CHAPTER 1

A beautiful thief has a doppelganger in the royal household. Will they ever meet, and if they do, what could happen? The Princess of Deone is spoiled, shy, and shallow; a "Provider" in the nearby village (thief) is compassionate, caring, and conscientious. What happens if things get all twisted around? Let's find out. Written in 3rd person POV; time setting: Medieval times; place: totally fictional - somewhere near Wales if you like geography stuff.

Deone Castle Courtyard

     Shallabre the Fair of Deone watched in horror as the man’s severed head rolled down from the platform and into the dirt at her feet, his lifeblood splattering the hem of her favorite blue day frock.  It just isn’t fair that Father be so cruel as to make me preside over such hideous events!

     To anyone in the small crowd, the Princess’ furrowed brow and seething glare seemed to be leveled at the atrocious beheading of the convicted thief; in reality, Princess Shallabre was outraged at the inconvenience of time ill-spent and her stained hemline.

     “Perhaps the Princess should have stayed on the balcony to oversee the execution.”

     Shallabre turned slightly, detecting thinly veiled laughter in Kennon DeGray‘s voice.

     “And so I was instructed … by Gwyneth.”

     “Then why didn’t you…”

     “Why didn’t I do as my governess recommended?”  Shallabre wasn’t sure how to answer, because the truth was just too horrible-sounding to admit.  It was morbid curiosity with this newly enforced punishment for thievery that made her want to see the spectacle, up close, front and center alongside the gawking common folk who’d gathered.

     “I really didn’t think it would happen.”

     “You didn’t believe the King meant what he decreed – that, if caught and convicted, a thief’s punishment would be death?”

     “Exactly.”  Shallabre took a thoughtful breath.  “He stole only food; not jewels nor anything of costly value.”

     “Thievery is thievery, Princess.  That’s all there is to it.” 

Kennon DeGray’s new position as Magistrate of Deone was not nearly as simple as he thought it would be, and certainly not as soul-satisfying as his appointed position as Princess Shallabre’s bodyguard.  When his father was Magistrate, thievery was dealt with much less harshly.  Death by beheading – or even the noose, for that matter – was held for only the brashest of crimes.  Kennon was sensing the tediousness of his father’s office more today than any other.  The elder Magistrate’s passing hadn’t hinted of grim drudgeries such as this execution.

     “I see you don’t take issue with this new law.”

     Kennon knew better than to look a royal straight in the eye, so he lowered his head and his voice.   “My job as Magistrate is to bring those who commit crime to justice,” he whispered.  “Any law the King demands is my duty to uphold.”

     Princess Shallabre’s slow exhalation told Kennon she was quickly tiring of his presence.

     “Do you take issue with this new law, Milady?”

     “Don’t be preposterous!  I would not dare think to question anything set forth by His Majesty.”  Shallabre excused him what her governess dubbed “the gracious, royal nod”. 

     “Good-day, Magistrate DeGray.”

     Kennon watched as she turned to walk away, the small crowd parting in feigned respect to the Princess of Deone.  Today’s deed had accomplished its intended purpose: to set an example to one and all of what would happen if caught and charged with thievery.  There were no grey areas with the King of this realm; there was no reason to justify stealing, he’d declared.  And so, after almost a year of trying to catch a thief, King Theroulde had caught one, and proven his point.

     The young Magistrate noticed that while every head bowed respectfully as Shallabre passed by, their faces were grimly set with intense hatred. No one loved the royals.

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     Sireda, only daughter born to Emeril of Deone, tirelessly worked alongside her two elder brothers, each sibling trying to outdo the other for baskets of grain gathered, a game that helped time quickly pass.  Labor in the fields of their village, the village closest to Deone’s royal boundaries, was a daily, back-breaking ritual that began before the sun rose and ended after it had set. 

     Sweat rolled down Sireda’s cheeks; wiping at it with her hand only made her face darker with earth than before.  Her brothers declared her a lad in a dress, for she worked without complaint and as diligently as any young man.  Monthly taxes were coming due, and when the King’s men were sent to collect, the numbers must satisfy … or else.

     Many in Sireda’s village were either elderly or babes, so the labor fell to those with strong backs and years younger than twenty.  It was times such as today that Sireda missed her mother.  Yes, her father ran a loving household, but their profession as providers for the village was not without danger … Sireda’s mother had been one to soothe her son’s weary bodies with hot, bone broth, stale bread, and loving words of encouragement after a night filled with deliveries.  Every village had its house of thieves, though no one would declare it to anyone, for it had been a custom of many years, if not allowed, at least tolerated by the royals.  As long as the villages met the ever-increasing taxes each month, the King’s men chose to turn a blind eye.

     But something had changed; Sireda just didn’t know what.

     For the past year, according to the royal household of Deone, that of being a provider was now one and the same of being a criminal.  What would her mother say if she could see Sireda, now … not only working at her brothers’ sides during the day, but gathering and delivering provisions by night, as well?  By her father’s own admission, Sireda was faster and stealthier than either of her siblings when it came to getting things done after dark.  Sireda was a talented criminal.

     Their own fields were few, so gathering in the forest and neighboring fields left untended by other villages was the only way providers made certain bellies were full and health was good.  Nothing was feared more than hunger and disease, until today.

     Whispers of panic and disbelief had spread quickly across the village.  It was early afternoon, when the sun was at its peak, that news of a capture – a male from their own village – came on the winds of gossip.  H’d been convicted a thief and doomed to a horrible fate.  When his name became known, no one could tell if the man, a widowed father of four, had been beheaded or hung for his touted crime - until the King’s enforcer rode in.  Grotesque and bloody, stuck upon a spear and thrust into the ground for all to see, was the head of a man Sireda had spoken to every day for the past several years.

     Pity and outrage for the scene his children would be forced to view welled in Sireda’s breast.  Throwing down her basket of corn, she began stomping towards the enforcer.

     “Let it be!”  Her eldest brother hissed, grabbing her by the arm.  “There’s naught you can do, now.”

      Sireda wrenched her arm from his grasp.

     “I hate the royal household!”  She grit her teeth, holding back the scream of contempt that threatened to erupt from her soul.  Turning, she stomped back towards her overturned basket of corn. 

     “May they all burn in the fire of a dragon’s rage.”

     “You don’t mean that, Sireda.”

     “Oh, yes I do; and quit dogging my footsteps.”  Sireda picked up the corn and threw it back into the basket.  “You’re just angry because I had the guts to say it.”

     “I didn’t say it because I value my head, dear sister … and you would be wise to take care with that temper of yours.”

     Sireda loved Johnathan, but he was too spineless at times for her to bear.

     “Big brother, you do have the cool head, I admit.  But if we all do or say nothing, what justice can be had?”

     “The royals are the only justice in Deone – you know that, Sireda.  Why do you want to fight where there can be no battle?”

     “You know there was no justice served today, only an example to the thieves, Johnathan … to us … did they but know who we were.”  Tears were streaming in angry rivulets down her cheeks already caked with dust and sweat.  “He didn’t give us up; he died in our stead, brother!”

     “Shhh; I know, I know.  But there was nothing any of us could do once he’d been accused and taken.  No village is certain what family is their Provider; no villager, if knowing, would ever give up their names.” 

     Johnathan’s arms were little comfort to Sireda, for all she could think about were four young children who were fatherless, today; fatherless because she’d been careless.

     “It’s not your fault.”

     “It was his jacket, given to keep me warm that night; it was his clothing so he got the blame” Sireda sobbed.  “Who could have seen me … who could have recognized his coat, and thought it to be him?”  

     “You say no villager would give up their Providers; so I have a question for you, brother.  Who is there among us, Johnathan, that we can no longer trust?” 

The End

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