Part One: The Order - Chapter One
The sun was slipping behind the Cliffs of Loth, casting darkness upon the city of Zianna that made it seem much later in the day than it actually was. The citizens called this time the Lothian Dusk, the hours before real dusk settled across the winding streets of the ancient city. It affected the lower city more than the upper, due to narrower streets and the darker stones used to construct the buildings. Foreigners to the city never expected the shadows to arrive so early. They weren’t wary of the darkness, as the citizens were. They never saw me coming.
I pressed myself into a thin crevice between two buildings. Holding my breath, I hoped the shadows were dark enough to conceal me as a couple of guards jogged past. I’d just slipped a hefty pouch of coins from a foreign trader. I wanted to pull out the pouch and count my treasure, but I knew better. The guards would be searching the upper city for me, distracting myself was not the best approach. Instead I waited until the guards’ footsteps faded away before I made my move.
The upper city was a risky place for me, but the appeal of richer targets always lured me over the high wall that separated it from the lower city. I was one of the few of my kind in the city who dared venture its wide streets and smooth walls. The buildings were made of pristine white stone as opposed to the rough, sandy coloured stones I was used to. The walls were smooth and hard to climb. My crevice was no exception, so I had to take the risk and slip out into the street.
Normally, I couldn’t even blend in with the people of the upper city. If my clothing didn’t give me away, my physical appearance would. Like most of the poorer citizens of Zianna, I was a Native Zian. My skin, my hair, and my eyes were all darker than those of the fair skinned people from Teltar, who made up most of the upper class. The Telts had taken over Zianna generations before I was born; the fair upper class was all I had ever known. Being used to them didn’t stop me from hating them.
With all that in mind, I pulled the hood of my cloak up over my head, hoping that it would give me a little bit of protection against the suspicious eyes of the people on the streets. My cloak wasn’t quite high class, but I’d stolen it from a middle class trader so it didn’t stand out as much as it could have. I had to make my way to the wall. Once I crossed over it, the guards would have no chance of finding me. The lower city was my domain; I knew every alley, street and rooftop.
The shadows grew as I made my way through the cobbled streets. Even the streets in the upper city were made of white stone, designed to remain as light as possible in the Lothian Dusk. It wasn’t long before I could see the dividing wall looming over the buildings in front of me. All I had to do was slip through the space between two buildings, and climb over the top. I was close to freedom when someone caught my eye. I froze, half of me wanting to continue my escape, the other half needing to go after the man.
He acted like a local, but his dress made me think he was a foreigner, or maybe from one of the islands. He was wearing a dark green cloak with sliver embroidery. He was leading a light grey horse instead of riding it, which was unusual for the rich. What really caught my eye was the thick gold ring on his right hand. Jewellery was a favourite of mine. It was usually easy to take, and it was very easy to sell. Merchants all over the lower city would pay good money for it.
I glanced quickly up and down the street. No guards were in sight, so I started trailing behind the strange man and his horse. My moment arrived when he paused in the middle of the street to speak to another man who had been walking in the opposite direction. I slipped up beside them, using the man’s horse to hide me from their view.
“It is good to see you back in Zianna, my friend,” the second man was saying.
“It’s been along time,” the first man agreed with a friendly nod.
I took my chance. I lay my hand on the horse’s side. “You’ve got a nice horse, sir.”
The two men turned to me, looking startled. I grinned innocently at them; I was still young enough that that worked. “He’s really friendly, sir.”
The men exchanged a glance before the first man reached out to stroke the horse’s nose. “She,” he corrected.
“Oh, sorry, sir,” I replied. I knew the two men were watching me, but they were focusing on my hands. So with my foot I carefully nudged one of the horse’s legs, causing her to sidestep away from me. I pretended to stumble. The first man reached out to grab my shoulder to steady me. I ran my hand quickly over his as I regained my balance. “Thanks, sir. Sorry ‘bout botherin’ your horse, sir.” I turned and jogged off, resisting the urge to go so fast that I would seem suspicious.
I finally made my way between two buildings and approached the dividing wall. I dropped the ring into a pocket in my cloak before reaching up, grasping a stone in the wall and starting to haul myself up it. The wall was about three storeys on this side, but four on the lower city side, since Zianna was built on a sloping hill. Reaching the top of the wall was easier than going down the other side, but it wasn’t long before I was safe within my own beloved lower city with its dirty and shabby buildings. It was perfect for a thief. It was perfect for me.
I worked my way down the narrow streets in the direction of the river, where I lived. I didn’t have a real home, but like most thieves I had found a place to call my own. It was the abandoned upper floor of an old apartment building. Usually the lower streets were crowded with poor merchants or other people going about their daily business, but they were starting to empty due to the growing darkness. There was no one around to complain when I used a window ledge to climb up the wall of the old apartment building. I slipped through a crack in the roof and entered my home.
It was fairly simple. In one corner I had a pile of clothing I’d stolen, which is where I tossed my cloak after pulling it over my head. The pile of clothing also served as a mattress. I buried my hands into the clothing; feeling for the wooden chest I knew was there. When my fingers brushed against the wood, I grasped the chest and pulled it out. I reached under my shirt to pull out the key I wore on a sliver chain around my neck. The simple lock wasn’t much protection, but it was better than nothing. I took the coin pouch from one of my cloak’s pockets and dumped the coins on the floor. Even though the chest was full, I didn’t have much money. Every coin was made of copper and only worth one siya – the most basic amount of money. At my last count, I had about sixty siyas stashed away. I counted my new coins quickly before dropping them into the chest with the rest of my money. Then I turned my attention to the ring.
It was heavier than I expected, making it more valuable than I had thought. It had a dark stone embedded in it, which was surrounded by an engraving that I was sure was writing. Although I recognized it, I couldn’t read. Once I’d gotten a better look at the ring, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell it. It couldn’t hurt to keep it. I slipped it over my right thumb, where it fit perfectly. I already owned two pieces of jewellery, if the chain I wore my key on counted. The other was a gold bracelet I wore on my left wrist. It was adorned with red and white crystals. I’d kept it because it was from a foreign land and it intrigued me. I decided to add the ring to my collection. I could always sell it later, if the need arose.
My stomach grumbled, interrupting my thoughts. I needed to go find some food. I shoved my money chest back under the clothing and replaced the key around my neck. Pulling my cloak back over my head, I stood up and made for the crack in the roof.
The streets were more deserted than before, but the vendor’s booths were still out. As I walked past a fruit vendor, I casually reached out and grabbed an orange. No body noticed. It wasn’t the prettiest orange; those were reserved for the high class merchants to sell in the marketplace, but it was food and it tasted good. I continued down the street, holding my orange with my left hand while admiring the ring on my right.
I sighed and turned around. “Arow,” I replied. Somehow I had walked past him without noticing. He was the only threat posed to me in the lower city, because he believed he was in charge of all the thieves. He demanded cuts of our profit. Most of the thieves obliged, just to keep him away from them. I never had. I was more talented than he was, and I could usually avoid confrontation with him if I was paying attention.
“Nice ring,” Arow commented. He was leaning against a wall with his arms crossed as he looked down at me. He was easily twice my size, but he didn’t scare me. He could kill me with one hand if he wanted to, if he could catch me first. He never even got close.
“I agree,” I said.
“So where’s my cut?” Arow asked.
“What cut?” I started peeling my orange. Arow hated it if he didn’t have people’s full attention.
“My cut of the steal,” Arow said.
“I don’t pay you,” I pointed out. “I never have.”
“So you’re in debt,” he explained with a shrug. “That ring would pay it off.”
“I’m not in debt.”
His face flushed angrily. “Finn…”
I finished peeling my orange and pulled it in half. I stuck half of it in my mouth, chewed it slowly, and swallowed. “Yes?”
“Pay me, or you’ll have to pay with your life.”
I just grinned at him and ate the other half of my orange. “You’ll have to catch me.” I ducked under his arm as he lashed out to hit me. I jumped up the wall beside him and grasped the edge of a windowsill. Using the window like a step, I moved up the rest of the wall. Arow couldn’t follow me up here; he was too big and bulky.
I traveled the rooftops for awhile to ensure that Arow couldn’t find me. Once I knew I was safely away from him, I sat down. From the rooftops I could see the whole city, which was part of the reason I enjoyed being on them so much. In front of me, past the last few streets of the lower city, was the port. I was facing east, so I was looking out across the Adymuss River. Zianna was situated right where the river met with a large bay of the Roeser Ocean, and the desert met with the Cliffs of Loth.
The city was built on a hill right along the towering walls of rock. The castle was the highest point, and it pressed right against the cliffs. In a semi-circle around the castle were the courtyards and marketplace, which were in turn surrounded by the buildings of the upper city. The dividing wall then separated the upper and lower cities. The port was like a quarter of a circle. It started in the sea and curled around to the river. The main walkway ran down the cliffside, from the castle to the port. It was protected by walls and guards, and was only to be used by the higher class. The Southern side of the city was the only part that had a large defense wall, and beyond that was the desert. Not all of the kingdom’s land was desert; it soon turned to lush terrain, where the lords of the kingdom owned large villas and farmlands.
Foreigners often wondered why the kingdom’s capital city was in such barren territory. It was because Zianna was mostly a trading city. It had access to both the sea and river, making it easy to sail to other kingdoms and islands. The other good reason was the Cliffs of Loth, which provided protection for the city. The cliffs and water meant that the only way to attack the city by land was to cross desert. An attack from the sea was unlikely, since the large island of New Teltar guarded the entrance to the bay.
I’d heard that it was hard to watch proper sunsets from Zianna, since the cliffs blocked the best view. However, the skies around the cliffs still turned brilliant colours as the sun set. That was what I often lay back on the rooftops to watch. So, satisfied with my day’s work, I leaned back onto the tiles, rested my hands beneath my head, and watched the sky.