Enjoy this short story by Anne J. Hill featuring Boyer and Waldren, assassins from her upcoming novel, Thorn Tower. Originally published in Fool's Honor.
Waldren paced by the cell bars, his fingers yanking through his shaggy hair. “There’s gotta be a way out of this mess!” His boots tracked muddy water across the rock floor.
Boyer, his companion of four months, tossed a stone against the wall and caught it, just like he’d done a dozen times before. Apparently, the only thing that mattered in his world was hitting the wall just right with his stone.
“I’m talking to you, Boyer,” Waldren snapped at him.
“I noticed.” The stone landed in a puddle, and Boyer quickly fished it out.
“You’re going to go bald if you keep pulling your hair like that.” He might go bald, but he was taller and more toned than his companion would ever be. He stopped his pacing and glared at Boyer. “At least I’m trying to think of a way to get us out of here.” The strong smell of urine only intensified his desire to flee.
Thud-um. Boyer’s stone hit the wall again. “That’s funny, seeing as it’s your fault we’re here in the first place.”
“Should have just sliced the guards’ heads off. Now we’re going to hang for murdering Friddan.” He tapped his foot on the floor, outdoing the beat of Boyer’s stone.
“Ironic.” Boyer dipped his temple against the wall. “Guess we’re pretty fortunate they didn’t lop our heads off right on the spot.”
Gripping the cell bars, Waldren pressed his face through, his skull blocking him from going any farther. “Hello? I need to take a leak!”
Boyer chuckled from his corner.
He glanced back at him. “What—”
“Piss in your cell, half-blood!” a guard yelled from where he sat.
“That’s what,” Boyer said with a smirk. “You’ve not spent much time locked up, have you?”
Waldren glanced down at what he had thought was water and shuddered. “No, because I don’t get caught.”
“Mmm. Clearly.” Boyer’s stone hit a ridge with a maddening clatter and shot to his left.
Waldren booted the rock against Boyer’s leg. “This is why I never go after higher ranks.”
Boyer snatched the stone, his face pinching.
"Gets you thrown in their personal little prisons,” Waldren continued. “Who has this sort of money to spend on a special room for crooks?”
Boyer glanced at him before looking back at his wet rock. “Where’ve you been living? This is rather pathetic, really. Only one guard on watch and one cell.”
“Apparently—” Waldren stuck his face between the bars again, “—this guard can’t be bothered to clean up piss!”
The guard stood. “Shut your talk-hole, elf! Murderers don’t deserve a clean cell!”
“I’m not an elf,” Waldren screamed, and the guard took a step closer.
“Wally, sit down and leave the nice guard alone. He’s just trying to feed his family, like anyone else,” Boyer scolded without looking over.
“When I die, I’m coming back to haunt him and make sure he knows the difference between me and an elf.” Waldren pushed away from the bars, and leaned his back against the wall opposite Boyer, refusing to sit. The coldness of the rough wall seeped through his clothes.
Boyer yawned, the scruff on his jaw bristling. “You have elvish blood.”
Clank, clank, clank. The hairs on Waldren’s arms stood on end at his fellow assassin’s obsessive stone-throwing.
“And human blood. He was more accurate when he said half-blood.” Waldren splayed his fingers behind his head.
Boyer shrugged. “Full, half, either one will get you killed.”
Waldren narrowed his eyes at him. “That’s already underway. You got any genius plans, or you going to keep slamming that stone against the wall?”
Boyer smiled, rubbing the stone under his thumb before tossing it again. “Do you promise me you’ll stop going out of your way to steal things in the midst of our assassinations?”
Waldren rapped his fingers against the wall. “I’m an opportunist, Boyer. I take what I can when I can, and I never shoot higher than I can aim.”
Boyer rolled his eyes.
“Well, I try not to,” Waldren went on.
“Friddan’s personal treasury was just down the hall like you said. If you had focused on your job and gotten out after you slit that noble’s throat, I could have stolen the gold, and we’d be paid twice over. You’re the one who felt the need to come warn me of the dangers. I knew the dangers.”
“Oh, I wasn’t trying to warn you.” Boyer’s smile twitched as his stone made another clink against the wall. He moved his finger to his lips, then leaned over and scraped a key out from under a crevice in the wall.
Waldren’s eyes widened, and his mouth gaped as realization dawned on him. “Yeah, I was about to steal the treasures, but you made too much noise coming after me.” He kept up his rambling so nothing sounded suspicious to the guard. He wasn’t sure what Boyer was doing, but he’d play along.
“How would you have stolen the gold if I hadn’t followed you?” Boyer asked, moving to stand.
“I’d have picked the lock . . . .” Waldren stood.
Boyer peered out of the cell.
“And snuck into the room . . . .”
Boyer shushed him, slipped the key into the keyhole, and twisted. Waldren noticed the guard was away from his post. He lowered his voice. “Paid the guard?”
Boyer nodded, adding, “Changing of the guard,” and slowly eased the door open. Waldren slipped out first, with Boyer following close behind.
“With what?” Waldren whispered.
Waldren is too easy to impress. Boyer stifled a chuckle when Waldren’s eyes widened in surprise.
They turned the corner and slinked up the dark stairwell that led out of the dungeon. Boyer could hear Kilm, the guard who’d been watching them moments before, chatting up his replacement just as planned.
As quiet as feathers, Boyer and Waldren walked up behind the unexpecting guard facing Kilm. Boyer winked at Kilm and slipped down the adjacent hall. Waldren paused behind him briefly but was soon beside him again.
They had exactly one minute to get out of Friddan’s castle if the guard could keep his end of the deal.
Thank goodness for disloyal guards like Kilm.
The sound of shuffling boots echoed from up ahead, and Boyer grabbed Waldren’s arm, yanking him down a hall. They disappeared into the shadows and waited with silent breaths as two guards clipped by. Boyer gritted his teeth. Blast that Waldren for messing up my timing with his chatter.
Dawn was near, and soon the halls would fill with servants and nobles. This was the prime time for an escape when the guards were switching and less focused.
Boyer waited a few seconds after the guards had moved past before jutting back out into the hallway, Waldren at his heels. Reflections danced with the slowly rising sun through the windows that lined the hall. He needed to find just one thing—a secret passageway behind a tapestry that Kilm had told him about. Just a little further and—
Alarm bells shattered the morning quiet and shouts filled the hall. Boyer cursed. No time to find the passage now.
Waldren lifted his foot and kicked through a window, sending shards of glass clattering to the floor. He stuck his head out of the opening, glanced over his shoulder and grinned at Boyer. “Let’s go.”
Boyer could not resist giving him a shove as he slipped out the broken window.
Alone now, Boyer glanced down the hall and saw light shimmering on the walls as the guards drew nearer. He leaned out the window just in time to witness Waldren land in a pile of hay and roll off. Boyer climbed onto the ledge, dislodging pieces of glass. He smiled to himself and jumped. Wind pressed against his body as he fell. He never felt more alive than when he was falling through air.
The drop was short, as they were only just above the dungeon, but he appreciated it nonetheless. He landed in the hay with a grunt and spat out the straws in his mouth.
“Stop them!” An arrow whizzed by his head as he scrambled onto the ground.
“Boyer!” Waldren waved him over from the stables where he was untying their horses.
Boyer darted the short distance and scaled his mount, dodging another arrow. He clicked his tongue and dug in his heels, spurring the animal forward.
“The gate! Close the gate!” a guard yelled.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Boyer hissed and pressed his horse on faster as the portcullis slowly cranked down. Before it could shut, the two assassins slipped underneath and out to freedom.
The same guard cursed loudly. “Open the gate! Open the gate!”
Boyer chuckled. So long, fools. He and Waldren rode into the forest and split off from each other, disorienting their pursuers and slipping into the morning light.
Several hours later, they joined at their agreed upon narrow path, all traces of the noble’s guards gone.
Boyer wouldn’t admit it, but he was relieved to see Waldren had made it safely.
“So . . . how’d you do it?” Waldren asked.
Boyer smirked, riding his horse at a walk beside him. “I know the guard. We’ve had . . . run-ins there before. When they caught us, Kilm was the one who led me to the cell, and we hatched the plan in just a few moments. He said the guard would change in an hour, so I tracked the time, using the stone taps to help, but you kept interrupting me. And of course, he wanted payment for his pains.”
“Yeah, with the noble’s gold. How did you—”
“When you were off picking locks to a room that definitely didn’t lead to the gold, I snatched it from Friddan’s chest under his bed. Broke the lock.”
“Then why’d you tell me—”
“The gold was in that room? Because I was hoping you’d get hanged, and I could be free of you.” He leaned back in his saddle with a careless yawn.
Waldren scowled. “That’s a bit harsh for a new partner.”
Boyer laughed, enjoying the peeved look on his face. “I jest. There were guards coming, and I needed a distraction. You worked perfectly. And Kilm is always making his rounds at that time, so I knew I could strike a deal with him.”
Waldren nodded slowly, then his eyes lit up. “I know something you don’t.” He puffed out his chest and opened his mouth—
“You stole the gold off Kilm on our way out.” Boyer fished the pouch out of his pocket and dangled it out of his reach.
Waldren clamped his mouth shut, checking his belt. “How’d you . . . ?” His eyes followed the weighty sack as it swayed. He shook his head and cleared his throat, his shoulders drooping. “Explain.”
“I was betting you’d snatch it. You paused when we passed Kilm, and the guards were after us too soon. He must have noticed the gold was gone and sent the alarm.”
Waldren blinked. “Well . . . I got our horses.”
“Mhm, Kilm made sure they were tied up by the stable for us. But yes, you . . . helped.”
Waldren shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. “But how did you get it from me? I’m the trained thief, not you.”
Breathing in the fresh air of victory, Boyer tucked the gold at his side. “When you jumped out of the window, I yanked it off you. Didn’t feel it with your momentum.”
Waldren studied him, his forehead wrinkling. “Working with you is not going to be fun.”
“Maybe not, but it will be memorable.”