Thieves at Heart Chapter 9
A Cord, Cut
Tavera stopped dead in the street, suddenly remembering that she was in a different town and she was supposed to have turned left outside of the temple, gone down three streets before making a right and…she brought a hand to her head, rubbing her eye with the palm of her hand. Tired. She needed sleep. Now.
Praying hadn’t helped her sort through the mess of action that had taken place within the last few days. Once again she ran through the chain of events leading up to her wandering the streets of yet another town…what was this one even called? A burp popped out of her mouth, remnants of last night’s celebration, one she had been glad to be a part of but whose joy hadn’t quite rubbed off on her. She found herself in front of the temple and ran over the directions once more before continuing on towards the inn.
The Dowry Take had ended well though bumps along the way had made it more nerve wracking than she would have liked. The goods were got and loaded as she herself had dictated but someone dropped a crossbow which discharged itself into the leg of the other thief. He screamed which brought attention and that is where the plan could have fallen apart. Tavera kept her cool and covered for the others as they escaped but had been found by the guard on duty who demanded that she give herself up for arrest.
Tavera hadn’t planned for it to be Lori, she really hadn’t. She knew his schedule and had chosen a day when she thought he would be off and miles away from the take. He must have switched watches. She didn’t want to be taken in and he was going to do just that so she fought back and she sunk the point of her shortsword into his shoulder, pushing him back till his mouth opened with pain and surprise. She hadn’t stuck around long enough to see if he would survive. All she remembered was running without sheathing her sword, getting to the wall and somehow getting over it. How she hadn’t fallen on her own blade was beyond her. The party rushed with the cart for what seemed like forever, no light to guide their way save the stars. When they stopped, she jumped over the side and vomited in the bushes. Later as they rode away, she wondered if that was what the fortuneteller had meant. The old woman had said a secret blade would come in the night and cut the cord of love. She didn’t love Lori. Did she?
Upon their arrival in Southpoint they divvied up the contents of the chest and found more than they had prayed for, much to their delight. The girl’s dowry included many yards of beautiful fabric that could be sold quickly and fetch a good grip of money. There were spices and linens with easily removed monograms. Above the Inn they had divided the goods, Derk about to hand her her pile when he suddenly held back, a twinkle in his eye. He was smiling and the other men seemed pleased themselves as he spoke.
“Do you forfeit your share of the take as payment into the Cup of Cream?” he asked, his voice trembling with pride. Tavera had been dumbstruck. She had laid out the details of the Dowry Take, talked to the right people just enough, watching the home and help to get an idea of their movements; when she had mentioned the job to Derk all he said was, “Plan it out and let me know if you need anything. I’ll see what I can do.” She planned the take for the better part of the season, biding her time and patiently awaiting the day. It was only a fitting reason to leave the town with a good score. It turned out to be a test of her skill.
Her initiation took place in an abandoned building somewhere in town. Blindfolded and wet from the bath Derk gave her money for, she let them lead her to what sounded like a room underground. She was seated in a chair and given something unctuous and milky to drink, the warm liquid making her feel strangely alert. A torch was lit, the sound of it crackling crisp and clean and she heard people breathing around her in a circle.
“Who stands as witness to the initiate’s worthiness to join our circle?” the voice said, its nearness startling her, making her jump in her seat. Her hands were bound and she was in her shift, the ropes starting to dig into her skin. Three voices rang out; one she recognized as Derk, one was Old Gam and the third may have been one of the fellows Derk rounded up for the take, possibly the one who had been shot. The rest of the circle was asked if anyone disputed her worth, to which no one replied. She was given another cup of something to drink, this one heavily spiced and sweet. Her blindfold was removed, her eyes adjusting quickly to the light, surprised at the number of people in the circle and even amused at some she found there, people she knew not to be thieves at all.
The person who had spoken first was a tall elf with black hair, his grey eyes narrowing at her as he took her hands, placing them on a set of thieves’ tools, a pouch and a small painting of the moon goddess. Tavera swore to always practice the art of thievery, to carry herself as one who carried out the holy and ancient art form and to never betray her fellows, always watching for signs they were around her. She swore on the objects, one of the other attendees ringing a silver gong. Tavera was stripped of the name ‘Kiffer’ and given the name ‘Point,’ for her one intact ear and her blade that helped her fellows in what could have been a desperate situation.
Derk and she performed a ritual where their wrists were bound with a gold colored ribbon that was then cut, symbolizing that her apprenticeship was now over and that she now must answer for herself and to her fellows in the Cup. They taught her a handshake repeated with everyone in the circle and a slew of riddles and their answers were recited, each meant to be a sign post to others of the order so they might recognize her as one of their own. Someone sang the song of how the goddess stole light from her brother the sun, sanctifying the act of taking what wasn’t rightfully your own. Then a communal cup was shared by the circle, this drink being sweet wine served from a decorated goblet, probably stolen before the order had been started.
After she was allowed to dress the initiation took on a more festive note. They moved things out of the building and into the bar below the room Derk was staying. Tavera and Derk already hadn’t been sharing a bed for a good spell but upon their arrival to this town Derk told his adopted daughter they could not stay together anymore since she was getting old enough to not be mistaken for his child and it was safer for both of them if they were apart. Any anxiety he had shown those first few days were drowned in ales and spirits, happy to see his daughter initiated. Tavera was ordered to drink anything they set in front of her and after a few drinks, unable to refuse anything set in front of her. Everyone laughed and drank, some sharing stories of trickster spirits, others telling graphic stories of exploits with members of the opposite or same gender, others told jokes or sang or danced. After a while it seemed like everyone was doing everything and Tavera blacked out while laughing heartily at a joke she thought she just heard. She dreamed fitfully of the young man she stabbed and an elven woman with long, black hair, her hands stretched out towards her but always keeping away.
She woke up in the bed of the elven man who had run the initiation. The only reason she knew this was because she recognized his clothing strewn across the floor, the tunic hanging halfway out the window. He wasn’t in the room and she dressed and left the inn without running into him. If he saw her slip out, he hadn’t called for her and she hadn’t imagined he would have. It had been a relief.
That was why she had gone to the temple in the morning. To sober up and sort through her thoughts but the solemn atmosphere hadn’t been enough to shake the girl clean. Tavera rubbed her eyes again, feeling the heaviness of them both, her head cloudy from deprivation and harried thoughts. Where the hems was she? Had she made a wrong turn again? Her eyes widened as far as they would as she spotted a landmark she recognized. All she would have to do is turn left at the shoemaker’s and….
Tavera kept on walking down the street though her eyes had seen what they had seen and her heart was telling her not to do what she was supposed to do. She walked down the street, past the inn where Derk was staying, counting the two guards that still stood outside the door, the innkeeper gesturing wildly and swearing at them. At the nearest alley she turned, heading down the narrow street, the dingy grey of the cobblestones and bricks blurring as she stumbled, keeling over and vomiting onto the ground.
They had Derk. She had walked by two guards who held his limp body between them, his head bowed and blood matting his hair to his head. He wasn’t dead. If he was dead they would have called a cart; if he was dead, she would not have been able to keep it together. She had to keep it together. Is this why there had been a vein of nervousness throughout the week of festive yet furtive preparation? He almost pulled out of the take, she knew he was thinking about it but at the last minute said he was back in, adamantly so. Why had they taken him? What had he done? What did they say he had done?
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, stepping away from the puddle of mess left on someone’s back doorstep. Tavera peered around the corner, looking towards the inn and then down the street. They had taken him from her. She wanted to go after them and get him back, rescue him. But Derk had made her promise in the temple, before the Goddess. Derk was alive but said if she wound up in the Jugs besides him, it would kill him. He told her time and time again she must be true to what she was, and what she was was a thief. Tavi must strive to be the best she could be and part of that striving was to stay out of jail so she could continue to do what she did best. But Derk couldn’t go to prison. He told her not to get caught. Maybe she could get him away from the guards before they put him in lock-up. How could she do it?
The Cup. Her feet were already flying back to where she thought she came from, not caring people were staring at her as she ran through the strange streets, her skirts fluttering behind her as she dodged between people and objects. A few wrong turns and some backtracking led her to the inn she had just come from and the stairs to the rooms. Tavera cursed as she tripped on the stairs, running up the rest on her hands and knees and throwing open the door to the room she had been in just a few hours before.
It was empty.
Empty. The bed was made, the window was closed, and the table and chair were in their proper place. Maybe she had the wrong room, she thought. But there was a crack in the mirror on the table that she vaguely recalled…had he left already?
As quickly but more carefully than before, she rushed down the stairs into the main area where the tender was waiting on a few early patrons. Her finger tips tapped the bar top rhythmically, her anxiety apparent as she tried to make eye contact with the him. After what seemed like an eternity the tender came by, an older man with a scar that ran over where his right eye should have been. “What’ll it be?”
“There was a Forester here, tall, older than me, grey eyes, dark hair. He’s checked out, I believe but I need to know where he went.” She hoped he would sense the urgency of her situation, prayed he knew the answer to her question. The old man shook his dark, sullen head, taking a bottle out from behind the bar and setting a glass in front of her.
“I ain’t seen him this morn, but yer father was here, asking about ye. Ye best be on yer way now, miss, he’s looking fer ye.” He poured her a drink and went back about his business, leaving her there staring at her glass.
Milk. The guards were looking for her or at least asking about her. Tavera visited Derk enough times during the last few days. Someone must have placed them together and now the guards thought she knew something. Nervously she rubbed her wrists, anticipating the feeling of shackles around them, surprised to find the remnants of the gold ribbon, festively tied in a decorative bow by some other person last night. Her eyes watered as they fixed themselves on the frayed edges, ceremoniously cut by a simple dagger just last night.
They were looking for her and if the tender was in the Cup, she wouldn’t endanger him by sticking around. She lifted the glass to her lips, gulping the milk down, careful not to swallow the coin he had been kind enough to drop into the bottom of it. She waved goodbye to the tender and left the bar, heading down the street that would get her to the eastern road the quickest.
Tavera wouldn’t have to go back to her room. She had paid for the week and if she didn’t show up by the end of the day the innkeeper would be glad for the extra income and rent it out to someone else. There was nothing left to fence and she carried a few changes of clothes and her tools on her, all she needed. Not all she needed, she thought, keeping her eyes focused on her feet as they carried her out of town. Tavera had been through what most children growing up in cities had. She’d been sold and beaten and sold again, overworked and underpaid, abused verbally, physically and mentally. Hunger, thirst and loneliness were things she knew all too well. Fear and pain had visited her often growing up. But she felt as if her heart were breaking, ripped out of her chest and carried farther and farther from her the closer she got to the edge of town. Long, thin fingers touched the golden ribbon around her wrist and she set her teeth against each other, forcing herself to walk away. She would leave the city and do what she was supposed to do, what Derk wanted her to do above all other things. Tavera would be Tavera, would be Point, would be what she was supposed to be. By herself and with the support of the Cup whenever she truly needed it. At least she’d have someone to brag to when she pulled something off. The thought of Derk’s blue eyes not filling with pride almost made her cry and she felt like she was young again, alone with no one to love her anymore. Her arms crept up and she hugged herself as she pushed past people. Numbness trickled through her as she tried to brace herself against the emotions that wanted to well up again.
Why did everything have to happen at once, she thought to herself rather sardonically, managing a sad smirk as she fingered the frayed edge of the ribbon. First the take, the boy, the initiation and now this. What was next? The sun was a few fingers over the horizon, yellow now and calling to her as more of the city fell behind her. People, the wrong people, were probably looking for her and she didn’t want to be here anymore. If she were to start fresh like Derk wanted her to, she would have to go somewhere else. Friends were easily made and connections established out of necessity. Family would have to be left behind. Fighting the urge to scream, cry or run, Tavera walked alone wondering what would come her way. She had her fill of bad luck. Someone owed her a bit of good and she was more than obliging to accept it. Tavera was too good to just wind up in prison or cry herself away. As she wiped her tears the gold ribbon brushed against her cheek. She stepped past the gate towards the Freewild and the Eastern Valley, knowing she was more than capable to meet whatever came her way.