The Story of Jarod Black
"Mercy," Jarod Black muttered thickly past a split lip and chattering teeth. He was cold and in pain, his whole body throbbing from the earlier fall off his horse. He'd fallen into the river, which had saved him from a broken neck and his pursuers had fished him out of the icy water, sparring him from drowning. The long ride back to Castle Blanche while wet and tightly bound had spared him nothing.
Perhaps the lord of the castle would spare him death. After all, Jarod hadn't actually stolen anything. It was splitting hairs but that was about all he had going for him at the moment. Though, in all honesty, it was more than he'd had going for him for a long time. He'd found adventure and made a name for himself but had nothing to show for it.
"Mercy for a thief?" Lord Morgan repeated archly.
"I stole nothing," Jarod said mulishly, knowing it was not the correct thing to say but unable to stop himself.
"Except for one of my horses," his lordship shot back. Jarod started to shrug but flinched when the motion jostled his throbbing shoulder. He clamped his eyes shut and fought the nausea that stewed in his belly.
"You got it back," he gasped through the pain.
"Because you fell off," his lordship replied. Jarod hung his head as the nausea turned to a cold sweat, really not a good thing considering the chill he had from being dunked in the icy river. He knew Lord Morgan was waiting to hear his next rejoinder but he was having trouble thinking as the shock of his injuries finally caught up with him.
"Mercy, then," he heard Lord Morgan say distantly, as though from far away down a muzzy, echoing cavern. He was fainting, Jarod realized just as he struck the ground. How undignified...
Lord Morgan looked down at the silver-tongued thief before him. Oh, he knew Jarod Black, or rather he knew of him. The knight-turned-mercenary was becoming very notorious for his willingness to take on jobs with little chance of success, primarily because he always managed to scrape through. Not this time, of course. Morgan's guards had caught Black trying to scale the inner courtyard wall. But he did usually manage to pull off impossible jobs and might have succeeded this time had the moon not been full and the sky clear. The pale stone walls of Castle Blanche fairly glowed in moon light, making anyone trying to scale its walls stand out like a dark smudge.
What Morgan didn't know was who had hired Black and what he'd been after. Morgan was a thoroughly boring noble of the northern realm. He had no secrets and was involved in no intrigues. Unless Jarod Black had tried to break in just for the challenge of being able to say he stole into Castle Blanche. Which he didn't. Morgan sighed, knowing that the source of any answers was lying injured at his feet. He nodded to his seneschal to call the man closer.
"Have him brought in to the solar and send for the healer."
"Is that wise, milord?" Albie asked nervously. Morgan eyed the stooped, elderly man who had served his father and his father's father before that. The man was a capable caretaker of the castle but had never been overly bold.
"Do you know what he was after?" he asked.
"Ah, no, milord. I can't say as I do," Albie said shaking his head.
"Neither do I," Morgan replied. He nudged the thief's prone form with the side of his booted foot. "But he does. It might be easier to get it out of him if he's alive, don't you think?"
"Ah, yes, milord. I suppose," Old Albie replied. "But why the solar?"
"Because I said so," Morgan said, allowing a hard edge to seep into his deep baritone voice. Albie, getting the hint that he'd pushed his young lord as far as he could—which wasn't nearly as far as he'd been able to push his old lord—hastily bowed and backed away until he reached the castle doors.
Morgan waited until the old busybody was gone and then allowed himself a smirk. He transferred the smirk to the still form of Jarod black and shook his head. Albie knew why the thief was to be taken to the solar. His family had long been in the habit of keeping pets, men and women whose primary purpose was to be entertainment, and the thief with his plea for mercy had volunteered for the position.
Of course, Morgan had not taken a pet since his father had died three years ago. Tradition stated that a lord's pets were set freed upon his death, so there hadn't been anyone to occupy that part of the solar in a long time. Albie had probably thought he wasn't ever going to take one. The simple fact was, Morgan just hadn't been interested before. But the hansom thief at his feet was very interesting indeed.
Black was of a good height, not quite as tall as Morgan's six foot three. He was well muscled but not bulky, with a broad chest and narrow waist. He had a smooth, pale completion and thick, straight black hair that fell untidily to below his collar and dark chocolate eyes. His features were even and regular, except for a scar on his chin and a nose that looked like it had been broken a time or three. All in all, an agreeably attractive but not pretty man. It wasn't his body that enticed Morgan to keep him, though. It was his mind. Morgan had strangely enjoyed bantering with the man, brief though the exchange had been.
He stepped back when two burly footmen came through the doors with a litter fashioned from a blanket stretched between two poles. He watched as the thief was carefully moved onto the litter and lifted. The stress woke Black, but he didn't struggle. Morgan met his pained gaze, silently telling him that he was about to receive the mercy he'd asked for. A look of resignation filled the thief's face and Morgan nodded. Good, Jarod Black understood what that implied.