Shallabre glared at the servant who was washing her frock. She crossed her arms over her slip as her new governess, Gwyneth, sighed.
“You should have stayed where I told you,” she said and Shallabre turned her glare to her. Gwyneth just stared back until Shallabre looked away. “Why did you go down there, Princess?”
Before Shallabre could answer, someone knocked. Gwyneth ushered her behind the curtain and she got into a clean blue frock.
“Prince Randolph,” she heard Gwyneth said and Shallabre sighed quietly. “What brings you here?”
“Is my sister well?” he asked.
“Yes, come in,” she said as Shallabre came around.
Randolph walked in with his cane, smiling as Shallabre sat down at her vanity and passed him her brush. Brushing her hair seemed to be something Randolph loved to do for a reason unknown to her. Anything to make her sickly brother smile, though….
“I hear you had a front row seat,” he said and Shallabre rolled her eyes.
“You could say that,” she said. “I can’t believe Father is making me go to those executions!”
“We have to have a presence,” he said, pausing to work on a knot of stubborn hair. “Even more so now that Father has enacted the new law.”
“It’s no place for a lady,” she argued stubbornly.
“Then you shouldn’t have left the balcony,” Gwyneth said as she hung the frock by the fire to dry.
Shallabre rolled her eyes again but didn’t have an argument so she sat quietly. As he brushed her hair, she looked at Randolph sadly. Randolph’s mother had died giving birth to him and he was born very ill and weak. Because of this, their father didn’t see him as an equal; he wasn’t even allowed to sit in the throne room with them during the day. It broke Shallabre’s heart and she was doing all she could to change her father’s mind. So far, nothing she said or did made a difference.
“What’s upsetting you?” Randolph asked and she swiped away the single tear on her cheek.
“Nothing,” she said quickly. “What are you doing today?”
“More resting,” he muttered and even coughed. “The weather is changing seasons.”
Shallabre just sighed.
Sireda bundled her hair up into a bun. Johnathan handed her the bag and usual clothes.
“Remember, stay away from the castle tonight,” he drilled. “It’s too risky.”
“But that’s what they’ll be expecting,” she argued. “The security won’t be as tight.”
“I’m sorry, sister, but you have no way of knowing that.”
She sighed. “But I do, Johnathan. I can’t explain it, but I do.”
She was about to leave, sack in hand, but he stopped her. His eyes were pained.
“Please,” he begged. “Just for a couple nights. We can’t lose you, too.”
Sireda sighed, part from frustration and part from sadness. “If it will ease your mind.”
“Thank you,” he said and embraced her.
As the door shut, though, she had no intention of keeping her promise. They wouldn’t get anything for the families if she stuck to the richer villages. Besides, if her hunch was correct, she could get prime produce. It had been years since anyone even had a strawberry.
Making sure everything was as it should be, Sireda slipped into the shadows. The shadows were where Sireda felt the most comfortable. She was in her element and her small frame allowed her to squeeze into smaller spaces and move nimbly.
It only took her half an hour to get to the palace wall. She glowered at it from her place in the shadows. It was a new addition, built after the queen had died. It just reaffirmed the king’s suspicions and hatred for his people. Whether he knew it or not, that hatred was shared. Just looking at the palace made her blood boil in fury as she remembered the looks on the four children’s faces as they sobbed by their father’s head. What kind of monster would make young children witness such a wretched thing!?
She took a few deep breaths. Going in while in a temper would only result in her slipping up. She may be the best thief in Deone, but if she’s learned one thing over the years it was this: a hot head is the first thing to get you in danger.
She was going to move forward when a door opened and she pressed herself to the wall. She let out a silent sigh of relief. It was just the blacksmith’s son and her best friend, Andrei. He was carrying a large bucket of spare iron and coming right in her direction. She held her breath and stood still. He didn’t see her as he dropped the bucket off and wiped his hands cleaned.
“I know you’re there,” he said and she bit her lip. “Whoever you are, remember what happened today. We appreciate all you do, but we can’t stand to see another person murdered.”
He went back inside and she felt a little guilty. Not even Andrei knew she was the Provider. He probably would stop her if he did.
Once his door was shut, she sprinted from her hiding spot to the weak area in the castle’s walls. She had snuck in here countless times. Most of the things she stole were for healing remedies when a child would get sick or someone would hurt themselves in the fields.
Tonight, though, she had a different list. Tonight she would take the best of their table, starting with the fruits. The king would learn that murdering innocent people would only bring him more strife.
She went to the gardens first. As she suspected, there wasn’t anyone about. She slipped a few strawberry plants and grape vines into the sack. The vegetables had already been harvested which meant she’d have to go inside to do that.
She thought it over, though. That would be more dangerous than stealing these and the herbs for the child who was sick again. Her eye twitched in agitation as she accepted defeat and tied a bundle of apples to her waist.
“I was so worried,” Johnathan groaned when she returned an hour and a half later. “Let me see.”
She put everything on the table and he shut his eyes. He slammed his fist on the table.
“Damn it, Sireda!” he shouted and she shoved her hands into the pockets of the trousers she was wearing. She looked away. “What did I say!?”
“I was right, though,” she argued. “There wasn’t a single person in the gardens.” She took the cap off and let her hair fall down to her mid-back again. “I wanted to go get some vegetables – they had already harvested what little those fools actually grow – but decided to wait until next time.”
“You’re not going next time,” a voice snapped and she groaned as her father walked in, looking as angry as Johnathan. “You did something incredibly risky, Sireda! You could have been caught!”
“But I wasn’t,” she said but she couldn’t look her father in the eye. “And I didn’t take anything that he would miss. They hardly eat fruits. I figured that, the longer he thinks the threat is gone, the better off we are. Lure him into a false sense of security and all that,” she added.
The two men sighed heavily but didn’t press the topic. She stretched and went to bathe before changing into her nightgown. She curled up under the blankets and shut her eyes, already planning what she would do next time.