«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 ...»
When we made it to the hilltop, we found a wide circle made of twelve, smooth stone domes no higher than my ankles. Each head of clan and their seelah stood next to a dome. Nanni and I took our place next to the one vacant stone. Everyone looked around, acknowledging each other with a nod. Then, as one, the head of each clan slowly sank down to sit atop their respective stone mound.
A cool breeze grazed the hilltop. A moment later, the ground shook. I laid a hand on Nanni’s shoulder. She stared toward the mountaintops, eyes glassy and distant. Suddenly, the dirt in the center of the circle was pushed aside, as if by invisible hands. A thin spire shot up from the ground. The spire grew taller and wider until it became the back of a great, golden throne. As the chair rose up fully out of the hilltop, the shaking stopped.
The throne sparkled, not a trace of soil on it, despite having just emerged from the ground. It looked like your standard throne—very regal and impressive—with one exception.
The arms on either side of the seat each ended in a large, golden hand, palm up and fingers outstretched.
Selera Vellex, head of her clan, approached the throne and drew a deep, cautious breath before taking a seat. She leaned back, laid her arms on the chair’s arms, and slid her hands into the throne’s hands.
“I speak for the Vellex clan,” she cried out, loud and clear. Slowly, the golden fingers of the throne’s hands curled, lacing themselves between Selera’s fingers, gripping her tightly.
“Mendis Vellex, paintings stolen from the Port Scaldhaven art gallery, valued at three hundred silvernibs.” Selera’s voice shook with every word. “Erindal Vellex, pillage of the fire catacombs of Rexa, valued at one thousand six hundred twelve silvernibs…” As she spoke, the stone dome near her seelah rose slightly from the ground, revealing it to be the tip of an obelisk.
With every theft she detailed, the obelisk grew taller.
When she was done speaking, she shouted, “This I declare!” The golden hands on the throne released Selera. She looked over to her clan’s obelisk and frowned. It was only slightly taller than me. Embarrassed, she slipped off the throne and went to stand with her seelah.
No one was surprised. Each year, the Vellex clan ranked so low that outsider clans— those desperate to become one of the twelve—were constantly challenging them for their seat on the Kleptocracy. So far, the Vellex had won every challenge.
Next, Alikor Brendletar took a seat and joined hands with the throne. He rattled off a litany of his family’s achievements over the year. It was impressive. Not stunning, but
impressive. By the time he’d finished, his clan’s obelisk was nearly twice as tall as the Vellex clan’s.
This continued as, one by one, clan heads took the throne. Nothing particularly exciting happened until the fifth clan, the Blackscratches, came forth to give testimony. Revin Blackscratch appeared confident as he sat, gripping the throne’s hands eagerly. He began calling off accomplishments with firm assurance.
“Endris Blackscratch, plunder of the Lost City of Creeve, valued at sixteen thousand two hundred twelve silvernibs. Synjar Blackscratch, pillage of the vaults at Korinthar, valued at three thousand, four hundred silvernibs….” Suddenly, the spire on the top of the throne began to sparkle. A soft hum filled the air.
Revin’s eyes widened in horror as he realized what was happening. He yanked his hands, trying to free them from the throne’s unbreakable grip.
It was hard to say what had happened. Perhaps Revin had made a mistake, a simple slip of the tongue. Maybe he’d misremembered. Or maybe he’d been given false information, either by accident (unlikely, as most people wanted their accomplishments recorded as accurately as possible) or maybe on purpose (lying about your thievery to the person sitting on the Brigand’s Throne was a favorite method among thieves of getting rid of a family member you didn’t really like).
In the end, it didn’t matter. The Throne was unforgiving of anything but the absolute truth. The bluish sparkle ran down the spire, across the back of the chair, and all over Revin’s body. As the light grew brighter, he screamed and writhed. There was a flash and then silence.
The hands on the throne were open again. Perched on the chair, where Revin just sat, was a garfluk.
Considered the stupidest bird in all the Five Provinces, the garfluk had a stout body covered in multi-colored feathers. Two heads sat atop a spindly, v-shaped neck. One of the bird’s heads squawked madly and looked around, wild-eyed. The other head had Revin’s confident smirk. The bird flapped its wings and bounced up and down on impossibly thin legs.
The other clans roared with laughter. Many pointed. Some laughed so hard, they hit the ground and rolled around. The Blackscratch clan’s obelisk, which had risen to waist height, sunk slowly into the earth until it was just a mound again. Revin’s seelah, flushed red with embarrassment, scuttled forward and scooped his clan head up under his arm. The garfluk’s heads bobbed around curiously, as if trying to figure out why everyone was laughing. Loudest of all was Selera Vellex. For once, their family hadn’t come in last.
I didn’t laugh. I looked at Nanni, who was using her coin purse as a sock puppet. I started rehearsing how to tell Da his mother was now a bird. A particularly stupid bird at that.
The rest of the clans proceeded without incident until it was down to the Briarbanes and us. Hedra Briarbane waddled up to the Throne. She cleared her throat and when I looked to her, she nodded at the cage her seelah was holding. She gave a meaningful look at Nanni, then took the Throne.
The Briarbanes had worked especially hard this year, racking up theft after theft. When Hedra finished her testimony, their obelisk towered above all the others. Theirs was the family to beat. And only Nanni’s testimony remained. A hush fell over the camp as all eyes turned to my grandmother. Nanni rocked back and forth, her eyes dreamily studying the throne. Everyone waited.
“Nanni,” I whispered, “I can’t let you do this. You wait here. I’ll take care of this.” I didn’t care about proving myself. I didn’t care about bringing prestige to our clan. All I cared about in that moment was saving my grandmother. Tradition said the head of clan had to attend the ceremony. Any member of the family could sit on the Throne. And I’d spent so much time going over the thieving reports with Nanni that I knew most of them by heart. I didn’t have to list all the family accomplishments. It would cost us some prestige to leave some out but it was easier than guessing and making a mistake. I was sure I could do better than Nanni, even if it meant we came in dead last. And I would have preferred that to having a garfluk for a grandmother.
But as I took a step toward the Throne, I felt Nanni’s thin fingers wrap tightly around my arm. Turning, I watched the glassiness in her eyes fade. Her gaze narrowed. Her face became the very model of clarity and sagacity as a sly grin spread across her lips. Rising, she gently pulled me back, tossed her cane aside, and swaggered her way over to the throne. Whereas everyone else had taken a cautious pause before sitting, Nanni dropped into the seat without hesitation.
“I speak for the most prestigious clan in the Kleptocracy,” she called out, making sure she met the eye of every clan head as she spoke. “The Grimjinx clan!” She grabbed hold of the Throne’s hands and began.
“Sareth Grimjinx, pillage of the tin mines of Rexa: net worth, 4,124 silvernibs.
Allamondas Grimjinx, plunder of the cenotaph at Wrathborne Castle: net worth: 28, 246 silvernibs…” She spoke so quickly and surely that it was impossible not to stare. I rifled through the parchments in my satchel and tried to follow along, checking each accomplishment as she rattled it off. In the end, I couldn’t keep up. With every word she spoke, our obelisk grew higher and
higher until the Briarbane’s looked positively miniscule. Everyone watched, most no doubt praying her speed meant she’d slip up and they’d be laughing at a garfluk.
But it never happened. When Nanni finished, the golden hands released her. She remained seated, surveying the assembled thieves with an arched eyebrow. Most everyone looked ashamed. It was then that I understood what she’d done. By acting befuddled, she’d tricked everyone else into not studying as hard. They became overconfident, thinking they could easily beat her.
One by one, each clan turned and made their way back down the hill to the cairns. I went to Nanni, who hadn’t stopped looking directly at Hedra Briarbane, even as her rival disappeared from view down the hill. Dumbstruck, I offered Nanni her cane. She twirled it in her fingers, then slung it over her shoulder. She linked arms with me and we walked together down the hill.
Back at the cairns, everyone was breaking camp while the clan heads lined up, bearing large sacks containing their tithe. As Nanni and I passed, each laid their sack before her. Some spit at Nanni’s feet but she met them all with a kind smile and nod. Once they’d paid, they spun on their heels and left.
“Don’t just sit there gawping,” Nanni said. Apparently, my jaw had locked in the open position, frozen in awe since she’d finished her testimony. “Let’s load up and go home.” We traveled a day from the cairns before setting up camp. By sundown tomorrow, we’d be home in Vengekeep. Nanni hadn’t said a word the entire trip. She’d left me to steer the wagon while she sat in back, counting the tithe. Once the tent was pitched, I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“You could have told me it was all part of your plan,” I said.
Nanni shook her head. “You’re a good actor, Jaxter, but the genuine despair on your face, thinking your old nanni was about to become a garfluk, was better than any performance you could have given. I needed everyone there to believe without a doubt that I would fail. You convinced them.” I struck a piece of flint, igniting the kindling for our campfire. “You’ve been acting daft for a month. I was really worried about you.” She reached out and put her arm around my shoulder. “I’m sorry. You know, I couldn’t have chosen a better seelah. You were ready to risk making a mistake on the Throne to protect our family’s prestige.” I shook my head. “No. I was trying to protect you. It’s what Grimjinxes do.” Nanni kissed me on the cheek. “I was your age once too. I know how it is. Eager to prove yourself. Well, trust me when I say you’ll have plenty of time to prove what you can do. I reckon you’ll outshine us all someday. But don’t rush it. Take your time. Learn all you can.
Now, what did you learn from this?” “Not to trust my grandmother?” I said.
She laughed. “No. People who trust the obvious invest in lies.” Nanni was always quoting the wisdom of our Grimjinx ancestors. “Who said that?” I asked.
“I did. Just made it up. You know, it’s pretty good. Remind me to write that down in the family album when we get home.” We ate our dinner beneath the moons high above. Nanni was right, as always. Despite everything I knew, I still had a lot to learn about being a thief. And I had plenty of time to make my mark as a Grimjinx.
In the days ahead, Da would be taking me on my first solo heist. It was going to be my shining moment, one the Kleptocracy would talk about for years to come.