It is not easy running a Thieves’ Guild. I knew this long before Old Salem passed the job on to me. Well, not exactly passed; he shouted my name right before they hanged him, and I had to convince the others he wasn’t saying I had betrayed him, but rather that I was the one to take over. This required a lot of finesse, three assassinations and five knife fights.
After a few months everyone agreed that someone had to be in charge and it might as well be me, no matter how I got there. A Guild needs a strong hand and a quick mind at the top and I’d proven myself quick enough to save my life when the others thought to kill me for betraying Old Salem.
So I’m now the head of this ragtag group. I take my ten percent and I arrange for the big jobs. I’ve even gone out on a couple with the boys. I think that was Old Salem’s mistake, you see. He set himself up as King and lost his touch for the work and lost touch with the others . . . except to take his share of their loot and met out punishment. He was good at the punishment side, which he always said made a strong Guild.
I’m not so big on taking the whip to a boy who dropped a few coins as he ran from the town guard. I remembered doing it myself the first couple times. In fact, I had learned a little trick: Drop a couple coins and the guard is likely to stop and pick them up. I passed this on to the others who stood in wide-eyed shock at the idea.
“But Old Salem, he say never give it back!” Arnis replied, shaking his head with denial. “This ain’t right, see. We steal from thems that got stuff. We don’t give it back.”
“You aren’t giving it back to the owner. You’re giving it as a tithe to the guard, and you know they make less in coin in a month than we steal in a ten-day.”
Arnis, who was never the brightest gem in the crown, kept shaking his head. He was getting too big to be a street boy and a bit too fat to run far anyway. He liked his food, our Arnis. I was already thinking about transferring him over to the weekly food run. After all, he couldn’t eat too much of the supplies before he got back to the mansion. I knew he wasn’t going to argue about the change.
That was an easy fix. There were others that weren’t so easy. For instance, that nagging little worry about who had actually betrayed Old Salem. It wasn’t me, but after I’d taken over the job, I began to see why he might have thought so. There were notes, you see. Someone had been feeding him information about my activities outside the guild.
Only I hadn’t done most of those things, at least not the way they read. Yeah, I’d visited the town guard. Two of my best informants were there. I wasn’t betraying anyone. My plans had been filed with Old Salem and it took me a while to find where he kept everyone’s plans hidden. Then I burnt them all before someone could use the notes against me.
Paranoia sat in as the paper burned. Who had been against me? Oh, we had our squabbles, especially when someone got as high up the ranks as I did and still pulled off a spectacular job now and then. I’d already been living in the Mansion with Old Salem and the other top five when he got pulled in and subsequently hanged. I wasn’t even certain why he’d left the place; I’d been out on a job that week, a grab-and-replace of some lovely emeralds that Lady Barston still hadn’t realized were not real.
Of the other five who had lived here, two were already dead, having thought that killing me would give them the position. I might have given it over — this was never the place I wanted to be — but they thought I had to die for the change of command to be effective. That made me recalcitrant. So two dead there, two others in a knife fight, and one so badly scared he’d simply left.
“Don’t scowl so much, my lad,” Darkin said as we stood by a window and stared out at the city. He’d just brought back half his weight in gold coin and we were celebrating with some fine wine. Darkin and I had come up together. I trusted him like a brother. The last person I did trust, in fact. “Don’t scowl. You’re starting to look like Old Salem and you’re too young to be that paranoid. He trusted no one, you know. Especially you and me when we started doing well.”
“That’s true enough. And someone —” I stopped. I put down the wine. “The stupid son-of-a-rat.”
“He was out when I was out. Did he do that often? Go out when I was on a job?”
Darkin thought. “I noticed him gone couple times, but I can’t say more since I was out as often as you. Besides, he was so paranoid I tried not to get close to him for fear it would wear off on me. I swear sometimes he didn’t know the truth from what he imagined.”
I slapped Darkin on the shoulder. “He was setting me up and he must have done something stupid and got himself caught. That explains why there was never any other name on the papers. Well, that’s settled!”
“I burnt them for fear that someone else would read the lies.”
“Ah. Well, don’t go all paranoid like he did, my lad. If you do, how can we rule the world?”
Oh yes, I’d trade paranoia for ambition. We sat down to make plans.