The late evening colors were slowly disappearing while Peter, Cathy and Arthur were waiting for Gwen to join them after a fierce riding competition. Their precious horses, given as a gift by the queen in the previous summer, were their whole world. They took them out for long rides whenever they could, whilst giving them the best treatment that even the queen’s knight’s horses wouldn’t have gotten.
Gwen was always against their races, usually dropping her pace to a light trot whenever she saw one of them taking the lead.
Peter was giving them riding lessons. Working as a stable boy was the way he earned his bread before Arthur got to the village and the four have grouped. With a lot of practice he was one of the best riders in the area. With enough practice even the petite twelve years old Gwen learned how to control her beautiful brown mare.
Used to her tricks, the three guided their horses in a slow pace until Gwen joined them. They were enjoying a warm day in the field around the village in the midst of the cold winter.
Reaching the stable a short while after darkness settled, they brushed their horses, gave them hefty dinner and lead them into their regular stalls.
“I’ll kill him!” John was shouting from inside. They exchanged confused looks and ran inside.
John – the inn keeper was standing with his wife Merry. “If I catch him I’ll…”He was enraged, a sight the four didn’t see on this big and kind man. He grabbed a stool and sent it crashing into the closest wall.
“Calm down John.” trying to overcome her shock, Merry tried to calm her husband.
“What’s going on?” Cathy asked when the four reached the couple, who treated the four as their own children.
“I’ll tell you what…” John started but was interrupted by his wife.
”Let me tell them” she said, trying to calm things down a bit for the few remaining customers.
“We think we have a thief…” Merry started.
“We think…. I’m sure we do!” John intervened.
“I’ll explain, dear” She assured him. “We believe there is a thief. There were three complaints in the last three days.”
“What did he take?” Peter asked.
“Mostly coins, some warm cloth and some food. Not much, but….” Merry explained.
“But it is our reputation at stake. Word gets around fast… do you know what would happen if this gets out?” John interrupted.
“Did you hear about any other incidents outside the inn?” Arthur wondered.
“Actually I don’t believe I did.” John answered after a moment of thought.
“Do you suspect someone?” Arthur continued.
“There are a couple of new customers in the inn. They came here a day before the first incident.” John explained. “What will we do?”
“We’ll look into it.” Arthur promised, seeing the relief on John’s face immediately.
“Thank you.” Merry whispered, confident the four will be able to handle it.
During dinner the four tried to come up with the best plan. They had two immediate suspects but they couldn’t accuse them without proof. John pointed out one of their suspects when he descended the stairs from the upper floor to the large main hall where the tables stood, A bald man with a large belly and a short black beard. John described the second man who seemed like he could be a problem. A large man built like an ox, whom according to John, never seen talking to anyone inside the inn.
“We’ll start first thing in the morning.” Arthur started laying out his plan. “Two will help John in the main hall while the other two will busy themselves upstairs.”
“What are we looking for?” Peter asked. “We can’t go searching from room to room.”
“Look for anything suspicious.” Arthur said “We don’t need to search it, but we can say we are cleaning it.” Arthur smiled.
“I hope you’ll do a better job than on your room.” Cathy laughed at the boys, getting a frown as a response from Peter and a hard laugh from Gwen.
“Wake up!” Trying to wake him up, Arthur was shaking Peter’s shoulder for a while.
“It’s too early” Peter moaned finally.
”That’s the point. We have to be there as early as we can.” Arthur explained patiently, “besides we want to eat breakfast…” deliberately using the magic words, knowing Peter loved to eat.
Without needing for Arthur finish the sentence, he sat upright. “Right, I am hungry. Let’s go.” he said as he stood up, pulling on his tunic.
Arthur raised his shoulders and followed him into the kitchen’s inn, which was joined with a door to their and the girl’s two rooms cabin.
Although the sun hasn’t come up yet, Merry was already working in the kitchen getting a head start on the breakfast cooking, stopping for a moment only to greet the boys as they passed. “The girls are already inside,” She said. “I prepared your breakfast,” pointing to two plates.
“Thank you Merry.” Arthur said and kissed her on the cheek. “Th..ank … Y..ou..” Peter added as they grabbed their plates on the way out, already a piece of bread in his mouth.
“Thank you boys” Merry said in return and turned back to work.
Chatting cheerfully, the girls seemed to be in a good mood when the boys joined them at the only table which was occupied. It was too early for the regular customers.
“I thought you two will start at the main hall and we’ll start upstairs.” Arthur said to the girls, although seeing Peter’s displeasure with the prospect of cleaning rooms.
“That’s fine.” Cathy agreed quickly.
“Just keep your eyes and ears open for anything, including the two John suggested.” Arthur briefed them, as they were expecting him to do.
A loud sound of talking was heard and the big oak door opened, bringing in the pre-morning chill into the room, even though the big stone fireplace was lit on the other side of the room.
A scrawny middle aged man with red hair came inside with a younger version of him following two steps behind him. “HEY JOHN!” the man called to John who was descending the stairs when he heard the door open. “WHAT ABOUT OUR REAKFAST?” He called in an obnoxious voice.
“I don’t like him.” Cathy whispered when she saw the two headed towards them.
“Good morning, I’ll bring it over” John was heading towards the kitchen. “Sit where ever you like.”
“THIS IS ARTHUR” the man half shouted half laughed.
“Doesn’t seem that much to me.” his son answered.
The man pulled a chair and sat between Peter and Cathy to her obvious dismay. His son followed his lead and squeezed between Peter and Gwen. “So what are we eating?” The man asked sarcastically taking a piece of bread from Cathy’s plate. She was about to raise her hand but Arthur grabbed it and the kitchen door opened and John came carrying two plates.
“I see you met the group,” laying down the plates in front of the two. “Lads, these are Sam and his son. Sam is a carpenter. They are doing some work for us.”
Sam nodded while swallowing the content of his plate, while his son not far behind.
“Just try not to get in my way.” Sam finally said when John left them. “Isn’t it a shame?” he asked.
“What is?” Peter wondered.
“What’s happening in the inn, people are already talking about the theft.” A hint of a smile showed on Sam’s face as he talked. “This wouldn’t have happened if I was running this place.”
“You? What do you know of running the inn?” Cathy spat.
“Watch your tongue, pretty girl. If john would have sold this place to me I would have cleaned this place up.” Sam answered, giving Cathy a nasty look.
“I think we should go” realizing this will only get worse, Arthur took the lead grabbing his plate with half of the food still on it and heading back towards the kitchen.
Reluctantly Peter followed him while the girls happily joined their lead.
“Who is he?” Arthur asked John in the kitchen.
“A friend, he helps when we need some work done. Besides he is the only one in the area.”
“He is obnoxious.” Cathy joined in.
“We should get started.” Arthur decided and headed towards the door, quickly followed by Peter.
Sam and his son were still at the table finishing off their meal, they almost didn’t notice the two coming in and heading up the stairs. On the top floor there was a main corridor with small rooms on each side. Peter counted almost ten rooms on each side and moaned. A small water basin was lying on top of a large table half way in the corridor.
“We’ll start with the empty one on the left working our way through while the customers wake up and leave their rooms,” Arthur explained. “Keep a sharp eye mainly for the two John described.”
Peter nodded his understanding and the two went into the empty room.
A large man wearing brown robes came out of one of the rooms. He fitted the description John gave them and the two jumped on the opportunity to search his room. A moment later the boys were inside trying to find anything but the plain room was almost empty. A small bed stood in the middle, a small night stand and a small chair. The boys were surprised to find only a small parchment and a small pouch which contained only a couple of silver coins and a wooden cross necklace which they returned to where they found it under the pillow.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” The shout came from the entrance of the room.
“We came to tidy your room, sir.” Although his heart running a mile a minute Arthur managed to gain his wits. “We are sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Oh that’s fine, I’m sorry my boys.” The big man was standing at the door and seemed very calm and friendly as oppose to his initial shout.
“We will leave now, with your permission” Arthur said when he and Peter finished tidying the room a moment later.
“Thank you boys” The man said patting them on the backs as they left.
“That was close,” Peter whispered when they were out of earshot. “How come we didn’t hear him coming?”
“It’s those constant banging from outside,” Arthur answered. “Sam is working on the second floor, I saw him with a ladder from one of the windows.”
A door opened and their second suspect came running out, bumping into Arthur and Peter running down the corridor, disappearing down the stairs.
Quickly taking the opportunity, the boys ran through the door. Being a lot more careful this time they kept a watch on the door, only to find that the room was emptier than the previous one. Nothing was inside except for the bed, chair and night stand. They moved on to the next room, keeping an eye for the people around.
“I’m exhausted” Peter collapsed into a chair beside his friends.
The sun was already setting and they were working hard all day without a result for their real task.
“Did you see anything?” Arthur asked.
Gwen shook her head and Cathy only sighed as a reply. Working hard all day waiting tables, the two were also exhausted.
“JOHN, WHAT IS HAPPENING?” The big man came running down the stairs.
“How can I help you?” asked john, meeting him at the bottom of the stairs.
“MY possessions are gone, my only possessions stolen,” he spat. “What kind of establishment are you running here?”
“Sir I’m sorry. Please let me know what happened?” said john, calmly leading the man to a table at the far corner, throwing Arthur a helpless look.
“I guess he isn’t our guy” Peter sighed.
“Do you have anything?” John came over quickly. “What about the second guy?” He tried.
“Sorry, no. He left in a hurry, he couldn’t have stolen it” Arthur said.
“This is only getting worse.” John sighed.
“John, you should cut your losses. People are talking.” Sam came in from behind.
“Not now, Sam” John left and headed towards the big man again.
“So we are clueless?” Gwen asked after Sam left the inn leaving a strong body odor smell.
“Actually, I think I know who the thief is.” Arthur smiled.
Arthur slowly explained his thoughts and they decided to act first thing in the morning.
The four fell asleep quickly, tired from their hard day’s work.
The morning came very quickly, finding them at an early breakfast again waiting for their cue this time. Sam and his son walked in like the day before heading for the groups table.
“Well John, I see you are still open for business” Sam shouted, seeing John already with their plates.
“Yes Sam, we are.” putting their plates in front of them, John calmly answered.
Arthur nodded and Gwen and Peter left the table.
“Are you working on the west side today?” John asked Sam casually.
“Yes, we will finish in a day or two” Sam answered between bites this time.
“We should be going” Cathy said to Arthur and the two hurried out of the inn.
Arthur and Cathy walked around the west side of the inn, keeping an eye from a distance.
“It’s all here,” Peter called from behind them. He was carrying a small sack, opening it he revealed everything John had described to be stolen. Arthur even spotted the small pouch at the bottom of the sack.
“So how are we going to do it?” Peter asked.
“We’ll go inside” Arthur said, “While you two keep an eye on his son.”
The four hurried away, this time they were carrying their short swords except for Gwen who carried a dagger, all of which were presents from their good friend Glen the traveling blacksmith.
Arthur and Cathy ran inside, seeing Sam’s ladder beside one of the windows while the hammer stopped its steady banging. One of the doors was closed. Kicking it open, Arthur and Cathy charged inside only to find the room empty. Cathy quickly looked outside the window, seeing the ladder a couple of rooms farther.
“Hurry!” she called to Arthur. The two stormed out of the room, quickly finding the right door.
Arthur kicked it open again to reveal Sam holding a cape a bag and a small pouch in his hand. “Put it back” Arthur called.
“Or what?” Sam asked, leaning towards the window looking for his son. “Are you ready?” He called down only to see his son lead by Gwen with his hands tied behind his back and a dagger pointed at his back.
“I didn’t want anyone to get hurt,” Sam shouted at Arthur. “You had to stick your nose in other people’s business?”
“Except for John and the people you stole from, of course.” Arthur snapped.
“If the fool would have sold me the inn, I wouldn’t have needed to do it,” Sam’s look ran across the room. “Why should he be the only one to enjoy the profit?”
Sam threw the bag towards Arthur, hitting him hard in the chest, throwing him against the stone wall. At the same time he darted towards the door, completely ignoring Cathy standing there.
“Stop!” She called.
Sam didn’t stop. He threw the cape over her, blocking her sword’s swing, struggling with Cathy while trying to squeeze his way out of the room. Sam punched Cathy in the shoulder, letting out a cry of pain, dropping her sword to the ground. Sam crouched to grab the sword when he collapsed face down into the floor.
Arthur was standing above him after using his hilt to stun Sam. “Thank you,” Cathy whispered.
“This is one heck of a meal” Peter praised Merry and John.
“You deserve it” Merry said when they all sat down to eat at the end of the day after returning the stolen goods to their rightful owners.
John was so devastated for his misplaced trust and proud of the four at the same time that he couldn’t stop telling the heroism story as he described it for a long while.
“Shouldn’t someone punish him?” Cathy asked.
“I think that being banished with his family is punishment enough,” Arthur smiled “I reckon we won’t be hearing from him anytime soon.”