The dark blue dress that Raven wore was too tight and she could scarcely draw breath. She’d pleaded with her mother to loosen the strings, but the woman had refused. Tight laced corsets were how all of the woman of court wore their dresses and if she did not wish to draw attention to herself, she must blend in.
She was one of three girls in the group, Annaleigh and Margaret being the other two. They were dressed similarly to her, with the former in a dark green dress that matched her eyes and the latter in a pale pink. The three of them stood side by side in the circle of thieves and waited for Raven’s father, the leader of their group, to speak.
“Alright then, you know how it is,” Hector spoke quietly, just incase there was a guard near by that could hear. “Go in, dance a little, eat a little and take only the easy targets. Do not draw attention to yourself and if someone asks who you are, remember the titles you’ve been given and you are just visiting. We meet back here in two hours, unless one of us should be caught. In that instance, do not break character, only find your way back to the tunnel as quickly as you can without being caught. Am I understood?”
Every head bobbed in understanding and then without a word, they all moved through the undergrowth and to the secret tunnels leading under the castle. The moon cast a silver light on the group, but as they found their way deeper into the tunnel, they were left only in darkness.
Raven was one of the last to enter with Ian at her side, while her father brought up the rear. Ian took her hand in the darkness and helped to lead her, though she did not need his assistance. The number of times she had ventured through the tunnels was great indeed, though this was her first time attending an event such as a ball. Usually she would only find her way to the kitchen and steal some food, but that night her father had finally allowed her to attend with them.
“You needn't be afraid, I’ll stay close to you,” he said with a light squeeze of his hand. Very much she wanted to assure him in a haughty tone that she was not afraid and she certainly did not need his help. But she could not bring herself to say such things and she only returned the gesture in answer.
When the darkness began to subside and the sound of music filled the tunnels, one of the men at the front pulled back a thick tapestry that hid the entrance. Two people exited and the rest stood very still and quiet. They waited a few more moments before two more left. This went on until only Ian, Raven and her father were left.
Hector took her arm and turned her to face him. “Be very careful, Raven. Talk only to those that approach you and stay close to Ian. Your mother would never forgive me if anything were to ever happen to her.” She smiled at that. “I will go first and the two of you will follow me in a couple of moments.”
When he disappeared, they waited as he had said before Ian pulled the tapestry back and she stepped out. Torches lit the corridor, casting the two thieves in an orange light as they moved swiftly down the passage and toward the music. So as not to draw attention to themselves, they entered through a side door and forwent the announcement of their names. As they stepped into the room and melted with the royals of Harendale, Raven was left in awe.
There were bright and vibrant colors everywhere she looked, on both men and woman. The men looked handsome and peculiar all at once, with their feather headdresses and shocking colors. While the woman looked stunning, wearing dresses that were much more elaborate than the one she wore and far tighter. Jewels adorned their necks, wrists and fingers, ripe for the picking.
Once she’d absorbed the atmosphere, her mind went to work on the best way to slip the jewelry from the guests. Her mother had sown hidden pockets into her dress and she could easily slip her conquests into them before anyone noticed.
Ian leaned down close to her hear, his warm breath washing over her bare shoulder. “I’m going toward that group of gentlemen. Stay close by and don’t go for anything too risky,” he advised and strode off without waiting for an answer. Raven felt the sudden desire to stick her tongue out at the back of his head. Of course she knew that to reach for something too grand, for it would be easily noticed and then she would be in trouble.
A few women were gathered by a table ladened with pastries, some of which looked quite wonderful. She eyed the rings on their fingers, for there were many indeed, and one woman wore several bracelets on her wrists. Only one used a clasp and it was the most splendid of the bunch, with its many rubies and diamonds. It would be too easy for her to stumble into the woman and find the clasp. She’d have the bracelet and a couple of rings in her pocket before the woman could collect herself.
With a slight nod of satisfaction to herself, Raven moved forward on light feet and as she drew close, she pretended to trip on her dress. She let out a small cry as she fell toward the woman, her hands reaching out for something to hold onto, which were a pair of arms. The woman cried out as well and made a desperate attempt to get the clumsy girl off of her.
“I’m terribly sorry, I tripped on my dress,” she explained pulling herself upright and pretending to fuss with her dress. The women were gathering together, their gazes narrowed at her. She murmured another apology before slipping away, a smug smile on her lips. Not only had she gotten the clasped bracelet, but she’d managed to slip a large gold one off as well, along with two small rings.
For the next half hour, Raven swept through the room with ease, her pockets growing steadily fuller. Her stomach grew in side almost as rapidly as her pockets, the food and drink too much of a temptation to resist. The good food was sure to spoil her and she didn’t know how she could go back to her mothers plaine cooking after that night.
Ian or one of the others was always close by and occasionally she’d share a word with one of them, but she generally kept to herself. But no matter where she went, she made sure to keep her distance from King Robert and Queen Maria. They sat at one end of the room on their thrones, watching the dancing and occasionally sharing a word.
Princess Anne was constantly dancing with her betrothed, a prince from some small insignificant kingdom, but she hadn’t yet seen Prince Maxim. Of course she had no idea what the prince actually looked like, but she was sure that it would be quite obvious when she laid eyes on him. But her biggest blessing was that she had not seen the man from the road, the one whose diamond ring she now wore on her middle. As much as she wished to see his face again, it would not be well for her if he spotted her. He knew her to be a thief and would not hesitate to call her out should he spot her.
It was very possible that he wasn’t even in attendance, possibly still nursing his battered ego, but she would not risk it. She kept her eyes alert and made ready to hide in one way or another if he appeared.
Another hour passed without incident and she had very little time left. Her pockets weighted greatly and she was beginning to feel uncomfortable. Just as she was considering finding Ian and telling him that she would wait out the rest of the hour in the tunnels, someone tapped her shoulder lightly. Startled, she spun around, ready to reprimand but the words froze on her lips when she caught site of a pair of twinkling brown eyes and a sly smile. “Hello, Raven.”