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“Keep moving,” a dark stranger insisted. “What?” “Keep going!” he hissed. The dark stranger had the hood of his dark cloak on over his face to hide it. He was a little too well known here. His dark ocean-blue eyes and blonde hair were well known to the civilians a little too well. They would have welcomed him with open arms but he could not trust them because one of them had given him away. Him and his identity. He knew anyone would jump at the chance to claim the hundred gold coins for capturing him, despite their loyalty and love for him. All of these people were poor and a hundred gold coins could go along way for them. James Ocean-Eyes urged the wagon driver to keep going with a long heavy baton stick that could have been a staff. The wagon driver muttered about manners and the politeness of the sort of people these days as he drove on. Then Ocean-Eyes, as he was better known for, stopped the wagon and jumped out. He tossed the driver a gold coin for his troubles. “Not a word,” he whispered to the old man, sliding a small pouch of silver coins to the old man. If he had given the man a bag of gold, the old man would be dead before he reached home. “Ocean-Eyes, what are you doing here? I know you are giving money to the needy but to be here in these times when a hundred gold coins is offered for you is a really risky thing,” the old man whispered. Ocean-Eyes, named so for his eyes which were so unlike any shade of blue anyone had ever scene, only grinned at his companion for the past few hours and with a wave, slipped into the shadows of a building. He briefly touched the front of his vest to make sure that the pouches of silver he had tied there were still there. Then he twirled the baton once and slid off down the street muck towards a line of houses. Ocean-Eyes called himself a generous man. He was about the age of sixteen and he gave to the poor from the spoils he plundered from rich homes and rich drunk lords and ladies on the street. No one ruled him except for a select few whom he allowed to and respected and no one would ever claim him without his consent. He considered himself not a thief but someone who made sure money went plenty around for everyone, not just the rich. He thought about these things as he went, quietly slipping bags of silver into people’s homes where he knew they would find them. A child started crying at a window of a house and he walked over to the house window and looked through the glass window panes at the child.
The child’s family worked almost all day and all night and the boy was left home to be looked after by his older siblings. They worked all day too, Ocean-Eyes knew, and so he decided to spare the older sister the hassle of waking up from a good night sleep. He leaned his baton against the wall of the house and took out his dagger. He slid the dagger into the crack between the two window shutters and slid the clasp open and opened the window. He reached in and pulled the child to his feet. The little boy quieted when he saw that it was him and stood straight and clasped his short arms around Ocean-Eyes’ neck with a whimper. The young man stroked the boy’s back comfortingly. “OceanEyes, I had a bad dream. I dreamt that you were dead and that my sister had run off and I couldn’t find her and that ma and da didn’t come back one night and then I was home alone and, and, and…” the boy blubbered. His whole little body shuddered with a quiet sob. “And it was awful.” “It is all right, child, I will be here to look after you and your family. Here, now, go back to bed. It was only a dream after all. And if Horth the Dream God gives you any more bad dreams then tell him to give you good dreams and if he doesn’t listen, tell him that he’s going to get a visit from me, all right?” Ocean-Eyes said, holding the child at arm’s length. The boy nodded. “There’s a good lad. Now, go back to sleep.” The boy obediently nodded and climbed back into his bed. Ocean-Eyes reached in and pulled the blankets up around the boy’s chin and the boy fell asleep. Ocean-Eyes stood there for a moment, looking at the sleeping child. He then pulled out a bag of silver coins from his vest pocket and slipped it in next to the boy and closed the shutters. He reached into the crack with his dagger again and nudged the clasp back into place. He picked up his baton again and kept going. Eventually, he reached the end of the neighborhood street and reached the schoolhouse. He let himself in and then dropped a bigger one than all the others that he had left, on the chair where he knew the teacher would find it. The teacher was an old friend and she was suffering terribly these days with all the taxes from the government going to other things other than schools and she was short of funds ever since her husband ran off and never returned. He let himself out of the old schoolhouse where he himself had gone to school for a few years and trotted off down another street towards the temple at the end of the road honoring Horth the Dream God. The temple was also his home, the last place where anyone would accept him and the last place where everything was safe for him. As he trudged past the poor box, he dropped in a bag of gold he had been saving. He stopped by the altar and placed a gold necklace and a matching ring on it as an offering and lit a little bit of incense.
“Where have you been, James? We have been waiting for you and we were ever so anxious about your welfare,” a voice said nearby. He turned with a smile and bowed. “I am sorry to have worried you, Father. I was off…helping the poor today. The taxes have doubled,” he replied. The abbot smiled at the young man standing in front of him. “All of us appreciate what you do for us, James, and your father would be ever so proud,” the old man said with a knowing smile. It was something the old man often said that made him happy. His father had died eight years ago in a fire and the abbot had taken him in and taken care of him and continued his education. His father, before he had died, had taught him a great deal of hand-to-hand combat, baton fighting techniques, and many other useful tricks and skill needed for a life in a city full of hatred and violence and a tyrant of a king that ruled it and the surrounding country. The abbot had continued his father’s education after he died and he knew a surprising amount of it. On the abbot’s bad days when his old bones bothered him, he had one of his former students teach him. “Come, it is time for your lesson,” the abbot said. Ocean-Eyes groaned, feeling every sore muscle in his body, almost every single muscle in his body. “I fought off a whole mob, two knights, thirty rebel thieves, seven guards, ten angry lords, and five wrestlers today, plus I scaled three walls, ten roves, five wagons, twenty stalls, and six windows and you want me to go to a lesson,” he protested. The abbot smiled and waited patiently. Ocean-Eyes met the abbot’s steady and patient old eyes and sighed. “All right, let’s get this over with.” “Yes,” he agreed and led the way into a chamber set aside for their lessons. Ocean-Eyes sighed and followed. “I can’t believe you actually keep count, my son.” “I only do that so I can tell you what I did today and hope that you at least will feel a little sorry for me,” Ocean-Eyes said gruffly in reply. The abbot laughed and opened the door to the room. “Put your cloak down on the chair and take your tunic off, then we will begin,” the abbot instructed, turning to a cupboard and choosing a baton. Ocean-Eyes sighed again and set down his baton. He shed his cloak and pulled off his tunic, which smelled of sweat from the day’s work. His skin immediately chilled against the cool breeze that brushed against him. He gritted his teeth against the chattering that he knew would begin soon. The muscles on his torso and arms tensed against the cold as he picked up his baton. He twirled it in his fingers twice in a double-eight shape in front of him and twirled it around and pointed it to the ground. He was holding the baton in the middle with the half of the baton resting against his forearm and the other half pointed at the ground. He stood there waiting for the abbot. The abbot relieved himself of the top
portion of his robes to reveal his trim figure and picked up the baton he had chosen and stepped up. “So, tell me again, Father, why you do this to me every single day and night?” Ocean-Eyes gasped as he dodged a blow and caught another on his own baton. He swung his baton free and came back with his own attacks. The abbot caught each easily on his baton. “So that I can keep you in shape and alive, as your father had wanted me to do,” he said as one twist of movement brought them close to each other. The old man was barely out of breath. Ocean-Eyes only grunted and proceeded with the lesson. At the end of the lesson, he sat slouched and exhausted in the chair and had a cold towel around his shoulders and a flask of cool water in his hands. He sat up and saw that the abbot was watching him. “Did my father ever say who my mother was? I never remembered a woman in my father’s life, but I know I have a mother,” Ocean-Eyes asked like he did at the end of every lesson. He had always wondered who his mother was. His father had told him when he was younger that his mother had given birth to him and then disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again by either of them. Ocean-Eyes had been left with his father and that was the last they both ever saw her, or rather the last his father ever saw her. He had been told he was sleeping when she had handed him to his father. The abbot watched him for a moment. “James, you are now old enough to understand and I will tell you the truth as I see it and as much as I know of,” he said. “Your mother was mentioned to me once or twice by your father. She was never referred to as a name but rather as ‘she’ and ‘my love’ by your father. He adored her very much and missed her and often confided in me that he wanted to find her so that you could at least meet your mother once before something happens.” “And you know who she is,” Ocean-Eyes said flatly, seeing a look in the old man’s eyes. The abbot inclined his head. “Yes, I know who your mother is. But your father made me swear on my grave that I would not tell you because it is for you to find out on your own,” the old man replied. Ocean-Eyes only nodded. The abbot knew who his mother was! “Enough stories for tonight, you have a long day ahead of you tomorrow. The duke of this district requests that you, James, the abbot’s apprentice, run up to him tomorrow because he has something for you.” “I refuse to go near nobility! They put a price on my head, didn’t you know?” Ocean-Eyes immediately said in reply. The abbot held up a hand for silence and it was given. “I know about the reward, James, and I will do anything I can to persuade the royalty that a thief with such skill does not exist and it is probably a made up story that was blamed on for every single thievery. But as for tomorrow, you will go the duke’s townhouse and serve his wishes for the afternoon for it is on his money that the cathedral is still
standing and that we have a roof over our heads,” the abbot said quietly and patiently. Ocean-Eyes obediently nodded and snatched up his cloak and tunic and baton and headed out the door followed by the abbot. He and the abbot bowed to each other once before going their separate ways. He knew that he had to go in respect and gratitude to the duke and as a representative of the cathedral but it could be a trap. He smiled at the cathedral staff as he passed them. He reached his own apartments eventually and let himself in and immediately fell onto the big bed inside and fell asleep without removing his boots. He woke the next morning to the pealing sound of the bells announcing the time for morning prayers. He scrambled out of bed as someone knocked on his door. Without bothering to ask, they opened the door and came in. The abbot appeared with a pile of clothing and dropped it onto the bed. He took one look at Ocean-Eyes and shook his head. He called for a tub and the next thing Ocean-Eyes knew, he was being stripped and dumped into a tub of soapy warm water like a little boy who refused a bath. He sighed and let the abbot scrub his hair clean of mud and muck and who knew what else. He then soaked in the water until it was muddy brown from the previous night’s street muck and cold and climbed out. He wrapped a towel around his hips and ambled to the bed. He changed into his clothes and donned his black cloak. He scrubbed his boots with polish until the black leather shone in the sunlight pouring in from the windows and then put them on. Then taking his baton into his hand and slipping his dagger into its place on his belt in its sheath, he walked out the door. Ocean-Eyes stopped by the kitchen and grabbed a piece of toast with melted cheese on it and an apple. He stopped by the pantry and fished out a flask of cider and tossed a silver coin to the cook and gave the old woman, who had been like a mother to him ever since he could remember, a kiss on the cheek and left. Before he reached the duke’s townhouse in the afternoon, he had finished off his breakfast and managed to keep the road dust off his shined boots and made his way through the city without anyone calling out his name. A thin boy and a gang of ragtag urchin children had tried to take his purse but he caught them, they started to run but his hand had lashed out and caught the thin boy on the shoulder. The other children picked up rocks. He had taken out a small bag of silver and dropped it in the boy’s hands and left off down the street whistling cheerfully, hands in his breeches pockets, baton tucked under one arm since it was too large to have straps to hold it to his belt, leaving behind a gang of staring children in his wake. Now he knocked on the duke’s door and stood there nervously fingering his baton. The door was opened by a pretty girl dressed in a
maid’s uniform and he was welcomed into the house. Ocean-Eyes’ ocean-blue eyes surveyed the rich room with interest, taking note of every single window and the quality of the latch. The maid that had opened the door had sent a runner up to fetch the duke and she now noticed the way the young man examined the house and immediately knew who he was. “Ocean-Eyes,” she murmured, just enough for him to hear. Immediately, his baton swung up and his legs moved into a balanced stance. She seemed startled at the reaction but didn’t back away. He didn’t move as she approached him. “Whatever are you doing here? You are much wanted here –“ “Ah, dear boy, here you are,” a booming voice interrupted her. He shrugged to her and then rested the baton against the stone floor and took on a relaxed stance as a tall man came down the steps. Ocean-Eyes kept an aristocratic smile plastered on his face but inside, he was prepared to lunge out of reach of the duke. “Your Grace, you have sent for me so I came,” he replied with a bow. The duke chuckled and bowed back and led the way up the stairs. He followed the duke after giving a wink to the pretty maid who squealed and disappeared from view as soon as he had put a foot on the stair’s first step. The duke took him up the stairs and down the corridor to a sitting room. Ocean-Eyes sat down in a chair at the duke’s request. “Mr. Ocean-Eyes, I hear you have been quite accomplished, helping the poor of this city thrive in the muck and our king’s orders of doubled taxes,” he announced to his surprise. He started to his feet. “No, sit down, boy, I do not mean you no harm, in fact, I would like to help. These poor are my people as much as they are yours to protect, lad.” “How did you find out?” Ocean-Eyes said, leaning back in his seat with a grin. “I saw how you talked to that child last night and how you thought you secretly slipped bags of money into the poor people’s homes to help them keep going,” a voice said from the shadows. A young woman stepped out from the shadows with a smile on her face. “And I told this to the duke and he arranged a meeting with you.” Ocean-Eyes looked the young woman over with a lazy eye. She was about his age and her body build was similar like his except in a more muscular in a feminine way. She moved with the grace of a cat and walked silently. He was starting to like her for some reason, but it must have been her kind face, which seemed to make everybody who met her like her. They talked for a while and came to an agreement. The duke would have half of the gold that he plundered at night and use that money to do what he can for the poor people and he would keep Ocean-Eyes’ identity and their meeting secret in return. The girl, called Cat, would be his companion to protect him from harm and to be his partner. He had wholeheartedly agreed after he realized that he had
been followed home by her without knowing it and he usually knew when he was followed. Then the duke let them alone to get to know each other. OceanEyes sat down on the couch and Cat dropped gracefully down into next to him with a smile. He couldn’t help but smile at the attractive girl. Golden curls framed her face and set off her green eyes. “You are something to marvel at,” Cat purred out, very much like the cat she was named for. Her hand inched towards his and he casually took it away. She smiled. “So are you, it seems,” he replied. She moved to kiss him gently but he stopped her. His life was devoted to the poor and those who needed him more than Cat. He gently pushed her away. “I can’t, I’m sorry; I have to focus on the people who need me until they have an official protector. Then maybe, we’ll have time.” Cat nodded, understanding, and launched into a discussion of their past lives. He told what he knew of his past and a few stories. At the end, they got to know each other better and they parted with a smile. He got up and walked to the door and opened it. The duke waited on the other side and Ocean-Eyes bowed to him before disappearing down the steps. On the streets, the street children crowded around him and he casually handed out silver coins from one of his pouches as he went down the street. He stopped a responsible-looking urchin teenager and handed him the rest of the bag. The teen, knowing what to do, saluted him with a nod and continued handing out the silvers but kept a few for himself in the pouch as Ocean-Eyes disappeared down an alleyway. Ocean-Eyes strolled along the dark alleyway, listening carefully to any sounds of danger. He came out of the end of the alley onto a street that was one of the city’s busiest streets. He quickly moved out of the way of a passing carriage and then had to dodge a crowd. He plucked three small children from out of the way of a group of cantering horses and returned them to their thankful and much relieved mothers. After the group of scolding adults and grinning meek children moved away from him, he turned and found himself confronted with a sword point. His eyes traveled up the sword to meet the bearer’s eyes. Around them, everything had grown quiet. “At last I have found you!” the man announced as soon as he was loud enough to be heard over the crowd. Ocean-Eyes crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes. Apparently, this man was one of those who liked to be dramatic. “Ocean-Eyes, thief brigand of the city, I place you under arrest by order of the King!” “And what makes you think I am this Ocean-Eyes, my good sir?” Ocean-Eyes asked with a smile, pushing the sword tip away from him with a single finger. He was very much aware that everyone around them was listening. He scanned the crowd out of the corner of his eyes
and he saw that a majority of them were the poor people that he had always helped in the past. “That’s James, the abbot of Horth’s Temple’s apprentice!” someone shouted out in the rear. Everyone joined in and someone winked at him in the crowd and he knew that they were covering for him. “Unless I am much mistaken, the posters all say that Ocean-Eyes carries a baton almost like a staff, wears a black cloak, has blonde hair, and dark ocean-blue eyes that are hard to miss,” the man holding the sword cried out. “There are a lot of people here that look like that,” Ocean-Eyes said calmly. “Now if you excuse me, I have some work to do.” He tried to push past the man but he blocked his way and threw him against the wall. His back slammed into the wall and he managed to keep steady. His baton came up in time to block the descending sword on the wood of his baton. “I would not fight James if I were you, sir, the abbot and his father have been training him in combat for his whole life,” someone called from the crowd. Everyone murmured in agreement even as Ocean-Eyes attacked. He feinted low and then swung up high and tapped the man none too gently on the head and he dropped to the ground, unconscious. Ocean-Eyes bent down and took the sword from the man’s slack fingers and took the sheath from the man’s belt. “Well, he won’t be bothering anyone with a sword for a while,” Ocean-Eyes commented, buckling the sheath onto his own belt and sliding the fine sword into it. Everyone who heard him laughed and went on their way. Ocean-Eyes took his baton into his hand and started off down the street again. He stopped a petty thief from stealing from a begging bowl in front of two young children. As the thief ran away, he examined the two children. They were about seven and ten years of age and they were no doubt orphans. Then a baby started crying and then he saw that the oldest child had a bundle of rags in her arms, no doubt a baby. He took the baby from the little girl and to his surprise, she didn’t fight him. “If ye have t’ adopt children, sir, then you better take m’ baby brother,” she said. Through the dirt and muck, he saw the little girl’s face was filled with hope for her youngest brother. “He’s been on th’ streets since ‘e was born, sir, and has been starvin’ much. He’ll die if ‘e doesn’t get any milk or food in the next few days.” “Nonsense, I’m taking you all with me,” Ocean-Eyes said with a smile to the surprise of the children. He signaled for them to pick up their bowl. “Use those coins you have in there to get yourselves into a bathhouse and get washed and some new clothes on. Then go to the Hothar Temple. I will see you there.” “But, sir, the washer lady won’t let us in,” the older girl protested, putting the coins in her hand in her pockets. “She’s says
we’re nothin’ but a bunch of raggedy rats and can’t come to a place of rich folk and scare tem off with our raggedness.” Ocean-Eyes sighed. “I’ll walk you there then and make sure you all get cleaned,” he said. He led the way to the bathhouse. At the door, the lady who ran the bathhouse looked suspiciously at the clambering dirty children begging her to let them in with coins in their outstretched hands. “I won’t let this bunch in, I won’t,” she announced loudly. “My dear lady, these children are humans like you and I, after all, they need a bath more than any of those people in there,” Ocean-Eyes said with his most charming smile. The woman could not help but smile back. “Ocean-Eyes, even your charm could melt stone,” she said with a smile still on her face as she let the children into the house. “That is the reason why I love my charm,” he said back. He handed over the baby in his arms and she cooed over him and took them inside to the small kitchen. She went over to the sink and filled it with clean water. Then she took the rags off of the baby as he began to cry and then lowered the baby gently into the warm water. Ocean-Eyes took the rag and threw it into the fire with a stick and sat down at the table with his booted legs propped on the table and he leaned back on his chair. The woman put a napkin on the baby and pinned it tight and then wrapped him with a warm blue blanket and set him in a basket. She got a bottle of milk out of the cold box and went to feed the baby. She turned after she was done and scowled at his feet. “Feet off the table, Ocean-Eyes, mind your manners,” she scolded. Ocean-Eyes grinned and put his feet down. “Did you ever hear who turned you in?” Ocean-Eyes shook his head. “Some man named John Manning is what is being said at the moment. I don’t know anything much after that,” the woman replied. Ocean-Eyes scowled madly. “I remember I helped him escape from thieves once, and yes, he’s a semi-noble. After he was promoted to ‘Lord’, I’m guessing that was when he turned me in because he was afraid he would be one of the ones I stole from,” Ocean-Eyes said angrily. His strong fist smashed the table once in anger and he jumped to his feet, his body rigid with anger and he ran his fingers through his blonde hair. The woman stood and put a hand on his shoulder. “Ocean-Eyes, your abbot has already started to spread the rumor that the thief brigand who steals from the rich nobles is only a story. Just lay low for a few days to wait for things to die down, then can go back to stealing and helping again. We all appreciate what you do for us since no one can do what you do and risk yourself to keep us going,” she said softly. He sighed and nodded and handed her a bag of silver. She pocketed it and with a pat on his back, she left to go check on the children.
When she came back, she was smiling. “They’re just getting dried and dressed,” she announced. She put a loaf of bread on the table along with a dish of butter, eating utensils, and a pot of freshly brewed tea. “Can you get the children to the abbot? I need to go take care of…some business,” he said, pulling his hood up and picking up his baton which he had leaned on the wall when they had come in. She nodded absently and he left. He headed to the nearest tavern which he knew men loyal to him reported daily to him there to give him reports and made an entrance. Everyone looked up at the young man poised in the doorway and almost at once, everyone rose to their feet like he was the king. In a way he was, all these men he had trained with in combat and constantly drilled in their heads that if they were to steal, they would do so for the benefit of the needy, not for themselves. “Ocean-Eyes,” a young man murmured in the front of the group. Ocean-Eyes took out a small bag of gold and placed it on the table. The bag was considered small to what he owned because the bag of gold he had was the size of his head and this one was only about as large as his fists put together. Everyone stared at the small bag and he went over to his chair that had always been kept for him and sat down in it. Everyone sat down too. “What’s the news, prince?” someone called. Everyone had always called him prince because his father had been the King of Thieves. Even after eight years, he still didn’t feel it was right to take his father’s place just yet. “Who’s the scum that turned you in?” “Lord John Manning,” he said quietly. Everyone roared with anger and he waited for the noise to die down. “That bag of gold is only half of what the reward is for someone to bring him to me without a dozen guards on their heels,” he said the last part while looking the young man who had spoken to him first. The young man, no more than thirteen, blushed scarlet and looked at the ground. Only a week ago, he had been taking some extra gold from an open carriage when a dozen city guards coming around the corner had caught him at it and they had chased him all the way across the city back to the tavern where they were now. The men inside had kicked the guards out and the guards had given up and went back to their part of the city. “But first things first, I need updates and reports.” “Ships are becoming the rage of the kingdom,” a man called out. “The dogs who call themselves city guards burned down the home of the Johnsons after they refused to pay the tax. No one was permitted to rescue the poor family. The two young parents and their three infant children were burned to death,” someone growled angrily. Everyone looked at the man. Tears of grief were running out of the corners of his eyes. “They were poor, their family had lost their jobs and they had too much pride to come here to ask a bunch of thieves for help.”
The Johnson family was everyone’s friends. They were bright people, never saying a harsh word and always had a smile for everyone no matter if it was a street urchin or a thief. Everyone called out for drinks and the bartender and serving girls hurried to dish out the orders. Ocean-Eyes had sunk inside of himself and accepted the mug from the serving girl with an absent nod. Had he known that the family was in need, he could have made a stop and gave them some money. He was on their street not one week ago, delivering money and stopping greedy thieves. “To the Johnsons!” he called out quietly. Everyone solemnly repeated the toast and drank their ale. “Going on,” he said after a few moments of silence in respect for the loving family. Everyone murmured and talked amongst themselves as if deciding on someone to talk for them. “Anyone else have any new news?” A man stood up, apparently the appointed leader. “Prince, a woman has come to town, claiming to be the Queen of Thieves. She is said to be looking for the King of Thieves or his heir, the heir has ocean-blue eyes and blonde sunshine-gold hair,” the man said uneasily. Ocean-Eyes got to his feet, setting down the tankard. “Who is this woman? Where can I find her?” he asked. Everyone said nothing and instead, turned to the stairs that led up to spare bedrooms in the tavern for those who were too drunk to go home. A pair of boots appeared at the top of the steps and came slowly down, the boots hitting each step with a thud. Ocean-Eyes’ men stood, hands on their weapons. Ocean-Eyes himself just stood casually, booted feet planted apart to balance him and his arms crossed on his chest. “You can find me here,” the woman that appeared said. She had blazing blue eyes and her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Ocean-Eyes gulped. He thought he was looking into a mirror at his feminine self. “Why, do you look like me?” he demanded. He snapped his fingers at his men and pointed to the door. They hurriedly obeyed and left the tavern. The barkeeper and his serving girls had disappeared out of sight. The woman that stood before him was a little shorter than he was and older, twice his age. Her face looked exactly like his except it was more feminine and the blonde hair she had was a shade darker than his. There was no mistake about her eyes, they were exactly his eyes. “I am your mother,” she replied with a smile. When he didn’t move, she sighed. “I am sorry for leaving you and your father alone but people were after me back then and it was something that I had to do. Didn’t your father ever tell you? And where is your father?” “My father is dead,” Ocean-Eyes said, his voice cracking. Tears streamed down his cheeks as the emotions he had kept locked behind a wall in his mind for eight years flooded through him, breaking
through that wall. He turned from the woman and braced himself on a table, his shoulders shaking and his chest heaving as he cried. “He’s been dead for eight years and I miss him very much.” “I am so sorry, James,” the woman whispered. “Where were you when I needed you?” he suddenly said turning on her. “Where were you my entire life?” He suddenly turned on his heel and left the woman inside standing there stunned. He slipped out the door but didn’t go farther. Instead, he leaned against the wall next to the doorframe. The woman that called herself his mother came to him and wiped away his tears with her fingers even as she wiped hers away. “I was running from the government and some of my own people at the time, much like how you are now except that they were hunting me,” she whispered, embracing Ocean-Eyes. He felt comforted and he let his mother bring him inside. “I wanted you to be safe so I left you with your father and I had to leave the city and keep going beyond the borders and sail out to sea. I’ve been at sea for the past sixteen years and now I decided to come back to the two of you, to see my family again, except that you are all that’s left. I am so very sorry, my son, I loved him very much too.” Then together in the silence of the tavern, they held each other and cried silently for the man they both loved dearly. As night fell, Ocean-Eyes had gotten to know his mother even better and he loved her for who she was. She constantly knew every single thing to cheer him up despite the fact that she didn’t know him for even a whole day. Without hesitation, she threw herself into fights to break them up by his side and helped distribute the bags of silver he gave the families every week that needed his help. That night was a different neighborhood from the one the night before. They were soon on their way home to the cathedral when Ocean-Eyes stopped and held his hand up. His mother (who she told him to call Mother or her name that everyone addressed her as, which was Heart) stopped beside him and her twin blades flew into her hands, one blade facing up, and the other blade down towards the ground. “What is it, Ocean-Eyes?” she murmured, looking around warily. “Someone’s following us,” he replied and listened. There were running footsteps and then the footsteps stopped only a few feet away. He drew his baton and lunged at the person following them. There was a yelp and he stopped. “Don’t hurt me!” Cat cried, holding her arms up in front of her face. He sighed and put his baton into one hand and pulled her to her feet. “What are you doing here, Cat?” he asked. She dusted herself off and she smiled up at him charmingly and he only scowled, resisting her charm for now.
“Your business is my business, and mine is mine, let’s just put it at that,” she said. She hooked an arm around his waist and her lips brushed against his neck. “You were following me,” he said flatly, pushing Cat away. She only smiled as his mother approached. “What you have you got there, Ocean-Eyes? A friend of yours?” Heart asked with a teasing smile. Ocean-Eyes scowled at his mother. “In way she is. Heart, this is Cat, Cat, Heart,” he said in the way of a brief and quick introduction. Cat clung onto his hand and he let her as they continued down the road to the cathedral. “So, Heart, are you one of Ocean-Eyes’ girls or what? You seem a bit too old,” Cat asked charmingly. Ocean-Eyes winced at the words but said nothing. “No, dear, I am his mother,” his mother replied, just as charming. Cat’s mouth opened and closed twice and then after that she didn’t say anything. “What are you doing here, Cat?” “I knew that Ocean-Eyes lived in this area so I just happened to be passing by on the way home and decided to stop by to say hello,” the other woman replied. Ocean-Eyes scowled at her. “You live nowhere near here,” he snapped as they reached the cathedral and went in. “You live on the other side of town. Get home before it gets too dark and you get knifed in the back or something.” “Ocean-Eyes, truth is, I don’t have anywhere to go for tonight,” Cat said seriously, losing all sense of playfulness. “The duke doesn’t let anyone but him and his family stay in the townhouse and my family kicked me out of their building just this afternoon after you left. I found out by a runner. I don’t have any money. Please, can I stay with you?” Ocean-Eyes let out a breath. His mother waved to him and trotted off in the direction of the abbot’s office to talk to her old friend. He scowled at her retreating back, knowing that she had left at that time to leave him alone to deal with the problem. He turned back to Cat and put an arm around her. “Yes, you may. The cathedral’s rooms are full tonight so you’ll have to share a room with me if you don’t mind,” he told her. “No, I wouldn’t mind at all,” she said, grinning up at him and returning his embrace. “You’re too handsome to deny and to mind sharing a room with.” Ocean-Eyes only smiled and let them into his rooms. He pulled his cloak off and hung it from a hook on the wall along with his baton by its strap that allowed it to be hung. Cat settled down on a couch and watched him. He reached behind him and caught hold of his tunic and shirt and pulled them off together. He searched around in his wardrobe cabinet and then pulled out a spare shirt and tossed it to her. “You can use that for a nightgown,” he said without turning. He put his tunic and shirt into the wash basket and set a new set out for the next day. He pulled his boots off and his stockings off with them
and threw the stockings into the wash basket and tossed the boots by the door. He got rid of the last bit of clothing and climbed into bed. He twisted onto his side and lay with one arm tucked under one of his pillows. He turned to watch Cat on the couch under a blanket. Her clothes lay in a neat pile by the couch. She turned and her green eyes met his blue ones. “I have felt some sort of connection you ever since we met. The way you walked, the way you held yourself, the way everyone treated you told me who you were and I liked you for that,” she whispered in the darkness of the room. He said nothing for a few moments. He didn’t have the same feelings for her as she did for him and did not know what to say. “I have to help the people above all things. They need me and I…can’t afford any…distractions,” he finally said softly and haltingly. He could tell that she was disappointed at his reply but didn’t say anything. “All right, Ocean-Eyes, I will wait, but together, we will defeat the evil of abuse and tyranny in our home,” she murmured and fell asleep. He stayed awake for a while, thinking about the future and what she said. Then he fell asleep too. “Since you missed last night’s lesson, James, you will make it up this morning,” the abbot told him when he arrived at the breakfast chamber. The monks and guests were eating their breakfast. The only ones who sat at the head tables were Ocean-Eyes, the abbot, Heart, and Cat. “Yes, Father,” he said obediently. “I’m glad you have been keeping him in line, Father,” Heart said from on the other side of the abbot. “Boys his age need to be kept in line.” He scowled at his mother as she grinned back and the abbot only smiled slightly and inclined his head. “Your mother is going to be joining us this morning for the lesson. I have been informed that you have gained a sword the day before. I would like you to bring it along with your baton today,” the abbot said to Ocean-Eyes. He scowled again but he was too taken by his food to say anything. “No wonder why you have those scowl lines on your face,” Cat whispered in his ear. She skipped away from him with a laugh before he could do anything and went to give her tray to the kitchen staff. Ocean-Eyes sighed and finished up and handed his tray to the servers and went to his room. He grabbed his sword and baton and went to the practice room. He shed his shirt and unsheathed his sword just as the abbot came in followed by Heart. “Let me see that sword, Ocean-Eyes,” his mother commanded, holding out her hands. He gave the blade to her, hilt first and she examined the sword. “It is well enough for you to use.” She tossed it back and he caught it expertly by the hilt. She unsheathed a sword from her side that he just realized she wore and
then she swung it at him. He barely got enough time to bring up his sword to block his mother’s attack. “Good reflexes,” his mother commented with a grin. He smiled back and then all his concentration was taken by using and wielding the unfamiliar weapon in his hands. He yelped with surprise and pain as his mother tapped in on his ribs for not protecting them and he glared at her and resumed his attack. “Got to keep your body protected!” she cried, skipping away and swinging back in to attack him. He hurriedly blocked her. “Where did you learn all of this?” he gasped, sweat beginning to form on his chest and in between his shoulder blades. He noticed that she was barely out of breath and she was smiling as she attacked and blocked him. “Well, you pick up a few things when you sail with expert swordsmen and pirates,” she replied and tapped his leg not so gently. He moved his leg out of the way and attacked her while she was busy tapping. To his surprise, her blade was already where his blade had been going to hit. “You fight like the devil, you do,” Ocean-Eyes informed his mother. She only laughed and disengaged her sword from his and attacked with a grin. “Well, I’ve got to say, even though the abbot never trained you with the sword, you fight pretty well with it,” she said with a smile. She suddenly straightened and twirled her sword in her fingers for a moment and then let the tip rest on the stone floor. He gasped for breath and stumbled backwards and then his rear end met the stone floor painfully just as the abbot let himself into the room. “And where were you?” Ocean-Eyes asked. The abbot smiled and shrugged. “Some business had me preoccupied,” he replied with a merry twinkle in his eye. He turned to Heart. “How did he do?” “He did surprisingly well, actually, better than what I expected,” she replied with a proud smile to Ocean-Eyes. He smiled back, happy at the praise from his mother. “You didn’t just sail with pirates and swordsmen, did you, Heart? You were their captain,” Ocean-Eyes said, realizing the reason for his mother’s great swordsmanship skills and her commanding tone quality of her voice. She grinned and nodded. “Thought you would figure out who I am soon enough, being the smart boy you are. Yes, I was known as a Pirate Queen because I ruled a ship of pirates and though I never harmed a soul, I did plunder and I have become rich in my travels. But no gold or amount of wealth could replace my family so I came back here with my money and left the ship in charge of my First Mate upon my return. I believe they wanted to sail to some of the other islands to be honest merchants for a while, taking a break from their piratical life,” Heart replied in answer to his question.
“So fighting and thievery has always been in my blood,” OceanEyes said, lost in thought. Heart stretched, arching her back and then twisting from side to side to get the kinks out of her spine. “Ohhhhh, I wouldn’t say thievery,” she said, pulling the first word especially long. “I believe you call yourself someone who just makes sure that money and wealth goes around, not just to the rich but to the poor. That, my son, is what is in your blood - not thievery. You are as fine as any noble can be in my eyes and those you help,” Heart said, with another proud smile. The door suddenly burst open and one of the men from OceanEyes’ “court” ran in. “Ocean-Eyes, the guards did it again, they’re setting fire to that one house with that one child you always looked after, the one who’s parents worked all day and left their son to be looked after by their siblings. The siblings have lost their jobs and their parents haven’t scraped enough money to pay the tax. The bag of silver you dropped off a few days ago was taken last night,” he gasped. Ocean-Eyes shot to his feet and the next thing anyone knew, he was out the door, his shirt on along with his heavy black cloak, his sword in its sheath, and his baton in his hand. Heart hurried to catch up with her son as he broke into a run and she fell in by his side. They arrived at the street just as smoke started to appear. Ocean-Eyes’ blue eyes were blazing with anger and he hit anyone with his baton who were not quick enough to get out of the way. Everyone else had the sense to let him through. The guards who were torching the house were unexpectedly attacked, not expecting any civilians to fight back. They recovered but by the time they had, Ocean-Eyes had already kicked down the door and dashed inside while Heart and Ocean-Eyes’ man held their ground and kept anyone from entering or coming near. Smoke blinded him and choked him but he pushed on, only caring for the family inside. He went to the boy’s room and swatted aside a burning curtain without noticing as it burned the skin of his hand. He found the child sitting in bed, clutching a blanket and howling for his mother. Ocean-Eyes scooped the child up into his arms and charged into the next room, pushing burning things away from him and the child as he went. He grabbed a towel on the way and soaked it in a bucket of water he found and told the child to hold it over his little face. The boy did so without hesitation and though he whimpered every now and then, he didn’t struggle. “Is there anyone else in the house?” he asked the boy, shouting to be heard above the roar of the fire. Sweat rolled down his head and the places where he had been burned throbbed in pain. The boy nodded and pointed down the hall. Ocean-Eyes charge down the hall, kicking down doors as he went. He found three of the boy’s sisters huddled in a corner in one room, clutching each other in fear. They sagged with relief as they saw him and they stood and rushed up to him. One took their brother from him and he was able to press on with
both of his hands free. There was shouting and hammering coming from a room just across the hall. Ocean-Eyes shouted for the people inside to stand back and he kicked the door down, realizing that it had been barred from the outside, no doubt by the guards before they began to burn the house. The two parents and their other two sons came out, relieved and they hugged their family to make sure they were all right and Ocean-Eyes led the way back to the door. There was a sudden groan and a splintering crack and a burning beam came crashing down, blocking their path. The family behind him screamed with fear. He quickly led them to the very back of the building where he knew was a large window. He smashed the window open and the family scrambled out, ignoring the cuts on their hands inflicted by the broken glass stuck in the frame. Ocean-Eyes backed up as far as he could go and took a running leap at the window and leaped through it, avoiding the sharp broken glass still in the window and then as he hit the ground, he rolled to his feet and managed not to tumble backwards. The family had been taken into the arms of their friends and neighbors and they were crying with happiness at their good luck and shouting their thanks to him. Heart and Ocean-Eyes’ man was running towards him and then he doubled over coughing and gasping for breath from the smoke. His eyes stung and his throat had closed from the smoke and he closed his eyes but Heart made him lie down on the ground. She found a bucket of clean water and had the man on Ocean-Eyes’ other side to hold open his eyes as she sprinkled drops of water into them, clearing them up and making them feel better. Ocean-Eyes reached up and gripped his mother’s forearm in thanks and sat up. She offered the ladle of water to him and he drank it down and nearly coughed up most of it. He drank another ladle and stood quickly as the guards who had torched the house came charging angrily towards them. Ocean-Eyes lunged to his feet, baton in his hands. He disarmed one easily with his baton and dropped another with a tap on the head. The other one was more experienced and ducked as he reached out to hit him. The guard that had ducked seized the other end of his baton and pulled it out of his grip and flung it a few feet behind him. Heart moved in but Ocean-Eyes shook his head at her, his anger and hate for these guards burning in his eyes. He drew his sword and engaged the man with it, cutting and jabbing and slashing at him. “Fool boy’s going to get himself killed,” he heard his mother mutter behind him. He only grinned and kept attacking. He dropped to the ground as the guard made a cut he knew he couldn’t stop and to the guard’s surprise, he lost grip of the sword and it flew out of his hands and lodged itself in the charred wooden support of the burning building behind Ocean-Eyes. The guard’s eyes were wide with fear as Ocean-Eyes advanced on him. He grabbed the man and kicked him out as far as he could as the crowd parted to let the man through. The man
landed, sprawled in the muck, and he managed to escape as the crowd turned to an angry mob, intending to kill the men who had tried to kill a good family. His companions woke up and ran after their leader. The crowd cheered at the guards’ retreating backs and turned on Ocean-Eyes and began to give him pats and congratulations as he stood there, a little tired and exhausted, supported by his mother. Then just as gradually they started cheering, their cheers died down and a distinctive clapping sound could be heard. All heads turned to the man who was clapping and realized who he was and the crowd broke up to join the bucket brigade which had started up when the fight had begun. Behind the man stood a whole squad of dismounted elite guards of the palace, all holding their horses’ reins. Their captain, Ocean-Eyes realized, was the man standing there clapping. “Extraordinary fight, young man. Ocean-Eyes, I believe,” the man said with a smile. He snapped his fingers at his men and twisted and turned his hand in the motions of several signals. The men saluted their captain and dropped their horses’ reins and half went to help in the bucket line while the other half went to see to the nearly-burned family. “You know what we call your kind here, captain? We call you dogs. Dogs you are because you all take what you all want and never give it back and if that thing you wanted can’t come to you, you attack those who possess it if they don’t hand it over. What is it you want? When the captain of the elite guard shows up, it usually means he wants something,” Ocean-Eyes snarled, he took a step forward and his mother latched herself to him, anchoring him down from taking another step. He ignored her and dragged her with him, stepping close enough so that he was face to face, nose to nose with the man. “We protect the people –“ “I protect the people,” Ocean-Eyes hissed. The man actually took a step back. “Where were you when the Johnsons were burned to death yesterday? Where were you when the poor of the city were being robbed by taxes to pay for the rich nobles’ leisure? You aren’t protecting them, captain; you live off of their money – money that they earn off the sweat on their backs and the blood from their bodies.” “I’m sorry, Ocean-Eyes, this isn’t my doing. I would never let my men burn anyone for not paying their dues nor would I have allowed the thievery to go on had I known about it,” he said quietly. He seemed genuinely sorry about it. He put a hand up. “And hear me out before you go on making any more accusations.” “I’m sorry, I’ve been protecting these people ever since I could and someone’s put a price on my head for helping them,” Ocean-Eyes said with a sigh. His mother let go of him once he realized he wasn’t going to attack the captain. “I have a proposition for you. The commander of the units in this city has noticed how cruelly the city guards work and realizes it is time for a change. All the guards you see on the walls of the city today will
be replaced by proper, more experienced and fairer guards by midnight,” the captain said. “And what do I have to do with this?” “I hear you prowl the streets at night, taking things from those who do not need it or just to teach them a lesson,” the captains said with a grin. Ocean-Eyes crossed his arms over his chest and didn’t let an expression show. “Tonight, at midnight, I would like you to prowl the streets but you will be fetching a new kind of…object.” “What is it? Get to the point, captain; I have things to do today.” “I’m sure you do. I would like you to bring down the former city guards if they are caught abusing the people that voted against their release, which would be all of the townsfolk. Tonight, the people are in more danger from their former protectors than they ever would have been before. This group of men is brutal and cruel and will be ever more so when they learn of their jobs. They will take their anger out on people who they think have caused their loss of job and power,” the captain whispered. “It will be a horror scene and you, it seems, and your men, are the only ones I know who are capable for this job because you love the people and you take good care of them.” Ocean-Eyes thought about it and finally nodded. “If what you say is true, then I will accept this plan, if not, then you will regret making me give you a visit,” Ocean-Eyes said, his eyes glittering dangerously in the afternoon sunlight. “I swear on my life and my soul that I am telling the truth,” he said solemnly. Behind Ocean-Eyes, the fire had been put out. The captain’s men were waiting with their horses again. They swung into their saddles as one with their captain. The captain saluted OceanEyes. “Bring thirty-two men and pair them up. They will be able to take them out in pairs. Till tomorrow then, Ocean-Eyes.” And with that, he wheeled his horse around and trotted down the street, his men behind him. People moved out of the way of the horsemen as they passed and then they were gone. Ocean-Eyes went on his way and disappeared in the crowd before Heart knew it. She was surprised at her son’s ability to suddenly vanish and appear somewhere else by slipping unnoticed to different places, yet she was proud because it reminded her of how Ocean-Eyes’ father had done the same thing, appearing where he was least expected and disappearing without notice. She picked up his baton from where it had been flung and followed after Ocean-Eyes. Ocean-Eyes mulled over the captain’s words and silently signaled his men to him as he saw them. They nodded and ran to get the rest of his court. He eventually made his way to the tavern and he pushed open the door and fell heavily into his usual chair. One of the serving girls came forward as soon as she saw him and gave him a mug of ale. As he reached out to take it, she caught his hand and held it up in the light as she set down the mug.
“Your hands are burned, let me tend them,” she murmured. She raised his hand to her lips and kissed the burns gently with a smile and then let it go to get a medical kit. She returned just as a crowd of men came in and the barkeeper came out from the back and began to dish out mugs of ale to the men. The girl slid into his lap and he let her, too exhausted to protest. She set the kit on the table next to them and set his hands in her lap. She began to wash, dress, and bandage them. “Ocean-Eyes, what -?” one of the men asked as they saw his condition and sooty face. Everyone turned their attention to him as they realized that their prince was hurt. He gave an assuring smile to them but it was Heart who had somehow managed to appear at his side who answered. “He got burned rescuing one of the families,” she said. She slid into a seat next to him and snapped her fingers at the girl in his lap and pointed towards the bar. The barmaid slid off of his lap and Heart took over caring for his hands. After she finished, she cleaned his face too. The men said nothing at seeing the prince being cared for by an older woman though they thought it odd. The Prince of Thieves always cared for himself and so they realized that the woman who was tending him, who looked almost alike him, was someone close to him and let her be. “In case you all didn’t know, she’s Heart, my mother,” OceanEyes said, lazily introducing her as his men glanced at his mother with curiosity and suspicion. They smiled at the blue-eyed woman and she grinned wolfishly back at them. He eyed his men and glared at them. “She’s also known as the Pirate Queen and the Queen of Thieves.” That set their expressions right. Their faces became more respectful and they returned to their drinks but their ears were turned towards any words their leader had to say. Ocean-Eyes told him of the captain’s proposal and they all heartily agreed to participate and then groups were quickly paired up and then recorded on a sheet of paper. That paper was given to a boy in the court and he was paid a copper coin to run it up to the captain. “See you all tonight then,” Ocean-Eyes said, standing. They all stood and bowed to him and his mother as one left. Heart grabbed him as he was about to start out the door after his men. She waited until the door swung closed and the barkeeper and his girls disappeared in the back before she let go of him. Ocean-Eyes regarded his mother for a minute and then said, “I have some work to do.” “I know you do, my son, but you aren’t healed –“ “Doesn’t matter, people could die or be robbed for what little they have if I sit around waiting for my hands to heal. Look, I’ll wear my gloves if it makes you feel better, Mother, but nothing will stop me from going out there,” he interrupted. She sighed and then smiled at him. Heart brushed a speck of ash from his cloak and dusted him off a little before she held him at arms length and studied him.
“You are very much like your father, James, and I’m very proud of you,” she said with a smile. “He was always off helping people and the only time I saw him was either when he needed my girls to help him or during the night. Otherwise, he remained busy but we managed to get along. Go on now, and be safe.” “’Girls’?” She smiled. “I used to be the leader of the most fearsome pack of females in the city. We turned towards helping people after I fell in love with your father and he asked us to be part of his court. We refused of course but we agreed that we would be there when he really needed us. I saw him every night but one day, one of my girls overthrew me, as is the way of power in the world of thieves and set the guards and the police on me. That night, they almost caught me when I was giving birth to you. So I had to finish up quick and leave the city and you with your father,” she said with a sad smile. Ocean-Eyes embraced his loving mother and held her for a moment before he pulled his hood over his head and accepted his baton from his mother and left. Ocean-Eyes scaled the wall next to the tavern, climbed up onto the rooftop and looked out over the city. He loved it on the roves because no one was up there and the roves were close to together in the city so they were safe for traveling. No one would even know he was up there unless they looked straight up but by then, he would have been gone. He leaped across the gap between the tavern’s roof and the next and kept moving. He crouched down on the corner of a roof just as a lady dressed in plain clothes but was plainly a noble walked by down the street. “Ladies like those would stand out to any thief and mug a mile away,” he muttered as he followed the lady on the rooftops. Sure enough, a gang of thieves and mugs swarmed around her and with a scream, they carried her off. The gang traveled fast and Ocean-Eyes had to run faster than he had before on the rooftops to catch up with them. They brought the lady into an alleyway and dumped her on the muddy street but before they could get around to taking her valuables, Ocean-Eyes had made the dangerous drop from the second-floor rooftop to the ground and announced his entrance with a loud splash of squelching mud. “Ocean-Eyes!” one of them exclaimed. Ocean-Eyes just stood there casually, leaning on his baton and watching them. “We were doing your work, sir! We were harvesting them pieces off of this here lady!” The same man that had spoken to him pointed at the pair of gold earrings that were revealed by the lady’s fallen hood. The other thieves and their companions nodded in agreement. They advanced on the lady and she stared back at Ocean-Eyes helplessly. “Stop,” he commanded quietly. They stopped.
“We’re doing your –“ “You are taking those ‘pieces’ of hers for your own gain, John. I know because you are a part of a gang that takes what they want for themselves. I’ve caught people from your gang before taking people’s belongings for themselves and I choose not to believe you,” OceanEyes interrupted him. John opened and closed his mouth several times but Ocean-Eyes shook his head. “Don’t try making up an excuse, you aren’t even good at making them.” And with that, John growled and barked a few orders and then the whole gang lunged at Ocean-Eyes. Ocean-Eyes had been expecting it. He had seen the way the gang had been standing and knew that they would attack him. He dropped three with his baton and sent one flying by tripping him as he came at a full run towards him. He rammed one in the stomach and he doubled over as Ocean-Eyes turned on his other attackers. He finished up quickly and let the gang run off into the street and turned his attention towards the woman. She lay where the gang had dumped her in the mud. She lay trembling and staring up with fear at him but he only gave her a reassuring smile and set his baton aside and lifted the woman to her feet. “Are you all right, Miss?” he asked gently. She slowly nodded and he picked up his baton and then helped her down the street. She watched him warily but with open curiosity and he smiled back when he caught her staring and she blushed. “Oh, yes, thank you, kind sir, for saving me. It was good timing when you came by the way you did,” she murmured. He smiled. “Did you really think that it was good timing?” he murmured in reply. She smiled and shook her head. “Well, I had been keeping an eye on you ever since you were walking in the street. Did you know that any thief could have spotted you a mile away?” “Was I that obvious?” she asked timidly and shyly. He nodded and she blushed again. He put an arm around her shoulders and she stiffened as he did it but then soon relaxed. Everyone greeted OceanEyes with a smile or a bow and tipped their hats to his companion. For them, it wasn’t unusual to see him with his arm around the shoulders of a lady. The woman he escorted gave him strange looks every time the people they passed greeted him. “Pardon me, but who are you?” “I am James Ocean-Eyes, Prince of the Thieves, son of the Pirate Queen,” he replied casually and then smiled down at her. “You can call me Ocean-Eyes since that is what everyone calls me.” “So you are the infamous Ocean-Eyes!” she exclaimed. He only walked on but she grabbed his arm and it made him stop. “Everyone is looking for you to claim the hundred pieces of gold award; what are you doing wandering out in the open! Anyone could catch you and turn you in.”
“Yes, but these people are my friends. They are the ones I help and protect from ones like your sort,” he said. He pulled gently out of her grip and continued on. “Who are you anyway?” “I am…Lady…Katherine,” she murmured, looking away. He didn’t miss the hesitation or her glance away from him and knew that she was lying but didn’t press her. “You may call me Kate.” “All right, Kate, where were you going before the gang caught you?” he asked her. She shrugged. “I was just wandering the city. I wanted to get away from the palace for a while. There was a huge fight up there and the tension is high,” she said. Ocean-Eyes was about to reply but there was a scream and a shout and Ocean-Eyes ran towards the sound with Kate on his heels, hoping that it wasn’t another fire. As he arrived on the scene, there was the shout of “Thief!” and someone almost broke past him as they ran and he reached out and his strong hands managed to keep a hold of the man, he realized. “Stop, thief, and give the good woman back her purse,” he commanded as kind as he could make it. The young man stubbornly shook his head. “Give it back and I’ll give you a pouch of silver.” And with that, he brought out a small pouch of silver and held it up in front of the man’s face and shook it there. The man stared at the pouch and then slowly handed him the purse. Then he suddenly snatched the pouch and ran. Ocean-Eyes shook his head and strode up to the woman and handed over the purse. The woman offered a smile of thanks and he smiled back and went on his way with Kate behind him. “You were wandering the city,” he said flatly as if they had never been interrupted. As they went on their way, he stopped more thieves from taking things from people and saved a man from being swindled of all of his money. Kate observed all he did with curious eyes. “Yes, I was wandering the city, trying to see the life of the people here and see if I could blend in. It was something I always did when I came down to the city though it was usually one of my servants who came down to buy things for me,” she said. As night started coming, he escorted Kate to the palace gate and dropped her off there with the promise of seeing her again. She would be safe beyond this point. Before she left, she stood on tiptoe and kissed him gently on the lips and with a smile, she was gone. He stood there for a moment, stunned, before he set off to meet with his men and the captain for the night’s work, hands in his breeches pockets and whistling cheerfully as he went along. His men and his mother included had all decided to meet the captain at Ocean-Eyes’ “court” in the tavern they usually did since it was away from the wall and no one would suspect anything if a group of men appeared in the tavern. As he entered the room, the men cheered and celebrated what they were about to do that night.
“Ocean-Eyes, we think it is time you took your father’s place as King of Thieves to begin your new reign on a night when the city guards are to be replaced with honest men,” one of the men called out. Everyone cheered at the words and Ocean-Eyes smiled. “Tonight, I agree, is the perfect night that I should take the throne of the city as King of Thieves like my father was before me. My mother, the Queen of Thieves has returned home and she will rule by my side,” Ocean-Eyes announced. They cheered and a happy barkeeper brought out the chair covering that was decorated with the emblem of the King of Thieves and all the symbols that represented the title and the purpose of the title. It had been put away when his father had died since no one came forward to take the place as king until now. The barkeeper respectfully spread it on Ocean-Eyes’ “throne” and bowed himself away. Ocean-Eyes ran his fingers over the silk of the covering, memories coming back to him. He remembered when he was younger, he would stand or sit beside his father as his father sat on this very covering and this very chair. Now it was his turn to take his place. He faced his court and with a smile, he sat down as they cheered. Drinks were dished out and they drank to his health and his new responsibilities. He thanked them and some called for seconds, not giving up the chance to drink ale paid for from the pocket of someone other their own. After everything settled down, the captain came striding through the door with some of his guards and a table was hastily cleared for them in front of Ocean-Eyes. As the captain sat, Ocean-Eyes looked down at the man with some sense of authority as his mother stepped up next to him. He felt the comfort of her presence and the comfort of his father’s through the covering of the chair like an embrace and his courage rose. He motioned the barkeeper over and the man and his girls served the guards some drinks and left. The girls stayed and they flirted and talked with the strangers. The guards smiled and flirted back but they did nothing else, no pinching nor attempts to kiss one of the girls, Ocean-Eyes noticed with interest. The captain only smiled at the girl who tried to flirt with him and waved her away. “Ocean-Eyes, your men seem a little…cheerful tonight,” he commented, pausing to watch Ocean-Eyes’ celebrating men. The barkeeper had been instructed to water the ale and to not let any of the men have third helpings of the drink because they had work to do that night. The men would have been rowdier but because of the watered ale, they weren’t as much. “We watered the ale some, captain, not to worry,” Ocean-Eyes replied, knowing the captains worry. The captain gave a brief and quick smile but Ocean-Eyes knew he was relieved. “We start in half an hour, Ocean-Eyes. Meanwhile, do you have any rooms or somewhere for me to rest? The whole day I’ve been
going around stopping men from burning down houses and arresting thieves,” the captain said. He emphasized his point by hiding a yawn behind a hand. Ocean-Eyes nodded at the stairs that led to the upper level of the tavern and the captain stood and walked up the stairs followed by two of his guards, no doubt to guard him while he napped. “Your Majesty,” someone said. Heart nudged him and he realized that that person was talking to him and smiled. He looked around for the person addressing him and found him in front of him. The man bowed low. “Your Majesty, congratulations on your new post. Hopefully you will rule as well as your father?” “We shall see, rise and return to your companions,” Ocean-Eyes said with a smile. A guard approached him and seated himself in a seat next to Ocean-Eyes. “’Your Majesty’?” he asked curiously. “Ocean-Eyes has been elected tonight to be the King of Thieves,” Heart explained. “We address the King of Thieves as ‘Your Majesty’ as is suited for his position as ruler of the crooked protectors of the people.” “I see,” the man said to no one in particular and looked out over the tavern at the men. “Your subjects seemed overjoyed about it.” Ocean-Eyes grinned. He was beginning to like this man. “They like to find any excuse of an occasion to drink,” he replied. He leaned back in his seat and watched over his men. “To your health and new reign, Your Majesty!” someone cried from over on the other side of the room and everyone cried out the same words and it was silent for a moment as they took a swig from their tankards. “Don’t get too drunk, men, we have work to do tonight,” OceanEyes warned, standing up. They nodded and shook their heads, whether in agreement of not getting drunk or denying they were drunk, he didn’t know. He walked among his men, talking to the more senior men and told them what to watch out for and told them to help the younger and more inexperienced men with the job. They nodded and went back to their drinks. Exactly half an hour later, the captain appeared at the top of the steps and waited for everyone to quiet down. Ocean-Eyes climbed up next to him to stand next to him. “Someone call my guards in from outside please,” the captain started out. One of Ocean-Eyes’ thieves ran outside and shouted for the captain’s men. A moment later, they came followed by the thief who had gone to fetch them. Those men found seats and all was quiet once more. “You all know our job tonight to end the tyranny of the city guards who are supposed to be guarding the citizens of the city but are instead terrorizing them. Ocean-Eyes has sent me a letter with the lists of the pairs. Please get into them now.” For a moment there was some shuffling and moving around and then when it stopped, everyone had gotten into their pairs. Ocean-Eyes
stepped forward. “One elite guard will be put with each pair so that if you must attack a city guard, you will not be in trouble for it because you have a person of authority with you to help you attack and arrest if needed. Elite guards, please find a pair to join for the night,” OceanEyes said. The captain gave a small nod at him in silent consent and approval as the guards behind him went to join their fellows down the stairs and got into groups also. Once everyone was settled and groups of three men stared up at them on the stairs, waiting for further instructions. “In three minutes, the watch will change. When the former city guards go to their stations for the night and find someone already there, they will be angry to find that they have been replaced and their services are no longer needed. We need you all to spread yourselves evenly along the city wall and follow the angry guards. If they start causing violence, arrest them. This includes vandalizing property,” the captain said quietly. “I will be paired with Ocean-Eyes and Heart and the three of us will be traveling over the city tonight watching over the proceedings until morning comes. If you need help, my men have whistles and certain codes to blow them in. Listen to the guards in your groups for they will help you all with whistle codes if you are summoned for help.” “And blow as hard as you can on the whistle for as long as you can and as loud as you can if you need our help with a group or if you need nearby groups to help you,” Ocean-Eyes added. The groups nodded. “Now go men, go and deal justice out to those who doesn’t respect it in the proper way it should be.” With a roar of approval, the groups charged out into the night and dispersed all over the city, following the guards in their groups to assigned places. Ocean-Eyes went down the stairs and took his cloak from his mother and put it on. He grabbed his baton and was about to leave when Heart grabbed his arm. “I have something for you,” she said and with that, she reached behind his chair and brought out a bag filled with hilts of knives of all lengths. He drew one out and smiled. He stuck two of the mediumlength knives in his boots where they could be drawn easily and tied two of the smaller-length knives to his forearms and the last one, a long knife that came in a sheath, next to his sword on his belt. He embraced his mother. “Thank you, Mother,” he murmured. He kissed her cheek and with her and the captain at his heels, he slipped out the door. He climbed onto the roof the same way he had done earlier in the day. “Why aren’t we on the ground?” the captain asked as he pulled himself up heavily onto the roof next to Ocean-Eyes. Heart pulled herself up onto the roof easily. Ocean-Eyes thought it must be from climbing masts and sails for sixteen years in all kinds of conditions that made it easy for her.
“It is so that we can cover more ground and see easier onto the streets,” he replied. The captain looked across the new perspective of the roads above the streets that he had never seen before in this way and nodded in understanding. “Come on, it’s almost time.” And with that, Ocean-Eyes made his way across the rooftops towards the ones closest to the walls followed by his companions. As they neared the walls, there was an angry shout and swearing on the walls. “The city guards must have just found their replacements,” Heart said with a wolfish grin behind them. The other two men grinned and just waited. In the dark, Ocean-Eyes could pick out the groups of three along the walls. He saw two detach themselves from the wall and slip into the shadows of the streets as the former guards started coming down the stairs from the city walls with angry looks on their faces. The other groups began to do the same. Then over on the other side of the city, there was a whistle blast, calling for help. Ocean-Eyes immediately took a running leap to the next roof and ran across the rooftops, leaping over gaps in between the houses. The whistle sounded again, this time much closer. OceanEyes stopped and listened and he heard sounds of struggle and a scream just below him so he looked down. Two groups of his men and their guards tackled with a gang of sixteen former city guards who were about to carry off three women. They were outnumbered. Without hesitation, Ocean-Eyes dropped to the ground and landed neatly on the ground. Heart and the captain had caught up and Heart leaped and landed neatly next to him but the captain just climbed his way down. “Captain, get those women out of there,” Ocean-Eyes commanded as he hit one guard in the stomach as he charged towards him. He dropped him easily and tackled a knot of the guards as the captain did as he was told and coaxed the women out from behind the group of guards. They came out without hesitation and the captain brought them to a safe distance before joining into the fight. When the fight was over, the sixteen guards lay on the ground moaning as the thieves and guards walked around with leather ties and tied their hands together and hobbled their feet to prevent them from escaping. There were several short blasts of whistles nearby and the captain straightened from tying off one guard. All of his guards looked at him to see what he would do as the thieves, Ocean-Eyes, and Heart watched, a little confused. “There’s been murder,” the captain explained. He turned to his men. “You men get these people to the holding cell at our headquarters just around the corner. I’m going with Ocean-Eyes and Heart to investigate the murder.” His men saluted him and they moved off. Ocean-Eyes and Heart followed the captain as he took them down the street as the whistle sounded again for murder. The captain took his own whistle out and
replied back and the whistle stopped. They turned down an alley and found one of the groups standing guard around a city guard who had been gagged and bound hand and foot. The man had blood splatter all over his bound hands and the front of his shirt and all over his breeches. He snarled at them as they arrived and Ocean-Eyes silenced him by giving him a tap on the head with his baton. The men stepped back to reveal a white body lying on the stones of the street. Ocean-Eyes stepped closer for a closer look and to examine the body. The body belonged to a young girl just a little younger than he was and her mouth was wide open with terror and her now-glazed-over eyes showed fear. Her throat was slit open and there were stab wounds on her legs and arms. Her white skirt was bunched up under her and she lay in a pool of her own blood. Ocean-Eyes turned away, sickened, and Heart rubbed his back in sympathy. “I have seen many dead in my time but never as gruesome as this,” Heart murmured angrily, her eyes still on the girl who would never grow up to be a wife and a mother and be an important somebody in the city. “He did this?” Ocean-Eyes asked, pointing to their prisoner. The men nodded and he strode up to the man and untied his gag. “How could you kill that little girl?” “I had to, I had to do it,” the man moaned. “You had to do it for what?” Ocean-Eyes demanded. The man didn’t reply and he hit him hard across the face with the back of his hand. “Reply to my question! A little girl is dead just because you ‘had to do it’!” The man winced and shook his head. Ocean-Eyes backhanded him again and everyone started forward to keep him from hurting their prisoner but Heart warned them with a shake of her head and they backed off. “All right, I had to do it because she wanted me to,” the man cried. Ocean-Eyes knew he was lying. “If she had wanted you to do it, she wouldn’t be sprawled out like that and there wouldn’t look as if it had been a struggle!” he yelled. He stood over the man and poised to strike again. “Tell the truth!” “Ocean-Eyes,” the captain said quietly. “No, this man will tell me why he killed that –“ “Ocean-Eyes! We have other responsibilities right now! You can question the man later,” the captain said over him. He came over and rubbed the younger man’s shoulders. “Ocean-Eyes, it is not your fault that this girl died. You can’t be there for everyone but just be glad that you are there for them.” “But –“ “No ‘buts’, Ocean-Eyes. It wasn’t your fault and we will get to the bottom of this. Go tend to the girl. We will take this man up to the holding rooms and will come back for you,” the captain said. OceanEyes reluctantly nodded and turned back to the girl. He closed her eyes and her mouth and pulled her skirt back to where it should have
been. He lifted her onto a stretcher that came for her and crossed her arms over her chest as the blood from her clothing and wounds soaked into the canvas of the stretcher. Someone handed him a bucket of water and a rag and he cleaned off the blood on the girl while murmuring to the gods to let her have a safe passage to the lands beyond where those that have moved on went. Someone placed a sprig under her crossed arms on her chest and pulled a sheet over her body and then he didn’t see her face any more. The men that had come for her carried her away as he leaned against the wall after washing his hands free of blood in the bucket of water which was now red with blood. He could still smell the sharp scent of the blood on his hands but he ignored it and just waited for his mother and the captain to return. They returned to him a few minutes later and then the rest of the night was quieter after that. They made several more arrests and stopped a man from stealing from someone. The man wasn’t a guard so Ocean-Eyes gave him a pouch of silver and bade him good luck on his life. The captain gave him a look but said nothing as the man carried off the bag of silver. They continued on until the sun rose and then they returned to their rooms, wherever each may be, and slept, exhausted from the night’s work.
“Welcome back, my lady. Would you like something to eat or drink? Or perhaps a nice bath after your day out in the city?” the servant murmured. Kate smiled and shook her head and waved the woman away. “I just wish to rest, please,” she replied. The woman curtsied and left. Kate changed into her clothes by herself and flopped onto her bed with its silk sheets and warm blankets and soft feather pillows. She thought about her day and she thought about Ocean-Eyes. She had really met him, the King of Thieves, and she was really smitten by him. Just thinking of handsome young man sent shivers of pleasure through her body that she had never felt before. She shook her head to clear her head of such thoughts. “He’s a commoner and I’m, well, a princess,” she told herself sternly. She was the youngest daughter of the royal family and her cruel father didn’t pay her mind, for which she was thankful for, and instead paid most attention to his sons, the future rulers of the kingdom. Her mother was the king’s fifth wife she was pregnant with another child. Kate hoped that it would be a boy because the king had threatened that he would throw her out of the palace if she didn’t provide him with another son. Her mother had only given her father daughters, fine daughters, but daughters nevertheless. The king wanted sons, despite how many he had already, all of them his blood sons. There were sixteen of them, four sons from each of his former wives. Kate had two older sisters, all full sisters instead of half like her brothers. But her father wanted sons. Her thoughts turned back to Ocean-Eyes and his handsome smile and his open heart and his generosity. He had saved her when she thought no one would and he had even let her stay around and watch him work. He had even personally escorted her to the palace gates to make sure she got home safe despite his own danger. She could still feel his arms around her and his arm around her shoulders protectively and she remembered their kiss. Thought it was brief, it had been a true, first, real – Someone banged noisily on her door and she sighed and got up. She threw on a robe and answered the door. Her sixteen half-brothers stood there in the doorway grinning at her and she let them in. Her brothers managed to find places to sit in her rooms and they were joined by Kate’s two sisters. “What is it?” she asked them. “Nothing, dear sister, can’t we just visit you?” one of them asked with a grin. He kicked off his boots and leaned back in his seat,
throwing his feet up onto the table. Weston, the one who had replied, was her favorite brother. He was almost ten years older than her but he was more like a father to her than any of her brothers. He was also very protective as a result. The door opened again and more people came in and she recognized most of them as her cousins. There were an uncountable number of them. She had so many of them that she didn’t know all of their names and if she did, she would get them mixed up. Kate groaned. There were so many people in her rooms, how would she fit them all? The problem was solved when people saw how many were already in the room and left. Those were mostly the nonrelatives. At the end, she had almost thirty people in her rooms and she rang the bell for the servants. They came up and served out tea and other beverages, poked the fire, opened the curtains and windows to let some fresh air in and left. Weston patted the open seat next to him, inviting her to sit, and she sat down next to her brother. She leaned on her brother’s side as he put an arm around her. Their little gathering became a party as more people came and went and they stayed up until two hours past midnight in her rooms until only Kate and her siblings were left. That was when their father opened the door to the room and they all shot to their feet and all was quiet. King Harold the Sixth examined each of his children with piercing steel-grey eyes that all of his children had. Nineteen pairs of grey eyes returned his gaze silently. King Harold came over to Kate and she trembled but Weston held her closely so she felt a little safer than she had if she had been standing alone. Her father chucked her under the chin hard and she winced. “Lose the sullen look, Katherine. Ladies should have soft and innocent looks, not like yours,” her father commanded. “Yes, Your Majesty,” she murmured, curtsying to him. He gave her a look and she gulped. “Father.” He gave her a long look before he came to the front of the room. “Everyone return to your rooms. Proper princes and princesses don’t stay up all night waking up the people in the palace,” he commanded. “Yes, Father,” they all murmured. Weston kissed her on the cheek and embraced her before leaving after her siblings. Her father watched her with an unwavering gaze and she trembled under that look. “Weston seems a bit warm to you,” he commented. “He is my brother, Father. My favorite brother,” she admitted. Her father could be kind when he wanted to but she had to watch her step because his mood changed unexpectedly. “I see,” the king commented again. He strode to the window and looked outside at the city below. “Katherine, my daughter, you must not have any favorites even among your siblings. Favoritism is not good for anyone, especially for a princess like you.”
“Father, Weston is my favorite brother because he treats me like a person, not just a girl. He’s protective and he cares for me more than any of my siblings have, even my older sisters. He’s like a father to me,” she said and then gasped as she realized she blurted out the last part. “’Like a father to you’? Are you saying that I haven’t been a father to you?” her father asked softly. “Father, what I meant is, he’s –“ “What you mean is, is he is always there for you and always protects you from anything he can, even though it may be a bad dream or a silly fear such as a fear of the color red and he’ll do anything he can to make you happy,” her father murmured. She nodded as her father sighed with sadness. He turned and pointed to the couch in the room and she sat down and he sat beside her. “I had a brother like Weston once. He was like my father. My real father was always off conquering lands and off on crusades.” “What happened to him?” Kate asked. “He was taken from me,” he whispered. Kate thought it was the first time that her strong and never faltering father had ever showed any emotion in years. Kate gingerly put a comforting arm around her father’s shoulders. “He was taken from me by the King of Thieves.” “Ocean-Eyes?” “No, his father,” her father said angrily. “My brother had been foolish enough to steal from the King of Thieves and the king found him and killed him for stealing. I was so angry at the time because my father had died a few weeks later from a fatal wound, making me king. So after hearing of my brother’s death, I found where he lived and had my men bar the doors and windows of his house so no one could get out and had it burned to the ground.” “And?” “The King of Thieves was burned to death inside his house saving his son. He could have saved himself but his eight-year-old son was screaming on the lower level so he charged down, smashed open a window and threw out his son before the newly-added air fueled the fire and the fire consumed him,” her father said in a dead tone. She knew from his tone and faraway look that he had been there during the burning of the house. “I was there the whole time, watching the man sacrifice his own life to save his son. I strode towards the boy, intending to kill him and end the line of the King of Thieves but an abbot got to him first and took the crying boy into his arms and proclaimed to everyone that he was under the protection of Horth’s Temple, the temple of the dream god.” Kate stared at her father. “That’s why you let the city guards do what they liked to the city people,” she whispered. He nodded. “But why father, why take it out on the city people?” “It is because those very people protected the King of Thieves when I wanted him dead. It is because those very civilians protected
the boy before I had the chance to end the line of the cursed King of Thieves. They loved their thieves for some reason and to this day, I still don’t know why,” her father replied. Then he turned a smiled at her. “Enough stories for you tonight, Katherine. I just wanted to tell you this story, so that if you ever see the King of Thieves or any of his kind, you would know what pain he caused me. Good night…Kate.” And with that, her father stood and let himself out of her room. She felt numb. Her father had tried to kill what she thought was the love of her life and had already killed his father. How was she to tell Ocean-Eyes? She sat for a while, thinking about these things and then finally went to bed.
“Ocean-Eyes, wake up,” someone whispered into his ear. He groaned and tucked his head under his pillow. “Ocean-Eyes, someone’s here to see you,” the voice said again and the pillow was taken from him. He groaned and sat up. It was just a few hours before noon, he saw as he looked out the window. He had only gotten a few hours’ sleep and only wanted to fall back into bed and sleep some more. He looked around and saw that his mother was beside him and she was holding his pillow. She smiled and gave him pillow back and left after letting in someone dressed in a hooded cloak he knew too well. “Kate, what are you doing here? How did you find me?” he asked drowsily as Kate slid the hood off and smiled at him. “Ocean-Eyes, I have something things to tell you. Some things that I think you deserve to know. And I’m not a lady, I’m a princess, the youngest daughter of the king,” she replied. He opened and closed his mouth a few times as she came and sat on the edge of the bed. She put a finger over his lips and leaned over him and kissed him. He held her close and when she broke the kiss, she slipped in next to him. “Some things you need to know are that the fire that killed your father eight years ago was no accident. It was set by my father,” she whispered. His grip around her waist tightened and she shifted uncomfortably beside him but said nothing and went on. “Your father had killed my father’s brother for stealing from him and my father was mad at him so he started that fire at your house. He saw your father throw you out the window to save you before the fire burned him to death. My father was still angry and had wanted to kill you also but the abbot saved you instead. I’m so sorry, Ocean-Eyes.” “He’d always told me it was an accident,” Ocean-Eyes whispered. He realized he was holding Kate a little too tightly and loosened his grip. “Sorry.” She smiled up at him but then the smile faded. “Do you know what this means for us, Ocean-Eyes?” she murmured. He took her hand and intertwined his fingers with hers. “It means we can’t be together. Our fathers had a grudge against each other and my father still wants to kill you.” “Makes no difference to me, Kate,” he replied. He looked up and she met his gaze. “Well I can’t keep doing this, coming down to the city all the time, alone. My brothers will find out eventually and so will my father. Then one day, he’ll have someone follow me and then when he finds
that I’m coming to see you, he’ll have you killed because commoners are not supposed to associate themselves in this way with the royalty.” “Unless the royalty gives permission,” he finished with a smile. “You forgot the last part, princess.” “But it doesn’t matter! My father will have your head either way,” she whispered furiously. Before she could say anything more, Ocean-Eyes took her head into his hands and kissed her on the lips as sweetly as he could. Her arms went around his neck as she returned the kiss passionately. “Kate, I love you, and nothing will stop me from feeling that,” Ocean-Eyes said hoarsely after they parted. “Even if there are a thousand kings after me, I still won’t stop loving you.” “We’ve only seen each other for two days,” she murmured. “Yes, but you triggered something last night that won’t stop me from seeing you,” he replied with a smile. She smiled back and let him lay down on the bed before she used his chest as a pillow. Ocean-Eyes fell asleep again, exhausted from the night before and the last thing he saw before he fell asleep was Kate. When he woke again, he eased himself out from under Kate and pulled the covers over her before he left the room, not minding as a cool breeze brushed against the bare skin of his chest. He made his way to the altar where he had placed the gold ornaments the first night after he discovered there was a bounty on his head. He sat there in front of the altar, staring up at the statue of Horth, the Dream God. “What did you want me here for? Why did you claim me?” he whispered to the god, not expecting a reply. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks as he remembered his loving father and the news he had learned about his death. Behind him, the priests of the temple went about their silent business, casting worried glances his way but did not disturb him. He fell into a state of meditation after wiping the tears off of his cheeks and sat there in peace. Then suddenly, the door to the cathedral rattled and he leaped to his feet and then relaxed. The door was bolted shut as it was every night and the priests must have forgotten to undo the bolt when they woke this morning. He went to the large doors and threw the heavy bolt open and shoved back the doors with ease. The person who was rattling the door was a woman, dressed in not the usual dresses that women of the city wore but in men’s clothing. She was armed to the teeth, he saw as his eyes made out the print of blades under her clothing but said nothing about them and just turned to go back to his seat but the woman touched his back. He froze as her hands smoothed over his muscles and his bare skin and she made her way to the front with a flirtatious smile. “You must be Ocean-Eyes, the new King of Thieves,” she purred. He crossed his arms in front of him on his chest. “So what if I am,” he said, not smiling nor showing any emotion.
She chuckled. “Dear heart, it is no new news that there has been a new King elected. I just wanted to say congratulations,” the woman said. Her eyes took him in. “I didn’t expect you to be so young though.” Before he could reply, Heart had somehow appeared at his side and she planted her hand in the center of the woman’s chest and pushed her hard, sending her flying back at least ten steps. “Stay away from my son,” she snarled. “Ahh, Heart, the Queen of Thieves. Still introducing yourself as that, I see. Well, I have some news for you, sweetheart, the title is not yours and does not belong to you,” the woman said with a snarl. Ocean-Eyes was suddenly wary as he realized that this woman was someone dangerous. “Isabella, you took that title away from me in a dirty manner such as not stated in the code. You didn’t fight square, nor did you challenge me. Instead, you had your people bother me day in and day out and finally usurp me for yourself and throw me to the dogs like a piece of meat. How, honorable, of you,” Heart said back, venom dripping from her voice. Ocean-Eyes realized that the woman was someone dangerous; she was his mother’s successor on the throne of the Queen of Thieves. He took a step forward and before anyone knew it, he had attacked Isabella and managed to restrain her. She struggled in his grip but he held on harder. Heart smiled at him and jerked a thumb out the door behind her. He nodded and tossed the woman out onto the street. She landed neatly as she hit the floor and rolled to her feet gracefully. “Stay away from me, Isabella, and don’t let me see your face again!” his mother shouted after the woman. The woman turned and shouted an insult back and left, melting into the morning traffic of people. “Father was killed,” Ocean-Eyes began but the rest of the words caught in his throat as she turned his attention back to him. “Killed? Of course he was, my son, he was killed in a fire,” she replied with sadness. He swallowed and caught up with her as she started to walk away. “The fire was set. I just found out from someone,” he insisted. She smiled. “I know that your ‘someone’ is the princess of the kingdom, Ocean-Eyes, no need to hide it from me because I know most things about you. Which reminds me: did I ever tell you what my job was before I became who I am now?” she said, turning to him. “You told me you were the Queen of Thieves –“ “Becoming the Queen of Thieves requires a lot of skill and respect from the women you commanded to prove that you were worthy to rule them. I was elected to rule, so I didn’t have to fight for my crown. The old Queen was happy to give up her place because she was getting too old for the job and only wanted to settle down at that
point and have children and raise a family,” his mother cut in. When he gave up guessing her previous occupation, she grinned a predator’s grin. “I was an assassin. In fact, I was the best of my class.” “So that’s where I get all my natural reflexes and good senses of hearing,” he muttered. She grinned at him. “Did Father know?” She smiled again. “Yes, of course. I was sent by the very king of this city to kill your father for killing the king’s brother but when I arrived, he was waiting for me and instead, we fell in love and after that, I didn’t report to the king so he assumed that I was dead and I had failed the attempt,” she replied with a sad smile. “There were several attempts after that but with my help, we suppressed any more of those attempts and we ended up having you but by then, the king had learned I was alive after being alerted by the new Queen of Thieves so I had to leave.” “Why did you lie about…”Ocean-Eyes started but could find no words for it. “I did not lie, Ocean-Eyes, but I merely didn’t tell about my past,” she replied to his unfinished question. “So did you know about, well everything that happened before the years you left and the reason why Father is now dead?” OceanEyes demanded. They stopped. They were at the end of the aisle of wooden benches and were almost directly in front of the altar. “Yes, Ocean-Eyes, I’m sorry I never told you,” she said sadly. Ocean-Eyes leaned against the arm of a bench as Heart left and Kate entered at the same time. He smiled and took her into his arms, taking comfort from her presence and her warmth by his side. Ocean-Eyes eventually had to return outside to do his “work” again. He stayed up on the rooftops, following Kate to make sure she got back to the palace safely. After that, he looked out over the city and filtered out the city noises to listen to the ones he wanted. Hearing nothing, he relaxed and just half-dozed in the sun on the roof, taking in its comfortable warmth. He heard a panting sound and he leaped to his feet as fingers appeared at the edge of the roof. He was in no mood to fight so he was about to take a running leap to the next roof when the man pulled himself up. “Ocean-Eyes, wait,” the captain, Ocean-Eyes realized, called to him. He smiled and then relaxed. Ocean-Eyes sat back down on the sun-warmed roof and lay down again, content as a cat. The captain slid onto the roof next to him, still panting for breath. “I don’t know how you do that, climb all those roves all day not be tired,” he said and leaned back on his elbows beside Ocean-Eyes, watching the city below. “It is because I climb these roves all the time and I walk to my destination if it is within walking distance rather than ride on a horse. It builds up my stamina and endurance and even flexibility and energy to travel on foot,” Ocean-Eyes replied, closing his eyes. “You should do the same; it will help when you fight.”
“Listen, Ocean-Eyes, I haven’t got much time. I need to get back to my men but I just wanted to thank you for helping me that night,” the captain said, sitting up. Ocean-Eyes cracked open an eyelid to look at him. The captain gazed back steadily and he closed his eye again. “I did it for the people.” “I know but you did my job when you didn’t even have to, I owe you but I fear I may owe you much more in the future since I will most likely need your help again,” the captain replied. Ocean-Eyes heard the captain rummage in his pocket for something and it jingled as he took it out. Ocean-Eyes opened his eyes. “You don’t have to pay me,” he said automatically. “It isn’t payment, look.” Ocean-Eyes turned his head and saw that the captain held a medallion the size of half of his palm that dangled from a gold chain clutched in the captain’s fist. Ocean-Eyes knew what it was. It was a pass in a way to gain access to sources of people in the palace. He had seen important people in the city wear these passes. Certain passes had certain names printed on them which only allowed the bearer to call on the person whose name was on the pass. “You can use this to contact me up at the palace if you need to,” the captain said. Ocean-Eyes opened his fist and the captain dropped the medallion into it and then vanished over the edge of the roof. Ocean-Eyes smiled and looped the chain around his neck and closed the clasp. He looked at the medallion and then tucked it under his shirt. He was about to lay back to doze in the sun again when there was a fanfare down in the street below. He pulled up a pack of supplies from its hiding place in the shadows of the neighboring roof and pulled on his knives, tucking them in their places. He stood up straight and watched the procession below until one of the guards saw him and bows were aimed at him. Scooping up his baton, he grabbed a grappling hook attached to a rope and hooked it on the gutter. Then, praying that the weak metal would hold his weight for a brief few seconds, he swung down to the ground from the five-level high roof and landed neatly in the street. The next thing he knew, he was being lifted up into the air by his neck by a meaty hand. A dozen swords pointed at him and though he clutched at the hand that held him, he didn’t struggle and only smiled. The procession had stopped and a young lord stepped forward out of the ring of his protectors. Intelligence gleamed in his eyes despite his youth and he assessed Ocean-Eyes with his head tilted to one side and his arms crossed in front of him. “He would make a nice addition to my people, seeing how he dropped from the roof and the weapons he carries,” the lord said thoughtfully.
Before anyone cold move, cloaks unfurled behind Ocean-Eyes and thirty weapons were aimed at the lord and his protectors. “Drop him,” someone said behind him. Ocean-Eyes knew it was his men. The man holding him dropped him and back up as Ocean-Eyes neatly landed on the ground in a crouch, catching his breath. He straightened and leaned on his baton for support, his men at his back. The young lord didn’t even move while his men bristled at the new opponents they had to possibly fight. “I guess I shall have to be diplomatic,” the young lord said calmly. “I am Lord Kyle Zenith. I have come to the city to look for candidates for my new spymaster.” “Why me,” Ocean-Eyes said, stating it neither question nor comment. The lord smiled and answered anyway. “My well-trained men didn’t even notice you on the roof until you stood up. When you came down, it surprised them even more that you would come down to us and the way you landed in the street after letting go of your rope showed that you have had combat training. And don’t tell me that that baton you are carrying is a staff because I know that it is just a lengthened baton, used by the old guards of the city, carried by the King of Thieves three generations ago as a prize to show he could best any guard,” Lord Zenith said with a smile. Ocean-Eyes gave a feral grin back. “Someone’s been learning their history,” he commented, still not letting his smile fade. His men grinned behind him and that only made them more aggressive-looking and the lord’s guards took another step back, still unsure. “Let’s have a deal here. I have a family to take care of, actually several families so I need ways of getting money without… borrowing them.” “Payment for a spymaster is very high,” the young lord said. “So choose one of your men to duel me with a staff or baton since I don’t have my sword, and if he beats me, then I will work for you as your new spymaster and all of my resources will be available to you but if I lose, you will go looking for another spymaster in some other part of this city and that man I duel will become my personal guard for three years before being returned to you. If he runs away or tries to kill me, I will find you and kill you for your betrayal of our deal,” Ocean-Eyes said, still smiling. He knew that the young lord would accept his challenge because young men that age, he knew, were very prideful and not accepting an open challenge in public would damage that pride some. The young lord thought about it for a moment and then turned to his people, discussing it with them. “This lord could be a very good man, considering that he asks his opinion of his men before making a decision. No wonder why they are loyal to him so much,” Ocean-Eyes murmured quietly to his men. They nodded and one of them put their hand on his shoulder.
“Your Majesty, risking yourself like this is not necessary, we could run right now, no one would notice. You have only started your reign as King of Thieves, if you become his spymaster, then you will receive a lot of assassination attempts! You receive enough as a King but as a spymaster? Your enemies will double,” the man warned. Ocean-Eyes shrugged off the hand and turned to his man, his startling blue eyes piercing into the man’s dark green ones. “I have to find a way to help the people without having to steal. I worry more about the other king who sits up on the hill more than I do about assassination attempts. I am more involved with his family than you know,” Ocean-Eyes replied fiercely. The man sighed and nodded. “If I am taken, please get my things from the roof behind us and from the cathedral and tell my mother where I am and not to worry. Then follow us to the lord’s house and deliver my things to me there.” The man noticed the mischievous glint in Ocean-Eyes’ blue eyes and glared. He was very good at interpreting his young king’s expressions since he had taught the young man how to fight a little when his father was too busy ruling over the thieves. He was very proud of how the young man turned out to be – an excellent and deadly fighter. “You plan to get yourself captured!” he hissed. OceanEyes grinned and turned back to the lord and his men as they stopped discussing and approached. He took his cloak off and one of his men caught it before it fluttered to the ground. His cloak revealed a loose and baggy black shirt, comfortable black breeches with a matching black leather belt, and black polished boots. The lord was not surprised to see him wear black, probably knowing that it hid a lot of things like hidden weapons and the build of the body underneath, making the opponent overestimate him and be overconfident. Ocean-Eyes’ gaze pierced into the young lord’s eyes. The man didn’t flinch and instead, beckoned his chosen man forward. The fighter’s cloak came off and in his hand was a baton, shorter than Ocean-Eyes’ black polished one. “This is the man?” he asked him. He nodded and in a blur of motion, Ocean-Eyes attacked. Soon the crack of wood meeting wood was heard down the street and people came to watch the two duelers fight. Ocean-Eyes barely noticed their audience and just concentrated in his attack. Often, he swooped in and tapped the man in unprotected places with a laugh. The man was no match for him, yet he said nothing and acted as if he were the same level as he was. “You seem like you are training me!” the other man gasped as he swung an attack. Ocean-Eyes easily parried it and rapped the man on his unprotected shoulder before moving away again with liquid grace and swooping in for another rap on the other man’s knees. “Yes, I’m teaching you to watch for the spots that you don’t protect very well. In fact, I generously left bruises so you’ll remember where I hit you,” he said with a merry laugh. The audience didn’t know what was so funny but they grinned at seeing at least one combatant
laughing and having a good time. A twist and Ocean-Eyes and the other man had their batons locked together. Ocean-Eyes was face-toface with his opponent. “And I really don’t want to beat you. You’re a good young man and you are loyal to your lord. I like that in my men but I don’t think that you, or anyone, should be following me around for three years like a dog. Besides, I go places that you can’t possibly imagine and won’t catch up.” The young man freed his baton and attempted to rap OceanEyes on the head but lightning-quick, Ocean-Eyes’ free hand caught the baton and he pulled the man close in the process of wrenching it from him. “Then why come up with the deal?” he gasped. “You have a lot to learn about the King of Thieves,” Ocean-Eyes said and let go. The young man flew backwards from the sudden release but regained his balance and charged back in to attack. Their batons locked again. “I don’t like to give up without a fight, even a mock one,” Ocean-Eyes said with a smile. As the young man jerked away, OceanEyes let go of his baton on purpose and it slipped out of his hands. The young man stared in shock at the batons in his hands. “Congratulations, Lord Zenith, you have yourself a new spymaster,” Ocean-Eyes said with a grin, sweeping a bow. “Though I have a confession. I only challenged you because I wanted to see the level of your men’s fighting techniques and because I don’t like giving up without a fight, especially to a lord. And I would have released your young guard there the moment I got to the cathedral which is my home.” Lord Zenith smiled, apparently unsurprised. “I figured something was like that,” he said with a returning grin. “How did you think of my man?” “Needs a little more training but with his quick moves, he would be good as a body guard,” Ocean-Eyes replied. The man he had just dueled looked down at the ground, embarrassed at the praise. He looped an arm around the lord’s shoulders and accepted his baton from his former opponent with a nod and a smile. “Now, my lord, I believe that you have more people to look for. I am Ocean-Eyes by the way.” Ocean-Eyes took his cloak from the man that was holding it and his men vanished into the crowd as he pulled the cloak on. He knew that they were still following him, protecting him despite the ring of guards around him and the lord he now served. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his man climbing up the wall using the grapple to get to his belongings. “Yes, I also need to fill in the places of a housekeeper and a cook at my house and then we can be on our way home,” the lord said, looking down at a sheet of parchment his men had handed him. Ocean-Eyes removed his arm and took the list from the lord and looked it over. His name had been written next to the title “Spymaster”.
Ocean-Eyes pointed at the name, Samuel Singer. “I wouldn’t trust him with my life. He canoodled with a girl not too long ago and took all of her dowry money when she married him and left her on the streets to fend for herself while he made off with the money and spent it all on drinks and he’s back for more,” Ocean-Eyes commented. The lord nodded thoughtfully and Ocean-Eyes grinned and met Lord Zenith’s eyes. “I told you that part of my services were that my sources would be yours.” He continued to examine his list as the men stopped for the afternoon to buy a meal from off of one of the street vendors. “Why did you cross out the errand boys?” he asked as he noticed to crossed-out titles on the bottom. “We couldn’t find any street children today,” he said with a shrug. Ocean-Eyes smiled again. “Nor would you. I made sure the street children got homes or something to do during the day so that they wouldn’t get hurt in the morning crowd going to work. They only come out to beg in a few hours when their chores are done,” he replied. Then he thought of the two children and their baby sibling he had met a few days ago that were now living in the cathedral being educated by the priests there in their basic math and reading. “Actually, if you don’t mind your errand boys being two little girls who I know can run fast, then I’ve got two candidates for you. Their baby brother can be an errand boy or train to be a guard when he gets older.” “You are becoming useful. Where are these children now?” the lord asked, accepting a warm sausage from one of his men and bit into it. Ocean-Eyes was handed one and he bit into it without hesitation. When he saw an old beggar sitting on the side of the street watching him, he took out a knife and sliced the sausage in half and strode over to the man and gave the half that hadn’t been bitten to him. He also handed the man a small pouch of silver with a smile. When he came back, the guards and the lord they protected looked at him curiously but said nothing. “The children are living with me at Horth’s Temple, where I live.” “Lead on then, Spymaster Ocean-Eyes,” Lord Zenith said with a smile. Ocean-Eyes finished off his sausage, wiped his fingers neatly on a handkerchief and led the way as he was told to the temple. The two girls ran out of the temple, the older one clutching her baby brother to her, to greet him as he strode up to the doors. He smiled as he recognized the now-clean girls dressed in white skirts and blouses and wearing shoes. They were no longer the skinny urchins he had found a few days ago but had filled out a little from the temple’s healthy and nutritious food and were now very much healthy. He caught the younger girl in his arms and spun her in the air once before setting her down. Her eyes grew wide as she saw the whole array of guards behind him. The older girl, who had told him her name was Jessica, tugged on his sleeve. “Who are those people,
Ocean-Eyes?” she asked. Her baby brother, John, gurgled happily up at Ocean-Eyes. The younger girl, Kiki, stopped chattering about her day as she realized people were watching them. “Those people will soon be your new family, girls,” he replied but before he could say any more, Heart rushed out of the temple followed by the abbot and ran up to him and embraced him just as Ocean-Eyes’ man was arriving. He shrugged at the man and took his pack from him. The man nodded once and disappeared. “Father, I have been accepted into Lord Zenith’s household as a spymaster and I have to move there to begin my new job. I would like to take the girls and their brother with me because Lord Zenith needs errand runners,” he explained. Heart beamed up at him and he sighed. “Then I shall be your agent,” Heart said. He pushed her gently away. “No, Mother, you are not going to resume a life of killing people for money. You came back to start a new life so you are. You are very good with children so I guess you should start caring for people’s children for wages, that will get you started real quickly,” he said. She smiled and he handed her the rest of his silver coins. “Those should pay rent for rooms big enough to care for children. Good luck, Mother, and I’ll see you again.” “Ocean-Eyes, your mother can come –“Lord Zenith called but he shook his head. “She can be used against me if she is known to be my mother. She will stay here in the city and look after things for me. Someone has to be here doing something for the people,” he said. The abbot stood alone in the center of all of the excitement and he went to him and knelt down in front of him. The man who had raised him for eight years placed his hands on his head. “May Horth the God of Dreams spare you from evil visions every night as you lay your head down to sleep and most of all, may all the gods watch your every step and be with you for those steps to help and guide you,” he said quietly. Ocean-Eyes felt protected by the abbot’s benediction and rose to his feet and embraced the old man briefly before letting him go. The abbot beckoned to someone behind him and there was a clatter of hooves and a boy came out holding the reins of a magnificent stallion, as black as night and as strong and as fast as the wind. The horse Ocean-Eyes knew well. The two of them had grown up together in the cathedral and Ocean-Eyes had watched them train the horse. Despite his monstrous size, Cobalt King, for that was what Ocean-Eyes had named him, was as gentle and timid as a cat. OceanEyes went up and petted the horse’s black nose. “Cobalt is ready to go out in the world, just like you, Ocean-Eyes, may he carry you swiftly wherever you need to go.”
Someone approached and put several small saddlebags on the horse’s back and Ocean-Eyes somehow knew that they were his things and the little things that the girls had received as their belongings after arriving. “Thank you, Father, for these wonderful gifts,” he murmured, bowing his head. The abbot bowed back with a smile and Ocean-Eyes helped the girls onto Cobalt’s back. He swung up onto the horse and with a wave to his family, he rode off down the street with Lord Zenith and his guards following close. They caught up and the guards made a ring around them. “No one should be on a horse if the lord is not,” Lord Zenith said, frowning up at him. Ocean-Eyes grinned as the girls clutched his waist. “My first job as your spymaster: make people on the streets and those who would like to kill you believe that I’m the lord and you’re the spymaster. It’ll keep you safe. Here, toss up your cloak,” Ocean-Eyes said. Lord Zenith nodded approval and tossed up his grand cloak as Ocean-Eyes handed him his. He pulled on the silken garment and tossed the tail over the girls and Cobalt’s back. The girls giggled but did nothing. The cloak would keep them warm. Ocean-Eyes turned and saw that once Lord Zenith had his cloak on, he looked more like a commoner but a step higher. “Men, address Ocean-Eyes as lord for now. We’ll see how this works,” Lord Zenith commanded his men. His men nodded and they pressed on. They found their housekeeper and their cook and brought them back with them to start their new jobs. Ocean-Eyes did the interviewing though they recognized him under the cloak. Lord Zenith’s castle was a small castle just outside of the city in the peaceful countryside. It was not far on and was only about two miles. The castle contained a minimum amount of staff, Ocean-Eyes noticed, to keep the place running. All of the servants were friendly and kind and all loyal to the lord they served. After the girls and their brother had been taken in under the wing of the loving new housekeeper and the cook situated in his new kitchen, Ocean-Eyes was led into the small castle. Lord Zenith stopped before he parted with them at a turn in the halls. “Take the spymaster to his new suites and if he does not like them, then find one that will satisfy him. After that, take him to the seamstress and have her give him a uniform that will fit him in his new station,” Lord Zenith commanded. The men bowed and they parted ways. Ocean-Eyes was led down the hall a few doors and then the guards stopped and opened a door at the end of the hall. The door opened to reveal a grand suite, grander than any he had lived in before. He explored the rooms for a few minutes and then smiled at the guards and they smiled back, knowing he had approved and they went to find the seamstress. As they stepped in through another door, the seamstress looked up and smiled. She was a jolly-looking woman as she bustled forward and beckoned him to a stool and as he stood on it, she quickly took his
measurements. “And who is this young man to be?” she asked his guards. “I am to be the spymaster, kind lady,” Ocean-Eyes replied with a smile. “But you are so young!” she exclaimed and found the uniforms anyway and handed them to him. “Yes but he could have beaten our new bodyguard had he wanted to easily,” one of the guards said with a grin. “Right, OceanEyes?” “Ocean-Eyes! You’re that one man that everyone’s after!” the woman exclaimed. He smiled his charming smile as he settled the pile of uniforms in his arms. “We’ll talk about that for another time, miss,” he said. He ducked out the door with his guards following and they showed him the way back to his suite and went on their way. He locked the door after they left and hung his uniforms in the armoire but let one stay out on the bed. He examined it. The colors were to his liking. They were a dark ocean-blue which almost matched his eyes and black. To his surprise, they were silk and he touched the other uniforms and found they were silk too. The pants were black and they were made of a sturdy material. He liked his new clothes and was about to hang them up when there was a knock on his door. He opened it to reveal Kiki who stood there panting. “Ocean-Eyes, Lord Zenith re-re-“she stopped and frowned at the unfamiliar word. “Requires,” he supplied with a smile. She smiled back and nodded. “Requires you to wait on him this evening as he meets with three officers of the crown,” Kiki managed to say, trying to speak properly and getting rid of the street talk she no doubt had picked up over the years as a beggar. He nodded. “Tell my lord that I will be there five hours past noon, which, according to my calculations, is in half an hour. Why don’t you walk to deliver the message?” he replied. She smiled. “I’ll be quicker to deliver the message that way. And my lord gives me a copper every time I am quick so I earn extra money!” she said and dashed off. Shaking his head, he closed the door and changed into his uniform. Then pulling on his newly-polished boots and strapping on his black cloak, he opened the door and left the room after locking it behind him. The cloak fluttered out behind him like a pair of black wings as he went down the halls. He found a guard to show him the way. As he entered, Lord Zenith looked up from his papers and smiled. Kiki was sitting on a stool behind him with a pleased look on her face. She was flipping a copper coin up into the air and catching it and doing it again.
He bowed and took up a station behind Lord Zenith as the three officers Kiki had told him about filed into the room. One took a look at him and then hissed at his companions and the next thing he knew, Ocean-Eyes was being attacked. He easily blocked off the officers’ wild blows and knew that the three probably did not train without weapons. He knocked one down gently according to his standards and pinned another one to the wall by his throat and had twisted the third’s arm behind his back and a booted foot rested on the man’s back, keeping him down. Lord Zenith only watched the three officers with amusement and then ordered him to let them go. They groaned as he released him and rubbed their hurt spots. The first man clutched his head on the floor, moaning. “Come, come, captain, that didn’t even draw blood,” Lord Zenith said with a small smile for Ocean-Eyes. Ocean-Eyes grinned back and held out a hand to help the man up but the man swatted his hand away with a growl and climbed to his feet. “If you attack my spymaster again, you will be helped out of my castle by my guards,” Lord Zenith said once they had been seated. The officers grumbled and objected. “He’s Ocean-Eyes, my lord, the thief that has been stealing from the nobles, don’t you recognize him?” one protested. “I know that he is James Ocean-Eyes but he may not be the Ocean-Eyes you are looking for, gentlemen, now down to business,” Lord Zenith intoned and immediately went into talk about the palace and its supplies of men with the officers. Ocean-Eyes grinned and talked with Kiki behind him. “That was some nice handling of the dogs,” Kiki whispered. “They were easy, it wasn’t hard,” Ocean-Eyes replied modestly. “So how have you been, Kiki? I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to stop by and see you when we were at the temple.” “We’re doing fine, thanks to you. John’s much healthier and happier, that’s all Jessie and I was worried about. Did you know that we used to be the children of a rich merchant? Our father was the nicest man we ever met and knew but when he died from grief because my mother died giving birth to my brother, the landlady kicked us out into the streets. For years, we wanted to die because we were starving and didn’t have any food and barely enough coppers to feed John with milk but you came along and now we want to live and be somebodies in this world,” Kiki whispered. She cocked her head to one side. “Lord Zenith is something too.” Ocean-Eyes glanced at his lord with his black hair and intelligent blue eyes and smiled. He looked at Kiki and his words caught in his throat. Kiki looked almost exactly like Lord Zenith, he realized. She had the same shade of hair and the same shade of blue eyes with the same intelligence in them. “Yes, he is,” he managed to get out. After the meeting and after he had seen the three officers on their way, Ocean-Eyes confronted Lord Zenith. “Who was your father, if
I may ask?” he said as politely as he could. His lord looked at him curiously. “He was a nameless merchant who is, as I know it, dead,” Lord Zenith replied. “I think I may have found your siblings,” Ocean-Eyes said. He whistled and Kiki appeared with her sister and their brother. Kiki brought with her a mirror he told her to get and she now handed it to him. “Take a look.” He lined the children in a row and held the mirror up beside them. Lord Zenith said nothing as he examined the children and himself in the mirror. “You are right, Ocean-Eyes, these are my siblings and they certainately are children of my father but how did you find out?” he said slowly. “I just observed you during the council. You all had the same faces and physical features,” Ocean-Eyes replied. Lord Zenith got down on his knees in front of his sisters and brother. “Kiki and Jessica and John, Ocean-Eyes has informed me that you all and I are related through our father,” Lord Zenith said with a smile. He embraced his siblings. “I welcome you home. You will be provided for and anything you want on a whim will be given to you as I see fit so that you do not become spoiled. You will be educated and protected. You may also call me Kyle for we are brothers and sisters are we not?” The girls smiled happily and embraced their newfound brother as their baby brother only gurgled up at him. Lord Zenith beckoned to servants and exchanged a few words with them and they were led away. He turned to Ocean-Eyes with a happy smile on his face. “You have made me very happy, Ocean-Eyes. I am glad that you are my spymaster,” he said. He walked forward and Ocean-Eyes matched his pace. “Why do you need a spymaster in the first place?” “Why, don’t you know? I plan to overthrow the king that sits up on that hill with his sons and daughters in luxury thanks to the citizens’ and realm’s hard-earned tax money,” Lord Zenith said. He stopped and turned to face Ocean-Eyes. “You are with me, are you not?” “Yes but only on one condition,” Ocean-Eyes warned. The lord nodded for him to go on. “Princess Katherine and those she holds very dear are not to be harmed but are invited to stay here as hostages and guests, not exiles, until they are married.” “Agreed. Have a soft spot for Katherine, Ocean-Eyes?” Lord Zenith teased. Ocean-Eyes smiled. He and this young man who was his age were becoming fast friends despite their status as lord and spymaster. “Yes, she is my heart mate, you could say. I love her and I would not see her harmed for all the gold in the kingdom,” he replied with a mysterious smile. Lord Zenith clapped him on the back with a laugh and left him in the hall. He made his way back to his rooms and when
he was there, he went to his office and sat down at the desk, his first desk, and stared at the empty tabletop. “I would write something if I were you, staring at the table isn’t going to make the papers appear,” someone murmured in the room. He leaped up out of the chair and had a knife in his hand before he knew it and looked around the room. The same voice laughed again and this time, it was on the other side of the room. Cat walked out of the shadows in a teasing and carefree manner and he relaxed and put away the knife. “My lord wants his payment.” He took out a small pouch of coins and gave it to her. He shrugged when she frowned at the small amount. “I’ve been busy and haven’t had a chance to plunder. And tell your lord that I no longer can serve him because I serve another now but I will never reveal our secrets,” he told her. Kat stepped closer and grabbed the front of his shirt. “I won’t bring a message like that to him, Ocean-Eyes,” she hissed. With her free hand, she tucked away the pouch. “What will result is that he will send assassins after you because he won’t trust you after this.” “If you could follow me this far and sneak in here without me noticing then you will probably know what happened to the three officers sent by the crown to investigate my lord’s castle under the guise of a visit to a local lord who has holdings outside of the city,” he replied. He gently removed her fingers from his shirt and shook out the wrinkles before sitting down and grabbing a piece of parchment. He wrote down the list of servants and their names – he had memorized them while he was looking over the list. He then put the list aside on the big desk and pulled out another sheet and wrote the day’s date and the visit from the three officers. After he was finished, he filed the paper away and leaned back on his chair, his booted feet kicked up on the desktop. Cat sighed. “It’s hard to refuse you, Ocean-Eyes. I will leave you alone though I did fancy you. Katherine is a good girl,” she said and vanished out the door before he could say anything. He sighed and then pulled out another sheet of paper and wrote his schedule on it. Ocean-Eyes folded the piece of paper up and tucked it in his pocket and left the room in search of Lord Zenith. One guard told him that he had seen the lord going to his garden and he went to the garden based on the very accurate information the guard told him. Outside in the garden, he saw a beauty so natural and untouched that at first, he was afraid to walk into the garden’s small forest. Then he plucked up his courage and strode into the forest. He found the lord sitting on a stone bench as he watched his sisters feed the fish with bread crumbs in the pond. Lord Zenith looked up as he approached. Ocean-Eyes handed him the square of paper and the other man unfolded it and read it.
“You may go into the city at night and in the afternoons when nothing keeps you here from seeing your family. I’m sure that you have much to do and you may start with your schedule tonight,” Zenith approved. Ocean-Eyes bowed and then left the family to their peaceful forest garden. He went around the castle to the stables and a stable boy brought Cobalt to him. He took a lump of sugar and fed it to the horse as he mounted up. Then he galloped off into towards the city as the sun began to set. His uniform told the guards at the gate to let him in without question and he was immediately grateful towards the generous and intelligent Lord Zenith. He slowed his horse to a trot as he entered the city and then eventually a walk when the crowd grew too thick. He finally dismounted when he saw a thief that was not of his court steal from a jewel stall and run. He reached out and grabbed the man as he passed the man twisted and squirmed in his grip as he dragged him and led his horse towards the woman who ran the jewel stall. He squeezed the man’s hand over the counter until he yelped at the hand opened and the woman gasped. “Sorry to surprise you, madam, but this man was stealing from you. Better keep a better eye on your goods, mistress,” Ocean-Eyes said with a grin. He let go of the man and he stumbled off into the crowd and disappeared. He leaped up onto Cobalt’s back and made his way to the tavern where his court meted every night. As he entered, he was greeted by cheers. He held a hand up and waved at his men and sat down at his chair. A mug of ale was placed in front of him and he thanked the girl who gave it to him with a smile and drank from it. “Ocean-Eyes, you are the luckiest man I’ve ever met,” one man cried out, raising his tankard to him. “And why is that?” Ocean-Eyes called back. “Well first of all, you managed to get the position as a spymaster without getting arrested,” he replied. The man took another sip from his ale. “And you managed to survive an encounter with three officers of the crown this evening.” Ocean-Eyes laughed. “It was only what you all taught me about unarmed combat that saved me so I should thank all of you that taught me when I was younger,” he called out in reply. The men laughed and cheered and called for another round of ale. His men gave him the usual reports and since there were none to worry about this time, he left early and went back to the castle. Upon his arrival, the guards told him he was needed by Lord Zenith so he leaped off his horse and ran into the castle. He skidded to a halt in front of Lord Zenith’s door and was about to knock when Lord Zenith called his name from down the hall. He turned and caught his baton as Lord Zenith tossed it to him and grinned at him. Ocean-Eyes was a little confused but he followed his lord as he beckoned to him
and trotted off down the hall. Ocean-Eyes then realized that Lord Zenith held a baton of his own and caught up with him. “I had thought it would take you longer to come back,” Lord Zenith commented as Ocean-Eyes fell in beside him. Ocean-Eyes shrugged. “How was the city?” “It was fine, only a few thieves on the roads so I stopped them,” Ocean-Eyes replied. He kept looking ahead but then he met Lord Zenith’s eyes and sighed. “Those thieves weren’t mine and I stop those thieves from taking from others.” “I see,” Lord Zenith said. The young lord stopped and opened the door they had stopped in front of and went inside. Curious, Ocean-Eyes followed him. As he entered the room, the door slammed closed behind him and people dropped from the ceiling. Ocean-Eyes launched at them in an attack without hesitation. He dropped one man with his custom baton to the head and knocked the breath out of another. Someone yelped as he stepped backwards on their foot before they could catch him from behind and dropped that man too. His baton connected solidly with someone’s stomach and as they gagged for air, he kicked them out of the way and worked his way over to Lord Zenith who was struggling with three men. More men attacked him and he beat them back. Soon the room was filled with groaning men and he swiveled to Lord Zenith and his captors. “Let him go,” he commanded. There was silence and then Lord Zenith broke into a pleased grin. The three big men who held him let go and they were smiling too. Ocean-Eyes was confused. “Good job, Ocean-Eyes, you passed my test. You are very wary and I like that, especially in my new spymaster. You have truly earned your title,” Lord Zenith said to his confused look. “But didn’t the three officers prove to you that I was good enough?” he asked. “Anyone could have seen that they were very bad at unarmed combat, Ocean-Eyes, but yes, it has, and it has shown me how well you react to surprise situations such as this one and the one in the meeting room,” Lord Zenith replied. He pointed to his fallen men. “Those injuries you gave them will remind them to keep all of their parts protected.” Ocean-Eyes laughed and then they all helped the men he fell on their way and made their way back to his rooms. Ocean-Eyes was tired and all he wanted to do was to fall in bed and sleep. He let himself into his room and locked the door behind him as usual and went to the room that held his chamber pot and bath tub. To his delight, a tub had already been set up and the water was still warm. He slid out of his clothes and eased himself into the warm water, groaning as the warmth pushed away the soreness in each of his muscles. He closed his eyes but then sensed someone enter his room. He jerked awake and flung himself out of the tub in an explosion of
water and at the same time, pulling on his breeches. A knife was in his hands and he had the intruder by the throat and pinned against the wall. “Ocean-Eyes, it’s me,” Cat whispered. He didn’t relax. The last time she was here, she had passed him a warning about his life and she might have come to kill him by getting close. “You are to leave, now, before I call the guards,” he said quietly. He glanced at the wide open window in which she had come through and pushed her towards it. “Get moving.” “Ocean-Eyes, I just came to –“ “Get moving.” “- Visit you!” she finished. He stopped and she smiled. She held out her arms to embrace him but he noticed one of her hands was angled towards the inside of her arms a little oddly and the next thing she knew, she was flying out the window with a shriek. Ocean-Eyes was hurt at Cat’s betrayal but shut the windows after making sure that she had landed safely on a bush. He locked it from the inside and made sure it was bolted safely shut. He wouldn’t want someone to come in again. He thought to return to the bath but then knew it would be cold by now because it had been cooling when he left it so he went to his bedrooms and fell asleep on the bed. Bang! Bang! Bang! Ocean-Eyes groaned and rolled over. When someone pounded on the door again, he realized that it wasn’t from his dream and got up. He made his way to the door and opened it. A runner was there. “My lord, Lord Zenith needs your help. He’s in trouble and pain and is in his rooms. He sent me to fetch you. His sisters are with him now,” the man gasped between sentences. He saluted him and ran off to deliver other messages. He yanked a clean uniform out of the armoire and tucked his knives into their places and grabbed his baton and dashed out the door without bothering to shut his room door. He burst into Lord Zenith’s rooms and found him on the floor with his sisters sitting next to him, keeping him company. He did not look well – he eyes were glazed over with pain and his face was deadly pale. He managed to point to his glass of wine sitting on a table and Ocean-Eyes knew he had been poisoned. Ocean-Eyes picked up the glass and took a small taste and then grimaced. “Ivy Passion,” he said as he recognized the poison used. Ivy Passion was made of the liquid from inside a poison ivy’s thorn and boiled until no taste could be tasted of it. Ivy Passion could not kill but can cause a lot of pain in the stomach and head, rending the consumer helpless in pain. Ocean-Eyes searched in a belt pouch for a pain reliever pill he always carried in case he got poisoned with Ivy Passion
or got too much in pain to travel. He found it and handed it to Lord Zenith. “What is it?” Lord Zenith asked through gritted teeth. “Pain reliever. Most good assassins and thieves carry it in case they get injured,” Ocean-Eyes replied. He was already lost in thought. Who would poison Lord Zenith? Where did they get the brewed poison? How did they get it into the drink behind the cook’s back? There were too many questions to answer. “My lord, I suggest you stay in bed for the whole day. Your body will be tired in a few hours from clearing the poison from your body.” Lord Zenith finished up the pill and pulled himself onto a couch with the help of his sisters. “Thank you. Now I want you to find whoever did this and find a food taster for me, a trustworthy one, if you will,” Lord Zenith commanded. “And –“ “And you will rest, my lord,” Ocean-Eyes said with a laugh. ‘And you need to stop giving commands. I will have this problem solved out in no time at all.” Lord Zenith gave a small smile and then lay back on the pillows as Ocean-Eyes left the room. Ocean-Eyes got direction from a guard to the kitchens and there he found the new cook lounging in a chair with a slight smile on his face. “I believe you have the whole castle’s breakfast to cook, my dear cook,” Ocean-Eyes commented from the doorway. The cook jumped up and stuttered an excuse but Ocean-Eyes ignored him. Ocean-Eyes picked up the bowl that was on the table and sniffed it and was satisfied to smell nothing from it. He dipped a finger in and licked the tip of his finger and grimaced as he recognized the same poison that had been used on Lord Zenith. “And I wonder why you are wasting time poisoning Lord Zenith rather than cook breakfast. Or did you poison the whole palace staff including me so that you can have a look at Lord Zenith’s papers when everyone is sick? I’m afraid I will have to find a new, more trustworthy cook to cook Lord Zenith’s meals.” “Poison? What poison?” the cook stuttered. He tried to look busy but only instead knocked over a pot on the counter, spilling its contents. The cook lunged forward with a rag to clean the mess up but Ocean-Eyes stopped him with a hand. “My, you look anxious to clean that up,” Ocean-Eyes commented with a cold smile. He swiped a finger through the mess on the table and smelled it. The scent that came to his nose was like pepper. “And please explain to me why you are also brewing the poison Poppy Sleep? Did you hope to make everyone fall into sleep so that you could sneak out unnoticed and return with a whole troop of palace soldiers and take everyone prisoner while they are helpless?” Having been discovered, the cook sneered. “Lord Zenith is an incompetent fool and his spymaster is no better! The crown will discover this plot!” he hissed. Ocean-Eyes waved to two passing guards and they came into the kitchen.
“Arrest the cook. He has been found guilty of brewing illegal poisons and feeding them to Lord Zenith in an attempt to steal his papers. He is a spy,” he ordered. The men bowed to him and restrained the cook and lead him to the dungeons. He had some other servants clean up the mess and went to see Lord Zenith. The young lord looked much better. His face was no longer pale with pain and he had his usual warm smile on again. “The cook tried to poison you, my lord. I had him sent to the dungeons,” OceanEyes reported upon his arrival. “Very good. I would like you to find me a more trustworthy cook and a food taster by lunch and if you can’t, then feel free to by meals from outside in the city or have one of the other servants cook something up,” Lord Zenith replied. He finished his cold breakfast and set it aside. “You have done very well so far as your first few days as spymaster, Ocean-Eyes.” “Thank you, my lord. And I will see to your requests at once,” Ocean-Eyes said with a bow. Lord Zenith bowed back from his sitting position and Ocean-Eyes left to carry out his orders. As he entered the city, there was a trumpet announcement on the main street coming directly down from the palace. Everyone in the street cleared and stepped into orderly sidelines on the side of the road to wait for the royal procession to pass. Curious to see who was coming down, he pulled Cobalt over onto the side of the road almost near the palace. There was a clatter of trotting hooves and a procession on horseback appeared. At its head was a stunningly beautiful young woman riding sidesaddle. Her grey eyes swept the crowd and when they found his, her red painted lips smiled and Ocean-Eyes recognized it was Kate. He smiled back and she stopped the procession and motioned at him to join in. He started forward but one of Kate’s guards blocked his path and she rode over. “No, no, guard, he may pass. I invited him to after all,” she chided the man. The man ducked his head and rode off. Kate took his hand and lead him to the front and the procession started again. Kate leaned over to him and kissed him on the lips with a smile. He cupped the back of her head and kissed her fiercely back, ignoring all of the people staring at them. He was proud that he had gotten to know her and was so intimate with her – it made him popular because being a commoner and kissing a member of the royal family was an honor. “What are you doing in the city this fine day?” he murmured into her ear. She straightened in the saddle and he did too with a smile. “Shopping for a new wardrobe. I heard you have gotten yourself a respectable job as the spymaster of young Lord Zenith,” she said with a smile. Ocean-Eyes watched her eyes as she spoke and when she mentioned Lord Zenith, her eyes became a little dreamy.
“You like him?” he asked suspiciously. She sensed his tone and laughed. “All of us girls fawned over him last year when he came to court for the first time as a lord. We all thought that he was the most handsome young man we have ever seen and met and all had to draw lots to see who was to spend the days with him first,” she said with a smile. Her smile brightened. “But when I met you, I left off courting him and focused on you instead.” Ocean-Eyes felt no jealousy so he smiled to show her that he wasn’t jealous. “There seems to always be something that he hides. Do you know what it is?” he asked her. She hesitated but he touched her hand and smiled. “I have to know his background to see if I made the right choice in serving him.” “He and I were close once, almost to the point of marriage,” she murmured. He squeezed her hand encouragingly. “Then one day he left after he discovered my father was cruel to his men and people and taxed them a lot. He never said goodbye to me the day he left. Please, I don’t want to talk about it, Ocean-Eyes.” He hugged her around the shoulders. “It is all right, my love, I have been betrayed more times than you can count today,” he replied. He released her and with a wave, he separated from the group and went off to find the new staff members he was to hire. By the afternoon, he did find a new cook, a jolly woman who knew nothing of brewing poisons except of how to identify them by their smell. She seemed to be an excellent cook so she and her family moved up to the palace that evening. He found a food taster at the holding prison in the city where all criminals were being held and he selected a young girl who was soon to be hanged for robbery, thievery, and attempted murder to kill her father who beat her. “What is your name, youngling?” Ocean-Eyes asked. He slung the skinny girl up into the saddle and climbed on behind her. In one hand, he held the chain that kept her from running away. “You didn’t even hesitate to take me, you just…took me,” she murmured. He smiled. “I don’t like young people hanging for any reason, even murder,” he replied with a laugh. She turned to watch him as he guided Cobalt through the streets. He urged the horse into a trot but when the girl clutched at the saddle fearfully, he didn’t urge them any faster. “What is your name?” “Selena,” she murmured in reply. She was still staring up at him. Then, her thin face broke into a smile. “And you’re Ocean-Eyes aren’t you? “Yes I am,” he said with a grin. “You’re so young! And I had thought that you were at least thirty years old, with the way everyone talks about you,” she said with awe. She cocked her head to one side. “How old are you?” “I am only sixteen years of age. What about you, Selena?”
“I am a year younger than you – I am fifteen,” she replied shyly. Startled, he looked down at her. With the way her body was, he would have thought that she was only ten or twelve. They said nothing from then on and Ocean-Eyes urged the big horse into a smooth canter. The horse eased into it easily and Selena found that it was easier to ride that way so she leaned against OceanEyes’ chest and fell asleep, rocked by the horse’s smooth rhythm and exhausted from her day. Ocean-Eyes held the young woman by the waist to keep her from sliding off the horse as she dozed. He gently woke her as they reached the castle and helped her down. He took the manacle’s key from his pocket and unlocked them. The heavy iron bands fell onto the stone floor with a loud clank of metal and he glanced at her wrists. They were worn bloody by the manacles. He dragged her into the castle and up to the infirmary. The nurse looked at the other woman suspiciously until Ocean-Eyes managed to get her to clean and bandage Selena’s wrists. Then he dragged her down to the seamstress who fussed over the girl and then gave her a stack of clothes and a few cloaks and boots as well. He took the clothes from her and gave them all except for one set of uniforms to a passing servant to take to his suite and pulled the girl down to the baths. When she saw where he was taking her, she smiled and flirted with him, tempting him to come in with her. In Lord Zenith’s castle, the baths were small and were not separated by gender but there were two different pools so that men and women could bath separately. Selena tried to get him to get into a pool with her but he refused and just leaned against the side wall to wait for her to be finished. He laid Selena’s new uniform on a nearby chair. He watched the girl swim in the pool for a while then looked away. The bath attendants picked up her uniform when Selena was finished and shielded the girl as she changed. Ocean-Eyes had to wait a few more minutes as the attendant skillfully braided and wound the girl’s hair into a neat coronet on her head and Selena came to him. Ocean-Eyes stood straight as she came like an angel. Now that her hair had been cleaned of the prison dirt and filth, it shone golden in the sunlight streaming in from the windows above. Her cheeks, red from scrubbing, accented her golden skin, a little lighter shade than her hair. Emerald eyes gazed at him and lit up when she smiled. She fidgeted under his gaze and he touched her shoulder with a smile. “You look beautiful,” he assured her with a smile. She smiled back. “Come, let us meet Lord Zenith. There is no need to be afraid, Selena. Lord Zenith is a good and kind young man and he is not at all scary or strict.” He opened the door for her and she went out and he followed. He guided her to Lord Zenith’s study where he was told he was meeting with three officers of the crown again. He let them in through a side
door and appeared behind Lord Zenith. The young lord excused himself and turned to his spymaster. “This is your new food taster, my lord,” Ocean-Eyes said with a bow. “Selena, this is Lord Zenith, the man you are serving from this day forward.” “Pleased to meet you,” Lord Zenith said with a warm smile. Ocean-Eyes wondered if the lord’s smile was a little too warm. The lord caught hold of the girl’s hand and brought it to his lips and kissed it. He made Selena stand off a little to the side of the room so that she couldn’t hear them speak. Then Lord Zenith turned to him. “Where did you find her, Ocean-Eyes? I hope you didn’t tell her parents that their little girl is off being a food tester for a lord.” “I found her in the holding prison. She was the best candidate for the job and she was neither too young nor too old for it either,” he replied, keeping his voice neutral. He didn’t say why she had been in the prison in the first place, lest it ruin Lord Zenith’s perfect first impression of Selena. “They must have accidentally caught her in a mob when they arrested a mob,” Lord Zenith joked as he glanced at Selena. OceanEyes only shrugged and beckoned Selena closer. Lord Zenith smiled at Selena. “Selena, you are to receive your training starting this afternoon as my food tester. Ocean-Eyes has all knowledge of poisons in our local area and outside because he was well educated in his youth about them and also because his father was the King of Thieves so he had to know what kind of poison was in his drink. You will take his lessons to heart and learn them well. My life may one day depend on you.” Selena nodded and bowed since she wasn’t wearing a skirt. Ocean-Eyes made a quick assessment of Lord Zenith’s food that was lying on the desk and announced that there was no poison and left with Selena. Ocean-Eyes spent the day educating Selena in his suites about the different types of poison that she would most likely see and taste during her time as food taster. She learned fast and did not hesitate to ask questions. “I will have samples of local poisons tomorrow afternoon,” Ocean-Eyes announced, planning to ask his people to get them for him that night. She nodded and gathered the papers she had written notes on and set them on a table. “Ocean-Eyes?” she asked softly. Ocean-Eyes sat at his desk, his head in his hands and staring down at a report, not seeing it. He jerked as he heard his name and looked at her for a while before replying. “Yes?” “Thank you for today, and the chance you let me have for my life,” Selena murmured. “It was very kind of you.” “It could have been anyone in that prison, Selena,” he whispered, almost to himself. She shook her head. “Yes, but you picked me. Why?” she asked. It was true, there were three boys that had been ahead of her that he could have picked
but he had picked her, a girl who had almost killed her father just for beating her. “The boys ahead of me could have done better. They already knew how to fight with weapons and they seemed to learn fast.” “That’s the problem, Selena,” Ocean-Eyes replied, his blue eyes steady. “They already knew how to fight and that is dangerous because they would fight their new lives and fight me. You were just sitting there like as if you had given up on life and had given up on your fight. I chose you because I sensed that you deserved a new chance at life than those boys. Those boys had killed for fun, you had almost killed but you did it for a fair reason.” Selena said nothing and just bowed to him and left his office and to the room that Ocean-Eyes had given her. He sighed and wrote something on the report and set it aside. He pulled on his cloak and made sure his knives were tucked in their right places and grabbed his baton. He locked his office up behind him and turned to leave but he found Selena watching him from the doorway of her room. “Are you going out? Can I come with you?” she asked at once. He smiled. “No, you stay here and rest,” he replied. “I don’t think I can rest, not after today,” she replied. He didn’t ask what she meant. She strode out of her room, still fully clothed in her new uniform. Her golden hair was still neat on her head. “Please let me go with you, Ocean-Eyes.” “I can’t; you aren’t supposed to leave the castle until your training is finished,” he replied. He strode to the door. “Have a good night, Selena.” “Good night, Ocean-Eyes,” came her whisper. He locked the door behind him and walked down the now-familiar halls towards the stables. He hadn’t told her that Lord Zenith had not wanted her to leave the castle in case she should try to escape. That was what the report was. Ocean-Eyes trusted the new girl but even though Lord Zenith was drawn to the attractive girl, he was still cautious. OceanEyes really hoped she wouldn’t escape; he had started growing fond of her. He swung into the saddle of his big black horse and cantered out the gates, still lost in thought. He absently showed it to the guards at the city gate and they let him pass. Ocean-Eyes’ sword pressed heavily against his side and his knives pressed against his body in their hidden places, giving him assurance. When someone leaped from the roof of a nearby house onto him, he hit the man across the shoulders with his baton to keep his attacker distracted. The other man swiftly dodged the blow and lunged for his throat and Ocean-Eyes ducked under the man’s hands and knocked his feet out from under him. Ocean-Eyes planted a foot on the man’s chest and leaned down on it with one elbow to support him. “Well, well, well, what do we have here? What made you think you could attack the King of Thieves and
defeat him?” he said with a predatory smile. He used the title he did in the city because he was not yet ready to make it be known he was the spymaster for a lord and had told his men so the previous night before he left. His position was still to weak to afford being known as spymaster. The man struggled to get up but Ocean-Eyes put more weight onto his elbow, making the man gasp for breath and struggle. Two shadows appeared by his side and the moonlight and torchlight revealed them to be his men. They grinned at him and he let them have his attacker and moved on, leading Cobalt down the street. He stopped by a nighttime herb seller and asked for the local poisons. The woman smiled and nodded and slipped him a bundle as she recognized him and refused payment. He thanked her with a casual nod and tucked the package into the saddlebags and made his way to the court. His men were there but they were more subdued. They looked up as he entered but was not greeted as cheerfully as he was usually. In the crowd, he picked out his mother dressed in her usual clothes and a smile on her face. He made his way over to her and embraced her. “How’s the job going?” Heart asked with a smile. Worry danced in her eyes. “It is fine, Mother, I would like to invite you up there and visit but I’m afraid you wouldn’t like to be trapped in rock,” he replied with a smile. Then his smile faded and he gestured at his men. “What’s wrong with them?” “Your men found that someone’s been challenging your authority and want to take your position as King of Thieves,” she replied quietly. “Three of your have already gone mission. One has turned up dead and the other two are nowhere to be found. We think this the work of the crown because only they have the agents that can steal a full grown man from bed without him putting up a fight.” “I was attacked on my way here and it was not a man of the crown. I know when they are,” he told her. She gasped and looked him over for injuries and he put a hand on her arm. “I’m fine. Two of my men stepped up to take care of it and I left.” “Then I suggest you go to the castle. The city is not safe for you,” she said. He shook his head. “This city needs me, Mother, and I cannot abandon them to their fate,” he replied. She sighed and he touched her shoulder. “Lord Zenith plans to rebel against the crown when the time is right. He has gathered his close supporters together and set them to work. I plan to join him in his plans in a few days.” “Good luck. And don’t come back to the city any more, it isn’t safe. I will handle things here until it is safe for you to return,” she told him. She touched his mouth when he opened it to protest. “I will send word, Ocean-Eyes, my son. I will send word when it is safe. You need not to worry.”
He reluctantly nodded and left his court after a few words with a man here and there. When he reached the castle, he took the saddlebags off Cobalt and the stable hand led him away as he went to his rooms. As he reached his rooms, the door was slightly ajar. Someone had been there. He crept silently up to the door and saw that it was Lord Zenith and he was sitting on the couch in the sitting room, an arm around Selena. The two of them were drinking and talking to each other with slurred words and he knew that they were drunk. He let himself in and approached his lord. “Lord Zenith, you have a meeting tomorrow, perhaps it is time for you to retire to your room,” he said to the lord. The young lord nodded drunkenly and made his way to the door and with a final parting wave, he vanished out into the hall. Ocean-Eyes dropped his saddlebags down on the ground and sat down in the nearest chair. He stared off into the distance and did not notice as Selena came behind him. When her fingers touched his shoulders, he tensed up. Her fingers worked into his shoulders, massaging them and he relaxed. “What’s wrong?” she murmured. She was so close he could smell her faint scent. “Nothing to worry about, Selena,” he replied. He relaxed against her hands as they worked themselves lower. Then they slid forward to his front as they reached his waist and unbuckled his belt. The belt came loose and was pulled to the ground by the sword that hung to it. As she reached for his buttons, he caught her hands. “You’re drunk, Selena,” he said firmly. “Get to bed.” She smiled and when to her room. When her door shut with a click, he sighed and picked up his sword with the belt still attached and went to his own room. There, he changed his clothes and fell asleep. “Selena, are you paying attention to me?” Ocean-Eyes’ student swayed on her stool and then shook herself awake with a smile and a nod. Ocean-Eyes smiled and held out the jar again. “What poison do these leaves make, Selena?” he asked again. She frowned at them. “Oak Heart,” she replied. “And what is its purpose?” “Their purpose is to…slow down the heart beat. Used in large quantities, the victim could die within an hour because the more that is used, the slower the heart will beat and as a result, too much will cause the heart to cease beating at all,” she replied confidently. He nodded his approval and took out another jar. They had been reviewing the poisons for a week already and Selena was very good at identifying them in their natural form, meaning the form that has not yet been made into a poison, and their brewed form. The brewed forms were the ones he had taught her first. “Sinister Decline,” she said automatically as he held out the jar. “Makes the victim who eats it get so depressed that they are open to
any suggestion to kill themselves or they do it themselves if they have enough of it. Most assassins use it because it is hard to identify and hard to detect and usually, they don’t have to go in to finish off their victim after they eat it.” “Very good, that’s enough for today,” Ocean-Eyes said approvingly. Selena had been unusually tired every morning at dawn when she woke for her lessons but despite her fatigue, she was determined to learn her lessons. He put the jars onto their shelf on the wall and sat down at his desk. He had not excused Selena yet so she still sat on her stool in front of his desk. He folded his hands before him and examined his pupil for a few minutes before clearing his throat. “Selena, you have been unusually tired for your lessons. Is there anything you would like to tell me?” “No, I just have…nightmares,” she said quietly, looking down at her hands. Tears welled in her emerald eyes but she refused to let them spill. He stood and embraced the girl to comfort her. She stiffened at first but then her arms slowly circled his neck and she buried her face into his shoulder. “Wounds of the body are easier to heal than those of the mind and the heart,” he said quietly into her ear. He held her for a moment longer before releasing her. Selena was always so strong on the outside and was always quick to smile and please but her smiles sometimes did not reach her eyes and Ocean-Eyes knew that she was thinking about her past life. He wondered when the turmoil inside of her would finally settled down and when he would no longer hear the screams of fright coming from her room at night. He smiled. “You’re excused for the day, Selena. Go get some rest. Take a small does of Poppy Sleep to help you sleep. That way, you will have a dreamless sleep,” he told her. Poppy Sleep was the sleep poison but it was only a poison if used too much in too large quantities. She nodded and wiped her eyes and left the office. Ocean-Eyes followed her out and locked the door behind him as he usually did. Then, hands in his pockets, he wandered out into the hallway to explore the castle as he usually did once a week when time allowed him to. As he was about to enter the library, a runner trotted up to him and handed him a letter and was gone, off to deliver more messages to other people in the castle. He broke open the seal on the letter and read it through and when he finished, he grinned. He finally had his first target to watch for Lord Zenith. He ran back to his rooms and unlocked his office and went in. Selena curiously followed him. He looked up at a big map of the city and the palace and their surrounding landscapes that was behind his desk and put up a blue pin in all the places his first prey went. He wrote out a hasty letter to his mother, asking him to keep an eye on the man and members of his household and gave her the locations. He handed it to Selena.
“Selena, I want you to go to the city and find the court of thieves. Give this to my mother, the Queen of Thieves. If you can’t find her there, then go to Hothar Temple. I am sure you are familiar with these places,” he instructed her. He handed her his pass. “This will get you past any guards and shows that you are under Lord Zenith’s protection. And remember, give that letter to my mother only because it is for her eyes only. In the wrong hands, all could be lost.” She stared down at the letter in her hands. “You trust me with something like this?” she whispered. He smiled and nodded. “Then I will not fail you, Ocean-Eyes, even if it costs me my life.” “I hope it won’t come to that, because if that happens, then I will have to pick one of the boys at the prison to take your place,” he said with a laugh. She smiled and then vanished from the office. During the week that she had been here, Ocean-Eyes still knew that something hid below the surface of the girl. He was wary of her, wary that she could have a hidden ability for combat that he never knew. But he had to trust her. Selena returned that evening and headed straight up to his rooms without a word to anyone. As she entered, he looked up and saw that she was shivering and soaked. There were bruises on her legs and arms and welts too where the cloth of her uniform ripped. He dropped his book as he stood. She collapsed with weakness and he caught her before she fell and put her on the couch. He went to her room and pulled out a dry uniform and came back to Selena. He slid her wet clothes off and dried her off since she was unable to do so herself and got her dry clothes on. He saw to her wounds and stoked the fire and the room was increasingly warmer. Selena was dry and warm and her golden hair hung went down her back but she was still trembling. Not knowing what to do, he held her close and her trembling subdued after a while. “What happened?” he asked quietly. “Some…people caught me,” she replied. “I got your letter delivered to your mother. You don’t need to worry about that.” She tried to get up but he held onto her. “Don’t use that tone with me, Selena. You know I care about you too,” he said fiercely. She turned to look at him. “Do you? Or do you just don’t want to train another food taster?” she said with a look that blazed down to his heart. His heart ached with pain for her and he let her go. She slid out of his lap and went into her room and didn’t come out again that night. Ocean-Eyes went to bed early, unable to just sit there doing nothing. He stared up at the canopy of his bed for a while in the darkness, taking comfort from the silence around him. He missed his mother and the abbot. Most of all, he missed Kate and her smile and laugh. He had dozed off and almost fell asleep when a scream of pure terror ripped through the silence of the suite. He leaped out of bed, a
knife in his hand and ran towards Selena’s room where the screams were coming from. He pushed open the door but dropped his knife when he saw that she wasn’t being attacked. Her body thrashed on the bed under her blankets and as she thrashed more violently, the bed sheets eventually tangled up in her arms and legs and finally restrained her from moving any more. She woke with a start and Ocean-Eyes rushed to her side as she began to sob. He held her close with one hand and used the other to untangle the bed sheets constricting her body. She continued crying and he tried to calm her but it was no use. He held her until she was exhausted from crying and lay limp in his arms. He wiped her tears away with his hands and held her close. “He came again,” she whispered. “What?” “I know it was a dream but it was so real at the same time,” she whispered hoarsely. “He came again to beat me. I told him to stop but he didn’t. He told me I was worthless and the only thing I was good for was to be beaten. He tied me up and beat me. I begged him, OceanEyes, I begged him until my voice was hoarse.” “It was just a dream, Selena. That was your past life. Your new life is safer and it is with us. You are safe with me, Selena,” Ocean-Eyes told her firmly. He remembered her words earlier. “And I care for you, Selena. That is why it is so safe here.” She twisted against his side into a more comfortable position. “You sound so sure,” she murmured. Her eyes closed and Ocean-Eyes thought she had fallen asleep but then they flickered open again. “Those people who got me were my half-brothers. They enjoy beating me with my father. My mother had been beaten to death a long time ago but everyone thought she just died because she couldn’t take on life any more.” Ocean-Eyes smiled down at her. “Sleep, Selena. I find that having one nightmare per night is the limit. After that, you would be too exhausted to dream any more nightmares,” he told her, settling her in bed. He moved to leave but Selena’s fingers caught his arm. “Please stay,” she whispered. “I’m scared. And I always get more than one.” He froze. More than one? “I’ll stay with you, then,” he said. He slid into bed next to her and she rolled over and clung to him. He put an arm around her and eventually, her breathing slowed as she fell asleep. Several times in the night, he felt jerk awake and cry out and he woke to comfort her. He woke at dawn as usual and looked down at the peaceful Selena and decided to let her sleep in today. He quietly left her room and shut the door behind him. He looked around his suite, deciding what to do and finally decided to go to the city under the escort of a few men. He took his pass out of the pocket of Selena’s stillwet breeches and put it in his own. He donned his blue silk shirt
uniform and cloak and strapped his knives in their right places. He fetched the one he had dropped the night before and put that in his boot after he put his boots on. He wore his sword today since it made him look more like a nobleman. He went to see Lord Zenith before he left and found the young lord already awake and in formal attire. The young lord yawned as Ocean-Eyes entered his study and greeted Ocean-Eyes with a smile. “I’m off to the city and I’d like some permission to bring a few guards with me,” he told him. “Granted. What are you doing in the city?” “Getting updates about our prey and to do a few things. Is there anything you would like me to do while I am there?” he asked his lord. Lord Zenith thought for a moment. “The cook tells me that she needs more poppy seeds for her muffins and a basket of eggs. I have to pick up armor at the blacksmith’s down on Ivory Street. And the guards say that they need new whetstones since their old ones have cracked away. They also need a new jar of polish since apparently, someone stole them,” he told him. “I will have those seen to,” Ocean-Eyes told him with a bow. He turned to leave but Lord Zenith called his name so he turned back to face him. “How is our food taster coming along?” “She’s fine. I’m letting her sleep in today because she’s had quite a night last night with terrors from her former life so you will need to find someone to taste your food for you today if I don’t get back in time for your breakfast and lunch, and possibly dinner,” OceanEyes replied. Lord Zenith nodded and Ocean-Eyes left the study. Four guards met him at the entrance of the castle and told him they would be his escort. He smiled at them and beckoned them to follow him. He mounted Cobalt in the stables after a stable boy saddled him and left the castle with his guards. The guards at the gate let them in after they had shown them their passes and they went to the court of the thieves. Ocean-Eyes saw through the window as they arrived that no one was there yet that early so he went down to the cathedral, his four guards around him in a loose circle. People made way for him and when a child did not get out of the way fast enough, the lead guard raised his whip to whip the child but Ocean-Eyes charged out and grabbed the man’s hand that held the whip. He fixed the man’s face with an icy stare and slowly, the guard’s hand relaxed and came down. “I will not have you whipping children on my account, guard,” he hissed. “That is not the right way.” “But, sir, they are –“ “People,” he finished and he let go of the guard and continued on. The four guards that he left behind staring at him scrambled to catch up. Ocean-Eyes slowed Cobalt, knowing that without his guards,
he was vulnerable but as he slowed, something made him look up and on the roof was a man dressed in black with a mask. He wielded a bow and arrow and it was aimed at him. Ocean-Eyes acted quickly – he pulled loose one of his throwing knives from its place strapped on his forearm and threw it at the man. It caught the man on the shoulder and he fell with a cry. He tumbled from the roof and hit a midden heap right under where he had been standing. The four guards stared for only a second before they were soon pulling the assailant from the pile of discarded wrappers and containers and food waste. Ocean-Eyes pulled his knife from the man’s shoulder none to gently and wiped it on the man’s clothing before tucking it away under his sleeve. “Take a message back to your master. I don’t care who it is. Tell your master to stop trying to kill me and take my place otherwise the next messenger would be sent back dead,” he ordered. The man’s eyes narrowed and he nodded to the guard who released him. As the assailant stumbled off, he spotted one of his men in the crowd. The man had his eyes on him the whole time and he asked his silent question with raised eyebrows. Do you wish me to follow him? Ocean-Eyes signaled him to do so but without the assailant knowing and to meet back at court once the assailant reached his employer’s location and once he found who the employer was. The man knew that if he found as much as he could but no more, he would return anyway. Ocean-Eyes watched the man slip into the crowd after the assailant for a moment before he turned to his guards. “I think I’ll have to train the four of you once we get home,” he scolded them. “You are not fit to be guards. What if I had been Lord Zenith?” “Lord Zenith does not do things like you do,” one of them muttered. “But he will someday. Or someday, you could be guarding another nobleman and he could not do anything that Lord Zenith or I do. You must be prepared,” he told them. “Mount up, and keep up this time.” They bowed and when they straightened, he was already on his horse and looking down at them with one eyebrow raised and they scrambled onto their horses’ backs. He led them down the neighborhood street. He gave them a bag of gold coins and told them to distribute the gold evenly among the people in the small neighborhood. They protested and he was pleased to know that they would rather guard him but he told him that they wouldn’t need any guards past this point but he did need help with this task. He rode on his own to the cathedral. As Cobalt recognized the road, he broke into a swift and excited gallop. Ocean-Eyes laughed and let the horse have his head. As they reached the front doors, OceanEyes slid off as the horse slid to a stop. A boy came up to take the horse and the big but gentle horse nuzzled the boy in greeting.
Ocean-Eyes stepped into the cathedral and slid a gold ring off his finger and laid it on the altar as an offering and sent up a prayer of thanks to the dream god before going to find the abbot. He found his old friend teaching a class of young priests. When the abbot spotted him, he set the class to working on something and came to him. The old man embraced Ocean-Eyes and he returned the embrace. “How are you, James?” the old man asked with the smile he always seemed to reserve only for Ocean-Eyes. “I’m fine, Father. Mother forbade me to come to the city because it was so dangerous but I brought guards,” Ocean-Eyes said with a grin. The old man chuckled. “But I came because I miss her and also because there is nothing to do and I need to know information from the prey I’m watching for Lord Zenith.” “Watch yourself around Lord Zenith’s enemies, Ocean-Eyes,” the abbot warned. “I know.” “And you’re mother’s been up since dawn. Go and find her. She should be meditating in her room,” the abbot told him. “’Room’? I thought I gave her money to move out,” Ocean-Eyes immediately said. The abbot caught his arm. “She gave up that money to some people who were having a little trouble with taxes down in the southern part of the city where your services don’t cover them. She kept half and is living off of it and making more as she goes,” he told him. “Now go see her, she’ll be delighted.” Ocean-Eyes sighed and obeyed. He found his mother’s room and knocked on it. Heart’s voice invited him in and he let himself in. “Ocean-Eyes!” Heart cried. She leaped out of her chair to embrace her son. He beamed at her and hugged her just as fiercely back. “What’s the news?” “Always wanting to get to the point, Ocean-Eyes? You are much like your father, did I ever tell you that?” she teased but then she became serious and collected her thoughts before replying. “Your prey visits the lords of the districts that the houses he owns are in everyday at noon. He rides around on a horse but no guards. Every morning, he is seen leaving his mansion next to the palace. He goes on business, visiting the markets to buy trinkets and other things. After he visits the lords, he goes to the palace to visit the king. We think that he and the king are close. Several days ago, one of your men dressed as a guard and snuck in. He managed to find out that a Lord Zenith has been causing trouble for the two of them, always sending their officers back with bruises and complaints. They are also aware that Lord Zenith has hired a spymaster and he is dangerous and cunning.” Ocean-Eyes raised his eyebrows at the last part. “I haven’t done anything since the first day I hired on other than act in self-defense the first day I was there when three officers of the crown attacked me and
teach Lord Zenith’s new food taster about poisons. I’m surprised they think so highly of me,” he told his mother. She smiled. “That’s not all. I found that the person trying to take your place as King of Thieves and the king who lives on the hill himself are joining forces together to eliminate you,” Heart told him with caution in her voice. “That explains the assassins who are trying to kill me,” he murmured. He turned to his mother. “I think I better get back to the castle.” She nodded. “Good idea, and keep your profile low. The king is desperate to find you now for some reason. This isn’t the best time for you to be in the city. As I said before, I’ll send word when it is safe. From now on, I will send daily messages about your prey through your men and making sure they deliver it to your hands only and warn them that no bribery will be permitted otherwise there will be consequences,” she said. He embraced her one last time and left the cathedral. When he saw his guards, they were laughing and playing with children who fed birds a few stale breadcrumbs or told jokes to one another. They waved goodbye to the children as they spotted him emerging from the trees and got on their horses and fell in formation around him as he reached them but he stopped. “Sir?” “I must get back to the castle. Could you please pick up poppy seeds, a basket of eggs, a box of new whetstones, and Lord Zenith’s armor on Ivory Street? No, I don’t need a guard to find my way back to the castle,” he told them. They nodded and split up automatically after each decided who was going to get what. Ocean-Eyes left them at it and urged Cobalt into a gallop back to the castle. He managed to get back without being attacked and he stumbled up the stairs to tell Lord Zenith the new news. “Interesting, you are dismissed. I will have this dealt with. In the meantime, stay at the castle. I will have the servants go out to get things from now on,” he said in reply to his news. Ocean-Eyes bowed and went to his suites to write the new information he had gotten on paper so he wouldn’t forget. Selena came in as he was finishing up the second sheet of paper stating the matter of the assailants. He finished up and filed the paper into a drawer of his desk after the ink had dried. Selena sat down on her stool in front of his desk. “Why didn’t you wake me this morning?” she asked quietly. “I thought you might want the rest,” he replied with a smile. “I’m glad to see you well again after last night. You gave me such a fright with that scream of yours.” He instantly regretted his last words as Selena looked down at her lap, fighting back tears of terror and pain. He came around the
desk and held her close. “I’m sorry, Selena, I didn’t mean it that way,” he said into her ear. “It’s all right,” she said. He pulled away with a smile for her. “Let’s do something together this afternoon. What do you like to do?” he asked. She blinked in surprise. “I don’t know, no one’s ever asked me that before,” she murmured, looking at her hands again. Her long golden hair tumbled forward and veiled her face from his view. He took her hair into his hands and ran his finger through them. The locks of golden hair were like silk. “Well, someone is asking you so you’d better reply,” he said with a smile. She pushed her hair back behind her, revealing her smiling face. He moved in front of her, taking her slender hands into his. He looked up and suddenly, she was very close, her face just inches from his. Their eyes closed and Selena’s lips brushed timidly against his. He knew what she wanted. He kissed her back gently, not knowing how she would react. Her lips pressed again his, asking for more and he kissed her passionately. “That’s all I want,” she murmured after they broke their kiss, her emerald eyes gazed into his sea-blue ones. They held their gaze on each other for a moment before Ocean-Eyes looked away. “I’m happy to have given it to you then,” he replied, slightly hoarse. “You have been through so much, Selena. Someone like you deserves everything little one of your heart’s desires, no matter how ridiculous.” She nodded as he stood and left, breaking a slightly awkward moment. Ocean-Eyes knew he was being foolish, growing so fond for a food taster. But yet he did grow even fonder. He brought her little trinkets and gifts when he had the time and she took each with a smile that reached her emerald eyes and tucked each carefully away in the closet in her room. After another week of just reviewing and a little more training, Selena was ready to start working as a food taster. Over the weeks during her training, she had filled out and was healthier than when Ocean-Eyes first found her huddled against the wall of a filthy cell in the holding prison. He was proud of her skills, skills that he taught her and watched as she tasted Lord Zenith’s breakfast for the first time. “No poison,” she told them. Ocean-Eyes examined a food for a minute and picked out a piece of corn and tasted it. A bitter taste was mixed in with the sweetness of the corn and he immediately spat out the poisoned corn. “I would check again,” he said, choking. He recognized the poison. It was one that would cause great pain and did not even have to be swallowed into the body to make it work. His legs gave out from under him and he fell to the floor, his body convulsing with pain. He fought the urge to scream grimly and when the pain was finally over, he lay weak and panting on the floor. Selena was by his side and she
apologized over and over and he touched her hand to assure her that he was all right and that it was all right. “People make mistakes,” he said hoarsely. He declined the offer to get a stretcher to take him back to his rooms and managed to get to his feet after a few minutes’ rest. Selena supported him on one side. “Food is not safe,” he managed to say. He knew he had to get somewhere to sit or lie down otherwise when the next wave came, he would be on the floor again so he had Selena take him back to his room after he made sure someone was going to question the cook and her helpers and to get fresh food for Lord Zenith. “That’s the second time since I came,” he murmured, his eyes closed. He struggled to take his weight off of Selena’s shoulders but it did no good. She didn’t complain but continued to guide him back to his suite. “Ocean-Eyes, I think someone is trying to poison you, not Lord Zenith. Someone in this household knows that I’m a new and inexperienced food taster and that you will always check my work twice before letting Lord Zenith eat,” Selena said thoughtfully. His eyes popped open. “Selena, get some sleep and post guards in the room and yours. You may have a point and once that person stops poisoning me or Lord Zenith, then the guards can go. I’ll get down to investigating this and you may be of help. The poison that was used today was Pain Wave. I’ll be out for a few days and delirious,” he murmured, knowing what was to come. “But –“ “Selena, I would trust you with my life and I trust you now to get to the bottom of this for me. Your first assignment as you might say,” he told her. She smiled and helped him into his bed. He kicked off his boots and peeled off his shirt and got under the blankets. “Then I won’t let you down, Ocean-Eyes,” she told him. He smiled at her as she left the room. He pulled out the pouch of painrelieving pills and swallowed one then and set the rest on the bedside table. Then, he just sagged against his pillows and let the darkness of pain and delusions take him, knowing he couldn’t fight it.
Selena watched Ocean-Eyes’ sleeping form for a moment before closing the door to his room. Ocean-Eyes had wanted her to help him with the mysterious poisoner. She wasn’t going to fail him. Over the next few days when Ocean-Eyes was unable to work, she took his place. She had guards posted at his door and in his room, watching him and caring for him. She searched the library for information about the natural state of the poison Pain Wave and where it grew. She went into the city with Lord Zenith and she questioned those who she knew, knew about local poisons. Selena often wondered why she pushed herself so hard over the poisoning and she reasoned with herself that she had failed OceanEyes when he took the poison. But she knew that the real answer was that she was doing it because he was the first person that had ever trusted her after the day her life changed. On the third night, she tucked herself into bed after doing a search of the suite to make sure no one was in there with them besides the guards. She closed her eyes and her dark dreams came forward. Her mind showed images of her past life and then it stopped and a part of her past replayed out before her though she knew that it was a dream, it was truly horrifying for her. “You’re worthless, Selena!” her father shouted. “No, I’m not! I’ve earned more money than you can ever earn in your whole life,” she shouted back. It was as if she had no control of her body in the dream world. Hothar, god of dreams, please don’t let this happen again! Her conscious mind cried out with fear. But tonight, unfortunately for her, the dream got wasn’t listening to her plea. “Then where is it, wench?” her father snarled. Her two half brothers stood behind him, smirking. “Tie her up, boys, and we’ll teach her a lesson.” “No!” she screamed and struggled as her brothers grabbed her arms and tied her up. She was scared. She saw her father take up his horsewhip and her brothers take up clubs. The first line of pain streaked across her back and she screamed. Her brothers advanced with their clubs and beat her senseless, leaving bruises on her body. She knew that one of her ribs were broken. Her father continued to shout incoherent words and insults and beating her with the whip. Then suddenly, the dream changed and Ocean-Eyes was next to her. He was untying her hands. “I care for you,” he whispered in the dream. “Let me help you.” He reached out a hand to her and she took it and then her surroundings fell away and her vision became black. She could still feel
Ocean-Eyes’ big but gentle hand clutching hers. She whimpered at the darkness and the pain of her body. She felt his arm slip around her and holding her close and suddenly, the pain was gone. Then, the dreams stopped and she fell into a dreamless and peaceful sleep for the first time in a long time. Selena woke the next morning. She slowly opened her eyes and realized someone was beside her and turned. Ocean-Eyes lay next to her, an arm around her shoulders. His face was pale as if traveling to her room from his had taken a lot of energy and she knew it had. She then realized the door was open and turned to see a guard standing there. “He insisted to come see you, miss,” he told her. Then he smiled. “You screamed last night, miss. Is everything all right?” “Just…a nightmare,” she murmured. She sat up and gazed down at Ocean-Eyes. “Ocean-Eyes is a kind man, isn’t he? Always there for someone when they need help or when they just need a companion to protect them from their darkest fears,” the guard said, coming up behind her. “You must have gone through something in your life to have nightmares that make you scream like that. It froze my blood in its veins it did.” She smiled wryly. “Sorry, and yes, I did have a worse life and I still can’t get it out of my mind. You’d best move him back to his own bed,” she told him. Then she got up and pulled down a uniform and went to the privy. In the privacy of the small room, she changed her clothes and cleaned her teeth and then went outside in search of some breakfast in the mess hall. In the mess hall, no one paid her any attention. She unconsciously checked her food for poison before eating it. Later, she went to the kitchen to talk with the cook. The jolly woman who was the cook greeted her with a smile. She shoved a poppy seed muffin into her hands and went back to a pot over the fire, using her free hand to turn a hunk of meat cooking over another fire. “Well, dearie, how nice to meet you at last! I am sorry about Ocean-Eyes, how is he?” the woman said. Without waiting for her reply, she continued talking. “I remember when Ocean-Eyes first came to me and asked if I wanted to be the cook for Lord Zenith and I said yes because in knew everyone would love my muffins. Ocean-Eyes’ family has been helping my family for a long time ever since I can remember. As a little girl, I would remember his father would stop by our house and let us have a bag of silver. Later, Ocean-Eyes was always seen with him. His father would be so proud of him now.” “So do you know who poisoned him?” she asked. The woman thought for a moment, then shook her head. “I can’t think of anyone in this kitchen who would poison such a sweet man. No one can poison food I cook behind my back while I rule this kitchen, and besides, I would not allow it,” she told her. ”If you excuse me,
dear, I have to get this broth cooked for lunch and I need to see to my family.” Selena nodded and left the kitchen, finishing off the last of the muffin. She went back to the suite to find Ocean-Eyes’ office door was open. She grabbed one of Ocean-Eyes’ knives out of their bag and advanced quietly on the door. “Selena, come on in,” came his voice from inside the office. She smiled and set the knife down. Ocean-Eyes looked up and smiled as she entered. “I knew when you came in. Anyone could know with the way you walked in here.” She smiled back and went around to the table behind him and leaned on his back, reading over his shoulder. He was writing something about a man who needed to be watched and she knew she shouldn’t be reading it so she looked around the room. “As much as I like this, Selena, I can’t have you leaning on me like this,” Ocean-Eyes said absently, still writing. She laughed and went to sit in her usual seat on her stool in front of his desk as he filed the page away and took out a clean sheet of paper. “Now tell me about what you have found over the days I was unable to work.” She told him about the interview with the cook and her research in the library and what she found of the local herb merchants and doctors. He wrote as she talked and when she finished, he wrote a few more notes and set his quill down and examined his notes. “This is more information than I expected you would collect in four days,” he commented. “Why would you collect so much information? You only needed to find where the poison in its natural state could be found.” She found herself turning red and looked down at her lap. “I didn’t want to fail you, Ocean-Eyes,” she murmured. She looked up. “And I was worried when you got sick. I didn’t want you to die.” He watched her in silence and the silence stretched until it was uncomfortable and she squirmed in her seat under his piercing blue eyes. He finally looked away and put the paper away. “Would you like to take a trip with me to the city today?” he finally said, breaking the silence. She nodded and stood when he did. “We are going tonight. It’s time we got to know each other.” She gave a small smile and he came around to her.
He reached out a hand and cupped her face in his hand and used the other to move aside a strand of golden hair in her face and smiled down at her. “I’m very proud of you, Selena,” he told her. She reached up a hand and touched the hand cupping her face. Her eyes closed and he moved in to kiss her on the forehead but then the door burst open and he dropped his hand and Selena’s eyes snapped open. “Sir, are you all right? When we didn’t find you in your bed, we were worried,” the guard in the doorway said. Three other guards stood behind him. “Yes, I’m fine. I recovered enough to stand this morning and I know that the poison’s effect is gone. You men are dismissed and may return to your original places in the palace,” Ocean-Eyes told them. They bowed as one and left the rooms. Ocean-Eyes bowed Selena out the door with a smile and she laughed. That night, Ocean-Eyes left the castle alone with Selena on the saddle behind him clutching his waist. He entered the city and took her to see the city’s wonderful sights. He left Cobalt at a stable and went out to see the night fair that was out that night. Selena looked wistfully at the jewelry stalls with their beautifully made pieces of necklaces and rings laid out for viewing. He sent Selena to get some food and made his way towards one of the jewelry stalls. “Welcome, sir, how may I help you? Perhaps a necklace or a ring for your lady? Or maybe this silver bracelet, made by the best in the south?” the merchant asked. As he went on showing off his pieces of merchandise, Ocean-Eyes looked each through and finally decided on a emerald armband that had emerald woven onto cloth made of finely woven gold wires. He paid for it and made his way back to Selena who was still standing in line. He tucked the present into his pocket, meaning to give it to her later when they were alone. They got their food and moved away and he took her to one of the many beautiful public gardens, which were managed by the king’s gardeners. In the garden, they were away from the noise of the fair and moonlight lit their way. They found a concealed spot on a grassy slope overlooking a pond and sat down. Deciding it was the right moment, he pulled out the armband and with a smiled, showed it to Selena. She gasped. “Ocean-Eyes, it’s beautiful! Who is it for?” she gasped. She gently touched the band. Without a word, he took her arm and slid it on. It settled perfectly over her upper arm. She touched the armband and with a smile of happiness, she threw herself at Ocean-Eyes in an attempt to embrace
him but instead knocked him over. She landed on top of him and they both laughed. Selena smiled then and leaned forward to kiss him. Just when her lips brushed his, he heard someone walking towards them on the lush grass. “Ocean-Eyes?” the person called. He recognized the voice. It was Kate’s. As much as he wanted to run to her and embrace her, he didn’t want what was happening right now to stop. Selena’s fingers cradled the back of his head as she kissed him hard and he wished Kate would leave when he didn’t reply. He heard Kate’s footsteps coming closer and he quickly picked himself up, pulling Selena up with him and he pushed her into the bushes. “It’s Kate,” he murmured with a smile in response to Selena’s teasing look. He motioned for her to stay quiet and then threw himself onto the grass just as Kate stepped into the concealed area. “Ocean-Eyes, there you are,” Kate said. She sat down beside him and pushed up against his side. He put an arm around her. “With your handsome clothes and face, I thought that you might have gone off with another girl.” “Why would I do that? Well, there is the food tester but you are more to me,” he told her. He hoped Selena knew what he meant. He smiled down on Kate. “So what is the princess doing here all alone in the city?” “Finding you! It has been so long since we last saw each other and I was lonely so I came to find you,” she told him. He smiled and held her close. He leaned over to kiss her but then, there was a sound of a struggle and a yelp and he jerked up. “Ocean-Eyes!” Selena screamed. “Help!” “Selena,” he murmured. He looked at Kate and she urged him to go. He dove through the bushes and lunged after Selena and her captors. “Selena!” The two captors lead him down twists and turns and alleyways and he almost faltered but pressed on. At last, they came to a dead end. Selena struggled in the clutches of one man and she pawed uselessly against him. Ocean-Eyes realized she was crying with fear. The two men looked almost like Selena and he knew that they were her half-brothers. “Let her go,” he commanded. His knives jumped into his hands and his men dropped down from the roves and came in from the alleyway. He knew they had been following him the whole night to protect him. “No, she don’t belong to you,” one of the men snarled. The other nodded. “She does belong to me. In fact, I took her out of the prison so that she can serve me and Lord Zenith,” he snarled back, not playing it nice anymore. “Now let her go or you will be charged for thievery.” “Aren’t you the King of Thieves though?” one of them asked.
“Yes, and you’re stealing from me,” Ocean-Eyes snapped. “I’ll give you to the count of three to let her go, then you’ll be mince meat. One.” “Father would be displeased if we –“ “Two.” “It’s not worth getting ourselves gutted over the wench, though. Father can go and get himself gutted if he wants to but I’m not,” the one holding Selena said. “Let go and he’ll never take you back.” “THREE!” Ocean-Eyes roared and he walked forward, his knives in his hands. His men advanced behind him with their swords and knives and bows and arrows. Ocean-Eyes’ hand flicked out and a knife flew forward, hitting the man who was holding Selena. He howled with pain and let go of Selena to clutch his arm. Selena dodged her other brother expertly and ran to Ocean-Eyes. He caught her in his arms and pushed her back into the safety of his men. He ran forward and plucked his knife from the man’s arm and grappled with him as he attacked with a roar. His lean body bent with his opponent’s motions and soon, he had his opponent face down in the mud and was already engaging his second. His men cheered him on and watched, knowing his skill. He soon tired of the man’s swings with his fists and dropped him by giving him a sharp tap to his skull. The man fell unconscious on top of his brother. He bowed to his audience and when he straightened, he felt a sharp pain on his leg and he fell forward with a groan. Now the cheers turned into roars of anger and soon, the two brothers were pinned up against the walls, daggers to their throats. Selena was beside him and she gently pulled out the knife and he gasped with pain. “Ocean-Eyes, the knife it bone,” she whispered, staring at the wound. He dared himself to look and he grimly kept back the surge of bile threatening to come out after he did. Blood gushed out from a deep wound and below the blood, he could see the whiteness of bone. Instantly, some of his men were beside him and they expertly stitched up his wound after they cleaned it with handkerchiefs soaked in liquor from their wineskins. They bound the wound tight and he swallowed one of his pain-relieving pills and stood up straight again after the pain vanished. He strode angrily towards the two brothers, Selena not far behind. “I see Selena has appealed to your better nature,” one of them snarled. He was instantly silenced as the arm that held him up pressed against his lungs. “Give respect to the king, you fool,” the man snarled. OceanEyes coldly signaled his men to let the two go. The man who had spoken massaged his neck. “What do you want?”
He knelt down on one knee in front of the men who were lying in the mud. “Let’s see…I want you to stop ambushing my food taster. I want to arrest you for abduction and I also want to have your family of beaters tried for beating women and doing who knows what else to them,” he told the quietly. They flinched as if he had shouted at their ears. He fixed them with a icy look. “But, I will let you go tonight. This is your last chance. If my men or I catch you beating women or small children just for the sake of it, or anywhere around Selena, then I won’t hesitate to haul you off to the captain of the guards, who happens to be a very good friend of mine. Now get out of here and don’t let me see your sorry faces again.” And with that, he picked up each man and kicked them out of the alleyway. His eyes narrowed as they made their escape. “Men, keep an eye on them. They could cause trouble later,” he said quietly. His men saluted him in each of their own ways and vanished. “Ocean-Eyes, why would you do that?” Selena asked. She wiped away tears from her eyes and he put an arm around her shoulders, mostly for support and to comfort her. He smiled down at her and looked up at the stars for a moment as they walked out of the alleyway and down the street before replying. “Because I care for you and I wouldn’t see you hurt if I can help it,” he replied. He smiled down at her again and she returned the smile. “I think we’ve had enough adventure for a night. Let’s go home.” Selena nodded and they went to the stables where they had left Cobalt and went home to the castle. Ocean-Eyes unlocked the door and let the two of them in and locked it behind them. He carelessly tossed his cloak on a chair and dropped his keys on a small table. He sat down on the couch in front of the hearth and leaned back, closing his eyes. Selena sat down next to him but she didn’t touch him. “You love her don’t you?” she asked quietly, staring into the fire. He opened his eyes to look at her and she returned the look. “I understand if you don’t want to be with me any more, after all, she’s a princess and I’m…I’m…” “You are a beautiful young woman who’s just trying to find her way in the world,” he finished for her. He took her hands into his. “I love Kate with all my heart but it seems that you need me more than she does, Selena. And I’m willing to sacrifice my time with her for you, just until you fit in with the world.” “But I don’t want to come between –“ “Then don’t get yourself caught with me. I don’t know how strong Kate’s wrath is but she’s a princess and she has a lot of power,” he interrupted with a smile. She smiled back and he embraced her and held her for a while before finally releasing her. “I’m tired, good night, Selena.” And with that, he stood and went to his room. He slid off his shirt and took off his belt with its pouches and his sword and hung it over a
chair. He slid in under the blankets and lay awake, as he did every night, staring up into the darkness, thinking about the day’s events and what was to come. “No poison, my lord,” Selena said as she tasted the food. Ocean-Eyes smiled at his student. She had become more accurate over the next few days about tasting poison. He led her away from the room and went back to their suite. “Good job today, Selena, I’m proud of you,” he told her as they went into the rooms. She smiled up at him with pride and he returned the smile. “It’s only because I have a good teacher was I able to do so well today,” she said. She went off towards the direction of her room. He went into his office and sorted through the papers. He was getting more information now as his position as spymaster stabilized and he often spent more time at his desk than anywhere else, sorting through papers, signing permissions, and writing out orders to his men. Selena came in with a basket of her clothes and set to mending them. She sat on the floor with her clothes and some of Ocean-Eyes’ all around her. He watched her for a moment. “You know, you could always take them to the servants to get them mended,” he commented. He went back to his writing as Selena sewed. “But they don’t do it as well as I do. My mother taught me a special pattern that keeps clothing intact longer than usual and none of the servants know it because it was her invention. I’m going to teach it to my daughter when I have one,” she said absently, she continued sewing but when Ocean-Eyes looked up with one raised eyebrow, she turned red and flustered. “Well, I want a family once you don’t need me anymore here as a food taster!” “We always need a food taster and we’ll always need you, Selena,” Ocean-Eyes said with a smile. He went back to his writing. He finished off the order with his signature and put the quill away and put the stack of papers aside. He leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the table. Selena finished off the last shirt she was mending and folded it and put it on the stack of already-mended clothes and stood, dusting off the back of her pants. She picked up the basket with the clothes and took it out of the office. “I’m going to bed, good night, Ocean-Eyes,” Selena called. He heard her door click shut and he stretched and decided to go to bed too. Ocean-Eyes heard something on the other side of the door and woke with a start. He climbed out of bed and grabbing his baton and a knife, he eased the door open. Dark figures walked in his sitting room. The windows were wide open and people explored the room in silence but Ocean-Eyes heard them clearly. As one passed his bedroom door, he walked up behind
the person and swung his baton up over their throat and grabbed the other end. He pulled the baton towards him slightly, putting a little pressure onto the person’s neck. “Who are you? Answer me or else this one dies,” he said quietly. The two other figures stopped in their tracks and turned to him. “The one you hold is Princess Katherine,” one of them said. He pulled down the hood of the person’s cloak and sure enough, it was Kate and he released her. She rubbed her throat for a moment. “Sorry, people have been –“ “Attacking you these few days,” she finished for him. “I know.” He lit a few lanterns using a smoldering stick from the fireplace and sat down on the couch and patted the spot beside him. Kate sat down and her guards stood in front of them. “Why are you here, love? Something wrong?” he asked. He reached over to the low wooden table and picked up a cold teapot and handed it to one of the guards. “Warm that over the fire.” “There are a few pieces of news, actually,” she said quietly, staring off into the distance as her guards set the pot on the warm embers in the fireplace. She pulled a cushion into her lap and played with the tasseled edges. “First of all, my father’s looking for proper suitors for me because he decided it was time I got married. My brothers all have wives and some have children and my sisters are getting married in the next few weeks.” “Did you tell him that there is a willing candidate in the city?” Ocean-Eyes asked hopefully with a twinkle in his eye. She grinned at his look but then the smile faded. “I did but he said that if it was a commoner, no matter how rich, he is not going to accept because he was not about to allow a commoner to become part of the royal family,” she replied, looking down at her hands. Ocean-Eyes took them into his and stroked her fingers gently. She smiled softly but it didn’t reach her eyes. “And he’s decided on my old suitor, Lord Zenith. He’s visiting tomorrow so you may want to tell your lord tomorrow.” Ocean-Eyes swallowed hard. “But –“ “Ocean-Eyes, this will prevent any bloodshed when the rebellion arises,” Kate interrupted. He was surprised that she knew. “I know because Kyle talked nonstop about it when we were alone. And besides, this will offer him the opportunity to influence my father on matters including the people and this way will be better.” Ocean-Eyes sighed angrily. “I hate politics,” he muttered, pulling his hands away. Kate reached out to touch his shoulder in comfort but he twitched her hand away. “Don’t, you’re as good as married now so you shouldn’t be seeing me like this any more.” “Ocean-Eyes, I –“ “Just go, Kate,” he almost shouted but managed to control it to a whisper. “Just go.” He put his face into his hands.
“Ocean-Eyes, I love you and perhaps, there may be a chance for us to be together again. Just remember that I love you and no one else,” she whispered. She stood and leaned down and embraced him but he did nothing and she left out through the window after her guards. “Ocean-Eyes? Are you all right? I heard the whole thing, and I’m sorry,” Selena said from the doorway of her bedroom. She came to him and sat down next to him with a blanket wrapped around her. OceanEyes suddenly felt cold though he had been warm a moment ago. Selena touched his skin and when she found it icy, she offered her blanket and wrapped it around them both. “The world just isn’t fair sometimes.” He nodded and held her close, taking comfort in her warm presence. He finally let go of her and went back to his own room. He thought he couldn’t sleep but then he eventually did.
Kate squeezed her eyes shut as the pain of the sight of OceanEyes refusing her touch came to her. She loved him with all her heart but she was sacrificing her love for her kingdom and that was the one thing that would break a man as strong as Ocean-Eyes. She climbed down the rope ladder and her guards unhooked it from the window of Ocean-Eyes’ room. She looked up at the bright room for a moment before making her way back to the horses. She mounted up and urged them into a quiet canter back onto the road. They rode in silence and once they reached the palace, she dismissed her guards and flung herself onto her bed and cried. Someone came into her room but she didn’t care that they saw her like this and when a hand touched her back, she knew it was Weston. “You had to go tell him tonight didn’t you?” he asked. She sat up and clung to him as her cries slowed and she just sat in his arms all cried out. “I’m so sorry Kate.” “I know that I am doing it for the good of the people but the sight of him just not looking at me and refusing an assuring touch on his shoulder is more painful than this,” she whispered into his chest. A hand gently stroked her hair and the two of them just sat in silence. For a while, they didn’t say anything and finally, Weston cleared his throat and let go of her. “Go on, Kate, you better get some sleep. You have a big day tomorrow,” he told her. He took out the ties keeping her hair up and took off her cloak for her. She was wearing a shirt and breeches so she just climbed into bed in those clothes. Weston tucked her in with a smile and Kate suddenly felt as if she was six again when Weston had first done that for her. She returned the smile and her brother kissed her gently on the forehead. He turned to leave and she reached out and caught his sleeve. He turned back to her. “Tell me a story, Wes,” she whispered, just like when she was six. He smiled. “You’re too old for stories but I’ll tell you my secret,” he said. She smiled at him to go on and he did. “I’m not married.” “What? Why? I thought Father had found you a wife,” she said, sitting up. “He did but then the girl died, poor creature, and I persuaded him to let me find the love of my life among the noblewomen and marry her because I wasn’t going to be king or archbishop or something or the other so I was free to determine my own life. I haven’t found the lucky girl yet but I will someday,” he said dreamily. She laughed at the tone of his voice and he smiled at seeing her laugh.
“But women have to do as men tell them to because princesses can seal treaties and such,” she said after he laughter faded. She stared off into the darkness. “Before I tried to touch him on his shoulder, Ocean-Eyes said, ‘I hate politics’ and I think I agree wholeheartedly with him now.” “You went to see Ocean-Eyes? The Thief King?” Weston demanded. “Yes, I love him,” she murmured. “Probably only wants your money…” “Wes!” “All right, he loves you, I can see that,” he said with a laugh. “Go to bed.” “All right, Wes, good night,” she murmured and then she fell asleep. Weston looked down with affection at the sleeping form of his sister and then left her rooms. “Miss? Your father says it’s time to get up,” a maid said in her ear. Kate groaned and rolled onto her back. She blinked at the maid pulled back the curtains over the windows and the sunlight came streaming in. The maids that served her already had a beautiful gown laid out for her. She got out of bed and they said nothing as they took off her men’s clothing and threw it into the wash basket. She stepped into the tight, laced bodice and they pulled it shut and tight with the aid of a knee in her back. They pulled the dress over her head and straightened out a few ribbons as she was bid to sit down and her hair was done. The maids stepped back to admire their work after they finished and Kate added the final touch – her crown. “You look absolutely splendid, miss,” one of the younger maids whispered in awe. “I suppose I do,” Kate said absently. “I wonder what –“ Then she cut herself off. She had been about to say “I wonder what Ocean-Eyes would think of this” but she had to stop thinking about him. There was a knock on her door and a maid rushed to open it. The door swung open, revealing Weston standing there in fine clothes as well. “I am to be your escort,” he told her. He didn’t look comfortable in the clothes he was wearing and Kate knew that he had volunteered so that he could keep her happy on the trip to Lord Zenith’s castle. She curtsied to him and took his offered arm with a smile and the two of them went down to the courtyard of the palace where a grand carriage waited for them. Their father, the king, was already inside and he motioned impatiently to them as they appeared on the steps of the palace and they hurried to the carriage. Weston handed her in and followed her after and a manservant shut the door behind him. They settled in their seats and the king smiled at his children, mostly at Kate.
“I’m so proud of you today, Katherine,” he told her. Then the carriage lurched forward and they were moving out of the palace, through its gates and down the main street as it was cleared so that they could go through. She said nothing the rest of the trip and Weston gave her assuring smiles that just made her even more nervous. They were announced as they entered Lord Zenith’s courtyard and she saw a boy run off to get the lord. The door was opened and the king and his son stepped out and she waited in the carriage, just as she had been told to do. She peeked out the window and saw that Lord Zenith had arrived at the top of the steps with two girls by his side. She knew it was time. Kate took a deep breath and let it out to calm her nerves and stepped gracefully out of the carriage. She took Weston’s hand and then she walked towards the steps on his arm. As she drew near, she saw Ocean-Eyes standing off a little to Lord Zenith’s side. A young woman about his age who had golden hair and emerald eyes stood beside him. She met his eyes and he returned her look with a blank one of his own. Her eyes threatened to spill tears again but she held them back. “Your Majesty, welcome to my castle,” Lord Zenith said with a smile. His gaze traveled to Kate’s and held her gaze for a moment before returning to her father. “What an honor it is to have you here.” “Lord Zenith, as you may have been warned, we are here to discuss an arrangement between us,” the king said. As they traded more words, Weston leaned in to talk to her. “That girl over there with those emerald eyes looks to be quite something, doesn’t she?” he murmured. She smiled. “That would Lord Zenith’s food taster,” she replied in the same soft voice. “Well, I’ll just have to go and meet her,” he said, straightening. The men were done speaking and now her father beckoned to her and she let go of Weston’s arm and followed them up the steps. “Don’t get into trouble,” she mouthed to him. Then, Kate followed Lord Zenith and her father into the castle without once looking back at Ocean-Eyes. Behind her, she didn’t see Ocean-Eyes’ look of longing following her as she went inside. “James, come. Selena may come if she wishes,” Lord Zenith called. Kate knew that he had adopted Ocean-Eyes’ first name to prevent trouble with the king. Ocean-Eyes bowed and followed them into the castle.
Selena didn’t follow, seeing that the man who had escorted the princess up the stairs had started over in her direction. She looked over the man. He was older than she was, about ten years, but his merry eyes and the way he carried himself didn’t agree with his age. She relaxed into a more comfortable position. “And who might you be, my good lady?” the man asked with a grin. She smiled and bowed slightly. “Selena, the lord’s food taster,” she replied with equal warmth in her smile. Judging the way he dressed, she knew he was important. “Let’s go inside so we don’t have to stand.” He followed her inside without comment or hesitation and she led him to the suite she shared with Ocean-Eyes, knowing Ocean-Eyes wouldn’t mind. She shut the door behind the man after he entered. He eased himself down onto the couch. “You haven’t told me who you are yet,” she commented, sitting down beside him. “Oh, don’t worry, sweet, I’ll get around to that after we have a little fun,” he purred, reaching for her. She smiled but was aware of his charm. She didn’t resist, mostly because she didn’t know what to do. He was a noble, she reasoned, and if she refused or hit him, then he might become very angry and something would happen to her. Selena resisted the man’s wandering hand and pulled away with a smile. Selena watched him for a moment. “You promised,” she reminded him breathlessly. He smiled and nodded and his hands stroked her hair. “Prince Weston,” he said with a smile. Before she could protest, he kissed her mouth softly and his hands explored again but she came to her senses. She pushed his hands away gently. “Enough,” she said firmly and pulled herself up. He watched her and after a while, he stood up also. She smoothed her ruffled uniform. “Ocean-Eyes doesn’t do that,” she muttered and he pretended to not notice. They went out into the hall where Selena saw Ocean-Eyes run towards her as he saw he appear out of their rooms with him. He took her protectively into his arms and led her away from the prince. “What did he want with you? Why were you two alone in our rooms?” he demanded. She tried pushing him away but he spun her around to face him. “Tell me.”
“He wanted to…” she said and didn’t know how to explain it. Ocean-Eyes knew what she meant and his eyes burned with fury. “Don’t let yourself get into that position again, Selena,” he snapped. “Next time, stay in public view and if you want to go somewhere private, take someone with you. You also have the right to say no. It’s not against the law for you to deny anyone from taking an advantage of you.” “Why are you so protective of me?” she snapped back. She instantly regretted her words when he closed his eyes in pain. “I’m sorry, Ocean-Eyes, I didn’t mean that.” “I already lost one person and I don’t want to lose you,” he said quietly and left her standing in the hall alone. Her hand lifted as if to comfort the missing Ocean-Eyes but instead, she used it to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear and followed him.
Ocean-Eyes stormed down the hall, his thought whirling wildly in his mind. He was dimly aware that Selena had followed him but he ignored her and continued back to Lord Zenith’s study. He nudged open the door and saw Lord Zenith on his knees in front of Kate who was standing. He held up to her a box and Ocean-Eyes knew what was in that box. The two looked up as he entered and he froze in his tracks. “Ocean-Eyes –“Kate began but he shook his head stubbornly and left. He sighed with frustration when he couldn’t find anywhere where the spirit of Lord Zenith’s new engagement with the princess was not present. He finally settled with going down the training yard with his new bow and arrow he had bought. He slipped on his arm protectors and his gloves and strung his bow as Selena pulled herself onto a fence silently to watch him. He stuck his arrows into the dirt at his feet but kept one. He put the arrow he kept to the string and drew it back towards his ear and the moment he touched his ear, he let go without aiming. His eyes watched the arrow’s flight and he was satisfied to see that it hit his target – a target a hundred yards down from where he was standing. He put another arrow to the string again and shot it at the same target. It sliced the first arrow in half and hit the target. Behind him, he heard Selena gasp. He pulled another arrow from the ground and put it to his string. “Young man!” someone barked across the yard. He flinched at the loud voice and relaxed his pull on the arrow. He pointed it towards the ground and turned to face the owner of the voice. He recognized the owner of the voice as the king and bowed low to the man striding up towards him with guards at his back. “Your Majesty,” he murmured. He put the arrow and his bow into one hand and straightened. “That is some excellent shooting, young man!” the king exclaimed. He motioned for his guards and he pointed at the arrows Ocean-Eyes had just shot. “Who is your instructor, if I may ask?” “He was my father,” he said through gritted teeth. The king glanced at him and he bared his teeth in a silent snarl at the king and he hoped it looked more like a smile than a snarl. He was relieved when the king smiled back. “Sorry, I had a yawn coming up.” “That is quite all right, young man,” the other man assured him. “What is your name, young man? An excellent archer like yourself has to have a name! And what is Kyle doing with you in his household?” “I’m his spymaster,” he said simply. The guard returned with the two arrows. The second was embedded in the first and the first had
been split perfectly in half. Ocean-Eyes glanced at them in surprise. He had counted himself a good archer but not as good as he had thought. He glanced up to check his surroundings and he saw a dark figure making their way across the roof of the castle. He sighed with annoyance and pulled all of his arrows from the ground and put them into their quiver on his belt. “If you excuse me for a moment, Your Majesty, I have some business to settle with our guest on the roof.” And with that, he grabbed a rope from a pile of rope used for securing targets and tied it to an arrow. He aimed and shot at the roof and when the arrow embedded itself in the slate of the roof, he yanked on the rope to ensure its trustworthiness and pulled himself onto the roof with the aid of the rope. The figure had disappeared but he could hear him scrambling across the roof. He grinned. Walking and running on roves were as natural to him as dashing down a street. He caught up to the dark figure and before the figure knew it, he had disarmed him and held the dark figure’s own knife at his throat. “I would like you to come with me down onto the ground. Up here, it’s a bit shaky,” he said with a grin. The man trembled with fright and nodded. Ocean-Eyes knew he was unnerved by his sudden disarming and gave him a shove towards the rope. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” The king’s guards caught the man at the bottom of the rope before he could escape as Ocean-Eyes slid all the way down the rope to meet them. He yanked hard on the rope and the arrow came tumbling down from the roof and landed on the dirt beside him. He untied the rope from the arrow and tossed it away. He tucked the arrow away back into its quiver. He approached the man and yanked back his hood. He was a little disappointed that he didn’t know his assassin. “What is it your master wants, assassin?” he demanded. “I’m tired of having you people following me around. Tell me something good or you won’t see daylight again for a long time.” “My master says that he’s sorry but it’s just business,” he stammered. Ocean-Eyes saw that the man was actually only a little older than he was. Twenty at the most, he suspected. “So it’s a man that’s trying to take my place?” “Actually, a woman does. She just hired my master and his assassins to help,” he replied with a look of pure terror in his eyes. “Please let me go, he promised that I wouldn’t get hurt and all I had to do was deliver a message and then leave!” “Did your master ever tell you what my last message to him was, by any chance? No? Then I suppose I shall have to enlighten you,” Ocean-Eyes said. He glanced up to see the king waiting a little ways away. “I told him that the last messenger was to be the last assassin, and the next one, I would send home dead. Since you are young, and I’m not in such a killing mood today, I’ll return you home alive.”
The terror in the young man’s eyes faded and relief spread throughout his. “Oh, thank you!” he whispered. “I’m guessing you were expendable, the reason why your master sent you but anyway, the message I want you to take back is this will be the last time your master sends an assassin. The next time there is one, there will be war in the city. You got it?” he said firmly. The man nodded and the guards looked at him and he nodded. They pushed him away. “Go take that message to your master. You have the count of sixty to get out of the castle.” The young man saluted him and scrambled away from them into the darkness. The king approached him and Selena appeared next to him. She bowed deeply at the king but the man ignored her. “That was well done, young man, I couldn’t have done it better myself,” he commented. “You’re Ocean-Eyes, aren’t you?” He stiffened beside the king. “So what if I am?” he said with a growl. The guards looked uncomfortably at the king and Ocean-Eyes and he knew they were deciding whether to take him prisoner or teach him some manners on the spot. He crossed his arms on his chest and faced the king. “You took everything away from me. Don’t think you can do more to punish me because you can’t.” “You loved Katherine didn’t you?” “If you really want to know, yes, I did,” he replied. Without waiting for an answer, he strode off towards the castle. The king and his guards trotted to catch up and when they did, a guard tried to hit him but he caught the man’s arm and tossed him over his shoulder. He glared at the other guards as they came close and they backed off. He walked off again but he heard a soft command and he felt arms seize him from behind. His legs flailed in the air for a few seconds before he realized it was useless and put them on the ground again. There was a yelp and Selena was forced onto the ground in front of him. One of the guards grabbed her hair and yanked it back. With the other hand, he held a knife to her throat and she gasped as the cool metal touched her skin. Ocean-Eyes growled at him and the guard glared back, a clear message in his eyes: pay attention or she dies. He relaxed and the guards holding him released him and he fell to the ground. He pulled himself up and stood, his arms crossed on his chest, glaring at the king as he approached. “You will give me more respect, youngling, even if you are the King of Thieves! I am the king of this kingdom and you will pay more attention and respect to me!” the king hissed, his steel grey eyes flashing dangerously. He paused to see what Ocean-Eyes would do but Ocean-Eyes said nothing. “Your father took the world from me when he killed my brother, and don’t you think I won’t stop trying to end the line of the cursed King of Thieves if it’s the last thing I –“ “Father?” Kate called from across the hall. The guards backed off and let go of Selena. She collapsed to the floor trembling and Ocean-
Eyes dropped down beside her and helped her up. Kate rushed over. “Father? What’s going on?” When her father didn’t answer, she turned to Ocean-Eyes. “Ocean-Eyes? What’s going on? Why are you all –“ “Why don’t you ask your beloved father that, Your Highness?” he interrupted with a growl. He put a protective arm around his student’s shoulders and turned away. “Come on, Selena, let’s go. The company today was worse than was expected.” He hurried away with Selena before anything else could happen. He was about to enter his rooms when a runner trotted up and by the look on the boy’s face, he knew what message the boy bore. “Go on, I’ll be back. Lord Zenith wants to see me, no doubt,” he said with a sigh. The boy nodded confirmation and trotted away as Selena entered their rooms. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek with a smile and then shut the door in his face with a silly grin on her face. He smiled, looking at the door and touching the spot where her lips had touched him for a moment, and then went down the hall, black cloak fluttering out behind him with his hands in his pockets. He knocked. “Come in,” a voice replied. He let himself in and approached the desk. “Congratulations on your new engagement,” he instantly said. He tried to not let any hints of emotion show and was succeeded by an open smile from his lord. He remembered how Kate used to smile at him like that and smiled at the memory. “Why, thank you, Ocean-Eyes. I didn’t expect you to be so cheery about it so soon, judging by your smile. Katherine will be, after all, another person in this castle to guard with your life,” Lord Zenith said, leaning back in his chair. He indicated the chair in front of his desk. “Please, sit.” Ocean-Eyes eased himself into a chair as Lord Zenith had bid him. His sharp nose picked up Kate’s scent and his eyes closed but then snapped open when he remembered Lord Zenith was watching him. Lord Zenith didn’t notice, to his relief, but had instead gotten up and now stood in front of the huge hearth in the office. The young lord’s posture was slightly slouched and his hands were in his pockets. “You know, when I first met Katherine all those years back, I only thought that she was just some other princess. She was so little then, only about ten, and she looked so comical sitting up there on the row of thrones next to her brothers and sisters. She was the youngest of course and her legs barely reached the ground. She would sit up there and swing her legs,” Lord Zenith said with a small smile and a chuckle. “I was about twelve or thirteen and I quickly became friends with her when my parents were invited to live at court for a while because my mother had made the best strawberry jam the king had ever tasted.” – Here he gave a small laugh –“Imagine that, being invited up to the palace for a jar of jam. Well anyway, Katherine and I became good friends, but I never thought that I would be marrying her. Never
wrapped my mind around it, you might say, until I started courting her. But then I knew that I could never marry a princess because I was a citizen and a commoner and nothing but a son of a rich merchant’s wife who made great strawberry jam.” Ocean-Eyes stayed silent, not knowing what to say. He glanced at Lord Zenith and saw that the young lord was smiling. He didn’t know whether it was happiness or contentment that he had married someone he thought he would never marry but wanted to. “But of course, this marriage has made all my dreams come true – all including the ones of the rebellion because I can finally get close to the royal family and influence them to ease up a little so there wouldn’t be any bloodshed,” Lord Zenith said, staring absently into the fire. He suddenly turned with a smile. “I want to thank you for making this happen, Ocean-Eyes. Without you, this could have never happened.” Ocean-Eyes suddenly experienced a painful emotional stab at his heart and he lowered his gaze to his lap. “No problem, I guess,” he muttered. The young lord approached him and knelt down before him and lifted his face with a finger. Ocean-blue eyes met sapphire-blue ones and the two connected with one another for a short moment before Ocean-Eyes broke the connection by standing. “You loved her didn’t you?” Lord Zenith asked quietly. OceanEyes only gave him a long look before leaving the room and striding down the hall back to his suites. Selena met him at the door and embraced him. He found himself hugging her back and he found comfort in the embrace. “Would you like to go to the city with me tonight? I swear I won’t let your brothers get within breathing distance of you,” he said with a small smile. She smiled and nodded. He held her again and released her. She went to her rooms to change and he went to his rooms. He pulled down his old black clothes from their place in the armoire next to all of the silk uniforms and cloaks and put them on. The nights were getting chilly so he pulled off his thin leather gloves when he realized he still had them on and put on warmer ones and added a black padded vest. He pulled on his black sturdy boots and his cloak. He tucked his pant legs into his boots and his shirt neatly into his pants and buckled his belt and checked to make sure his knives were all present and nothing was missing from his belt. He then hooked his sword onto his belt and picked up his baton and went outside to wait for Selena. As soon as the door to her room opened, he came to his feet. She came out in one of her uniforms but he saw that it was black and it had been altered. The tunic was longer in length and on her belt, there were two knives. She wore soft calfskin boots and a black cloak hung from her shoulders. Her golden hair tumbled around her shoulders in a jumble and her green eyes lit up when she smiled at him. “Is this all right?” she asked with a slight blush, indicating her clothes.
He took her hand. “It’s perfect,” he said with a smile. Then he led her out the door and down to the stables. He helped her up onto Cobalt’s back once a stable hand brought him and pulled himself up behind her. He urged Cobalt out of the courtyard and the horse took them down the street to the city. They arrived just after the sky got dark. He helped Selena off of Cobalt’s back and tied the big horse outside. Ocean-Eyes put an arm around Selena’s shoulders protectively and entered the tavern to the sound of a great shout as his men spotted him coming in. Ocean-Eyes felt Selena flinch under his arm and he squeezed her shoulders gently to assure her and led her to his seat at the head of the room. He pulled out a chair for Selena and she sat with a smile. “Well, well, look what the cat dragged in,” a cultured drawl came to Ocean-Eyes’ ears. He looked up with a smile to see the captain approach him dressed in city clothes. He flashed a smile his way, dodged a serving girl carrying two trays filled with drinks and made his way gracefully over to them. Selena thought he was charming but he ruined that affect when he didn’t see a low beam and walked straight into it. He ended up on the floor wondering how he got there. Selena stifled a giggle and got out of her chair to help the captain up. Ocean-Eyes smiled and sat back into his chair as Selena helped the man up and guided him over to where he sat. The captain flashed a smile at Selena and gave a bow to Ocean-Eyes. “Your Majesty, may I have the permission to sit with you tonight?” he asked with the bow. He looked up at him with a quirky smile. Ocean-Eyes examined the captain for a minute and decided the man had drunk to many pints of ale just waiting for them and sighed. “You might as well,” he told the man, indicating a seat next to Selena. The captain sat, a little wobbly and unsteady, and slouched back in his chair. Selena never took her eyes off of the captain and sat down next to him in her chair. Ocean-Eyes leaned over with a grin. “Watch it, Selena, he’s drunk. He’s usually much more…closed,” he murmured. Before she could reply, the man sat up. “What makes you think I’ve had too much ale?” he demanded. “Well, you sort of fell into your chair after walking like a drunkard and smashing your head into that low beam that you dodged on your first visit,” Ocean-Eyes pointed out with a thoughtful expression on his face. The captain grinned. “All right, I am a little drunk, but not that much,” he admitted. He grabbed for something on the table that wasn’t there and instead, raked his fingers against wood with a painful hollow thud. “And you are also trying to pick up things that don’t exist,” Ocean-Eyes added. The captain frowned and muttered something about knowing it was there before but had disappeared somehow. The man sobered up a little after Ocean-Eyes commanded that he not been given any more ale that night. Many men came to see him but he
didn’t call an official meeting since most of his important and more trustful thieves weren’t here including his mother. He walked among his thieves leaving Selena and the captain flirting with each other by his throne. His men had a lot to say to him and he listened to each man respectfully whether it was the ravings of a drunken thief or an interesting tidbit of gossip he might like to hear. When he straightened from listening to a young thief’s day’s story, the door banged open and there were cries of protest as someone made their way to him, pushing roughly through the crowd of men. When the intruder appeared, the intruder’s hood was pushed back revealing Heart’s stressed and excited face. “Ocean-Eyes, the man you’ve been having us dog for the past few weeks has been banned from the taverns around his area for causing brawls between men and damage of property,” she said breathlessly. He raised one eyebrow and she grinned. “You look so much like your father, Ocean-Eyes, when you do that. Well anyway, I let word slip out that there was a tavern down here and that he might like to stop by because they have the best ale in the city. He’s coming here tonight! I was on one of my rounds tonight when I saw him coming so I came here to tell you!” “And what exactly is it that you want me to do, Mother?” he asked cautiously, aware that everyone was listening. His men eagerly awaited his mother’s answer. She beamed at them and at her son. “You can take him now! I found him buying illegal poisons imported from out of the country the other day. I had some of your men follow the man and find where he lived and all that other information here and collected it.” – She handed him a folder of papers all neatly written in her handwriting and he took it. –“And he’s coming here so you can arrest him for buying illegal poisons,” she told him quickly. “Quick, make your decision, he’s about to come in through the doors.” Ocean-Eyes thought for a moment and turned to his men with a small smile. “You heard my mother, let’s get ready. Everybody act natural. I’ll be upstairs with the captain and Selena,” he told them. They grinned and he signaled to Selena and the captain and pulled his mother up the stairs with Selena and the captain following. They protested when he pulled them into an empty room and he motioned for them to be quiet. His mother leaned against the door as he turned to the other two. “I’ve had my men and my mother watch a local lord named Lord Michael Nunez for quite a while now. He’s wanted by Lord Zenith for unknown reasons since he didn’t want to disclose them to me but he’s wanted and he wanted to wait for a reason to arrest Nunez so it wouldn’t be seen as a kidnapping when he goes missing from the city,” Ocean-Eyes told them quickly as he heard the tavern door open downstairs. He glanced at the door and his mother nodded for him to go on and he turned back to the two. “Selena, you know that I’ve been
receiving reports and you’ve delivered and picked up reports and order for me on this man and you must know what his weaknesses are. –“Here Selena blushed because she had read the reports but told no one –“So you need to think of something to get him upstairs because we want to take him quietly.” Selena nodded and Heart let her out the door and shut it again after her. Ocean-Eyes prayed that she would be all right and turned to the captain. “Captain, I need your help in this because he may be hard to take. You don’t have to do this and we would understand if you left quietly now but we would appreciate this if you helped and kept it quiet, as a returned favor for helping you with the guards you might say,” he told the man. The captain nodded with one of his predatory grins. “I need you to stay in the hall on this level and follow Selena and Nunez in when they come up the stairs. Go now before they know you’re here.” The captain left and Heart shut the door after him. Ocean-Eyes sank into a chair and Heart went to stand behind him. She leaned down and kissed him on the top of his head and gave him an affectionate hug around his shoulders. “You are getting good at this spy thing. I couldn’t have done it better, my boy,” she said with a proud smile. He returned the smile. “I’m glad I could use my skills for the good, Mother,” he replied, leaning back. He worried for Selena but he knew that she was a capable girl and she could get things done when she put her mind to it. A hand tapped his shoulders and he looked up to see a small box floating in front of his face, held up by Heart’s hand. “Happy seventeenth birthday, Ocean-Eyes,” his mother told him with a grin. “I can’t believe you forgot it was your birthday.” He laughed. “Thank you, Mother,” he said, taking the box from her with a grin. “I’ve been so busy that I’ve forgotten it was my birthday.” – Memories came back to him and his grin faded and his hands clenched tight around the box. –“And it was on the night of my birthday that Father was killed. That’s probably why I haven’t celebrated it in eight years. Father will never be here for another one of my birthdays again.” His mother embraced him again with a smile. “Your father is still alive, Ocean-Eyes, he lives on in you. He has been here for the past eight years, watching over you and I’m sure he is very proud of you as I am. Go on and open your present. It will cheer you up,” she whispered. He hugged her back with one arm and opened the small box. It popped open to reveal a gold ring encrusted with sapphires sitting on a velvet cushion. “I had it made special so that it wouldn’t catch on anything. Happy birthday, Ocean-Eyes.” “Thank you, Mother, it’s the best gift I’ve ever received,” he whispered. He took the ring and slipped it onto his thumb. It fit perfectly. He heard footsteps and a laughs on the landing heading towards their room and he knew that it was time. He tucked the box
into a pocket and his mother straightened and they watched the door in silence. The door opened and a man came in with his arms wrapped around Selena. He kissed her throat and she moaned with her eyes closed but when she spotted Ocean-Eyes, she winked and he grinned. The man kicked the door closed but the captain, following closely and silently behind, caught it in his hands before it hit him in the face and let himself in and closed it behind him. The man’s hands moved over Selena’s body and she yelped when he pinched her bottom. The man laughed and Selena grinned stupidly and let the man bear her down onto the bed. Before he could get any farther, her playful look vanished. “This party’s over, Nunez,” she hissed and kicked him off of her. He yelped and went flying off of the bed and landed on the floor painfully. Selena stood and fixed her shirt and smoothed back her hair. “Well, well, if it isn’t Nunez,” Ocean-Eyes drawled from his seat. The captain lit a lamp and the dark room became illuminated. The lord backed away from them with surprise but realized he had no where to go. “I-I-I can pay Zenith! Tell him I’ll pay and that I’m sorry! Please, let me go,” he said, eyes wide with fear. Selena watched him with her head cocked to one side and grinned at him. The lord’s face relaxed and his face broke out in a smile. “He was more charming downstairs earlier,” she told them. She walked over to the captain and planted a kiss on the stunned man’s lips. “But I prefer the captain here to him. Sorry, Nunez: If you hadn’t suggested coming upstairs, you would still be laughing and drinking downstairs.” Ocean-Eyes stood and they surrounded him as Nunez climbed to his feet, crouching down in an attack position. “You’re outnumbered Nunez. Come quietly and we’ll give you no trouble but if you fight us, then you will be, oh how should I put it…in trouble. Oh, and this isn’t about your business with Lord Zenith. It’s about you buying illegal poisons, possibly to poison Lord Zenith so that you can escape from his wrath,” he said, advancing on the man. Nunez lashed out with his fist and Ocean-Eyes caught it easily and twisted his arm behind his back. Nunez struggled and then threw Ocean-Eyes over his shoulder. Ocean-Eyes twisted in the air and hit the wall with his feet and he used that motion to bring him back to Nunez. His foot slammed out and up and the man was knocked backwards. The captain caught him and restrained him as Selena stood back. He struggled against the taller and stronger man and when he couldn’t break free or throw him over his shoulder, he roared out in anger. Suddenly, glass shattered and two black figures swung in and advanced on the captain. The captain wisely let go of Nunez and backed up to where Ocean-Eyes stood. Heart came up to stand beside him on his other side to face the trio.
“This will be the last time Zenith will mess in my affairs,” he snarled and attacked them. Ocean-Eyes, the captain, and Heart each fought separate battles with their attackers as Selena looked helplessly on. Ocean-Eyes struggled with Nunez as Heart and the captain took care of the two new fighters. Heart and the captain finished off the two figures and kept them at bay as they rose up to attack Ocean-Eyes who was still struggling with Nunez. Ocean-Eyes’ boot connected solidly with Nunez’s hipbone and the man screamed when it shattered. But he didn’t give up yet and launched at him with a roar. His fists hammered Ocean-Eyes’ chest and face and Ocean-Eyes cut his lip. Ocean-Eyes kicked the feet out from under Nunez, thinking that that would have left him helpless but as he straightened, Nunez’s one good foot slammed up and hit him in the head. Ocean-Eyes fell to the floor with a moan and his vision flickered slightly. His touched where he had been hit and found that it had been cut open. He growled in anger and unsheathed his long knife and lunged for Nunez. The man’s arm came up to block the knife and the knife sank into his arm. Ocean-Eyes felt sick but he suppressed the feeling and yanked out his knife and used his free hand to twist Nunez’s arm up behind his back and he held the knife up to the man’s throat. “No one ever gets the better of the King of Thieves, Nunez, not even you,” Ocean-Eyes snarled into the man’s ear. The man struggled angrily but Ocean-Eyes’ grip tightened and the knife pressed harder against the man’s neck, drawing blood. “Tell them to stop.” “Never,” his captive snarled in reply. He gagged when the knife pressed harder against his neck. “Stop, you fools!” The men attacking Ocean-Eyes’ companions froze and when they saw their leader, they put their hands up in surrender. Ocean-Eyes examined their prisoners and found that the two dark-clad figures had the same clothes as his assassins that had been attacking him. “You! You wanted the position of the King of Thieves so you sent your men to kill me and bought poison to poison me at the castle,” he snarled. The man gave him a grin. “It took you long enough to figure out,” he snarled. Ocean-Eyes pulled a strip of leather from a handy pouch on his belt and tossed two more, one each, to Heart and the captain. They caught them and tied up their opponents and Ocean-Eyes did the same. Ocean-Eyes pulled the lord to his feet and his companions did the same with their captives. “Come on, let’s go,” he told them, pushing Nunez out the door. The man stumbled and turned pale with pain from his broken hip but Ocean-Eyes ignored him and urged him down the stairs followed by Heart and the captain. Selena was next to him and she was oddly quiet. One of his men ran out the door to get a cart while others came to take charge of their prisoners and let them rest. They decided to string the three to a support in the inn and did so
as Ocean-Eyes sank down onto a chair, not caring whether it was his throne or not. Selena sat down next to him and touched his wounds and he flinched as they stung. “I’ll be all right, Selena,” he said with a smile but then winced as his cut lip throbbed with pain. The barkeeper came over with a bowl of water and a few towels and bandages and needle and thread with a smile and left. Selena dabbed at his wounds with the water to clean it off and had the captain hold him still as she sewed up his open lip and his head wound and moved on to the captain who bore more injuries than Ocean-Eyes but didn’t say anything about them. Heart didn’t have any injuries at all so she came over to sit next to him and bandaged his head as the wound started to bleed again. “You got it rough out of the three of us, Ocean-Eyes,” she said with a smile as she finished. She glanced at the captain who gave her thumbs up. He didn’t need any sewing at all and only needed a bandage on his arm. Selena sat next to him with one of his arms around her. Heart looked at their opponents and found that they were getting bandaged but not as well and more painfully by Ocean-Eyes’ thieves. “I have to say you did good work on Nunez. He deserves that shattered hip and that arm wound.” A howl of pain erupted from Nunez as one of the thieves straightened out the man’s leg and bandaged the broken hip as best they could. Ocean-Eyes grinned and sagged against his chair. He got to his feet and swayed a little from blood loss as the man who had gone for the cart came back and motioned to them. The thieves hauled up the three captives and followed by Ocean-Eyes, Selena, and the captain, they went out the door. Heart trailed after them and shut the door after they were outside. They helped load the men into the cart and saw them off before heading to the stables. As the stable boys prepared the horses, the captain turned to Ocean-Eyes. “I think I’ve enough fun for one night,” he commented with a smile. He waved and a boy brought his horse to him. “I hope that our next meeting will be as fun.” Ocean-Eyes grinned and agreed and mounted Cobalt as he was brought to him. He pulled Selena up in front of him and urged the horse out of the tavern stables. “Was it really necessary to kiss the captain?” he asked as they went down the street. “Someone’s jealous,” she teased. He transferred the reins to one hand and used the other to hold her head as he kissed her hard on her lips. She twisted around and her arms went around his neck and she kissed him back fiercely. “Of course I am,” he said with a smile. She kissed him again and he returned it fiercely. “But I’m not going to stop you from loving whoever you want to love because it isn’t my place and there’s nothing I can do.”
She said nothing and only smiled and turned forward again. His free hand surrounded her waist as Cobalt lurched to avoid a horseless cart abandoned in the middle of the street. They rode out of the city at a canter and broke into a gallop as soon as they were out. Ocean-Eyes spotted the cart carrying their captives ahead of them and urged Cobalt to catch up with them. He passed them with a wave and went ahead of the cart. They dismounted in the courtyard and as the cart trundled in, he sent someone to get Lord Zenith. A minute later, the captives were unloaded and the cart went back to the city as Lord Zenith came down the steps. Ocean-Eyes saw that their heads had been covered with rough sacks to blindfold them. “What’s going on, Ocean-Eyes?” Lord Zenith asked as he came to stand beside him. Selena made room and stood on Ocean-Eyes’ other side. Ocean-Eyes grinned. “You remember you wanted Lord Nunez, my lord?” he asked with his grin. Lord Zenith didn’t reply and went to the first of the men and lifted the sack off the man’s head and he whirled on Ocean-Eyes. He needed no words – he pointed to the man he had just uncovered and Ocean-Eyes gaped. The man was not Lord Nunez and he immediately beckoned for his horse and when he came, he leaped onto the creature’s back and galloped out the gates after the quickly escaping cart. “Nunez, stop!” he roared. He urged Cobalt on and the horse pressed forward. As soon as he got closer, he leaped onto the cart before he realized that he was only one man and they were three. He didn’t hesitate and climbed up onto the roof of the cart and looked down at the drivers. The two that were sitting on the outside, one driving, were Nunez’s men and the third wedged in between them was Nunez. Nunez looked up and grinned. He signaled to the man that wasn’t driving and the man leaped onto the low roof of the cart. “Come for a rematch, Your Majesty,” he snarled. Ocean-Eyes only stood casually and balanced on the moving surface. The man lunged and Ocean-Eyes stepped out of the way and the man hurtled off of the cart and into the night with a cry. Ocean-Eyes grinned. The important one was Nunez and he didn’t want to get into anymore fights with more people than was necessary. He went to the front of the cart’s roof and leaned over the edge. He tapped the driver’s shoulder and when the man looked up, he hit him hard with his fist and the man tumbled off the cart into the darkness with a groan. Ocean-Eyes swung down into the seat and caught Nunez’s strangling hands as they came towards him in one hand and used the other to snatch a leather strip from his belt pouch and wind it around his hands. He held the man at bay as he turned the cart around with one hand and kept Nunez from pushing him off by slamming his body into
him. He urged the horses back to the castle and they obeyed. The cart rolled back towards the castle as Nunez’s attacks grew more urgent. Ocean-Eyes sighed and finally pulled a knife from his sleeve and hit Nunez over the head with the hilt, knocking him unconscious. He put the knife away and took the reins in both hands and drove the rest of the way in peace. “Well done, Your Majesty, now if you would be so kind as to pull the cart over, we can have a little chat,” a voice growled in his ear as they came within view of the castle. He turned and saw that one of the men he had pushed off had gotten back on somehow as he passed him. The other man was most likely in the cart with them as well. Ocean-Eyes’ knife came out and he flipped it around and slammed the man’s head with it without looking and something sagged against him and he knew the knife found its spot and he put it away. He drove into the courtyard without any more attacks and jumped off. Lord Zenith had gotten Ocean-Eyes’ men untied and they grinned as they saw him and pulled the unconscious guard and Nunez off the cart. They searched the cart and didn’t find any more hidden people and Nunez was helped into the dungeon. Lord Zenith came over and clapped Ocean-Eyes on the shoulder. “Where’s Cobalt?” he asked, just remembering his horse. Lord Zenith grinned and pointed to a lone horse being tended to by an approaching stable hand. “He came home as soon as you abandoned him on the road and I knew that you weren’t far behind because you wouldn’t abandon your horse like that,” he told him with a smile. He noticed Ocean-Eyes’ wounds and put an arm around his shoulders and used a hand to beckon to Selena who was waiting beside him and the young lord guided his spymaster into the castle with his food taster right behind. “You need to get some rest and then you can tell me of your night tomorrow morning.” Ocean-Eyes fought a yawn and lost, so with a wave, he and Selena disappeared down the hall to his suite. He unlocked the door and let Selena in and shut it behind him. When Selena wasn’t looking, he locked the door again from the inside with his key and went to his bedroom after waving Selena a goodnight. He changed and fell into bed and as his head hit his pillow, he fell asleep.
Selena stayed by her doorway, listening to Ocean-Eyes in his room. When the sound of him moving around stopped, she crept out of her room and tried the suite door. The doorknob didn’t move under her hand and she wiggled it again and it remained unmoving and she knew it was locked. She smiled in the dark. Ocean-Eyes could always predict her moves despite his denial in knowing her very well. She silently searched the sitting room for his keys and when she didn’t find them in any of his usual spots, she sighed. He really knew her too well. She tried the office door and found it unlocked and knew that he must have forgotten to lock it that night and slipped in. She dug around in the drawers of the desk and found a few thin bars of metal that suited her needs and she crept back out and sat by the door, bending the metal pieces. When she finished, it was well past midnight but she had her new lock picks in her hand and she picked the lock on the door and slipped out into the hall. She looked at the door, deciding whether to lock it or not and decided not to so it would be easier to get back in. Then, slipping the picks into her belt, she crept silently down the hall. She turned down another corridor and almost ran into a soldier making his rounds for the night. “Ah, Selena, what are you doing out here?” the man asked with a friendly smile. “Our room ran out of water so I’m going to the kitchen to get some water,” she explained with one of her sweetest smiles. She knew the man was new because she had seen him the other day when he first arrived, covered in road dust. He frowned. “Isn’t the kitchen the other way?” he asked, pointing down the direction where she had come from. She smiled and shook her head. “Yes, but this is a shortcut down here, I’ll see you later,” she said, brushing pass him and trotting down the hall, leaving him behind a little confused. She rounded the hall and stopped and peeked back over the corner. The man stood there, still confused and with a shrug to himself, he continued down the hall. She breathed a sigh of relief and turned but ran straight into someone’s arms as they caught her. “My, my, my, look who’s out of her kennel,” came a voice. She bit back a yelp of surprise and turned to the man who had caught her. In the moonlight streaming in through the window, she saw that he was one of the soldiers that guarded Lord Zenith’s room at night. He must have just gotten off his shift of the watch and was heading back.
She tried to pull out of his grasp but he didn’t let go. “I don’t think Lord Zenith’s food taster had permission to wander the castle just yet.” “Ocean-Eyes let me go for the night. He told me that it was a test of trust,” she lied quickly with a smile. She mentally kicked herself for having to lie to a second man that night but told herself she would make it up to them. The man watched her for a moment to make sure she wasn’t lying at which she returned his gaze with an innocent smile. It worked and the man let go of her wrists. “All right, but watch yourself, Selena. Not all dangers in the castle are living,” he said with a smile. He continued on his way with a wave and a yawn. “I’m off to bed. See you ‘round later.” She waved back even though he couldn’t see it and trotted silently down the dark hall, letting her eyes adjust to the gloom. She poked her head into a few of the rooms in the dark castle. Some were locked and she worked them open with her lock picks. She eventually found the library and yawning, she let herself inside, curious to see what kind of books Lord Zenith kept. Selena selected a few volumes off the shelves and slid into an armchair with them in her lap. She opened the first page and began to read into the night, unaware of the time. Her head bobbed forward and her eyes slid closed and she jerked awake and forced herself to read some more. After a few more times, she gave up fighting sleep and let the book slip from her hands and fell asleep in the chair. She woke with a jerk the next morning and drowsily examined her surroundings. Then realizing where she was, she jumped up, dropping the thick books onto her toes in the process and limp-ran to Ocean-Eyes’ suite, hoping he hadn’t woken up yet. She slowed as she came to the hall that led to his rooms and hobbled the rest of the way there. She arrived outside Ocean-Eyes’ suite and opened the door quietly and slipped in. She shut the door shut quietly and when she turned, she found Ocean-Eyes lounging on the chair. “What are you doing here?” she blurted out and then blushed. “I live here,” he replied with raised eyebrows. He stood. “Where were you last night? You could have at least left a note.” He approached her and she flinched under his sharp gaze. His hand came out and she flinched back but when they withdrew, in his hand were her lock picks. He smiled slowly and set the picks down on a table and crossed his arms across his chest. “I’m sorry if I worried you,” she mumbled when he gazed at her for a while. “Well, I don’t have anything against you wandering the castle at night but as for breaking out of the suite and stealing from my office, you must be punished for that,” he told her sternly. He thought for a minute. “You will taste Lord Zenith’s meals at the usual times but in addition to that, you will help the castle staff in your free time when you are not tasting Lord Zenith’s food. You will help clean rooms,
sweep floors, scrub dishes, rake out the stables, anything that will keep you occupied the whole day.” “Yes, sir,” she replied. She bowed to him and walked past him. “Oh and I suggest you learn the map of the castle because the path you took last night was not a shortcut to the kitchens,” he called after her. He grinned at her when she looked back at her in surprise. “That man you ran into was not a new guard - just one coming home from the army. He thought that it was odd that you were out and about like that last night and came to find me.”
Ocean-Eyes shook his head with a smile at Selena’s retreating back. Then, curious, he picked up her lock-picks and examined them. He was impressed with her work. The lock picks were expertly-made and shaped and they were made of a hard iron strip that he kept in his office to divide different poisonous plants so he didn’t have to touch them and accidentally get poisoned. He thought about what he had learned. He knew a decent family in the city, no matter how cruel or how poor, would never let their daughters learn the ways of the streets – as in the crafting of tools such as lock picks. Selena had to have come from the streets, not a house like she claimed with three working men – one a man who drank the money his children made, unless the other two lived off of whatever Selena brought back also. So he came to the conclusion that she had learned her craft from an expert thief on the streets before she was taken into a house and bent to serve them with the money she made from stealing. He set the picks down and heard a slight creak as the door to Selena’s door opened just a slight crack. He knew she was watching him so he humored her by picking up a pad of paper from off of the couch and a cold charcoal from the hearth and writing, “Selena, I know you’re watching”, on the pad. He ripped the paper he had written on off and crumpled it in a ball and tossed it her direction. There was a slight thump as it hit the door and the door creaked as it opened farther. He heard paper being softly straightened and a minute later, Selena sat down by him. He smiled at her and she scowled back. “I’m guessing you want to know something otherwise you would have just ignored me,” she mumbled, staring at her hands. He waited but didn’t have to wait long. She let out a breath. “The man wasn’t my father but they were my half-brother’s father. When my mother died, I chose the streets rather than go live with the man so I learned from the old King of Thieves the skills of the trade. When he died, I moved on and learned more from other thieves and I began to use my skills as I ran out of money. I always made a tribute to the god of thieves at the temple in the western part of town.” “What happened?” he prodded gently. She glanced at him and returned her gaze to her hands. She cleared her throat and continued her story. “I was only about your age at the time but your father said that I had hands nimble enough and a head smart enough to learn his trade
as he called it, and so that’s why he taught me. When I was nine or ten, my half-brothers came for me. They saw me and were kind to me and they tricked me into living with them. They told me I didn’t have to steal any more for myself but if I ever did, it would be for the good of the family. I was so young that I didn’t understand what they meant back then but I went with them,” she continued in a whisper. She closed her eyes against the flood of memories and took a deep breath. “One night, they woke me and told me that I had to steal something for the good for the family. They told me I had to steal gold from a saddlebag on a horse that belonged to some noble just across the street. I was confused but I did it. I only grabbed a handful because as I said, I was young and I didn’t know and understand. I brought it back and when they saw I only had that little grubby handful, they were angry and beat me. “Their father came home one day and they showed me to him and he was pleased and treated me well and when I told him that my brothers beat me, he scolded my brothers and told me not to worry about it. He was so nice until he realized what I was and had me steal from people in bold daylight and had me break into his gambling enemies’ houses and take back the money he had lost.” He held her close and she leaned against him. “I was sick of stealing and I told him so and he beat me for my ‘insolence’ and told me to never talk back. I had stolen thousands of gold coins for them after that but I never saw any improvements to where we lived and then I found that my brothers and their father were drinking and gambling my efforts off and I refused to steal from them again and they beat me. Only then after that, I only stole enough to keep us living and then they became mad as they found out and often beat me. For years I did this until I couldn’t take it any more and tried to kill them all to be free of them because every time I ran away, they caught me and beat me so I couldn’t run. And that’s where you came and started off a new life for me,” she murmured against him. “I’m sorry, Selena, for what happened to you,” he whispered. “Don’t, it wasn’t your fault, only mine. If I hadn’t gone with my brothers that day, then I might still be out somewhere having the time of my life,” she murmured. She realized what she said and smiled. “But I prefer to be warm and clothed and fed constantly than to being out there.” “I’m glad I could help,” he said and kissed her forehead. She smiled up at him. “Not a lot of men hug and are as affectionate as you are,” she commented as she sat up. She wiped her eyes when she realized she had been crying. Ocean-Eyes offered her his handkerchief and she used it to wipe her tears away and handed it back. He tucked it away carefully inside his sleeve before replying. “I’ve always wanted someone to hold for a long time and it wouldn’t do to hold my mother,” he said with a grin. Then there was a
knock on the door and he knew who it was because he had asked her to come up to visit him that morning. “And speaking of my mother…” He stood and opened the door and sure enough, it was Heart, standing there in her thick wine-red cloak with her hood over her face and smiling. Ocean-Eyes bowed his mother in and she laughed and curtsied back before stepping in. She looked around his rooms and whistled very unladylike. “Seems you’re sitting in the lap of luxury while us in the city are wallowing in dirt and mud and who knows what else,” she commented with a grin. He smiled back. Heart slid her cloak off and tossed it onto a chair and then she spotted Selena on the couch. “Am I interrupting something?” “No, not at all, Mother, you’re never interrupting anything,” he told her and invited her to sit as he rang for the servants. The servants came with drinks and snacks and set them down on the low table before leaving with a bow to them all. Heart immediately sat and picked up a cup of tea and examined the castle delicacies in front of her before selecting one and started eating it. “I’m hungry, I haven’t had breakfast yet,” she commented with her mouth full and then swallowed and waved her food at him. “These are good! Try one!” He grinned and politely declined as Selena helped herself to the food, having missed breakfast too. He sat down in an over-stuffed armchair and leaned back in it. He found a comfortable spot and settled into it. After a while, his mother looked up at him and dusted off her mouth and wiped her hands on her skirt carelessly and leaned back. Selena watched mother and son for a moment and she could clearly see where Ocean-Eyes got all his good looks and decided to leave. As she stood and walked pass Ocean-Eyes, he reached out a hand pulled her into his lap. She struggled to get loose but he was stronger and he won. She made herself comfortable as Ocean-Eyes arranged his arms around him. Heart ignored Selena and handed a packet of paper to OceanEyes who took it with a smile and held it, knowing that it was more reports. “I’m glad you invited me up for a visit,” she commented. He smiled. She glanced at Selena in Ocean-Eyes’ lap. “And I see you found yourself a –“ “Don’t say it,” he cut in, a look of pain passing over his features. His eyes closed and his mother hugged him around the shoulders. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” she whispered. Ocean-Eyes’ eyes opened and he nodded slowly. Selena climbed off of him, feeling a little uncomfortable and took the packet from Ocean-Eyes. She dropped it off in his office and retreated to her room. “She does seem like a nice girl though.” He nodded absently and ran his fingers along the patterns of the armchair. He and his mother spent the rest of the day talking and catching up on news and gossip and he gave her a tour of the castle
and brought her to lunch with Selena following close behind like a silent shadow. At dusk, he led the way back to his rooms and they sat down and pulled out a chess set and played for a while. There was a knock on the door and he called for the knocker to come in and when he entered, he saw that it was Lord Zenith and stood as he came in. The young lord snorted as he saw him shoot to his feet, chess pieces scattering everywhere. “I’m not the king, OceanEyes, sit down,” he said with a laugh. He noticed Heart who had risen to her feet more gracefully than her son and his sharp eyes noted how much she looked like Ocean-Eyes. “And who’s your guest here?” “Lord Zenith, this is my mother, Mother, this is Lord Zenith, the generous man who had let me be his spymaster,” he introduced them and sat as he was ordered. He watched the two examine each other for a minute before his mother dropped to a curtsy and Lord Zenith nodded to her and turned to his spymaster. Heart bent to pick up the chess pieces, leaving the two men to talk. “How are your skills in sneaking into places and getting back out with a destined object to steal?” he asked, leaning in. Silence met his words and he smiled grimly. Heart had finished and was lounging in a chair and she just watched them. “To put it in shorter words, how are your skills in stealing things?” Ocean-Eyes’ lips slowly curved into a smile. “What is it you need, my lord?” he asked quietly. Heart excused herself silently and made for the office but Lord Zenith stopped her and beckoned her close and she sat down on the floor between the two young men. “I will tell you after you tell me first,” he said. “My lord, do you know how the Court of Thieves knows when their chosen king is ready to rule them and lead them?” Heart asked, examining her fingernails. She wiped invisible dirt off of them on her jacket. Zenith looked at her with an eyebrow raised and she smiled. “They decide when the chosen king can steal anything in his heart’s desire because this shows that he is the proper king for them if he has to steal peace or justice for one of his men.” Lord Zenith nodded with a satisfied smile and leaned in closer. “I need you to go to the palace and steal information from the king himself,” he murmured. He put up a hand when Ocean-Eyes began to protest. “It may not be easy but I need you to do because my informants in the city are quickly going missing and I think it may be the crown’s doing.” Ocean-Eyes thought for a moment and nodded in agreement. “But you are marrying Katherine – surely you can ask her for information?” he said. His lord snorted again and Ocean-Eyes wondered what put him in such a good mood. “Katherine is a woman. Her father wouldn’t share any information with her because she’s a woman, reared in a palace and royal family to marry and manage households, nothing more,” he said. Ocean-Eyes rose up on his feet angrily and Heart reached up and
gripped his elbow hard in warning. He ignored her painful hold. “I’m sorry, Ocean-Eyes, I didn’t mean anything by it. Will you please help me?” “You could have just commanded me to but, yes, I will, and why do you need my mother here tonight?” he asked. The lord grinned. “I know it may be short notice but tonight is the only chance to snatch that information. Your mother is here to keep the security tight and to let our enemies think that you are still here. They, if they were watching, saw one dark-cloaked figure ride in on a black horse and they will see a dark-cloaked figure ride out on a black horse, probably accompanied by a few men,” he told him with a grin. “And besides, a little bird told me that there was a banquet tonight at the palace and the king will be at it the whole night and he’s decided to put off any business for tomorrow morning, even if it is urgent.” Ocean-Eyes stood and bowed in silent agreement as the lord got to his feet. Heart put an arm around his shoulders and he held her with one arm as he watched Lord Zenith. “Thank you, Ocean-Eyes, get ready for tonight then,” Lord Zenith said. He strode out the door. Stillness followed his exit and Heart broke it by punching her son lightly on the shoulder and went to his office to start getting things ready. He followed her in thoughtfully and then approached her. “Mother, can I ask you a favor?” he asked her. She smiled and nodded. “Selena still needs more training so I was wondering if you would teach her tonight and answer all her questions, no matter what they are because I think that she would be more open with…someone like you,” he said, he watched her as she moved slowly, shuffling the papers on his desk and then easing back into his chair. “What you mean is, she’ll be more open with another woman,” she told him with a grin. He only smiled back, fighting the sense that his face was about to turn red. “And yes, I’ll teach her as much as I know about poisons and many other things I think she needs that she lacks. You’d best get ready.” He hugged her across the desk. “Thank you, Mother,” he murmured and then released her to go to his room to change into his black clothes. He added his quiver of arrows with the bow tucked into it onto his belt on the opposite side of his sword and long dagger and checked that his knives were in place once more before picking his baton up and walking out the door of his room and suites and out into the hall. His cloak fluttered behind him as usual and he held his baton loosely in his right hand. When he stopped in the courtyard, he then had to make a decision despite what his lord had said about what the staff of the castle would see – fast transportation or no trace of thief in the palace? The decision was then made for him when Lord Zenith came up on a black horse and held a hand down to him with a grin. Ocean-Eyes clasped it and the lord swiftly pulled him up behind him. A troop of
guards followed them out of the gates and down the road toward the city in the distance. “I’m going to the city for a drink; know a tavern good one near by?” Lord Zenith called back. Ocean-Eyes grinned in the darkness, the wind brushing by whipping his golden hair across his face. He pushed it back. He knew what his lord meant by “near by”. “The Prancing Lion, a street down, close by,” he called back. He felt the young lord nod and then lean forward and he leaned forward with him and felt the horse shoot out from under him. He grabbed the other man around the middle to keep from falling off. “Wait, don’t you want to attend the banquet? The king should have been gracious enough to invite his future son-in-law.” Lord Zenith nodded. “Yes, but I wanted to know a nearby tavern to meet you at. I might leave the banquet early due to…urgent business,” he called back with a laugh. Ocean-Eyes laughed with him and then their companionable ride was silent the rest of the way to the gates. The guards let them in with a nod and closed the gate for the night. Ocean-Eyes glanced at the gates worriedly and Lord Zenith patted the arm around his middle assuringly and slowed the horse down to blend in with the traffic of people going home from work and people who were going up to the palace. In the darkness of an alley, Lord Zenith dropped Ocean-Eyes off with a bag of tools needed for breaking into places. He left with his guards with a wave. Ocean-Eyes quickly looked through the bag and satisfied with the complete set of fine and well-made tools, he stuck large tools in his belt and the small ones into his belt pouches. He used strips of leather from his pouch to tie the tools in place to make sure they weren’t taken and they couldn’t fall out and after the folding the bag up tightly and neatly with another strip and tucking it into his vest pocket, he started out cheerfully towards the palace. He left the Palace Road, the road that led from the gates directly to the palace. When the gates came in view, he ventured down the twists of turns and alleyways that he had known since he was a child, to a part of the palace wall where he knew there weren’t guards because it was all trees that were the beginning of the wild forest that cut into the city next to the palace. He pulled and arrow from his quiver with his bow and tied a rope he had picked up on his walk to it and shot the arrow at the top of the wall. The arrow flew over and out of sight, carrying the rope with it and when he heard the sound of metal hitting wood and the rope stopped moving in his hands, he lay quiet for a few minutes before trying the rope. After he found it was secure and that it would hold, he tucked his bow away and scrambled up the rope quickly with his baton under his arm and dropped onto the wall. The walkway that he stood on was quite abandoned so he left the arrow and the rope there and went to
find some stairs that led to the ground, not wanting to jump down from the thirty-foot stone wall and possibly break something. He found the stairs a little ways off and noting the dust on the steps, he knew it hadn’t been used for a while and it would be the first thing the guards would check if he was caught. He brushed his finger against the railing and finding it dust-free, he jumped onto it and slid the way down the railing, keeping his balance and careful that his feet didn’t touch the stairs and leave foot prints in the dust. He landed on the soft springy grass with a gentle earthly thud and crept across the well-kempt lawns of the palace. He found the servant’s entrance and slid into the door and immediately leapt behind a pile of boxes as a servant passed by. He let out a slow breath to calm his pounding heart and when the room cleared out, he rose to his feet and carefully made his way to a hidden stair on the other side of the room without touching anything. His baton held tightly in his hand, he watched where he stepped, careful of the cracks in the stair that would let out a creak or a groan and alert the servants. He didn’t realize it was too late and his sword banged against the wall and he jumped with surprise very slightly and then cursed softly under his breath as he removed his sword. He found a pile of burlap sacks at the top of the stairs and hid his sword underneath them and moved on. He crept down a narrow hall and suddenly, a door opened and someone came out. He looked both ways but there was nowhere to hide so he smoothed his features to make them look lost, which he slightly was. A manservant was letting himself out of the room and he looked surprised to see him there. “Are you lost, sir?” the man asked kindly with a warm smile. “Yes, I’m a messenger and I was wondering if you could direct me to the royal wing so I can drop off a message and be on my way?” he asked, adopting the man’s accent, knowing he would blend in if he did so. The ruse worked and the man’s warm smile grew warmer and kind. “You are armed well for a messenger,” he commented, looking up at him. “Well, yes, the roads are tough and the highwaymen and bandits would do anything to intercept a message going to the king. The royal wing please?” he asked politely, putting a little urgency behind his voice. “I’ve got a lot of messages to deliver and this one isn’t the only one tonight.” “Oh, yes, this way if you please, messenger,” the man replied. He turned down the hall and Ocean-Eyes followed him without hesitation but keeping wary of the man. The man led him down twists and turns of hallways and he tried to remember them all but then instead chose landmarks like a painting of a past king or a vase with a peculiar design. The man stopped at the end of a long hallway. “Here we are. I pray that you have a good night, young sir.”
Ocean-Eyes gave the man a slight bow and the servant returned it and was on his way. Ocean-Eyes then strode purposefully to the grandest rooms at the end of the long hallway, knowing it was the king’s rooms. He eased open the gilded door and shut it quietly behind him and crept across the springy carpet to a desk in the center of the room. Ocean-Eyes let his eyes adjust to the gloom and found that he was in the king’s study so the king’s rooms must be connected to the study and was pleased. He looked at the desk and saw plans and information about the taxes and numerous things on the desk written neatly on papers. The desk was a mess so as Ocean-Eyes picked up several sheets, he knew that the king wouldn’t know he was missing the papers until he organized his desk. He pulled out the bag and untied it. He tucked the strip of leather away into its pouch and put the papers inside and took a few more that he thought were important. He then spotted a map two times as large as a sheet of parchment marked with plans and positions he was sure the papers would explain and took that too. He riffled through the king’s chest of maps and found one the same exact size and design and map and spread it out where the original map he had taken was. His work done, he shouldered the bag and left the room back into the hall, letting the door close behind him. Then he thought that the king might have shared plans and ideas with his sons and they might have written them down as notes and put them on their desks as their father did and maybe added a few plans of their own. Ocean-Eyes walked up to the first door he came to on his right and he looked into the keyhole after trying the locked door. He saw a woman with a swollen belly inside sitting in front of a mirror as attendants did her hair and he knew that it was the queen and the king wouldn’t share information with her so he moved on. He tried a few doors and found some of them locked and he opened them with his pick and explored the room, taking a few papers if they were interesting enough. At the last door, he opened it and it opened easily under his hand and slid open a few inches. Curious, he shouldered his bag, now filled with papers, and stepped inside. A peaceful sight met his eyes. A medium-sized sitting room filled the first room and a balcony was set behind it, overlooking the gardens. Someone was on the balcony, dressed in a beautiful and very formal dress. He took one step and the person turned and he stepped back towards the door with surprise. It was Kate. She saw him and ran over to him. She flung herself at him and he had no choice but to catch her, dropping his bag in the process. She kissed him desperately and he found himself returning it. “Ocean-Eyes, what are you doing here?” she whispered after she broke the kiss. She stroked his face and he shivered at her light touch.
“I’m here on business,” he replied hoarsely. She made to kiss him again but he held her back. “Kate, you’re getting married in a few months. This isn’t right.” “Tell me what’s going on,” she murmured, looking down. She sadly stepped out of his hold and though he longed to hold her again, he resisted and instead, crossed his arms over his chest to get rid of the longing. “I’m not supposed to. I’m not even supposed to be talking to you here. Go to the banquet, your husband-to-be is here and he’ll be disappointed to not see you there,” he told her. He picked up his bag and strode over to the balcony. “I’m done here and I’m leaving.” And with that, he leapt the rest of the way down into the garden and landed painfully on his feet but he managed to stay graceful and rise up from the crouch he’d landed in. “Ocean-Eyes, wait,” Kate called from above. He stopped but he didn’t turn to her. “I will always love you, no matter who I marry, just remember that.” He closed his eyes as her words awoke a memory but he suppressed it and drew a breath and opened his eyes. He strode off into the darkness of the garden, leaving Kate standing there, watching the last place he had been before he disappeared. Ocean-Eyes found his way back to his sword and snatched it up. He made his way out the servant’s entrance and across the garden just as he heard Lord Zenith’s voice enter the garden accompanied with Kate’s. He stopped, hidden in a bush to listen to Kate’s words. Her voice was warm, pleasant, and polite. He thought it lacked something but he couldn't think of what it would lack. He made sure that Lord Zenith saw him in the bushes before he left his hiding spot and pulled himself up the railing, careful to not touch the stairs. He arrived at the walkway and located his arrow. Then he froze. The arrow didn’t have his rope tied to it. “Looking for this?” a voice asked behind him. He whirled around and saw a man holding in his fist his rope. Ocean-Eyes dropped the bag to the ground and kicked it behind him out of the way and dropped into a fighting stance, holding his baton in his hand. He dropped his sword on the ground and kicked it next to the bag. The man didn’t miss the moves he made and smiled. “Calm down, surely fellow spymasters can have a chat now and then.” “’Fellow spymasters’?” he asked, curious. He warily relaxed. When the man saw that he had relaxed, he pulled his hand out from his pockets and Ocean-Eyes realized that he must have knives hidden there. “Of course. I believe introductions are in order – I am the king’s spymaster, Lyle Denier,” he said with a slight bow. He put his hand out to Ocean-Eyes. “And you are?” “Ocean-Eyes, the King of Thieves,” he growled back, suspicious of the man’s warm nature. The man grinned, aware of his discomfort but did nothing to assure or delude him to Ocean-Eyes’ surprise.
“Ah, but you are also Zenith’s spymaster are you not, Majesty?” the other spymaster asked. Ocean-Eyes glared at him without replying and thought about how fast he could snatch up his bag and sword behind him and leap over the wall, not breaking anything, and make a run for the city and the safety of the tavern. He glanced behind him and the man, guessing his intention, cleared his throat. “That wouldn’t be wise. Listen to what I have to say or else I’ll raise the alarm.” Ocean-Eyes sighed and nodded. “I personally don’t care if you take things from the king, and attempt to assassinate him. We need a new king on the throne – one who doesn’t try to squeeze every copper out of his subjects. I wouldn’t care any less if you kills guards, plant your own spies, and whatever it is you do but I’m warning you, stay away from the children. Harm any of them and you’re mine,” the man said briskly, losing all pretenses of warmth. “’Children’?” “The princes and princesses,” he replied. “It’s a deal then. Just so you know, Princess Katherine and I used to be very close until her recent engagement. Just keep that in mind before you warn me about harming the ‘children’,” he said coldly. “As a payment for our new deal and for telling me the truth, I in turn, will tell you something that may be of value to you,” the man said. He took a step forward and Ocean-Eyes’ knife came out and the man laughed. “You can hold them to my throat or chest while I tell you this but I assure you, you will want this information.” Ocean-Eyes grudgingly agreed. “The royal treasury is almost empty despite the heavy taxes because the king uses most of the money to bribe his enemies, turning them to allies, and clothing his children and those in his palace. Most of it drains to holding these banquets and balls and a vast amount will be going to his daughter’s marriage in a few months,” he murmured into his ear as Ocean-Eyes held the knife up to him. The man stepped back out of range and Ocean-Eyes put away his knife. “Thank you, it is of great help and I trust that it is the truth. If it is just a rumor you are trying to spread, then be prepared to see me in your bedroom in a few nights,” he hissed in warning. The man nodded gravely and handed him his rope back. Ocean-Eyes took it from him and tied it to the arrow securely and tossed it over the wall. He shouldered his bag, buckled on his sword and tucked his baton under his arm. Then, he slid down the rope and before he could pull his arrow loose, it was tossed down to him by Denier. He waved to Ocean-Eyes from the top of the wall. “Good luck,” he called down and vanished from view. Ocean-Eyes rolled up the rope, put the arrow back after he detached it from the rope. He made his way out of the cover of the trees back onto Palace Road through the alleys and dropped the rope back to where he had found it, and went to The Prancing Lion to wait for Lord Zenith.
He ordered a table for two and a mug of ale and sat down with the cup in between his hands to wait. He kept the bag in his lap to keep it from being stolen and he arranged his sword on his belt so that it wouldn’t dig into his ribs and so that he could also draw it with ease though he had his baton against the wall next to him. People in the tavern cast glances at him when they thought he wasn’t looking and he ignored them. He grew hungry from just sitting there and waiting so he ordered some food and as it came, Lord Zenith appeared at his elbow, his guards left outside to guard their things. He slid into the seat and helped himself to some of Ocean-Eyes’ food and had a glass of water and leaned back, still chewing. “You just came down from the banquet – and you’re still hungry,” Ocean-Eyes commented with a grin. His lord just rolled his eyes and helped himself to another piece of chicken on Ocean-Eyes’ plate. “The banquet had foods that were delicious but not really stuffing, if you know what I mean,” Lord Zenith replied. He wiped his hands on a cloth set there for the purpose and stood. “Let’s go.” Ocean-Eyes shouldered the bag and stood, picking up his baton as he did so. They started for the door but three officers came in at the same time. The two of them froze and the three men scrutinized them for a minute and looked at them curiously. “May we help you?” the man in the front asked them. “No, we were on our way back home,” Lord Zenith said with a straight and even voice. The men gave a slight bow and pushed pass them to find seats. Ocean-Eyes shrugged at Lord Zenith and the gesture was returned and they stepped outside. Lord Zenith swung up onto his horse and pulled his spymaster up after him. Ocean-Eyes arranged the bag in front of him as Lord Zenith urged his horse into a canter. They made their way silently down the street and out of the city. Surprisingly, no one stopped them and Ocean-Eyes knew that Denier was a man of his word. They arrived at the palace and the two men slid off of the horse and it was led away. Ocean-Eyes and Lord Zenith walked side-by-side up the stairs. They went to Ocean-Eyes’ room and entered to find the two women sitting side-by-side on the couch talking. Selena looked up with a smile and Heart only leaned back as if she knew that they were already coming down the hall. Ocean-Eyes led the way to his office and put the bag onto the desk and carefully started extracting all of the papers he had taken from the royal wing including the map. Lord Zenith examined the papers for a few minutes and looked at the map occasionally and then smiled. “This is a lot of satisfying information. Is this all?” he told his spymaster. Ocean-Eyes smiled and then told of his meeting with the king’s spymaster and the man’s words. Lord Zenith was surprised and pleased at the information about the treasury. “This is better than we
could have hoped! If we wait out, then the king’s men will refuse to serve him because they aren’t getting paid and then we can recruit those men and attack the palace.” Ocean-Eyes sat down in his seat and leaned back, locking his hands behind his neck, and looked up at his lord. “Who would you have for king, my lord? Not you, I suppose?” Ocean-Eyes asked quietly. “I would have one of the princes, of course, one that is most fit to rule,” the young lord replied. Ocean-Eyes smiled. “Well said, my lord,” he replied. “Is there anything I can help you with tonight?” Lord Zenith thought for a moment and shook his head with a smile. “No there isn’t, just make copies of these papers by yourself tomorrow morning – have Selena help you – and don’t take them to the scribes. There may be a spy among them,” he told him and with that, he made to leave. His hand paused on the doorknob and then he turned to Ocean-Eyes. “May I borrow Selena for tonight, Ocean-Eyes? You may have taught her all you know but there are some things that I want to teach her myself that I’m pretty sure you don’t know.” “Whatever you wish, my lord,” Ocean-Eyes said, inclining his head. He got to his feet as the lord opened the door and followed him out. Ocean-Eyes shut the door behind him just as Lord Zenith beckoned to Selena and left with her. Selena gave Ocean-Eyes a wave before she vanished out the door with Lord Zenith. “What does he want with her?” Heart asked as she got to her feet. She took his cloak from him and hung it up by the door next to hers. He shrugged. “Who knows, it’s not my business. I’m going to bed. You can have Selena’s room for tonight or you can sleep here on the couch, it doesn’t matter,” he said offhandedly and went into his bedroom. He peeled off his boots and stockings and removed all of his knives and his sword and put them in their usual places and took off his shirt, tossing it in a pile of dirty clothes and climbed into bed. He pulled the blankets over his head and fell asleep immediately. He was awoken the next morning when someone entered his room, letting the sunlight stream through the door and onto his face. He groaned and opened his eyes. Selena stood by the door, her hair mussed and her clothing rumpled but she was grinning. “About time, I thought you were dead with the way your suite sounded this morning,” she commented. He swayed sleepily and unsteadily on his feet and shook himself awake and glared at her. She laughed and left the room, leaving the door open. He stumbled out after her and blinked like an owl in the bright room. “Where’s Heart?” he asked. Selena steered him to the small dining table in his room and he sat down in a chair and he saw breakfast awaited him on the table and without another thought, he
dove into the food and began to shovel the porridge into his mouth followed by some bacon, toast, and eggs. “She left this morning when I came in and told me she had some business to attend to in the city and that she would be back with some reports later,” Selena replied as she watched him eat. After a while, she said, “You look like as if you’ve not eaten for a week! Slow down.” He finished off his breakfast and pushed the plate away from him with a grin. “I know it looks like that but last night’s work made me very hungry especially since Lord Zenith at half of my dinner after he finished at the banquet,” he replied. Selena looked away slightly at the mention of Lord Zenith’s name and he took no notice and instead leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “What did Lord Zenith want last night?” “As he said, he was…teaching me,” she murmured and left before he could ask any more questions. Ocean-Eyes wondered for a moment at Selena’s odd behavior and then left to his office to begin the task that Lord Zenith had set for him. Selena came in and helped him but neither said a word to each other, caught up in their work. They finished in the late afternoon, massaging cramped hands and filing the papers they had copied away. He didn’t know what to do with the originals so he packed them up into his bag and just stored them in a corner of the room. The map he spread across his desk, weighed down at each corner with a paperweight to straighten it and he left the room with Selena, locking it behind him. He put an arm around Selena and kissed her on the forehead and led her out, intending to take a walk in Lord Zenith’s garden. As they passed the entrance hall, a plain carriage was just coming in through the gates. Ocean-Eyes stopped and went out the doors into the sunlit courtyard to see who their guest was with Selena following close behind. The carriage door opened and out stepped someone clothed finely with their fine cloak’s hood over their face. Ocean-Eyes knew it was a woman because she was handed down by a footman. Ocean-Eyes approached the woman as the carriage trundled away to the stables and the woman put back her hood to reveal Kate’s face. He bowed to her and she politely returned it with a curtsy, her face smooth and nothing giving away. “What brings you here, Your Highness,” he asked. “I have come to visit my husband-to-be,” she replied formally. Then she dropped the formality and her face showed her anguish and her hurt but Ocean-Eyes kept his face straight. “Ocean-Eyes, please, you have to understand that I –“ “Kate, our lives are different now. You are to be married and I’m nothing but a commoner. You cannot say those words to me any more because you are to be married soon,” he interrupted quietly. She gripped his arm and he stiffened.
“Then run away with me, Ocean-Eyes! Together, if we run, then we can be together again and we can live our lives together happily,” she whispered urgently. “Kate, this isn’t some fairytale story! If we run, then we will spend our lives running, not happily ever after! And you don’t have the training or the skill to run and keep running for most of our life! I may be able to but it would mean leaving you behind,” he snapped at her. He pulled gently out of her hold and smoothed a hand over his face. “I’m sorry but I can’t do that to you or to anyone I’ve pledged my service and loyalty to. And if I leave, who is going to look after the people? They will be taxed even more if you vanish and I would be charged with kidnapping a member of the royal family even though I didn’t kidnap you.” Her face fell and a single tear rolled down her cheek and he turned. He reached out to wipe it away but she turned away and wiped it away with her own hand. He gritted his teeth and then relaxed his jaw. “Come, Your Highness, Lord Zenith is waiting for you,” he said stiffly. He then turned briskly on his heel and walked back up the stairs, Kate following close behind. “I know your ancestor and why you carry on and why the King of Thieves is expected to do his duty like this,” she murmured behind him. He stopped and she stopped behind him. He didn’t turn as she began to speak. “Your great-grandfather was the first King of Thieves. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor and everyone was after him so he set up a base in the forest. He had a band of men who believed his purpose was a true one because he served the true king, not the brother of the king who had taken over once he had sent his brother on an endless crusade north. The prince was a cruel man and he taxed the people until they couldn’t feed their children and then he arrested the children for thievery when they tried to take what was theirs back. The country was going through hard times until your greatgrandfather and his men rebelled and began his career as the protector and provider of the people. “The king died, leaving no heir and some suspected that he was killed on his way home from the crusade by his brother but there was no proof of that. And so, his brother was made king and he used his power to tax the people. The new king smiled at his peoples’ suffering. Then your great-grandfather couldn’t take the pitiful cries of the people and with his men and armed citizens, he charged up the palace and took down every man in his path. He slayed the king and held his head up for all to see. Then, he appointed the king’s son, a fair young man as the new king. “Time passed and your great-grandfather’s career was no longer needed so he just served as the protector of the people and King of Thieves and occasionally, was invited up to the palace for a visit and on one of these visits, he fell in love with a noblewoman, daughter of a powerful duke. Together, they had one child and your great-
grandmother died in giving birth to your grandmother, the Princess of Thieves. Your great-grandfather was ever so proud of his daughter for she looked much like the love of his life so he taught her and educated her with all of his skills like a boy and when he died, your grandmother took over as Queen of Thieves and the men were as loyal to her as they were to her father. She eventually married after a quiet reign and had several children, two sons and three daughters. One night, she was after a thief who was stealing for himself, and she slipped off the roof where she was chasing him and fell to her death. Her daughters cried for their mother and so did her sons and your grandfather, not being able to bear your grandmother’s death, moved away, and taking your aunts and uncle with him. But your twenty-year-old father stayed for he had been chosen as his father’s successor. So in honor of his mother, he accepted. You know the rest.” “Someone’s been doing their research,” he observed quietly. He felt Kate’s hand touch his shoulder in comfort. “Thank you for sharing that story with me.” “I will bring you the book someday of the stories of the Kings of Thieves and their successors,” she told him quietly. He placed his hand on hers and then continued to walk again, this time with Kate by his side. “This doesn’t change anything,” he said softly. She shrugged. “I know, and I’m sorry that I made you mad. And I thought that you would like to hear the stories of your great-grandfather,” she replied with a smile. He smiled back. “But my great-grandfather killed your great-great-grandfather,” he protested with his smile still on his lips. She grinned. “He was cruel man, don’t worry. Now if your great-grandfather had killed my great-great-great uncle then I wouldn’t be talking to you now,” she teased. He laughed quietly as they reached Lord Zenith’s office door. He reached out to open the door but before his hand contacted the cool metal, she stood on tiptoe and kissed him hard on his lips. His hand reached up to touch her cheek and the hand that had been about to open the door wrapped around her waist and he kissed her back. When they broke the kiss, they were slightly panting and they evened their breathing before opening the door. Ocean-Eyes smiled at Kate when Lord Zenith still hadn’t noticed them come in and she smiled back. Lord Zenith looked up and smiled at Kate and beckoned her in and dismissed Ocean-Eyes with a nod. He bowed back in reply and shut the door after him. He headed back to his rooms alone, suddenly noticing that Selena had disappeared as soon as they had seen that their guest was Kate. He wondered about what Kate had said about his ancestors. For all he could know, he could have some family members now who were related to the most powerful dukes in the kingdom and he didn’t know them. He was even more curious about the book and itched to add his
father’s story into it and eventually, his story. Then, itching to see the palace again by the light of day, he changed into his city clothes and slung his sword on his belt and putting his knives in their places and pulling on a jacket instead of a cloak, he picked up his baton and left for the stables.
Selena was the first to notice that Ocean-Eyes was not in the castle. She told herself that he must be cooling down and getting his thoughts arranged in some place while somewhere in the city because of seeing the princess again so she didn’t worry about him. As dusk fell and when he didn’t appear at dinner to watch her taste Lord Zenith’s food, she began to worry. Lord Zenith saw her worrying and came to her after dinner in Ocean-Eyes’ suite after the princess had left for the palace. “What’s the matter, my dear?” he asked with a warm smile. She smiled back and slid a hand into his and he played with it as she told him about Ocean-Eyes and that she worried for him. “Not to worry, he’ll be back soon, I’m sure. If he’s not, then we can look for him.” And with that, he leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips. She discovered that she liked his kisses and returned it. His tongue toyed with hers and when he drew away, he dragged her bottom lip between his teeth gently. He trailed wet kisses down her neck. Selena relaxed in Lord Zenith’s hold. The room grew dark as the moon became hidden by a cloud. As the midnight was announced throughout the castle, Selena pulled herself shakily to her feet and listened for Ocean-Eyes returning to his room but heard nothing. Lord Zenith stood behind her and held her around the waist and kissed her tenderly in a line down her neck. She was slightly gasping when he was done but her mind was still clear and she listened for Ocean-Eyes but heard nothing. “My lord, he has not returned,” she commented quietly after her breathing evened out. He sighed and let her go, running a hand through his hair. “All right, I’ll go send out someone to look for him,” he replied and left the rooms. She rekindled the fire and sat down on the couch, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. A moment later, he returned. “It is done. Will you stop worrying now?” She smiled gratefully at him and bid him good night. He left after giving her a smile. She settled down on the couch to wait but eventually dozed off. The men searched all night for the young spymaster but by morning, he was still missing and Lord Zenith became worried. His men had searched the entire city, every street and every alleyway and no one had found him. His men assured him that they were doing their best to try and find him so he had to settle down and do things to distract him. He spent the day away from his desk and with Selena in the castle. They wandered aimlessly down the halls.
Around noon, someone came up from the city to see Lord Zenith and he ran to see the man who had came with Selena in tow. The man was a civilian and he had come as soon as he had heard about the missing spymaster. “I know where he is! I heard one of the palace guards pass my stand where I sell sausages saying that they had finally captured the King of Thieves,” the man gasped. Lord Zenith immediately called out for his guards. “We are riding to the palace to get our spymaster back,” he announced to his angry men with a grim smile. “The king will be sorry that he ever crossed me.”
Ocean-Eyes’ wrists ached where the manacles cut and dug into his skin. His face was filthy and covered in all sorts of prison grime and blood stained his clothes. There was a cut on one side of his face. He sat slumped against the wall, with not enough strength to pull him out of the stinking hay that covered the filth onto a stool just next to him. He watched all that passed warily. Surprisingly, he wasn’t frightened, only amused that they made his capture such a big deal. The ring his mother gave him still sat on a grimy thumb. He hadn’t let anyone touch it and they decided to let him have it, knowing that it was such a little thing that it couldn’t hurt. Now, he twisted the ring around on his thumb out of boredom. “You’re getting it easy, boy,” someone hoarsely said from the cell next to him. He glanced over at the speaker and found it belonged to someone dressed in the tattered remains of a guard’s uniform. He studied the man for a minute. “Do I know you from somewhere?” he asked politely. The man lunged at the bars that separated them and Ocean-Eyes didn’t flinch. “You and your men and the captain’s men captured me on the night we were released from our loyal service to the king,” he snarled. The manacles that hung on his thin wrists stopped him from reaching through the bars and grabbing him. “I’ve been stuck in here ever since!” “Where am I?” Ocean-Eyes asked out of curiosity. When he had been captured, he had been knocked over the head and he had awoken in the cell. He had been taken out and whipped a few times but he had always been returned and never had the chance to look outside. The man only harrumphed and trudged away to the other end of his cell. “You’re in one of them holding prisons, Majesty,” someone replied on the other side. Ocean-Eyes looked over and when he recognized the man who had spoken as one of his men that had gone missing for almost a year, he hauled himself to his feet and managed to make it over to the other side without falling over. “I’m sorry you ended up here, you were always a good man,” he said, reaching as best as he could to touch his man on the arm. The man put a hand over his and squeezed the hand. “Ah well, luck comes and goes,” he said offhandedly. Ocean-Eyes smiled and stayed next to his man and they talked of the current events and of the people they both knew. He was just telling the man of his new life as a spymaster when the door of his cell swung open and a guard came in.
The man hauled Ocean-Eyes painfully to his feet with his manacles and thrust him out the door. He clouted Ocean-Eyes’ man on the head for good measure and followed him out the door, shutting the door behind him. Ocean-Eyes walked weakly in between two guards with arms as thick as his neck. They led him out the door and let his eyes adjust to the sunlight before leading him up the street towards the palace. “Where are we going?” he asked them. His eyes still watered from the sudden light. “You’re getting it lucky, boy. Your lord wants you back and threatened the alliance between the king and him through the marriage which the king desperately needed if you weren’t returned to him,” one of them growled. The one behind him kicked him in the back, sending him sprawling onto the ground. He scrambled to his feet before they could pull him up and followed his guards. By the time the arrived at the throne room, OceanEyes was exhausted and was about ready to fall over. He had to be held up by two guards as they entered the throne room. There was a gasp as he appeared and he weakly looked up to see that Selena and Lord Zenith and his guards were there too. The king on the throne showed no emotion but Ocean-Eyes was pretty sure that he was pleased. The manacles and chains on his wrists and ankles were removed and he was sent toward his lord with a shove that sent him face first onto the blue runner, smearing dirt and sweat and blood on the cloth. He made no move to get up but gentle hands picked him up. He shivered as a sudden wave of cold passed through him and he desperately hoped that he hadn’t gotten a fever because of his unattended wounds, knowing that it meant he had to stay in the palace until he was fit to travel. Lord Zenith seemed to know it and a hand touched his forehead. “He has a fever,” he commented. The king on the throne sighed. “He can stay in our guest wing until he has recovered and then you may return home. Upon my honor as king, he will not be harmed while under the care of the palace,” the king said reluctantly to Lord Zenith’s look. The young lord bowed. “Thank you, Your Majesty, you are too kind,” Lord Zenith said viciously. The king said nothing as a stretcher was called for OceanEyes and they were led to a suite with enough bedrooms for their whole party. Ocean-Eyes didn’t know how much time passed as he lay feverish and shivering under layers and layers of blankets packed in with fire-warmed bricks. Palace doctors came to see him three times a day and had nothing to say to Lord Zenith about his condition. He was dimly aware of people around him but he couldn’t recognize anyone but took comfort from a gentle assuring touch from anyone.
His fever got to the point of when he would have nightmares and couldn’t sleep for days and whenever someone gently touched him, he would scream and thrash. To him at that point, each hand held a whip and his mind replayed over the terrors in his short time in the prison. His attendants left him alone, knowing that if they approached him, they would only get screams and thrashing as a reply. “I wonder what he went through in that prison. It couldn’t have been that bad,” Selena commented to a doctor one day as she watched Ocean-Eyes sleep, his eyes rolling under his eyelids. “The fever causes him to see things from his past. There must have been terrible things to make him like this. And the wounds aren’t helping either,” the doctor replied, changing the bandage on OceanEyes’ face and back. Lord Zenith dropped by every now and then to see his spymaster. He had called Heart up from the city to watch over her son so that Selena could get some rest. Soon, the doctors announced that Ocean-Eyes was recovering and that his fever had dropped. He slept more calmly now and he smiled more often in his sleep. Heart watched carefully over her son day and night, switching watches with Selena. Ocean-Eyes recovered enough a week later to walk but he was still weak. He spent the day sitting in bed and reading books brought to him by Heart from the palace library. Once, Kate stopped by with the book of the Kings of Thieves and dropped it off for him and he read the book to pass the time. After he finished with the book, he discovered there was half of the book still left blank and he realized that the reason for this was because they were still writing the book and he smiled and asked for a scribe. With the help of Heart, he got his father’s story into the book and the scribe listened and wrote as they told him the story. “Would you like me to add your story in here, sir?” the young scribe asked. Heart glanced at him and he returned the look with a smile as the scribe politely waited for his reply. “No, my story isn’t finished. Perhaps when it is finished, someone who was with me the whole time can tell you the story and you can write it there for me,” Ocean-Eyes replied with a smile. “Thank you for your work.” The young scribe cleaned up his writing utensils and packed them away in his bag. He set the book with its new story on the bedside table and bowed to Ocean-Eyes. “It was my pleasure to meet someone in a story and to hear the story of the former King of Thieves. I bid you good day,” the young man said and left with his bag. Heart got off of his bed where she had sat and sat down at the scribe’s vacant chair. “Mother, do you know who my great-grandmother was?” he asked. She smiled. “Your father said that he was told by your grandfather that your great-grandmother’s family died in the rebellion
against the tyrant king. They provided your great-grandfather with all of funds he needed to go against the crown and the crown discovered it and invaded their castle while your great-grandfather was fighting in the palace. Your great-grandmother had gone out to the forest to care for the injured men sent back from the fight so she was spared from her family’s terrible fate,” Heart told him gently. “So the last surviving member of that family is you, Ocean-Eyes, because the family was small but powerful. I’m pretty sure that there is a vast inheritance for you somewhere, left for you by your great-grandmother’s family.” He nodded absently. “This isn’t about the money, but thank you for not telling me something else,” he replied. Heart helped him up out of bed and steadied him. He slowly bent down to touch his toes and twisted a bit to loosen up his muscles. “Where are my clothes? I want to go for a walk.” Heart disappeared from the room for a moment and returned with a pile of clothes and dumped them on the bed. He stared at them. The clothes were the finest clothes that money could buy and even he couldn’t afford them with the money he was earning now. He touched them gently and glanced at Heart who grinned. “Your princess brought these for you and said they were a gift,” she said by way of explanation. He smiled and pulled the fine clothes on. Heart pulled the back of his hair into a small ponytail and he realized that he hadn’t cut his hair for a while and decided to later. On the way out, he caught a look of himself in a mirror and froze. The stranger that stared back looked older than he was because of the fever that caused his cheekbones to stand out more and aristocratic with his fine clothes and his hair pulled back. Ocean-Eyes examined himself for a moment and deciding he liked his new look, he swept out the door. The moment he stepped outside, he realized he didn’t have any of his weapons and almost headed back inside to get them but then relaxed. He was sure that no one would attack him inside the palace but despite that, he was still wary about his surroundings. He explored the palace and when he became hungry, he found his way to the kitchens using his nose and begged a warm bun and three pieces of bacon from the head cook who grudgingly gave it to him and he sat down near one of the cooking fires to eat his meal. After finishing off the bacon, he wiped his hands on his handkerchief and tucking it back up his sleeve, he left the warmth of the kitchen and headed back up to the main part of the palace. As soon as he was up in the hall, he saw guards coming his way and automatically switched direction and went down the opposite way, the habit of living on the streets as a thief kicking in. He wandered down the hall aimlessly with his hands in his pockets. He eventually found himself facing the royal wing. Ocean-Eyes hesitated under the archway of the hall and then stepped in. He glanced at the other doors for a moment and went to Kate’s rooms. He
knocked on her door and heard her call for him to come in and he entered. Ocean-Eyes shut the door behind him as Kate looked up and set aside the embroidering she had been doing once she saw who it was. She stood and embraced him and bid him to sit. He sat down gratefully and she sat next to him. “Look who’s out and about! You recover fast,” she commented with a smile that she always reserved for him. He smiled back. “Thank you for the clothes. They’re really fine,” he commented, pulling the clothes out away from him to examine them again. “This is more than I could ever afford even working for Lord Zenith and stealing.” She smiled. “It’s a gift. I know it won’t make up to what happened to you in the dungeon but hopefully, it will make up part of it,” she replied modestly. He let go of his clothes and twisted to watch her and they sat in companionable silence for a while. “You know that these clothes will take a dent out of your father’s treasury,” he said after a while. She smiled and her eyes glittered mischievously. “I have no real love for my father so that’s why I sent Lyle to tell you information if you told him the truth in reply to his question,” she replied in a quiet murmur. “Lyle and I have been working and worrying at the treasury for years, knowing that if it was depleted, my father would be dethroned by his own men and one of my brothers would rule in his place. I know my brothers well and I know that none of them have a bad bone in their body despite my father’s teachings.” “Was the marriage to Lord Zenith really necessary?” he asked with a sigh. She nodded, her face serious. “It was because that way, I can get Kyle close to the palace to do his work. He and I agreed on this long before my father chose the marriage but we never thought that it would be marriage that brought our plans together to work,” she replied quietly. She touched him on the arm. “I’m sorry, Ocean-Eyes. But I assure you that we are only marrying to be able to work together on this one thing. After that, we will have a priest revoke our marriage so it will be as if we never were married and we can go our separate ways.” He nodded. “It’s a good plan but it hurts more than you know. The hurt lessened after you told me this but it still hurts,” he replied in the same low voice. He stood and she stood with him. “But despite that, we need to keep up appearances and we can’t be seen together otherwise someone will suspect and tell your father. We can’t meet in secret anymore. If you have anything to tell me, send it through a messenger and make sure that the messenger gives the letter to me personally before he goes off otherwise there will be a risk of being found out.”
She nodded. “Good day, Ocean-Eyes, I hope you recover well enough to return home,” she said, raising her voice. “Thank you, Your Highness, good day,” he replied with a grin, raising his voice also. He opened the door and they exchanged a welltimed bow and curtsy as guards were coming up the hall and he left, shutting the door behind him. Before he turned around, he smoothed his face so that it was expressionless and started back up the hall. He tried to brush pass the guards but their hands caught him around his shoulders and held him. “You, boy, what were you doing in the princess’s room?” one demanded. “Lord Zenith sent me to bring a message to his wife-to-be,” he replied evenly. They scrutinized him for a moment and then thrust him away from them. “Keep your hands off of the palace furniture and decoration, thief, or you’ll be sorry,” the same guard growled roughly. He bowed slightly to them and turned to leave but one of them kicked him in the back, sending him sprawling onto the stone floor. They laughed and he scrambled weakly to his feet angrily. “Thief, you’ll always be a thief no matter what you call yourself,” another snarled. They laughed at his angry expression. “And don’t think that Princess Katherine holds you in favor. The royal family would never make you a favorite.” He cursed them with the street slang he had picked up as a child on the streets and he turned to leave but a boot slammed into his shoulders and sent him flying against the wall. His head made solid contact with the wall with a thud and he slid to the floor unconscious. The guards gasped and panicked, not knowing what to make of the situation. As they heard someone coming up the hall, they picked up Ocean-Eyes’ body and tossed it into a storage room and shut the door. Ocean-Eyes regained consciousness but he was too weak and dizzy to stand. His head pounded and he couldn’t make his limbs move. He was dimly aware of someone opening the storage room and there was a gasp and he felt himself being picked up. But then he was unconscious again. When he woke again, he found he was in bed and his head felt better and a worried Heart was by his side. A cool towel was on his forehead and he opened his eyes. “Who did this to you?” Heart asked softly. “Guards, patrolling the royal wing,” he whispered. Heart left and a moment later, she came back kicking three guards in through the door with Lord Zenith close behind. He recognized the men and they recognized him too and they visibly gulped in fear. “Are these the men?” Heart demanded. Lord Zenith stood in the back, saying nothing. Ocean-Eyes closed his eyes as a wave of pain racked his mind and he opened his eyes again. “Yes,” he replied.
One of them yelped as Heart hit him over the head as he made a rude gesture at Ocean-Eyes. “Why did you attack my spymaster?” Lord Zenith asked quietly. “You realized this attack will be seen as hostility against our alliance with the king.” “He’s gutter-scum, not worth protecting,” the leader growled. “He’ll always be a thief no matter what you call him. You can’t train a wild dog to be a pet dog because he’ll always be the same no matter what.” “He’s my spymaster and it’s his skills as a thief that I need him for,” Lord Zenith growled, advancing on the men. The flinched back but Heart held them still. “You will go to your king and tell him what you have done. If you don’t, then the alliance he had almost succeeded in establishing between the two of us will be annulled and he will have three guards to blame for that. Go!” The guards scrambled to obey but found that Heart still held them and tried to twist out of her grasp. “And stay away from my son,” she growled in their ears and let them go. They ran out the door with fright. Ocean-Eyes grinned at his mother and his lord. “You two are a little over-protective,” he commented. They laughed and sat down on the floor next to his bed. “No, I just want the king to be jumpy and sleepless and worrying,” Lord Zenith said with a grin. “That way he won’t get any sleep because he has to watch his guards and people, making sure they don’t offend us so that we can’t threaten the alliance.” Ocean-Eyes grinned and sat up. He beckoned for his belt pouches and his mother dumped them into his lap. He dug through them and found the pain-relieving pills and popped one into his mouth and swallowed. After a few minutes, the pain in his head faded and he climbed slowly out of bed. He pulled on the fine shirt and his boots. He remembered his knives and strapped them in their places with Lord Zenith and Heart looking on. He looked up when he finished they smiled back. “Should I bring my sword too?” he asked. Lord Zenith shook his head. “With all those knives I don’t think you do,” he replied with a teasing smile. Ocean-Eyes scowled at the other man and started out the door. Lord Zenith stopped him by calling his name. “Where are you going now? Going to get hit over the head again by someone else?” “No, just going to have a talk with the king,” Ocean-Eyes replied and strode out the door. The two he left behind stared where at the doorway and then at each other. “What?” they yelped together and scrambled to catch up with him. Heart caught his arm as they caught up with him in the hallway. “Are you crazy? Why would you want to talk with the man who tried to
have you killed and the result was you in a bed for a week?” Heart demanded. Ocean-Eyes shook her off but never stopped. “Because I have to set things right. These things aren’t going to mend themselves and I want to set it right with the king that my father killing his brother was a misunderstanding the whole time,” OceanEyes replied evenly. “I don’t like the man but I can’t leave something like this untended otherwise it would be worse than it is now in the future.” “You’re smarter than I thought,” Lord Zenith commented. OceanEyes only gave a grin in reply before turning down the hall to what he thought was the throne room. He got there eventually and he was announced to the king and was allowed through. He walked calmly down the runner and stopped where the runner ended and bowed low to the king with his companions. “Rise,” the king commanded quietly. “Your Majesty, I have come to make amends,” Ocean-Eyes began and glanced at the king who nodded for him to go on. “As I have heard it, my father killed your brother, not knowing who he was, for taking something of value from him. It was wrong of my father to kill a man for just stealing but your brother stole from him. In the city, stealing from the King of Thieves is a grave offense and the King can decide how to punish the thief depending on the value of the item. The item your brother stole was of very great importance to my father so he saw it was necessary to kill him. That was before he found who the man really was.” “What is your point…Your Majesty?” the king asked, a little insulting. “My point is that it was all a misunderstanding, Your Majesty. During the nights before my father died, I would hear him say to himself and to me that he was sorry for all the terrible things and misunderstandings that he had to go through and do. I didn’t know what he meant back then but now I know,” Ocean-Eyes replied. “And besides, my father killed your brother which hurt you and you killed my father in return and it hurt me so we are even. You have already punished my father for killing a member of the royal family and according to law, the punishment for that offense is instant death so you have fulfilled that part. I haven’t done anything to you but yet, you are after me because of my father’s deeds. A father’s deed shouldn’t be passed onto his child because it just isn’t fair.” The king smiled, his expressionless courtier mask sliding off his face. “You have some nerve to come and tell this to me so boldly. Usually I punish people severely for speaking out against me but this time, I’m glad I actually listened. You are pardoned, Ocean-Eyes, King of Thieves. Perhaps us two Kings ought to work together instead?” the king asked. “I would accept your offer, Your Majesty had I not already sold my services and loyalty someone else already. But an alliance between
us two kings can be arranged,” he told the king boldly. He knew he had to hold his own here as a fellow king, not a commoner, and he knew that then the king would give him the respect he deserved. Heart tapped his shoulder and he turned to look at her and she raised her eyebrows. He smiled, knowing what she wanted and turned back to the king. “I believe that introductions are in order,” he announced, beckoning Heart forward. “Your Majesty, I proudly present my mother, Heart, Queen of Thieves, and Pirate Queen of your very own seas.” The king stood as he noticed his mother. Ocean-Eyes smiled to himself, knowing that Heart’s beauty that he had inherited from her had caught the king’s attention. The king stepped off the throne and walked down the few steps and stood in front of his mother. OceanEyes turned warily to make sure it wasn’t a threat and the king ignored him. “My lady, I know appearances may deceive but I am surprised that you are the Pirate Queen and the Queen of Thieves that my subjects often complain to me about, especially my navy commanders,” the king said, lifting Heart’s hand and brushing his lips on it. “My son thinks to highly of me, actually. I’m actually a former Queen of Thieves. My successor kicked me off my throne a few years ago and put a price on my head so I had to leave after I gave birth to my son and gave him to his father,” she replied, putting emphasis on the last word. The king flinched slightly but gracefully made it into a bow of his head. Heart watched with amusement. “I loved Ocean-Eyes’ father and I miss him. Now that the former King of Thieves lives on in Ocean-Eyes, I have made it my job to make sure that he lives on and achieves old age and dies in bed from old age instead of being knifed in the back one night in some dark alleyway.” “What makes you think a woman like you can protect someone like Ocean-Eyes who can follow you like a shadow and you wouldn’t even know he was there until he made himself known?” the king asked, glancing at Ocean-Eyes. Ocean-Eyes grinned because that had been exactly what he had been doing the night he was caught. “Because the skills he has are the ones I taught him,” Heart replied with an innocent smile. The king’s eyes narrowed in a way that dared her to prove it and in reply, she held her hand up, holding a ring of keys in it. “Is this yours?” For a moment there was silence and the king felt for the ring of keys on his belt and finding them gone, he looked up and threw back his head and laughed, the sound of it echoing through the hall. Heart handed the keys back to the king with a flourish. The king took them from her and smiled. Ocean-Eyes left them to it with a bow and Lord Zenith followed close behind. “In all my years, I have never heard the king laugh like that,” Lord Zenith commented. Ocean-Eyes only grinned and trudged out the door. He led Lord Zenith to the royal wing and to Kate’s room.
He knocked and then let himself in and Lord Zenith followed behind him without a word. Kate stood as they entered and curtsied to Lord Zenith. Zenith bowed back and Kate looked at the young lord with begging eyes and he grinned and nodded and she threw herself at Ocean-Eyes and kissed him. Ocean-Eyes’ hands were thrown up in surprise and he heard Lord Zenith laughing. Kate let go of him and sat down on the couch and patted the space next to him. Ocean-Eyes sat down and Kate lay against him and made herself comfortable, arranging his hands and arms around her. “What’s this?” he asked his lord. “Kate told me how much she loved you and reminded me about the purpose of our marriage. I decided to let her be happy rather than forbidding her from seeing you or even touching you like a normal husband would be,” the young lord replied with a smile. “And I know how much you love and care for her.” “Kate told me about your brilliant ideas for the rebellion and the purpose of your marriage too,” Ocean-Eyes commented. “I think it’s a good idea and was wondering where I would fit in all of this.” “You’re our spymaster, of course! Together with Denier, you will devise the tactics of how our calm take-over would come out. You will be there every step of the way, making sure each task that needs to be done is completed. Denier will make sure that he can get information from the king, acting as his right-hand man,” Lord Zenith replied excitedly. Kate motioned for him to be quiet and he quieted. “He offered me an alliance with him today,” he told Kate. She smiled. “Kyle, maybe you wouldn’t have to marry me after all,” Kate murmured. “Tell Father that you and Ocean-Eyes were discussing it and you thought that since Ocean-Eyes is in your employ, it would still be an alliance of sorts and Father would get the King of Thieves as an ally as a bonus.” Lord Zenith shot to his feet, smiling. “Is this what you want, Ocean-Eyes?” he asked. Ocean-Eyes smiled and nodded. “Good, then I’m off because I have no intention of marrying a childhood friend of mine, no matter how beautiful.” And with that, he left the room. Ocean-Eyes shook his head and pulled Kate up with him. “Come on, we better catch up with him before he does something,” Ocean-Eyes said. Kate laughed and they ran out the door together and chased after the young lord who was making his own forced march down the hallway back to the throne room. Laughing, they joined in and soon people were grinning at their amusement of marching down the hall, feet lifted off the ground, shoulders straight, heads held up high. When they reached the hall that led to the throne room, they stopped fooling off and smoothed out rumpled clothing and walked normally to the door. They were announced and they ran in with smiles
and Ocean-Eyes stopped as he saw the king was leaning over, inches away from his mother’s face. Heart saw him and cleared her throat and the king hastily sat straight on the throne again. Kate showed no emotion at what her father was doing but instead curtsied deeply to him. Behind her, Ocean-Eyes and Lord Zenith bowed. “Rise,” the king called. “What’s this? What’s going on, Katherine?” Kate quickly told her father about their new arrangement and the king nodded absently every now and then and when she finished, he smiled. “My lord, do you agree with this proposal?” the king asked the young lord. “It was Katherine who came up with the idea, sire, and I approved of it otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I can see that my spymaster loves your daughter very much and to torture him in this way is the cruelest way so I decided not to have my spymaster writhe in pain from his broken heart at night and let Kate marry the man she loves,” the young lord replied. The king stepped down from his throne and took his daughter’s hand in one and Ocean-Eyes’ hand in another. He looked at OceanEyes with a smile. “Ocean-Eyes, twice you have let me see in different ways today. I would like to say that I would be proud to have you as my son. Though you may not forgive me for the death of your father, I hope we can at least be friends someday. I will respect your judgment and requests as a fellow king,” the king told him. He joined their hands together and they intertwined their fingers. “My dear Katherine, I hope that you find happiness with this man you have chosen to marry and worked so hard at to do so.” Kate smiled at her father and then at Ocean-Eyes. “I will and I promise, Father,” she replied, not taking her eyes off of Ocean-Eyes’ face. And with that, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him for all to see. Lord Zenith grinned and glanced at Heart who was smiling at her son’s happiness and joy. Selena, who had followed them in unnoticed as soon as she saw the marching group pass her in the hall, gritted her teeth slightly. She had always liked Ocean-Eyes and even dreamed of becoming his love after Lord Zenith was married. She didn’t know why she felt jealous because she had told herself time and again that Ocean-Eyes wouldn’t love someone like her, but yet she was. She casually leaned against something solid and it turned out to be a small glass table and accidentally knocked it over, shattering it. She flushed and bent to gather the pieces of glass as everyone in the room stared at her and instead cut her hands on the broken glass. The next thing she knew, Ocean-Eyes was next to her and had pulled on his gloves and pushed all the pieces together. He helped her up with a smile and she smiled back. Servants came forward and briskly swept away the pieces of glass. He examined her hands and when he found them to be minor cuts, he let them go. Kate came up
beside him and tucked her hand into his. When he wasn’t looking, she gave the other girl a warning look. Selena too a step back and lowered her eyes to the floor. Ocean-Eyes noticed Selena’s odd behavior but said nothing and went back to where the king stood. “You better teach that clumsy food taster of yours how not to be clumsy,” the king commented as they came. “That glass table was a gift.” “Sorry, Your Majesty, she’s not usually like this,” Ocean-Eyes apologized for Selena. Selena, who was on Ocean-Eyes’ other side, lowered her eyes to the ground again, embarrassed. “Well, never mind now. You go and enjoy yourself in the palace, Ocean-Eyes. I have some business to attend to today,” the king said. They all knew a dismissal when they heard one and with that, they bowed and curtsied deeply to the king before going out the great doors of the throne room. Once in the hall, Kate threw herself at Ocean-Eyes who caught her with a laugh. She let go of him after a while and turned to Lord Zenith who patiently waited beside them with Selena behind him, smiling at his friends’ happiness. Selena sulked quietly and silently the back behind them. She quietly slipped away from them and they didn’t notice her leave them as they started down the hall.
The king watched his youngest daughter and the love of her life walk out the door. As the door closed, he could hear them laughing joyfully in the hall before the sound was cut off. Heart sat next to him on a chair he had the servants bring for her earlier. “Your son is surprising,” he said thoughtfully to her. She nodded. “I didn’t think that he would have the courage to come to you and say what he did,” she replied. She stood suddenly and smoothed out her clothes. “Well, I have things to tend to in the city.” He reached out and gripped her arm and she froze at the sudden contact. “Will you be back to see me?” he asked her. She slowly turned, smiling. “Did I just hear you ask me to come back, Your Majesty?” she teased but before he could reply, she shook her head. “No, I can’t, Your Majesty. I have some business tonight concerning a few robberies and patrolling the streets tonight for thieves with Ocean-Eyes’ men – tonight’s the Fall Festival. All citizens, no matter how poor will be there.” “I’ll send some of my guards to help you then. I should have done this a long time ago,” the king said, looking around but Heart was already shaking her head. “No, Your Majesty, it would be better if there was no government involvement. Pardon me for saying, Your Majesty, but the citizens fear you and the festival would be over as soon as it begins if you send your men,” Heart told him with a small shake of her head as if the citizens were being silly about their fear. That made the king smile. “Very well then, Heart, I hope to see you soon again. It was nice talking and meeting with you. Not many women I’ve met are like you,” the king told the woman. Heart curtsied in reply and covered the distance between the dais and the throne room in long strides, much like her son’s, the king noticed. When the Pirate Queen left, King Harold sat thoughtfully in his chair, thinking of all the people he had met today. A man seemed to appear beside him out of the shadows of the throne room. As he came into the light, the light revealed him as Lyle Denier, the king’s spymaster. The man’s face was relaxed and cheery and he waited for his king to notice him. “Did you tell Ocean-Eyes about the treasury and how low it is?” the king said with a sneer of contempt of Ocean-Eyes. The man bowed in reply. “I did, sire.” “And what was his reply? And my daughter’s?”
“They were overjoyed, in fact. Spies in the Zenith castle reported that Ocean-Eyes told this information to Lord Zenith. Your daughter ordered me to find Ocean-Eyes and tell him the news in return for his relationship with her, which made my job easier there,” the man said, coming around so that he faced the king. “That woman could be of use, sire.” “Yes, I was thinking of that too. The Pirate Queen can be of good use with the right kind of bribe that any pirate would love,” the king said, leaning back in his throne. “And this engagement of my daughter to Ocean-Eyes will allow me to keep a close eye on the boy and perhaps find something treacherous he might do again.” “You can also eliminate the main leaders of this rebellion brewing in your reign, sire. Those people live in your roof this night and will be back again soon enough,” Lyle observed. “No, we need to wait for the right moment. Arresting them now would only inflame the rebellion. We need to construct an inescapable prison in which we can contain the King of Thieves, if he really can steal himself out of the prisons we have here. And Katherine is a dear girl and I enjoyed watching her grow up but if she really is in the middle of this rebellion with her husband-to-be and her friend, Lord Zenith, then I will have to make the arrest,” the king said instantly, shaking his head. He turned his whole attention to his spymaster. “Continue feeding the rebels false information under the pretense that you are working for them and knowing these things through sorting papers on and in my desk and looking at the treasury.” “Very good, sire, I won’t let you down,” Lyle said, bowing deeply. “I hope so, Lyle. If not, then I’ll soon be looking for a new spymaster and you will no longer exist in this world to spill my secrets and my orders to the rebels,” the king growled, looking the younger man dangerously in the eye. The man didn’t flinch but visibly swallowed hard, the only sign that he was frightened, and bowed again and left as quietly and quickly as he had come. The king sighed and signaling to his attendants and guard, he retired for the night.
Ocean-Eyes opened his eyes, blinked twice and then sat up abruptly, not knowing where he was. He relaxed as he recognized his room in the palace and lay back down on the bed again, stretching like cat on the bed. He turned onto his front and buried his face in his pillow for a moment before climbing out of bed. Feeling a little drowsy, he made his way over to the washbasin filled with cool water and splashed a little on his face, waking him up. He shook his head, shaking water droplets off of his face and reached up to the back of his head to his hair. He undid the ties that held his hair in a once-neat braid and did it up again. Looking around for his clothes, he found a fresh outfit had been laid out and again, it was the same fine clothes only this time, it was in black. He touched the material of the clothing and found that it wasn’t the same fine silk that his previous clothes were made of but of the best quality cotton that money could buy. He slipped the shirt over his head and found that it was warm and was thankful for it and pulled on the pants and a matching fine black leather belt. He felt along the hem and found that it had been embroidered in a neat little pattern that also kept the edges tucked in and from fraying or catching on something. He smiled and as he lifted the cloak, a stiff black article fell out of it. He clasped the cloak around his shoulders by its fine silver clasp and picked up the military ranger cap. The smile widening on his face, he pulled the hat on. He strapped his weapons in their usual places and once again, glanced at his sword in its leather sheath, not knowing whether to take it or not and decided not to. As he was looking at himself in the mirror, Lord Zenith came in bearing his bow quiver and Ocean-Eyes’ also and laughed, seeing him in front of the mirror. He thrust the bow and the quiver into his arms. “You look fine, Ocean-Eyes. Kate did a really good job with the border – she’s really good at embroidery you know, but she’s too modest and says that it’s not really that good,” the young lord said with a smile. Ocean-Eyes smiled back at the mention of Kate’s name and put the quiver on his back, his bow tucked into it. “Take the hat off though, it makes you look like an assassin.” Ocean-Eyes rolled his eyes up towards his eyebrows to see his hat and with a sigh, he took it off and laid it gently on the bed and followed Lord Zenith out the door of his room. The young lord led the way out of the suites and down turns of halls and out the back doors of the palace onto the practice grounds where the palace guards and knights and squires trained and practiced.
Everyone was wary of who he was and stopped to watch him carefully and suspiciously as he made his way across the yard, trotting with liquid grace behind Lord Zenith to keep up. The young lord paid no heed to the three dozen pairs of eyes on them and pressed on to the archery range the farthest away that was open. “You better keep that thief away from us, Zenith,” one of the knights growled under his breath as the young lord passed him. OceanEyes stopped at the words and Lord Zenith did too but did nothing, only standing there to see what his spymaster would do. “Is that a challenge?” Ocean-Eyes asked cheerfully. “It certainately can be, gutter scum,” the knight growled. The knight glanced at Lord Zenith and Ocean-Eyes’ hand shot out in a flash and soon was back against his side, this time with something in his fist. The knight felt something pass by his chest and looked around for a moment, surprised, and turned his attention back to Ocean-Eyes. “What good is your kind for anyway? Useless piece of trash…” The knight turned and Ocean-Eyes tapped him on the shoulder and he turned. Ocean-Eyes lifted the fist with the gold coin in front of the knight’s face. “Is this yours?” he asked politely. The knight stared blankly at the coin until he recognized it. He let out a roar of fury that sounded out throughout the courts and launched himself at Ocean-Eyes. The younger man backed out of the way with the same grace he had used to tail his lord and dodged the knight’s wild blows with his sword easily. Ocean-Eyes laughed and darted one way and the other. “Rule number one: Don’t use all of your energy in a single attack,” he said solemnly when the knight paused for breath. Ocean-Eyes quickly slid his foot behind one of the knight’s and hooked the man’s ankle and pulled back towards him, causing the man to crash to the ground with a undignified grunt. Ocean-Eyes stood over the man with a smile and when the man finally gave up trying to get to his feet due to his heavy armor, Ocean-Eyes crouched down and rested his forearm on one of his knees and met the man’s eyes. “Rule number two: Don’t underestimate your opponent,” he told the man. The man snarled at the words and tried to roll to his feet but couldn’t. “And last but not least, rule number three: Wear lighter armor next time,” he said critically, this time reaching out and slapping the full armor. He got to his feet and then smiled again. “Oh, there is a rule number four: Learn how to get to your feet with heavy armor if you choose to wear it for your practices.” The people listening laughed and cheered and Ocean-Eyes bowed low to them and went to join Lord Zenith again. “Don’t get cocky. That knight was just overconfident," Lord Zenith warned him. Ocean-Eyes only grinned and jogged ahead. Lord Zenith sighed and jogged to keep up with his spymaster. They reached the archery range. Ocean-Eyes strung his bow up and put an arrow to the string. Without aiming, he drew back the string
and arrow and let it loose. Everyone watched as the arrow hit the target in the center. Ocean-Eyes shot another arrow after the first one and it neatly sliced the first arrow in two. The onlookers gasped with delight. Ocean-Eyes bowed to Lord Zenith who was staring at the two arrows, one split. The young lord grinned and drew his bow. He let go and his arrow hit the target in the same spot. The arrowhead was wedged tightly together with Ocean-Eyes’ second arrow. The first arrow’s shaft fell away from the target board in two pieces. “Impressive skill, my lord,” Ocean-Eyes said to Lord Zenith. He looked at the young lord and found him staring at the spot where his arrow had hit. “That was completely luck,” he murmured. Ocean-Eyes laughed. “Don’t be so modest, my lord. I’m sure that even if it were luck, you can shoot just as well,” Ocean-Eyes told the lord. Ocean-Eyes pulled his bow back and was about to release the arrow when a female voice called his name. He abruptly pointed his bow into the air and let the string go slowly so that the arrow didn’t shoot. He turned to the voice and found Kate the owner of the voice. Men passing by her bowed low to her as they passed. Ocean-Eyes only jogged up to her. She smiled as he approached. “What are you doing here? I’d thought that you would have something like a class this morning,” Ocean-Eyes said warmly. She smiled back. “I just wanted to come watch my warrior at his practicing,” she said, placing a hand on his arm. He grinned at her and covered her hand with one of his. “All right,” he replied, smiling right into her eyes.
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