Prompt: A medieval heist that results in something unexpected
The friar rubbed his moist forehead with a damp cloth. He stood on the outer wall of the Castle Doe-Dian and waited for his cohorts. He was supposed to deliver a sermon in ten minutes, and his people were supposed to be setting up their ladder for him to steady six minutes ago. Nervously, he cleaned the golden grease out from under his fingernails. He couldn’t help himself; he licked the grease off and swallowed it down.
It was fine. Not very dignified behavior… but he was only there because of that grease in the first place. Its heavenly taste calmed him, turning the heat of stress into muscle-loosening warmth. Klak. The top of a ladder struck the stone.
“Finally,” he whispered as he grabbed both ends of it and looked over. There were two men and a woman in leather armor making their way up. All four of them were agents of their lord: Marcus High the seventh. He was normally a very accommodating lord, but he’d been gripped by a terrible jealousy in the recent months, a jealousy spawned in the bowels of Castle Doe-Dian and seasoned with fine salt.
The friar helped them up onto the wall, urging them to hurry. He was the rat, the one sent to sniff out the treasure and point the others in its direction when they arrived. Perhaps it wasn’t godly to act the rodent, but what were they if not one of god’s creatures? That was how he rationalized it anyway. Besides, once he moved up in Marcus’s eyes he would have a congregation all his own and colorful robes instead of the brown sack he currently wore.
“It’s in the lowest levels,” he whispered to them even though there were no guards on the parapets. “I’ve heard scratching across from the dungeon. They keep it locked at all times, and the keys are on the belt of the jailor.”
“Any problems?” the leading man asked, stroking his sharp black beard in anticipation. The other was clean-shaven with a lumpy brow, and the woman had a face like a carp: small eyes that rarely blinked and big lips hanging open. The friar didn’t think they looked very sneaky, but the trio had assured Marcus they were the best thieves in the land. The friar frowned.
They had to hire the best for such an unusual assignment. Marcus’s jealousy was not kindled by treasure, by rare books, or even by the women bouncing in the fields behind Doe-Dian. It was their food. Every time Lord Doe himself showed his face around the greater kingdoms, he always brought a gift: a wrapped package of an elegant meat in large slabs. It cooked from pink to white, from ordinary to extraordinary. There was no other flavor like it.
Each meal he provided earned him favors across the known world. Many asked him what creature he he had cleaved such meat from. Guesses ranged from angelic dragons down to snakes fed only butter and milk. Marcus knew better. His guess was some breed of giant chicken, judging by the shape of the cuts as well as their heft.
The friar led them down into the castle, stopping them just two turns away from the dining hall. He warned them; the meal was going on and the jailor was present. They had no chance of getting the keys and getting further down without being spotted. The trio waved the friar away, and he was happy to distance himself. While they were busy getting killed he could sit in the rectory, excavating more giant chicken grease from under his nails.
The man with the sharp beard leaned his head into the dining hall. He saw sixteen people around the table, all feasting on a roast chicken with a breast the size of a horse’s. Above the table hung Doe’s family crest: some sort of toothed and fork-tongued bird. That couldn’t be what they were after. It was merely part of their image, of Doe-Dian’s mystique.
He nodded to the second man, who quickly reversed his hood and revealed its wheel of bright colors. He brought out ten balls, equally bright, and began to juggle them. Confidently, he strolled around the corner and into the sight of all sixteen diners.
“Hoho! What have we here?” he said in a high-pitched voice like a piglet trying to give a lecture.
“And who are you?” asked the lord Doe himself, though he did not appear suspicious of the strange harlequin.
“I am a gift, a gift carried here swiftly at the behest of Lady Riddleton! She has sent me to flavor your meal in the hopes that you would flavor hers in return! Hehehe!” He juggled faster and moved closer to the table.
“I’m afraid it would take more than those balls to earn some of our most beautiful cuts,” the lord said, happy to play along.
“Oh we have much more!” the juggler insisted. He nodded around the corner as he stepped even closer to the table. Out came the other two, hoods reversed to silly colors. They brought out the tools of their trade: more balls, wooden pins, and little cloth sacks dotted with jingling bells.
The trio maneuevered around the table, tossing items back and forth to each other while they juggled. Pins and bags and balls sailed over the central roast. The women gasped while the men chortled, pointed, and occasionally tried to snatch one of them out of the air.
The female juggler moved close to the jailor. She spotted the key ring upon his belt. With one lifted foot, not even enough to tilt her body, she snagged the ring and pulled it loose. Her leg tossed it into the mix so that it was just another juggled thing. Its sound wasn’t distinct from the jingling bells, and they sometimes got through acts like this without anyone noticing the theft, but it was not to be this time. The jailor roared immediately and slammed his hands upon the table, disturbing the silverware.
They were the best, so obviously they had a plan. The three thieves let everything drop, let the wooden pins clatter and splatter into the butter and cream dishes and grabbed only the balls made of cloth. With all their might, they hurled them at the faces of those around the table. Every hit was a bulls-eye to the nose, forcing out the thick white powder inside the cloth. It was extremely potent; they were all asleep within seconds.
From there the thieves took the keys further down, across the dungeon, and placed them in a door covered in deep scratches. Pointy-beard stuck his ear against the wood. It wasn’t quite clucking, but he did hear something bird-like. He threw open the door, rope in hand, ready to tie up the giant fowl.
There were ten of the creatures in there, resting in beds of straw, honeysuckle, and white blankets. There was a clutch of eggs, each bigger than a man’s head. One of them emerged from the shadows, bending its long neck curiously. He threw the rope around it before it could flee, but it had no intention of doing that.
The other two thieves backed up as more of the giant chickens leaned in. Their beaks were huge, like canoe hulls. Their stares were sharp like a falcon’s. Their feet bore claws as curved as the crescent moon. So these were the delicious beasts of Castle Doe-Dian. Not chickens, but something truly ancient that had survived only in their valley. There would come a point where they would be called terror birds, when it was learned they walked with mammoths and saber cats.
The thieves had no names for them, only the vague sense they matched the horror on Doe’s family crest. They turned and ran, and were chased by the birds and the snaps of their beaks. They managed to escape with their lives. Surely their horses, hidden in the brush, would be able to outrun such things.
When Doe-Dian awoke one of the birds nuzzled his chest. He stroked its chin and it cooed. He went to a cabinet and brought out a steel helm, perfectly fitted for the bird’s head and beak. Not only were they delicious, but they were excellent steeds and scent trackers. The thieves had left behind plenty of trinkets with the smell of their greedy hands all over.
It would be quite a hunting party to behold in full armor and banners, rushing through the woods after them on sets of clawed drumsticks.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by CountySquare during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!