Stealing from the Dead (Part 1)

Just a little something I wrote and thought I’d share.

It was said of Archibald Leopold Thudd that he had sold his soul to the devil at a very early age, and that the devil had given it back because he felt he had got the poor end of the bargain. Most people liked to think that Hell was just not ready for a boy like Thudd. For wherever there was trouble, you could guarantee that Thudd was, if not involved, then the instigator of the fracas.

Local bookmakers took to running a pool on him for a while, taking bets (and making a fair bit of money on the side) on when he would pick a fight with the wrong bull-necked barbarian, or seduce the wrong mob-connected merchant’s daughter. The fact was that the boy had little or no respect for pain, was almost entirely lacking in fear, and had been on the wrong side of the door entirely when scruples were handed out.

All this changed when the brash youth reached maturity. All the inadequacies and shortcomings became strengths and virtues, transforming the young thug into a wily rogue with a silver tongue and a knack for ‘finding’ money other people had lost. He even gave it back, sometimes, proving once and for all that he had reversed his fortunes and grown beyond his foolish beginnings.

He went by many names in his travels. In sunny climes, he was known as ‘Leo’; when consorting with outlaw friends, he used ‘Thudd’ (which was apt for the noise his enemies made when they hit the ground); to the ladies, he was ‘Archie’, named for the bow-wielding love sprite whose influence upon the reformed Thudd was plain for all to see.

By the time he reached eighteen, it was clear that the youth had a roving foot. Once he had exhausted the local opportunities for adventure – and fallen foul of every constabulary across the four island nations of his home – he took to the sea. Over the years that followed, he made quite a name for himself amongst both the pirate brotherhoods and the merchant guilds of the known world – a name which should not be repeated in polite company. But whatever name he went by, even if his heart was a little too easily seduced by gold’s glitter or a maiden’s thigh, his deeds were well-meant, and for this, he was assured of a warm fire and a cold ale wherever he went.

It was on one of his many forays to the temperate equatorial lands that our tale begins. Leo (for that is the name he was using this week) was wedged into a narrow crack in an almost vertical rock face, his knees tucked under his chin and his left buttock peeking precariously over the edge. In one hand he idly twirled a rather fine and expensive-looking goblet, which glittered in the dim light from a fallen torch below.

“Zarobian gold, I’d say,” he commented to no-one in particular. He tested the lip of the cup between his teeth then nodded knowledgeably.

“Ruby encrusted solid gold, fashioned in the characteristic style of the late Posh Dynasty. Probably used for the consumption of wine, mead and other alcoholic beverages. Current value–”

His left buttock shifted, and a small cascade of pebbles and dust skittered down the wall. Fifteen feet below the niche where his frantic climb had deposited him not five minutes ago, the hungry moans increased in ferocity. Leo peered over the edge at the animated corpses queuing up for a tantalising and out-of-reach meal, and gave a wry smile.

“Not a bloody lot.”

He affected a feminine accent and gave it a sarcastic twang.

“‘It’ll be a doddle,’ she says, ‘in and out before anyone’s the wiser’, she says, ‘easy pickings’, she says.” He puffed out air from between dust-grimed lips.

“If I ever get out of here, I’m going to show her just what ‘easy’ means. Ignorant pig-tailed hippo of a wom…”

His left foot slipped against the edge of the minute nook into which he had wedged himself, and for an infinite second he teetered on one buttock with his hands flailing wildly for better purchase. It was a testament to his love of gold that the goblet remained firmly in his grasp while he fought with gravity for supremacy. When he had triumphed, and restored his balance – much to the annoyance of the walking dead below – he carefully tucked the goblet into the left side of his jerkin, where the finely moulded edges dug uncomfortably into his ribs.

“Why couldn’t it have been a ruby-encrusted hip flask?”

With a shake of his wild-maned head, he inched his dagger from its cramped home in his boot-sheath with his little finger, and managed by some feat of contortionism to manoeuvre it so he could grip it lengthways between his teeth.

“Wew, I can’t shstay here aww day. I’ge got a goglet to shell and a ngerchant to exshtort.”

With these erudite words alone to serve as his epitaph, Leo rolled sideways from the safety of the tiny cranny and plummeted gracefully towards the waiting horde.


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