Reed was stuck.
She seesawed halfway through a window, her feet and legs stuck out into the street, her head and arms caught in the relatively palatial interior of a merchant’s store house. There was a jar of Iskendari incense worth hundreds mere inches from her hand, but she could not reach it for she was pinned by a heavy window sash which had come down with all the force of a guillotine when she crept through it. That had been unfortunate. More fortunate was the fact that the small hand mace tied at her waist had taken the brunt of the blow and spared her being chopped in half.
The window was too heavy to lift, and squirming only made things hurt more. It was perhaps the most ignominious way Reed had been caught. She had been caught many times before, of course. She’d been caught more than any other thief in Clitera City. She was proud of that fact, for it was a fact – and not many people had facts to fall back on in hard times.
The sound of the merchant’s key in the door spelled the near end of Reed’s imprisonment. Hopelessness and helplessness held her hands whilst the knob turned. The door creaked open. A round, rash-red face appeared. Narrow eyes squinted at Reed.
The squeal of the alarm call went up.
In the lower levels of Clitera one could have shouted for the guards all day and not seen anyone besides cut-throats and scavengers hoping to cash in on misfortune. But Reed had not targeted a lower merchant. She had gone to the High Lanes. She had set her sights on a purveyor of furs and scents. And the guards were there almost immediately. Two of them clomped into the store, thick leather boots scuffing with street debris.
“Thief!” The merchant declared, explaining the situation that needed no explanation, for even the dullest guard understood what was happening simply by looking at Reed.
Mail covered hands pushed at the window. Another pair locked around Reed’s arms and yanked her out. She was dragged roughly from of the shop and summarily marched down the lane between triple story buildings rising high in all their sandbrick glory. There were plenty of fine folk about at that time of day. Each of them took a moment to look down their nose at Reed as she was dragged by.
Reed felt good about that, for she knew she was providing a valuable public service. Without her, the fine ladies passing by in their silken robes and shiny boots would not have known what a better calibre of person they were. Without her, there would have been no need for guards at all. And then the two brawny ladies who had her firmly in their combined grasp would have had to pick peaches, or till the soil, or do something besides drag unfortunate thieves about the place.
She was the most important person in Clitera, Reed was, and she acted like it. At each snide look, she beamed broadly and tipped her cloth cap, bestowing the gift of her sparkling gaze and wicked smile on passers by. A few returned her expression, smiles reluctantly drawn from haughty lips.
“Wipe that look off yer face,” the guard on the left said, giving Reed a shake. “You’re going down deep this time.”
“I always go down,” Reed replied melodically. “And I stay there ’till the shivering stops.”
“That ain’t what I meant. You’ll be going into the pit. Jailer Hide’s had us on the lookout for you.”
“So there will be a reward. What good news for you!” Reed cried out joyfully, genuinely quite pleased for the guard. “This is a good day!”
“Not for you it ain’t.”
“Every day is a good day,” Reed beamed seraphically. Her dark curls bounced about her head as the guards dragged her up and over a raised curb. “This is the day the goddess has made.”
“Quit talking to her, Gertie.” The thus far silent guard to Reed’s right spoke. “That’s how she charms you. Don’t talk to her, don’t even look at her.”
“Oh I won’t charm you,” Reed promised. “I wouldn’t want you to miss out on your reward. How many gold pieces is it this time? Fifty?”
“Fifteen? That’s all? Well, I shall make it much more worth your while next time, ladies.”
“There won’t be a next time. You’re going to be shackled t’ill the end of your days, you mark my words.”
Reed laughed, a delighted sound.
“There’s always a next time.”