Well Done Sargon of Akkad. If you could PM me the theme for the next contest we can get things going! - Lemex The Greatest Heist by Sargon of Akkad "What we are going to do is, in effect, steal the kingdom," Lord Kolm, Third Baron of Ebene said. He looked around the table at the grave faces of his co-conspirators. Each man looked back at him. After a protracted period of silence, one of them spoke. "This plan is…audacious, to say the least," Lord Devin, Second Count of Olmon said, and slumped back into his chair and rubbed his wrinkled face. "I just cannot believe we can do it, and even if we do, what follows? We have not even asked ourselves if we should do it." "We must do it!" Sir Allin blurted out. "There is no other choice! If we do nothing, the whole kingdom will be lost. I was with Lord Holver's embassy to Catura, and I am telling you they are amassing an army to invade. I am sure of it." Lord Kolm raised his hands in a silent appeal for calm. "Nobody is doubting what you saw, Sir Allin," he said, "My fellow lords and knights, we have prepared for this--" Sir Bern snorted. "That one is common! How can we know he can be trusted?" He pointed across the table at Hanf, Sergeant of the Guard and at thirty-five, the youngest man in the room. "I am as loyal to my lord as you are to yours!" Sergeant Hanf shot back. His cheeks quickly reddened. "My honour is not in question here!" "Why do we even need this peasant?" Sir Bern said and looked to Lord Kolm. "He is a liability." Sergeant Hanf looked thunderstruck. "I command fifty guardsmen!" he shouted, and shot to his feet. "What does a landless knight provide, beside his ability to murder children?" "There is no need--" Lord Kolm began. "We cannot steal a kingdom that has legitimate heirs, you uneducated fool!" Sir Bern shouted back and rose to his feet. "Will you do it? Will any of you do it? No! You are all spineless and I am the only one among us who is prepared to do the butcher's work." "Enough, both of you!" Lord Kolm roared and slammed the table as he rose to his full height. "People are starving, the city is filled with refugees and a great enemy is preparing to attack us! Our idiot king is letting the kingdom fall into ruin! Find solidarity or find silence, I care not which!" Lord Kolm glared at the knight and the sergeant who stared at each other for a tense moment. Sergeant Hanf slowly sat down. When he was half-way, Sir Bern sat down as well. "Remember that we are doing this for the good of the realm. Put aside your emotions, we must be disciplined if we wish to have a chance of success," Lord Kolm said. He sat down and took a slow, deep breath. "Lord Kolm," Lord Devin said calmly, "what preparations have you made?" Lord Kolm looked to the aged, white-bearded man on his right. "Please, seneschal." Seneschal Eryle, Lord Treasurer of Arassa cleared his throat. "We have known for some time that we would have to take action against King Johan. After our Lord Kolm saved the kingdom when the Caturan army had been at the gates of Escova itself for three long years, with such a magnificent victory and the death of Talen the Short, we thought we would finally be safe. When his son came, we lost thirty five thousand men before, again, our king gave command to Lord Kolm and again we were delivered from destruction." The seneschal stared into the middle distance as he spoke. Sir Bern, Sir Allin and Sergeant Hanf, the soldiers at the table, nodded grimly. "Kolm the Bastion," Sergeant Hanf said, and the knights repeated it in unison. "The indemnity we paid after the war was back-breaking and King Johan would not listen to me," Seneschal Eryle said, "he would dismiss me and then announce to the court plans for a lavish banquet or tourney. I insisted we used the majority of tax revenue to pay for our safety, and he insisted I borrow the money. When we needed to repay our loans, the king ignored them and commanded that we began construction on a new palace across the river. We could not afford to repay our loans, and we have defaulted." Seneschal Eryle gave a weary sigh. "And now we cannot afford to pay the indemnity. Three of our king's most important vassals have pledged their loyalty to the bastard king of Catura, and took with them their lands, a full quarter of the country lost in a day. We are watching the kingdom unravel before our very eyes." All around the table watched the old seneschal in silence. "The siege caused a famine, and the debts prevented any relief. Refugees from the war fill this city and they starve and die in the streets," he choked. He wiped his eyes with a gnarled hand. After a moment he regained control of himself. "I know that you know all of this, but I want you to remember it. I have had to do things that I would never have dreamt that I'd do…things I have nightmares about it. My wife tells me that I shed tears in my sleep." Lord Kolm looked up from the table at the venerable treasurer. The man looked tired, hoary and drained. Black bags sagged under his watery eyes and his hands trembled. "What have you done to let us remedy this, Eryle?" Lord Devin asked, kindly. The seneschal took a moment to compose himself. "I have halved the pay for the city guard. Captain Kehad complained bitterly, but in the end there was no choice. We now have less than two hundred guardsmen in the city. The grain dole can no longer be afforded for all, so I have stopped it in all but the capital. Escova is now eating the grain for the poor in the surrounding towns. In two days from now, the markets will be empty." "Guardsmen will have to be sent to keep order," Sergeant Hanf said. "Yes," Lord Holm said, "I have no doubt that Captain Kehad will send you and your guardsmen out to secure the unwalled towns. If all goes as planned, this will leave the city with a skeleton crew of perhaps a hundred men. I expect there to be fewer." "I could bring enough bondsmen to take the city myself, then," Sir Bern said with a grin, and leant back in his chair, "but you're forgetting about the king's bloody Witch. We'll never get past her, she sees everything that happens in the palace, and you know what she did to the last man who crossed the king." "We are not forgetting about the Witch," Lord Kolm said. "She'll flay the skin from our bones before we get within a hundred feet of the king," Sir Allin said, "She can see everything that happens in the palace." "She can," Lord Kolm said, "but only when she is in the palace." "You're saying she won't be in the palace?" Sir Allin asked. "We are," Seneschal Eryle croaked, "she left today to commune with whatever dark spirits she speaks to. She will be gone for a week, which gives us enough time to operate without her knowing it." Sir Bern laughed incredulously. "So what? When she returns, we'll all be dead men." "She will not return," Lord Kolm said, "we have seen to it." "How?" "I am given to understand that when the witch begins the ceremony, she enters a trance," Lord Kolm said with a sideways glance at Seneschal Eryle, who nodded, "she is alone and defenceless in the sanctum, and one of her bodyguards is my man. He will take care of her." "What if he doesn't?" Sir Allin asked. "He has my full confidence." "So what are we to do?" Lord Devin asked, "It would seem that you have everything in order. Why do you need us?" "I need you to bring men," Lord Kolm said, "I cannot be seen bringing my own bondsmen near the city, Captain Kehad already suspects me and will be spurred into action if I approach the city with anything more than my own personal guard. These are not enough to overcome what little guardsmen that will be left. How many men can each of you bring into the city the day after tomorrow?" "That is not much time at all…" Sir Allin said, "I think fifteen and my five men-at-arms." "Perhaps ten to twenty, in addition to my retinue," Sir Bern said, "thirty at most." "Lord Devin?" Lord Kolm asked the old count. "Thirty, if I can get the word out before tomorrow. It is market day tomorrow, they will leave too early in the morning for me to gather them," he said. "That is enough. I have twelve of my own already in the city," Lord Kolm said, "that makes ninety-two men, at most.” "We can't steal a kingdom with less than a hundred men!" Lord Devin said, "Even if Sergeant Hanf does take all fifty of his men out of the city there are still a hundred and fifty left!" "We have surprise," Sir Bern said, "when a hundred men turn up at the palace, there will be, what, perhaps twenty to thirty men there, with probably ten of them at the main gate. We can easily take the palace, and once we have the palace, we can sweep through it before anyone else knows what is going on." "I agree," Sergeant Hanf said, "the guards will not be prepared and scattered across the city. They will not be able to resist you." Sir Allin nodded. "So how will we organise?" "Each man must wear a red sash tied around his left arm," Lord Kolm replied, "On the morning of the day, bring your men to the market and tell them to browse. When we have all arrived, I will sound a horn and we will make with all haste to the palace. Once there, we will storm it, and capture the king. He is hosting a banquet tomorrow, and he has a tendency to drink so much wine he does not stir until the midday meal. He will be in bed. I will take my men straight to his chamber and deal with him there. Sir Bern, you will go to the children's rooms. Sir Allin, you and your men will hold the gates of the palace. Lord Devin, you and your men will search the palace for any armed men who might oppose us. When the king and his family are all dead, the kingdom will be ours." They all looked at Lord Kolm in silence. "Are we agreed?" Each one nodded their consent. "Remember, we must take action if we wish to save our kingdom. It is not going to be without pain and strife, and I am sure that many will die before the deed is done, but it must be done. The Caturans have demanded King Johan's head. We shall deliver it to them, and take the kingdom for ourselves. I will see you all at the market the day after tomorrow. Be sure to give each of your men a red--" A knock at the door stopped him, and they all jumped. "Who could it be?" Sir Allin whispered, wide-eyed. Lord Kolm put a finger to his lips and motioned for Sergeant Hanf, sat closest to the door, to answer it. Sergeant Hanf stood up slowly and walked over to it. He slid the deadbolt to the side and opened it a crack. A voice on the other side whispered something. "I'm sorry, we don't need anything," Sergeant Hanf said, and closed the door swiftly. He turned around to walk back to his chair. "Who was that?" Sir Bern growled. "A servant," Sergeant Hanf replied, but he didn't move. He stared at Sir Bern with a fixed gaze. "Why did he whisper?" Lord Devin asked. "Perhaps he was being polite," Sergeant Hanf said. He still stood motionless at the door. "Lock the door," Lord Kolm commanded. Sergeant Hanf hesitated for a moment. "He's a spy!" Sir Bern roared and leapt to his feet. Sergeant Hanf immediately turned on his heel and wrenched the door open as Sir Allin and Lord Kolm stood. Sir Bern drew his sword as he raced around the table, but Sergeant Hanf had already fled through the door. "Get them both!" Lord Kolm cried, and drew his own sword as Sir Bern and Sir Allin rushed out of the door. The two knights pounded up the stone corridor. Dark corridors flashed by as they chased after Sergeant Hanf and the man who had knocked at the door, now running just ahead of Sergeant Hanf. Sir Bern could see he was in armour. The corridor ended in bright daylight, and the two knights burst out into it. They paused as their eye grew accustomed to the intensity of the light, to see a dozen armed guardsmen in a semicircle around them, all with weapons drawn. In the centre stood Sergeant Hanf, still panting from the run, and Captain Kehad. The captain looked at the knights sternly. Sir Bern and Sir Allin readied their weapons and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, prepared to fight. Lord Kolm rushed out of the passageway behind them. When he saw the guardsmen assembled, he let out an audible moan. "We are unmade," he said. "Lord Kolm," Captain Kehad barked, "You are charged with conspiracy and high treason against the crown. I order you to lay down your arms and be judged in a jury of your peers, or receive the king's justice." "Why don't you come and administer it?" Sir Bern said, and adjusted his stance. Lord Devin appeared behind them, followed by Seneschal Eryle. Lord Devin shrieked. "Be calm, Lord Devin," Seneschal Eryle said, and the old man drew his own sword, "they may kill us, but that does not make our cause less righteous." Lord Devin whimpered. The dirt around his feet was wet. "What is your answer?" Captain Kehad demanded. "Eroth alone can judge us," Lord Kolm said, "we will take the justice of the gods over the 'justice' of the man you call king." "So be it," Captain Kehad said. "Take them." The guardsmen attacked.