnight he was soaked and soiled. He waited after the lamplighter had finished. After the marshalsman had completed his last round on Stock Street. Even then he was cautious. The punishment of the stocks was nothing compared to the punishment for escaping the stocks.
He would be a wanted man now.
But Arcturus Benjamin had always liked feeling wanted. It was a typical background story. Parents hate son. Parents sell son to a life of cult religion servitude. Son pines for acceptance and turns to a life of crime. A bit sappy when he thought about it.
Placing a cabbage in place of his head in the pillory and celery for hands, he stiffly walked away. It was a chilly night that soon drove his hands to the pockets of his body wrap. There he found the note.
Artists stick together. Third flat. Thread Street. Knock thrice or not at all.
He studied the exaggerated curls of the handwriting and shrugged. There was nothing better to do. “If this is a trap it’s a bit too clever for the marshalry. But hasn’t their been word of a councilman arriving? Certainly smells of councilman caniving. Still, it’s so … creatively ludicrous. Just like something a flamboyant tailor would think up.”
03 Thread Street was one of many buildings sandwiched into the clothing district. No wonder they were called flats. Too skinny to be a called a house. This one appeared abandoned. Certainly not the elaborate landmark which was Ascension Deo’s tailory. Not even anywhere near that shop.
There was a moment of deliberation where Arcturus wavered beneath the idiocy of what he was doing. But finally he embraced it and raised his knuckles to the door.
He knocked three distinct times. No response. Only a long, awkward silence in which Arc let foolishness fill him. Then there was a whirring sound and a hiss. The door opened to the methodically clinking gears. Arc looked both ways before ushering himself inside. The door shoved to a close behind him.
“That’s always disconcerting.”
He inspected the cogs and steam tubes with admiration. Much coin had been spent on this setup. And on making the mechanics concealable from the outside. Most contraptions like this were so bulky you could barely squeeze by to get through the door.
The interior was as bare as Arcturus’ credit accounts. One simply did not make money being a temple peon. So he had attempted a side job of portraits and landscapes. Not that anyone in his circles could afford the quality of his work. Eventually, without a patron, he had let idle hands loose in the streets. Until, of course, they had been bound in the stocks.
The building was two stories so, finding nothing of interest in the ground floor, Arc went up. He found the upper room nearly as barren. There was a table in the center. On top of that were an assortment of, finally, interesting items. He made a mental log as he perused.
One. A slender dagger in a spring-loaded sheath with leather wrist bands.
Two. A map detailing the layout of a large manor house and its grounds.
Three. A leather pouch heavy with coin.
Four. A thick-knit black body wrap with hood, matching soft-soled foot wraps, and gloves that were prickly enough to draw blood.
He sucked on his finger while milling over all this intrigue. Out of habit he poured the coins into his own pocket. If things went awry at least he might escape richer than when he arrived.
Behind the table, against the far wall, was a brass tub with elaborate copper piping. A note over the spigot read as follows:
Please bathe before allowing your skin to touch the exceptional garments. –GN
Arc repeated the initials and mused, “Not Ascension Deo then.”
Whoever it was, Arc did not balk at the opportunity for a hot bath. Not after what he had just endured in the pillory. When the bath was over he pat dried with a plump towel. Rubbing long, blonde tousled hair, he spied another note. It was attached to a fireplace built into the wall. Gathering up his clothes he strode toward it and read the following:
Please, for the good of humanity, burn the clothes you were wearing. Pull the lever firmly. –GN
He stared down at the handful of nose-affronting garments. With a shrug he complied, tossing them onto the hearth and yanking at the metal rod. There was a roar of wild heat as flames licked and then consumed the clothes.
He dressed in the tight-fitting wraps and gloves. He strapped the knife beneath his left sleeve. Everything felt even and snug against his lithe frame. Then he picked up the map and studied it more carefully. There was a red line from the gate to one of the rooms. A note by the room read as follows:
If you get out alive, return for another bath and further instructions. –GN
“Instructions? More like rude, eccentric clues.”
He could have been affronted. But he was freed, bathed, clothed, armed, and paid. That mostly made up for the annoying messages and the promise of life-threatening danger for a task he knew absolutely zero about. Plus, he had nothing better to do.