A Dance of Blades

A Dance of Cloaks

A Dance of Blades

Guardian of the Mountain

1

Haern watched the ropes fly over the wall, heavy weights on their ends. They clacked against the stone, then settled on the street. The ropes looked like snakes in the pale moonlight, appropriate enough given how the Serpent Guild controlled them.

For several minutes, nothing. Haern shifted under his worn cloak, his exposed hand shivering in the cold while holding an empty bottle. He kept his hood low, and he bobbed his head as if sleeping. When the first of the Serpents entered the alley, Haern spotted him with ease. The Serpent looked young for such a task, but then two older men arrived, their hands and faces scarred from the brutal life they led. Green cloaks fluttered behind them as they rushed past the houses and to the wall where the ropes hung like vines. They tugged each rope twice, giving their signal. Then the older ones grabbed a rope while the younger tied the two weighted ends together and looped them about a carved inset in the wall.

“Quick and quiet,” he heard one of them whisper to the younger. “Don’t let the crate make a sound when it lands, and the gods help you if you drop it.”

Haern let his head bob lower. The three were to his right, little more than twenty feet away. Already he knew their skill was laughable if they had not yet noticed his presence. His right eye peeked from under his hood, his neck twisting slightly to give him a better view. Another Serpent appeared from outside the city, climbing atop the wall and motioning down to the others. Their arm muscles bulging, the older two began pulling on the ropes. Meanwhile the younger steadily took in the slack so it wouldn’t get in their way.

Haern coughed as the crate reached the top of the wall. This time the younger heard, and he tensed as if expecting to be shot with an arrow.

“Someone’s watching,” he whispered to the others.

Haern leaned back, the cloak hiding his grin. About damn time. He let the bottle roll limp from his hand, the sound of glass on stone grating in the silence.

“Just a drunk,” said one of them. “Go chase him off.”

Haern heard the soft sound of a blade scraping against leather, most likely the young one’s belt.

“Get out of here,” said the Serpent.

Haern let out a loud, obnoxious snore. A boot kicked his side, but it was weak, hesitant. He shuddered as if waking from a dream.

“Why…why you kick me?” he asked, his hood still low. He had to time it just right, at the exact moment the crate touched ground.

“Beat it!” hissed the young thief. “Now, or I’ll gut you!”

Haern looked up and stared into his eyes. His lips curled into a smirk. He knew shadows danced across his face, but his eyes…the man clearly saw his eyes. His dagger dipped in his hand, and he took a step back. Death was in Haern’s smirk, and steel in his gaze. As he heard the sound of the crate softly thumping to the ground, he stood, his ratty gray cloak falling aside to reveal the two swords sheathed at his hips.

“Shit, it’s him!” the thief screamed, turning to run.

Haern felt contempt ripple through him. Such poor training…did the guilds let anyone in now? He took the young man down, making sure no hit was lethal. He needed a message delivered.

“Who?” asked one, turning at the cry.

Haern cut his throat before he could draw his blade. The other yelped and stepped back. His dagger parried the first of Haern’s