The door to Kaleb’s shop was swept open and an imperious woman in an intricately embroidered silk gown looked around with a skeptical expression on her face. She had the dusky golden skin and dark eyes of a Sun Elf and striking, nearly metallic copper hair. The Goblin Tek smiled a toothy grin from behind the counter.
“Welcome Lady. How may we be helpful today?”
“Sand and sun!” She took a half step back, snapping a fan open to cover her face. “It talks!”
“Can I help you?” Kaleb asked, walking from the workshop and dusting wood shavings off his trousers.
“Perhaps.” She said, still holding the silk and lace fan in front of her face and eyeing the pair of them dubiously. “I was looking for a Thiefcatcher, but I think perhaps this is the wrong location. My Lady has no need for furniture or wood carvings.”
“Carpentry is the family business.” Kaleb said, giving her a level look. “The other is my own. I do have a board at The Wandering Wyvern for folk to leave me messages in addition to a box at the Guildhall.”
“My Lady requires service as befits her rank.” The woman said loftily, “I am Lady Taryngail’s personal assistant.”
When Kaleb continued to look at her with a blank expression and she snapped her fan shut in agitation. “Surely there is a more appropriate place we could discuss our business.” She said with a significant look at Tek. “Perhaps you would be so kind as to accompany me back to my Lady’s lodgings?”
Kaleb recalled the contingent of wealthy and powerful Elves from Denoria who had established a trade with the hotter desert and jungle regions of the Eastern realms. They were a haughty and entitled bunch, but they had brought a significant amount of money into Lanthodell and their trade partners were valued by nearly everyone in the city.
He sighed inwardly, preparing to be obsequious. “If it please you, leave your Lady’s card here and I shall call upon her once I have made myself presentable enough to enter into her presence without giving offense.”
Noting with satisfaction the surprised expression on the woman’s face he accepted the lacquered wooden card from her, showed her to the door and went to change out of his simple trousers and leather smock. While these wealthy folk were a pain to deal with, they did at least pay well.
A candlemark later, he presented the card to a different golden skinned silk clad woman who opened the door. She looked at him briefly before leading him to a waiting room without a word. An array of preserved delicacies was on the room’s sideboard along with a selection of liquors and wines. He ignored all, choosing to stand in an unobtrusive place where he could see all three doors in the room.
A tedious half candle later, Kaleb was considering leaving when a door other than the one he had entered through swung gently open. A tall, willow thin elf with skin a dark reddish gold and hair a myriad of pure white braids the size of his little finger each tipped with a tiny bell wrought from platinum each in the shape of a different animal stepped through it.
She wore a gossamer black veil that covered her below the eyes, and flowing silken robes of an indigo blue that was breathtaking in its intensity. Jet black tattoos swirled over her wrists, ending in elegant runic symbols of power. Her eyes shone with a gentle azure light that trailed out from them in strange lines like the trail the light of a fast-moving torch leaves across the eye in the middle of the night.
Her handmaiden entered behind her, moving quickly to the sideboard and pouring her a narrow fluted glass of emerald green liquor. The Lady Taryngail glided to a chair next to the roaring hearth and sat. “Be sitting if it does please you Thiefcatcher Stoughtbough.” She said, her breath making her veil move ever so slightly. “It would be quite of politeness if you would accept refreshment of my house.”
“Water please.” Kaleb said, moving to sit on the other side of the fire from the lady. Her handmaiden filled a glass with clear water from a pitcher and set it on the small table beside the Halfling. He politely touched it to his lips, not taking a sip. “What have you lost and who has taken it from you?”
She took a delicate taste of her liquor, sipping it through a thin glass straw and looking at him with those eyes that dribbled tiny motes of blue light seemingly at random now that she was seated. “Much with blunt speech have these folk. It is not the ideal of mine to allow such things to be stated so plainly. Perhaps the Nobility of Feycourts have tainted this one’s mannerisms, however it does seem you are lacking in the trust.”
Standing with fluid grace she gestured towards her handmaiden who brought her a small loaf of bread, a dish of dark and pungent vinegar, a small saucer of sea salt and a dish of amber oil. The Lady moved her wrist in the subtlest of motions and a tiny silver knife appeared in it. Cutting a slice from the loaf, she dipped it first in the oil, the vinegar and then the salt. Splitting the bread down the center, she offered him her two hands.
“You are guesting in my tent. I am making the offering of peace. You are safety within these walls, my word and my bread upon it.”
Kaleb took the bread from her right hand and she immediately put the other slice of bread into her mouth, sliding it under her diaphanous veil with practiced ease. He did the same, and followed the complex, flavor of oil, vinegar and salt with a sip of water. The water was not simple or plain either; having flavors of minerals he had not experienced.
“Your choosing of water accentuates the knowledge of our ways.” She said, raising her glass. “Although the sipping of the fermented waters of the cactus would have shown even more.”
“Without knowing what you’ve lost or who has taken it Lady, I haven’t any way of being able to recover it for you.” Kaleb said, “I trust this ritual to mean you have extended trust to me and accepted mine in return. If I choose not to take the job you have my word I will not reveal anything you have told me to anyone.”
“Yes.” Lady Taryngail said with a nod of her head, “My Blademaster finding himself set upon in street while doing the guarding of one of the treasures of the house. This treasure was being in an iron chest of the size of this.” She held her hands in a shape the size of a loaf of bread.
“Who took it? Where was the theft perpetrated?” Kaleb took another drink of water, surprised by the flavor it had once again. “Have you notified the proper authorities?”
“The master of swords was laid low by deceitful poisons injected by projectiles in the city of Desigoringaraitarial. Known by your folk by the name of Denoria.” Her eyes narrowed, “Guardsman having failed, the matter being brought to Thiefcatcher.”
“What do you offer for compensation?” Kaleb deftly sliced another piece of bread; it really was quite good.
“Upon recovering of the thing lost ten thousand coins of gold would be given.” She said in an offhanded tone, as though the money was irrelevant.
“Ten thousand?” Even though he was prepared for something extravagant based on the opulence of the house and the obvious danger involved, Kaleb nearly dropped his bread. He had been working for five years to build up his shop and hadn’t earned that much profit.
“I requiring the thieving dreksa and returning of the property.” The lights of her eyes glittered dangerously, arcing small stars that crackled when they touched a surface and leaving tiny black marks. “Questions beg the answering.”
Kaleb swallowed hard, “I will attempt to find the perpetrator and your stolen property, however taking prisoners is not always possible in this business. I do not want to promise something I cannot be certain of being able to deliver.”
“Fifteen thousand if captured living. Ten if killed and treasure recovered.” She drank the last of her liquor, “Are you accepting of this requested offer of employment?”
Kaleb’s eyes narrowed, “May I ask a direct question?”
“Why would you be changing how you have been speaking?” The Lady said, carelessly moving her hand to one side and dropping her glass. Her Handmaiden smoothly caught the delicate crystal before it had fallen more than a finger length, set it aside and filled a clean glass with pale pink liquid from another decanter and handing it back.
Kaleb caught the intentional scrutiny in her eyes when he met them. “I have two questions before I decide. Why did you pick me? Certainly there would have been people in Denoria who could have handled this for you. I need to know that and I want to know what is in the box.”
“You were selected for being recommended highly and for not being of Denoria. I am trusting you are not involved. You are to be recovering the iron casket intact. If it is opened then recovering it would be unnecessary.” She sipped her drink and he watched the pale liquid travel up the glass straw to vanish beneath her veil.
“What if I travel to Denoria and either can’t find this person or find the package has been opened?” Kaleb asked, “It’ll take weeks to get there and –“
She cut him off with a sharp motion of her hand. “Matters of cost are not being worthy of my time. Your expendings shall be handled. Are you catching my thief or are we looking elsewhere?”
“I will need more information about the crime, the article taken and the location.” Kaleb said, “But yes, I accept.”
Lady Taryngail nodded in satisfaction, stood and swept from the room without giving him another glance. The flickering blue lights at the corners of her eyes left trails of sparks in the air and an exotic perfume.
“I can answer any questions you might have.” Her handmaiden said, “I am acquainted well with the details of the artifact and the theft.”
By the time Kaleb had gotten all the information he believed he needed, he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to do this alone. The skeptical, analytical part of him bereted him for even considering accepting the job. The thief catcher in him was ecstatic at the challenge.