Esteemed banker, elder, elf, Tobias Everly, hired me to steal the thing.
I’d worked for undesirables before, but elder Everly was managing accountant and proprietor of Lordling and Abbot’s Stronghold and Savings. He was a businessman and upstanding gentleman dandy up front—long silver hair, blue eyes, amicable smile to melt the pantaloons off any noble socialite—but a backhanded, covetous drip, self-entitled to whatever sudden whim caught his eye, when behind closed doors. Many a farmer, baker, and smithy had lost properties to him and his cronies under the perfectly legal order of official documents and fair proceedings nearabout the small hamlet of Bridgemoor.
When he offered the large sum that he did sub rosa—for my services in stealing the thing—I knew immediately he intended to double-cross me. Such was his nature. Beautiful people get away with things because we let them, out of some stupid, secret desire to be part of their dreaminess.
Professional thief that I was, I looked after myself first and foremost. I knew Tobias Everly. Had a bit of an affair with his ex. I feel it necessary to explain, however, that the former Lady Everly was more daring and covetous on a whim than her husband—for intimate attentions. She has since sailed to southern realms for tropical comforts and younger, tanner bodies. May the gods bless her and her special socializing skills. But I digress.
I sat in Everly’s velveted offices, colored in deep forest moss and soft golden pine, upon a plush, flowery upholstered chair gilded in excess. The sconces lighting the establishment were made of pure silver, boasting amber-bright candles like sunshine on pearls. His desk was made of dark oak and bigger than a menagerie ringmaster’s wagon. His chair was brocaded more than the one caressing me, twice as large, on wheels, and capable of swiveling comically. He scooted himself humorously about from one end of the overly large desk to the other, darting papers at his minions in vainglorious displays of self-importance.
I had a dark thought. If Tobias Everly were to die, another lump of parasitic bureaucracy would immediately take his place—because they could, not because they should. A pox upon them all.
But as disgustingly lavish as the old elf lived via others’ expenses, I had to admit it was dreadfully comfortable. The carpet was like soft summer grass. I could almost hate pampering myself in such a place. But again, I digress.
I listened politely to his offer. The thing in question was not a suddenly coveted whim, but belonged to his nemesis, the “hag” living in the Willow Downs. They had been after the beautiful hectares of willowy forest wrapping the eastern banks of the Ammanford River for many turns of the stars, but Haziel Asmodeus, the “hag,” was a resourceful witch, feared, protective of her beautiful weeping trees, and much wise to Tobias’s plotting.
Lucrative lumber, the Willow Downs, but unpurchasable and cursed. Simpletons who journeyed there, namely Tobias’s minions, met with strange unfortune. My favorite stories on this subject concerned said adventurers suddenly going over with stomach ailments and rushing to privies, but rashes in odd places, sporadic hair inconveniences, and ungodly nose warts were all visibly on display in the offices of Lordling and Abbot’s Stronghold and Savings. It was quite difficult to stifle my laughter. One poor fellow was the shiny color of a sour green apple. Surely some of the spinster’s finest work.
The thing was described as a mahogany box, one cubit by one cubit by one cubit, with Euclidean geometric designs, various runes, and sorcerous glyphs inlaid into its panels. Magic-y stuff. This witch box, as Tobias dubbed it, was a hexed storage container for Miss Haziel’s more important documents. He required those documents and was willing to pay handsomely for the box containing them.
“Forget about the tryst with Evelyn,” he said, “she trysted with many goblins—no offense. The witch box is a more pressing inconvenience. It’s some kind of trick mechanism. It appears as a solid, impenetrable cube, but definitely has some type of removable lid. I want it.”
I discerned from his appearance, handsome face now distorted, that this impasse confounded him. Nobody roundabout Bridgemoor had ever thwarted his business interests. He thought the box held some key to lifting the forest’s curse. I was only required to burgle it—then promptly be double-crossed. They would decrypt incantations and remove contents later.
The thing could be found within Haziel’s stilt home deep in the Willow Downs, which was perched beside an eastern tributary flowing just off the Ammanford River. The quaint domicile was reachable directly via watercraft if you knew the way. The sour-apple-faced man confirmed all this, and that the witch box would be atop a shelf over the mudbrick hearth inside the secluded residence’s den.
I accepted proposed quest for a substantial percentage of payment upfront, fifty, and full payment upon delivery. We shook hands and I left, beelining to the local pub, it unbeknownst to the schemers that I had already visited Haziel’s lovely river cottage. I had done so immediately after receiving the much-despised banker’s opportune, fancy, wax-sealed papyrus invitation, knowing good and well what he intended of me.
In a private room at the Knight Mare Tavern, upon rickety sawmilled planks fashioned into a suitably wobbly table, I spent my earned coin on honey mead and juicy mutton shanks with stewed carrots and potatoes bathed in thick gravy. Whilst dining with Haziel herself, she promptly presented me with a perfect replica of her witch box. I know not what she had in store for the swindling elf. I didn’t ask. I just solicited a page gnome and tipped the little lad nicely to deliver the thing to the offices of Lordling and Abbot’s Stronghold and Savings with the message that I had suddenly come down with the bubbly guts. Haziel needed only pay me with good company.
And that was that.
— Coby Anthony Rosser