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Introduction:

This contains all the chapters
Chapter one

A Thief’s Beginning

I remember the first time I watched Petri’e practice picking pockets. He was using a mock person that was dressed in merchant clothes. There was tiny bells sewn into the suit of clothes and they rang if he did it wrong. I was lying on the floor in the next room looking through a small hole. I was only twelve and he had taken me off the streets.

We were in the attic of the thieves guild. I had followed him up from the apprentice floor. Preti’e was a journeyman pickpocket. I had spent the last two years as a helper in a blacksmith shop, but the blacksmith had been killed when he was kicked by a horse. I did pick up the skill to make small edged weapons as well as slim throwing spikes.

Eight weeks later I squatted beside a vegetable cart and watched the market crowd. I finally stood and walked into the crowd. I followed close behind a couple of merchants as they walked unsteadily. When they staggered into another merchant I slid closer. My left hand moved as my right brought the tiny, razor sharp hooked bladed knife up and sliced the leather thong holding the merchants belt pouch.

My left hand swept the pouch down and into the inside pocket sewn into the waist of my pants. I continued walking and made my way to the other side of the market square. I squatted down against the stone wall and went back to watching. My left hand slipped into my inside pocket and moved behind me to tilt a brick and slide the stolen belt pouch behind it.

It was a couple of hours later that I slipped into the guild house. I moved through the crowd to the kitchen counter. I picked up a bowl of stew and a hunk of bread before heading to a vacant table. I was wolfing the stew down when under master Gerg walked up with two other under masters. He sneered, “Pic, a noble lady was robbed in the market square today.”

I glanced up, “I do not steal from ladies.”

He snarled, “Put them on the table, Pic.”

I looked at them and pulled six merchant belt pouches out and put them on the table, “See, no lady’s pouch.”

He grinned reaching for my stolen pouches, “Not bad Pic. I will just…”

I shifted and moved, my hands blurred, the left stabbing a tiny strait bladed knife into his left hand as my right stabbed another into his groan. I yanked my right hand to the left cutting his privates as he screamed. I was off the bench with my left hand striking into his throat in a small neat slice.

I crouched facing the other two men as he fell to the floor with a geyser of blood coming from his throat. The huge guild common room was suddenly deathly silent, “Guild law! No one steals from another guild member in the guild house.”

The two under masters shifted, moving hands away from daggers, “we are neutral Pic.”

I looked at them and then bent and cut the belt off Gerg. I slipped the tiny knives back into my sleeves and slipped the belt pouch off. I pulled the fancy Drimmin dagger with a milk white stone handle and tucked it behind my belt. I retrieved my stolen pouches and then the bowl. I walked across to the kitchen counter and put the bowl up.

I looked around and walked into the masters hallway. I walked into the counting room and crossed to the desk, “I had good luck Master.”

Master Toni smiled and turned from the painting he was looking at, “Show me, Pic Jason.”

I grinned and slid the six pouches across the desk. I watched as he poured the coins onto the desk. He counted and split the coins and pushed the larger pile back to me. I pulled my own meager belt pouch from another hidden pocket and dumped the coins into it. I smiled at Master Toni, “Thanks Master.”

I left and went up onto the apprentice floor. The Apprentice Master scowled, “you should be out working Pic.”

I grinned, “I finished early.”

I stepped into the small room that was mine and looked around. I had learned a harsh lesson shortly after I got here. If you slept to soundly you did not hear the Apprentice Master sneaking up. If you did not hear him, he beat you with a stick. I had taken another way out. I stepped onto the bed and jumped up. I pulled myself onto the wide beam and shifted around to lay down.

I still slept lightly and when the normal sounds of the guild house changed my eyes snapped open. I listened and realized I had drawn the dagger from Gerg. I turned my head slowly towards the door. It opened slowly and quietly and a black clothed assassin stepped in. He stood still with a long curved Drimmin Shamshir sword in one hand. He pulled a Tarantine fighting knife with his other hand and moved towards the bed.

I silently rolled off the beam, the dagger stabbing into the man’s neck severing his spine. My other hand slapped over his mouth to keep him from calling out. I landed and pulled the man down with me. He was convulsing as I pulled the dagger out and stabbed up into his brain. I twisted it and pulled it out.

I felt his twitching body to remove his belt. I slipped the Shamshir back into its sheath and put the sword belt over my shoulder with the belt pouch slipping down against it. I picked up the Tarantine and moved silently to the door. When I stepped out I saw the body of the Apprentice Master. I had only taken a few steps when another man stepped out the door near me.

My actions were more reaction as I swiped across his throat with the Tarantine and then stabbed up under his chin with the dagger. I let him down as quietly as I could and took his belt with belt pouch, Tarantine knife and Drimmin Shamshir. Whoever they were they had quality weapons. I glanced at two apprentices as they stepped into the hallway, “Go up and out the roof exit. Use the guild route and stay away until a master comes for you.”

I turned away and moved to the Apprentice stairs. I sheathed the Tarantine and let a throwing spike drop into my hand. I slipped down quietly and stepped into the journeyman hallway. An assassin half way down the hall turned. I brought the throwing spike back and threw as Blacksmith Johansen taught me. The assassin grabbed at his throat where my spike had struck.

Before I could move closer another assassin stepped out of a nearby door. Unfortunately for him, he looked towards the other assassin and stepped towards him. I took two quick steps and stabbed through the base of his head. I yanked the dagger out and let him fall before moving to the other assassin. He was lying still as I pulled the spike out and took his belt.

I checked the rooms and removed the belt from the assassin I had stabbed. I started down the stairs towards the main floor and a black clad assassin stepped into the stairwell. I did not even have to think as my hand flicked the throwing spike down toward the assassin. The assassin’s head snapped back with the spike through his eye. I moved down swiftly as I pulled another spike.

I moved past the dead assassin and brought the dagger around and through the wrist holding a sword. I twisted up with the dagger and slid under the arm as it straightened. The dagger came out and I stabbed through the man’s armpit and into his heart. My other arm whipped up and back as I sidestepped and then I threw. The assassin moving quickly down the hall staggered as my spike slammed into his chest.

I pulled the belts off my shoulder and tucked a Tarantine in my belt. I moved to the counting room and looked in the open door. An assassin was trying to pry Master Toni’s lockbox from the wall. I pulled a spike and threw it in one motion. The spike slammed into the back of the assassin’s skull. I turned and moved toward the corner of the hall with the other hallway leading to the large common room.

I had just reached the corner when an assassin walked around it. He did not have his knife or Shamshir out and his eyes widened. I swiped across his throat as he stepped back reaching for his Shamshir and knife. I followed as he staggered into the other hallway holding his throat. When I came around the corner another assassin was in the common room, he turned and started running towards the main doors.

I pulled a throwing spike and threw, following after it. The spike struck the running assassin low in the middle of his back. He sprawled out as he fell and I reached him as he was trying to reach the spike buried in his spine just above his waist. I knelt and stabbed through his ear. His weapons were much better then the other assassins.

Both the Drimmin Shamshir and Tarantine had black Onyx hilts. As I was pulling the spike out of his spine, I felt another dagger between his shoulder blades. It was a slim double edged dagger with a six inch blade, it had a pale blue stone for a hilt. I took everything he had and then went to the alarm pull. I yanked several times and began retrieving swords belts.

I ended up with ten swords, Tarantines and the one blue hilted dagger as well as their belt pouches. Most of the Masters including the Guild Master had been killed as well as most of the journeymen and apprentices. Master Jariss was the master who took over as the new Guild Master with several other under masters that shared his sadistic ways.


Chapter two

Pay Back

Two years had gone by since that night. I was the best pick pocket in the city. I only worked a few days every week and was very careful who I stole from. One of the things Master Jariss had changed was the way the guild dealt with merchants. Before, a merchant could purchase his belongings back for a price. Now he could do the same thing but for a very large price, he could demand the thief and get him.

Those that were turned over were usually seen hanging from one of the marketplace walls. Even though I never officially trained as a house breaker and lock pick, I learned everything there was to know. I no longer slept in the guild house even after Master Jariss made doing so mandatory. When one of his new masters had confronted me, I had pulled my Onyx hilted Tarantine and thumbed the edge of the blade, “Make me.”

Even in the silent common room my meaning was clear. Everyone knew who had killed all the assassins. Master Jariss was sitting across the room and his lackey looked at him. I glanced at Jariss and he was red faced but shook his head. Several times since then I have had one of the masters try to follow me as I headed out to find somewhere to sleep.

Petri’e was one of the few journeymen to live through the assassinations. It was not long before he began learning the art of house breaking and lock picking and began teaching me on the sly. Jariss had accepted a commission for the return of a merchant’s stolen goods. He had also accepted a commission to turn the thief over to the merchant’s guild.

I had been working for a friendly blacksmith on the side for the last couple of days. When little Sofie slipped into the shop wide eyed I knew it was trouble. Sofie was very smart and like me she refused to officially train for anything beyond picking pockets. She was thirteen but looked much younger.

She moved near and whispered, “Jariss turned Petri’e over to the merchants.”

I looked at her and then carefully put the dagger shank I had been working on back in the furnace. “When?”

She was looking around but the blacksmith was busy with a large horse he was shoeing, “The day before yesterday.”

My eyes narrowed, “Is he on the wall?”

She looked into my face, “They strung him up this morning.”

She looked away, “They beat him and cut him up good Jason.”

I closed my eyes, “The theft was just supposed to be a small one. Jariss was the one to set it up.”

She cleared her throat, “They left a note saying that from now on they would treat every theft the same way.”

I looked at her and then nodded, “Stay out of the all the marketplaces. They will be looking for anything.”

Sofie nodded, “I still have plenty.”

She hesitated, “What are you going to do?”

I smiled as I turned to the forge, “Now, why would I do anything?”

Sofie touched my shoulder, “Make sure they pay a lot.”

I nodded, “I am sure something will happen.”

When I turned around Sofie had slipped out. I went back to work on the dagger thinking that it was time the merchant’s guild learned what a true thief could do. While I worked, I saw one of Jariss’s tame masters hanging around watching me. I nodded to myself, time Jariss learned a lesson too. When I finally finished, the Blacksmith was grinning, “Not bad Jason. I always get good prices for your work.”

I smiled as I dressed, carefully placing throwing spikes and tiny knives. I slipped the pale blue hilted dagger into the sheath hanging between my shoulder blades. I was only wearing the Drimmin dagger as my visible weapon. I slipped out of the shop and moved through the market place. I noticed a few more merchants just hanging around looking eager as they stared at everyone.

I moved down an alley and halfway down I exaggerated looking around before slipping into a slip through. I knew Master Baker would follow and after a few feet jumped and caught a brick sticking out of a wall. It took a couple of seconds to pull myself up onto a spar sticking out from the wall. I reached up and pulled down a small narrow tube.

I squatted down on the spar and waited. I did not have long to wait as Master Baker stopped at the opening to the slip through. He did not even pause before starting down the narrow way. He moved past me and I aimed the tube and blew. He jerked and grabbed the back of his neck and then pulled the tiny dart out. He looked at it and then looked behind him.

He shook his head and took two steps before his legs buckled and he fell. I waited another few minutes and then returned the tube to its hiding place. I climbed back down to where Master Baker lay. I took his belt pouch and then pulled him back to the alley. I found an old piece of twine and tossed it over a thick beam. I propped the dead Master against the wall and put the twine around his neck and let him go. I slipped away and moved through the city.

It was late that night as I stared at the large building next to the one I crouched on. I had been sitting against the brick chimney and napping and now it was time to move. I carefully extended a plank and then another. I placed them together and moved across. I attached the hooks for the rope ladder to the side of the building and moved down to the window I knew was never closed.

I slipped inside and quietly moved across the small linen closet to the far door. I listened and then silently opened the door and peeked into the hall. I moved down the hall away from the wide stairs leading down. I was almost at the end of the hall when I stopped next to a bare part of the wall where servant stairs used to be. I pressed and there was a click as it opened. I slipped into the narrow steep stairs and closed the panel behind me.

I cracked a tiny black lantern and carefully moved down. In the pitch blackness I passed panel after panel. When I reached the bottom of the stairs I listened at the panel. I finally closed my lantern and pulled on the small wooden knob and there was a click before the panel opened. I moved into the basement hallway and closed the panel. Halfway down the hall was a heavily padlocked door.

It took me half a minute to unlock all the locks and open the door. I pulled the tiny dark lantern from my waist and cracked it open again. Inside the room was four oak chests. I opened the first chest as I pulled my pack off. I pulled several large folded canvas bags and loaded gold coins into the first. After I emptied the chest I moved to the next one.

When I finished emptying all the chests I had twelve heavy bags. I grabbed four and move down the hall and opened the panel. I set the bags on the right side and returned to the treasure room for another four bags. After I carried the last four into the hall, I took a minute to relock all the locks. I closed the panel behind me and began the task of moving all the bags to the stop of the stairs.

I listened and opened the upper panel. I quietly moved all the bags down the hall to the linen closet, closing the panel on my last trip. Next was the hard task of moving the bags up to the roof two bags at a time. After carrying all the bags across the planks, I pulled the planks back. I moved the bags to the far side of the roof and then slipped the light rope I had waiting through two tied together.

I lowered two bags at a time to the ground and pulled one rope back to lower the next. I released the rope after the last set and then went over the edge and climbed down from window to window. I uncovered the two wheeled cart and put all the bags in. The rims of the cart were cloth covered to reduce the noise it made. I took the handles of the cart and started pulling.

I moved slow enough to make almost no noise. I also used narrow little used alleys. It was over an hour before I stopped beside a crack between buildings. I moved the bags through the narrow opening to the tiny cobbled yard. I set a wooden box over the bags and went back to the street. I pulled the cart several streets away and removed the cloth from the rims before standing it up beside another.

I slipped back to the tiny cobbled yard and pulled several coils of light rope out of a water barrel. I tied a rope to a few bags at a time and then tied a piece of twine to the other ends. I moved to a nearby corner and used force applied in different directions to climb up. I stopped on the third floor and moved along the narrow edge of a beam to a small hole in the wall where bricks where missing.

I climbed in and then pulled twine with the ropes up. One rope at a time I pulled the bags up and placed them in a corner. Unlike any other room this one had no other entry. I grabbed a bag by the hole in the wall and carefully climbed out. I balanced on the edge of the beam and pulled bricks out of the bag and placed them in the wall. It did not take long to fill in and then I edged over to the corner and climbed down.

I slipped into the night using the shadows to hide me. It was only ten minutes before I slipped through a crack between the city wall and an old Inn. With my back to the wall I used the Inn to press my feet against and climbed up. I stopped by the attic vent and leaned forward to give it a tug. It swung open easily and I pushed away from the wall grabbing the bottom of the opening and pulling myself into the attic.

I glanced around and saw the huddled form on the small straw mattress. I smiled and turned to pull the vent closed. I walked over beside the mattress and pulled a board loose before pulling a folded quilt out. I undressed and reached down to pulled the thin rag of a blanket aside and then lay down and shook out the quilt. I pulled a shivering Sofie against me and she sighed, “Took you long enough.”

I smiled in the dark, “I had errands to do.”

She snuggled closer and put her head on my shoulder. A couple of minutes later her breathing changed and I knew she was asleep. I relaxed and a few moments later I was asleep. I woke to the first hint of dawns light and caressed Sofie’s sleeping face, “time to wake up little angel.”

Sofie opened her eyes and looked into my face searching. She slid out of bed and turned away before dressing. I stood and folded the quilt, “Next time do not lay there and freeze.”

Sofie laughed, “But I like using you to warm up.”

I shook my head and got dressed. I opened the vent and Sofie moved to the edge and stretched her legs across to the wall. I followed her down after closing the vent and led the way through alleys. I finally turned sideways and edged into a crack between two buildings. Sofie slipped in behind me and I came out in a tiny covered flagstone room.

I waited for Sofie and then pushed against one wall. It groaned and slowly turned. I started stripping and Sofie grinned and whistled softly. I grinned at her and finished what I was doing. I pushed against the other side and the wall slowly closed. I led the way back to the street and turned to start walking.

When I walked into the common room the loud crash of voices fell silent. Master Paul stood with the scrape of the bench he was sitting on, “You killed him you little bastard!”

He started towards me as he pulled his dagger. I twitched and let a throwing spike drop from my sleeve into my hand before throwing. There was a stunned silence as Master Paul choked and gasped as he went to his knees and then fell onto the floor. My throwing spike was still embedded in his throat as he began convulsing. I looked straight at Master Jariss before starting across the room.

Everyone cleared out of my way and the room remained silent. Beside Master Jariss was a black clad man with a Tarantine on his thigh. I was almost to the guild master when the other man moved. I turned and back stepped as he went from sitting to lunging. I had expecting him to do something and let a tiny razor knife slip into my hand. I turned, kneeling as my hand flashed out to stab twice before I rolled backwards.

I came to my feet and began circling, “You are already dead assassin.”

He glanced down at the blood pouring out of his inner thighs. His face went white and he shifted. Before he could move, I pulled my dagger. His eyes narrowed and he took a step towards me only to have his knees buckle. I watched as he went to his knees and then fell onto his face. I looked at a white faced Master Jariss, “You own me a life debt of two gold pieces.”

He straightened, “I am the guild master.”

I took a step closer, “You accepted the commission. You planned the theft. You talked Petri’e into doing the job. You turned him over to the merchants so you are responsible. Now, either you pay the life debt or I take yours.”

He was white faced as he hastily dug two gold coins out of his purse. I caught them when he tossed them and backed up to kneel beside the twitching body of the assassin. I cut the belt and took his pouch and then the Tarantine. I stood and walked towards the door where Sofie waited. I was almost there when the door master reached for her arm.

He jerked it back suddenly as she stabbed with a tiny knife. The room laughed as he hissed, “you were out without permission, apprentice!”

Sofie looked at him calmly, “I paid my dues. I will sleep where I think I am safe.”

He glanced around at the silence but I pushed him out of my way as I continued towards the door. That was the beginning of a minor rebellion with apprentices sleeping away from the guild house. By the afternoon there was tenseness throughout the city. The word of my theft of the merchant guilds gold spread everywhere. I was in a bakery shop off the main marketplace.

I actually talked Sofie into being my helper. I glanced outside several times to see Jariss or another master standing around. When the four mercenaries and the large fat merchant came in, they ignored the baker. The merchant looked straight at me, “You will come with us and give our gold back.”

Sofie was in a corner and I could see a tiny knife in one hand. The baker was in front of her holding her behind him to protect her. The only thing I had done when I had gotten here was put an apron on. I slipped tiny knifes into both hands as I stepped around the counter. When a mercenary reached for me, I cut his wrist. I looked at the other mercenaries as they reached for daggers, “You touch a dagger and I will kill you.”

They stopped for a minute and then pulled their daggers. I nodded and tossed my tiny knives onto the counter. As one mercenary stabbed towards me, I turned and grabbed his hand. As I twisted up and back I was pulling the Tarantine from my thigh. I stepped in and turned the other way as the long knife went under his chin and up into his brain.

I jerked it out and shoved him into the merchant and two other mercenaries. I brought the knife down and out, knocking a dagger away as the other mercenary stabbed at me. My left hand pulled my dagger at the same time. I fainted with the dagger and then stepped in. While the mercenary brought his dagger around to block mine, my long knife stabbed through his throat.

As he staggered back, I faced the other mercenaries and the merchant. They knew they were in serious trouble now. As the two mercenaries started moving apart, I slid sideways to block one. He cut at my hand and I stabbed through his wrist and twisted. I brought the Tarantine up as I slid further to the side and stabbed under the arm and into his heart.

As he fell my dagger was pulled out of my hand. I did not even have to think about it, I pulled a throwing spike since the fat merchant was pulling the shop door open to run away. The spike took him in the back of the neck. As he fell, I moved again and the last mercenary was licking his lips. I reached under my shirt at my back and pulled the blue hilted dagger.

The mercenary slowly backed to the door and I followed. When he stumbled on the twitching body of the merchant I flipped my dagger and threw. I followed it but did not need to do anything as the mercenary grasped the dagger hilt sticking out of his throat. I turned back to the shop to drag everyone out. I pulled my daggers and throwing spike out and cleaned them.

There was a small crowd that had gathered around. I had already removed all five belt pouches and walked to a nearby stall to buy five short cords. I hung the five men on nearby beams that stuck out from buildings and walked back into the bakery. I apologized to the baker and started cleaning the mess the men had made. The baker seemed nervous but after a few minute he relaxed and seemed excited.

I glanced at an amused Sofie as she pulled out several loaves of sweet broad we had been making before this started. Business for the shop exploded for the rest of the day. Mostly people just wanted to say they had been here. When I left the shop with Sofie several masters were watching. I stopped to return their look and they shifted around before walking away.


Chapter three

Bringing the Lesson Home

I was sitting on my heels beside a merchant stall watching the crowd when young Daniel knelt beside me, “They say Sofie took some noble lady’s purse.”

I looked at him as something in the pit of my stomach settled. Sofie did steal ladies purses but stayed away from nobles. He looked at the crowd and then into my face, “Master Harris caught her eating and said he was turning her over to Baron Stanley.”

I was on my feet and walking before he even finished talking. It had been a year since my message to the merchant guild. Things had gone quiet and only once since then have they dared to hang a thief and I did not object since he had killed a little girl during the robbery. Since my fight with the mercenaries I had kept all my weapons on me.

It was fifteen minutes before I came to the Baron’s manor. I did not even pause as I approached the two guards by the gate. They turned to face me and stepped out. I had not pulled a weapon yet but that was about to change. When the guard on the left held his hand out to stop me, I slid to the left. My right hand grabbed his left as I continued forward past him, a tiny knife dropped into my left hand.

I brought the knife over his shoulder and cut his throat as I released his hand. I pulled my Tarantine as I continued around the dying guard and closed with the other one. His face was white and he stumbled back reaching for his dagger. I fainted with the tiny knife and when he clumsily tried to block, I stabbed him with the Tarantine.

I turned and pushed the gate open and walked through as he fell to the ground. I opened the tall main doors and walked into the main hall drawing a throwing spike. I put my Tarantine through my belt to draw a second spike. On the other side of the great hall I saw the crowd. Six guards, four Nobles and a battered and slightly bloody Sofie.

I started for them and after a few steps one of the guards turned to see me. I was the last thing he saw as I threw a spike that slammed into his chest. As he screamed and staggered back, I was pulling another spike and throwing the one in my other hand. That spike took a guard in the neck. I was almost there as I threw again and pulled two more spikes.

The last spike I threw missed the guard I had aimed at, but struck a noble in the gut. I threw a spike low and hit another guard in the groin as they fanned out. I threw the last spike in my hand to kill a noble that had turned to run. I pulled the bloody Tarantine and my dagger as I moved sideways with purpose. The first guard that reached me, lunged and I blocked outward with the Tarantine before stabbing him below the ribs and yanking up into his heart.

The last two nobles had pulled slim swords but the two guards only had daggers. Sofie was on the ground wiggling under a bench with her hands tied behind her back. I moved around a table to block the nobles and one guard. I moved closer to the other guard and recognized the uniform as the guard captain. He fainted with his dagger, thinking I would block.

What he did not expect was my dagger through his hand as I slid to that side. I did not go for the body, I stabbed into his inner thigh and cut the artery. He staggered back white faced as I moved away. One of the nobles had come around the table and he lunged with his sword. I blocked out with my dagger ignoring his dagger as I stabbed through his sword arm with the Tarantine.

I brought the Tarantine up and around as he screamed and turned with his arm still impaled on my knife. I brought my dagger around his throat and yanked my Tarantine out as he fell to the floor. Both the guard and the noble turned to run. I dropped my Tarantine and dagger to pull two last spikes. I took the noble through the spine and the guard in the back of his neck.

There were cries and groans but I picked up my weapons before heading to the bench Sofie was under. I knelt and carefully pulled her out before cutting her hands free. She fell into my arms, “What took so long?”

I smiled as I pulled my other dagger and gave it to her, “get their pouches and wait for me in the alley off Long Street.”

I stood and headed into the manor. The servants all ran as soon as they saw me. I found Baron Stanley’s den and his money chest. It was not really that big so I lifted it to my shoulder. I walked out carrying the chest and left through a side door. When I found Sofie she looked cleaner but I could still see where she would be bruised.

I led her into the alley and stopped before what looked like a stone wall. I set the chest down and looked around before pushing against the wall. A section grated and slid back into the wall. When it stopped, it was four feet inside and there was a narrow stairwell leading down. A few feet down the stairs was a narrow walkaround that led back behind the entrance.

I carried the chest in after sending Sofie down in front of me. I set the chest down by the walkaround to push the door closed and Sofie lit a taper. I carried the chest after her to the bottom of the stairs. There was a small round room with a thick mattress in one corner and a water tank in another. I set the chest next to the bed and reached out to strip Sofie.

She smiled and handed my dagger back when I was done. I tossed it on the bed and pulled Sofie to the water tank. The water in the tank drained through wall into the city sewer. I used a bit of cloth to carefully and gently wash Sofie. I was quiet and every time she hissed and jerked I looked up.

When I finished cleaning her, I went to a small set of drawers and came back with a small jar. Sofie hissed, “I hate that stuff.”

I smiled as I began to apply the cream, “If you would stop getting hurt, I would stop putting it on.”

She cuffed me, “You just like me smelling of flowers.”

I laughed and looked into her face. “This time it was close Sofie.”

She nodded, “That stupid oaf Harris. Everyone knows I do not do nobles.”

I shook my head as I pushed her towards the set of drawers, “They were just looking for a scapegoat.”

She opened a drawer and started dressing. When she was done she looked at me, “I am not quitting.”

I nodded and she sighed, “You know how close it came to me having to… to be a doss.”

I nodded again and she looked down, “Alright, I will start helping you at the shops more.”

I grinned, “Baker Simon likes you.”

She grinned at me, “That is because he likes my sweetbread better than yours.”

I laughed and started cleaning up and changing. When I was ready, I nodded to Sofie. She snuffed out the taper and I pushed on the wall next to the bed. It turned quietly and I slipped into the foul smell of the sewer. When Sofie came through I pushed the door close. The walls of the sewer gave off a faint glow and I waited until my sight had adjusted.

I led the way to an intersection and leaped across. Sofie hesitated and then followed. It was twenty minutes before I opened a thick wooden door and led Sofie into the basement of the guild house. We made our way up darkened stairs and pushed open a hidden door. I walked into the common room with Sofie stopping in the hallway.

The room fell silent and everyone looked at Master Jariss as his face went white. I smiled, “I believe you own Sofie a blood price.”

He only hesitated before nodding jerkily and looking at a youngish master by the door. I knew this was Master David the skilled mercenary he had brought in. As the new master stood and stepped away from the table, a throwing spike dropped into his hand. That was enough and I pulled both my Tarantine and a throwing spike, “When you throw it I will kill you.”

He only shrugged and his wrist began its throw. I slid sideways and brought my Tarantine around to knock the throwing spike away as I threw my own. His body jerked as he stumbled to the side with my spike deep in his belly. A second spike dropped into my hand as I back stepped to let another spike from a hidden Journeyman pass me.

I threw the second spike and ignored the journeyman as I began to close with the mercenary. He was holding his gut and a dagger as he tried to stand straight. The journeyman had fallen straight back with my spike through his eye. As I slid closer, the mercenary tried to get me to turn so that my back was to the room and I moved into his path instead.

He tried to faint and I stabbed through his wrist and twisted. I turned with him in front of me as he screamed. I pulled another throwing spike as I yanked the knife out. As he dropped to the floor holding his arm, I threw. Jariss screamed as the spike slammed into his shoulder. I looked around the room before nodding to Sofie who had waited by the hallway.

She walked to Master Jariss and reached out to cut the purse off his belt. She used her tiny knife to slice open his cheek, “Next time I will cut your throat. Everyone knows I do not touch nobles.”

She walked away and joined me as I left and walked out the front doors. I headed for the largest marketplace, “Mrs. Sonnes needed help with some quilts in her shop.”

Sofie groaned, “You know I hate sewing.”

I grinned at her, “This is only quilt work and you know very well we get good gossip there.”
She grinned at that and then laughed, “Plus she does give us tea.”

I laughed with her and ten minutes later we walked into the shop. Mrs. Sonnes looked up as the door bell jangled and then smiled, “Sofie!”

Sofie smiled back and curtsied, “Mrs. Sonnes.”

I smiled as I led the way across the room to the other three ladies, “I promised I would come by to help.”

They laughed and scooted around to make room for Sofie and I. It was not long before we were listening to the latest gossip and sipping tea. When a woman would come in for a fitting Mrs. Sonnes would take them into the back. I knew she also provided certain herbs to women to keep them from conceiving.

Four hours later the door bell jangled and I glanced at the door to see Duke Henry and a fit looking Guard commander. They crossed the room as a worried looking Mrs. Sonnes came back into the room. She was wringing her hands but I knew they were here for me. I nodded slightly, “Your Grace.”

He actually smiled and sat cross legged before reaching for a needle and thread, “Young thief.”

I smiled, “Not so much if I can help it.”

He glanced at the guard commander as he snorted. “That I already know. You give your time to Blacksmith Samuels, to Baker Simon, to Ms. Tanner, to Mrs. Sonnes here as well as several other merchants throughout the city. None has a bad thing to say about you. Now, I have this Baron Stanley mess.”

I nodded, “The thief he was beating did not touch the lady’s purse and even if she did he should have turned her over to your magistrate not beat and tortured her.”

He nodded as he quietly sewed two quilt blocks together, “I agree.”

The guard commander cleared his throat and the Duke looked up before looking at me, “Never the less, you killed several men.”

I nodded, “The only ones I feel bad about were the two guards outside. I did not really give them proper warning.”

The Duke pursed his lips and nodded, “What do I do about Stanley?”

I snorted and looked up at the guard commander, “Well since he was the one stealing guard supplies and selling them back to you, you could hang his body on the wall.”

They both jerked at that and then the Duke looked up at the guard commander who was frowning. “He had access?”

The commander nodded, “yes.”

The Duke grinned and looked at me, “I will make a deal, you tell me when someone is stealing from us and I will…”

I was looking at him with my eyebrow raised and Sofie chuckled. He looked at Sofie and then back at me, “what?”

I shook my head, “Guild law stops me from telling you.”

His eyes narrowed and the guard commander cleared his throat, “Not if the thief is not in the guild.”

I thought about it and nodded, “True.”

The Duke grinned and finally set his work aside and stood, “That matter is closed. Try not being so… visible next time.”

Sofie laughed and I bowed as he turned and left with the commander. As soon as the door was closed Mrs. Sonnes was prodding me and Sofie for the story. Sofie sighed before she started telling her what had happened.


Chapter four

A Rich Merchants Downfall

I was working in the Tanner’s booth for the afternoon. The tanning was always done a little ways outside the city because of the smell. What was in the booth was the finished product. Long beautiful fur coats, fur rugs and fur lined cloaks. It was winter and Sofie was more then willing to work the booth with me. Ms Tanner had even made her a nice long fur coat.

Sofie was stitching the lining into a richly colored cloak while she and Ms Tanner talked. I was sitting by the front counter trimming rabbit skins for a special white fur blanket. I glanced out into the marketplace isle as I heard the disturbance.

Young Peter, the son of the woman that made warm spiced cider, came running by with a red cheek. He looked at us wide eyed and I could see the fear. I gestured to him and he rushed to duck under the counter board and into booth. I could see the welt now that he was closer, “Under the pile of furs Peter.”

He nodded jerkily and burrowed in. Ms Tanner had looked up and almost absently tossed a new fur lined cloak over where he had disappeared. She glanced at me, “It must be Merchant Jonas.”

I had to nod in understanding. Merchant Jonas was new to the city. He was very wealthy and a cruel man. He was known to cuff anyone that got close to him and had even beaten a serving girl at a tavern for spilling ale. I watched as he appeared in the isle in front of the booth. He looked around and then stared straight at me, “You boy!”

I set my work aside and stepped to the counter, “You wish to buy a nice fur lined cape good merchant?”

He walked closer, “I am looking for a young boy.”

I raised my eyebrow, “Your kind usually finds their fun in the Prancing Stallion.”

His face reddened, “I am not a faggot boy! The boy I am looking for spilled my cider.”

I just looked at him and he snarled as he reached for me, “I…”

The tiny knife slipped into my hand and sliced his reaching hand open. He jerked it back with wide eyes, “how dare you!”

I gestured, “I think you need to leave.”

His eyes narrowed as his other hand touched his dagger. I looked into his eyes as I dropped the knife and pulled the Tarantine, “When you pull it, I will gut you and hang your corpse on the marketplace wall.”

He stopped moving, his face bright red, “This is not over boy.”

I smiled and gestured and he backed away. I put the knife away and knelt for the other knife, “Sorry Ms Tanner.”

She laughed, “Not to worry, I will make oodles when the others come to hear what you did.”

Sofie laughed with her and I smiled as I went back to the rabbit skin blanket. Peter came out a little later and shyly thanked us before slipping out the back way and heading home. I finished the work and nodded to Sofie, “I will be late tonight.”

She grinned and Ms Tanner snickered. Almost as soon as I left the crowd started gathering. I shook my head as I slipped into an alley and made my way to thieves court. Journeyman Edward grinned as I slipped into the tiny cobbled yard, “You really pissed off Merchant Jonas.”

I nodded and looked around at the other thieves, “Anyone accepting his offers?”

They shook their heads, young Daniel looked up from counting purses, “He beat several people including Mamma Daniels after leaving you so no one is going near him.”

My eyes narrowed, “He laid hands on Mamma Daniels?”

They all nodded and I looked up, “Maybe he needs to be brought down.”

They laughed and Journeyman Edwards cleared his throat, “He has a lot of guards.”

I nodded, “And they never leave his manor.”

We looked at each other and everyone laughed. Edward grinned, “How many do you need to help?”

I thought about it and looked at everyone, “Twenty. We will need several large wagons and a street pass.”

Edwards nodded, “They will be waiting.”

I slipped out and moved across the city to a narrow crack between buildings. The cobble yard was tiny and the bright green door stood out. I knocked softly and slipped in when it was opened. I looked at the six large blurry men that stood between me and the tiny woman everyone on the street knew as Momma Daniels, “I will be paying the merchant Jonas a visit tonight.”

There was silence and Momma stood and pushed a man out of her way as she limped to me, “Don’t you…”

I reached out to touch her lips with a finger, “No one touches you with violence.”

The growl from all the men made me look around. Momma sighed, “If you must.”

I nodded and looked at the men, “An hour before midnight.”

I slipped out and left that part of the city. I stopped beside a slat grey door into what I knew was trouble. I opened the door and stepped in. Several dirty disreputable men looked up with daggers drawn. I crossed the room to the small table with a single snaggle toothed man. I slipped a small pouch onto the table and slid it across.

The whole room remained quiet as the man kept looking at me. He looked down at the purse, “For Momma?”

I nodded, “I need his men gone.”

He smiled and emptied the purse onto the table. Several men hissed as the gold coins clattered onto the table. He looked up and grinned, “I would have done it for free but this is much better. You have a deal young thief.”

I nodded, “One hour before midnight.”

I turned and left with the whole room murmuring. I changed into dark clothing in a tiny room off the bakers square. I ate a meat roll as I stood in the shadows of an alley down the street from merchant Jonas’s manor. The city guards must have known what was coming because they went out of their way to not see me or the other obvious men lurking around.

It was after the sun went down that a man slipped up to the door and spoke to someone inside. He left quickly and after several hours the servants began slipping out and then the guards in groups of ones and twos. I finally walked into the street in front of the manor and men seemed to just melt out of the night to join me.

I looked around and realized there were probable a hundred people here. I shook my head and walked to the door with Momma’s six sons. The door was unlocked and I just walked into the quiet house. I nodded to the six, “Find him and bring him down to watch.”

They growled and headed for the large stairs leading up. I looked around at the others with me, “Start with everything in here.”

There was a huge growl and men surged into the house. I headed towards the large double doors into what I knew was his study. I found the large metal lockbox and just dragged it out into the great room after breaking the lock. Men were carrying everything out the front door to waiting wagons. Across the room tied to the wall was the bloody battered merchant. I saw Edward carrying a cedar chest on his shoulder. He grinned, “I found his spice chest.”

I smiled and nodded to the lockbox at my feet, “Want to take care of my share?”

He looked at the box and then grinned, “How much?”

I looked at the men moving through the room, “Take out the guild dues and give the rest to the Midden Keep. Everyone should be able to eat on it all winter long.”

Everyone grinned as I walked across to the limp merchant. I looked into his frightened eyes, “you will be taken out of the city. If you ever return you will be stripped and flayed.”

I turned to watch as everything in the house was taken away. When I glanced out the door later it was to see a couple of city guards protecting the wagon we were loading. When the last piece of furniture was taken out, I nodded to Momma’s sons. They grinned and reached for the merchant.

I led they way to the city gates as everyone fell in behind us. By the time we reached the gates the crowd was huge. The guards at the gates had been warned we were coming and had the gates open. I led everyone out and turned to the merchant, “Don’t come back.”

I nodded and he was tossed forward onto the cobblestone road. The gate closed after we walked back in and the crowd laughed and cheered before breaking up. I slipped through the alleys and finally between two older buildings. The overgrown herb garden with its huge old evergreen tree seemed to welcome me. I silently slipped under the tree and to the tiny door in the corner.

I opened and closed the door quietly and I stepped forward to pull the thick dark blanket aside. I undressed and set my clothes on a nearby chest and moved across the small room to slide into bed. The bed was piled with a couple of blankets, a thick quilt and a fur blanket. Sofie pulled me closer and snuggled against me, “You’re cold.”

I grinned in the dark, “Blame the merchant.”


Chapter five

Uprising in the Guild

It was spring and everywhere new life was springing up. Sofie and I had spent the day in the far market place. It was where strangers to the city came to be dazzled by fancy things, trinkets and rich fur capes and dresses of the finest silk. It had been our day to steal a few purses and we had quit a few.

Lately the guild had been a place of tension. Jariss had accepted several masters from another city. When we came into the common room it was to see a table blocking the hallway back to the counting room. The new masters were all sitting at the table as we walked towards the hallway. They looked up and grinned at each other before Master David sat forward, “Well if it isn’t two pics come to do their accounting.”

I ignored him and Sofie moved further behind me. I started to go around the table when one of the masters thrust a staff straight out to block my way. The room was quiet as I looked at them, “Let us pass.”

Master David sneered, “You are not a master pic. You do what we tell you.”

I just looked at him and Master Donald leaned forward, “Put the purses on the table.”

I smiled and gestured for Sofie to move back, “I do not think so.”

They stood quickly and the bench crashed down behind them. I did not hesitate, I pulled my Tarantine and dagger as I slid into a fighting crouch, “Guild law says I do not have to show you anything. If you want to push it I will cut your throat and take your purse just to piss on your body.”

They stood frozen, no one had stood up to them, let alone pulled a weapon. Master David cleared his throat, “You are making a big mistake Pic.”

I just looked back, “Either move or pull your weapons.”

They slowly stepped back and I slipped my weapons back in their sheaths. I gestured and Sofie slipped the throwing spike back in her sleeve before walking past me and into the hall. I turned and followed her and had only taken a few steps when Donald spoke, “This is not over Pic.”

I glanced back and then followed Sofie into the counting room. Master Sarsos was the counting master again and looked up angrily, “Did those assholes take your pouches!”

I looked at him as we walked to the desk and Sofie snorted, “Do you think we would let them take anything?”

He actually grinned and then laughed, “No, I guess not.”

When we finished Sofie led the way out and we came back to the common room to see the new masters gone and Jariss sitting in his chair. I looked around and shook my head at the few journeymen sitting at the tables. I led the way out and as the door closed Sofie nudged me. I glanced down the street at the masters lounging around on a corner.

I looked around carefully and touched Sofie’s hand, “Crossbows.”

Sofie sucked in her breath, “What…”

I turned towards the masters, “When I start towards the masters slip away. I will meet you in the attic of the Black Buck.”

I started walking and Sofie quietly slipped across the street and between two buildings. I thought the masters would want to mouth off before signaling the crossbowmen. I went straight to them as Master David sneered. I did not stop as I reached them and kept going. I let a tiny slice knife drop into my hand as I pulled my dagger. I slammed into David, slicing the artery in his inner thigh as I sliced across to cut Master Harper’s gut open with my dagger.

I yanked Master Donald behind me as I turned left and started running. At the first alley I ducked in as the yelling and screaming started. I slowed but kept moving and using cracks between buildings. I crossed streets fast and when I reached the Greens Market I slowed and grabbed a young looking beggar, “The new masters are trying a move. Tell everyone to take cover.”

He nodded and took off running. I looked around and crossed the market before walking down the narrow street that led to the city wall and the farmer’s gate. I slipped into a small alley and two houses down I checked and then pushed open a back gate. I followed the back wall and then at the next wall I went over it low. I dropped into the dung pen next to stables.

I moved to the stable and slipped through an open window. I climbed a ladder to the loft and then went to the end of the stable. I looked out and around before reaching out to the overhanging roof. I pulled myself up and stayed low as I headed towards the tall stone Inn. It was an easy jump across the five feet to land on a wooden trellis. I moved sideways and into the thick vines.

It was not long before I reached the clear tunnel covering a light springy wooden mesh. I started up and stopped at the open vent and crawled in. I stopped moving, “Sofie?”

I heard her sigh, “Here.”

I started for her as she lit a tiny lantern. I went past her to the large brick fireplace. I pushed and after a minute it slowly pushed open. I looked at the back wall and started grabbing things. I backed out before stripping and grinning at Sofie’s whistle. I pulled on the soft under clothes and then the light mesh. Next was the leather scale hippers and shirt. Each scale in the shirt and hippers had a thin piece of Cyprus backing it.

I started putting weapons on and when I looked at Sofie she looked back worriedly. I smiled, “Do not worry. Stay here where I know you are safe.”

I moved to the tiny door and went down. No one even looked at me as I continued down into the basement. I crossed the room and pulled on a large crate. It swung out to show a hole in the wall. I grabbed the rope on the back of the crate and slipped through the hole pulling the rope to close the way behind me. I waited until I could see and then started walking through the reeking sewer.

It seemed like a long time before I opened the wooden door into the guild house basement. I closed it behind me and went up silently. When I walked into the common room everyone looked up in surprise. I threw a spike that took a man holding a crossbow and then another that killed a surly journeyman. I pulled my Tarantine as the room broke out in chaos.

I pulled a spike and threw it as a master ran for the door and then stabbed another in the wrist as he attacked with his dagger. I twisted and yanked the knife out before slicing across his throat. I had drawn another spike and threw it as the master fell away. The spike spun and slammed into a thin pasty faced apprentice trying to aim another crossbow.

As I pulled another spike the room was silent. Almost everyone was crouching on the floor and the two other men that had crossbows had thrown them down. I looked around the room, “If you are still in the city at night fall, I will hunt you down and kill you.”

I gestured to the door, “Leave.”

There was a scramble as they rushed to the door and I waited for them to all leave. I turned and started searching the guild house. I found a couple of bodies but that was it. I used the roof exit and came out by the city wall. My next stop was the main marketplace and as soon as I walked in I saw the masters. There were only two of the new masters left and they were with six others that were known for being cruel to apprentices and other journeymen.

I saw shops that had been ransacked and merchants that had been beaten. I even saw the bodies of two city guards. I started walking and pulled two spikes. They did not even see me until I threw the spikes. Master Donald’s scream cut off as he fell to the ground with a spike in his chest. One of the thugs had a spike through his neck and was choking as he went to his knees.

I pulled two more spikes as I continued walking. I threw one that hit a thug in the groin and he started screaming as he fell to the ground. I threw my last spike and pulled my dagger as they rushed me. The spike hit a thug in the face but was off the mark and he only stumble and jerked aside. I pulled my Tarantine as I blocked a stabbing dagger with my own.

I sliced across another thugs gut and shifted sideways. I used my dagger to stab down into the back of Master Knowells hand as he lunged. I twisted and he screamed as my dagger ripped his hand apart. I blocked another lunging dagger as I stepped back. As the thugs moved to follow, I stepped into them and struck. I stabbed into one’s neck and ripped the knife out in a shower of blood.

I sidestepped two thugs trying to stab me and used my dagger to stab one in the inner thigh, in his artery. I backed away and circled the last thug standing. He was the one my spike had struck in the face. Master Knowells was on his knees rocking back and forth holding his hand and did not move as I came near. He did not even react as I stabbed him under the ear with my knife.

I twisted sideways as the thug lunged and stabbed over his reaching arm. The blade of my dagger ripped through his throat in a spray of gore. I backed away and looked around. Several merchants I knew well were there watching me. I looked back at the dead or dying thieves and turned to walk away. It took several days for the city to return to normal.

Sofie and I stayed in one of my many hidden rooms. When we came out the pics on the street grinned and smiled. It was the merchants that reacted the most. It was a smithy day and Sofie worked at polishing what the smith had finished or something brought in. Throughout the day other merchants came by to greet us.
Sofie was actually grinning at me when we left for the night. She said I was going to need a barrel of luck to go unnoticed when we tried to pick a pocket.


Chapter six

Visiting Prince

Sofie’s words were prophetic, it was several months before I was able to work. Since I mostly ‘touched’ strangers it was not that bad and I had more then enough money to live on. It was summer and the city was busy. The nobles had parties almost every night. Sofie and I had even snuck into one or two. We were working in Baker Simon’s shop.

Sofie always liked working in his shop. Today the door was propped open to let in the fresh air and the coolness of a summer rain storm. When the three cloaked men stepped into the shop I was kneading bread dough and Sofie was pulling out small loaves of her sweet nut bread from an oven. Simon wiped the flour from his hands as he stepped to the counter.

I glanced up as Duke Henry and the Guard Commander pulled the hoods back. The third man was a young stranger but looked noble. The Duke smiled at Simon, “I actually came to see Jason.”

Simon frowned and looked back at me. I shrugged, “My hands are a little busy right now.”

Baker Simon started to open his mouth when the stranger cleared his throat, “Excuse me? Is that nut bread I smell?”

Simon grinned and turned to Sofie, “The best in the city.”

Sofie grinned and used a wooden paddle to slid a small loaf onto a plate and hand it to Simon. I looked at the Duke and saw him staring at the stranger and look at the commander who grinned. We all watched the stranger take a slice of the bread from Simon and blow on it before taking a bite. He grinned, “This is very good.”

The Duke shook his head and looked as me, “I would…”

I gestured with my head for him to come around the counter, “Come around to talk.”

The stranger cleared his throat again and the Duke looked at him but he was looking at Baker Simon, “Any chance I can get the recipe?”

I grinned and turned back to kneading the bread, “Good luck with that. Sofie will not even give me her recipe.”

He sighed, “They always say that.”

I looked up as the Duke stopped on the other side of the kneading table, “How can I help you?”

He smiled as he looked at the young man, “I need a… guide for my friend.”

I glanced at the commander standing not to far from him, “You have city guards.”

He looked into my face, “He has an irritating habit of slipping away.”

I could see the young man was watching and looked at the Duke, “Beat him when he does.”

The commander snorted and the young man looked amused. The Duke frowned and turned to look at the young man, “Some times I wish I could.”

I pulled out a dough cutter and started cutting sections and setting them in bread pans. I looked at Sofie as she mixed ingredients for another batch of sweet nut bread. I smiled and looked at the Duke, “Two conditions. One, Sofie and I get invitations to your summer ball tonight. Two, if he tries to slip away I can… discipline him.”

Sofie was grinning and the guard commander had turned to the door but I heard a strangled chuckle. The Duke grinned and turned to the frowning young man, “Deal.”

I looked at the young noble and he returned my look calmly. I smiled, “He undoubtedly believes his noble birth and training will prevailed.”

I looked at the Duke, “I will not leave any… visible bruises.”

The Duke chuckled as he turned to walk around the counter, “He is staying at my manor.”

I looked at the young man, “We might find our way there before tonight. What is his name?”

The Duke stopped and looked back, “James.”

I sighed and removed my apron, “Sorry Master Simon.”

The young man cleared his throat before offering a silver crown and gesturing to the remaining nut bread loaf. Baker Simon hesitated and I stepped forward to take the money and push the loaf across to him. I dropped the silver crown in the wooden counting box Simon used and turned to look at Sofie, “Ready to play nurse maid?”

She grinned and looked at the noble before taking the apron off. She grinned at Simon, “This batch needs to sit for an hour before you kneed it and add the nuts.”

He smiled back, “I think I can manage.”

The Duke and Commander had gone when we led James out. He was eating the bread and looked at us, “Why does the Duke think you can do a better job of watching me?”

Sofie laughed and slipped her arms through his and held up his purse, “because we are thieves and watch everything.”

He looked at Sofie and his purse and then down at his belt where it had been, “How did you do that?”

She laughed again and turned away, “Magic.”

He laughed, “Really?”

I shook my head at his manner and looked around in the light rain, “the Artist Cup Sofie.”

She smiled, “We have not been there since that drunken painter tried to pull my dress off.”

I grinned and looked at her and realized Sofie was becoming a woman. I shook my head and started off. The one time he tried to slip unnoticed into a shop Sofie slapped him behind the head, “If you are escorting a lady you do not sneak off.”

He blinked as he rubbed his head and I snickered, “At least she did not use her head knocker.”

He grinned and held out his arm for Sofie to take. The Artist Cup was an inn that artist, jongleurs and bards went to. Since it was raining there was a nice crowd that quieted when we came in. I held up a gold piece and tossed it across the busy room to a stunning woman taller than me.

She grinned and the room broke out in talk again. Sofie led the way to a table with four young men. She only had to slap one man along the way and it was greeted with cheers and rude raspberries. James was grinning as his head went one way and then the other. He grinned at us as we sat down, “I have never been in a tavern.”

I snorted and looked at Bella as she came to the table, “Something to eat and cider for Sofie and I. Give our friend a pint of ale.”

She grinned, “Joseph still wants to paint Sofie.”

Sofie snorted, “Not naked he will not.”

I grinned as Bella headed toward the kitchen doors. An older man stood from a table by the fire and came near. He leaned on the table as he looked at the young man, “You look familiar.”

I shook my head and reached out. I snatched his beard and pulled it down to the table, “Adam, you still owe me two silver crowns. Are you thinking of not paying your wager?”

The room had gone quiet but when I finished speaking they all laughed. Adam’s face was red as his hand grabbed my wrist, “You cheated!”

I laughed and released him, “You never said how I was to get her knickers.”

The room roared and he reddened more before whining, “But you just told her about the bet and offered her half.”

Everyone laughed again as Bella came to the table with her tray, “And paid his debt.”

Everyone laughed again and Adam grumbled before heading towards the door. Bella grinned and winked at Sofie before heading to another table to collect mugs. James looked at me, “What was the wager?”

Sofie laughed, “Adam bet Jason he could not get Bella’s knickers.”

I shrugged, “I just told her about the bet and offered her a silver crown if she brought her knickers out on her tray.”

He grinned and looked at Bella, “She is a fine looking woman.”

Sofie grinned, “If you are getting ideas you should know she will cut it off before letting you take her.”

He looked at her and then back at Bella, “Still…”

I shook my head and looked at Bella, “Beautiful Bella?”

She turned and came to the table balancing the full tray, “Got another wager?”

Everyone laughed and I grinned, “This young noble seems to think you would be worth bedding.”

She grinned and looked at James. He shivered and she smiled before looking at me, “I might let him.”

The room went quiet as she turned away, “after the wedding.”

Everyone laughed again and James grinned, “I like her.”

I shook my head and looked at a grinning Sofie, “He is addled.”

Sofie laughed and ruffled his hair, “I am sure after a long courtship, a fast marriage and a night with Bella, he would be a changed man.”

Everyone laughed and James blushed. I grinned and then went sober as a man stepped into the room. His name was Markus. He was in the guild and worked as a taker. He was known to be a cruel man and the women he ransomed were always returned after he was finished with them. They were bruised in more than body and mind. I glanced at Sofie, “Trouble.”

She glanced back and her eyes narrowed, “Markus.”

I nodded as James leaned over to talk to one of the men at our table. Markus looked our way and I saw the way he looked at James. I stood and his eyes went to me and he smiled thinly. I shook my head and he faced me squarely. Sofie shifted and I knew she had drawn her dagger. The room had gone quiet and James looked around, “what is it?”

I did not even glance at him as Sofie put her hand on his arm, “He is under my protection.”

Markus sneered, “You are a pic with dreams. Give him to me and we can split the ransom.”

I whispered to Sofie, “Tom’s.”

She nodded as I stepped away from the table and drew my knife and pulled a spike, “You want to dance Markus?”

He froze as he realized he had stepped too far over the line. He looked around and backed towards the door, “Maybe later pic.”

I threw the spike and it slammed into the wall beside him. He flinched and licked his lips, “You do not scare me.”

I was moving closer as men scrambled to get out of the way. I smiled thinly, “I think the guild can do with one less taker. I always said you were a coward.”

He pulled his dagger and turned as I came closer. No one was watching as Sofie slipped away with James. Markus slashed at me and I sliced his forearm, “I am not a woman you can rape and beat.”

He started backing away looking around for help. I followed and when he lunged suddenly I turned and stabbed the Tarantine through his forearm and twisted. He screamed and turned with the knife in his arm. I drew my dagger and sliced his belly open. He screamed again and went to his knees as I pulled the Tarantine out and stepped behind him, yanking his head back and used the Tarantine to cut his throat and shove him to the floor.

I looked around the quiet room before kneeling by his body as it jerked. I cleaned my knife and dagger before taking his purse. I glanced inside and then stood to cross to a large man by the kitchen door. I emptied the purse into his hand and he grunted at the small pile of gold coins, “Finally good for something.”

He looked around the room, “Someone drag the garbage out. Drinks on him for the rest of the night.”

I nodded and slipped into the kitchen. The woman that turned to face me held a large butcher knife and stood between me and the three other girls. I grinned, “Not me mother. I am just passing through.”

She grinned, “Rogue. Sofie and Bella took your young man out the basement tunnel.”

I nodded and headed for the back door. I stepped out the door and yanked out my Tarantine and dagger as men rushed me. I slashed a man’s throat and stabbed another man in the neck before shoving their dying bodies into the mass of men behind them. I did not try to run and slid into the confusion. I stabbed a man staggering away from the others and ripped another’s throat out.

Suddenly they did not want to be there and were scrambling to get away. I watched as they split up and ran in different directions. I knelt to clean my blades and take the purses. I slipped into the rain and used alleys to cross several streets. I stepped into the weapon shop and Tom turned towards the door drawing his long dagger. He grinned, “Sofie just came in.”

I nodded, “The noble and Bella?”

He laughed, “Arguing about marriage and bedding.”

I smiled and headed past him into the back of his shop, “There were a few men looking for the noble.”

He nodded and sat down on his tall stool. I stepped into the back and Sofie looked back from watching James and Bella. She looked past me, “Markus?”

I shook my head as Bella and James quieted. I looked at James, “Why would someone send a band of men to take you?”

He suddenly looked wary and I walked closer, “Listen to me James. I am not going to risk Sofie or anyone else until I hear the truth.”

He looked at me and then at Sofie and then Bella. He finally nodded and looked into my face, “I am Prince James Edward Terence Samuel McCartney.”

I shook my head, “Why can not nobles just stick to two names like everyone else?”

He grinned, “My thought exactly. I was thinking maybe Tom or George.”

Bella laughed and Sofie grinned, “I guess we can not take him to the Midden Keep.”

Bella shook her head, “No, Mamma Daniels would want to keep him as a new pet.”

I grinned and shook my head, “Okay James. What do you want to see?”

He grinned, “The market?”

I looked at Sofie and then at Bella. He cleared his throat, “I never get to shop by myself and I only have a day until my father arrives.”

I sighed and looked at Bella as she turned his head, “Were you serious or teasing about wedding and bedding me, princeling?”

James smiled and pulled her close against him. I opened my mouth to warn him but he ignored the sharp dagger point against his chest, “I am the youngest son and only have a small duchy to look forward to. I find you… enticing. Stay with me and together we will discover if you and I make a match.”

I grinned at Sofie, “I think it is time to go see Mrs. Sonnes. You and Bella need gowns for the Duke’s summer ball.”

She laughed and Bella turned to look at me, “I can not afford…”

I pointed to James, “James will pay. I think you will be his escort until we return him to the Duke. Sofie and I will keep watch.”

I looked around and then at Sofie, “We will use the back ways. After Mrs. Sonnes we need to visit merchant Winston.”

Sofie and Bella both grinned at that. James looked at them and then at me, “What does merchant Winston sale.”

I grinned, “Jewelry of course. A lady is not dressed unless she has jewelry.”

Bella and Sofie both laughed. I nodded to the back door and led the way. I stepped out and then James and Bella, Sofie followed last. I slipped across and into a narrow alley. It took a minute and Sofie hissed. I stopped and looked at her and she looked at James and then back at me, “Are you going to…”

I grinned, “I need gold to buy you something nice.”

She grinned and then waved and I led off. A minute later I slipped between two buildings. On the other side was a tiny yard with an old shed. I went in and moved to the back. I reached up to the top of the beam and pulled down. There was a soft click and I pushed on the back wall. I waved James, Bella and Sofie through and stepped through the narrow doorway.

I closed the stone door and Sofie lit a tiny lamp and led the way down. The room at the bottom of the stairs was small and held several chests. I crossed to one in a corner and opened it while Sofie held the lantern up. I hesitated and then pulled a large pouch out. Sofie looked at me as I closed the chest. Both James and Bella were looking around and I smiled before crossing to a smaller chest.

I opened it with Bella watching and she gasped at the sparkle of diamonds and other gems. No one would recognize the necklace I pulled out since the owners were long gone from the city. I slipped it into a pocket and closed the lid. I grinned up at Bella, “do not tell Sofie.”

She grinned and glanced across the room at James and Sofie at another chest. I cleared my throat and led the way back up to the hidden door. This time a simple lever unlocked the door and a recess in the stone let me pull the stone door open. I closed the door after everyone was out and led the way to the alley.

A short trip through several narrow alleys and we came out behind Mrs. Sonnes’s shop. I spent a minute looking and then led the way to her back door. I smiled at Mrs. Sonnes as she looked up from fitting a lady, “I brought Sofie and Bella to be fitted for a nice gown.”

The lady covered herself but Mrs. Sonnes ignored her, “Sofie wants a gown?”

I moved aside as Bella, James and Sofie slipped past me into the shop. I closed and locked the door before pushing James towards the front of the shop. He was grinning as we came out, “So that is what a fitting for a woman looks like.”

I smiled and pushed him to the three women sitting together. They were embroidering and grinned at me, “Jason, just the person we need.”

One of the ladies reached for a dress and held it out, “We need a rose on the bodice.”

I grinned and sat James beside me. With his charm it was not long before the women were eagerly showing him how to embroider. The woman Mrs. Sonnes was fitting came out a little later and smiled at James before leaving. I noticed it was raining harder and James was totally into what the women were teaching him. I finished the dress and set it aside before moving to the front of the shop.

I returned to the embroidery circle as Bella came out grinning. James looked up, “All finished?”

I laughed, “No. If she needs it before the ball we will be here most of the day. As soon as Sofie comes out I will take you to merchant Winston.”

He grinned, “I will get to pick…”

I laughed, “in your dreams.”

I looked at Bella, “A gentleman takes the lady with him to pick out her jewelry, that way you will not get something that will clash with her apparel.”

He blinked, “But father…”

He stopped talking and then smiled, “That is why my mother always…”

He looked at me with a grin, “Thanks for the tip.”

I looked at Bella as she grinned and moved to sit with us. It was not long before Sofie came out with Mrs. Sonnes. I set the gown I was working on aside and stood. I slipped five, fat gold pieces into Mrs. Sonnes’s hand, “We will be back. I need to take them to merchant Winston.”

She grinned and looked at Sofie, “Make him buy something nice Sofie.”

Sofie laughed as I nodded to James and Bella. I opened the shop door and looked out into the light rain before stepping out. We used the shop overhangs most of the way so we were not that wet when I stepped into the merchant’s shop. Winston and his guard looked up from a complex board game as James and Bella came in and then Sofie.

Winston grinned as he looked at me, “I do not have any work for you Jason.”

I smiled, “I brought you a bit of custom. Bella and Sofie need something for the summer Ball.”

He smiled and bowed before gesturing to the black velvet covered case behind him. I touched Sofie before she could follow Bella and James. I pulled the diamond necklace out and her eyes widened. I caressed her face, “Would you wear this for me?”

She looked into my face as she blushed and nodded. I stepped closer and fastened it around her neck. When I stepped back she put her hand to her throat and grinned. I nodded to James and Bella as Sofie walked after them. Mr. Winston looked from the necklace around Sofie’s neck to me and smiled. That little trip cost me half the pouch of gold for a diamond bracelet and a dozen diamond hair pins.

I led the way back to Mrs. Sonnes but stopped under a shop canopy as I saw two takers slipping through the rain. They were searching and I waited until one saw me. He stopped and hissed to his partner. I shook my head, both of them were known to be honorable. He smiled and started walking towards me. His partner moved under another overhang to wait.

Daive stopped in front of me and looked around, “There is someone offering a large reward for your friend.”

I smiled, “He is under my protection.”

He looked at me, “Is that why you did Markus?”

I looked past him at his partner, “he would not respect my status. Besides, I always disliked the way he did business.”

Daive grinned, “There are going to be a lot of people drinking to you tonight. Christopher had him hung up in judgment square.”

He looked at James and then at Sofie. He grinned, “You are looking good Sofie.”

She shifted, “thanks.”

He looked at me, “I will pass the word to the others. Whoever is paying has already hired freelance mercs.”

I nodded, “I met a few.”

He nodded and moved back to his friend before walking away. I led the way to Mrs. Sonnes. Sofie and Bella disappeared into the back while James grinned and went back to the sewing circle. I shook my head and went to join him. He seemed to like sewing but I think it was the gossip he liked more.

I glanced at the time and touched James, “Want to visit a food vender and bring something back?”

He grinned, “Of course.”

I stood and turned towards the door, “If you so much as think of slipping away I will beat you black and blue.”

He did not say anything as I looked out the door. It had stopped raining but I knew that was only temporary. I walked out and headed to a stall a few rows away. James followed at my shoulder, “You know we need clothes for the ball too.”

I smiled and kept moving, “For that we need to visit Mr. Harris the tailor.”

I saw the men as they moved into the market row. They were grinning as they headed towards us. These men were different than the others, they were actually trained. I pushed James into a stall as I pulled my Tarantine. I pulled a spike and turned and threw in one motion. The surprised merc screamed as the spike hit him in the gut. I pulled another spike and threw it at the closest man. He expected it but not where I aimed.

He screamed and went to the ground with the spike in his thigh. I pulled my dagger and blocked a man’s lunge with the Tarantine. I stabbed through his forearm with the dagger and twisted. He stumbled into another man trying to get around him and my knife sliced his throat. I yanked my dagger out and blocked a long knife that reached for me.

I sliced the wrist with my Tarantine and shoved the dead man’s body into the crowd of men. I shifted and glanced back as James started to move out of the stall, “Stay there!”

I looked at the four men that faced me. They looked at each other and slowly backed away, “Another time.”

I smiled and tucked my dagger behind my belt before drawing a spike. They were a dozen feet away when they realized their mistake. The spike took the man that had spoken in the side of his neck when he turned to walk away and I was already pulling another. I hit another man in the throat as he turned back towards me.

I took the third as he started to run. I hit the forth in the spine from thirty paces. I pulled James after me as I went to finish the last two men. I took my spikes out and their purses before leaving. I pulled James across several merchant rows and then over to a food vender. He looked at me nervously, “Men are looking for you.”

I nodded, “They found me.”

I looked at James, “You need to buy enough for everyone back Mrs. Sonnes.”

He blinked and then grinned and turned to start bargaining. I cleaned my weapons as I kept watch. When we walked back I smiled, “You paid him twice what you should.”

He shrugged, “But I paid him.”

I laughed and led him into the dress shop. Sofie looked up frowning and Bella spun, “Where have you been princeling?”

James stopped in surprise and held up the package wrapped food, “buying lunch.”

Bella stalked towards him and he started backing up. I put my hand against his back and pushed, “Just tell her you are sorry and you will not do it again.”

James looked at me as Sofie put her hands on her hips. “But I did not…”

I shook my head as Bella reached him, “believe me, it does not matter.”

He looked at Bella helplessly and she sighed and cupped his face, “I will speak slowly. People are trying to hurt you. You tell me when you go anywhere to do anything so I will not worry.”

He smiled and pulled her close, “You worried about me?”

Bella and gotten tense and then relaxed, “Of course. Jason is very good but…”

James kissed her suddenly and I sucked in a breath waiting for Bella to do something… violent. Instead she seemed to melt into his arms and kiss him back. I glanced at Sofie and she was grinning as she watched them kiss. The other women in the shop were whispering. Finally James and Bella pulled apart and stared at each other.

I shook my head and pushed them further into the shop, “Pass out lunch before you forget.”

I walked to Sofie as James and Bella walked towards the sewing circle. I caressed her face, “There were mercenaries hunting the market.”

Her eyes narrowed and I smiled, “They will not be a problem.”

She nodded and turned towards James and Bella, “Tell me before you do something like that again.”

I smiled at her retreating back and looked out the door before following her. It was funny watching James and Bella, they played a teasing game but it was serious too. When Mrs. Sonnes took her in for her final fitting she looked at James sternly, “Do not leave.”

He grinned and shook his head. He sighed when he turned back to the sewing circle and the women giggled. After Bella and Sofie were finished I let James pay Mrs. Sonnes for Bella’s gown and he was grinning the whole time. I cautiously led everyone down the market row and across two before walking into the tailors shop. I smiled at Mr. Harris, “We need two nice suits.”

He licked his lips and I shook my head, “they know better then to try something in a shop.”

He nodded and looked at James. I nudged him, “Well? You need to bargain with him.”

James seemed to light up and Sofie snickered as Bella frowned. I smiled at her, “You can train him later.”

James looked at her and grinned. Bella smiled fondly and James turned back to the tailor. I had to smile at the way he tried to bargain and turned to watch the street. When James finished, I slipped a gold piece into Mr. Harris’s hand. His wife came out as he was taking measurements and made us tea.

Sofie and Bella sat with her talking in whispers with a lot of giggles. I was very nervous when it was my turn to be fitted since I had to strip and could not watch over James. Sofie had grinned at me mischievously, “I will make sure he does not leave.”

I came out front to wait while Mr. Harris and his helper went to work on our suits. I saw young Daniel standing across the narrow market row. I silently gestured to Sofie and slipped out. Daniel grinned as I stopped beside him and looked around. “Sofie looks nice, like a real lady.”

I grinned, “Want me to tell her you said that?”

He blushed and shook his head, “No.”

Daniel glanced at me, “The takers passed the word that they will honor your protection. The few mercenaries still alive have refused to have anything to do with you.”

I looked at him, “Do you know who was paying?”

He nodded, “The Earl of Tambor.”

I knew the crest but did not know the name, “Thanks Daniel.”

He grinned, “After Daive put it around about Sofie I had to come see her myself.”

He turned and walked away and I crossed back to the tailor shop. I walked to James and Bella as they continued to flirt and tease each other, “Do you know the Earl of Tambor?”

James smiled as he looked at me, “Of course. He is one of my father’s opponents in the royal court.”

I nodded, “Let me know when you see him.”

He nodded and went back to an attempt to persuade Bella to let him bed her. I sat with Sofie and told her what Daniel had said, including that she looked like a lady. Sofie grinned, “I will have to thank him.”

I bumped her, “You are not the same street urchin from last winter.”

Sofie looked at me, “Not you too!”

I grinned, “You are wearing a fancy dress with trinkets. Beside, when it is time you know I plan to tie you up and carry you to the priest.”

Sofie grinned and then laughed as a tiny knife appeared in her hand, “And then what?”

I laughed as I looked at James and Bella, “The rest is a surprise.”

It was an hour before our suits were done and James paid the tailor happily. Bella had muttered, “After we are wed, I am taking your purse and teaching you how to bargain properly.”

James grinned and looked at her, “I heard that.”

I grinned and Sofie laughed. I nodded towards the door and led the way out. I stopped at a small shop on the very edge of the marketplace. The tiny bottle I bargained for cost a gold piece. Bella and Sofie both were grinning when I handed it over. James looked at it, “What is it?”

I grinned, “Allure. A scent women wear to entice men into traps.”

James grinned as Sofie and Bella laughed. I led the way towards the rich section of the city. It was not long before the streets became wider and cleaner. There were lamps on each street corner and the houses became walled manors. As we drew near the Duke’s manor there were a lot of carriages parked on both sides of the road. When we reached the door, a door man was there to take our names.

I took Sofie’s hand as James led Bella in and hesitated before following. I moved easily while scanning everything around us. The reception line was not that long and the Duke was at the end. As each guest stepped into line a large herald banged a staff on the floor and announced them. Not that anyone could have heard over the voices coming from the hall.

I watched as James said something to the Duke that made him look around. He handed James to his wife and turned to Bella with a small smile, “imagine seeing you here.”

Bella stood tall and proud, “I am negotiating with James before he beds me.”

The Duke grinned and glanced at his wife who had turned her head and then said something to James that made him blush. The Duchess reached for Bella’s hand as James stepped away and I stepped in front of the Duke. He looked at me seriously, “I have been hearing a lot of talk about you fighting.”

I nodded and glanced around, “The Earl of Tambor was paying takers for your prince.”

He straightened and looked towards the crowded hall, “He is here somewhere.”

I smiled as Bella leaned away from the duchess blushing as darkly as James, “If he comes near James I will… have a word with him.”

The Duke nodded as I stepped in front of his wife. She was grinning, “I have heard many stories of you Jason. I even have a nice fur cloak Ms Tanner said you put together.”

I smiled politely, “You should try something from Mrs. Sonnes. Her shop does the best embroidery in the city.”

Her eyes lit up, “Thank you. I will make a point of visiting her.”

I stepped passed her and barely heard Sofie’s quiet voice behind me as I walked to James and Bella. We waited for Sofie and heard her delighted laugh before she slipped away from the duchess and joined us. I nodded to James as I took Sofie’s hand and whispered, “The Earl of Tambor is here somewhere.”

She nodded as James led the way through the gathered crowd towards a distant table with refreshments. While James filled a small glass for Bella I noticed a large elegantly clad man watching James and by the crest on his shoulder knew he was Earl Tambor. I moved to the table and whispered as James started to move away, “Wait.”

He looked at me and I poured Sofie a glass before handing it to her. I turned as the man was approaching James and quickly moved to stand between James and him. He stopped in surprise and his eyes narrowed, “Excuse me, I wish to speak with the prince.”

I smiled faintly, “I think you will want to hear me first.”

He looked me up and down and snorted. I stepped close suddenly and he jerked back, “Listen to me closely. A man that hires takers is a coward.”

The crowd around us was growing silent as he looked around licking his lips, “I have no idea what you mean.”

I looked up and down his frame, “I mean you are a coward. You hired takers and mercenaries to take the prince.”

He straightened, “I do not have to take this!”

I grinned, “Than accuse me of slander and challenge me.”

The Earl looked around, “I have no…”

I stepped close to him again, “Your men attacked me. They endangered those I care about. Now either face me or run while you can.”

He backed away and looked around at the whole room that was looking back at us silently. He looked at me and snarled, “This is not…”

My move was sudden and totally unexpected. I stepped forward pulling the Tarantine from under the light jacket. The blade stopped against his throat and there was a collective gasp. He stood frozen in fear as I leaned in, “If you are out of this city within an hour I will let you live. If you so much as hesitate before reaching the gate, the men I have waiting will gut you and hang you from traitor’s wall.”

He swallowed and nodded as I stepped back, pulling the knife away. As he turned to walk away I reversed the hilt and handed it to Sofie as a spike appeared in my other hand. James had moved forward to say something as the Earl started pushing through the crowd. Suddenly he was turning as he screamed and everything went to slow motion.

Sofie grabbed James, shoving him to the floor. The Earl’s arm was coming up with a dagger to throw. My off hand flashed and the throwing spike almost sparkled as it flew towards the Earl. His arm started down in a throw as the spike slammed into his throat. He jerked and spun as everything started up again. I started walking towards him as women screamed and he fell to the floor.

I knelt by his convulsing body as the guard commander and the Duke appeared. I glanced up, “Next time you want a favor…”

I stood and turned back to Sofie as the Duke started calling for servants. Things were a little chaotic for awhile but finally settled down. It was almost midnight, I was holding Sofie’s hand and watching James and Bella dance when an older man and woman appeared. I glanced at them as they stood beside us looking at James.

The man smiled at his wife, “I think a lady captured our son.”


Chapter seven

Courting a Goddess

It was a few months later, the day started off bad with a late summer storm; heavy rain, wind and lightning. Sofie had promised to meet me at Simon’s later. She wanted to sleep in since we were using an attic that was warm and snug. I had been working for about two hours when Daniel appeared in the doorway looking white faced, “The Sable Tiger collapsed! They brought Sofie out and…”

He was almost in tears, “I do not think she was breathing.”

I ripped the apron off and ran. When I reached the tavern the street was crowded with people digging through the rubble. I grabbed a guard, “The girl they found, where is she!”

He spun angrily and then calmed and gestured to a covered shop front. I ran over to find several injured people laid out. Sofie’s slight form was at one end and I knelt beside her. She was unconscious with an ugly bruise on the side of her head. I put my ear against her chest and barely heard her heartbeat. I put my arms under her and lifted her.

I could see people shaking their heads as I turned to walk away. I headed for the temple of Kretchus. It was a temple devoted to healing and some of the priests even used magic. When I kicked open the door and staggered in out of the rain and lightning a group of priest spun to look. I started for them, “Please help her.”

Sofie was taken from my arms and carried to a table along the wall. I stayed behind the priests as they worked but after several minutes they stepped away. One with a long blue robe turned from Sofie to face me, “it is in the hands of the goddess.”

It looked at Sofie, “But you can heal her right?”

They were silent and I looked at the senior priest. He sighed and shook his head, “There is nothing we can do.”

I could feel the pain in my chest and moved to take Sofie’s limp hand, “I will do anything!”

A glow surrounded me and I stood before a woman almost to beautiful to even look at. She smiled, “Your hearts glow can not be saved by mortal means.”

I knelt and bent my head, “Please, whatever you ask.”

She sighed and it almost made me weep with sadness, “I will give you three tasks. If you complete all three, I will intervene.”

I looked up and she smiled, “below the roof of Glidion is a torch, bring it.”

I waited and then nodded as the glow disappeared and I was left standing beside Sofie. I looked at the senior priest who looked back at me wide eyed, “Stay with her.”

I spun and ran for the door. Glidion was a huge shipping hall with a pit of deadly serpents in the center. I raced through the city and slowed to walk the last little bit. I stood looking at the huge building that actually extended out into the river. I remembered seeing the torch once when I was younger. It was on a stone pedestal raised up from the center of the pit of vipers.

I knew they were not going to just let me have the torch. I glanced as the nearby shops and turned to stop in one. I bought a long light rope, a huge fish hook and left. I did not bother heading for the doors, I went to one side and out along a narrow dock. When I was almost all the way to the end of the dock I looked around and then moved to the wall.

I used the cracks between the stones and started climbing. I had to be careful because the rocks tended to be slick or slimy. It became easier the high I got since the Glidion was nothing but a huge oval dome. When I reached a point where I could stand, I moved towards the vent holes along the very crest. I was careful not to step on any of the huge crystals that littered the roof.

At the very peak in the center of the building I stopped next to a vent hole and looked down. Far below I could see the moving floor of the viper pit. The torch glowed brightly from the pedestal. I tied one end of the rope to the huge fish hook and dropped the line into the vent hole. I placed the hook and put weight on the line as I went over the edge of the vent hole.

I glanced around as I slowly slipped down the rope. Men were moving crates and nets around the huge building and never once looked up. The hissing seemed to fill the air as I got closer to the pit. When I reached the level of the Torch, I wrapped one leg around the rope and swung around. I was up side down as I started swinging closer to the pedestal.

The Torch almost seemed alive as it glowed. It was silver; about two feel long with twin snakes spiraling up the shaft. The glow came from the top where a fire would normally go. It was a nothing but a glowing sphere. When I was close enough, I reached out and grabbed it. I yanked it up out of the brackets that held it up. As I was swinging away the snakes on the side of the torch turned and sang their teeth into my arm.

I jerked as something ran through my body. I ignored the pain and bent my body reaching up to grab the rope. I was careful as I gripped the rope with the same hand as the Torch, slowly I began climbing. I kept my leg wrapped around the rope and used it to inch up. When I reached the vent hole I barely had the strength to pull myself over the lip. I lay on the roof trying to catch my breath and then rolled to my feet and pulled the rope up.

I moved down the side of the dome until I reached the line of the last vents. I hooked the fish hook in a vent hole and walked backwards down the side of the building. When I reached the dock I released the rope and looked around before throwing a fish rag over the glowing Torch. The snakes were still biting my arm and pumping something into me. I prayed I would live long enough to save Sofie as I headed back to the temple.

I pushed the door to the temple open and stepped in. A loud bell began ringing even though this temple had no bell. Again the glow surrounded me and I was before the goddess. She smiled as I went to my knee, “That was well done. Place the Torch of Life in the bracket beside my image. Your next quest is to return the Staff of Peace. You will find it in the vault below the dead temple of my sister.”

The glow disappeared and I was standing in the doorway again. The priests were all gathered around Sofie praying. The snakes had twined around the torch and released my arm. I crossed the room to the large niche behind the pulpit. Inside was the image of the goddess Kretchus standing in a shallow pool of water. I reached up and pulled a metal torch out of the bracket beside her and tossed it into the room behind me before pulling the fish rag off the torch I held. I lifted the torch and placed it in the bracket.

The Torch blazed to life shining on the goddess. I turned and went to Sofie to check her. She seemed to be breathing a little easier but the whole side of her head looked bruised. I turned and headed for the door thinking hard. Kretchus had two sisters, Sagus and Carsanthus. Carsanthus was worshiped by sea side communities and had never been worshiped here. Sagus had once been the goddess of the fields but another had replaced her. The ruins of her temple were by the old city wall.

I headed out at a slow run, thinking hard. If the temple was in ruins they would have been searched, probably many times by now. Then I thought of her words, ‘in the vault below.’ When I reached the temple it was awash in rain water and run off from the wall behind it. I began a slow walk around before heading into the temple.

I do not know why but I knelt just inside the door, “My pardon goddess. Your sister has need of the Staff of Peace.”

Another glow surrounded me, “What payment does my sister offer you thief?”

I did not look up this time, “She offers the life of one I love.”

There was silence that seemed profound before I heard the sigh. “She is truly your hearts glow isn’t she. Very well, below are the vaults of hope. The very last one is the vault of despair. You must pass the traps my priests set to reach what you seek.”

I nodded and then looked up at her stunning beauty. “Many in the city search for food…”

She smiled, “I have temples elsewhere. You may provide what is in my vaults to those that have need.”

I bowed, “thank you.”

The glow started to fade but whispered words came to me, “the entrance is under the shrine.”

I stood and glanced to the right at a small alcove. Inside was the fallen statue of the goddess. I looked inside for a long time before the top of the pedestal struck me. It was almost as if the center was raised slightly. I knelt and lifted the heavy statue to the pedestal. I looked at it and turned it to face the raising sun before I heard the click.

I moved back as the wall on one side slid back to reveal a dark passage heading down. I pulled a small snub of candle and used some tender to light it. I moved to the stairs and started down slowly. I was a dozen steps down before a step seemed different and I knelt to look. I nodded as I saw the dozens of tiny holes, a simple poison needle trap.

I carefully stepped over it and continued down. At the bottom of the stairs was a lever in the wall. I glanced back and pulled the lever before using the candle to light a silver lantern and then put out the candle. I carefully examined the floor, walls and ceiling before starting down the hall. Here or there were slightly raised and depressed floor tiles and I avoided them. The glittering of dust on a barely seen wire had me stopping to check it. I finally stepped over it and moved on.

There were two more along the hallway as well as several more tiles. I went all the way to the end of the hall and looked at the two rings set in the wall. They were on smaller blocks and I hesitantly pulled on one of the rings. I glanced back as I saw movement and watched the three trip wires drop to the floor and sink down between the floor tiles. I nodded and turned to pull the other ring out. I knelt to watch floor tiles raise or sink to match the other tiles around them.

I took a breath and started looking at the walls. Just inside the hallway on both sides were symbols of different types of grain and a circle around it with a sun on the bottom of the circle. I counted six vaults before the last two. I looked left and right, on the right was an inlaid image of the goddess and on the left was a symbol for plague and blight. I stepped closer to that symbol and examined it closely.

The sun on the bottom of the circle was tarnished and I absently used my shirt to clean it. It seemed to only take a minute before it almost glowed and I turned the circle like a clock until it was above the symbols. I hesitated and then pushed on the symbols and heard a loud click. A section of the wall moved back several feet and I lifted the lantern to carefully check before stepping in.

I moved around the thick section of wall and stared into the narrow vault beyond. There were heaps of gold and silver. I looked at the far wall and saw the staff in the hands of a white statue. I started forward and carefully checked before placing each foot. When I reached the statue, I bowed, “Thank you lady.”

It almost seemed to glow as the fingers slowly opened and released the staff. I gently reached out and took the staff before turning to retrace my steps. I stopped to turn the circle so that the sun was back on the bottom where it looked faded and tarnished again. I stepped back into the hall as the wall pushed back into place. I looked around and carefully made my way out.

I kept the lantern when I came out in the shrine. I blew out the flame and then turned the small statue to face out into the ruined temple. I left quickly and quietly and started running as soon as I reached the street. I slowed when I reached the healing temple and entered to see a large crowd kneeling. Like before with the first step a bell rang and a glow surrounded me. I knelt, “I have the staff.”

She smiled at me, “That was nobly done. Place the Staff of Peace in my hand. Your last quest is to the Statue of Conquest. You will find the Cup of Healing in its hand.”

The glow faded and I found myself standing just inside the doorway. I shook myself as I pushed through the kneeling people heading for the large niche behind the pulpit. Inside was a kneeling priest that did not even move as I stepped up to the edge of the pool and looked at the goddess remembering her sister’s statue in the vault. I looked at her outstretched right hand and set the butt of the staff on the solid pedestal beside her feet before placing it in her hand.

A chorus seemed to spring up as her hand slowly closed around the staff. I heard a sigh from every mouth in the temple as I turned to Sofie. I crossed to her with praying priest all around her. It looked like her color was better and she almost looked like she was just asleep. I nodded and turned to leave thinking about what I had to do next. The Statue of Conquest was in front of The Duke’s court.

Outside the temple I started jogging. When I entered the huge square it was to see people everywhere. There were two guards standing on each side of the statue. I really looked at the statue and the huge civil service building behind it. The long balcony stood out immediately but I did not see a door. I shook my head and started towards the large double doors.

There were clerks, guards and militia everywhere as well as minor nobles and rich merchants. Inside the door and to one side was a glassy looking stone stairway. I started up and on the next floor the stairway seemed to end. There was a long hallway with large offices on each side. I walked all the way to the end and did not find a stairway.

I started opening office doors to look around before going to the next one. I was halfway down with people standing in the hall looking at me when I found the stairs. They were graceful wooden spiral stairs with rich wooden panels. On the next floor I walked out of the room to a silent hallway. I could see the end of the building and knew I had to go higher still.

Again I started opening doors. Half the offices were empty and the other half had satisfied looking clerks in them. I found the stairs all the way at the other end of the building in what looked like a closet. The stairs were steep and narrow and let out into a small dusty room. Even though there were offices on this floor they were all empty and dusty.

I headed toward the front of the building only to be stopped by a wall. I check the end office on the left and then the right. That one had another door and I went in and crossed to it to find the door locked. I shook my head as I knelt to pick the lock. There I was in the dusty attic and they lock the door. I stood and opened the door and stepped into a huge office.

It was dusty and unused but it still sang of power and influence. In cases around the room were gold and silver items encrusted with gems as well as chests along the walls. I shook my head and closed the door before heading towards the far wall. This one office seemed to span the whole width of the building and it took a few minutes before I found the hidden door.

It was short and opened inward after I had pressed against it. I crawled out onto the wide balcony and crawled along until I was behind the statue. The raised hand holding the massive goblet made me think twice before I stood against the railing and leaned over. I touched the goblet and pulled and almost fell as it moved. I caught myself as I continued to hold the goblet.

I lifted and pulled, expecting it to be as heavy as it looked. I did not expect it to suddenly start glowing as it shrank in my hand. I fell backwards onto the balcony as the goblet became human size. I did not hesitate in tucking it in my shirt and crawling back to the small door. I closed it after moving back into the office and headed for the door.

I locked it behind me and started for the stairs. The floors below almost seemed empty as I headed back down. On the ground floor I turned and headed for a side door. No one seemed interested in me as I slipped out and headed back towards the temple. I went to a trot but stopped in surprise when I turned a corner into the street near the temple. People were everywhere in the street kneeling as they faced the temple.

I moved through the crowd carefully and then through the temple’s open doors. Like before the bell rang and the glow surrounded me. The goddess looked even more radiant as she smiled at me, “Well done. Bring your hearts glow to me. Fill the cup with water from beneath my feet and give it to your hearts glow. After she drinks, place the full cup in my empty hand.”

I nodded as the glow faded and turned to cross the Sofie. The priests looked up when I lifted her in my arms and turned to carry her to the niche. I knelt and set her beside the pool and pulled the glowing goblet from my shirt. I dipped it into the water and held it to Sofie’s lips. Slowly she drank as I tilted it until it was all gone. Sofie sighed and I turned to fill the goblet before standing and holding it out to the statues empty hand.

The bells began ringing again as the hand slowly came alive to hold the glowing goblet. The whole temple began to glow and a sense of well being began to spread as I knelt beside Sofie. I caressed her cheek and her eyes opened. She blinked and looked around, “What happened?”

I grinned, “You wanted to sleep in.”


Chapter eight

Sofie’s Dowry

Strangely, no one remembered Sofie or me. We had slipped out a side door. It was a day later that I led her to the temple ruins of Sagus. I had brought a wagon and led her to the shrine. Sofie was carrying the silver lantern as she walked beside me. Waiting outside the temple was a dozen hungry homeless children holding empty grain sacks.

I opened the way down and Sofie called for the children. I waited for them to gather around, “The goddess Sagus has given me leave to give you what grain or seeds remain in her vaults.”

They looked at each other but did not talk. I turned to the small statue and knelt, “As I promised, I will take only what is needed to feed those in need.”

The voice that spoke was soft and full of promise, “I will provide what is required.”

I nodded and stood. The children looked wide eyed as I led the way into the passageway and down the stairs. The stairway and hall beyond seemed to have a slight glow that lit the way for those following. I went to the first vault and moved the sun to the top of the circle. There was a click and a section of the wall moved inward and turned.

Inside the long narrow room were bins of grain lit by glowing silver lanterns. I nodded to the children, “fill the sacks and take them to the wagon.”

As they started scooping the grain into the sacks they carried I moved to the next vault and then the one after that. I opened all the vaults except the one with the treasure and the one for the goddess before returning to the first vault. I noticed others joining the children. They all looked ragged and starving as the children whispered to them about the goddess giving them the grain.

Before I knew it there were hundreds of people passing sacks from the vaults down the hall and up the stairs. When I went upstairs it was to find the temple crowded. There were rich people and merchants, many that I knew and they had started fires with pots of food. Sofie grinned when she found me and put her arm around my waist. We moved through the crowd and watched as everyone seemed to be helping each other. Back down in the vaults I noticed that the bins that had been emptied were once more full.

As the hungry people stopped coming down I closed the vaults. I hesitated and then moved back upstairs. I closed the passageway and turned to watch as Sofie helped at one fire or another. I finally came up behind her and she spun quickly, her hand bringing a tiny knife up. I grinned, “Are you ready to use it?”

Sofie laughed and turned away. I looked away for a moment and when I looked back she was gone. I moved around and could not find her. I found Daniel helping a fishmonger. He grinned, “Sofie came by looking worried.”

I looked around, “Did you see where she went?”

He gestured to the street and I moved out of the temple. I found Sofie squatting by the wagon, “What is wrong?”

She looked away, “You.”

I looked at her for a minute and squatted down beside her, “What about me?”

She looked up from the ground, “You want everything to change.”

I smiled at her, “Change comes every day.”

Sofie bit her lip, “I am not…”

I reached out to take her hand, “You are Sofie the pic and my friend.”

I pulled her to her feet and walked back towards the temple, “Sofie, we are not like others, neither you nor I are Bakers or Tailors. We are not Blacksmiths or Tanners.”

I turned after we had walked through the side of the temple, “We are barely thieves. We both enjoy helping different merchants, doing different things.”

I looked into her face, “I think the one thing in common is that we like doing those things together. We already sleep together and eat together.”

Sofie smiled and touched my cheek. I grinned and then laughed making everyone look. I turned Sofie to face me, “We are in a temple and I know the goddess.”

Sofie raised an eyebrow as a tiny knife appeared, “And?”

I looked into her face, “And before these witnesses and the goddess Sagus I ask for your hand in marriage.”

The temple came alive as everyone turned to look. Sofie was glowing as she looked at me. She bit her lip, “I have no dowry.”

I laughed and waved, “the goddess has provided your dowry.”

She looked around and then back at me, “But…”

The whole temple trembled and was bathed in a soft glow as the goddess Sagus appeared. Everyone dropped to their knees as she walked serenely to Sofie and I, “Why do you hesitate child? You know he loves you. You know you love him.”

Sofie looked down, “I… am not… worthy.”

The goddess sighed, “What was done to you does not make you unworthy.”

Sofie was trembling as I looked at her, “Done to you?”

She looked into my face quickly and then looked away, “I… was taken.”

My eyes narrowed as the goddess reached out to touch her face, “That was long ago and you know he is not like them.”

Sagus smiled and slowly faded leaving behind her soothing voice, “Life goes on.”

Sofie sighed and looked back into my face, “I accept but I still want a dowry.”

I grinned and took her hand, “I know just where you can find it.”

There was a slight whisper of sound that made me shiver as I leaned close to Sofie’s ear. I slowly gave her directions inside the Duke’s court to the hidden office. Sofie was grinning by the time I was done. She looked at me, “You are kidding?”

I shook my head and she laughed as she shook her head. She suddenly went up on her toes and kissed my cheek, “I will be in our room later.”

I was tempted to go with her or at least follow and watch, but something told me to wait. I looked around at everyone watching and blushed before grinning and giving them a bow. I moved around and started helping where I could. It seems miracles can happen. Before evening people were bringing more food and stones were appearing to rebuild the ruined temple.

The sun was low when I slipped away from the citywide gathering. I moved through cheerful streets and stopped at the empty manor of Merchant Jonas. I quietly slipped through the open gate and moved around to the carriage house. When I stepped in, there was a faint crack of light from the tack room.

I closed the outer door and quietly walked through the dark empty building. I opened the tack room door and stepped into a sparkling room of riches. I grinned and closed the door behind me. I looked across the room at Sofie standing nervously beside the bed, “I can not believe there was this much stuff.”

She grinned, “Now I have a dowry worthy of me.”

I crossed the room and embraced her, “It is not even close.”

I looked at her and then around the room again, “How did you get it all out?”

Sofie looked around smugly, “A bag and chest at a time. I even got a couple of guards to help.”

I looked at her doubtfully and she laughed and pulled me onto the bed. She leaned against me and started telling me how she had found an abandoned wagon and parked it by the side door. She grinned when she told of two guards helping her with a heavy chest she was carrying down the main stairs.

When she finished she was nervous but I only slipped off the bed to blow out the lantern. I undressed and slipped back into bed and held her as I pulled a cover over us.


Chapter nine

A Thief’s Wedding

Little did I know the changes that were coming. One of the homeless stayed at the temple as others brought stones to help rebuild the walls. The goddess continued to feed those in need. What affected me and Sofie was the rumors of our engagement. It did not matter which shop we stopped at to do work they all talked and gossiped about the wedding.

When Bella appeared with James on her arm and several other noble ladies trailing along behind, I knew I was in trouble. We were working with Ms Tanner. She had looms set up and we chatted as the looms clacked and clattered under our hands. Bella stopped at the counter, “We just heard Sofie.”

Sofie looked up and blushed before grinning, “He had the goddess on his side.”

James grinned, “Everyone said you held him at knife point until you got your way.”

Sofie looked at me grinning, “I had to get my point across.”

I laughed as I changed the thread colors on my loom. Bella laughed and reached across the counter, “I came to congratulate you and offer my help planning the wedding. I know the Duke and Duchess want to come…”

I groaned and Sofie looked at me with her eyebrow raised. I shook my head, “I did not think ahead. Where…”

Bella laughed, “The new temple of Sagus. I already have a list of over a hundred people that want to come.”

I looked at Sofie and she grinned when she looked at me. I sighed and shook my head, “I suppose you are here to drag Sofie off to plot.”

Sofie and Belle both laughed as Sofie moved away from her loom, “I am sorry Ms Tanner.”

Ms Tanner was smiling, “I understand dear.”

I watched them disappear before Ms Tanner touched my shoulder, “You need to speak to your best man.”

I looked at her and frowned, “I do not…”

I looked away and finally nodded. It was an hour before I finished and left. I headed into the common market where people crowded the square. I waited and watched before crossing to Daniel. He was beside a richly dressed woman talking. I bumped him and held up his belt pouch, “Is this yours?”

He frowned and glanced down at his belt before grinning and reaching out to take the purse. I looked around as the woman drifted away, “Would you consider being my best man?”

Daniel looked at me and grinned, “Does that mean I get to kiss the bride?”

I grinned back, “You know Sofie. It comes with a risk.”

He laughed and bumped my shoulder, “Sure.”

I glanced at a stranger as he bumped a merchant and cut the purse from his belt. I nodded towards him as he moved towards the edge of the market, “Who is the stranger?”

Daniel frowned, “A poacher.”

I slipped through the crowd and headed towards the man as he stopped beside a stall. He glanced up and his hand dropped to the dagger he wore. I shook my head, “You pull it and I will kill you.”

He smiled thinly, “You think you have a chance kid?”

Both my knife and dagger slipped into my hands as I moved and he jerked back before freezing with one against his throat and the other poking his stomach, “Join the guild or leave the city.”

He swallowed, “I will leave.”

I nodded, “If you do not or you come back the guide will kill you.”

I sheathed my knife and dagger and stepped back. I watched as he sullenly turned to leave. I let a spike drop into my hand as he started walking just in case. Suddenly he was turning and his arm was coming up to throw his dagger. I threw the spike underhanded and moved towards him.

I pulled my Tarentine but did not need it as the thief doubled over and screamed with my spike in his belly. I knelt and pulled the spike out as a crowd started forming, “You have one hour to reach a gate out of the city.”

I grabbed the stolen purse before standing. I turned and saw the merchant that he had taken the purse from and tossed it before walking away. I was leaving the market when Daniel and two other thieves joined me. Daniel shook his head, “He was dumb.”

I glanced at him, “He was arrogant and slow.”

Little Timothy looked around Daniel, “You should teach that.”

I smiled, “You still can not keep a blade from catching when you move to cut the purse strings.”

Daniel and the other thief snickered and Timothy reddened. I glanced at him, “I told you to practice more.”

I looked at Daniel, “I need to go find Sofie and then speak to the duke and… and a lot of other things.”

He grinned, “When is the wedding?”

I stopped and looked at him before sighing, “I will let you know when I find out.”

I started walking as they began laughing. I headed toward the marketplace and Mrs. Sonnes shop. It had become the place for young women which meant young men haunted it as well. To say I was not in a happy mood would probable be an understatement. I saw the shop and the crowd of men outside and headed for the door.

A richly dressed young man grabbed my shoulder as I was reaching for the door. I sidestepped, grabbing the hand and twisting as I pulled. The young man crashed face first into the doorframe as my Tarentine swept towards his throat.

“JASON!”

I stopped and looked at Sofie in the doorway. I yanked the young man back as I sheathed my knife, “Do not ever touch me.”

I shoved him away and shrugged, “I am a little on edge.”

Sofie grinned, “Really?”

I grinned, “Actually it was more like fear.”

The women inside the shop laughed and Sofie caressed my chest, “It is to late.”

I touched her face, “I am not sorry and will not change my mind.”

I sighed and then shook myself before grinning, “I asked Daniel to be my best man. He asked if he would get to kiss you.”

Sofie blushed and then grinned. I shook my head, “He asked when the wedding was?”

She looked at me and then looked back at Bella, “I do not…”

Bella laughed, “Two weeks from now and you need to let Sofie sleep alone.”

I looked at Sofie, “Alone?”

She blushed, “I…”

Several young men laughed, “You have to wait to bed her.”

I glanced at them irritably, “we have slept together for years.”

Sofie laughed and came closer to kiss me as she blushed, “Bed me. Make love…”

Everyone was laughing and I sighed, “I am tying you to the bed for that. What has that got to do with sleeping with me?”

Sofie grinned and looked back at Bella, “They think you will take advantage of me.”

I grinned, “I do. You keep the bed warm.”

Everyone laughed and Sofie shook her head, “You will pay for that.”

I caressed her face, “I do not like sleeping without you.”

She smiled, “You will live. Go ask the Duke if he can present me.”

I looked at her, “Present you?”

Sofie sighed, “In place of my father? He is the city’s lord.”

I grinned, “He is going to love that.”

She grinned back, “He deserves to attend if a goddess made me accept.”

I caressed her face, “The goddess did not make you. I asked and she persuaded you with the truth.”

Everyone laughed and Sofie stuck her tongue out. I sighed, “Dinner at the Artist Cup?”

She nodded and I turned to walk away. I was actually thinking ahead as I walked towards the Duke’s court. I knew that almost every day the Duke sat in his office to hear complaints. When I walked through the arches many people stopped talking to look at me and several called out greetings. The large anti room was filled with people and the two clerks looked harried.

The clerk I stopped in front of did not even look up, “Name and complaint?”

I looked at him and shook my head, “The Duke of Night. The night is dark, the sky is to high, the wind blows, water is wet, the earth is hard.”

I stopped talking as the room broke out in snickers and the clerk blushed as he looked at me. I grinned, “If today weights on you, think of yesterday and hope for a better tomorrow.”

He shook his head, “The Duke could use a laugh.”

I laughed, “Tell him I am calling in his dept.”

He stood and went into the other room and I glanced around, “I should not take up to much time.”

A richly dressed merchant cleared his throat, “Are you inviting people to the wedding?”

I looked at him and frowned as everyone grinned. I finally shook my head, “Sofie wants his grace to present her. I still have not the faintest what else is going to happen.”

Everyone laughed as the clerk stuck his head out the door, “His grace will see you.”

I straightened and walked into the large room. Two more clerks were sitting at desks and the Duke was behind a large desk covered with piles of papers. I shook my head, “You are going about this wrong. Make whoever is making the complaint do the paperwork.”

He grinned, “Now that would stop a lot of people from complaining. What can I do for you Jason?”

I smiled, “Sofie does not have a father and would like it if you would present her.”

The Dukes eyes widened, “The dowry?”

I grinned, “She already stole… acquired it.”

He laughed and sat back, “When is the wedding?”

I shrugged, “two weeks. Bella is helping her plan it. It is supposed to be at the temple of Sagus.”

The Duke shook his head, “Bella is turning this city upside down. Did you know the queen wanted to have them married within a fortnight?”

I laughed, “James would love that.”

He snorted, “Bella has consented to… bed him so they share his room now. Of course he is teaching her a little about nobility, not that she cares.”

The Duke shook his head and sighed, “You can tell Sofie it would be my honor to present her.”

I bowed, “Thank you.”

He nodded and gestured, “I need to get back to work.”

I grinned as I turned to the door, “do not despair.”

I headed out and then turned to head toward the city clerk’s office. When I made it to the Artist Cup it was full of ladies that were being delighted by the normal patrons. I shook my head and looked around for Sofie. A hand waved above the crowd and one of Bella’s sister’s was balancing a tray as she tried to make her way to a table.

When the crowd parted I saw Sofie sitting with Mamma Daniels and slowly started towards them. I ignored the large men near them as they shifted and squeezed in next to Mamma. I kissed her cheek, “I am glad to see you mamma.”

She smiled and waved one of her sons away, “I decided to come find you and Sofie to make it easier.”

I grinned and turned to Sofie and reached for her hand, “Hey thief.”

She grinned, “Yes?”

Everyone laughed and I squeezed her hand, “The Duke said he would be honored. I also went to see the clerk.”

She looked at me and I shrugged, “We needed a marriage license.”

She grinned again as everyone chuckled. I looked around the room, “I also bought the Jonas Manor.”

Sofie looked at me as the room went silent, “You… bought the… you never buy…”

I grinned, “I paid one whole brass bit.”

The room broke out in laughter and Sofie grinned, “What are we going to do with all the room?”

I looked at momma, “Take in those that need a place.”

There were cheers and Bella was suddenly behind me with her hands on my shoulders, “After you eat Sofie is coming to stay with me.”

I sighed as I looked at Sofie, “You are really going to make me sleep alone?”

She grinned and winked. They whole room was laughing again as Bella’s sister brought me a large bowl of stew and a half loaf of bread. I smiled and handed her a half silver. I looked at Bella, “You know it is not fair. You are bedding James and you are not married.”

She grinned, “His mom said I had to be pregnant as proof of fertility. After they know, we will wed within the fortnight.”

I grumbled as everyone laughed. An hour later I was moving through the dark streets when I noticed the shadows following me. I moved into an alley and then into the shadow of a slip through. Two men stepped into the alley and I did not recognize either one. I waited as they hesitated and then started down the alley. After they passed me I stepped out, “What do you want?”

They spun and pulled daggers, “You!”

I pulled my Tarantine and dagger before sliding sideways into the slip through. When one lunged with his dagger, I stabbed through his wrist and twisted before moving into him and stabbing him under the ribs and into his heart. I yanked both blades free and shifted to face the other man. He sliced across at my stomach and I jerked and slid back and brought my knife down to cut his arm.

I jerked it back as his dagger clattered away. He backed up quickly, “This is not over.”

I waited until he turned to run before shifting the dagger to my other hand and drawing a spike. It caught him in the back of the neck and he slammed face first into the street. I checked the other man and took his purse before walking out to the second man. I knelt and cut his purse off before checking him for papers. I did not find anything and the poacher from earlier today came to mind.

I thought of Sofie but headed for the guild hall. When I walked through the door everyone went quiet. I looked across the room at Master Jariss, “Someone is trying something.”

He nodded, “We know. Six apprentices were attacked, four managed to escape. Four masters have been killed too.”

I nodded and looked around for Daniel, “Daniel?”

He shrugged, “Wounded, a master and several apprentices took him to Momma Daniels place.”

I looked around, “I left two in Gabriel’s alley.”

Several people murmured at that and I looked at Jariss again, “Sofie and I will be leaving the guild.”

He snorted, “You were barely part of the guild.”

I turned towards the door, “Whose fault was that?”

No one said anything as I left and headed towards the Artist Cup. There were still a lot of people there including two at a table near the fire. One look told me what I needed to know. Sofie was gone as was Momma Daniels.

I walked to the table the men were sitting at and stopped a few feet away, they looked up and sneered. I shook my head, “You must not be from this city or you would know better. The Artist Cup is off limits to violence. Working without the support makes you a target for any that wants you and I am one of the few people in this city you really do not want to piss off.”

I gestured to the door, “I think you should leave.”

They stood and one leaned on the table as the other fingered his dagger, “Your time is coming…”

He choked as the dagger slammed into his throat and the other man went over the bench backwards with a spike in his chest. The room was silent as I moved around the table and cut their purses free. The weight let me know they were not beggars. I dropped the two purses in Bella’s father’s hand, “Keep an eye on any new people. I suppose Belle is staying with the Duke?”

He nodded as he weighted the purses, “Those two were not alone. Two others followed Sofie and Bella when they left.”

I turned and headed towards the door, as soon as I was outside I started running. I should have known Sofie could take care of herself, I had spent a lot of time teaching her. I rounded the corner by the Duke’s manor to see several guards around two bodies in the street. I slowed to a walk and pushed between two guards that growled at me.

I ignored them as relief washed over me, “What happened to Bella and Sofie?”

The guards quieted as they realized who I was. The guard sergeant cleared his throat, “After the young miss killed these two, Bella pulled her into the manor.”

I sighed in relief, “I will be around. These are not the only ones attacking people.”

He nodded and I turned away and started walking. I was thinking and finally headed towards the vacant market square. I walked to the middle and slowly turned around looking. This was where the new pick pocket had been working.

It took awhile but slowly the market square began filling as men slipped out of alleys and shadows. I ignored them as I continued to study everything around the square. They were only a few feet away when one laughed, “Did you think we would ignore you?”

I looked at him, “If you think you can just come in and start a completely new thieves guild you are mistaken. As for ignoring me, I knew you would not.”

I gestured around us, “All of you are so absorbed on me you forgot a basic principal.”

He sneered, “And what was that?”

I grinned, “Always watch your own back.”

They looked at each other and then looked around. The bolts that came out of the night came from rooftops and alleys, from shop windows and storefronts. I only had to lash out once as a man staggered to close. They tried to run of course but none made it to the streets or alleys. When it was over I waited and Master Jariss walked out of an alley.

He looked around at the carnage and then at me, “We are even.”

I smiled, “No Master Jariss, you still own me. I did not have to play decoy.”

He shrugged and turned back towards the alley, “True.”

I headed towards an empty street and home. When I slipped into the tack room in the stables Sofie opened the shutter on a small dark lamp, “You are late.”

I smiled as I crossed the floor, “What happened to Bella?”

Sofie snorted, “Her beloved came to snuggle and it was so… cloying I had to get some air.”

I slipped into bed beside her and blew out the lamp, “I told Jariss we were leaving the guild.”

Sofie sighed, “Now we have to be honest citizens.”

I laughed as I hugged her, “No, it means we steal things they would never think of, like everything in that office.”

She snorted, “Like we could ever…”

I knew she was looking at me as I lay back, “What?”

She snuggled against me, “Do you know of another treasure?”

I smiled in the darkness and caressed her, “Go to sleep Sofie.”

She sighed, “Everything is going to change.”

I did not say anything as I held her and slowly her breathing changed. I woke to the hint of dawn and glanced at Sofie still in my arms. I sighed and her head came up before she grinned, “You have to wait.”

I smiled and turned her and moved half onto her and kissed her. I looked into her laughing eyes, “I have a couple of ideas about finding other treasure.”

She kissed me and wiggled until she was free before standing and crossing the room. I watched her and sighed before standing and moving to the clothes chest. When I was dressed I took Sofie’s hand and we walked through quiet streets. I nodded to the guards outside the Duke’s manor and looked a Sofie, “I will be at Baker Simon’s.”

She grinned, “I will be sure not to tell James.”

I grinned as I walked away. Everyday the list of guests grew. There was no further sign of the band of men that tried to replace the thieves guild. I spent each day checking old records in long unused offices. The day before the wedding I woke and looked at Sofie. I kissed her softly and her eyes snapped open, “Jason?”

I grinned, “Want to go exploring this morning?”

She grinned, “In one of your dusty offices?”

I shook my head, “You will never guess.”

Sofie stretched and kissed my cheek before rolling away from my reaching hands. She laughed as she crossed to the new dresser. We were in what had been the study which was more than large enough for us. I followed and dressed carefully. We stopped to eat sweet bread at Simon’s before I led Sofie to the Duke’s court. Inside the clerks were just coming in to start another day.

I grinned and looked at Sofie, “Over a century ago there was a foreign army marching towards the city. All the temples and large merchant houses gave the old duke their riches to protect. This building was just finished and the duke decided to be sneaky.”

I walked to the large coat room under the stairs and pulled Sofie in before closing the door. I moved to the back wall of the closet and pushed on one side. There was a grating sound as the whole wall turned slowly and a narrow passage to the right was revealed in the dim light from the crack under the outer door. Sofie had been busy and had lit a small stub of candle.

I grinned at Sofie, “The army never entered the city but the Duke and the only servant who knew about the treasure were killed outside the city.”

The passage only went a few feet before coming to stairs. I moved around Sofie and pulled on the wall and slowly it closed. I grinned at Sofie’s unsure look, “The other door will not open if the door before or behind are still open.”

She looked down the stairs as I came to squeeze around her again. I put one hand on the wall and slowly made my way down the stairs. After a dozen steps the stairs began to turn to the right and ended in a small round room. Sofie looked around, “What now?”

I glanced back and smiled, “The days in dusty offices pay off.”

I crossed to the middle torch and pulled it to the left. There was a loud click and I moved to push against the wall to the right of the torch. Sofie held her candle up as the wall slowly opened to show another set of stairs. I let her squeeze through before following and turning to pull on the edge of the door.

When I heard the loud click as it locked I turned and hugged Sofie as I squeezed around her. She laughed, “You did that on purpose.”

I grinned as I turned back to the stairs and put my right hand on the wall. I began counting this time and stopped on the thirtieth step. I looked at the wall on my right and Sofie held her piece of candle closer. I saw the tiny piece of white rock in the center of a darker block and nodded. I pushed on the stone and it sank into the wall. Sofie gasped as a section of wall on the left opened.

I turned to push it open and let Sofie enter. I followed and looked at the huge chests and crates that lined the walls. Sofie looked at me and grinned, “Now this is a treasure.”

I grinned and pulled her against me, “now we just need to get it out.”

She turned and hugged me, “We do it slowly and at night. I have a perfect plan.”

I laughed, “Already?”

Sofie grinned, “Actually it is the same plan I had for my dowry but did not use.”

She opened one chest and smiled to see it full of gold. She closed it and we left closing each door behind us. Almost as soon as we walked into the bakers, Sofie was pulled away. Bella was grinning, “She gets guards tonight thief. Tomorrow you can see her at the temple.”

I looked at her and the other women and Sofie pushed away from them to come to me, “It is only one night.”

For the first time she kissed me softly on the lips before pulling away, “Go away.”

The women laughed as I shuddered and grinned. I went to get my new suit and did a few errands. I walked to the temple and stared. It was like it had never been a ruin. Homeless came and went just as other people from the city. I slipped in and walked to the alter and knelt, “Sagus.”

The man standing at an alcove frowned but the whispered echo of Sagus filled the temple, “Welcome thief.”

I grinned, “I am quitting that line of work. I think Sofie and I will continue working in the shops but maybe we will use our skills to hunt for what was and is lost.”

The faint outline of the goddess appeared and I stood to face her. She touched my cheek, “Not many mortals revive a dead god.”

I grinned, “I did not revive you, I just got your attention and helped those I have helped most of my life.”

She smiled, “I know.”

She gestured and a large book appeared in her hand, “Perhaps this will help you.”

She placed it in my hand, “until tomorrow thief.”

I grinned and bowed, “Until tomorrow.”

The book was strangely light as she faded away and I turned to leave. I bowed to the new priest and walked out. There were several people decorating the temple as I headed home. I hid the book and changed into work clothes before heading to the marketplace and the blacksmith shop. I was able to lose myself in the heavy hammer and the heat of the forge.

The night was both long and lonely as I lay awake remembering my parents and the blacksmith that had taken me in. When I woke in the morning the whole city seemed more alive. I drew water from the city pipes and took a bath before putting on my new suit. I walked out and met Daniel in the street wearing a new suit of his own. He grinned as the other pics came out of the shadows and fell in around us.

By the time we walked into the crowded temple I was very nervous. I looked around and recognized face after face. James was in the front row with his parents and right beside them was momma Daniels talking quietly to the queen as if she did it everyday. The priest was looking nervous as a unseen chorus began singing and the goddess Sagus appeared.

I bowed and she smiled as she looked out over the crowd that had gone to its knees. I turned at the sounds of steps and watched as Bella and two other women entered. They walked down the narrow isle with grace and moved to the side as the Duke entered with a white gowned Sofie. As she stepped into the temple her gown began to shimmer and glow.

Around the inner walls of the temple shapes of gods or goddesses began to appear. Behind and on each side of Sagus appeared two more forms. One was Kretchus and I thought the other was Carsanthus. When Sofie and the Duke reached me, he smiled and gently put her hand in mine, “I give her into your care.”

I bowed and turned to face Sofie as she lifted her veil. The chorus stopped and we looked at the goddess Sagus. She reached out and covered our hands with her own, “To love another more than life itself is very rare. To live and over come life’s hard lessons is what all should strive for. Jason, Sofie, you have walked beside each other and cared for one another. I and my family have come before you to give unto you our blessing. We wish you joy and a long life together.”

She removed her hand and on a finger of each of our hands was a white band that glowed. I had eyes only for Sofie and stepped close to kiss her softly. It was a long time before we heard the cheers or realized the goddess and the others had left. When we pulled apart Sofie smiled and looked around, “Now the fun begins.”

I grinned and turned to walk back down the isle as I held her hand.
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