Raphen crouched, motionless as the familiar mix of spices and perfume wormed their way into his nose. Strong, but not enough to hide the putrid scent of bodies sweating down below. Today it was worse than most. A light breeze blew from the west, bringing with it gutted fish and waste, but it also brought the sound of a soft whistle. The signal.
As the sun beat on his back Raphen looked carefully across the market stalls filling the row below. The voices of jabbering shoppers filled his ears, different as shadow and sunbeam from the often silent, carrion-bird like voices of the shop keepers who lounged lazily after their noonday meal. His eyes passed tanner and smith side by side to land on the jeweler. The mark was there, but where was Siree?
Raphen’s heart sped up, a trickle of dread creeping in. Where was she? She was supposed to be beside the tanner - there.
Raphen relaxed as his green eyes, their pupils slit like that of a cat’s, penetrated the shade cast by a textile cart to glimpse a dozing beggar. The figure reclined in a tattered, ill-cared-for-cloak, its hood spilling out a long, snarled beard colored through with shoots of gray. A fake, but no one below knew that.
Usually, all beggars were asked to move on - if they’re not driven away outright from the marketplace - but who’d have the heart to drive an old man away from a spot of shade, out of the way, where he wasn’t making a nuisance of himself by hanging at people’s elbows? The perfect look out.
‘Quick now, or never at all.’
After a final look to make sure no eyes were on him, Raphen laid on his stomach across the edge of the roof, stone tiles biting into his chest as he slid over. The beggar’s snores covered up the sound of Raphen landing on soft feet and bent knees. He rolled to the side with a small smile. The fall had barely stung his feet.
“Bet a loaf someone spots you,” Siree whispered.
“Get ready to pay up,” Raphen whispered back.
Flush against the cart, Raphen looked around before heading behind it. He crawled between it and a gray stone wall, keeping his five foot frame low and out of sight. Only the stalls on the other side of the row were connected to buildings, this side just backed against a blank and unimportant wall.
Raphen stopped behind the jeweler. They’d noticed this morning that the one running this shop wasn’t the usual. Instead he was a cousin, judging from the likeness of his face, but this cousin leaned back into his folded chair and closed his eyes. The fool didn’t know to watch for thieves.
’Look. Look.’ Raphen’s mind warned. Anyone’s word could ruin him. If a thief got caught stealing, they could get anything from thrown in the palace’s dungeon to beaten within an inch of their life.
No one was watching. His heart pounded.
Quick as a cat he poked his head up and looked out across the table of metallic necklaces and armbands. Spotting one that was unremarkable enough to be forgotten once it wasn’t there - hopefully - but still good enough to be worth something to his thief lord, his hand darted out. A silver necklace featuring a small locket with a bird adorning it left the table top to lay around his neck, hidden beneath his lightly spun, stained shirt. The motion was fluid, familiar.
’Got it. Now get back, and don’t get spotted.’
With a deep - but silent - breath, Raphen turned. He put his hands and feet to the stone and started climbing the wall behind the cart. The cart’s bulk at his backside kept him out of sight as his agile fingers found crevices between the stones to grip while his feet pushed him up.
Halfway up the cover at his back stopped. He took a breath. He kept his pace, confident no one would look at him directly. It was amazing the stuff that people ignored because it was in the corner of their eye.
Someone shrieked behind him. Thinking himself made, Raphen scrambled the rest of the way up. His legs pushed him up as his hands closed on orange roofing tiles baking in the sun. The wiry cords of muscle wrapping his arms pulled first his torso, then his legs,onto the rooftop. Almost there. As his feet cleared the edge, a tile slid out. Below the shrieking was joined by yelling.
Raphen couldn’t help but steal a look over his shoulder, only to see a large hound rushing across the marketplace with a cloth dolly clamped in its mouth, and a merchant’s kid barreling after it. Raphen barked a laugh as the girl ran after the hound, her finery flapping around and her green cap askew. The kid called apologies over her shoulder to shopkeepers who found their afternoon naps interrupted, while others jumped out of the beast’s way.
Without another look Raphen stood and ghosted across the rooftop, out of the market district and toward the less kept streets of the old town. His leather boots kept an easy pace across tile as he ran, until bare stone replaced the roofing tile below him.
Raphen slowed his steps, glancing around the rooftop to find a familiar rope tied to a post at the building’s side. Taking a deep breath to fill his lungs and calm the excitement racing through his heart from having succeeded - they’d needed this theft to work - he crossed to the rope and started down. The building grew to tower on both sides as the rope’s coarse strands, worn from weeks of use, slid along his hands. They’d need to switch it, and its location, soon.
With only half a story to go, Raphen dropped down into the empty alley below. Within a bend in the building a wall had crumbled, forming a doorway. Brushing aside tattered cloth that covered the opening, he turned sideways and stepped through the crevice in the wall.
Inside, the building’s inner and outer walls of the ran on either side, lit by a hole at the end that let light stream in. Raphen paused, stretching his arms above his head before he padded across a mix match of discolored rugs to the side where a crate sat.
He looked across the rows of bits of glass and frayed strings along with other odds and ends Siree kept on this makeshift shelf. He didn’t know where she picked up half of these things from.
Where was that kid? During the day, it was safer for her to make her way back on her own rather than with him on a nickin’ day, but the time she took to get back got under his skin as firmly as if she were his blood sister. He looked at the items cluttering the box. Maybe he should leave it here, and go look, if she took much longer. He lifted the necklace from where it lay hidden around his neck and put it on the shelf, covering it with a scrap of blue velvet so moth eaten it barely concealed the glint of the chain.
He turned and paced on down the long, narrow room, stepping around first his then her nest like bed made of cloth. He just passed their pile of stuff used for disguises when the swish - pat - pat of Siree’s footsteps reached his ears. A couple more steps brought her inside.
Down was the sack of a hood that had hidden her, showing off her brown locks hacked off at her shoulders from when she’d try to copy his. He was glad hers didn’t have the range from near black to auburn, or the slight wave that his did, no matter what she wanted. It protected her from gettin’ too much attention. Gone too was the beard that she’d been wearing earlier, which had left her face - and wide smile - unremarkable, except for her upturned nose.
“What did you do?” He asked, the edges of this mouth pulled down as he stepped up in front of her. She only struck it in the air like that when she’d gotten away with something.
“Nicked somethin’.” She replied as she walked around him, smiled crinkling open as his frown deepened.
“Nicked what?” He crossed his arms as he turned and continued to look down at her. He was about twenty but he’d already stopped growing, and she still had to look up to see his face.
“Just a loaf a bread’s all.” She said, golden bread shining against the dirt ground into her skin as she held it out like a peace offering.
“Just a loaf ’a bread, huh?” He said as he took it and ripped the bread in half.
Something to be a little proud of, a theft right off a baking rack. It was still warm, heat along with its smell rolling toward him, spread out, begging to be eaten and for him to forget anything further - but she’d done it plenty of times before. Both of them had.
“Come on Siree, don’t be tryin’ to pull no wool over my eyes, I be knowin’ you better than that. What else’d you nick?”
“With all the noise the mutt and the blue blood was makin’, and with how he was never watchin’ proper anyways, I took this.”
With a flourish she held out a gold bracelet set with red gems framing the band. The gems are shot through with flaws, even if they are a good size, but still, it’s too much. Too close to being too valuable. They’d have to wait weeks, maybe months before nickin’ from any jeweler again and hope no one connected them to the theft. Jewelers gossiped like birds, and soon they’d all know about the thefts.
“Didn’t I do good Raph?” She asked. Shit, he’d been quiet too long.
“It’s great Siree, beautiful.” It was done. She wouldn’t understand if he explained why they shouldn’t nick so much at a time from one vendor. He hated making the kid cry. “With what we nicked today, I bet we can pay dues to the thief lord, and have enough to not have to nick any food for a week.”
Siree smiled and turned her back to walk over to her shelf. She cupped her hands, letting the bracelet roll down to land between a shell and the bundle Raphen placed there earlier. A warm grin spread across Raphen’s face as he ripped the bread and held out half.
“Eat up, then we’ll find a trader that’ll take both our loot.”
Straightening back up, Siree brush her hair from her face and took the bread from his hand.
“I’ll go.” Raphen stated, pausing to make sure she got it. “Ya just be ready to report for dues.”