The first time I met Teryk, I was terrified. But he turned out to be quite pleased with me. He took me under his wing and finished my training himself. I quickly became the best little thief in his following.
-the writing on the cell wall
Caidy came out of a deep sleep slowly, clenching her eyes closed, as she always did to block out the incoming sunlight. Her back was killing her and she wasn’t sure why. She turned over onto her side, wondering why her bed felt so weird. There were lumps and dips, so unlike her smooth, soft mattress. And the light was all wrong. It should be falling onto her eyes, but her face was still in shadows.
She blinked her eyes open and looked around her father’s sitting room, perplexed. Slowly, she pushed herself into a sitting position, the blanket covering her falling to pool around her waist. She yawned and looked towards the doors to her father’s bedroom. It was still closed.
Almost in a rush, the previous night rushed back to her. She remembered why she had decided to sleep in her father’s chambers. She’d had a bad feeling that something was going to happen.
A streak of fear shot down her spine. She flung the blanket off of her legs and jumped up to run towards her father’s bedroom. She knocked on the door and didn’t wait for a reply. She had to make sure her father was all right!
Sarlik was rubbing his eyes and yawning in the darkness of his bedroom, the curtains still drawn across all the windows. His daughter was rushing towards him with a terrified expression on her face. That had him instantly awake and holding his arms out to catch her, just as he used to when she had been a little girl waking in the middle of the night from a bad dream.
Caidy flung her arms around her father’s neck and held on to him tightly. “Papa,” she whispered. “You’re all right.”
“Of course I am, child,” he said, his voice laced with humor. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I was so scared, Papa. I thought something bad was going to happen.”
“There now, Caidy. Everything is fine. Come now, child, remove your arms from my neck so I can get up.”
Caidy slowly withdrew from her father and settled down on the side of his bed. Sarlik stretched his arms over his head and yawned.
“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked.
Caidy cocked her head to one side and thought for a moment, her eyes shifting back and forth as she examined herself and how she was feeling. Sarlik waited patiently, combing his fingers through his bed tousled hair. He was hoping his daughter was feeling better so they didn’t have more nights and mornings like this. It was undignified for a father and his grown daughter to sleep in the same chambers.
“I’m feeling much better today, Papa. Can we go out for tea today?”
“I thought you were spending the day with some school friends,” he reminded her.
“Yes, of course I am. But we can still have tea together.”
He reached out and ruffled her hair, a smile on his lips. “Perhaps tomorrow, my dear. I have some business to attend to in the Market District today. You and your friends will have the run of the house today if you wish.”
“Thank you, Papa, but I think we’re going to go shopping and to Arel Gardens.”
With that, Caidy was back to herself and bounded out of her father’s bedroom to ready herself for her day with a school friend. Of course, she had never told her father about her best friend, Tyala Almi. And Tyala had never told her parents about her friendship with Caidy. As daughters of feuding parents, it just wouldn’t be right, but neither girl wanted to be a part of the feud. They had been secret friends for years and nothing was going to stop them from avoiding the feud, or ending it permanently.
“Thief Lord Corinn is here to see you.”
Edvin turned from the window he had been staring out of. It had been far too long since he’d looked out of his library window and seen day light. He was loathe to turn from the sight, but business was business. Besides, Corinn was not easily dissuaded.
Unlike the other Thief Lords, Edvin chose to base himself above ground. It gave him a great vantage point, especially since his building was three stories high and his private quarters were on the third floor. He could see most of the slums from his windows and had the perfect vantage point for looking out for assassins. The other Thief Lords often pointed out the value of keeping underground, out of sight, out of the public eye, but he liked the starlight and moonlight. And sometimes he got to see daylight, as well.
It’s not that he even wanted to be awake during the day light hours. But there was work that needed to be done to prepare for the council meeting tonight. All four Thief Lords would be there. They needed to have as many precautions in place as possible. Enough guards, no weapons, minimum amount of personal items, only an adviser each. The list went on. There was just too much to attend to. The Dirty Pig was common ground, but it was a well-known fact that any one of them would love to take control of it. The old man who owned couldn’t live forever.
His heavy black boots clunked on the wooden floor as he turned to face his adviser, a scrawny, but shrewd man by the name of Zyno. The two had been inseparable for over ten years. He was the best adviser Edvin had ever had. He also had no idea where the man had come from; Zyno having wandered into Needle City as a middle-aged man. But it didn’t matter to Edvin as long as the man was loyal.
“What does he want?” Edvin asked, his voice gruff as usual.
Zyno gave him a bemused look. “Like he would really tell me.”
Edvin gave what sounded like a chuckle, but his face didn’t changed. That was about the extent of his amusement. In Zyno’s opinion, his friend was all too serious.
“Well, then,” Edvin said, “show him in.”
Zyno nodded, his floppy dark hair flipping in and out of his eyes. He just brushed the hair to one side and left the room. Edvin shook his head and, hands behind his back, walked over to one of his armchairs and dropped down into it.
Unlike Raven, he had two walls lined with, not books, but things. Some of them were things he had stolen that his clients hadn’t been able to afford or hadn’t come to retrieve. Others were things he had just collected. Some of it he couldn’t even remember what they were or why he had them. He also had two armchairs facing each other, one with the back to the door and the other with the back to the window. They were moderately comfortable, but they really weren’t designed to be sat in. Edvin preferred to stand and he didn’t want any guests, employers or followers, to get too comfortable. Between the two chairs was a small round table. He had a lantern sitting on it, but, with day light streaming in, he didn’t need it.
A knock came at the door before it was swung open. Without a sound, Corinn strode in and plopped down across from Edvin. The two Thief Lords nodded to each other and Edvin steepled his fingers as he waited for Corinn to begin.
They sat in silence for several moments, neither willing to speak first. Edvin didn’t want Corinn to think he was eager to hear what the other Thief Lord had to say. Corinn didn’t want to say anything just yet, wanting to make Edvin wait and squirm. It was an odd power game all four of the Thief Lords played. Eventually, they would meet an impasse, usually time constraints, and whoever had the more pressing appointment would be forced to speak first.
Unfortunately, this time it was Edvin. And he was not pleased about that. He was the oldest of the Thief Lords. He should have seniority, but it didn’t work that way. Unfortunately.
“What brings you here in broad daylight?” Edvin asked.
Corinn barely contained a smile. That was one point for Corinn. Not that they really kept count. By now it just evened out, but it was all part of the power game.
Edvin sighed. “What about Raven?”
“She’s going to want us to have to sign her peace agreement tonight.”
Edvin nodded in agreement. “Most likely, yes, that will occur.”
“We have to change the rules. I don’t like it.”
“It’s exactly as it was before,” Edvin pointed out.
“True, but I still don’t like it. It’s too restricting. We need to change it so it favors us now.”
Edvin raised an eyebrow. He didn’t like Raven and the way she had become a Thief Lord, but she had guts and, really, the peace agreement favored them all. It protected all of them.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Edvin said slowly.
Corinn frowned and narrowed his eyes. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Edvin had been all for killing Raven not that long ago. Now he was changing his tune? It was common for the Thief Lords to change sides, but, for a long time now, Edvin had been staunchly against Raven.
“Look, Corinn, we keep each other in check by attempting to kill each other. But we’re not supposed to actually kill each other. We’re supposed to hate each other and undermine each other. That’s what keeps us from overstepping our bounds and stepping on each other’s toes.
“That’s exactly what Raven has enumerated in the peace agreement. We get to do what we’ve always done, but we can’t gang up on each other. It isn’t fair and it makes us all uneasy and wary of each other. If we’re to rule the underground together, we have to trust each other to some degree.
“What we did to Raven goes against the agreement. Sure, I was all for it. But that was because it had been so long since anything else had happened. And, yes, I do hate that girl. But we need that agreement if we’re all to be protected. Remember, Raven has the largest and most loyal following of all of us. If something happens to her, we’ll have her whole following at our throats. And you know as well as I do that hers is larger than the two of ours combined.”
Corinn sat back in the armchair, a thoughtful look on his face. “That is what the peace agreement says, doesn’t it?”
With a grave face, Edvin nodded. “Yes. And this is a reminder of what it says. Nothing more. Now, if you have nothing else, Corinn, I have work to do for tonight.”
Edvin stood, signaling their meeting was over and Corinn was no longer welcome. Corinn was forced to stand and make his way over to the door.
“Until tonight, Edvin.”
The other Thief Lord only nodded as he turned back to his window. The sound of the door opening and closing was the only way he knew Corinn had left.
He heard the door open again a few moments later. By the sound of the foot falls, he deduced it was Zyno that had walked in. Still, he didn’t turn from the window. His adviser was used to talking to his back.
“Zyno, bring me our copy of the peace agreement. I need to go over it one more time before I sign it.”
The door closed again, leaving Edvin alone with his thoughts and plans.
Caidy and Tyala walked out of the popular Corner Sweets Bakery in the Corner, each a silver coin poorer, but three sweet buns richer. They were nibbling on one bun each as they walked out and strolled up and down the alleys of the Corner. It was a popular place in the Market District, particularly well-known for the sweet shops. They alleys wandered up and down and curved around, shops opening up off of them, before eventually broadening up into the streets of the Market District.
“I don’t think my Papa is interested in ending the feud,” Caidy said around a mouthful of warm pastry flavored with cinnamon, raisins, and honey. It was sweet and sticky and stuck to the roof of her mouth, so her words were a little difficult to understand.
Fortunately, Tyala could understand her just fine, and even spoke the same way as she sucked the honey from her thumb. “I don’t think my parents are in the mood for that, either. Well, Mother, at least. Yesterday morning we found out my father’s seed of magic was stolen.”
Caidy shook her head. “I don’t know if my father has it or not. He doesn’t share those things with me. For the longest time he wanted to keep me out of it, but now I think he thinks it’s time for me to learn how it’s done.”
Tyala nodded. “My mother’s getting to be that way, too. What do we do?”
Caidy shrugged. “I don’t know. Run away?”
Tyala laughed. “Where would we go?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have any family anywhere else. It’s just Papa and me.”
“I have an aunt,” Tyala offered. “She lives in the capital. We could go to her. She wants nothing to do with this feud, either. I’m sure she would help us, take us in.”
Caidy nodded. “That’s a plan. A good plan.”
“It’s also our only plan,” Tyala reminded her.
“Yes. For now.”
They found a little wrought iron bench outside of a small cafe. The smell of salads, fresh breads, stewing meats, and coffee flitted out every time someone opened the little glass door. It made them even hungrier, so they started on a second sweet bun after they finished their first.
“Do you think we could talk our parents out of the feud?” Caidy asked. “Seriously, do you think that’s possible?”
“You’re my best friend, Caidy, but I think you’re an idealist. My mother lives and breathes this feud. My father doesn’t care for it too much, so I know it’s my mother who takes care of everything. She’s probably the one who has those criminals do things to you family.”
Caidy nodded miserably. “And it’s got to be my father who has had things done to your family.”
Tyala took a bite of her sweet bun and slowly chewed it. “I’ve told my father I don’t want to be part of the feud.”
Caidy shook her head. “You’re going to have to say that again,” she said, laughter in her voice. “I can’t understand a word when you have food stuffed in your mouth.”
Tyala laughed and nearly choked. Caidy pounded on her back until her friend swallowed the bite and cleared her throat. She coughed a few times, looking a little red faced, but quickly recovered with a few breaths of air.
“I’m okay,” Tyala said, wheezing a little as she reassured her friend. “I said, I’ve told my father I don’t want to be part of the feud.”
“What did he say to that?”
“My father supports my decision, Caidy, but he wouldn’t dare breathe a word of it to my mother. There’s really nothing he can do. It’s not really his feud. He just participates for my mother’s sake. But he doesn’t want to get mixed up in it more than he already is. But he can’t do anything. We can’t do anything, Caidy. Nothing at all.”
Caidy frowned. “This is a hard one.”
Tyala nodded morosely. “I guess we should run away.”
Her friend looked glum as she picked off a piece of her sweet bun and fed it to the birds. She didn’t feel like eating anymore. And the sugar was starting to make her stomach turn. “I guess. My father won’t be happy. There’s no one else to take up the feud after he’s gone.”
“Well,” Tyala said, forced brightness in her voice, “after that happens, we can come back and proclaim the feud over. My mother will be too old by then to want to argue with us.”
Caidy nodded thoughtfully. “That might work. And we might want to think of recruiting your brothers so she can’t turn them against me.”
“Ah, yes. I forgot about those brats.” Tyala shook her head. Her twin brothers had been the bane of her existence ever since they had been born. Everything was always about them and Tyala always had to take up the slack. They were growing boys, and old enough to take care of themselves. But they were the little princes of the manor. They could get away with murder.
Caidy patted her friend’s shoulder sympathetically. “At least we all know they adore you.”
“I guess that’s one mark in their favor.”
“So, are we agreed? We’ll run away to your aunt’s home?”
Tyala nodded. “Absolutely. We’ll work on our plans for that and then we’ll pack up and leave in the middle of the night.”
Caidy nodded in agreement and they resumed devouring their sweet buns with renewed vigor. But she couldn’t deny a twinge of sadness at the thought of having to leave her beloved father in order to avoid a feud she didn’t believe in.