Honor Among Thieves: Part Two
Marlos thought as he crouched in a shadowy alley not too far from the palace. He wanted nothing more than to go home, get in bed, pull his covers over his head, and make this all go away.
But he had a sense that going home would be a bad idea. If he intended to avoid being arrested by the guards or caught by Lady Marcia and the mage she was working with, he needed to go into hiding now, before anyone started asking questions. He'd need to go to the outskirts of the city and hole himself up somewhere where no one asked questions or remembered faces – he'd heard of places like that.
He shuddered. He hated the very idea. Marlos liked a clean office, clean clothes, well-prepared meals, rising and going to bed at the same time each day. This was the sort of thing he didn't do. And not only did he not know how he was going to manage it, but he didn't know he was going to get out of it. How could he fight against someone with as much power and influence as Lady Marcia? He could run into the throne room first thing tomorrow and shout that she was going to kill King Coltzan, and he'd only be laughed at.
And then Marcia would have him arrested for theft and any other charge she and that mage could trump up between them.
There was nothing for him to do but start walking and hope he'd be able to find some new clothes soon – his tunic smelled none too rosy after jumping into a trash bin. And so he set off, clutching his money pouch tightly.
The outskirts of Sakhmet were much farther away from the palace than Marlos's boardinghouse, and he had been weary to begin with. As Marlos passed through almost-deserted marketplaces and hid in shadows as cloaked people passed by, his heart raced and his breath quickened, until his fear drained him as quickly as any exertion could. He passed some wayhouses as he finally reached the poorer outskirts – keeping as close to the walls as he possibly could – but none of them looked like the sort of place he'd even consider laying his head, and he decided that he wasn't that desperate. Yet.
A few big Grarrls – off-duty soldiers by the look of them – came out one door trying as hard as they could to punch each other's lights out. Marlos shied back into the shadows to avoid their notice. This was exactly what he'd been afraid of! Noise, mess, thugs – all of it! He'd always known he was the sort of person who'd be eaten alive in the rough-and-tumble world outside the Scribes' Hall and his scrolls, and this was proving everything he'd ever thought.
But it was the small of the morning, and Marlos was completely exhausted. He couldn't think of anything to do, or anyplace to go. He sat down in a dark alcove of a side street, just intending to rest his eyes for a few moments until he could continue his search – there had to be someplace that was cheap and not filthy...
The next thing he knew, there was sunlight in his eyelids and someone was trying to grab his pouch.
Someone was trying to grab his pouch!
He needed that! If he lost his money, he was done for! He opened his eyes and flung himself at the aspiring pickpocket, grabbing on to her before she could escape.
The pickpocket was a dark-haired pink Ixi somewhere around the age of ten. She kicked at him, and tried to pull away, but Marlos didn't let her go – she still had his pouch in her free hand. "Give me that!"
She stuck her tongue out at him and landed a fairly solid kick on his shin – Marlos winced, but kept his grip and lunged for his pouch. "Just give it back and I'll let go of you, kid!"
And then someone jumped on his back, carrying all three of them crashing to the ground. "You get off her!"
Marlos twisted so that he could see his second assailant – a red Lupe boy with brown hair who was no older than the girl. Both of them were fairly skinny, and their clothes were dirty and worn. As Marlos lunged for his pouch again, he decided that they were probably street urchins, and definitely practiced thieves. And they could fight! Marlos knew that he probably looked ridiculous, but it was all he could do to stop the girl from getting away with all his money, and he was taking a pounding from scrawny, bony elbows, knees, fists, and feet.
Finally, he shouted, "Just give me the Fyora-forsaken thing back! I swear I'll give you some money, but it's all I've got left! I won't call the guards on you – just give it back!"
The girl let go of the pouch and jumped away – which still left Marlos on the ground with the Lupe sitting on his back. At least Marlos had the pouch now. He scowled up at the Lupe. "Get off!"
The boy crossed his arms. "You jumped on her."
"She stole my money pouch!"
The girl giggled. "Well, he has a point... get off, Tomos!"
The boy did, scowling, and Marlos got to his feet. Then he opened his pouch and took out some coins – enough to buy the two urchins lunch and dinner. Then he asked, "Do you two know of any wayhouses around here that aren't too... well, dirty?"
The Lupe – Tomos – shrugged. "Never been in one. They tell us we're too dirty to go inside." He grinned, and the grin only widened when Marlos handed him his coins.
The girl frowned. "But why do you need a wayhouse out here? You've got all kinds of money!"
Marlos had never considered himself wealthy in the slightest, but he realized that he definitely was next to this skinny girl wearing a patched dress over ragged leggings, and her companion, who wore a vest, shirt, and trousers that were all varying degrees of torn and dirty.
He sighed. At least the two of them wouldn't see anything particularly shocking in the charges leveled at him. "I work in the palace. I overheard a conversation that I shouldn't have, and now I've been accused of stealing from a powerful lady. If I'm found, the guards will arrest me and then she'll have all the opportunity she needs to keep me from talking."
The girl said, "You won't want a wayhouse. They see a thief and they scream to the sky for the guards."
He asked her, "What's your name?"
She said, "Nabile." Her eyes were quite startling – they were large in her thin face, and a light, clear shade of purple.
He asked, "Do you have any ideas?"
Then he realized what he was doing. He'd actually told two young urchins in an alley that he was a wanted thief, and now he was asking their advice!
Well, if anyone knew how to avoid getting arrested, these two would. Marlos was certain that the lists of charges against them were as long as the children were tall.
Nabile said, "Well, most thieves take up with a gang. Like us. We're Scarabs." She patted her arm proudly – she had a black tattoo in the shape of a scarab on her shoulder.
Marlos tried to explain, "I'm not actually a thief. I just..."
She shrugged. "If everyone's shouting 'Thief' and running after you, it'll look the same."
Tomos frowned at Nabile. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking you're thinking?"
"That that just sounded really stupid?"
The boy punched the girl in the shoulder, and she punched him back. Then Tomos sidled away and said, "You want to bring him back with us!"
Nabile whispered in Tomos's ear, but Marlos's hearing was good. "He may be on the lam, but he's got plenty of money – and if we bring him with us, there might be a few more meals."
Tomos cast a speculative look at Marlos. Marlos tried to look as though he were good for dinner – and whatever other food they might want from him. At this point, he was fairly desperate, and as unsavory as a street thief hideout was likely to be, it couldn't be worse than hanging out in the street waiting for Marcia or the guards to track him down.
Tomos sighed. "When Dom shouts at you, I'm out of there."
Nabile said confidently, "Dom won't shout. Not with the money pouch he's got."
Tomos pointed out, "We're just supposed to bring the pouch back – not have the owner attached!"
"Look at him! He asked us for directions! If we just leave him out here, he'll get eaten alive!"
The justification sounded, to Marlos's ears, rather uncomfortably similar to the ones a child would give for bringing home a baby Anubis. But he needed to get off the street. Any port in a storm. And if these thieves were all as young as Tomos and Nabile, he doubted he was in any real danger from them.
Tomos hissed, "Bad idea! Bad, bad, bad idea!"
Nabile grinned. "No, you're the one who comes up with stupid ideas."
"That's how I know one when I see one!"
Marlos said, "Perhaps we leave here before some of the guards see us?"
Nabile shot a hugely smug look at Tomos. "Let's go, then."
He proclaimed, "Bad idea. Terrible idea. Horrible idea."
She shrugged. "We'll let Dom sort it out. Come on – wait, what's your name?"
She gestured, and she and the Tomos started climbing the crumbling wall closest to them as easily as if it had been a ladder – Marlos took to the wing to follow.
Tomos said once more, "Awful idea."
Marlos desperately hoped that the boy was wrong.
To be continued...