the smuggler’s bible


After dinner she sits near the fire with a drink, stirring and stirring, waiting for the lavender powder to dissolve. Then a drip of honey. A sip to check the temperature.

The window faces west, out over the forest that chokes the low country between river and mountain. She imagines she can see goblin fires among the trees. Too far, of course. Must be the potion working. She sets the empty cup aside, leans back.

Nearly asleep when the wards trip out front. She hears a cough, and a soft knock. A voice stage whispers, “Oh, damn. Were those runes?”


“There’s still a spot for you at the university. Everyone there is very patient, as you well know. All you’ve gotta do is finish.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Well, nobody suggests it’s a simple process, but you’ve done it once. Just go over your notes. Can’t you—I don’t know—tweak the formula?”

Helle leans back on the bench and closes her eyes. “When the magic is gone, it takes something else with it. Something important.”

“You sound pathetic.”

“I lost six years of work and sent an incompetent barbarian to get it back. I wish it only sounded pathetic.”


“You’re a highwayman. It’s dishonorable to hold such an advantage over somebody, especially in their time of need.”

“I resent the accusation.”

“Any piece you take diminishes the whole pie,” Snake-in-the-Grass says, waving his arms in exasperation. “And this payoff already ranks as extremely dubious.”

“My dear boy, I don’t want any money. I just want to meet whomever concocted this delightful magical formula.” Branbildon gives the flask a little shake and watches the color swirl.

“Oh my god,” Bloodtooth says, cradling his head in his hands near the fire. “Oh my god, she is going to be so pissed.”


Snake-in-the-Grass peeks at the bundled form by the fire, then plucks at the musty little wizard’s robes and draws him over behind one of the stalagmites.

“Listen, doc,” he whispers, “I’ve got plenty invested in this mess. What if you just sorta gave me the goods so I could get a head start on things?”

“I understand completely,” Branbildon says, pulling a shimmering purple flask from deep inside a sleeve, “but, of course, I couldn’t possibly hand this over except to a primary signatory on the original quest documentation.”

“Ah, yes,” Snake-in-the-Grass says glumly, “I suppose I see your point.”