So what is Shadows of Barden? This will be a regular (I want to say monthly but I want to be realistic) short story series set in my world, Thelos. It is the same world setting used in my short story collection, When Heroes Rise, and my upcoming novel series. This episode is free, as a sample of what I’m doing, and the rest will be available to subscribers on my Subscribestar page. Even if you subscribe at the lowest tier you will have access to the full series, story notes, art, and maps that come out of it. The story will follow the life of a common street thief who wishes to turn her life into something more, but is stuck in her place in the social and economical structure of the city of Barden. I hope to deliver a story of adventure, intrigue, and hopefully some humor. Please enjoy Episode 1 of Shadows of Barden.
The guards were nearly on her when Meghan turned into the alley off of Iron Street. The night was wet and miserable in the city. Light rain fell like a fine mist that covered everything in a chilling dampness. Slick cobbles made footing treacherous but her soft boots found purchase and she rushed into the dark gap between a smelter and blacksmith. She could hear hobnailed boots scraping on those cobbles as the two guards tried to follow the young woman into the shadows. Where she dodged crates and piles of garbage in the dark, they stumbled and crashed through them and fell behind. When she reached Baker Street on the other end of the alley they were far behind, but two more spotted her and set off in chase. The hood of her cloak slipped off and dampened hair clung to her face in light brown curls as she looked for some way out of the situation. Her bright green eyes settled on the glowing doorway of a tavern up the street and she was off again.
Meghan rushed into the tavern where her senses were assaulted immediately by a wall of noise, heat, and odors. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the light, for which she was thankful as she pulled off her cloak and turned it inside out before replacing it. The change in light would affect her pursuers as well. She tied her wet hair back in a tail at the base of her neck, a fashion common with the men of the city and moved toward the side of the open common room near a large stone hearth. The tavern was busy and loud, patrons packed nearly shoulder to shoulder vying for space to drink, laugh, and game. It was easy for Meghan to lift a half full tankard from a table as she passed, and pick a spot near the hearth to stand as if she’d been there all night. If her pursuers even spotted her in the crowd, they’d see a young man in a red cloak halfway through his ale instead of the drenched street rat in black.
Just as she settled against the mantle one of the serving girls pushed through the door to a back room and the two guards rushed in the front. One of them scanned the packed room, but his partner nudged him and pointed to the door to the back room. They both ran for the door, thinking she was escaping through the kitchen.
“Thank Lodin,” Meghan whispered.
Meghan waited for an hour to insure no other guards came through, let her clothes dry and finished another tankard. Once she was sure she was clear of any pursuit she ducked back out into the night and walked calmly east, toward the sound of ship’s bells and water lapping against wooden piers. She turned off Baker street into another alley and knocked twice on the second door down on the left. She counted five breaths and knocked once more. A slot opened in the door and Meghan could see a pair of dark eyes through it.
“Third fifth,” a voice said behind the door.
“Nightlily,” Meghan responded.
Meghan heard the bolt draw back and the door opened inward to reveal a dim hallway leading into the building. She stepped in and a man locked the door behind them, then led her down the hall to a stairwell that descended into darkness. His small lantern was their only guide in what appeared to be an abandoned tenement. Down another dark hall at the bottom, and through a door at the end Meghan entered another world. A brightly lit hall was flanked by doors, some open revealing neat bunk rooms where men and women cleaned or mended clothing, tools, and weapons. They passed through a large room with several tables surrounded by chairs, but otherwise empty. Finally, at the end of a short hall on the other side of the dining hall the man opened the door to an office.
The room was cluttered with stacks of books in the corners, a shelf of trinkets next to the door, and a large desk in the middle. Behind the desk sat a neatly dressed man, looking up at Meghan over the rim of small square spectacles. His brown hair, thinning on top, was tied back like hers still was and he tapped a wooden pen against his bearded chin. A ledger was open on the desk, amid papers, a scale and a handful of small knick knacks he liked to have around. He set the pen down and drew a kerchief from his vest pocket and used it to clean his glasses.
“You have it, I assume?” He asked Meghan.
Meghan nodded and reached into a small bag attached to her belt. She held out her hand and dropped a small gold signet ring onto the ledger.
“Easy enough to get in and out. I wasn’t spotted in the house,” she said.
“In the house?”
“City watch saw me coming back over the wall but I lost them at old Berk’s on Baker,” she explained.
“Good, now let’s see what we have here,” the man picked up the ring to examine the details of the engraving.
“Just like the jeweler said. Lord Ketch had a new one made,” Meghan said. “I found the old one in a box in the back of his wardrobe.”
The man behind the desk made a notation in the ledger and opened a drawer on his right. He spent a moment looking at the contents before lifting a small leather pouch and tossing its clinking contents to Meghan.
“Ketch’s enemies paid well for this job, congratulations,” he said when she caught the bag.
“Any word on the Sea Witch job?” Meghan asked.
“She’s docking in Spider territory, we can’t take that shipment,” the man said.
“We can’t be caught taking that shipment,” Meghan smiled and pocketed the bag before leaving the room.
“Don’t worry, bossman, I’ll be careful,” Meghan waved back down the hall.