I dropped through the hole in the roof and landed with an almost inaudible thud. My adept stealth was due to the fact that I had been practicing for a little over a year. I looked around the dark room. No one else was there yet, but that suited me just fine. I walked to the corner of the room and pulled up a loose plank soundlessly. I reached in and brought out a small black string and a thin black band of fabric with two small slits for my eyes.
I used the string to tie my waist-length
hair back as I walked over to the only window in the small attic. I placed my mask on the table right next to the window and looked out. The full moon bathed the city in silver light and the view was breathtaking. The building I was in was one of the taller ones around, so the view stretched out for quite a distance.
Suddenly I heard a muted thud slightly louder than the one I had made indicating that Vincent had entered the room behind me. I noticed the minor increase in light that suggested he had lit a candle.
“You’re looking lovely as always, Charlotte,” he commented amiably. I picked my mask up off of the table and turned my head to look at him.
“You don’t look so bad, yourself,” I replied before turning back to the window and beginning to put on my mask.
“Do you need some help with that?” he asked, beginning to tie my mask for me without waiting for my answer. My hands dropped to my sides and I gazed out over the town again.
“So how did you get into this business, again?” I asked playfully; it was a private joke between us. Just under a year ago I had asked him the same question, and he had told me a far-fetched story that I could tell wasn’t true. I asked him again the next night and he told me another story that was just as hard to believe. It soon became something I asked often, just to see what new story he had for me.
Vincent sighed as he finished fastening my mask and my expectant smile faded. I heard him take a step back and I turned my head and shoulders so that I could look at him. Solemnly, he ran a hand through his hair.
“Do you really want to know?” he asked seriously. I turned around completely, so that my whole body was facing him, and nodded sincerely.
“Yeah, I do.”
He smiled somberly and gazed out the window behind me with a faraway look.
“Six years ago,” he started after a pause, “When I was still just twelve, a band of thieves robbed my household. They were led by Russell Black.”
My eyes widened in surprise; Russell Black was an infamous bandit from the country my tower was in who I had heard a lot about since I’d joined Vincent and his men.
“He left us with hardly anything but the clothes on our backs. My mother grew ill from the shock of it, and we spent all of the small amount of money we had left on trying to make her well again, but still she was sick. Finally I decided to take action; I went out the next day saying that I was going to find a job.
“I spent the whole day gathering friends, boys about my age from all around town, and we began to plan our first heist. I’d come home that night saying that I’d found a job on the very first day of looking. I left early the next day and worked out the last few details of the job, and that very night we pulled it off, and we were thieving ever since.
“At first we just did small jobs, stealing lightly guarded things that weren’t incredibly valuable, but we quickly moved on to the harder to steal, really valuable stuff. About a couple years later I came across some valuable information; I learned where Russell Black stored his loot. Over the course of several heists, I’d gained back most of the things he’d stolen from us and I’d taken a few extra things for profit. One day he finally caught me, but instead of punishing me he admired my talent. He invited me and my boys to join him, and we did. Eventually, he finally got tired of thieving; he sold his whole collection of loot and retired, placing me in charge of the men. Unfortunately, it seems I’m not as good at replacing my men because he always had at least five associates working with him, usually more, and I’ve let the number dwindle shamefully.
“Now with all the money I’d been earning, or something like that, I’d been able to take care of my mother, but still, she died just a couple of years ago. She died happy, at least; surrounded my all the possessions I’d regained, and she had medicine to make her comfortable while she went. Her last words were, ‘Vincent, I’m proud of you.’”
A sad smirk worked its way across his face.
“It was ironic, really, because less than a month later my father found out that my ‘job’ was stealing, and he cast me out of the house. He told me how disappointed he was, and that our family didn’t need me shaming its name. And from there I came here.”
We were silent for a minute before I commented, “Wow. Rough life, huh?”
I had said it kind of jokingly, trying to lighten the mood, but I’m sure that he caught that I was sincerely sorry for him. He smiled a little and laughed a small, somber laugh.
“Yeah, rough life,” he agreed softly. We stood in silence again, not looking at each other, until Andrew and Tobias, the only others in our band of thieves that hadn’t been arrested yet, came tumbling in.
Their entrance hadn’t been stealthy at all, but it didn’t really matter because the building we occupied the attic of was a pub with a set of ratty apartments upstairs, and all three of the floors below the attic were always filled with rowdy people making lots of noise. After Vincent greeted them, they all retreated to the corner of the room where they each pulled up their own loose floorboard and pulled out their masks. Once they all had their masks on, we climbed out of the attic and set off for a travelers’ inn. We stole into the stables, where there were nine horses belonging to travelers staying at the inn, and took the four fittest horses and rode off at full speed; the location of that night’s heist was three towns over, at the castle.
When the castle was finally within sight, we rode into a thickly wooded forest not far from the castle. We tethered our horses to a few of the trees and pulled our gear off of the horses. It didn’t take long to reach the castle from there, but we waited for the nearest guard patrol to round the corner before approaching.
Andrew and Tobias swung their grappling hooks expertly and released them like old pros, which, well, they kind of are. The trouble with grappling hooks, though, is that even an expert can miss, and missing would create more noise than we could afford. Fortunately, luck was on our side that time, and both hooks caught on to the castle roof with minimal sound.
Grinning, Andrew and Tobias scaled the castle wall skillfully within less than two minutes. Shortly after they reached the top, I heard two muffled thuds that suggested Andrew and Tobias had knocked out the only two guards that patrolled the castle roof. Sure enough, Tobias appeared at the edge of the roof and signaled that it was all clear for us to come up.
Sporting grins on our faces matching the ones Andrew and Tobias had worn, Vincent and I scaled the wall in much the same way they had. When we reached the top, we began pulling up the ropes we had used to climb up. Just as we pulled the tips of the ropes up over the edge of the roof, the next guard patrol rounded the corner. Resisting the urge to celebrate prematurely, I simply smiled as we entered the highest level of the castle through a trapdoor on the roof.
We rushed through the castle, taking care to avoid guards as we descended flight after flight of stairs until we reached the bottom floor. We headed straight for the throne room that doubled as a banquet hall, where the most ornate pair of thrones in all the kingdoms of the region rested.
The thrones, two beautifully molded seats made of the finest gold, sat in the back of the throne room. The king and queen would never have asked for anything so valuable that might take money away from their people, but a blacksmith in the kingdom made the beautiful chairs and presented them to the king and queen, who, touched, accepted them appreciatively. And just as the beloved rulers had accepted the thrones, we had accepted the opportunity to profit off of them.
Set into the crest of the king’s throne was a ruby of great size and even greater value. In the same place on the queen’s throne was an amethyst of similar size and value. With greed in our eyes, we approached the thrones. Vincent stopped in front of the king’s throne, pulling out his dagger, and I mirrored him, halting in front of the queen’s throne. We used our daggers to pry the precious gems from the thrones, and then we placed the gems into small sacks made of rough cloth.
As we turned to leave, Vincent plopped into the king’s throne. I turned to face him with my hands on my hips impatiently.
“What do you think?” he asked speculatively, “Do you think I could be in charge? Could that maybe be a good move for me?”
I rolled my eyes and smiled a little.
“Vincent, maybe we should focus on getting out of here. How about you try not getting us caught, okay? Is that too complicated for you?”
He smiled and stood up, leading the way out of the room. We retraced our steps, heading back for the roof, but we grew careless, and on the top floor we walked right around a corner into a hallway with a guard at the other end, facing us. We backpedaled furiously around the corner, but it was too late; the guard had seen us.
“Hey, you!” he called, “Come back here!”
“Fat chance,” I heard Andrew mutter as we started running full speed down the previous hallway. Since our original route was blocked, we were going to have to find another way up. As we flew around the castle without much clue as to where we were going, Vincent and I were in the lead with Tobias and Andrew not far behind us. When I looked back, I saw that more and more guards were joining the chase. Suddenly the guards put on a burst of speed and overtook Andrew and Tobias.
Vincent stopped, whirling around desperately. I slowed to a stop, turning to tell him that we didn’t have time, but before I could say anything, he turned around and began to run again. I followed his lead, and we were forced to run for the nearest stairway; Tobias and Andrew had held the grappling hooks wrapped around their chests, so we would have to get down another way. After we descended the stairs and set off for the next flight, the king and queen exited a room in front of us, which must have been their bedchamber.
“What’s going on? What’s all this noise?” the king asked as we flew past them. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw that some of the guards had stopped to try to usher them back into their room. The queen resisted, though, her eyes set on me.
“Charlotte?” she called. I skidded to a halt, turning to face her.
“How do you know my name?” I asked in confusion. An expression of elation crossed her face, as though something she had scarcely dared to believe had proved to be true. Suddenly I felt Vincent’s hand wrap around my arm. I looked at him.
“Come on, Charlotte, we have to go.”
With a glance at the approaching guards, I nodded, and we ran off down the hallway.
“Charlotte, come back!” I heard the queen’s distressed cry, but I didn’t look back; the guards had already gained too much ground. We tore through the hallways, descending flight after flight of stairs at a speed that probably wasn’t very safe. When we finally reached the first floor of the castle, Vincent and I barely had the energy to continue going, but the sound of the pursuing guards not far behind us kept us running. We headed straight for the nearest room along the outside wall, which happened to be a room in the servants’ quarters.
When we threw open the door and ran in, the servant inside jumped out of her bed with a cry of alarm. Without even a glance in her direction, Vincent and I tore through the room to the nearest window. We threw it open and launched ourselves out just as the guards came slamming into the room behind us.
Vincent and I ran as fast as we could through our exhausted state straight for the nearby forest. We went crashing into the woods without any regard to how loud we were being, and we probably scared a bunch of adorable little woodland critters half to death. I had my dagger out before we entered the clearing where our horses were tethered, and the moment I was close enough I slashed through the ropes holding our horses near the trees. I quickly hopped onto my horse and Vincent climbed onto his and then we urged the horses to run full speed towards the town we had our hideout in.
We rode in silence, keeping the horses at the fastest speed they could run, and I was beginning to worry about how hard we were working the horses before the town finally came into sight. We hopped off of the horses right in front of the travelers’ inn we had stolen them from, hoping that maybe their owners might be able to find them in the morning if they didn’t wander too far. Vincent and I rushed to our attic hideout and pulled up the four loose floorboards. The space underneath them was where we stored the loot we hadn’t sold yet, and we also kept large bags with the loot in case we had to escape with the loot on short notice. We packed up all the loot and left the hideout, just in case Tobias and Andrew ratted us out.
As soon as Vincent and I were a safe distance from our hideout, we stopped and Vincent ran a hand through his hair. We were silent for a bit, lost in thought.
“They’d been around the longest,” he said somberly all of a sudden
“Andrew and Tobias?” I asked. He nodded.
“Andrew has been around since I formed my first group, and Tobias was part of Russell’s group when I joined them,” he paused for a minute, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we have to break them out.”
I stared at him for a second, and then I nodded. He glanced at the bags full of loot and commented, “That was our last hiding place. It’ll take a while to find another one just as secure.”
He looked at me, and his I’ve-got-an-idea look flickered across his face, signaling that he was about to suggest something I wasn’t going to like.
“Could you keep them for a bit?” he asked, and my worries were confirmed. I sighed.
“It won’t be easy, but I think I can hide them,” I said reluctantly. He smiled, and I wondered what I’d just gotten myself into; if Mother found them, I would have a hard time explaining where I’d gotten them from. My thoughts strayed back to the queen calling after me back at the castle.
“She knew my name,” I blurted. Vincent looked at me.
“The queen. She called me by name. I don’t—How did she know that?” I asked confusedly.
“I don’t know,” Vincent replied. I sighed.
“I should probably be getting home,” I decided, and he nodded. I took the bags from him and set off for my tower. Dawn would be coming soon, so I would have to hurry home to make it back before Rapunzel woke up. If she woke up before I got home, it would mean trouble.
I stared up at the tower in frustration; It was one thing to climb up the rope I had hanging from the back of the tower, which I already have to go through a stream to get to, but it was another thing to cross the stream, climb the rope, and get myself to the front of the tower while weighed down with four bags full of loot. With an exasperated sigh, I started crossing the stream while toting the four heavy bags. When I made it to the small dry area at the back of the tower where the stream curved around the tower instead of touching it, I dropped all but one of the bags.
Determined, I gritted my teeth and began to climb the rope with the heavy bag in my hand. It took much longer than normal to reach the roof of the tower because the hand that held the bag kept slipping, and I nearly fell at least five times. When I finally did reach the top, I pulled myself up onto the roof exhaustedly. Normally I would hold onto the supports of the roof and edge myself around to the window at the front of the tower, because then I was actually less likely to slip, but I didn’t have the patience that time. I stood up, walking carefully along the steeply sloped roof, and then lightly dropped the bag through the window, hoping that it didn’t make too big of a sound.
After painstakingly repeating the process three more times, I walked back across the roof and plopped down with my legs on either side of the roof support that I tied my rope to. I leaned down and began to pull the rope up, wrapping it around the support as I did. Exhaustedly, I went back to the window and swung myself in expertly, landing on my feet.
I crept into the room belonging to Rapunzel and me, grabbing a small key off of my bedside table. I went straight back out to the main room, where there was a dresser with two large drawers, each with a different lock. The top drawer was Rapunzel’s, and the bottom drawer was all mine. Of course, not all mine; my nosy mother had a key to both drawers. I placed the key into the lock and turned it, and then I pulled the drawer open. I cleared out anything I might need that day and then I went over and grabbed the four bags, dropping them into the drawer carelessly.
After looking around the room for a moment, I found a random screw on the floor. Satisfied, I picked it up and stuffed it into the lock; it would be a pain in the butt to get out, but at least it would keep Mother out of the drawer. I tucked the key into my pocket, just as the sun began to shine through the window. Sure enough, it wasn’t even a whole second before Rapunzel came out of our room.
“Charlotte? What are you doing up?” she asked, completely awake and aware. Freaking morning person.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I lied easily. She stared at me for a bit, and I became uneasy, worrying that she knew… something. Finally she narrowed her eyes at me and opened her mouth.
“You should sleep more.”