When items disappear from the royal treasury, it requires a thief to catch the thief.
|A/N: This was written quite a while ago, so it's not really up to par on what I write now, but I figured I might as well get it out there for input from others.
Brenna shivered. Of course they’d given her the coldest, dampest cell in the whole dungeon. She was a thief, after all, and thieves weren’t exactly welcome in the royal palace.
But that wasn’t the only reason. No, the second reason was tattooed on her left shoulder, where it peeked through the dirty tatters of her tunic. The raven was a symbol to all other criminals, and those who knew the Thieves Code, that the bearer was with the Thief Queen. To mess with a member of the Thief Queen’s band was to mess with the whole band, and they were like vipers in their vengeance, swift and unmerciful. It was probably the only reason Brenna hadn’t been beaten up by the other prisoners.
The Thieves Code was a code of tattoos and symbols used by the criminal kingdom. A small lock on her right thumb marked Brenna as a thief. Smugglers had a three link chain, assassins a dagger and mercenaries a skull. Specialties were listed on the left-hand fingers. Brenna had a chalice, moon, sun, dagger and lock, indicating that she specialized in stealing valuables at night or during the day and was good with weapons and locks. However, this was just the everyday items.
The left shoulder was reserved for loyalties owed by the bearer. This was more complex, because once a person has been branded with a band’s mark, they belong to that band for the rest of their life. There is no escape, and traitors are to be sentenced to death. It was a delicate balance between loyal and traitorous behavior, but so far Brenna had kept her balance.
A knock sounded on the oak door. Orland sighed; couldn’t he get a little peace and quiet for a while? Standing up, he called out, “Come in.”
The door opened and a middle aged man stepped into the room. Starting to bald, his wiry hair was nearly gray. He was of stocky build and was heavily muscled. A well- worn sword hung at his side. Bowing to Orland, he look up, his green eyes filled with worry.
“Highness, there has been another theft!”
King Orland frowned, “What was it this time?”
“One of the Byrel Stars.”
“Not again. Hattif, what will I do? If my people find out their king is becoming no richer than they, what will happen? The cover story won’t last forever, some of the servants are getting suspicious.”
“My men are doing the best they can, but when my scouts disappear, it’s hard to keep their morale up.” Hattif replied.
“I know, but what else can I do?” the king acknowledged, his voice void of hope.
“Well,” Hattif said reluctantly, “I have an idea, but it’s pretty risky.”
“Hattif, you’ve been the commander of my army for most of my reign; you’re my most trusted advisor. Tell me this idea, regardless of the risk.”
General Hattif sighed, “Well, here it is…”
Orland listened closely to Hattif’s plan, then nodded agreement. “We’ll do it. Are you sure we can trust the girl?”
Hattif nodded, “It’s her only chance at an early freedom.”
Brenna had fallen asleep. Regardless of the mutterings of the other prisoners and the occasional clank of armor from the guards, she slept soundly, dreaming of freedom.
The dream started in the abandoned cellar of an old house that the thief called home. She was going through a bag bulging with the spoils of her latest theft. Gems, jewelry and other valuables spilled out of the sack.
Carefully sorting the items, Brenna put many of the more valuable ones in a separate pile. These were to be her tithe to the Thief Queen. The rest would be sold to a certain merchant in the market. When she had finished sorting, she quickly hid the tithe and put the rest back in the bag.
Suddenly, the door flew open and the mice and spiders fled from the sudden light. Brenna could hear the clank of armor as the guards came towards her. She froze in fear, offering no resistance as the gripped her arms and bore her away.
Brenna woke up to find herself being carried out of the cell by two guards. As they walked out of the dungeon, she saw the other prisoners’ faces, gaunt and haunted. Some looked at her, pity in their eyes, before looking away. Others refused to look at her at all. No on wanted to see a thief going to her undeniable death.
Then they were out, but instead of heading to the execution courtyard to the left, like she expected, the guards steered her to the inner palace building, where the king lived.
Why was she being taken there? Had she done something so horrendous that the king himself would carry out the sentence? If she had, she couldn’t think of what it might have been.
The guards carried her through he double doors and up a flight of stairs. Servants passing them gave Brenna curious glances. Quite understandable, considering she was still dirty and looked more like she was supposed to be in the kitchen or feeding the pigs, if she was from the palace at all.
They finally stopped at an oak door. The guard on Brenna’s left stepped forward and knocked twice. A moment later, the door swung open and they entered.
Orland watched the guards carry the girl in with trepidation. Was this really the best plan to follow? He sighed, it was too late to go back now; all the preparations had been taken care of and all they needed was the consent of this girl.
The girl. She stood in front of the king, shaking slightly. Obviously confused, her eyes were wide with fear. She stood nearly as tall as Hattif and seemed about 14 or 15 years of age; the same age as Jaren, his son and the heir to the throne. Dressed, in tatters, she was thin and her face was gaunt.
The king dismissed the guards with the order to send the prince to the room. A few minutes later, a knock came and when Hattif answered it, Jaren was there.
The prince-heir was dressed comfortably in loose leggings and a tunic. His hair showed signs of a hasty brushing, not the least of which was a strand that stuck out at an angle. On his shoulder sat a raven he had raised from the egg. This was one reason why his father had summoned him.
Jaren bowed to his father, the raven flapping it’s wings to keep balance, and nodded at Hattif before turning to the girl.
Brenna stared at the prince. He was nothing like what she’d expected a prince to be. Instead of being haughty and overproud, he seemed almost decent. She could see in his light blue eyes that he had pride, but didn’t let it control his actions or words.
She shifted her gaze to the bird. The raven wasn’t wild, that much was obvious from the easy way it perched on his shoulder, so it must have raised.
The prince asked something and the king or general answered, but Brenna wasn’t listening; she was talking to the raven.
“Who is this girl, Father? Why is she here?” Jaren asked, curious.
The king answered, “She is a thief. One of Hattif’s men caught her the other day. I don’t know her name. I had her brought here because she is essential to my plan.”
Jaren turned to look at her. She was still looking at him - no, she was looking at the raven on his shoulder. Her facial expression kept changing, as if she was talking to someone, but she wasn’t speaking and the raven couldn’t talk.
Suddenly the raven pushed off of Jaren’s shoulder and flew over to the girl to perch on her shoulder. The prince frowned, Saske never did that to anyone who was not family or a close friend, which this girl most certainly was not.
Perplexed and slightly angered at her impudence, Jaren took a step forward. The girl looked up and her eyes went wide when she saw the prince. She seemed to shrink but the raven puffed up and flew at him, scolding loudly.
That did it. Saske had never done that to him before and the fact that he was doing it no and seemingly in defense of the girl just snapped Jaren’s patience.
His eyes narrowed and he grabbed at the bird, trying to snatch it out if the air. Saske was flying in circles around him, occasionally darting in to pull his hair.
This went of for a couple minutes, as the king and general ducked to avoid Jaren’s swinging arms. Then someone yelled, “Stop!”
Surprised, Jaren stopped. Saske dropped down and perched on the back of a chair, still scolding. Looking around, the prince saw the girl trembling again, but his time in rage. Her face was distorted with anger. He realized she had been the one who had yelled.
She stalked past him, giving him a look that said, “I thought you were better than that.” Stopping by the agitated bird, she quickly soothed him. Then she turned to the astonished men.
“I am Brenna,” she said in a calm, matter of fact voice, “I am in the service of the Thief Queen, whose symbol is the raven. I also hold the power to talk to birds. Blacktip was simply protecting me from what he considered a threat.”
She paused and Jaren looked at Saske. Blacktip, she’d called him. Did ravens have names of their own? Ones that they were unable to tell humans who couldn’t understand them? He shook his head; this was too confusing.
“Please don’t blame him for this,” Brenna continued, “All ravens are sworn to protect the Thief Queen and her followers. Blacktip was simply honoring this oath.”
Hattif was the first one to recover. “Um, Brenna? It’s, uh, because you follow the Thief Queen that, um, you have been brought here.” He began to warm to his subject and leaned forward a bit. “You see, we have been having some trouble with a thief. He’s been stealing powerful magik items from the royal treasury. If we do not stop him, the king will be reduced to the wealth of a noble.” Jaren frowned and looked at his father; why hadn’t he been told this? “We, ah, have a plan,” the general continued, “But we need your help. We want to send a couple of emissaries to the Thief Queen to ask for assistance, but we don’t know how to locate her, and our scouts keep disappearing. We were hoping you will help us.”
Brenna listened to the plan. It was risky, but it might work, though these men obviously had no idea what they were getting into. She spoke.
“The Thief Queen may not help, you realize that don’t you?” Both men nodded. “She will charge a price, and it may not be what you think. I will guide your emissaries, but I want my freedom in exchange for it. I also am not responsible for anything that happens to them.”
The king nodded, “You shall have your freedom. All we ask is that you guide them to the Thief Queen, no more, no less.”
Brenna nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but Jaren beat her to it. “I want to go as well, Father. It’ll be my kingdom some day and I should understand all aspects of it. This is something I cannot learn form the scholars because they have no knowledge of it. Please, let me go.”
Orland frowned, “You really should stay here. I don’t want Anther’s future king running about the city in company of a thief, whoever it is.” The general leaned over then and whispered into the king’s ear. Orland’s expression changed from a frown to a thoughtful look. “Okay, I really don’t feel comfortable with this, but Hattif says you’ll be protected the whole way, so I suppose you can go.”
Jaren grinned and probably would’ve hugged his father but for the fact that he was in mixed company. “Thank you, Father. I’ll make you proud.”
Orland smiled at his son’s enthusiasm. He waved them out. “Go on, then. Hattif will introduce you to the emissaries.”
They left, Jaren plaguing Brenna with questions about the Thief Kingdom. Orland sighed. Was this really necessary? Why had Hattif insisted that the prince go? It was all really confusing. He shook his head as if to rid himself of these questions and turned to look out over his kingdom.
Brenna was lost. What with Jaren pestering her with questions, Blacktip plaguing her mind, and Hattif taking lots of turns and twisting corridors, she had lost all sense of direction. It wasn’t till they emerged into a courtyard that she regained her bearings.
They were in the eastern courtyard, near the guard barracks. Waiting for them were two people, a man and a woman. The man was tall and of probable Carten, a southern country on the Eastern Continent, ancestry. The woman was shorter and paler, probably descended from a northern family from Krinnsahr or Patrinar, which was farther north than the dragon countries. They both bowed to Jaren before turning to Hattif.
The man spoke first. In a deep baritone he said, “General, we are ready. Do you have the guide?”
Hattif nodded, “Yes, I have the guide.” He beckoned to Brenna. “This is Brenna. She will lead you to the Thief Queen. You will also be taking Prince Jaren with you.” The woman opened her mouth to protest, but a stern from the general silenced her. He turned to Brenna. “This is Captain Twayblade and Lieutenant Navinah, our…emissaries. Everything is prepared and ready, so whenever you wish to leave, you can.”
Brenna nodded and, as Hattif filled the two guards in on why Jaren was going with them, looked through the packs lying nearby. One pack was filled with food as was the second. A third contained several mess kits, a knife, two pots and several other necessities. The fourth and fifth contained the captain’s and lieutenant’s personal items. A quick glance through the captain’s things revealed two vials of a clear liquid, two throwing knives, a long dagger of fine make and a curious looking contraption. The lieutenant’s bag had another two vials of the same liquid, several small daggers, a broad dagger, and a curved thaneѓ, an elvish dagger used mainly by assassins because it left a very small hole that was hard to detect.
Thoughtfully, Brenna closed the bag and stood up, brushing her knees off. Why did the guards have such an assortment of weapons? In particular, why did Lieutenant Navinah have a thaneѓ? Looking over at them, she saw that they were ending their discussion. She approached the general.
“I would like to get started as soon as possible, sir. I want to be below ground before sundown.”
Hattif nodded, “Very well. I’ll escort you to a side gate. I presume you know your way from the east gate? Good.”
Brenna walked back and picked up one of the food bags. The guards picked up two each. They set off, following Hattif through the corridors and courtyards. This time, though, the prince was silent and kept pace with the general.
Reaching her mind out, she felt the feathery brush of Blacktip’s conscience.
<What do you know of these two guards? > She asked silently.
<The dark one was a thief as a fledgling and became part of the guard several moons ago. The pale one was an assassin before she was caught and pressed into service. Both are not to be trusted. They will harm you and the prince-fledgling if they get the chance. Don’t give them that chance. >
<Great. Thank you. >
<You are welcome. >
As Brenna withdrew her mind, they came to the east gate. Although not as heavily fortified or guarded as the main gate, it would still present a significant problem to get past if you were on the wrong side.