A hand locked around Heydi’s wrist, really locked, with the fingers hooked over her narrow wrist bones and thumb perfectly set in the groove between her hand and her arm. It hurt a little, but the first thing she did was stare at it.
She was very sure that the guards had not seen her, and very sure that this was not any of the five women and four men that she had just robbed of their purses. She didn’t know who it was, or why they cared.
She started to tilt her head back – all the way back – to get a look at his face. Then she realized it didn’t matter who it was, or why he had grabbed her. It hurt, and no one friendly would hurt her.
Heydi let her feet drop out from under her, twisting her whole body around her arm, twisting herself toward his thumb. Jerdan had taught her to do it, to hang all her weight off her arm, and practiced with her until she knew the exact instant that the man’s hold would break. She was too small to break it any other way.
She felt the pop of his thumb losing its hold, and the sharp slide of the rest of his fingers coming free. The man swore. She was already catching herself on her toes and running in the other direction.
There was a certain set of codes and etiquettes that snapped into place when one sneak met another unexpectedly.
The least of them was the sudden understanding that neither sneak would screw anything up. Whatever job they were in the middle of springing, if they’d wanted to perform anything less than larcenous perfection, they should have done it on their own time. Now that there were two players, two heads that could be seen, caught, bashed, and imprisoned by the city guard, they would do their thieving duty and get away with everything they had planned. Plus a little more.
The greatest of them was an understanding that one sneak would believe that the other was as invisible as the air, inaudible as hearth tale cats, and absolutely magnificent at their job. They would hold onto that belief until it was absolutely impossible to do so, and then one moment more.
So, when Imalie realized that she was skulking around the same house as a woman twice her age and half as quiet, she ignored her. Of the four items that she had dropped through the window to find, Imalie already had three of them, which made it doubtful that they were there for the same reason, or if they were, that the woman would beat her to the last of it.
Jasen took a single step into his kitchen and stopped. He had not expected to find Jennika standing by his small square table, but seeing her there, he couldn’t muster any surprise to see her pocketing something off the sideboard. He wasn’t sure what it was, wasn’t even entirely sure that she had picked it up or flicked her fingers into the fold of her jacket. Still, he thought he saw her, so he knew she’d done something.
“If you take that, I will hunt you down,” he said.
She looked at him steadily, blinked once, and let her eyebrows drift upward.
“I will hunt you down,” Jasen repeated. He took another step into the room. “With horses, or hounds, or mountain lions, or crocodiles, or whatever it takes to track a little slithering weasel like you.”
She cocked her head to one side, very careful not to move otherwise. “Do crocodiles have a good sense of smell?”
Imalie probably should have hidden the money better. As a matter of course, no matter how well concealed, money could always be hidden better. Whoever had invented it, was a genius for making it so easy to carry, and also an idiot. No matter what else was around, Imalie knew that a thief would take coins first. They were easy to pocket, easy to run with, so easy to trade in for something more personally valuable, and nearly impossible to recover once taken.
Imalie knew. She’d taken enough of it.
But she’d lived behind serious locks for a long time, and she supposed somewhere in the back of her mind, she’d believed that anyone who cracked their way inside her four walls would have earned the right to the purse.
She stopped believing it the moment she slipped through her back window and found him standing beside the toppled table.
Imalie blinked at him. She glanced at the front door, still perfectly seated in its frame, but she didn’t really have to. She’d circled the block before she came in, assured herself that everything was in place twice before she allowed herself to trip the window latch and arrive home.
Slowly, she smiled. Rocking back, she looked over one shoulder, then the other. The table was resting on its lip. The shelves were pulled straight down off the wall. Her books, her papers, every small thing in the room was scattered over the floor. “You made a mess,” she said.
The campfire was too far away for it to be hers, but the food in her hands was too hot to have come from anywhere else. Arun approached slowly, keeping his feet quiet in desert grass. He could smell it on her from yards away – the sweet meat, the thick spice – and even in the dark, quiet as she was, she didn’t look like she was hiding. There wasn’t another tree for miles and she was perched on a thick, bare branch, knees bent, toes and back braced on the tree, both hands locked around her meal.
Arun tiptoed to the base of the tree. The ground was scuffed around him, the loose dirt shoved in every direction by running boots. The tread pressed deep, the feet too heavy to have been hers. Half of him was happy to not have to watch his own footprints too closely, but his spine tenses, his knees loosened in preparation to run.
“Hey,” he hissed.
The girl didn’t move at the sound, but he was sure she’d heard it. He thought she looked down at him, just an eye flicker as she took another bite.
Elodie’s mark was wrapping up his conversation. He straightened in his chair, pushed himself back from his table, kept his eyes on his partner, but Elodie could see his attention shift. The last few words to tumble out of his partner’s mouth were less important than the rest of the room. The path to the door was suddenly more interesting than the drink in his hand. He drained the mug in one swig, set it down on the table and didn’t touch it again.
Elodie shifted as well. She needed to get outside before him, if the tail was going to start well. It would be best to get half way down the block before he left the building, just to earn the distance she needed to disappear before she started following him.
Glancing around the taproom, Elodie looked for her best excuse to leave.
“Here,” Terius said and dropped a book into Jaera’s lap.
Jaera looked at him out of the corner of her eye as he leaned against the rail beside her. She was curled up on a crate, back to the rail, out of the way while she watched the crew change tack. The ocean spray was kicking up hard behind her as the ship angled into its turn and she had to put a hand on the crate to keep her balance against the swells. Glancing down at the book, then back to him, she eyed both warily.
“Begging your pardon?” she said haltingly.
He watched her for a minute, mouth curved into a dry smile she couldn’t quite read, arms crossed over his chest. “I will never understand how you can be so honestly polite in daylight, and still steal books out of my room in the middle of the night.”
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.”