The little boat slunk beneath the river bridges. With its sharply cut prow, the vessel’s progress was silent and swift. Its occupants held their breath as they passed under any bridge marked with swaying guard lanterns. But the night was deep and those on watch looked towards the roads, not the inky water below them.
As they neared the city and its great, river-made moat, the smugglers shifted their shoulders and bowed over to make themselves small against the curve of their boat. Here, discovery would ensure a short drop and a sudden stop on the nearby gallows, possibly even before the sun rose. The duke’s justice was quick for those that denied him his tariffs and taxes.
But the smugglers did not turn away, and turned their boat to the grates allowing water to flow beneath the streets and the main city squares. As swift as justice was in the city, the rewards came faster, at least for those who knew their way round the trading metropolis’ winding waters.
Gruff whispers were exchanged by the grate and it was opened on well-greased hinges. They entered the city, quiet as a leaf bobbing on a creek’s gentle current.
The dark tunnels of rushing water providing a warren for the smugglers and their ilk, entrepreneurs as much as any of the fancy clothed merchant princes who dined on the bay’s pleasure barges. Here, beneath the street-side markets that pitched gaudy stalls and tents during the day, another market bloomed in the slimy dark.
The smugglers followed the greasy pricks of light that marked the sides of the underground canals, candles set and burning on the melted corpses of their waxy ancestors. The wax growths provided little real light, but guided the most daring and least scrupulous merchants to their night’s business.
When the muggy tunnel opened up to series of wide causeways set over the underground water, each one of the smugglers’ smiles flashed in the low light. Now came the easy part.