by Thomas Grable and Fiona Zimmer
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Laughter erupted into the night as the door to the Crested Swan opened onto the street. A trio of merry tavern-goers stumbled onto the fog-slicked pavestones, Arvis the wool merchant and his two doxies, each holding a bottle of good wine. They recited the last refrain from the bard’s baudy tune, and staggered down the lane.
So besotted with wine and good cheer, the three failed to note the small figure in the tattered grey cloak, until they nearly tripped over him. The merchant made to help the poor child, but then noted the hand on his purse. He seized the child’s wrist, enraged at the attempted theft.
“Oho, a little thief, have we? The town watch will have something to say about thieving street urchins. Here, let’s have a look at him.”
The merchant yanked back the child’s hood, revealing a face of nightmare. In the lamplight, the waxen features were horribly deformed. Yellow-grey skin stretched over bulbous lumps of bone. Beneath the hairless, malformed brow, the eyes glittered. The left eye was brown, and held some semblance of normalcy, but the right bulged obscenely, miscast and colored a mad, watery blue. The nose was bent and twisted, with distended nostrils, and beneath it was a wide fish mouth, full of crooked teeth, bared in a bestial grin.
“Blessed saints, a demon!” The merchant and his companions fled in terror from the creature.
Booger looked at the purse, still in his hand, and counted a dozen silver coins. “Not bad for a night’s work,” he croaked.
He flipped his hood back up with its concealing veil, and returned to the sewers.
By noon the next day, some of the fog had burned off, leaving scattered sunlight mixed with grey. Rising late, as usual, Booger found a favored street vendor, and purchased a skewer of roasted chicken.
“Silver,” noted the vendor with a sly smile. “Must have had a good night.”
“Eh, okay,” the Hobbit answered with a noncommittal shrug.
Taking his change, Booger walked off, carefully lifting his veil sufficiently to feast on the succulent meat. “Sure beats sewer rat,” he observed with a rasping chuckle, and took another bite.
He was feeling cheerful indeed, until he felt cold metal hook over his shoulder. Booger halted, looking at the black hatchet head, then slowly turned around.
“H-hi, Borak,” he offered weakly. “Nice day, huh?”
The Dwarf scowled at him beneath craggy brows. Bald as an egg, the enforcer’s beard bristled black, save for the whitish streak from the long scar that ran from the bridge of his broken nose to his right jaw line. Ears like lumps of gristle bespoke the countless fights the Dwarf had seen — and won.
“Tobias wants his money.” The thick muscles of his arms stood out like pythons. Booger swallowed nervously.
“Uh, yeah, Borak, no problem. Uh, I’ve been working on it. I should have it in another week or two.”
“Tobias wants it by tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? I-I dunno, Borak, that’s, uh, that’s going to be pretty tough.”
The Dwarf glared menacingly. “Not as tough as if you don’t, worm.”
“Uh, the name’s Booger,” the Hobbit corrected.
“I know your name… worm.”
“Oh… oh, okay, right… tomorrow. No problem. Ah, that was seventy-five silvers, right?”
“Interest,” the enforcer answered.
“Oh, yeah. Ninety.”
“Tomorrow,” said Borak. “By sundown.”
As the burly enforcer strode off, Booger felt very ill.
The Hobbit’s mind spun. Several options lay before him. One, he could skip town. That didn’t sound too bad, until he remembered that Tobias had contacts in all the neighboring cities as well. No good there. Two, he could try to explain to Tobias that he’d lost the money, and ask for an extension. The vision of Borak breaking his favorite bones came suddenly to his mind. Definitely not good. Three, he could try to steal the rest. Difficult, given that he had had no time to scout out a good prospect. Then there was the fourth option.
He had eleven silvers and change. A small stake, but with a bit of luck he could turn it into ninety easily.
The gambling dens of the thieves quarter held games of every description: dice, cards, games of skill, even cockroach races. Dame fortune was calling to him. This was his golden opportunity. With luck on his side, he could easily win the money to pay back Tobias, and more besides. He felt lucky. He felt assured. Nothing could stop him.
“Goddamned cockroach,” he spat.
Without a copper to his name, Booger was looking at a grim future. He’d been in tough scrapes before, but this one was looming larger by the moment. Desperately, he started thinking of potential targets for burglary. The need for quick cash meant taking a smaller percentage from the fence, as he would not have time to shop around for the best deal. Figuring that he could probably get twenty-five percent, that meant that the take had to be valued at over three hundred silvers for him to get enough to clear his debt with Tobias.
That meant the wealthier merchants, or the petit nobility. Without proper planning and preparation, any of the estates could be a deathtrap. But desperate Hobbits make for desperate measures.
Booger had had his eye on the estate of Lord Crimson, a walled villa that boasted much wealth. He’d planned to make a more extensive study of the place, but now would have to accelerate his timetable.
Hell, just go in and take whatever you can find, he thought. He returned to the alcove in the sewers where he slept, and drew out the bundle containing his housebreaking tools. Scavenged from all over the city, it was a motley collection of rusted saws, two chisels, a wooden mallet, a prybar, two screwdrivers, a small flask of oil, and a drill with an odd set of bits. It also contained a length of slightly frayed rope, a ball of twine, and some copper wire. Combined with the lockpicks he always carried, it would have to suffice.
He drew his dagger. It was pitted with rust, and the edge was dull. He drew out a stone, spat on it, and began to hone the edge. It wasn’t good enough to shave with, but being completely hairless, he had no need to shave anyway. It would do.
The little thief did not like the idea of going in blind, but he steeled himself to the task. He remembered the route through the sewers that led to the nobles quarter. “Nobles think their shit doesn’t stink. They ought to smell it from down here,” he laughed.
A turn, another, and a long winding stretch in darkness. The candle gave faint light, but enough for Booger’s eyes, long accustomed to the dark. A sewer rat scurried past, but he let it go. “Never work on a full stomach,” he opined.
“Five… six… seven… eight. This is it.” He climbed up to the sewer grate, and peered through. No lamplight near the estate, he remembered, only torches, and none of them were lit. He figured the hour to be near midnight. Fog had settled in again. Good, he thought, makes for an easier getaway.
He emerged from the sewers, careful to make no noise as he replaced the grate. The back wall looked to be the best choice. Some vines had grown over the wall, making for an easy climb, especially for one as light as a Hobbit. Lousy gardener, he thought, as he climbed quietly over.
He stopped at the top of the wall, and lay flat, his grey cloak blending into the stone of the wall. He saw nothing, but then closed his eyes to let his hearing take in the sounds. Nothing.
There were no lights on in the windows. The whole house was asleep. Perfect.
He silently lowered himself to the ground. He looked around again, noting the places of cover. Thank the gods that Lord Crimson did not keep watch dogs on his estate.
Booger approached the house, noting an open window on the second floor. Better and better, he thought. Money in the bank.
More vines made their way up the wall, providing convenient handholds for the Hobbit. He suppressed a snicker at the nobleman’s complete lack of security. He made his way to the window, and peered in.
The room was dark, silent. He heard no sound of snoring, but the faint light cast little illumination. He quietly slipped inside, noting the outline of a bed and dresser. He padded to the dresser, and quietly pulled out a drawer. He reached inside, and found it empty. The second drawer held nothing as well, as did the third, and the fourth.
Must be the guest room, he thought. He made his way to the door, and began to open it. He heard the hinges begin to groan, so he stopped and withdrew the oil flask. He applied a drop to the lower hinge, and wiped it over the surface. He struggled to reach the upper hinge, but it was set too high for his diminutive frame, so he could only hope it would not squeak. This time the door was thankfully silent, so he looked out into the hallway, and slipped out the door.
He saw the bannister railing, as high as he was tall. He saw another door to his left, and stairs that led down. To his right was another door, set at the end of the hallway. He took a moment to stick his head through the railing, to peer into the darkened first floor. He saw and heard nothing there.
The door at the end must be the master bedroom, he thought. So the thief made his way to the door, put his ear to it, and stopped to listen. Nothing. He tried the handle, and found it unlocked. Luck was with him.
Quietly he opened the door, sticking his head in to look around. Another bed, this time larger, with wooden posts and a fabric canopy, and another dresser. Booger made his way to the dresser, and began to open the bottom drawer. It made a slight sound, as the wood rubbed on wood. He then heard a similar sound behind him.
He froze, becoming a statue, fearing even to breathe. The sound had come from the other side of the great bed. The thought of flight came to him, but Tobias would not be forgiving, and nor would Borak. Booger slowly drew his dagger from its moldy sheath. He had one chance, he figured. He could catch the nobleman by surprise, hold the dagger to the man’s throat, and force him to give up his valuables in return for his life. Booger could then tie him up, gag him, and escape before the alarm could be sounded.
It wasn’t a very good plan, but it was the only one that offered even the slightest chance. He approached the bed, his two hearts hammering in his breast. Silent as a ghost, albeit a small one, he made his way to the bed, then, summoning up all of his courage, he leapt upon it.
He collided with another figure, and saw a flash of metal. His left hand shot out to seize the figure’s wrist, while a similar grip closed about his own. He struggled futilely for a moment, then realized that the figure was no stronger than himself, and roughly the same size. Was he battling a child?
“Give up, and you won’t be hurt,” he rasped in a hoarse whisper.
“No, you give up,” came the whispered answer. “I was here first.”
The voice was feminine, the tone distinctly un-childlike. “Another Hobbit? What are you doing here?”
“The same as you, obviously. Unfortunately, it looks like the nobleman left in a hurry, and took everything with him.”
“You’re a thief?”
“Same as you, friend. Same as you.”
He chuckled. “Just my luck. Okay, you can let go now.”
“Why, don’t you trust me?”
“Sure. And you can trust me, so you let go first.”
Inspiration struck him. Instead of letting go, he pulled her over and landed atop her on the bed. She felt very good under him, her feminine form athletic, yet still soft and nicely curved. She smelled good, too.
“Okay, I’ll let you go, but first I’ll have a kiss.”
Pinned beneath him, she tried to struggle free, then relaxed. He flipped his head to throw his veil aside, then his lips met hers. She did not respond at first, but then her mouth opened, and her tongue played with his in a dizzying dance.
This was what he had dreamed of for years. It set his blood on fire, and passion filled his brain. So lost was he in the emotions of the kiss that he relaxed his grip, and so found himself rolled onto his back. The Hobbit woman was now atop him, her dagger at his throat.
“Now the tables are turned,” she hissed menacingly. “I have only one question.”
“Uh… what’s that?”
Her face bent closer to his. “Where’d you learn to kiss like that?” Her own dagger was flung aside, and Booger found himself in a passionate embrace. Forgotten were the thoughts of burglary, of Tobias and Borak, of his own ugliness and deformity, of anything but the warm, willing body of the female in his arms.
His ragged clothing fell quickly aside, as did her leathers. His long tongue laved her soft skin, tickling her throat and progressing downward in slow circles. Her breath came faster as he kissed and licked her small, soft breasts, circling beneath the tender nipples, then moving up to tease the cherry tips. He kissed the soft valley between them, those kisses moving inexorably down her belly towards the juncture of her warm thighs.
He kissed the sweet furrow of her sex, his tongue lapping in long, slow licks, circling round her clitoris. That long, long tongue delved inside her, bringing a sharp gasp as it penetrated to her very core. She shuddered as he made his tongue move in slow rotations within her, bringing her to the very brink of ecstasy, and taking her beyond.
He arose to his knees, moving up to enter her. He mounted her like a wild stallion. All right, let’s be honest; he mounted her like an ugly, excited, horny Hobbit. Her fingernails dug into his back as she moaned beneath him, moving in delicious rhythm to his thrusts. Then she was on top, and she rode him like the ocean. Their pleasure spun out, long and intense, until finally they reached the climactic moment. His breath came in great, shuddering gasps, and he felt the discharge begin deep within him, to come out in thick, hot jets. The throes of orgasm held them spellbound, until, sated, some semblance of rationality returned.
“Wow,” she said in wonderment. “That was amazing.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Sex is much better with a partner.”
She chuckled. “Now I’ll have to tell them I met a mysterious burglar, who ravished me twice.”
“Unless you’re tired,” she giggled.
Later, while they basked in the afterglow of sex, Booger turned to his newfound lover. “You know,” he croaked, “I don’t even know your name.”
“Mazikeen. That’s a beautiful name,” he said, as his hand tenderly stroked her face.
She sat up. “Booger? Your name is Booger? I don’t believe it.”
He shrugged. “My parents named me. The last thing I heard them say, before they left town, was, ‘You’re on your own, you ugly little booger.’ I was seven or eight at the time. I can’t say for sure, because they never celebrated my birthday. They did teach me how to swim, though. When I was three, they tossed me in the river, in a burlap sack. I made my way out, and swam up to the surface. At the time, I thought it was a game.”
“Oh, that’s so wrong,” she said in sympathy. Her hand reached up to caress his face, and he froze. Slowly, gently, she felt the swell of his bony brows, the awful ruin that was his nose, and the wide, froggish mouth. Tenderly, he kissed her questing fingers.
His tongue flicked out, darting to the junction of her middle and ring finger, then played upon her palm. She caught her breath, and said, “Doesn’t that tongue ever get tired?”
“Eventually,” he answered with a dry chuckle. “Why, are you complaining?”
“No, not a bit.”
She felt the tongue encircle her fingers, wrapping around with astonishing agility. “That is the longest tongue I think I’ve ever seen, er, known, er, uh, well, you know what I mean.”
He laughed. “It comes in handy when you don’t have eyelashes. Gotta get dust out of your eyes somehow, eh?”
“I suppose so,” she answered. She snuggled close to him, laying her head upon his chest.
After a moment, she sat up again in puzzlement. “I was listening to your heart beat. It sounded very strange.”
“Oh, that. I’ve got two hearts.”
“Yeah. I guess it accounts for my stamina. I don’t get tired very easily.”
“You can say that again,” she laughed. “You are a Hobbit, right?”
“Oh, yeah. Mom and Dad were normal, everyday Hobbits, if down and out. Me, I was just some sort of freak they had.” He was silent for a time, then said, “Enough about me.
What about you?”
“Me? Oh, just a girl with a little larceny in her soul.”
“My kind of girl,” he laughed.
The room was growing noticeably brighter. “Morning,” she noted.
“Yeah, morning… oh, shit, morning!”
“What’s the problem? You going to turn into a pumpkin?”
“No, a corpse. I needed the money from this heist to pay off Tobias.”
“Tobias Vogosian, big time spice merchant, big time crook. I owe him money, and it’s due today.”
“Ninety silver eagles.”
She whistled. “That’s a lot. How much are you short?”
He laughed weakly. “Ninety.”
He began pulling on his clothes. She lay on the bed, watching him, seeing his face in the dawning light. It was awful; she had to look away. He pulled on his hood and veil.
He could see her hair take fire in the morning sunlight. Her eyes were emeralds, her face heart-shaped and adorably cute, framed by the short copper hair. Her lovely body lay upon the bed, making him respond with desire. He turned away.
She asked, “Got a plan?”
“No,” he admitted. “This was it.”
Her lips pursed in thought. “Hmm… there may be a way out of this yet.”
“You think so?”
“Trust me,” she said with a sly smile.
The docks were a busy place, unloading the river boats that brought in goods, and loading those going out. The dock workers were a tough bunch, and but they shrank back when Borak elbowed them aside. Behind him walked the corpulent form of Tobias Vogosian, a discordant note among them in his elegant silk jacket.
They found the end of pier thirteen, ill used for fear of bad luck, where waited the two Hobbits. Mazikeen was resplendent in her dark leathers, the dying sunlight setting fire to her hair, while Booger was… well, Booger.
“We got your note,” Borak rumbled. “You got the money, worm?”
Mazikeen spoke up. “Nope. He hasn’t got a copper to his name.”
Tobias interjected, “Your note said you had a means to resolve this situation, my dear. Pray tell, how did you intend to do this?”
She shrugged. “It’s very simple. He owes you a lot of money, which he hasn’t got. To keep your reputation, and ensure that others don’t renege on their debts, you have to make an example of him. Now, if he were to skip town, it would take a great deal of time, effort, and expense to track him down. I’ve saved you the trouble; here he is. I figure that’s worth a reward.”
Booger whirled on her. “Mazikeen! This was your plan? Turn me over to Tobias? What were you thinking? I thought we had something special!”
“I’m sorry, Booger, but a girl’s got to look out for herself. Times are pretty tough. I mean, it was fun and all, but business is business.”
“You bitch! I’ll kill you for this!” He reached for his dagger, but kept on reaching, confused.
“Looking for this?” She held up his dagger. “I figured you’d be upset, so I filched it when you weren’t looking.”
Borak laughed. “Looks like your luck’s all bad, worm.”
Booger’s head hung down, dejected and miserable. Mazikeen turned to Tobias.
“I figure turning him in has saved you a pretty penny. He owes you, what, ninety silver eagles? I’d say a ‘finder’s fee’ of ten percent would be reasonable, wouldn’t you?”
Tobias raised one eyebrow. “My, aren’t you the entrepreneur,” he chuckled. “Yes, that sounds very reasonable.”
She continued. “And, if finding him is worth that much, then finishing the job for you should be worth, oh, a third, yes?”
Tobias smiled a hungry, feral smile. “Oh, I’m really beginning to like this girl. One-third it is.”
“Uh, Maz,” Booger stammered, “what are you talking about?”
“Sorry, Booger, but it’s a tough world out there.”
She stabbed the dagger into his belly. His blood spilled out, a river of deep crimson in the light of the setting sun. He staggered as his life bled away, then toppled off the end of the pier.
The three stood at the edge of the dock, and watched him sink beneath the water. He didn’t come up again. Tobias turned to Mazikeen.
“Well, my dear, it seems you are now richer by thirty silver eagles. Do call on me again, will you? A person of your talents and cleverness would be most welcome in my organization.”
“I’ll let you know.”
Mazikeen counted the money in a quiet alleyway. Thirty pieces of silver. The coins were heavy in her hand, clinking one after another.
She heard the drip of water behind her. The voice of her lover spoke. “Did you think death could keep me from you?”
She turned around, to see the unmasked face of horror. His face was the color of a corpse, the eyes fixed on hers. She started at the sight, then whispered, “For god’s sakes, Booger, put your hood up! Somebody could see you.” Me for one, she thought.
He did so, a rasping chuckle building in his throat. “That was a hell of a scam, Maz. That bit with the bladder of pig’s blood was perfect. I’m glad they bought it.”
“Of course they bought it. Even if the stab wound didn’t finish you off, everyone knows that Hobbits can’t swim,” she laughed. “Now let’s blow this town, before somebody gets wise to us.”
It wasn’t until much later, spooned comfortably against her warm and sweaty body, that the thought occurred to him. She could have really betrayed him, but she hadn’t. If she had slashed the knife across his throat, rather than the prearranged stab to the vitals, then she wouldn’t have had to share the reward at all, and no one would have cared one way or the other.
“Maz…” Fear clogged his tongue. If he mentioned it, mightn’t she change her mind?
“Mmmh? What is it, lover?” She rolled over and wrapped her legs around him. His manhood stirred lazily. For once, his tongue failed him as he tried to croak out three questions at once. “M-M-Maz…Why did…? ….Didn’t you..? ..Do you.?” She stilled his stammering in the best possible way. A long and lingering silence ensued.
When their lips parted again she said sleepily, “Do I need a reason?”
Her hips began to move, sliding up and down him in a slow rhythm that promised to build into hours of gentle lovemaking. “Listen to me, Booger. I’m just like you: a thief and a liar, the worst kind of scum. Even if I told you I loved you, you’d be a fool to believe me -
Her arms and legs tightened around him as he matched her rhythm with his own, sliding effortlessly inside her.
There was no talking then, not for hours.