Once upon a time there was a kingdom, full of magic and bravery, dragons, knights, and princesses. Vincent wasn’t one of those things, they weren’t even a part of his life. He was a thief, a decent one, but not a great one. Most of his days were spent drinking and carousing, while his nights were spent stealing. Not the glamorous kind you are thinking of, no, it was a much more banal form. He mostly stole from merchants, small things he could sell. Sometimes he robbed people on the road. Rarely, but not never, he did do the kind of thieving people think of, he would climb a wall, or pick a lock, and break into a grand mansion or a palace. Sometimes he even made some money from that. Of course he usually drank it away, staying drunk until he was out of money.
Vincent had made his peace with this, a long time ago. He was a waste, a drain on society, a drunk and a fool.
It was morning. Vincent didn’t know how he’d gotten into the tree, or why he was only wearing his smallclothes and his left boot. This wasn’t all that uncommon for Vincent however, so he didn’t worry about it too much. Instead his focus was on the intense pain the morning sun was causing in his head. Well, maybe the sun was less the cause than one of the contributors, with the wine last night deserving the lions share of the blame.
A voice rang out, filling Vincent’s head with even more pain. “Hey you, up in the tree. Get down here.”
Damnit. The man on the ground was wearing chain armour, and carrying a long spear with a shield in his other hand. Even worse, he had the sigil of the town watch on his breast. Oh well, nothing for it then.
“Be right there. Just give me a moment, I’m perched somewhat precariously.”
“Of course, take your time. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience your lordship.”
“That’s very kind of y…”
“Get yer stinking drunken arse down here before I have to come get you. If I do it will go far, far worse for you.”
Vincent dropped from the tree, moving faster than was wise. He hit the ground with a thump. That was going to leave a bruise. It seemed unfair that it was such a beautiful day. Birds sang, the grass was green. Bright flowers formed a ring around the small lawn area.
“Alright, public drunkenness and lewd behaviour. You are coming with me son. A few days in a cell should straighten you out.”
Vincent went quietly. No point fighting the watch, he wasn’t going to win. He wasn’t much of a fighter to start with.
Once Vincent reached his cell he found himself next to a young woman, obviously of noble descent. Her clothing, though disheveled, was fine fabric, rich and lustrous. She was beautiful, in that way only the children of wealth can be. Hair, slightly dirty, but well cut, long, the dirt recent. “Why you here princess?”
“I’m not a princess. Why are you talking to me? Also, why are you naked?”
“Not naked. I have my smallclothes and my boot. I’m talking to you because I’m bored, and there’s nobody else here to talk to.”
“Well, don’t get used to it. Once my father discovers where I am I won’t be here anymore. Guard, guard, has my father been informed of my whereabouts?”
The guard replied, “Yep. He said, and before you get mad at me gorgeous, keep in mind I’m just repeating his words, he said ‘Let the little slut rot in her cell for all I care.’, so I don’t see you getting out of here anytime soon.”
“What, that can’t… he didn’t. What?”
Vincent felt bad for the girl, at least for a moment. Her eyes widened for a moment, then she slumped forward, her proud posture folding into itself. Her head dropped to her hands, and she started sobbing, quietly, under her breath. Vincent imagined that being abandoned by your father would be harsh – of course that assumed you started with a father, which he hadn’t, at least not one that he’d ever known.
“Hey love, it’ll be alright. This place isn’t for serious criminals. We’ll be out of here in a few days. I’m sure your father will be waiting with welcome arms. Probably just wants to teach you a lesson.”
The guard said, “Nope. That’s the way it would usually work, but not today. You two aren’t leaving anytime soon.”
“What? Why? I was arrested for being drunk and improperly clad.”
“Yeah, and the girl was arrested for pissing on the palace steps. Today is special though. You’ll see.”
“Pissing on the palace steps? Why would you do that?”
“I had to pee.”
“So, just hiked the skirts up and had a piss then?”
“There were a few rounds of drinks first.”
They talked, and talked, and talked. The girl’s name was Luella, and as they started talking they discovered that they laughed at the same things. She was the daughter of a minor nobleman, rebellious and young. Her father was angry because she flirted with the servants all the time.
By morning Vincent was in love. He thought Luella felt the same, or if not the same at least a related feeling. They even held hands for a while, the best they could do through the bars. Maybe it was circumstances, but the gutter thief and the cast off daughter of nobility had found each other.
They talked for two days. A constant conversation. Others were brought in. An angry dwarf, his beard plated in two braids. His name was Hans, and he was furious. “How dare you. I am the dwarven ambassadors personal bodyguard. I’ll have all of your jobs. Just because a man gets a bit drunk and mistakes the governor of Tiranis for a household pet, doesn’t give you any right to lock him up. I did nothing more than pet the man on the head. He’s a gnome, who knew they could even think?”
The guards brought in a human who looked like a fighter as well. He was broad shouldered, a hulking man with long hair and an impressive array of scars. At first Vincent was nervous, the newcomer was much better looking the he was, but Luella was still talking mostly to him, holding his hand. Around midnight on the second day they tried to kiss through the bars, in between yelling at the guards to let them out.
On day three a man who was dressed too finely to be a guard, but who spoke too coarsely to be a nobleman came in. “Hello. I’m Dale. I’m going to explain to you why you are still here. So, in each of your cases we have identified more serious crimes against the crown. Vincent. You are a thief. We have proof of a dozen robberies, at least. You are to be held for trial, and probably executed. Yes, we have ironclad proof. Luella, you, for all your apparent innocence, are an assassin. You poisoned the Duchess of Marcene at the Winter Ball. Don’t try to deny it. We have the poison. Hans, you killed the governor of Tiranis. Crushed his skull with your bare hands. Mace,” he said, looking at the handsome human warrior, “you have robbed a dozen caravans. Maybe fifty men have died at your blade.”
Vincent was looking at Luella , slightly shocked, but he got over it in a moment. So, she poisoned somebody. That’s just what nobles did he figured, plus her lips made that perfect little bow, and her breasts were so perky.
Dale continued, “The good news is that there is an alternative to the hangmans noose for all of you. The princess has been kidnapped by high chancellor Vellis. The high chancellor is very popular with the people, and the princess is not. We can’t simply send an army in to retrieve her, but we also can’t pay the ransom he has demanded, the damned snake. Turns out he’s a magician. So, you can volunteer to rescue her, unbeknownst to everybody, or you can face execution. Your choice.”
“Is there a cash reward?” Vincent asked.
“No, there is not a cash reward. There is not being beheaded or hung.”
“Hanged,” Luella said.
“Hanged. If you execute someone by hanging the term is to be hanged. Clearly your education is simply not up to snuff.”
“Alright then. Hanged, you will not be hanged if you go on this mission.”
Vincent said “I’m not a hero, in fact I’m a coward, the last person you want on a mission like this.”
“Okay, the noose it is then.”
“No, wait, maybe I was a bit hasty. I will try and rescue the princess, it could be a bit of a lark. Plus, I can pick locks, disable traps, that sort of thing. I could be very useful… I’m not the best for deeds of daring do, but what the hell.”
The rest agreed, resigning themselves to the role of heroes of the realm, if unsung ones.
They were taken to Castle Vellis, a fortress high on top of a cliff.
The next several days were spent fighting their way in, room by room. Vincent and Luella kept to the back, Vincent only making his way forward to pick a lock. Caution was his watchword, and Luella was every bit as reticent to take the lead. She had knives, and a light sword at her waist. Vincent was armed with a pair of daggers, and a heavier sword that he did not know how to use in the slightest. The knives looked impressive, he figured he could cut the most gristly piece of meat with them. Using them for fighting he felt was frankly insane.
Hans died first. They entered a room, and arrows flew from the wall, piercing the dwarf in a dozen places. Mace was next. He heroically battled a winged demon single handedly, mostly owing to the fact that neither Vincent nor Luella was willing to help out in any way. They choose another path, one without a winged demon.
“Promise me something,” Luella said as she ran down the hall.
“No heroics. Heroes die. Let’s promise each other right now, no heroics.”
“Of course, no heroics.”
Finally, they found themselves in a long hall. At one end of the hall was the High Chancellor, stroking the goatee that adorned the end of his face, the only hair on his head, his eyebrows and lashes were absent. His irises were snakelike in appearance. Had nobody seen his betrayal coming?
“I see you have come to rescue the princess. You will die here.”
“We’ve kind of been forced into this situation. It was this or be executed. Hell, the king has a few watchers on the castle, making sure we don’t try and escape. Neither one of us has any desire to rescue anyone, and we don’t think you’re any worse than the folks in power now. If you have a secret way out, point us in the way… and we’ll be out of your hair.”
“That’s an interesting wrinkle. So, you aren’t here for glory and honour?”
“Hell no, we don’t give a crap. Let us go and we’ll go.”
“Okay. That’s a deal. I have a few secret entrances, I suppose giving you one can’t hurt. Walk three doors, grab the fifth sconce and follow the tunnel until you see daylight. It takes you into the mountains. There are supplies along the way. I will set a ward, if you bring anyone back through I will know and I will eviscerate you.”
Vincent and Luella lived long and happy lives, broke most of the time, but their skills kept them fed and housed at least. They loved each other the rest of their lives.