The castle’s main hall was full on court day, crowded with petitioners and council members. It was Tyren’s favorite crowd, all of them dressed in something finer than their usual, but not so fine that they worried about losing the jewels around their neck, or instinctively touched their clothes from time to time to make sure everything was still just-so. They milled around the public hall, some coming, some going, too many faces to keep track of, and no one questioning the occasional accidental bump in the press. Tyren leaned against the wall outside the side door, where it was a little quieter and smiled to himself, spinning the chain of the gold watch he’d lifted.
Sera wasn’t long in joining him, sauntering out with the same pleased sort of smile. She had her hands in the pocket of her jacket, the collar turned up around her neck. It half hid, half showed off the string of tear-drop opals at her neck. She waited for him to see it, then pulled one hand up to tighten her collar and leaned against the wall beside him. He stopped spinning the watch and tucked it neatly into his pocket.
“Good day,” he said, watching a couple exit the hall.
“Very,” she agreed. “Have you seen the others?”
“Not yet. They have time though. It’s only been ten minutes or so.”
Sera flicked a look at the ground without moving her head. “You have a friend.”
Tyren glanced at the cat, prowling along the wall. “Won’t leave me alone,” he murmured. He didn’t really mind. There was something nice about the the feel of a cat scratching its spine along his calf. There was luck on a cat – nine lives and all that – and he’d always imagined they were rubbing some off on him when they bothered to wind through his feet like that. He bent down, scratched it behind the ears. It let him for a minute, then pressed its nose against his palms. It licked at his fingers, pawed at his sleeves.
“I think he’s hungry,” Sera said, smiling.
“Sorry, mate,” Tyren said, turning his hands over, as if that would prove they were empty. The cat nosed in toward his chest, stepped almost into his lap and checked his hips. “Haven’t got anything.”
“I hope that’s not true,” Redd said, arriving through the doorway.
Tyren stood immediately and turned to face him. The cat keened as it fell out of his lap, then skittered off. Tyren resisted the urge to turn and apologize. It was already gone. “I did fine, thank you.”
Sera’s sister, Lyann hung on his arm. She was the prettier than Sera, but less assured of it, and her smile more secretive. She flicked her jacket open, showing five purses tied at her waist, and a heavy gold chain wound around her waist. “We’ve had excellent luck,” she said.
“Me too,” Sera said. She rolled her shoulders back, let the jacket fall open a hair so that Lyann could see the opals. Then she took her hands out of her pockets, pulled her collar shut as if she were cold and flashed the rings on her fingers.
“I caught…” Tyren started to pull the watch from his pocket, then stopped. It wasn’t there. He looked down, sure he hadn’t dropped it, but with no idea where else it might have gone. “I had a watch.”
Redd chuckled, low. “Don’t tell me someone robbed you back.”
Sera was looking at the ground as well, eyes wide. “No, he just showed it to me. No one else has been here.”
Except… Tyren looked for where the cat had gone, feeling ridiculous. But there it was, several yards away, trailing something shining from its mouth. It might have been a mouse’s tail, if a mouse had ever thought to gild itself to impress the public.
“Sweet dice,” he murmured. The cat stopped at the doorway near the far end of the hall, dipping its head to come under the hand of a girl huddled against the frame. She scrunched her fingers behind its jaw, and he saw the gleam of the watch disappear up her sleeve. Smoothest exchange he’d ever seen. Not that he expected anything less between a cat and a thief. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The girl saw him, pressed two fingers to her forehead in a salute and disappeared.
Redd snorted behind him. Tyren whirled back to him. His fist was halfway into his mouth, he was fighting that hard to keep from laughing out loud. Sera had her eyes trained on the ground. Lyann met his eyes the easiest, but she kept glancing away, to Redd, to the door behind Tyren, to the ground.
“Don’t look so surprised,” she murmured. She had to stop, take a breath and swallow it to keep the laughter out of her tone. “It’s not your first cat burglar.”