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Today I discovered that roofs are not the most stable mode of transportation available.
Loose terra-cotta tiles shot out from beneath my boots and shattered on the concrete below as I stumbled along. I swung out onto someone’s balcony and back up onto the metal rail. Voices bellowed behind me, but my mind wasn’t on that at all. No, my mind was zeroed in on my one-way ride to freedom parked just ahead. The horses of my getaway cart stamped the ground nervously, mirroring my own anxiety.
My foot slipped on a tile again.
Over the head of a merchant below.
More shouts. Boy was I in trouble now.
A volley of arrows rained down on me. Grief! The guards were stationed on top of the next house over.
I tugged my slingshot, a pitiful excuse of a weapon, out of my cloak pocket. Before I could load it, an arrow shot it from my hand.
Ouch. So much for that.
A line of sweat trickled down my jawline as I came to the edge of the roof. The guards broke from their stations and wove between the throngs of people below.
Market day! How could I have been so stupid?
Colorful awnings and bright flags rippled in the breeze. It was most inappropriate in light of my current circumstances. Shoppers and traders glanced skyward at my silhouette as I hesitated there on the rooftop edge. Many gasped and pointed; others shook their heads in a disapproving way. Children, on the other hand, gathered in the alley below me to watch. Thieves were exciting to them, apparently.
I really hadn’t taken much. I swear it. Just one tiny thing: a jewel box. The cold silver metal dug into the skin beneath my collar, where a shaking hand was supporting it. My shaking hand, I guess. Why was it trembling so terribly?
An arrow whizzed past my ear. Obviously, the guards were meaning to frighten me down or they wouldn’t have missed. They could hit their target dead-on when they wanted to, but they’d never miss a chance to see a thief suffer and hang.
And don’t think I haven’t seen them hang.
I take a leap of faith (and a very literal leap, as well) and dive to the building on the other side of the alley. Children scream and wave sticky hands in the air. On little bare feet, they race after me below with eyes eager for more action.
I had landed awkwardly on my one free hand and my palm now had a vertical scrape straight across it. I would definitely buy myself some gloves when I got my hands on some good money…whenever that would be.
I slipped and skidded to my destination. The covered cart’s driver looked at me with panicky eyes. I knew my buddies were crowded in the back of the wagon with a knife to the poor guy’s neck, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about that right now. I jumped down and fell squarely on all fours, like a cat. The guards shot a couple more arrows, but I was already in the cart and we were racing off to somewhere safe.
My aforementioned “buddies” were a grizzly group of men with scars and big knives. Most of them were real jerks, but, I don’t know, you get used to them.
Agosto was like the head-honcho of the guys, and he liked to braid his beard in all sorts of different knots and stuff. Let me just say, that was one heck of a beard. It was longer than the length of my skinny arm and bushier than the tail of a squirrel. Anyways, he was good with a knife and was pretty skilled at keeping his men in check.
Berthold was not one you wanted to meet in a dark alley. He had a wicked looking scar from the corner of his left eye down to his chin and you would get a matching one if he caught you staring. He was our master pick-pocket. Frighteningly stealthy, he was.
Then there was Eustace the slave. We had picked him off some rich land owner and though we hadn’t exactly insured him total freedom, we did allow him a lot more than his other master had. He was an excellent cook and the only person I could try to talk to without getting the stink-eye, though he didn’t like much to converse.
Warin was a swarthy-skinned, seedy kind of fellow who was always trying to sell the stuff we nicked. Though, like I said, Eustace wasn’t one for talking, he often would quietly voice his opinion about Warin to me. He did not always use polite word choice, I might add. None of us, even the other brutes, liked him very much.
Sabin was just a thief. I guess you might call him mysterious. I knew next to nothing about him…not that he’d tell a skin-and-bones teenager anything. He mostly kept to himself.
I was wedged between him and Eustace the whole cart ride, making for little conversation. The knife on the driver’s neck was making me nervous, though. Like it might slip or something.
“Hey, Agostos, you might want to lay off the whole knife thing there. The fellow’s going walk away with a scar.” I quickly looked away as Agostos stared me down.
He replied with a sort of guttural sound and made a goblin face. His goblin face was his signature move and it was said to leave anyone who stood in his way scampering off with their tails between their legs. I’d seen it happen myself.
I kept my eyes averted and grimaced. There was just no way to describe that look.
The cart driver gave a small whimper as a dot of blood swelled at the tip the boss’s knife. Agostos grunted and pulled his weapon away sulkily.
“Fine, fine, but no funny business. Keep on a direct course to the Obsidian Scarab Inn, you got it?”
The cart driver whimpered and nodded.
The boss turned to me.
“ Alright, kid, no more hiding the loot. Let’s see it.”
The other guys leaned in to get a good look at the treasure, or whatever they thought I nabbed.
I pulled the jewel box from under my tunic and got a good look at it in the light. The silver lid of the box was tarnished. The box itself was of no value to them and I thought it was best that way.
“Dump it out, Ignatius.” Eustace said quietly. He was the only one who ever called me by my name.
I emptied the box onto the floor of the cart with a wonderful clatter. Rubies like rosebuds and emeralds the green of the sea- just what the guys had ordered.
Hungry hands fingered the finery and Warin stuffed the precious stones into the many pockets of his cloak. No one was very happy about this, but no one was going to argue with him. His knife was small but his hands were steady, they said.
I cradled the little silver box in my arms like a child. Of course, I didn’t tell the guys why I had taken this particular item from a particular land owner. You see, my mom and I were slaves, like Eustace had been. Maybe that’s why we got along better than the others. We had so little and one day I got up enough money to buy my mom the box from the market. She liked it nice enough.
Then she died.
The land owner took possession of everything she had left to me. I ran away with the thieves. Maybe I was better off there, I thought. Maybe I still think that. Either way, I just had this strong desire to get the jewel box back. Stealing from the land owner was easy, but the fact I felt no guilt was even harder to bear.
As the guys talked of riches, I tried to get some sleep in the rocking cart. My hand was still scraped and sore, but touching the box was like touching my mom again.
Oh, boy, did that sound sappy. I’m not about to deny it, though.
Eustace silently tugged a wool blanket over my shoulders. I guess I had never thought of him as a friend, but he could make a good ally.
I was going to thank him, but I swiftly drifted off and the words died on my tongue.