A THIEF’S CHOICE
Once upon a time, a young boy was born in the bustling city of Homestead, a product of a drunken fling between a woman of peasant birth and the Lord of the city. Unable to hide the birth of her son from the lord, the boy’s mother was killed, and the infant was left to die on the streets, unknowing of his heritage.
But fate wouldn’t let it’s chosen die so easily. Mere moments after the boy had been dropped a petty criminal by the name of Jerich happened upon him. Jerich picked up the child, felt a rush of sympathy, and took him back to his home to care for him. Jerich named the boy Eciohc and raised him nearly from birth.
As Eciohc grew older, he began to be introduced into the life of a thief. Jerich taught him how to steal and sneak, pickpocket and persuade, and deceive and discern. And Eciohc was good, even great, at it. In fact, Eciohc was nearly untouchable when practicing his craft.
Jerich also taught Eciohc the code of thievery which he lived by. He taught Eciohc to never steal from the poor, saying they had it hard enough already. He taught Eciohc to never steal from the helpless, telling him it was cruel. And most importantly, he taught Eciohc to never, ever, kill.
As Eciohc grew into adulthood, he began to build a name for himself in the world of crime as one of the best in the business. People from across the city started buying his services, charging him to steal important documents or family heirlooms that ended up in the wrong hands.
One day, while Eciohc was tailing a particularly wealthy target, he was led to a tavern in a shady part of the city. He pushed through the doors, not knowing his life would be changed forever once he did.
The tavern was loud and raucous, especially for the time of day. A woman strummed on a lute by the roaring fireplace, and patrons crowded around her. Gruff looking men sat at bar, silently nursing large mugs of ale. A small group talked in hushed voices in the corner, every so often darting their eyes around the room, as if looking for someone. A group of young men and women gambled loudly in the center of the room. One of them was rather obviously cheating, but his companions seemed too drunk to notice. But Eciohc ignored all of this. Instead, he was entirely focused on the distinct lack of his target. The man was nowhere to be found.
“He’s not here,” said a voice.
Eciohc swung his head to look at them. Eciohc knew right away that she was a thief, a criminal like him. She twirled a dagger in one hand as the other brought food to her mouth. Her green eyes shone with happiness uncharacteristic for one of their kind. She had her tall boots propped up on the table as she ate. Her fingers were decorated with a wealth of rings, golden and silver, yet dirt still stuffed itself under her fingernails. Her hair was jet black and scars adorned her face, but none of them looked fresh.
“What?” Eciohc asked.
“He’s gone,” she said. “Not here.”
“Where did he go?” Eciohc asked.
“Why don’t you sit down?” she asked. Eciohc sighed in resignation and sat down across from her.
“I’m Tyra,” the girl said. “I’ve been looking for you, Eciohc.”
“You have?” Eciohc asked, “And how do you know my name?”
“I have a job that you may be interested in,” Tyra said, ignoring the question. “The assassination of the Lord of the city. He has been terrorizing the people of Homestead for far too long. Not the noblemen and women, but the peasants, farmers, craftsmen, and laborers. He overtaxes us, spits on us, refuses to aid, all while he sits in his castle feasting! He is a plague to this city.”
Eciohc immediately shook his head.
“I don’t kill,” he said, pushing his chair back and turning to leave.
“So, there’s no malice?” Tyra asked. “Not even for this man?”
“What are you talking about?” Eciohc asked, looking back at her.
Tyra shrugged, gesturing for Eciohc to retake his seat at her table.
“I thought that you may hate the man, for abandoning you like he did.”
Eciohc cocked his head, giving her a confused look.
“Abandoning me?” he asked.
“You don’t know? You’re his son. He killed your mother and left you to die on the street.”
“How do you know this?” Eciohc asked, feeling his fists suddenly begin to clench.
“Not hard to find information if you know where to look,” Tyra said with a shrug. Eciohc dashed from the room, heading home to find Jerich. He found the thief, a man he called father, sitting at home taking his midday meal.
“You’re not my father, are you?” Eciohc asked as he burst into the room. Jerich looked up from his soup. The met Eciohc eyes, noting the fire burning behind them.
“No,” he said, putting his spoon down and settling back in his chair. “I’m not. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I found you on the street, near death. I took you in, cared for you, raised you.”
“Who is it then?” Eciohc asked, fearing what he might hear.
“I did some digging, way back,” Jerich said. He paused, then quietly said, “It’s the Lord.”
Eciohc stormed out without another word, his insides burning. Anger roared inside of him, threating to spill out. Back at the tavern, Tyra was still sitting at the table, swirling a mug of ale.
“I’m in,” Eciohc said.
“Good,” Tyra said, smiling deviously. “Follow me.”
She led Eciohc outside to an alley, where she located a small box. She reached inside and pulled out a set of winter gloves.
“Gloves?” Eciohc asked. “It’s not even Harvest yet.”
“These aren’t normal gloves,” Tyra said, tossing them to Eciohc and pulling out a pair of her own. “With them on, you can climb any surface. This is how’ll we’ll get into the castle. The sun will have set by then.”
“Let’s go,” Eciohc said.
Tyra smiled, and started walking to the castle. On the way, she explained her plan. They were to climb the castle wall, sneak past the guards, and make it to the Lord’s chambers. There, they would likely have to face the Lord’s champion, Redmane.
“Redmane is dangerous,” Tyra said. “He’s the beloved son of the Lord, but that doesn’t make him weak.”
“So, he’s my brother?” Eciohc asked.
“Half-brother,” Tyra said.
“So I get tossed out on the street to die, while my brother gets to live a pampered life in a castle?” Eciohc asked, feeling the burning anger rushing back into him.
“Exactly,” Tyra said. “He’s evil.”
Just then, the castle wall came into sight. The sun was just disappearing to give way to night, just as Tyra had predicted.
“Now what?” Eciohc asked.
“Now we go.”
Tyra led Eciohc to a portion of the wall far away from the gate, then without a word, she jumped up onto it and started climbing.
“This is crazy,” Eciohc said under his breath, placing his hands on the wall.
Then, he started to pull himself up. As he climbed, it began to rain, but with the gloves, Eciohc was unaffected. Eciohc wasn’t even breathing hard when he cleared the top.
“Where to?” Eciohc asked, wiping rain from his brow.
“The Lord’s chambers are this way,” Tyra said, pointing to the highest point in the castle. The castle was thick with guards, but Eciohc’s skills in thievery helped them evade the patrols with ease. It didn’t take them long to reach a large wooden door, ordained with gold.
“Through this door, we’ll find Redmane,” Tyra said, pulling out two daggers. “I’ll distract him, you sneak around and take him out when the opportunity presents itself.”
Eciohc nodded in agreement. With a cry, Tyra threw open the door and burst into the room. It was empty.
“What?” Tyra asked, walking into the room. “Every informant I have said Redmane is always here.” She reached the center of the room, and threw her hands up in confusion. A moment later something crashed down onto her.
“You think you’re the only ones that know something about stealth?” Redmane asked, perched over Tyra. He was tall, and built like a warrior. Long red hair fell down to his shoulders, and he wore a thick beard just as red. His armor was polished and his face unscathed, but whether that was a testament to his skill or his wealth, Eciohc did not know.
“Do you think you’re the only one that knows something about fighting?” Tyra asked from below him.
“Huh?” Redmane asked, looked at her in surprise, only to receive a fist to the face.
With a burst of strength, Tyra kicked him off and sprung to her feet. Redmane grinned and drew the sword from its sheath. Tyra twirled the daggers in her hands. The two launched into combat, leaving Eciohc unattended. The young thief stepped back and blended into the shadows.
Eciohc crept around the room, positioning himself at Redmane’s back. Redmane and Tyra were engaged in a dance of death, each barely missing cuts with their blades. Suddenly, Redmane dodged a stab and slammed the pommel of his sword into Tyra’s face.
Tyra howled in pain and collapsed the ground. Redmane lowered his sword, breathing heavily.
“You fought well,” he said.
Just then, Eciohc charged. Redmane turned just in time to see Eciohc slam into him, taking him to the ground. Without hesitation, he punched Redmane in the face until he fell back, knocked out. Breathing heavily, he slid off Redmane.
“Let’s go,” Tyra said, offering a hand to Eciohc.
He took it, pulling himself to his feet. Together, they approached the door to the Lord’s bedroom, and went in.
Inside, the Lord was huddled in the corner, a panicked expression on his face. It seemed he had heard what had transpired outside.
“Kill him,” Tyra said, pressing one of her daggers into Eciohc’s hand. Eciohc grasped it firmly, taking a step to the Lord. He felt the anger build up in him once more, this time burning more brightly than ever before. For the first time in his life, Eciohc truly wished to take a life.
“No, no please,” he said in a whimper, huddling closer to the floor.
Eciohc tightened his fingers around the handle and raised the knife to strike. Then, he froze. Eciohc looked into the eyes of his father, and he dropped his hand. The knife slid from his hand and clattered to the ground.
“No,” he said in a near whisper.
Just then, a knife slid into him from behind. Eciohc gasped, doubling over and clutching his stomach where the blade had entered.
“Coward,” Tyra said coldly, grabbing his arm and dragged him to the balcony, shoving open the door to the porch. Outside, rain poured down. “You’re a traitor,” she said as she reached the edge.
Then, with a grunt, she heaved Eciohc off the edge. For a moment, Eciohc was certain his death was imminent. He saw his life flash before his eyes. He saw his choices that led to this point. He saw the choice he just made, and he was content. As Eciohc fell to his death, the only thing he felt was pride.
Then in a jolt, his hand caught the side of the wall, sticking to the wall and stopped his fall. He grunted as his momentum shifted, slamming him into the wall. Then, without hesitation, he began to climb. Blood mixed with rainwater as he pulled himself up. He reached the railing and swung himself over it. Inside, Tyra was nearly screaming at the Lord as she counted of his many crimes before she killed him. Eciohc struggled to his feet as the rain slammed down onto him. He stumbled up, nearly falling back off the balcony. Then, with a cry of defiance, he charged into the room.
Tyra’s head swiveled to see him as he burst into the room and tackled her to the ground. He grabbed her arms and pinned them down, then ripped the dagger from her hand. Tyra struggled against him to no avail. Eciohc raised his fist and slammed the hilt of his dagger into her forehead, knocking her out. With a deep release of breath, he sat back and threw the dagger away. With a groan of pain, Eciohc pulled himself to his feet.
“Who are you?” the Lord asked.
Eciohc met his father’s eyes once more. He let the silence linger as he debated whether to reveal himself to his father. After a long pause, he spoke.
“No one,” he said.
“You saved my life,” The Lord said, scrambling to his feet. “I’ll repay you. Riches like you’ve never seen, and land!”
“I don’t want your gifts,” Eciohc said, turning away from the Lord.
“You don’t?” the Lord asked, clearly confused.
“Just because I spared you doesn’t mean you aren’t guilty of your crimes,” Eciohc said as he approached the balcony. “You have been a plague to this city. This is your one and only chance at redemption. A chance to be a better man, a better Lord. A chance to help your people, not harm them. If you don’t, I won’t be as merciful.”
The Lord sat back, speechless. Without another word, Eciohc walked onto the balcony and disappeared into the night.
The moon illuminated the street as Eciohc walked. All around him, people suffered. He could hear the pained wails of the sick and hungry. He could hear the sounds of children who haven’t eaten today. He could hear mothers crying over ones lost too young. And he couldn’t help but think that he could have fixed it.
“Are you sure you can walk?” Jerich asked.
Eciohc ran his fingers over the wound. It still had a while before it fully healed.
“I can walk,” he said, shrugging off Jerich’s supporting hand.
The two continued in silence for the next few minutes, letting the sounds of the night fill the void of silence.
“Jerich?” Eciohc eventually asked.
“Was I right?” he asked, turning to look at Jerich. “Was I right to spare his life?”
Jerich gave him a long look, before turning to look at the area around him. He didn’t speak for a long time. Finally, he sighed and turned back to Eciohc.
“I don’t know.”