TEASER TUESDAY MEANS I GET TO TEASE MY READERS WITH EXCEPTS FROM MY CURRENT WIP
THE SUMMONER THIEF
The housekeeper’s trained eye felt like worn, calloused fingers brushing over Rahlizje’s face. “Did you disappoint him?”
“No, mistress.” Rahlizje dipped her head again and swallowed forcefully, widening her eyes at the floor as if she truly knew what shame really was. “I believe he fell asleep… after.”
The woman at the top of the stairs grunted in understanding. “You’re free to go.”
“Yes, mistress.” With another foolish curtsy, Rahlizje had stepped slowly, demurely past the woman running the Farden estate in her lady’s absence.
That woman’s hand shot out with surprising speed to grip Rahlizje’s arm below the shoulder, firmly holding her there on the top step and studying the stranger who had captured her master’s attentions for one night. Then the housekeeper reached into her skirts and retrieved a small coin purse, which she offered Rahlizje with tightly pressed lips. “Don’t come back,” she said.
Rahlizje’s fingers wrapped around the modestly filled purse; for the first time, she’d just been paid for the services the housekeeper naturally assumed she had provided between her legs. She did in fact always receive payment, whether or not those services had indeed been delivered, but she’d always had to take it for herself. Her mistake that night had been in allowing her surprise and her triumph to get the better of her. She’d looked up at the housekeeper then, slowly, shamelessly, to meet the other woman’s gaze as something like an equal.
If she’d cut that gaze appropriately short, she might have avoided suspicion altogether. But the ease with which she’d just received two small fortunes—at least for her—had made her outwardly bold. Stupidly bold.
When the housekeeper realized this, her eyes widened beneath a darkening frown. “Get out,” she’d snapped and promptly shoved the coin purse and Rahlizje attached to it down the stairs.
Rahlizje had bowed her head and taken her leave, but she did not flee down the stairs to the estate’s great hall; if she had, she knew such speed would bring triumphant laughter bubbling up her throat. Of all the things she’d learned not to do in another’s presence, laughing took precedence over everything—until she was alone again and gone from whatever town or territory had both amused her and filled her pockets. But with her back to the housekeeper and the great hall nearly empty now, Rahlizje gave herself the luxury of smirking as she took her leave.
She’d gone directly back toward Cirgress proper. The journey from Windel Farden’s estate did of course take much longer on foot than upon the master’s saddle; even so, it was a fraction of the distances she’d traveled on her own in a single stretch. Both the wine and her staggering success had fueled her with restless energy; if she’d thought she could get away with stealing a horse and thundering off with it out of the valley, she might have. On an estate like Farden’s, a horse would bring a lot more down on her head than a few trinkets and an extra bit of coin.
By the time she’d reached the main part of town and The Open Barrel, that swell of victory had passed. But the restlessness remained. Challenging the housekeeper with that wavering glance had most assuredly given her away as something more than what she seemed. The head of Farden’s household was clearly an astute woman, and Rahlizje had been a fool for not anticipating the presence of any staff within the estate before she took her leave. If the woman had not suspected Rahlizje immediately, she no doubt would quite soon. Especially come the morning when Windel Farden himself could not confirm any bit of Rahlizje’s lie, whether or not he remembered the truth.
Her only viable option then had been to flee into the night. She’d returned to the empty stall in the stable where the inn’s owner had let her sleep, though he’d seemed entirely confused by her willingness to spend the night on top of straw with the horses when she paid for so much ale and food in his tavern. There, Rahlizje had dropped her stolen skirts—which had only been for Windel Farden’s unfulfilled benefit—and donned her dark breeches. With everything she’d needed in the pockets of her cloak and her dagger strapped to her belt, she left Cirgress altogether that night. Never to return, of course. And she used both what she’d taken and what had been given to her to press east across the rolling valleys at the foot of the Bladeshales.
Vereling Town had welcomed her with open arms when she finally reached it, if only for the fact that it already teemed with vagabonds, merchants, travelers, dubious tradesman, drunkards, and—she had no doubt—more thieves. What better place to hide herself than a town in which they were all the same? Except she just so happened to be the only one among them with a coin purse freely given by Windel Farden’s housekeeper and stamped with his house seal. And the only man to have seen it just so happened to be the one-eyed merchant looking for it.
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