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Thief’s Luck
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-384-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Young Adult
eBook Length: 130 Pages
Published: September 2006



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Total Readers: 3

From inside the flap

When seventeen-year-old Farlee cuts the wrong purse during the Spring Festival in Southport, his adoptive family is murdered. He and Dabreze, the girl he loves, have to flee for their lives to the escape the Shadow Guild, an organization of thieves and assassins. Somehow he has crossed the Guild, and anyone who does, dies.

Aided by a traveling minstrel and a troupe of entertainers, Farlee discovers he’s stumbled into a conspiracy to kill the beloved king of Kardayen and begin a war with the elves, a conspiracy led by the Shadow Guild in league with a member of the royal family. Farlee is the only one who can stop the assassination, and he has only seven days to do it!

Thief’s Luck (Excerpt)


Chapter 1

Farlee watched Dabreze dance as he worked his way through the crowd and carefully practiced his profession: stealing. She watched him just as he watched her. It wasn?t his imagination. She glanced at all those staring at her, but her dark eyes followed him everywhere. He?d always loved those dark, magnetic eyes.

Gleaming, black hair fell in waves over her green blouse. Her red skirt flared out in a circle as she whirled and swayed. She moved like a serpent, capturing his heart as a spider traps a fly. He wasn?t sure if she was as beautiful to others as she was to him. As long as she looked at him, only him, like that, he didn?t care.

Suddenly, he realized that he was standing still, one small, thin hand almost clutching someone’s pouch, the other hand hiding his short dagger. He cursed himself for his lapse of concentration. He knew better. Turning away, he left the crowd for a quiet alley where he leaned against the cool, shady wall and felt his heart pounding. He?d never felt so foolish, letting Dabreze distract him from his work. If he didn?t concentrate, the city guards would catch him and they weren?t merciful to thieves.

It was late spring, when the days were warm and the nights often cool - the time of the Festival of Sails. Priests of the sea goddess Aisha blessed ships, great and small, along the wharfs in the harbor. Fisherman prayed for bulging nets; merchants, for fair winds and quiet seas. It was Farlee’s favorite time of year, a time of hope and possibilities.

This year, Southport was more crowded than usual. The whole country was celebrating the tenth anniversary of the defeat of the Venkatesh invaders by Good King Faegar. The city had been attacked by sea pirates in league with the Venkatesh. Southport had no lord protecting it, being one of only three free cities in the kingdom of Kardayen and beholden only to the king. The city’s forces had almost been defeated. King Faegar had appeared with his army, crushed the pirates, and saved Southport.

Citizens and visitors celebrating the holiday were carrying more coin with them, drinking a great deal more than usual, and acting less wary of strangers. Stealing from them was almost too easy. Farlee had already cut purses from three men, but didn?t want to draw attention to himself by being too greedy.

Calm again, he smoothed his dark brown hair back from his eyes and returned just as Dabreze ended her dance. The audience clapped and threw coins at her feet in appreciation. Between what he?d stolen and what she?d earned, they?d have enough to pay for the house they shared with Mustaf and Zil - Dabreze’s musicians and only relatives - and still have money for food. Maybe, if they were lucky, she?d earn more from her readings. She walked to the black curtain that covered the entrance to their grey stone house, but just before she disappeared inside, she glanced back at him and winked..

Mustaf, a middle-aged man in a linen shirt and black pants, set his lute beside Zil, and stood facing the crowd while Zil kept a slow, steady beat on his drum. Raising his hands toward the sky, he said, "Good sirs and kind ladies, may the blessings of Lady Luck be yours! Come! Hear what the future holds for you! Love! Wealth! Adventure! Dabreze Dark Eyes sees what will be! For the cost of a single copper coin, you will know what tomorrow will bring!"

A line started to form at the door. Mustaf stood guard, letting in one customer at a time. Dabreze had "the sight", at least a little of the gift, but she seldom used it. Most people dreamed of wealth or love or power and Dabreze told them what they wanted to hear. She didn?t need "the sight" for that.

Farlee moved through the remaining crowd, taking nothing else. Complaints from two or three victims were less likely to attract the Greys, as the grey-clad city guards were called, than complaints from a dozen sources. Better to try a different part of the city.

Zil beckoned Farlee to come over, and they moved to one side, away from the crowd. "Be careful, son," Zil said in a crackly whisper. "I saw you freeze. Keep your head and you?ll keep your hands."

"I will," Farlee whispered back. "It’s just . . . she’s so . . . beautiful."

Zil’s thin, craggy face wrinkled even more as he smiled gently at Farlee. "I know, son. But be careful." He patted Farlee on the shoulder. "Now, off you go."

Farlee pressed through the crowds of ragged children, running gleefully from tired women and past stooped men who still laughed at life. The air was filled with the scents of spring’s first flowers, of dust and beer and sweat and always the fishy salt scent of the sea. One street, closer to the center of the city, was so packed with celebrants that he had to backtrack to a narrow alley running behind tall stone houses, one room wide and stacked side by side. He didn?t like walking down passages barely wider than his shoulders. Too many things could hide there. Sunlight fluttered between the grey walls, driving away shadows where death often crouched for the unwary.

A breeze trickled up the alley, brushing away the stink of the sewage that flowed down the center of the stone path. He ducked under sheets hanging on a line stretched from window to window across the path, and suddenly sunlight blinded him. He shielded his eyes and walked out into a wide avenue.

Long wooden wharfs, supported by barnacle-crusted pilings, stretched from cobblestone streets far out into the harbor. Great wooden ships docked along the whole length of the pier, their masts bare of sails. White-winged seagrets circled the dock, crying out as they dived for the white-capped waves and snatched fish in their long beaks.

Normally, sailors and dockmen scurried from ship to shore, loading and unloading cargo from the warehouses. Sometimes, to earn a few coins, Farlee helped them. But, not today. No one was working the docks today. The only people on the shore were the priests, fishermen, and ship owners, come for the blessing.

Farlee ambled along the shore, past the warehouse where Dabreze had found him, a starving orphan of five huddling in the shadows. He smiled to himself, remembering how beautiful he had thought she was even then, although she was no older than he was. She?d touched his cheek, taken his hand, and said, "Let’s go home." She?d led him to Mustaf and Zil, who were on the docks buying fresh fish, and they?d taken him in and raised him as their own. Sometimes, he wondered if her "sight" had led her to him. Maybe, maybe not. But he knew Lady Luck had smiled on him that day.

The limestone cliffs that surrounded Southport came down to a rocky prominence jutting out into the sea, where a bell tower stood. Boulders, crumbled from the cliffs and worn smooth by salt spray, huddled at the shore. Farlee climbed on one of them and gazed out at the lines of waves flowing in from other places, other shores, and he wondered what was beyond the horizon, what lands the sea touched, what people lived on the other side.

Mustaf and Zil had told him tales of their days sailing with merchant ships, of years spent with caravans to far places, of snow-covered mountains and scorching desert sands, of old and thick forests, of plains and pastures and quiet meadows. Farlee had never been past the high walls built on the limestone cliffs surrounding the city, but he wanted to see what the world was like beyond his small, hard life.

He picked up three smooth pebbles, sat down on the boulder, and began juggling, concentrating on the weight of the stones, the rhythm of their rise and fall, until he could close his eyes and catch the pebbles perfectly. He caught them a last time, eyes closed, listening to the water crashing on the shore, beating like his own heart.

A breeze ruffled his brown hair. The sun’s warmth caressed his face. He lay back on the boulder, wishing he could stay all day listening to the seagrets? cries and the lapping of waves on the shore, but he knew he?d wasted enough time. There were purses to cut if his family was to have food and clothes. He opened his eyes to blue skies with feathery clouds, and he sighed. Time to go back to work. He sat up, gave one last longing look at the sea, and began trudging back across the sand to the wharfs and crowded lanes of the city.

He headed north toward the Center, the main shopping district. The narrow streets were tightly packed with people surging past limestone houses and shops, three or four stories tall and corroded by sun and salt air. Finally, he squeezed through the crowd into the great plaza that surrounded the Center.

Garlands of spring flowers draped from house to house lining the square, and bright colored ribbons hung from poles at each corner of the plaza. Children scurried around booths with puppet theaters and wooden toys. Music came from the north side of the plaza. And, standing ten feet in from of the entrance to the Center was the statue of Armanis Kingsman, hero of the Benasi wars two centuries earlier. Now, green with age, the statue was nearly two stories tall and surrounded with flowers. Armanis? courage against the Benasi had led King Jeneret to grant Southport its status as a free city, beholden directly to the king instead of to a local baron or lord.

Farlee scanned the crowd for likely targets. People from all parts of Southport came to the Center to shop. Farlee didn?t look out of place in his worn but clean off-white shirt, brown pants, and short brown jacket. Sidling up to a man wearing gold rings on four fingers, Farlee cut the man’s velvet purse, then slowly moved away.

The lowest level of the Center was an open-air farmers market. Farlee circled it once before he climbed the wooden steps to the first of many tiers of stalls and shops. Potters, weavers, glass merchants, gold and silver crafters, artisans of all kinds hawked their wares and bartered with canny customers. Farlee sighed as he gazed at all the treasures. He could never hope to buy most of the items.

As he passed a jeweler’s shop, he spotted a portly man with a short grey beard and wearing clothes too rich for that part of town. Then, Farlee noticed fraying edges and wine stains on the front of the man’s coat. Maybe the man wasn?t as rich as he first appeared. Probably a visiting merchant who?d had a few lean years. Still, he probably had more money than he needed.

Farlee sauntered closer, stealthily studying the merchant’s clothing, how the man’s money pouch was placed and tied. And the man’s hands: thin, young, and strong. Young? Farlee looked at the merchant’s face again: grey beard and hair but young skin, and not fleshy, even though his body looked thick and rounded. Maybe a fellow thief in disguise? No, he moved with a slight awkwardness a thief would never have. And his eyes, his eyes weren?t constantly moving, observing. If the man wanted to pretend to be something he wasn?t, why should Farlee care?

Casually, Farlee moved to the next stall, a baker’s stall, and bought a small sweet roll. An extravagance, but who would suspect him of thievery if he had the money to buy sweets? He smiled as the aroma of honey and yeast almost overpowered the ever-present odors of fish and sea.

Licking his sticky fingers, he moved closer to the merchant and pretended to watch a passing troupe of dancers, musicians, jugglers, and tumblers. Onlookers jostled each other for a better view. A bard, dressed in green and gold, his hair the color of dark honey, played a lute while he sang "Lady Luck and the Gambler of Cabelle," and the crowd joined in the lively chorus. Even the merchant turned from the jeweler toward the music.

Now was Farlee’s chance. He bumped against the merchant lightly, cautiously, and in a smooth and practiced motion he severed the leather thongs attaching the woven pouch to a wide leather belt. Not too quickly, he edged away from the merchant until he was certain he hadn?t been discovered. Enough work for one day. Time to go back to Dabreze and count his earnings. Moving quickly but not rushing, he walked down the stairs, through the crowds, and ambled back home.

The last of Dabreze’s fortune telling customers exited the house just as Farlee arrived. In spite of the afternoon warmth, Mustaf and Zil snored in the little shade afforded by a canopy attached to the front of the house. Farlee grinned as a fly landed on Zil’s nose. Zil twitched in his sleep and brushed the fly away, then started snoring again. Mustaf didn?t stir at all.

The two were cousins, at least that’s what they claimed, and had been with Dabreze several years before she?d found Farlee and brought him home. She said she was related to them by marriage, several times removed, but it didn?t matter to him if she were or not. Mustaf was the closest thing to a real father Farlee had ever known, and Zil was a doting uncle. They?d adopted him into their family twelve years ago, and he loved them with all his heart.

Farlee pushed through the black curtain that covered the entrance. Dabreze looked up at him and smiled. He was always amused yet fascinated with the trappings she used for her work. Black curtains at the door and window made the room dark. The only light came from a black wax candle and a small brazier on the black cloth-covered table. A small wooden canister, holding some dried sweet-smelling herbs for infusions, sat next to the brazier and its tiny iron pot filled with water. On the other side of the box was a handleless black-glazed cup and saucer, used to read the herb leaves. Dabreze wore a black dress and a black veil draped over her dark hair. Heavy charcoal makeup lined her eyes, making them appear larger and even darker in her olive face. All of it created an atmosphere of mystery, of secret knowledge.

"Was business good today?" he asked.

She nodded and opened a wooden box kept on the side of the table. In the candlelight, several silver coins gleamed among a heap of copper coins. "And you?"

He took out the stolen pouches, opened one at a time, and poured the contents into her cupped hands. Copper coins and five silver ones filled her palms and spilled onto the table. Her laughter tinkling like glass bells, she let the coins trickle through her fingers, then stuffed all their wealth in one pouch.

"New shoes!" she said. "A bottle of wine for Mustaf and a new blanket for Zil - he’s always cold. And new clothes for you. Your wrists and ankles are showing." She studied him, her heart-shaped face tilted slightly. "By the Lady, you?ve grown so tall this year, taller than me."

He blushed, pleased she?d noticed. He started to drop the last pouch, the fat merchant’s, to the table when he felt a bulge. Not coins, something flat and square. Inside, he felt a small packet and pulled it out. It was folded paper, sealed with black wax and stamped with a curious design: two sets of horizontal lines with an arch between them. "Think I should open it?"

She shrugged and smiled. "If you want," she said.

He broke the seal, looked at the black letters on the page, then held it out to Dabreze. "Can you read this?"

"Maybe," she said. Zil had taught her to read, although how he had learned, Farlee didn?t know. Most people he knew didn?t have the skill.

Dabreze took the sheet and immediately dropped it to the table, gasping as if her fingers were burned.

"What’s wrong?" Farlee grabbed her hands and checked them carefully. There was no sign of injury. "Dabreze, what happened? What’s wrong?"

"Lady help us!" she whispered. Fear glittered in her eyes. "You?re in danger! We both are! You?ve stolen something that will bring death to us both!"