Shoving the moldering leather book deep into his pack with the other treasures he’d managed to filch, the young thief hurried back into the basement tunnels, carefully lowering the stone back over the entrance. He had no fear that the passages would be found – they’d been there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, the citizens of the city living just above a complex network of caverns without even the faintest hint of their presence.
Just above his head Lyonel heard the rapid, echoing steps of the guards, their heavy boots thudding incessantly on the stone foundation. Too late, he thought smugly, smiling to himself in the darkness. True, he was trapped in a small, dank hole, unable to move lest his steps give him away, but not once in the hundreds of successful heists he’d managed had anyone ever come close to spotting him.
Until today. Until that damned book distracted him, the elegant lettering within drawing his full attention until the alarm had already been sounded. At first he’d thought it a diary, then a collection of letters to a lover if the heading was any sort of indicator. However, as he read the first entry, feeling all the while as though he were interfering in someone else’s life, Lyonel came to realize that the author was either insane or writing fiction. Still, quite fascinating insanity. Which was, of course, why he had bothered taking it with him.
When finally the yells and footsteps faded, the thief crept away, silent as a breath, avoiding the puddles of muck and unsteady stacks of bone that threatened to reveal his presence to those living above. Though, of course, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Lyonel himself would never have found them had he not fallen through the floor of an abandoned building. He’d spent the following months exploring, living in the dark forgotten places under the very feet of the peoples who hunted him.
When finally he emerged, even the faint light of the distant street lamps nearly blinded him, reflecting off the shining silver candlesticks he pilfered from the monastery. The chalices from Lord Thye’s manor hadn’t been nearly so difficult to handle. Though neither had really inspired guilt, he’d thought twice about the manor heist – those taxes had been fairly collected, the title fairly won. Even a thief had honor.
And sometimes honor required that he ruin a few pairs of shoes wading through slime and whatever disgusting liquid managed to seep through the cobblestones of the streets above. Squelching gingerly through the sludge, Lyonel wondered if he’d ever be able to escape the smell, if he’d ever manage to steal enough to live without the comforting shadows. What did the sun feel like, he wondered? It had been so long since he’d dared show his face, since his first failed job, that he couldn’t remember anymore.
That job still haunted him, appearing in his nightmares day after day, memories he couldn’t forget, a curse he could never escape. He’d botched it royally, falling from the rafters almost directly into the middle of the prince’s name-day feast. It had apparently been such a novelty, such an unprecedented failure, that no one had known exactly how to react and, in the ensuing confusion, the young Lyonel had managed to escape with his life. Barely.
And what a life it was! Running, hiding, stealing, living for each moment, never worrying about the future. True, the filth and drudgery were irritating, but the boy had known worse, had experienced the drawbacks of city life without reaping any of the benefits. Now he was a king, albeit one of a dank, dark city of bone and mud.
Lyonel couldn’t help but wonder if, had he stayed at the monastery, he might have amounted to something greater. If, had he fought back, he might have become the greatest of them all, overcoming the words and fists and pockets full of wealth and succeeded where they inevitably failed.
At least he had managed to bring a few things with him from that House of God with him when he left. Other than the silver, of course. The reading for one, and an infallible sense of direction. Most importantly though was the knowledge that he wasn’t anything special, that ther e were hundreds of people better endowed and better prepared to deal with any situation than he. He didn’t have the wealth or the breeding that they did, but he was resilient, he was a survivor.
Even if surviving meant trekking through hundreds of miles of dirty, godforsaken tunnels like a rat.
“Damn them all,” Lyonel whispered into the darkness, whispered to the wraiths and demons his imagination had conjured there. “I don’t need anyone else anyways.”