The Art of Thievery - Chapter 1: Every ending has a beginning
"I pledge my allegiance to the Thieves Guild, and promise to uphold its purpose, for which it stands. I promise to steal without mercy from the rich and share the spoils with my fellow thieves with no remorse. I shall be bound, by both body and soul, to the indivisible Guild and, until my final breath, I promise to be the harbinger of justice in this corrupted country," I recited. A thrill of excitement and responsibility shuddered down my back.
"Very well, you are almost bound to the Guild. You must now accomplish the final task that will secure your place amongst oir ranks. I believe that you know what must be done and what is at stake if you falter..." stated Rasputin, exhuming his deathly aura all over the dark room; the spine-chilling room ruled by a terrifying overlord that I may soon call home, I thought.
"I do. I must steal at least fifteen francs from a nobleman, come back here and add the money to the treasury without the use of violence," I replied, gulping down and attempting to hide the fear that crept inside my body.
"You have until nightfall. If you return empty-handed, you will be seen as a traitor and an enemy. Our people will be watching you," declared Rasputin. He towered over me and dominated like an impatient executioner.
I nodded in acknowledgment, whilst he cast a final look of dread upon my nervous face.
Quickly, I made my way out of the ominous cavern and into the surprisingly clean sewers that would lead me to the morning sun of Paris.
The humid, yet icy air stayed in the hidden caves and sewers that the Guild used as a home. It was well protected and certainly well hidden. Gazing in awe at the towering boulders and jagged rocks, I realised that it could survive through sieges, floods, storms and even an apocalypse. I could not yet call it home, but it was certainly a place that I could adore living in.
I crawled down one of the many escape tunnels that would lead me to a hidden part of the sewers. It was amusing to think that this vicinity had been so well constructed and adapted to the countless generations of thieves that the sewers were not even mediocre, waste-filled sewers. You see, water and waste no lomger flowed through these ancient pipes.
Emerging into the central pipes, I was greeted by the shrieking and squealing of rats and mice. I climbed down from the hidden pipe, remembering to shield the entrance from any unfortunate wandered of the sewers. Upon doing so, I even managed a smile as I remembered the motto of the Guild: "You can never be too careful". Reminiscing the countless times that I studied these sewers, I turned right and walked twenty feet towards a shining light in the forlorn underground vaults. Such a hideous trade: this perfect sanctuary for the filthy, damp air of Paris.
Even though it was impossible for me to be seen, I often felt a relinquishing anxiety, a chilling fear of being spotted. Upon climbing up, my head jolted out briskly. The wind did not delay to howl with cold excitement. Some thieves enjoyed their "promenades" in Paris, and others lived in the peacefulness of the countryside whilst others, like me, preferred the inside underground fortresses. I shivered immediately, and let out a tense sigh.
Eventually, I arose in a narrow passage, surrounded by a group of stone buildings. I turned around, to find the passageway continuing through some leafy shrubs. Causing some bristling and rustling, I pushed through to emerge into a nearly deserted road: Rue au Pain. Here I would find, at best, a wealthy trader or a poor lawyer. If I was to find a nobleman, it would have to be more inside Paris and not in the gloomy suburbs. And so, I would most likely need to "borrow" a horse.
I walked at a quick pace towards the closest stable, which would be five minutes away at best. The mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread floated in the air, filling my body. At the same time, the stench of aging cheese equally dominated the street but I had to stay concentrated. My attention doubled, my eyes looking for any possible threats.
Focus was essential, just like for any task. The stakes were high and nothing other than complete perfection could guarantee success. I sped forth, seeing the stables in the corner of my eye. Looking around to see if anyone was watching, I approached the wooden gates. The warm, rich smell of horse swept away any unpleasant odour, and I grinned as memories flowed through my mind.
I jumped over the fence, unlocking it moments after landing. The stable master had been foolish enough to leave a couple of his magnificent beasts saddled. Creeping with my head down, I approached a sturdy, black bay. After gazing behind my back and into the ghostly barn, I hoisted myself up with an effort, before urging the horse to gallop. It whinnied with surprise, but obeyed and sped off. A series of French insults bellowed behind me, but I was on my way and ahead of schedule.
Riding past Chatou, a dangerous excitement burnt inside of me. I was relishing this opportunity and hoping with all my faith that I would succeed. This whole situation seemed ethereal. The buildings were taller, wider and far more elegant than before. A blind man could tell from the notorious and unique scent that he had really entered Paris. An excited spark jolted through my body, and my tingling bones felt prepared, knowing that my constant determination was going to pay off. My objective would be close by, and it was only midday.
As I passed the Place des Voges, the tension and stress was getting to me. I could tell as I was accidentally focused on listening to an annoying old couple nearby:
"You know, cheri, Sully lived here," said an old woman, trying to seem cultured.
"Who?" coughed the old man at her side.
"Sully! He was that finance person for one of the kings!" she yelled.
I sighed at their ignorance and slight stupidity. A sudden urge gnawed at me, and I fell awfully tempted to say to them:
"You know, cheries, Sully did not live but he had his dealings with the Thieves Guild on this very square. And, he was the Minister of Finance for Henri IV." Nonetheless, I held myself back, and refocused on the task at hand.
Deep inside Paris, I observed my surroundings and the numerous people who occupied them. The street was bustling with activity, for everyone had something to do. The traders were screaming, the people were running, bartering and the guards were patrolling, shouting and letting their raucous laughter fill the air. I gulped, changing direction into a deserted alley.
I descended from my mount, and once out of that dark alley I kept my head down and began to walk around. Many wealthy bourgeois wandered around, but no real noblemen. I knew that at least one would come. A little patience was needed, as always...
After what seemed to be an eternity, my patience was well rewarded as a guard appeared ahead. Such a sweet image, for he was talking with a nobleman. Rapidly, I set myself to a jogging pace, carefully approaching my target, trying to seem oblivious of their presence. Turning my head around innocently I perceived a velvet sack holding the key to my dream. I was ever so close! With haste, I turned my head again to the opposite direction. I added a worried look to my face to help "blend in" but my inner self was filled with excitement and joy.
Not seeing the nobleman or the guard, I must say that I collided into them perfectly. They completely lost balance, and I threw myself on the cobblestone with a loud thud, snatching the precious bag without drawing attention. The art of stealing truly is sublime, I thought. The guard began to bellow, crying out that it was an outrage, that he would have my head. Ironically, the nobleman started to help me up with a happy expression, calming down the guard whose face was fuming with rage. For a single moment, I actually felt a sliver of guilt trickle into my soul. However, it was for a single moment as the nobleman was a typical idiot, who started to laugh and insult me as if he was the King himself.
"Easy now officer, the world has spat on the face of this boy enough already, you would not wish to add to his woes. It's not his fault that he was born with hands instead of feet and feet instead of hands!" screamed the despicable man. His face was now red from laughter and his eyes were wide open. And wet. Oh, how I would have adored thumping that ugly grin off of his face.
But, I smiled stupidly, just trying to play along and avoid creating any needless quarrel. The arrogant-looking guard seemed to have calmed down but held his annoyed expression. His small piggish eyes looked at me in a piercing way, and I attempted to avoid them.
After leaving their wretched company, I turned around to be certain that all was well. How foolish of me! The nobleman paid his greetings to the guard and reached for his velvet purse as he walked away. Horrified, and rooted to the spot, I could only gaze at the anger emanating from him. He bellowed, searching for the guard once more and pushing the people around him wildly. Appearing like a wild, raging beast, he tossed innocent people to the ground suspecting all of them to be culprits. The guard ran towards him, his gleaming sword out of its protective sheath. Unlike the nobleman, the guard was looking for someone in particular, for the real culprit. Upon seeing the mischievous hood on top of my head, his face turned into tormented thunder and he had found his target.