Coffee Break Read – Distraction

One o’clock in the morning, and several interested eyes noted a heavily laden cart, its wheels muffled with sacking, creeping slowly out of the malodorous streets around the wharves. These interested parties felt it worthwhile to follow the heavily-laden vehicle at a discreet distance, as it made its ponderous way up the hill from the riverside towards the noble houses surrounding the palace.
The cart stopped at an intersection, and it’s driver waited on the seat whilst a number of burly men in burlap smocks fanned out to check the surrounding streets. Oh yes, this cart did indeed seem worth watching, and various spies, cutthroats, and army intelligence personnel converged on it from all directions. Seemingly satisfied it wasn’t being followed, the cart carried on, although perhaps the watching eyes would have been less smug had they been able to eavesdrop on the conversation between the carter and his companions.
‘Have we attracted enough attention?’
‘Seen Schiapetti, smelled C’hin and Neders, and spotted Church soldiers, so I guess we’re providing good cover for whatever it is we’re providing cover for…’
The cart turned off a wide thoroughfare into a street of exclusive shops, then made another turn, this time into an alley so narrow that the sides of the cart brushed the ivy growing down the walls. The cart slowed as it passed under a balcony, and a rope snaked down. Two small leather-clad figures grasped the rope and were quickly hauled up out of sight. The cart carried on at a stately pace until it reached a secluded square, where the carter got off and approached an iron-bound wooden door where he knocked – an elaborate pattern of thumps and pauses, which he sincerely hoped would sound like a coded signal to any watcher who may have caught up with him. The door opened, and a sleepy face poked out. ‘Oh, it’s yourself Dando. Best get unloaded then.’
The burly stevedores pulled an oiled tarpaulin off the cart, and began rolling in barrels. The carter leaned against the withers of his lead horse and scanned the surrounding area for company. He had soon spotted three sets of eyes and he was sure there would be more. Time for the requested diversion then. He walked to the cart tail in a leisurely manner, and pulled on a loose end of rope whilst whistling an off-key tune to warn his confederates. Of a sudden, two barrels rolled off the back of the cart and bounced along the cobbles. The first one immediately burst, spreading a lake of dark red wine, while the second provided even more of a diversion as it pinned a rather weedy youth to the wall of a convent adjacent to the house to which the stevedores were delivering. The youth went down, screaming; ‘my leg, my leg’. The carter and his mates ran over and manhandled the barrel off the unfortunate young man, who carried on screaming.
‘Best bang on the door of the convent and ask for their doctor. Looks to me like his leg is broke’ muttered one of the stevedores without much sympathy. ‘What was the silly bugger doin’ creeping around behind a cart unloading barrels?’
‘Nosey’ remarked one of his mates equally unmoved by the young man’s plight.
Whilst chaos reigned in the backstreets, two lithe young figures raced across the rooftops, barely able to control their giggles at the mayhem below. Just before the house where the unloading was taking place they reached an alleyway too wide to jump across. Sure that the chaos below would camouflage any sound, the leading figure whistled softly, and a wooden beam edged its way across the chasm. The two figures grabbed the end and slid it into a convenient slot in the brickwork around the roof where they stood.
Having skipped across this makeshift bridge, the leader whistled once more, and the beam began to slide back from whence it came.

From The Long Game by Jane Jago

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