«The Brigand’s Throne Brian Farrey THE BRIGAND’S THRONE (A Prequel to THE VENGEKEEP PROPHECIES) By Brian Farrey I could feel it in my bones: we ...»
The Brigand’s Throne Brian Farrey
(A Prequel to THE VENGEKEEP PROPHECIES)
By Brian Farrey
I could feel it in my bones: we were doomed.
To be more specific, my grandmother was doomed. I was merely chosen to watch her go
to her doom. I know that’s not as bad as being doomed. But it’s not exactly a good thing either.
It all started on my twelfth birthday. Ma and Da had gone all out to celebrate. A big cloth banner saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAXTER spanned the width of our living room. Da had done a bit of late night burglary to steal a log of everember wood from the house of the local mage so the fire in our hearth flickered in a rainbow of colors. Ma had stolen only the finest ingredients from the merchants of Vengekeep to bake my favorite dessert: scorchcake with singemilk frosting.
Traditionally, this was one of the most important birthdays for a young thief. Twelve was the age when your thieving accomplishments were officially recognized by the Kleptocracy, 1 The Brigand’s Throne Brian Farrey the secret, not-so-official body that governed all thieving clans. Soon, I’d get to go out on my first solo heist, the biggest rite of passage for any thief. It was a lot of pressure, seeing as I was a member of the most famous thieving clan in all the Five Provinces—the Grimjinx clan.
As my family gathered around the kitchen table, I unwrapped my parents’ gift first.
Tearing apart the paper packaging, I found a small leather strap that fit perfectly around my wrist. Tucked into the strap were a series of eight shiny brass lockpicks. Each pick had been crafted personally by my mother, whose forging skills were second to none in all the Five Provinces.
“Happy thieving, son!” Ma beamed.
Aubrin, my ten-year-old sister, silently pushed her gift to me, a devilish glint in her eye.
Inside the small box, I found a wooden jar filled with cinderfig grease. Perfect for erasing any fingerprints left behind after a heist.
Nanni, my grandmother, had been watching me unwrap my gifts in silence. When everything was opened, she reached across the table and took me by the hand.
“Jaxter,” she said, softly, “as you know, the Kleptocracy will be meeting at Witchlock Cairns for the Brigand’s Throne ceremony next week. As the oldest living Grimjinx, I’ll be going to represent our clan. My gift to you is I’d like you to join me as my seelah.” Ma gasped as Da broke down in joyful tears. Aubrin threw her arms around me and squeezed. Words caught in my throat. I could barely manage the smallest of nods. Seelah was an ancient par-Goblin word. It was hard to translate. It meant that I would assist Nanni in the Brigand’s Throne ceremony. The only greater honor than being named a seelah to a clan representative at the Brigand’s Throne was to actually be the representative. The responsibility alone was tremendous and intimidating.
But I wasn’t worried about what I had to do. I was more worried that if my grandmother attended the Brigand’s Throne, she’d destroy the reputation of the Grimjinx clan as the most prestigious thieves in the land.
I should have been thrilled to be selected. Serving as Nanni’s seelah would give me a chance to prove myself worthy of the name Grimjinx. I come from a long line of accomplished thieves. To stand out, you had to really shine. And every seelah in our family’s history had gone on to do great things. If you consider thievery great. Which I do.
But I had good reason to be concerned. Don’t get me wrong. I love my nanni. Growing up, she would visit us frequently as our family went off on various heists. She was a font of wisdom and guile and a model thief for me and my sister.
But in the weeks leading up to my birthday, Nanni hadn’t quite been herself. She’d moved in with our family a month earlier. From the first day, she seemed…different. She was quiet all the time. She seemed to get confused easily. For example, some nights she’d excuse herself, go upstairs toward her bedroom, and we’d find her asleep in the hall closet. Or I’d take her to the market at Brassbell Promenade, she’d gather what we needed for dinner, then try to pay the merchant with the balls of fuzz she found at the bottom of her coinpurse.
Granted, quite a few merchants felt sorry for her and we got more than a few meals free.
The day before Nanni and I were to leave on our journey to Witchlock Cairns, I went to visit Da at his phydollotry shop.
“I know she’s your ma and all,” I said, “but there’s a lot at stake. Maybe you can go in her place.”
“Jaxter,” Da said, “thieving tradition is that the oldest of the clan goes to the Brigand’s Throne. Don’t worry. She’ll put the Briarbanes in their place.” For as long as there had been the Kleptocracy, there had been a rivalry between the Grimjinxes and the Briarbanes. It went back centuries. No one really knew how it started. Every time the Brigand’s Throne came around, everyone knew it would boil down to a competition between our family and theirs for who came out on top. The Grimjinxes had reigned supreme since I was an infant. That could all change if Nanni wasn’t at her best.
“I’m not talking about that,” I told Da. “I’m talking about…that other thing. You know.
The Throne.” “Ah,” Da said. But he didn’t seem overly concerned. “Well, if that’s what you’re worried about, then I suggest you get started on your duties as seelah right away.” I couldn’t believe him. This was his mother we were talking about. And this wasn’t just about protecting our family’s reputation. It was about protecting Nanni.
The Kleptocracy was made up of the twelve most powerful thieving clans in all the Five Provinces. Those twelve clans were chosen based on the amount of prestige they’d earned for their thievery. And that prestige was determined once a year at the Brigand’s Throne.
Every year, each of the twelve clans would gather at Witchlock Cairns where the Kleptocracy’s most precious artifact—the Brigand’s Throne—was hidden. Each head of clan would sit on the solid gold throne and declare aloud every bit of thievery their family had done in the past year. The more your family stole, the more prestige you earned. Once all twelve clans had spoken, the family with the most prestige, as determined by the total value of your thefts, received a tithe of ten percent of the other clans’ yearly earnings.
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as just bragging about your clan’s heists. It would be too easy to lie. But, the thieves who started the Kleptocracy over five hundred years ago had devised a clever trap for liars. The Brigand’s Throne was enchanted. Not only could it recognize deceit, it was unforgiving of any error or slip of the tongue. Any lie, any false word—intentional or not— was met with the swiftest magical justice the Throne could dole out. When you sat in the Throne, you needed to know every detail of every heist by heart and speak accurately or face dire consequences.
Do you see why I was afraid for my grandmother who tried to pay her debts with bits of lint?
Da was right about one thing. The only way to avoid disaster and protect my nanni was to be the best seelah ever and help her prepare. I was up to the challenge.
Black and gray clouds rolled across the sky as we entered the mountain pass that would take us to Witchlock Cairns. We sat side by side at the front of our family’s covered wagon as it rocked gently back and forth along the rocky path. A large satchel, filled to bursting with parchments and scrolls, hung from my neck. For weeks, the far-flung members of our family had been sending us reports of all the thieving they’d done for the past year. It was Nanni’s job to memorize each and every heist, caper, and burglary and know the value of each, right down to the last bronzemerk.
When the letters first stated arriving at our house, Nanni would glance at them quickly, then toss them aside like she thought they weren’t meant for her. It was my job as seelah to make
sure she committed every word to memory. Our trip had taken two days and I was getting the idea that we hadn’t made that much progress.
“How about we review what we learned from Uncle Garax?” I said, pulling out a parchment covered with my uncle’s messy handwriting.
“Garax?” Nanni said dreamily, coaxing the mang that pulled our wagon forward. “Who’s that?” I groaned to myself. We’d been over this three times already. “Nanni, he’s your son. Da’s younger brother.” She nodded but the distant look in her eyes said she didn’t really understand. “Did he write me a letter?” “Yes,” I said, “a very important letter. A letter you have to remember.” Nanni frowned. “You sound so grave. You make it sound like my life depends on it.” I sighed. “It does, Nanni. Sort of. Look, we can make this a game. It sort of rhymes.
‘Garax robbed the Bank of Vyx and got a thousand silvernibs.’ See? Can you remember that?”
Nanni didn’t respond. When I poked her, she jumped. She’d fallen asleep. She looked around, confused. Then she pointed along the path and said. “Look at the ladygills. That’s my favorite kind of flower.” I stuffed the parchment back into the satchel.
Twin moons peeked up over the horizon as dusk fell. As the road curved to the left, we rounded the corner to find a wide open field between mountains. Small mounds of gray stones,
the size of my fist, marked the graves of the Witchlock par-Goblins, the ancient thieves whose work still inspired thieving clans of all races to this day. Among these cairns, several other covered wagons had assembled. The rest of the clans had arrived and were setting up camp with small fires and tents.
We picked an empty bit of field and stopped. I hopped off the wagon and held my hand out to help Nanni down. She teetered at the edge of the wagon, then cried out as she slipped and fell on top of me. The clans closest to us saw this and started laughing. Face red, I helped Nanni to her feet.
“Are we going camping?” Nanni asked loudly. More laughter from nearby. I spotted the Briarbanes across the way. They were looking right at Nanni, whispering to one another, and snickering. I ignored them and unpacked the tent from the wagon.
Nanni and I each took a side of the tent to pitch. I finished my half quite easily. But when I went round to the other side to see why Nanni wasn’t done, I found her trying to drive the tent stakes into the ground with handfuls of grass.
Behind me, a river of whispers raced through the cairns. By now, all the other clans had noticed Nanni’s behavior. No one even bothered trying to hide the fact they were watching closely. I knew by their confident smiles what they were thinking. This year, they thought, was the year the Grimjinx clan fell.
The moment I’d finished pitching the tent, Nanni put her hands on her hips and said, “Let’s go for a walk.” Before I could respond, she headed off. I grabbed a handful of parchments. This would be my last chance to help her before the ceremony tomorrow morning.
We wandered through the cairns, passing the tents of the other clans. Most had gathered around campfires, preparing dinner. From what Da had told me, the night before the Brigand’s Throne usually found people feverishly studying the reports of their family’s thievery. Strangely, only Nanni and I seemed to be preparing. Everyone we passed nodded respectfully—we did, after all, have the most prestige—but the moment we passed, the cackling began.
I threw a withering gaze at the others, then turned my attention to the scroll in my hand.
“What do you remember about Great Uncle Ollanger?” Nanni scratched her head. “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me… Great Uncle Ollangar plundered the Bloodtombs of Arroth.” “No,” I said, trying to not let the panic in my heart seep into my voice. “Great Uncle Ollangar only pillaged Arroth.” Nanni clicked her tongue. “Silly me. That’s right!” I lowered my voice. “Nanni, please pay attention. You can’t mistake a plunder for a pillage.” A pillage was any theft that resulted in a take valued at one hundred times the thief’s weight in silvernibs. A plunder, a far more valuable endeavor, was valued at one thousand times the thief’s weight. Mistaking one for the other could be disastrous.
“Yes, yes,” Nanni said, picking at her messy hair as though she were pulling invisible bugs from it.
As Nanni moved ahead, I felt a tug at my arm. I turned to find Hedra Briarbane, head of clan, holding a small cage.
“Thought you might need this,” she said, nodding at Nanni. “After tomorrow, it’ll be easier to take her home.”
My ears burned as I guided Nanni away. Once our backs were turned, the entire Briarbane camp burst out laughing.
We spent the rest of the evening next to our campfire. I tried to quiz Nanni but she couldn’t take her eyes off the other clans. They’d gathered in the center of the cairns to play games and drink ashwine. I almost suggested we join them. It would have been nice to have one last night of fun. Because I figured after tomorrow, Nanni wouldn’t be having fun for a long, long time.
As the rising sun lit the cairns the next morning, it was time to begin. Each of the clan heads, their seelahs at their sides, took a small dirt path leading away from the cairns up a nearby hillside as other members of their clans wished them well. Every ten steps or so, Nanni had to stop to catch her breath. She leaned on her cane and wheezed. I heard the Briarbanes chortle as they passed us.