by Emma Grave
Roanne waded through the mire of dawdling shoppers on the busy main street, determined not to be caught and dragged back to the auctioneers in front of so many onlookers. The conjured image of their gawping faces in her mind was enough to spur her on at an increased pace.
She wouldn’t be embarrassed like that today. She was going to make it to the docks.
When she chanced a quick glance over her shoulder, she saw the two fastest thief catchers employed by Aurmundo Auctioneers gaining on her. Aurmundo was constantly at odds with the Guild of Thieves in Tremouth, and his catchers were often seen chasing after those who had tried their luck and managed to come out clutching a valuable trinket or artefact.
Something small and inconspicuous was the best bet, although some stupid idiot had attempted to lift a framed painting not long ago and lug it down the street. Needless to say, he hadn’t made it very far. He’d also got thrown out of the guild for showing them up.
Roanne gripped the tiny wooden box tighter and made a sharp turn down an alleyway, hoping to evade her pursuers. The men’s impressive speed was matched by their strength, useful in a fight against skilled thieves with all their hidden daggers.
It was said that only three out of ten thieves made it out the door of Aurmundo Auctioneers. Roanne wondered how much the magical security system Aurmundo was rumoured to be considering would alter that, and whether thief catchers would still be needed if he had it installed.
As Roanne exited the alleyway and emerged in a quieter section of town, she slowed to gulp down a few short breaths of air, but the sound of fast, stomping footsteps forced her to resume her running.
She could smell the strong scent of salt on the breeze now; she wasn’t far from her goal. But the thief catchers weren’t far from theirs either. She could practically feel their breath on the back of her neck.
A quick decision to try her luck down a narrow passageway beside a fishmonger’s shop did not pay off; brick walls surrounded her. Why is it called a dead end? Roanne wondered absently.
“Good effort, girl,” a gruff voice commended her.
Roanne didn’t let the man’s sarcastic praise get to her. She used the tools at her disposal; it was just unfortunate that all she had were stinky dustbins. She lifted one up that felt half-full and hurled it around behind her. When she let go, it scattered its slippery innards along the floor and knocked one of the thief catchers onto his backside.
Roanne leapt onto a sturdier-looking dustbin with a lid on, kicked off the wall to her left and sprang up to reach the top with one hand and a forearm, almost dropping the tiny box in her grasp.
A loud thud and an even louder curse-word suggested to Roanne that one of the catchers had fallen over in the rubbish. She pulled herself upwards and managed to get one knee onto the wall, but a hand grabbed her trailing leg. She kicked it loose, trying not to unbalance herself, but was caught again, and this time something latched onto her boot. Roanne twisted and wriggled her foot free. She scaled the wall and looked back. A catcher was holding her boot and glaring with outrage at his paltry prize.
After dropping down the other side and taking a few steps, Roanne realised she’d move faster with no boots than with the annoying, uneven gait of wearing just one. As she bent down to rectify the situation, she narrowly avoided being hit by an object that came flying over the wall.
Roanne rose, right boot in hand, and turned to discover her left boot had been flung after her. As she tried to decide whether she had enough time to put them both back on, her question was answered emphatically when a thief catcher’s head appeared above the wall. She looked at the boots regretfully for a second. They were a nice pair — scarce brown leather — but they’d slow her down if she carried them. She threw them in the corner, against the brick wall.
When Roanne reached the docks a short while later, her feet were dirty and sore. But she’d made it there, and she still held the box.
She stumbled beyond a wooden signpost, her finish line, then froze.
Aurmundo stepped out in front of her. “I had a feeling you were going to pull it off today,” he said, nodding in approval and scratching his bearded chin.
His two fastest thief catchers hurried past her to stand beside him. They were both out of breath but smiling faintly. They wouldn’t be dragging her back through the streets today, failure on display for the crowds.
She’d made it. She’d passed the test.
Roanne handed Aurmundo the empty box, and he shook her hand. “Congratulations,” Aurmundo said. “You’ve completed the initial training stage. Next, you will be tested in combat.”
“First, I’m going to fetch my boots,” Roanne muttered under her breath as the auctioneer walked away. “Won’t catch many thieves barefoot.”
Copyright © 2017 by Emma Grave