I slipped out of the shadows at the edge of the Cobblestone Coster Market, and tried to look like I had something important to do. And, arguably, I did. Leaning against one of the tall buildings surrounding the plaza, I carefully scanned the market stalls for my prize. The midday sun glistened off the rows of fruit in various market stands. I straightened my cloak and instinctively patted the dagger that was concealed at my side. Of course it was still there, but it was a habit at this point. Casually strolling over to a fruit stand, I sized up its owner. She was a larger woman, a bit past her prime, but could still put up some sort of a fight if she had to. Scrapes on her knuckles and a scar on her cheek implied she had dealt with thieves before. An apple or orange wasn’t worth all that risk. At the baker’s stand, my odds seemed more promising. A young-looking man in the booth was facing away, making conversation with a customer. I checked once more for any authorities around the market as I slyly moved toward the baker. Without stopping, I slipped a small swirled loaf into a pouch under my cloak. I was almost past the stand when I heard a shout from behind me.
“Hey!” A gruff female voice from the fruit stand. I knew she would be a problem. In a single smooth motion, I pulled out my dagger and swept behind the unsuspecting shopper. I held the steel to his throat as I stared down the Coster Market lady who had yelled.
“Don’t speak, don’t move,” I grumbled, trying to mask my voice. I knew it wouldn’t do any good, of course. They had seen my hair, a unique mess of blonde and brown strands tied back in a ponytail. Anyone could report a girl thief with weird hair to the town guard, and they would be on the lookout for me immediately. There weren’t many like me in Veranox. Anyway, the shopkeepers stood still. While I had him hostage, I took the opportunity to nick the coin pouch from the young man’s belt. It may have been overkill, but I could always use some extra cash. I slowly walked backwards, dragging the customer along with me. On the edge of the market, I pushed him to the ground and ran around the corner. When the fruit seller came running after me, I was already three stories up on the side of the building.
A loaf of bread and a pouch of silver coins, but probably a town watch out for me too. I took a circuitous route home, making sure I wasn’t being followed. My parents, Juane and Tara Goldhardt, worked for a criminal ring in Veranox. They wouldn’t be home, so I wouldn’t have to explain what I had stolen. They had some sort of “honor code” about stealing only from the rich, but I didn’t care about that. One loaf of bread wouldn’t starve a baker, and any peasant dumb enough to carry all their money on them probably had it coming. Either way, they still had more money than I did, so what does it matter?
I entered the loft of my home through the window, as I usually did. The building looked average from the outside, about two stories with sandstone walls, like every other residential building in Veranox. The inside, on the other hand, gave away our condition. It was sparsely decorated, with a bed for my parents and a small oil stove. The second floor had mostly fallen away, and the only corner of sturdy flooring that was left had become my loft, with an uncomfortable pile of straw to sleep in. I stashed away my stolen goods in a lockbox, my only possession besides my daggers, lock picks, and clothes. I practiced picking the lock a couple times before I relaxed in my makeshift bed. My parents had taught me how to steal, climb, pick locks, and look out for myself. I’d say they were pretty good parents, but what do I know? I took a piece of my new bread and drifted off into a light sleep, one eye open.
I saw a blurry shape of movement and was woken up by my father. It was around sundown, and he had a small smirk on his face.
“Good evening, Amada,” he said, eyes twinkling. “We have a job for you.”
“What job?” I inquired, already awake and interested.
“The thieves’ guild wanted a small, covert team to sneak into Pyrite Manor. I volunteered you, your mother, and me.”
“Lord Pyrite’s manor? He’s the one who orders around the town guard and runs the prison! Is the guild out of their minds?” Despite my verbal protests, I was already getting ready. I switched my cloak, one side of which was the color of sand, to the opposite side, a pitch black that would conceal me at night.
“We’re to sneak in and steal the plans he has for the town watch,” he said nonchalantly, also preparing for the mission. “And nothing more,” he added suddenly, staring directly at me. He hadn’t seen inside the lockbox, but I suppose he knew about my bad habit of stealing whatever I come across.
“Fine, ” I muttered, rolling my eyes and secreting away my dagger. Why shouldn’t we steal from Lord Pyrite? He’s the one who probably has a bounty on our heads. But I went along with my father. I could probably find something small to steal anyway.
“No, not ‘fine’, Amada. Promise me you won’t take anything,” my father commanded, his voice and face stern.
This surprised me. Why would he not want me to steal from the richest lord in town? My parents take promises very seriously, “honor among thieves,” and all that. Direct orders from the guild, I guess. They let me in on the mission, but I have to prove that I’m loyal to them. I’m not much for loyalty, but I wanted to try my hand in Pyrite Manor. “Alright father, I promise,” I responded, looking him in the eyes.
“Good. In that case, let’s get going.”
The front door would be too obvious of course; guards flank it on either side. We could have dispatched them if we needed to, but it was better not to raise any alarm. The three of us split up, and I took the right side wall. It was easy to scale the wall, with elaborate windowsills jutting out into the yard. I entered through a third-story balcony, picking the lock and stepping inside as silently as possible. It was dark inside, but bits of light were shed from a dying candle on a desk. I moved through the small office, probably used by a secretary or clerk. The door to the main hall was ajar, and a glance into the hallway told me it was safe. As I entered into a lavish corridor, I heard footsteps at one end, cutting off my escape. At the far end was the largest door, probably leading to Lord Pyrite’s bedroom or office. No, that’s probably where the guard is going to go, I figured. Other, smaller doors lined the corridor. Sticking to the wall, I silently evaded the chasing light of the guard’s candle and made my way to the end of the hall. Instead of entering the large doors, I slipped into the last doorway in front of them.
A small room with a desk greeted me. I immediately noticed a garish portrait of Lord Pyrite on the wall. It seemed out of place in the otherwise bare room. The perfect place to hide something, I noted. After I heard the large door creak open, I carefully lifted the painting off the wall. It did not disappoint; a grate locked into the wall looked into a small, dark room. Out of the darkness, a glint caught my eye. Gold! It must be gold. What else would a lord keep locked secretly in his manor?
I picked the lock with some difficulty, as it was fairly rare and expensive, and stooped on the sill of the grate. Ducking down, it would still be a squeeze to get in. I carefully lowered myself to the floor and noticed something odd. Instead of clinking on gold coins, the metal poked sharply at my boots. My parents had told me not to take anything, but this intrigued me. It must be even more valuable than gold coins! I could buy anything with this. I failed to notice however, that the small room would have been connected to the office. Before I could react, I heard the guard’s footsteps and saw an eye slit in the wall slide open. A guard’s rough eyes stared at me.
“Intruder,” he yelled, “thief!”
I scrambled for all of the gleaming material I could, the rough edges of the unfamiliar mineral scraping my hands and boots. I dove through the opening that had led me to the small room. The large painting lay on the floor, and the bare desk still stood in the corner. I frantically looked around. No windows. Footsteps marched from all directions. There had to be a way out. I propped the painting against the door, which could buy me a second as I made a plan of escape. There had to be a way out.
There was always a way out. The first guard who had noticed me barged through the door. He almost tripped on the painting, and I threw my dagger at him. It clanged against his metal armor. As he continued to approach, I threw a piece of gold at him. It was too light to be gold, and bounced off his helmet. A revelation hit me as the mineral hit him. It’s Pyrite Manor, of course! I would have slapped my forehead were the circumstances not so dire. Pyrite! Fool’s gold!
I dropped the minerals as the guard grabbed for me. I made a desperate leap for his throat. My hands had almost found a grip around his neck when two other guards marched in, sword and spear drawn. He fell over with my momentum. I felt the breath draining from him as I was being pulled off. His life slipped away by my hands. Rough hands grabbed me. I was restrained, I couldn’t move. My vision began to blur. Black creeped in. A hand slammed my head and I was out cold.
I woke up in a cold, lifeless room. I no longer felt the familiar warmth of cloak, dagger, and lockpicks. My blonde-brown hair sagged in front of my face. My body ached, and my head pulsed painfully. My eyes opened to a desolate cell, stone walls and iron bars trapping me in. Precious little light came from a wall-mounted candle beyond the bars. The events of last night returned to my mind. I could still feel the fool’s gold in my hands, and the guard’s life on my conscience. My parents had probably been able to escape after the guards’ attention was focused on me. I broke my promise to my father and was captured, all for fool’s gold.
A short, stout figure approached the cell. “You up?” A gruff voice intruded on the silence. “You got guts, kid, to steal from the mayor of Veranox.”
I scowled behind my mop of hair, silent.
“But, you know, you’ve got some skill at thievery. If we could get you disciplined, Veranox could use someone like you.”
“Disciplined? I’ll never work for you,” I spat distastefully.
“Then you’ll just rot in here, I suppose,” he reposed with equal disgust. He began to turn and walk away.
“Wait, wait,” I almost pleaded. No, I shouldn’t. I wouldn’t trade away my loyalty for… But I could get rich… Yes, yes, this is a perfect opportunity…
I swept my hair out of my face with a sly, nervous smile.
“How much gold is in it for me?”