The Scent of Gold: Chapter 3

The smell of rain was in the air when Thalia woke before dawn the next morning. Making her way up to the Castle wall in the darkness, she felt the stones within her reach and smiled to herself. The wall was rough, and it would be easily scaled by a single agile intruder. Tucking her cloak into her belt so it wouldn't catch on anything, she didn't hesitate further. Reaching as high as she could to find a hand hold, she pushed off from the ground and that was it.

Thalia was not a large girl, and her thin, wiry build had lent itself easily to her ability to avoid attention. She had spent most of her life staying in the shadows, only to strike when a likely target came into view. At first it was just pickpocketing, or something from a market stall, so she wouldn't starve, but then she discovered the riches that people held in their homes, and she just couldn't resist. It was then that she'd first heard rumors of the bracelet, and the name Hayden. The name was always whispered, revered, and the relic itself was just one of many that contained great power, and therefore, would be worth a great deal. Thalia vaguely wondered if it would be worth it to complete the set before selling, but pushed the thought away. Counting your sáv̱ra before they hatch again, Thalia, she scolded herself.

Pausing for a breath halfway up the wall, Thalia put her weight on her legs and looked towards the sky. The rainclouds were coming closer, they now loomed on the horizon and the sun was closer to rising. The sky was lightening, though she was climbing up the shadowed side of the wall, so she could remain hidden a bit longer. Taking care not to dash recklessly up the wall, she gauged each foothold carefully and moved steadily once more, up towards a window several stories up, cracked open to let in a fresh morning breeze. Clamoring through the opening, Thalia found herself in a hallway, and quickly dashed into the nearest doorway before gathering herself, taking her cloak off completely, and looking around. 

The room was not large, and it was filled with all manner of cloth items, kept fresh by the nearby open window, and out of the direct sunlight. She couldn't help running her hands over the finer velvets and silks, imported no doubt, before tucking her cloak away in a corner and grabbing a stack of fine white sheets. 

Carrying the sheets with both hands and holding them in front of her like a shield, Thalia managed, as usual, to avoid attention as she maneuvered her way down several narrow staircases, along a few hallways and down one very wide staircase, only to run straight into someone, spilling the sheets all over the stairs, their neat folds quickly undone. 

"Sorry, I'm new here," she said, scrambling for the sheets, keeping an eye on the shiny boots of the man she'd run into, but careful not to look any higher or show her face properly. "I'd just come off the boat last night, and this is my first day. Could you tell me, where is the laundry done? I would hate to make the lord's bed with sheets I've just dropped and gotten dirt all over."

"You are not from around here, are you?" A smooth, cultured male voice said. "That accent, I don't think I've heard it before." 

"No, I've come a very long way," Thalia said demurely, before whipping a knife out of her boot and brandishing it at the man, grabbing him by his collar and pulling him down the stairs into a darkened corner. With the knife pointed at his throat, she whispered. "One squeak out of you and this knife cuts that pretty throat of yours." For the man was handsome, in a noble, polished sort of way. His sandy hair was cut short, and he wore a clean and stylish outfit. "I've heard the lord keeps some kind of treasure beneath his castle. You'll help me to get it." She hissed. The nobleman barely nodded, and Thalia leapt back, sheathing her little knife again, and picking up the sheets, throwing them at the man, who caught them indignantly. "If anyone asks, you are helping a pretty young girl get these sheets to the laundry. I'm sure no one would take notice."

The man lead the way (at knifepoint, hidden under the sheets in Thalia's arms as she followed him) down to a hallway with no windows to the outside. Instead, torches lined the walls at even intervals, their light reflecting strangely in Thalia's eyes, so whenever the man thought to look behind him, he would turn again, frightened, and continue the charade. Thalia's guess had been correct, no one noticed the man carrying the sheets, and even less of them noticed her. Each time they passed someone the man would mutter "Laundry, laundry," and no one would look twice. They passed a room filled with steam and large tubs of water, as well as women who's faces were as red as lobsters, and dropped the sheets off there. 

"From here I go alone." Thalia told him. "Tell me the directions, and if you mention this to anyone, I will find you, and cut off your..." She gestured downward with the knife. "Katalávete? Understand?"

The man nodded, and dashed away as quickly as he could. Thalia ran as well, unsure if her threat would truly hold. The gateway to the vault was hidden in a storage room filled with barrels of grain and sand. Behind the third barrel,  was a stone that stuck out slightly more than the rest. Pull out the stone, and take the key that lay behind it, to open a trapdoor in the floor.  The relic rested in a box, inside a barrel of black sand. Pulling out the box, Thalia resisted opening it, but only for a moment. 

The gold bracelet inside was a thick band, engraved with patterns of vines and snakes, and inlaid with precious gems. The inside of the bracelet was smooth and cool, and Thalia traced her fingertips across every inch of it, before putting it back in the box and tucking it under her arm, thinking of a plan of escape. She dared not go back up through the castle, even to retrieve her cloak. Not after someone knew her face. She could buy a new one anyway, with the money this bracelet would give her, but was there any other way out? Turning, she saw a tunnel leading out of the vault, and without a second thought, she closed the trapdoor and followed the tunnel out.

It was a long distance, the tunnel was dark as pitch, and Thalia stumbled along it as it twisted and turned. She lost all sense of direction more than once, until she finally saw the glimmer of daylight through the slats of a weathered wooden door. Pushing it open very slowly, she saw she emerged near the wharf, where a ship was docking with still more starry eyed rich tourists looking for a vacation on the island. Looking at the door from this side, she could see it was well disguised, and the tide line was above it. Even now, water lapped at her ankles and at the base of the door, and Thalia counted herself lucky. Had she come at the wrong time, the tunnel would have been flooded, and she would have been trapped. It was there, sitting under the docks as the storm rolled in, that Thalia opened the box again. As if in a trance, after running her fingers over its intricate surface again, Thalia slipped the relic onto her left wrist, and admired it. Maybe, she could just wear it for a little bit, until she found a buyer.

The End

1 comment about this story Feed