Chapter I: Thief!

Syr edged along the rooftop, heels against the stonework and toes over the precipice.

She pressed her back flat against the dormer, its cool, rough stone catching against her makeshift chestwrap and scratching at places where her skin was bared. The pain imparted by each new burr in the masonry was preferable to the three story fall on the other side, so she pressed harder as she took the last three sidling steps to the window.

The window lifted freely and quietly in its well-worn groove in the casing, and Syr swung herself over the sill in perfect silence.

The private room in the hightown clothier’s was well-appointed. Little candles near the door and at the cherrywood desk illuminated a room, revealing a red rug with gold inlay, an extravagant armoire, and a canopied bed, currently unoccupied. The window Syr had entered looked out over the building opposite and then lowtown below it, out to the sea sparkling in the moonlight. It was a breathtaking view over a lively little port town, made all the more pleasant by the night’s cool breeze now wafting through.

Syr eyed the armoire, jealous of the velvets and furs it surely contained. But they’d be about as good for her as her itchy chestwrap and baggy trousters: at best she’d trade in the rough materials for ill-fitting luxury. She’d go from being uncomfortable to being uncomfortable and obviously a burglar.

The real prize was at the vanity beside the armoire.

Syr padded over and pulled the drawer open, which emitted a cringe-inducing squeal. She rifled through and plucked out likely treats. Three golden chains—maybe fake, but light enough to take and try to find out—and two silver chains, a little green gemstone and a little red one. A little speck of a diamond. A golden ring. She passed over the signet ring. A bangle of some sort, studded with…


The door over Syr’s left shoulder slammed open, and a stooped woman in an exquisite robe—who else but the clothier—burst through the doorway brandishing a forearm-length, wrist-width iron bar.

Syr’s heart leapt to her throat. She found herself wishing she hadn’t picked her mark out of spite for her mean temper. She also wished she had realized earlier what burning candles meant: a night in with no appointments.

“You,” the clothier hissed. “Street rat. I said not to come back.”

By the time the clothier had taken her first step into the room, Syr had vaulted the sill and damn near killed herself.

She swung over the windowsill, throwing her hands back at it to catch and slow her fall, then releasing her grip in order to fall a few feet, grip the roofline, and keep going. But her left hand missed the roofline and she swung wildly on her right hand until it, too, lost its hold and she tumbled down toward the second story. In her first stroke of good luck that night, her flailing left hand caught a signpost. A bolt of pain shot through her elbow and shoulder as she wrenched with them, clinging to the post and halting her fall long enough to grab on with her right arm and lower herself to the ground.

A raspy bellow sounded above: “THIEF!”

Syr hurled herself down the alleyway, east toward lowtown, grimacing with grinding pain in her shoulder. But futility loomed at the mouth of the alley in the form of a rough, bandana-wearing man, giving the appearance of a sailor passing through hightown on shore leave. He held aloft a lantern, scanning the alley.

Syr skidded to a halt several yards from him. Could she outrun his long, strong legs? Could she hide from the sweep of his lantern?

It was too late for any of those. Pain was screaming up into her brain through her arm, drowning out her mental scramble for alternatives. She froze as the man drew forward, leering at her from behind the glare of the lantern.

“Over there!” Syr blurted out. “Back there! She had… black hair… and…”

She stammered something further about a hooded coat, but even her thrumming, electrified mind knew that an accurate accounting of an imagined thief wasn’t what mattered now. What mattered was that this burly man believed her. That his searching mind, faced with a fork in the road, belief or doubt, should chose belief. That the intellect should flow down the well-worn grooves of trust, rather than remain rigid…

She felt it. She felt him believe. And not only that… she felt herself pull him into it, like the feeling on the fingertips when an apple is plucked from a tree.

His eyes darted over her shoulder and he gave an “aye” of acknowledgement. He was several paces down the alley, a receding blur of light in the narrow passage, before Syr dared move.

And move she did. She barely stopped at the mouth of the alley to check for attentive passerby, and finding none, she didn’t stop until she had found her destination in lowtown.

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