The Tale of The Honorary Suncrawler | Tankards & Tales Ep. 3
This is a transcript of Tankards & Tales Episode 3. If you would like to listen to the story as you read along, you can find the podcast episode here.
As thick as thieves is an age-old truth.
A thieves guild is a family with a bond built on the trust to distrust. Any thief in the underbelly can’t be trusted, but a fellow thief can trust that they cannot be trusted and therefore know in which circumstances they can, and if two thieves can be friends, perhaps even brothers, well… I feel sorry for the family home they cross next.
And so was the bond of the Suncrawlers. Those of the Suncrawlers had a bond unlike any other, a family without any history of betrayal, and that’s a true feat if any. Strong their kinship, and therefore strong their power over the city of Kilkany.
Kilkany is a coastal city, split in two by the Seawillow River that runs right through its center, and so the city is split geographically but also culturally, for the two sides of the city are very different from each other.
The Highsword Borough sits on an elevated landscape on the left side of the river, and even from afar, travelers can see how it is painted in gold. Across the borough, there are gorgeous white-bricked homes with golden domes, smooth winding paths in between with a wide variety of green flora coating the sides. At night, the streets light up with floating golden bowls of flames. People in extravagant clothing stroll through the buildings, swallows joining them as they fly with the ocean’s breeze. This place exudes wealth, and in its flourish, its fraternal twin on the other side of the river appears even far more dreadful than at first glance.
Fisherman’s Village is run down and pathetic. The cobblestone buildings are on their last legs. There is a depressing gray hue that covers this part of the city. With the village settled on a downhill slope, the cobblestone paths are wobbly and uneven, uncomfortable to even look at, and there’s graffiti decorating all the alleyways. The folk here are dressed in much humbler robes, and there are far less few walking about leisurely. Plastered across all of Kilkany are wanted posters, all for the same man: Keane the Quiet, and he’s got a hefty bounty on his head. 10,000 gold.
Well, he is the start of our tale today, because to understand how the honorary Suncrawler came to be, you must understand how the leader of the Suncrawlers came to be, and that man was Keane the Quiet.
Now, he did not form this thieves guild, no. He joined as any other initiate would: by proving his worth. Oh, but how he did it, now that’s what got him the respect of all the Suncrawlers, and, as you might have guessed, that’s how our honorary Suncrawler got his own name in the books of the guild, but again, we’ll get to that.
First, it’s important to know why the Suncrawlers are named as such. The name of a guild is as telling as the tattoos on a pirate’s arms. You see, the Suncrawlers are noble thieves. They believe in stealing from the rich to provide for the poor. And it’s no wonder, considering the stark divide in Kilkany between The Highsword Borough and Fisherman’s Village, with a river in between and only a single bridge connecting the two.
This is how the people of Kilkany lived for centuries. It was by the hand of Ghyxella, the goddess of luck and fortune, that a babe would find themselves born either into a life of luxury or one of grueling work with little pay, and centuries of kings who dared not change a thing. It’s no surprise that this would breed disdain and envy for some in the village, but knowing the hard life on the other side of the river, it became clear that those who decided to take action against this injustice would not place more burden on their fellow villagers. No, they would cross the river in the dead of night and steal from the rich.
It was only a few thieves at first, but eventually it grew into a band of brothers and sisters and those in between who wanted nothing more than to provide for their loved ones with the riches they know those of the borough would not miss. However, the king’s guard, after a few years, did catch on. More and more noble folk complained of missing coins, missing jewels, ornaments, silverware, sacred items, you name it. It grew terribly difficult for the band of thieves to steal as they once did, for the guards brought in reinforcements during the nights to catch them and throw them away into their prison cells.
The band of thieves dwindled in numbers, until one had enough.
A woman gathered her fellow thieves and decided it was time to train. Hone their skills in pickpocketing, lock picking, stealth and the like. For at this point, it was not a way to get back at those prissy borough noble folk. It was a lifestyle, a permanent fixture in the culture of Kilkany.
And so they trained. With help from other villagers who supported their efforts, they trained themselves to become the best rogues the coast had ever seen. And, knowing the guards were expecting them at night, they decided to train during the day. A casual picking of a pocket can be done in daylight by some very skilled rogues, but stealing the amount of which these villagers were doing was nearly impossible. Sometimes they even grabbed paintings that could cover a whole wall, just to decorate the room of an old woman. Doing that under broad daylight is no easy feat. But they trained hard, and after several months of constant training, they eventually became the very best at their craft.
In all that time, the band of thieves decided to seal their brotherhood in blood, with the woman as their leader. All in agreement, the woman decided to officially declare them as a guild, with only a single vow to bind them: to steal only when the sun is out, so as to always remember what it was that brought them together.
And with that, she named the guild: The Suncrawlers.
Centuries to follow, the Suncrawlers would establish their position in Kilkany, always wanted by the king’s guard, but their presence in the village was so strong, that the king’s guard eventually stopped going into Fisherman’s Village, essentially granting the Suncrawlers the power to uphold its own laws on their side of the Seawillow River. Though still under the reign of the king, for it was the king’s land, The Suncrawlers held the real power in the village. They built their thieves den underneath the village, where only the Suncrawlers could enter. In those centuries, leadership was passed on with the last leader using their best judgement to find the next leader when they felt ready to retire.
And it was around the time of Mercutio’s retirement that Keane came into the picture. Mercutio had earned his place as a leader for his exceptional skills in pickpocketing. He could pickpocket any king’s guard at high noon, any noble woman as she strolled through Kilkany’s gardens, and any noble man as he counted his coins at the bank. His hands were slick, and he was a charismatic fellow who was able to get out of any sticky situation with a simple smile. At one point, he picked the pockets of every single man, woman, and child standing in front of the stage as a theater group performed, and not a single person noticed.
He was a talented man, no Suncrawler could deny it. But now, he was growing old and fragile. His hands were not what they used to be. His fingers shook every second of the day without his permission, and noticing it more and more in his old age, Mercutio knew it was time to retire. So, he kept his eyes peeled for the next rogue that could properly lead The Suncrawlers.
All the while, Keane was establishing himself as a member of the guild, building his reputation among the thieves he admired, and it was not an easy task.
You see, Keane was born an only child of a wealthy tradesman of The Highsword Borough. He knew the lavish life opposite The Seawillow River, but he also knew the greed and the nasty nature that comes with it.
His father was cruel to the beggars who tried their luck on the Borough’s streets. He would spit on them, kick them, force them to do grueling work for a single copper, and a bent one at that. The man was constantly going out of his way to humiliate the poor, and it broke little Keane’s heart.
At one point, Keane thought to fight back. He stood between a beggar and his father, in front of all his father’s colleagues in one of the squares of the Borough. He was a small lad, but he kept his stance nonetheless. It earned him five lashes to the back, scars he would forever bear until his death.
Embarrassed to be related to such a man, Keane left his childhood home at the age of 14. He cut off his long locks, he wore the least impressive outfit he owned, and he left all the riches to his name behind. He took off to find his life across the Seawillow River in the Fisherman’s Village.
There was a bit of an adjustment, not used to the dirt and muck one grows accustomed to when living on the streets. He kept a close eye on the world around him, how different it was to the way of life that was merely one bridge away. He did not realize he had the eyes and the wit of a thief until he noticed the subtle work of the Suncrawlers.
He would watch them return from across the bridge, sacks filled with golden trinkets, all eventually sold for coins that were used to buy food, clothes, and other needs for the poor folks of the village. It baffled Keane that a man like his father could have everything and be so cruel, and yet there were men and women who had nothing to their name and would still risk their lives just to help others in need. What a backwards concept, Keane thought, but if that was the way of the world in Kilkany, then so be it.
It was then that Keane knew he wanted to be a Suncrawler.
He learned by observation, mainly, and by failing. He had a few welts to the knuckles for the first few months of his self-training. He kept to the less populated streets of the Borough, away from where he knew his father roamed. Most of the time, all he could get was one coin or two. He didn’t have the skills yet to pick a pocket properly.
But he never gave up, Keane, and eventually, he got noticed by a few Suncrawlers. Knowing their origins, they thought it best to train him in their ways, with the sun as their witness. Soon, his flimsy hands were anything but. He could pick the pocket of any who walked by and unlock even the most secure doors of the Borough. Unlike Mercutio, however, Keane was not a charismatic person. He was not one to weasel himself out of a sticky situation with his words, at least, not as effectively as Mercutio, but that just made him more determined to be the best pickpocket The Suncrawlers had ever seen.
By the age of 19, Keane was introduced to Mercutio as an official initiate of the guild. As far as first impressions go, Mercutio was not impressed. Keane looked like a scrawny boy with a patchy beard and bloody knuckles. What could this boy know of a rogue’s life? Still, Mercutio was a fair man, so he gave Keane a fair chance.
To prove his worth, Keane was tasked with stealing an ornate artifact from a prominent figure of The Highsword Borough: Madame Claryce, the owner of the borough’s brothel. Madame Claryce was a known collector of fine things, and one of those things was a statuette of a dryad. Easily sold for 100 gold, it was a prize for the picking.
As a Suncrawler, Keane waited not for the dead of night, but for the early morning hours when the sun began to rise. He strolled over to the brothel, a beautiful establishment hidden within a garden of lilacs, ponds, gazebos, and grapevines. Drunken men snored while on the benches outside the low building, and inside, the scent of lavender welcomed him. Quiet are the mornings after an eventful night, and quiet was Keane as he slithered his way between the various curtains that separated the halls. A few of the women who worked in the brothel were already awake, cleaning up their home, and like a shadow, Keane weaved his way between them in such a way that no one noticed his presence.
The real test, however, waited for him behind the door of Madame Claryce’s study. Claryce was a woman of business above all else, so when the morning rose, so did she, to count her earnings for the night and to split the income among the women in her care.
There was no hiding from her. Her desk sat in the middle of the room, facing the doorway, and the statuette sat on display behind her head on a shelf.
Knowing he was not a man of words, Keane took a different approach for distraction. With a flick of his finger, he tossed a coin into the air, and with the sun filling the room, the coin glistened like a glowing fairy flying through the study until it landed on top of the carpet.
Startled, Madame Claryce stood up at once and walked over to the mysterious coin. Timing his movements to her sounds, Keane slipped into the room. He was as silent as a mouse as he moved with the noises she made as cover, from the creaking of her wooden chair to her soft gasp. In only a few seconds, Keane had made it to the other end of the room, his hands already on the dryad statuette.
Again, he tossed up a coin, the sun’s rays making it glimmer in mid-air as it spun toward the left corner of the study, away from the doors.
Madame Claryce squealed at the sound of the heavy coin hitting the wooden floor, of which the carpet did not reach. A rogue is as good as the luck that’s granted to them, and so it was with this luck that Keane managed to step on the creakiest part of the floor at the same moment of Madame Claryce’s squeal, and so the creaking floorboards went by unnoticed. On he went, calculating every step until eventually he made it out the door with his prize in hand.
He gained much admiration from his mentors and friends of the guild, impressed that he could do such a thing on his own under the nose of one of the most prominent women of The Highsword Borough. They were all sure he had proven his worth. There was no doubt he’d be initiated as a member of the guild.
Mercutio, however, who had the final say in such a decision, was still not impressed. Despite it being he who put the task forward, he thought it through upon Keane’s arrival. What a lack of opportunity to show talent. Any self-respecting rogue can make it in and out of that room without being caught. No, even with the support of all the guild members, Mercutio was still unconvinced.
Now, all the Suncrawlers took this decision as face value. There was no going beyond this, what was done was done. There was nothing anyone could do.
But Keane did not care. He knew in his heart that his place was among the Suncrawlers, and he’d do all that he could to earn his place there.
So, Keane asked for an audience with Mercutio. He told him that he planned to pickpocket his own father in the center of the borough, in front of all his colleagues and friends.
This was a very clever move on Keane’s part for a number of reasons. First: it proved that he understood the core of the brotherhood, that the Suncrawlers were known for their thieving and stealthing with the sun as their witness. If he could pickpocket a wealthy man in front of a busy crowd at high noon, then he was well worthy of the Suncrawler name. Second, and perhaps most important: Keane had revealed a secret to the leader of the guild. He was a highborn who had renounced his riches. He left everything behind for this guild, and though he didn’t use those exact words, Mercutio immediately knew that that was the case.
And it was in that moment that Mercutio grew interested in Keane. He suddenly saw him not as a potential member of the guild, for this boy had Suncrawler blood, there was no doubt about that, but rather a potential leader of the guild. Yes, it was then that Mercutio decided Keane would be the next to lead the Suncrawlers, and so he decided to act on that, but not before Keane’s second attempt.
Yes, Mercutio accepted his request, and he stood under the shadows of the alley as he watched Keane, swift as a falcon with eyes on his prey, remove an amulet, a coin purse, and a key from his father’s pocket. His father hardly blinked an eye at the random stranger that bumped into him, and not one bystander cared to look any deeper than a glance. It was a flawless demonstration, but it was not enough for Mercutio, not enough for the leader he knew Keane could be.
So even though he desperately wanted to tell Keane that he had proven his worth and doubly so, he knew he had to test this boy. How far was he willing to go?
So Mercutio told him it was still not enough. It was a difficult blow for Keane. It drove him to the tavern where he drank until he slept on top of the table until the morning’s sun rays awoke, for at least four days. But once he grew tired of the drunkard life, he knew he was not ready to give up just yet.
It took Keane another couple days to think of another way he could prove his worth, but once he did, he knew he had landed on a pot of gold, for it was a demonstration Mercutio could not ignore.
And it was perfect timing too, for that night the Suncrawlers were gathering for a feast, one they often did to celebrate their work, their earnings, and any new members that joined the guild.
A rogue trained by the very Suncrawlers themselves, Keane sneaked his way into the feast in the guild’s den, and no one even batted an eye.
There he was, Mercutio sitting in the center of the long dining table at the far end of the hall, facing the guild. He was enjoying the night, goblet of wine in hand, sloshing about and staining his sleeves with purple hues. To his right, he had his girl, to his left, he had his meal, and before him, he had his family. It was a night of festivities, and that meant not ever saying no to the server who stops by to refill your goblet with wine. Either you keep an eye on your wine as it pours into your cup or you keep to your conversation, feeling only the weight of the goblet in your hand get heavier.
And of course, Mercutio began to chug it down, knowing the servant would do another round at some point, but as he did, he peered through his batting eyelashes to see Keane, so obviously passing in front of his table.
Mercutio lifted his hand and demanded to know why he was here. He had yet earned his place in the guild.
“Oh my apologies, Mercutio,” Keane said, “I just came by to grab a few things.”
And out in his hands, that too were stained with purple hues, Keane showed Mercutio a ring, a coin purse, a key, and a gem. But these weren’t just random items.
The ring was a signet ring with the sun symbol of the guild, equipped only by the leader of The Suncrawlers. The coin purse was a leather red with a feather tied onto it, a feather that belonged to the pet eagle of Mercutio. The key was made of splintered bone. It was a skeleton key, and Mercutio was the only Suncrawler to own such a rare possession. And the gem was a gift to Mercutio from a long-serving guild member who had recently passed.
Mercutio could not speak a word. Instead, he shot up out of his seat, and it silenced the room. He couldn’t believe the truth he was seeing right before his eyes. Here, this young boy has just pickpocketed the best pickpocketer of the guild, the skill of which gave Mercutio his position as leader, and not only that, but the boy did it in front of a room where each person is familiar with Suncrawler tactics, all who have the instinct to check the shadows and to watch their backs. Not one noticed. Not even the leader himself.
“Keane,” Mercutio said, projecting his voice so as the whole guild could hear,
“You have proven your worth. You are a skillful man in the arts of stealth and thievery. There is no denying it. However, I saw something far deeper beneath the surface, and now you have proven that my instinct was right. I am more than impressed. I am humbled. Not only have you earned your place in the guild of the Suncrawlers, but you have proven that you are a loyal brother to our brotherhood. And so, I tonight announce my retirement and I ask Keane to take my place as the leader of this guild.”
Keane almost cried that night. It was the most overwhelming welcome that he could have asked for. He thought back to his father and his terrible treatment against the poor. This is why he had to leave. Keane knew this was his true home, and it gave him no better honor than to accept.
“Then, let it be known here tonight that Keane is now a member of The Suncrawlers. Let it be known that I, Mercutio, grant him the name of Keane the Quiet for his incredible stealth."
"Let it be known that Keane the Quiet is now declared the next leader of the guild!”
The Suncrawlers cheered, fully in agreement with their new leader, and drinks went around that night until the sun greeted those above the underground den.
Keane the Quiet took control of the Suncrawlers, and he upheld their ways of life to everyone’s satisfaction, but to him, the most important part of their guild was their charity to the poor.
Keane established new guild rules to ensure the poor get what they need and a bit extra, to help protect the streets and establishments of the Fisherman’s Village, and to provide all that they could in times of dire need. There was a new level of respect for the guild from the townsfolk, and a new level of fear from the king’s guard and the king himself.
Especially since Keane started to move his efforts toward tricker spots, including the king’s summer home, the bank, and the homes of the top wealthiest families in the borough.
Keane soon discovered, now that he had a place to call home, with a bed and a wardrobe, that he was a keen collector. He always donated every coin he collected to the poor, but he enjoyed collecting treasure chests, expensive mirrors or vases, large landscape paintings, and a few instruments here and there. It almost became like a challenge of getting the most expensive item in the most renowned home in the borough. It earned the respect of his fellow guild members, but it caught the eye of the king.
And so, up went the wanted posters. All across Kilkany, there were wanted posters for Keane the Quiet with a bounty of 10,000 gold pieces, dead or alive.
That put Keane on edge. With all those posters, he trained himself to be skilled with a disguise kit, and soon enough, he could disguise himself as anyone, so that he could still roam here and there. But he was always careful, never again stealing from the well-known in the borough.
It didn’t keep him from leaving the den, but it did instill fear in him to the point where he grew paranoid. It was due to his paranoia that he obsessed over learning the art of disguise, and though it is a great skill to have as a rogue, he took it to the point where at times even he could not recognize himself in his reflection.
His paranoia also drew other habits, like developing a secret written code to exchange messages, installing new locks from the best smithy in the city on all the doors in the den, and installing many, many new traps.
The den already had several traps located across the corridors, to keep away any non-Suncrawler. But for Keane the Quiet, it was not enough. He wanted to ensure no creature could find their way into the den, so that included installing miniature traps sized for mice and rats. And I’m not just talking about mouse traps with a spring and a piece of cheese. No, I mean mini swinging axes, mini spike traps, mini fireballs, and mini pools of boiling tar. It was an obstacle course of death for any mouse or rat that dared try and spy on the thieves guild of Kilkany.
One did try: a young rat who was being chased by a cat who was being chased by a farmer.
It was a nice summer day when the famer entered the Windsong Estate, the entry point for the path toward the den of the Suncrawlers. But he knew not about the den’s location, no townsfolk did. So when his cat sprinted into the building, following a young rat, he simply followed without question.
The rat led the cat who led the farmer deep into the corridors of the den, since the small rat could find tight spaces to squeeze through and that day it found a tight entryway just behind a bookshelf that was left ajar. The cat naturally followed, his body melting with his surroundings, the cat managed to squeeze through as well. The farmer, determined to get his cat and bring him back home, followed suit, opening up the bookshelf just enough to let him through.
Little did he know the traps that awaited him. So little did he know that it was actually the very first trap that got him, for he was far heavier than the rat and the cat combined, so he triggered the trap with the pressure plate and he fell into a spike pit.
The cat still bolted through the corridors, just a few inches from the rat’s tail. He opened his mouth, already tasting his snack in his mouth, but that made him careless. The cat did not notice a few sensitive switches on the wall. So sensitive that it only took the careless flick of his tail to trigger one, releasing a poisonous gas that the cat choked on but the rat nearly managed to escape the fumes. The cat nearly died, but managed to escape, running back toward the entrance.
This young rat was a smart one, and he knew that his enemies had just been bested. There were traps here that could protect him. Perhaps he could live his life down here in the corridors of The Suncrawlers, away from cats and other scary beasts.
The rat, determined to find where all these corridors led to, kept moving forward. He eventually found a small hole on one of the sides of the halls, for these halls were large and their large traps would easily destroy a rat. This hole could be the perfect way to avoid them, he thought.
Little did he know the traps that awaited him. The rat scurried through the tiny halls, his ears barely touching the tops of the rat-sized caves. His little paws went pitter patter against the stone cold floor and his whiskers twitched as he sniffed his way through, checking for any of the usual traps that aim to kill a rat.
He didn’t notice his paw triggered a pressure plate, but he was a swift rat. The moment the floor began to give way, revealing a death trap of spikes underneath, the rat instantly used his hind paws to push off the ledge of the trap and fly across the pit, safely dropping onto the other side. His little heart pounded, vibrating his entire body as he continued sprinting through the holes, now more alert.
And fortunately so, for with such a small corridor, the pressure plates were nearly unavoidable. His paws landed on another, releasing three mini sharp axes swinging across the hall, blades so sharp, he could easily be split in two.
But he was nimble, that rat, and he weaved through the swinging axes, not one blade touching any bit of his fur. He passed through still intact.
On he went, that rat, for he knew that all these traps simply meant a paradise was waiting for him on the other side, where he could be protected and could have all the scraps of food tossed to the floor all to himself.
Moving forward, he kept his fast pace, hoping he’d reach the end of the corridor soon, but another trap awaited him, and once again, his paws set off the trigger.
Two mini fireballs blasted in his face. He squealed in pain as the fire singed his belly, but he wiggled his pink nose in determination and he pushed through. The searing pain made his brown fur turn dark, and it was then that the soft brown rat now had fur of midnight black, but he made it past the fire with his heart still beating. He was in flames, but he was clever, that rat, and he rolled through the corridor, effectively putting out the flames.
He took a moment to regain his breath and his stamina, but he was still not ready to give up yet. All these traps were hiding a rat’s paradise, and he knew it.
The rat pushed on and came face to face with the final trap in this rat hole. A pool of boiling tar was waiting for him at the bottom of a pit, and it was a pit as long as five rats in a line. For a rat, this was practically a chasm. It terrified him. He didn’t have the energy he had when the chase first began. He didn’t think he could jump across.
But in his head, he had no choice. This was the final test to paradise. This was how he had to prove his worth. So he backed up, took in a few deep breaths, wiggled his nose, and bolted down the corridor.
Again, his paws pushed off the ledge for momentum. He leaped across the chasm, his body stretching as far as it could. He landed with his front paws barely gripping the other ledge. The tip of his tail barely touched the surface of the boiling tar, and it burned through his whole being. The adrenaline got the rat to scurry up the wall. His tail whipped frantically after feeling the intense heat. He heaved and puffed until finally he made it safely on top of the other side.
The rat, once again, took some time to breathe, but he noticed to his right a soft glow. He had made it to the other end at long last. He sauntered over, eyeing his new paradise, and at first there was not much to look at, until he noticed a beautiful golden bowl full of cheeses and fruits on top of an ornate table.
Revitalized by this welcome into paradise, the rat scrambled up the table’s leg and plopped himself into the bowl. He ate like a king.
It was in Keane’s chambers that the rat found himself in, but indulging himself, the rat didn’t notice Keane walk in.
Keane the Quiet heard the little squeaks of the rat as it chowed down its meal. Keane stared at the rat, baffled that he made it through all his traps. It was then that Keane realized this rat had just as much spirit as any Suncrawler. After all, he must have been one determined little rat to get past all those traps.
Impressed, Keane took in the rat as his own. It seemed that a new tradition was slowly forming with each leader of the guild having a pet, what with Mercutio and his eagle and now Keane with his rat.
Keane named the rat Boris and at the next guild feast, Keane named Boris the rat an honorary Suncrawler. The guild accepted Boris as their own, and Keane put yellow yarn around his neck so as to ensure everyone could identify him as he roamed the halls of the den.
Boris the Rat made history that day, for he established a tradition that is still carried out to this day with every guild leader and their pet, but also, for being the first honorary Suncrawler to prove his worth and his cunning.
To this day, there is a small hole in the wall of the leader’s chambers where there is a bed of hay, a bowl of half-eaten cheese, and a golden plaque made in recognition of Boris the Honorary Suncrawler.
Copyright ©️ 2020 Daniela Sylmae. All rights reserved.