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    Keep moving, a dark stranger insisted.What?Keep going! he hissed. The dark stranger had the hood of his

    dark cloak on over his face to hide it. He was a little too well knownhere. His dark ocean-blue eyes and blonde hair were well known to thecivilians a little too well. They would have welcomed him with openarms but he could not trust them because one of them had given himaway. Him and his identity. He knew anyone would jump at the chanceto claim the hundred gold coins for capturing him, despite their loyaltyand love for him. All of these people were poor and a hundred goldcoins could go along way for them.

    James Ocean-Eyes urged the wagon driver to keep going with along heavy baton stick that could have been a staff. The wagon drivermuttered about manners and the politeness of the sort of people thesedays as he drove on. Then Ocean-Eyes, as he was better known for,stopped the wagon and jumped out. He tossed the driver a gold coinfor his troubles.

    Not a word, he whispered to the old man, sliding a small pouchof silver coins to the old man. If he had given the man a bag of gold,the old man would be dead before he reached home.

    Ocean-Eyes, what are you doing here? I know you are givingmoney to the needy but to be here in these times when a hundred gold

    coins is offered for you is a really risky thing, the old man whispered.Ocean-Eyes, named so for his eyes which were so unlike any shade ofblue anyone had ever scene, only grinned at his companion for thepast few hours and with a wave, slipped into the shadows of a building.

    He briefly touched the front of his vest to make sure that thepouches of silver he had tied there were still there. Then he twirled thebaton once and slid off down the street muck towards a line of houses.

    Ocean-Eyes called himself a generous man. He was about theage of sixteen and he gave to the poor from the spoils he plunderedfrom rich homes and rich drunk lords and ladies on the street. No oneruled him except for a select few whom he allowed to and respected

    and no one would ever claim him without his consent. He consideredhimself not a thief but someone who made sure money went plentyaround for everyone, not just the rich. He thought about these thingsas he went, quietly slipping bags of silver into peoples homes wherehe knew they would find them. A child started crying at a window of ahouse and he walked over to the house window and looked through theglass window panes at the child.

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    The childs family worked almost all day and all night and the boywas left home to be looked after by his older siblings. They worked allday too, Ocean-Eyes knew, and so he decided to spare the older sisterthe hassle of waking up from a good night sleep. He leaned his batonagainst the wall of the house and took out his dagger. He slid thedagger into the crack between the two window shutters and slid the

    clasp open and opened the window. He reached in and pulled the childto his feet.

    The little boy quieted when he saw that it was him and stoodstraight and clasped his short arms around Ocean-Eyes neck with awhimper. The young man stroked the boys back comfortingly. Ocean-Eyes, I had a bad dream. I dreamt that you were dead and that mysister had run off and I couldnt find her and that ma and da didntcome back one night and then I was home alone and, and, and theboy blubbered. His whole little body shuddered with a quiet sob. And itwas awful.

    It is all right, child, I will be here to look after you and your

    family. Here, now, go back to bed. It was only a dream after all. And ifHorth the Dream God gives you any more bad dreams then tell him togive you good dreams and if he doesnt listen, tell him that hes goingto get a visit from me, all right? Ocean-Eyes said, holding the child atarms length. The boy nodded. Theres a good lad. Now, go back tosleep.

    The boy obediently nodded and climbed back into his bed.Ocean-Eyes reached in and pulled the blankets up around the boyschin and the boy fell asleep. Ocean-Eyes stood there for a moment,looking at the sleeping child. He then pulled out a bag of silver coinsfrom his vest pocket and slipped it in next to the boy and closed the

    shutters. He reached into the crack with his dagger again and nudgedthe clasp back into place.

    He picked up his baton again and kept going. Eventually, hereached the end of the neighborhood street and reached theschoolhouse. He let himself in and then dropped a bigger one than allthe others that he had left, on the chair where he knew the teacherwould find it. The teacher was an old friend and she was sufferingterribly these days with all the taxes from the government going toother things other than schools and she was short of funds ever sinceher husband ran off and never returned.

    He let himself out of the old schoolhouse where he himself hadgone to school for a few years and trotted off down another streettowards the temple at the end of the road honoring Horth the DreamGod. The temple was also his home, the last place where anyone wouldaccept him and the last place where everything was safe for him.

    As he trudged past the poor box, he dropped in a bag of gold hehad been saving. He stopped by the altar and placed a gold necklaceand a matching ring on it as an offering and lit a little bit of incense.

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    Where have you been, James? We have been waiting for you and wewere ever so anxious about your welfare, a voice said nearby.

    He turned with a smile and bowed. I am sorry to have worriedyou, Father. I was offhelping the poor today. The taxes havedoubled, he replied. The abbot smiled at the young man standing infront of him.

    All of us appreciate what you do for us, James, and your fatherwould be ever so proud, the old man said with a knowing smile. It wassomething the old man often said that made him happy. His father haddied eight years ago in a fire and the abbot had taken him in and takencare of him and continued his education. His father, before he haddied, had taught him a great deal of hand-to-hand combat, batonfighting techniques, and many other useful tricks and skill needed for alife in a city full of hatred and violence and a tyrant of a king that ruledit and the surrounding country. The abbot had continued his fatherseducation after he died and he knew a surprising amount of it. On theabbots bad days when his old bones bothered him, he had one of his

    former students teach him.Come, it is time for your lesson, the abbot said.Ocean-Eyes groaned, feeling every sore muscle in his body,

    almost every single muscle in his body. I fought off a whole mob, twoknights, thirty rebel thieves, seven guards, ten angry lords, and fivewrestlers today, plus I scaled three walls, ten roves, five wagons,twenty stalls, and six windows and you want me to go to a lesson, heprotested. The abbot smiled and waited patiently. Ocean-Eyes met theabbots steady and patient old eyes and sighed. All right, lets get thisover with.

    Yes, he agreed and led the way into a chamber set aside for

    their lessons. Ocean-Eyes sighed and followed. I cant believe youactually keep count, my son.

    I only do that so I can tell you what I did today and hope thatyou at least will feel a little sorry for me, Ocean-Eyes said gruffly inreply. The abbot laughed and opened the door to the room.

    Put your cloak down on the chair and take your tunic off, thenwe will begin, the abbot instructed, turning to a cupboard andchoosing a baton. Ocean-Eyes sighed again and set down his baton. Heshed his cloak and pulled off his tunic, which smelled of sweat from thedays work. His skin immediately chilled against the cool breeze thatbrushed against him. He gritted his teeth against the chattering thathe knew would begin soon. The muscles on his torso and arms tensedagainst the cold as he picked up his baton.

    He twirled it in his fingers twice in a double-eight shape in frontof him and twirled it around and pointed it to the ground. He washolding the baton in the middle with the half of the baton restingagainst his forearm and the other half pointed at the ground. He stoodthere waiting for the abbot. The abbot relieved himself of the top

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    portion of his robes to reveal his trim figure and picked up the baton hehad chosen and stepped up.

    So, tell me again, Father, why you do this to me every singleday and night? Ocean-Eyes gasped as he dodged a blow and caughtanother on his own baton. He swung his baton free and came backwith his own attacks. The abbot caught each easily on his baton.

    So that I can keep you in shape and alive, as your father hadwanted me to do, he said as one twist of movement brought themclose to each other. The old man was barely out of breath. Ocean-Eyesonly grunted and proceeded with the lesson.

    At the end of the lesson, he sat slouched and exhausted in thechair and had a cold towel around his shoulders and a flask of coolwater in his hands. He sat up and saw that the abbot was watchinghim. Did my father ever say who my mother was? I neverremembered a woman in my fathers life, but I know I have a mother,Ocean-Eyes asked like he did at the end of every lesson. He had alwayswondered who his mother was. His father had told him when he was

    younger that his mother had given birth to him and then disappeared,never to be seen or heard from again by either of them. Ocean-Eyeshad been left with his father and that was the last they both ever sawher, or rather the last his father ever saw her. He had been told he wassleeping when she had handed him to his father.

    The abbot watched him for a moment. James, you are now oldenough to understand and I will tell you the truth as I see it and asmuch as I know of, he said. Your mother was mentioned to me onceor twice by your father. She was never referred to as a name but ratheras she and my love by your father. He adored her very much andmissed her and often confided in me that he wanted to find her so that

    you could at least meet your mother once before something happens.And you know who she is, Ocean-Eyes said flatly, seeing a look

    in the old mans eyes. The abbot inclined his head.Yes, I know who your mother is. But your father made me swear

    on my grave that I would not tell you because it is for you to find outon your own, the old man replied. Ocean-Eyes only nodded. The abbotknew who his mother was! Enough stories for tonight, you have a longday ahead of you tomorrow. The duke of this district requests that you,James, the abbots apprentice, run up to him tomorrow because he hassomething for you.

    I refuse to go near nobility! They put a price on my head, didntyou know? Ocean-Eyes immediately said in reply. The abbot held up ahand for silence and it was given.

    I know about the reward, James, and I will do anything I can topersuade the royalty that a thief with such skill does not exist and it isprobably a made up story that was blamed on for every single thievery.But as for tomorrow, you will go the dukes townhouse and serve hiswishes for the afternoon for it is on his money that the cathedral is still

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    standing and that we have a roof over our heads, the abbot saidquietly and patiently.

    Ocean-Eyes obediently nodded and snatched up his cloak andtunic and baton and headed out the door followed by the abbot. Heand the abbot bowed to each other once before going their separateways. He knew that he had to go in respect and gratitude to the duke

    and as a representative of the cathedral but it could be a trap. Hesmiled at the cathedral staff as he passed them. He reached his ownapartments eventually and let himself in and immediately fell onto thebig bed inside and fell asleep without removing his boots.

    He woke the next morning to the pealing sound of the bells announcingthe time for morning prayers. He scrambled out of bed as someoneknocked on his door. Without bothering to ask, they opened the doorand came in.

    The abbot appeared with a pile of clothing and dropped it ontothe bed. He took one look at Ocean-Eyes and shook his head. He called

    for a tub and the next thing Ocean-Eyes knew, he was being strippedand dumped into a tub of soapy warm water like a little boy whorefused a bath. He sighed and let the abbot scrub his hair clean of mudand muck and who knew what else. He then soaked in the water until itwas muddy brown from the previous nights street muck and cold andclimbed out. He wrapped a towel around his hips and ambled to thebed.

    He changed into his clothes and donned his black cloak. Hescrubbed his boots with polish until the black leather shone in thesunlight pouring in from the windows and then put them on. Thentaking his baton into his hand and slipping his dagger into its place on

    his belt in its sheath, he walked out the door.Ocean-Eyes stopped by the kitchen and grabbed a piece of toast

    with melted cheese on it and an apple. He stopped by the pantry andfished out a flask of cider and tossed a silver coin to the cook and gavethe old woman, who had been like a mother to him ever since he couldremember, a kiss on the cheek and left.

    Before he reached the dukes townhouse in the afternoon, he hadfinished off his breakfast and managed to keep the road dust off hisshined boots and made his way through the city without anyone callingout his name. A thin boy and a gang of ragtag urchin children had triedto take his purse but he caught them, they started to run but his handhad lashed out and caught the thin boy on the shoulder. The otherchildren picked up rocks. He had taken out a small bag of silver anddropped it in the boys hands and left off down the street whistlingcheerfully, hands in his breeches pockets, baton tucked under one armsince it was too large to have straps to hold it to his belt, leavingbehind a gang of staring children in his wake.

    Now he knocked on the dukes door and stood there nervouslyfingering his baton. The door was opened by a pretty girl dressed in a

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    maids uniform and he was welcomed into the house. Ocean-Eyesocean-blue eyes surveyed the rich room with interest, taking note ofevery single window and the quality of the latch. The maid that hadopened the door had sent a runner up to fetch the duke and she nownoticed the way the young man examined the house and immediatelyknew who he was.

    Ocean-Eyes, she murmured, just enough for him to hear.Immediately, his baton swung up and his legs moved into a balancedstance. She seemed startled at the reaction but didnt back away. Hedidnt move as she approached him. Whatever are you doing here?You are much wanted here

    Ah, dear boy, here you are, a booming voice interrupted her.He shrugged to her and then rested the baton against the stone floorand took on a relaxed stance as a tall man came down the steps.

    Ocean-Eyes kept an aristocratic smile plastered on his face butinside, he was prepared to lunge out of reach of the duke. Your Grace,you have sent for me so I came, he replied with a bow. The duke

    chuckled and bowed back and led the way up the stairs. He followedthe duke after giving a wink to the pretty maid who squealed anddisappeared from view as soon as he had put a foot on the stairs firststep.

    The duke took him up the stairs and down the corridor to asitting room. Ocean-Eyes sat down in a chair at the dukes request.Mr. Ocean-Eyes, I hear you have been quite accomplished, helping thepoor of this city thrive in the muck and our kings orders of doubledtaxes, he announced to his surprise. He started to his feet. No, sitdown, boy, I do not mean you no harm, in fact, I would like to help.These poor are my people as much as they are yours to protect, lad.

    How did you find out? Ocean-Eyes said, leaning back in his seatwith a grin.

    I saw how you talked to that child last night and how youthought you secretly slipped bags of money into the poor peopleshomes to help them keep going, a voice said from the shadows. Ayoung woman stepped out from the shadows with a smile on her face.And I told this to the duke and he arranged a meeting with you.

    Ocean-Eyes looked the young woman over with a lazy eye. Shewas about his age and her body build was similar like his except in amore muscular in a feminine way. She moved with the grace of a catand walked silently. He was starting to like her for some reason, but itmust have been her kind face, which seemed to make everybody whomet her like her.

    They talked for a while and came to an agreement. The dukewould have half of the gold that he plundered at night and use thatmoney to do what he can for the poor people and he would keepOcean-Eyes identity and their meeting secret in return. The girl, calledCat, would be his companion to protect him from harm and to be hispartner. He had wholeheartedly agreed after he realized that he had

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    and he saw that a majority of them were the poor people that he hadalways helped in the past.

    Thats James, the abbot of Horths Temples apprentice!someone shouted out in the rear. Everyone joined in and someonewinked at him in the crowd and he knew that they were covering forhim.

    Unless I am much mistaken, the posters all say that Ocean-Eyescarries a baton almost like a staff, wears a black cloak, has blonde hair,and dark ocean-blue eyes that are hard to miss, the man holding thesword cried out.

    There are a lot of people here that look like that, Ocean-Eyessaid calmly. Now if you excuse me, I have some work to do.

    He tried to push past the man but he blocked his way and threwhim against the wall. His back slammed into the wall and he managedto keep steady. His baton came up in time to block the descendingsword on the wood of his baton.

    I would not fight James if I were you, sir, the abbot and his

    father have been training him in combat for his whole life, someonecalled from the crowd. Everyone murmured in agreement even asOcean-Eyes attacked.

    He feinted low and then swung up high and tapped the mannone too gently on the head and he dropped to the ground,unconscious. Ocean-Eyes bent down and took the sword from themans slack fingers and took the sheath from the mans belt. Well, hewont be bothering anyone with a sword for a while, Ocean-Eyescommented, buckling the sheath onto his own belt and sliding the finesword into it. Everyone who heard him laughed and went on their way.Ocean-Eyes took his baton into his hand and started off down the

    street again. He stopped a petty thief from stealing from a beggingbowl in front of two young children.

    As the thief ran away, he examined the two children. They wereabout seven and ten years of age and they were no doubt orphans.Then a baby started crying and then he saw that the oldest child had abundle of rags in her arms, no doubt a baby. He took the baby from thelittle girl and to his surprise, she didnt fight him.

    If ye have t adopt children, sir, then you better take m babybrother, she said. Through the dirt and muck, he saw the little girlsface was filled with hope for her youngest brother. Hes been on thstreets since e was born, sir, and has been starvin much. Hell die if edoesnt get any milk or food in the next few days.

    Nonsense, Im taking you all with me, Ocean-Eyes said with asmile to the surprise of the children. He signaled for them to pick uptheir bowl. Use those coins you have in there to get yourselves into abathhouse and get washed and some new clothes on. Then go to theHothar Temple. I will see you there.

    But, sir, the washer lady wont let us in, the older girlprotested, putting the coins in her hand in her pockets. Shes says

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    were nothin but a bunch of raggedy rats and cant come to a place ofrich folk and scare tem off with our raggedness.

    Ocean-Eyes sighed. Ill walk you there then and make sure youall get cleaned, he said. He led the way to the bathhouse. At the door,the lady who ran the bathhouse looked suspiciously at the clamberingdirty children begging her to let them in with coins in their

    outstretched hands.I wont let this bunch in, I wont, she announced loudly.My dear lady, these children are humans like you and I, after all,

    they need a bath more than any of those people in there, Ocean-Eyessaid with his most charming smile. The woman could not help but smileback.

    Ocean-Eyes, even your charm could melt stone, she said with asmile still on her face as she let the children into the house.

    That is the reason why I love my charm, he said back. Hehanded over the baby in his arms and she cooed over him and tookthem inside to the small kitchen. She went over to the sink and filled it

    with clean water. Then she took the rags off of the baby as he began tocry and then lowered the baby gently into the warm water. Ocean-Eyestook the rag and threw it into the fire with a stick and sat down at thetable with his booted legs propped on the table and he leaned back onhis chair.

    The woman put a napkin on the baby and pinned it tight andthen wrapped him with a warm blue blanket and set him in a basket.She got a bottle of milk out of the cold box and went to feed the baby.She turned after she was done and scowled at his feet. Feet off thetable, Ocean-Eyes, mind your manners, she scolded. Ocean-Eyesgrinned and put his feet down. Did you ever hear who turned you in?

    Ocean-Eyes shook his head.Some man named John Manning is what is being said at the

    moment. I dont know anything much after that, the woman replied.Ocean-Eyes scowled madly.

    I remember I helped him escape from thieves once, and yes,hes a semi-noble. After he was promoted to Lord, Im guessing thatwas when he turned me in because he was afraid he would be one ofthe ones I stole from, Ocean-Eyes said angrily. His strong fist smashedthe table once in anger and he jumped to his feet, his body rigid withanger and he ran his fingers through his blonde hair.

    The woman stood and put a hand on his shoulder. Ocean-Eyes,your abbot has already started to spread the rumor that the thiefbrigand who steals from the rich nobles is only a story. Just lay low for afew days to wait for things to die down, then can go back to stealingand helping again. We all appreciate what you do for us since no onecan do what you do and risk yourself to keep us going, she said softly.He sighed and nodded and handed her a bag of silver. She pocketed itand with a pat on his back, she left to go check on the children.

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    When she came back, she was smiling. Theyre just gettingdried and dressed, she announced. She put a loaf of bread on thetable along with a dish of butter, eating utensils, and a pot of freshlybrewed tea.

    Can you get the children to the abbot? I need to go take careofsome business, he said, pulling his hood up and picking up his

    baton which he had leaned on the wall when they had come in. Shenodded absently and he left. He headed to the nearest tavern which heknew men loyal to him reported daily to him there to give him reportsand made an entrance.

    Everyone looked up at the young man poised in the doorway andalmost at once, everyone rose to their feet like he was the king. In away he was, all these men he had trained with in combat andconstantly drilled in their heads that if they were to steal, they woulddo so for the benefit of the needy, not for themselves.

    Ocean-Eyes, a young man murmured in the front of the group.Ocean-Eyes took out a small bag of gold and placed it on the table. The

    bag was considered small to what he owned because the bag of goldhe had was the size of his head and this one was only about as large ashis fists put together. Everyone stared at the small bag and he wentover to his chair that had always been kept for him and sat down in it.Everyone sat down too.

    Whats the news, prince? someone called. Everyone hadalways called him prince because his father had been the King ofThieves. Even after eight years, he still didnt feel it was right to takehis fathers place just yet. Whos the scum that turned you in?

    Lord John Manning, he said quietly. Everyone roared with angerand he waited for the noise to die down. That bag of gold is only half

    of what the reward is for someone to bring him to me without a dozenguards on their heels, he said the last part while looking the youngman who had spoken to him first. The young man, no more thanthirteen, blushed scarlet and looked at the ground. Only a week ago,he had been taking some extra gold from an open carriage when adozen city guards coming around the corner had caught him at it andthey had chased him all the way across the city back to the tavernwhere they were now. The men inside had kicked the guards out andthe guards had given up and went back to their part of the city. Butfirst things first, I need updates and reports.

    Ships are becoming the rage of the kingdom, a man called out.The dogs who call themselves city guards burned down the

    home of the Johnsons after they refused to pay the tax. No one waspermitted to rescue the poor family. The two young parents and theirthree infant children were burned to death, someone growled angrily.Everyone looked at the man. Tears of grief were running out of thecorners of his eyes. They were poor, their family had lost their jobsand they had too much pride to come here to ask a bunch of thievesfor help.

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    The Johnson family was everyones friends. They were brightpeople, never saying a harsh word and always had a smile foreveryone no matter if it was a street urchin or a thief. Everyone calledout for drinks and the bartender and serving girls hurried to dish outthe orders. Ocean-Eyes had sunk inside of himself and accepted themug from the serving girl with an absent nod. Had he known that the

    family was in need, he could have made a stop and gave them somemoney. He was on their street not one week ago, delivering money andstopping greedy thieves. To the Johnsons! he called out quietly.Everyone solemnly repeated the toast and drank their ale.

    Going on, he said after a few moments of silence in respect forthe loving family. Everyone murmured and talked amongst themselvesas if deciding on someone to talk for them. Anyone else have any newnews?

    A man stood up, apparently the appointed leader. Prince, awoman has come to town, claiming to be the Queen of Thieves. She issaid to be looking for the King of Thieves or his heir, the heir has

    ocean-blue eyes and blonde sunshine-gold hair, the man saiduneasily.

    Ocean-Eyes got to his feet, setting down the tankard. Who isthis woman? Where can I find her? he asked. Everyone said nothingand instead, turned to the stairs that led up to spare bedrooms in thetavern for those who were too drunk to go home. A pair of bootsappeared at the top of the steps and came slowly down, the bootshitting each step with a thud. Ocean-Eyes men stood, hands on theirweapons. Ocean-Eyes himself just stood casually, booted feet plantedapart to balance him and his arms crossed on his chest.

    You can find me here, the woman that appeared said. She had

    blazing blue eyes and her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail.Ocean-Eyes gulped. He thought he was looking into a mirror at hisfeminine self.

    Why, do you look like me? he demanded. He snapped hisfingers at his men and pointed to the door. They hurriedly obeyed andleft the tavern. The barkeeper and his serving girls had disappearedout of sight.

    The woman that stood before him was a little shorter than hewas and older, twice his age. Her face looked exactly like his except itwas more feminine and the blonde hair she had was a shade darkerthan his. There was no mistake about her eyes, they were exactly hiseyes.

    I am your mother, she replied with a smile. When he didntmove, she sighed. I am sorry for leaving you and your father alone butpeople were after me back then and it was something that I had to do.Didnt your father ever tell you? And where is your father?

    My father is dead, Ocean-Eyes said, his voice cracking. Tearsstreamed down his cheeks as the emotions he had kept locked behinda wall in his mind for eight years flooded through him, breaking

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    through that wall. He turned from the woman and braced himself on atable, his shoulders shaking and his chest heaving as he cried. Hesbeen dead for eight years and I miss him very much.

    I am so sorry, James, the woman whispered.Where were you when I needed you? he suddenly said turning

    on her. Where were you my entire life?

    He suddenly turned on his heel and left the woman insidestanding there stunned. He slipped out the door but didnt go farther.Instead, he leaned against the wall next to the doorframe. The womanthat called herself his mother came to him and wiped away his tearswith her fingers even as she wiped hers away.

    I was running from the government and some of my own peopleat the time, much like how you are now except that they were huntingme, she whispered, embracing Ocean-Eyes. He felt comforted and helet his mother bring him inside. I wanted you to be safe so I left youwith your father and I had to leave the city and keep going beyond theborders and sail out to sea. Ive been at sea for the past sixteen years

    and now I decided to come back to the two of you, to see my familyagain, except that you are all thats left. I am so very sorry, my son, Iloved him very much too.

    Then together in the silence of the tavern, they held each otherand cried silently for the man they both loved dearly. As night fell,Ocean-Eyes had gotten to know his mother even better and he lovedher for who she was. She constantly knew every single thing to cheerhim up despite the fact that she didnt know him for even a whole day.Without hesitation, she threw herself into fights to break them up byhis side and helped distribute the bags of silver he gave the familiesevery week that needed his help. That night was a different

    neighborhood from the one the night before. They were soon on theirway home to the cathedral when Ocean-Eyes stopped and held hishand up. His mother (who she told him to call Mother or her name thateveryone addressed her as, which was Heart) stopped beside him andher twin blades flew into her hands, one blade facing up, and the otherblade down towards the ground.

    What is it, Ocean-Eyes? she murmured, looking around warily.Someones following us, he replied and listened. There were

    running footsteps and then the footsteps stopped only a few feet away.He drew his baton and lunged at the person following them. There wasa yelp and he stopped.

    Dont hurt me! Cat cried, holding her arms up in front of herface.

    He sighed and put his baton into one hand and pulled her to herfeet. What are you doing here, Cat? he asked. She dusted herself offand she smiled up at him charmingly and he only scowled, resistingher charm for now.

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    Your business is my business, and mine is mine, lets just put itat that, she said. She hooked an arm around his waist and her lipsbrushed against his neck.

    You were following me, he said flatly, pushing Cat away. Sheonly smiled as his mother approached.

    What you have you got there, Ocean-Eyes? A friend of yours?

    Heart asked with a teasing smile. Ocean-Eyes scowled at his mother.In way she is. Heart, this is Cat, Cat, Heart, he said in the way

    of a brief and quick introduction. Cat clung onto his hand and he let heras they continued down the road to the cathedral.

    So, Heart, are you one of Ocean-Eyes girls or what? You seem abit too old, Cat asked charmingly. Ocean-Eyes winced at the words butsaid nothing.

    No, dear, I am his mother, his mother replied, just as charming.Cats mouth opened and closed twice and then after that she didntsay anything. What are you doing here, Cat?

    I knew that Ocean-Eyes lived in this area so I just happened to

    be passing by on the way home and decided to stop by to say hello,the other woman replied. Ocean-Eyes scowled at her.

    You live nowhere near here, he snapped as they reached thecathedral and went in. You live on the other side of town. Get homebefore it gets too dark and you get knifed in the back or something.

    Ocean-Eyes, truth is, I dont have anywhere to go for tonight,Cat said seriously, losing all sense of playfulness. The duke doesnt letanyone but him and his family stay in the townhouse and my familykicked me out of their building just this afternoon after you left. I foundout by a runner. I dont have any money. Please, can I stay with you?

    Ocean-Eyes let out a breath. His mother waved to him and

    trotted off in the direction of the abbots office to talk to her old friend.He scowled at her retreating back, knowing that she had left at thattime to leave him alone to deal with the problem. He turned back toCat and put an arm around her. Yes, you may. The cathedrals roomsare full tonight so youll have to share a room with me if you dontmind, he told her.

    No, I wouldnt mind at all, she said, grinning up at him andreturning his embrace. Youre too handsome to deny and to mindsharing a room with.

    Ocean-Eyes only smiled and let them into his rooms. He pulledhis cloak off and hung it from a hook on the wall along with his batonby its strap that allowed it to be hung. Cat settled down on a couch andwatched him. He reached behind him and caught hold of his tunic andshirt and pulled them off together. He searched around in his wardrobecabinet and then pulled out a spare shirt and tossed it to her.

    You can use that for a nightgown, he said without turning. Heput his tunic and shirt into the wash basket and set a new set out forthe next day. He pulled his boots off and his stockings off with them

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    and threw the stockings into the wash basket and tossed the boots bythe door. He got rid of the last bit of clothing and climbed into bed.

    He twisted onto his side and lay with one arm tucked under oneof his pillows. He turned to watch Cat on the couch under a blanket.Her clothes lay in a neat pile by the couch. She turned and her greeneyes met his blue ones.

    I have felt some sort of connection you ever since we met. Theway you walked, the way you held yourself, the way everyone treatedyou told me who you were and I liked you for that, she whispered inthe darkness of the room.

    He said nothing for a few moments. He didnt have the samefeelings for her as she did for him and did not know what to say. Ihave to help the people above all things. They need me and Icantafford anydistractions, he finally said softly and haltingly.

    He could tell that she was disappointed at his reply but didnt sayanything. All right, Ocean-Eyes, I will wait, but together, we will defeatthe evil of abuse and tyranny in our home, she murmured and fell

    asleep. He stayed awake for a while, thinking about the future andwhat she said. Then he fell asleep too.

    Since you missed last nights lesson, James, you will make it up thismorning, the abbot told him when he arrived at the breakfastchamber. The monks and guests were eating their breakfast. The onlyones who sat at the head tables were Ocean-Eyes, the abbot, Heart,and Cat.

    Yes, Father, he said obediently.Im glad you have been keeping him in line, Father, Heart said

    from on the other side of the abbot. Boys his age need to be kept in

    line.He scowled at his mother as she grinned back and the abbot only

    smiled slightly and inclined his head. Your mother is going to bejoining us this morning for the lesson. I have been informed that youhave gained a sword the day before. I would like you to bring it alongwith your baton today, the abbot said to Ocean-Eyes. He scowledagain but he was too taken by his food to say anything.

    No wonder why you have those scowl lines on your face, Catwhispered in his ear. She skipped away from him with a laugh beforehe could do anything and went to give her tray to the kitchen staff.Ocean-Eyes sighed and finished up and handed his tray to the serversand went to his room.

    He grabbed his sword and baton and went to the practice room.He shed his shirt and unsheathed his sword just as the abbot came infollowed by Heart. Let me see that sword, Ocean-Eyes, his mothercommanded, holding out her hands. He gave the blade to her, hilt firstand she examined the sword. It is well enough for you to use.

    She tossed it back and he caught it expertly by the hilt. Sheunsheathed a sword from her side that he just realized she wore and

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    then she swung it at him. He barely got enough time to bring up hissword to block his mothers attack. Good reflexes, his mothercommented with a grin. He smiled back and then all his concentrationwas taken by using and wielding the unfamiliar weapon in his hands.

    He yelped with surprise and pain as his mother tapped in on hisribs for not protecting them and he glared at her and resumed his

    attack. Got to keep your body protected! she cried, skipping awayand swinging back in to attack him. He hurriedly blocked her.

    Where did you learn all of this? he gasped, sweat beginning toform on his chest and in between his shoulder blades. He noticed thatshe was barely out of breath and she was smiling as she attacked andblocked him.

    Well, you pick up a few things when you sail with expertswordsmen and pirates, she replied and tapped his leg not so gently.He moved his leg out of the way and attacked her while she was busytapping. To his surprise, her blade was already where his blade hadbeen going to hit.

    You fight like the devil, you do, Ocean-Eyes informed hismother. She only laughed and disengaged her sword from his andattacked with a grin.

    Well, Ive got to say, even though the abbot never trained youwith the sword, you fight pretty well with it, she said with a smile. Shesuddenly straightened and twirled her sword in her fingers for amoment and then let the tip rest on the stone floor. He gasped forbreath and stumbled backwards and then his rear end met the stonefloor painfully just as the abbot let himself into the room.

    And where were you? Ocean-Eyes asked.The abbot smiled and shrugged. Some business had me

    preoccupied, he replied with a merry twinkle in his eye. He turned toHeart. How did he do?

    He did surprisingly well, actually, better than what I expected,she replied with a proud smile to Ocean-Eyes. He smiled back, happyat the praise from his mother.

    You didnt just sail with pirates and swordsmen, did you, Heart?You were their captain, Ocean-Eyes said, realizing the reason for hismothers great swordsmanship skills and her commanding tone qualityof her voice. She grinned and nodded.

    Thought you would figure out who I am soon enough, being thesmart boy you are. Yes, I was known as a Pirate Queen because I ruleda ship of pirates and though I never harmed a soul, I did plunder and Ihave become rich in my travels. But no gold or amount of wealth couldreplace my family so I came back here with my money and left the shipin charge of my First Mate upon my return. I believe they wanted to sailto some of the other islands to be honest merchants for a while, takinga break from their piratical life, Heart replied in answer to hisquestion.

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    So fighting and thievery has always been in my blood, Ocean-Eyes said, lost in thought. Heart stretched, arching her back and thentwisting from side to side to get the kinks out of her spine.

    Ohhhhh, I wouldnt say thievery, she said, pulling the first wordespecially long. I believe you call yourself someone who just makessure that money and wealth goes around, not just to the rich but to the

    poor. That, my son, is what is in your blood - not thievery. You are asfine as any noble can be in my eyes and those you help, Heart said,with another proud smile.

    The door suddenly burst open and one of the men from Ocean-Eyes court ran in. Ocean-Eyes, the guards did it again, theyresetting fire to that one house with that one child you always lookedafter, the one whos parents worked all day and left their son to belooked after by their siblings. The siblings have lost their jobs and theirparents havent scraped enough money to pay the tax. The bag ofsilver you dropped off a few days ago was taken last night, he gasped.Ocean-Eyes shot to his feet and the next thing anyone knew, he was

    out the door, his shirt on along with his heavy black cloak, his sword inits sheath, and his baton in his hand.

    Heart hurried to catch up with her son as he broke into a run andshe fell in by his side. They arrived at the street just as smoke startedto appear. Ocean-Eyes blue eyes were blazing with anger and he hitanyone with his baton who were not quick enough to get out of theway. Everyone else had the sense to let him through. The guards whowere torching the house were unexpectedly attacked, not expectingany civilians to fight back. They recovered but by the time they had,Ocean-Eyes had already kicked down the door and dashed inside whileHeart and Ocean-Eyes man held their ground and kept anyone from

    entering or coming near.Smoke blinded him and choked him but he pushed on, only

    caring for the family inside. He went to the boys room and swattedaside a burning curtain without noticing as it burned the skin of hishand. He found the child sitting in bed, clutching a blanket and howlingfor his mother. Ocean-Eyes scooped the child up into his arms andcharged into the next room, pushing burning things away from him andthe child as he went. He grabbed a towel on the way and soaked it in abucket of water he found and told the child to hold it over his littleface. The boy did so without hesitation and though he whimperedevery now and then, he didnt struggle.

    Is there anyone else in the house? he asked the boy, shoutingto be heard above the roar of the fire. Sweat rolled down his head andthe places where he had been burned throbbed in pain. The boynodded and pointed down the hall. Ocean-Eyes charge down the hall,kicking down doors as he went. He found three of the boys sistershuddled in a corner in one room, clutching each other in fear. Theysagged with relief as they saw him and they stood and rushed up tohim. One took their brother from him and he was able to press on with

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    both of his hands free. There was shouting and hammering comingfrom a room just across the hall.

    Ocean-Eyes shouted for the people inside to stand back and hekicked the door down, realizing that it had been barred from theoutside, no doubt by the guards before they began to burn the house.The two parents and their other two sons came out, relieved and they

    hugged their family to make sure they were all right and Ocean-Eyesled the way back to the door.

    There was a sudden groan and a splintering crack and a burningbeam came crashing down, blocking their path. The family behind himscreamed with fear. He quickly led them to the very back of thebuilding where he knew was a large window. He smashed the windowopen and the family scrambled out, ignoring the cuts on their handsinflicted by the broken glass stuck in the frame. Ocean-Eyes backed upas far as he could go and took a running leap at the window andleaped through it, avoiding the sharp broken glass still in the windowand then as he hit the ground, he rolled to his feet and managed not to

    tumble backwards. The family had been taken into the arms of theirfriends and neighbors and they were crying with happiness at theirgood luck and shouting their thanks to him.

    Heart and Ocean-Eyes man was running towards him and thenhe doubled over coughing and gasping for breath from the smoke. Hiseyes stung and his throat had closed from the smoke and he closed hiseyes but Heart made him lie down on the ground. She found a bucketof clean water and had the man on Ocean-Eyes other side to holdopen his eyes as she sprinkled drops of water into them, clearing themup and making them feel better. Ocean-Eyes reached up and grippedhis mothers forearm in thanks and sat up. She offered the ladle of

    water to him and he drank it down and nearly coughed up most of it.He drank another ladle and stood quickly as the guards who hadtorched the house came charging angrily towards them. Ocean-Eyeslunged to his feet, baton in his hands.

    He disarmed one easily with his baton and dropped another witha tap on the head. The other one was more experienced and ducked ashe reached out to hit him. The guard that had ducked seized the otherend of his baton and pulled it out of his grip and flung it a few feetbehind him. Heart moved in but Ocean-Eyes shook his head at her, hisanger and hate for these guards burning in his eyes. He drew his swordand engaged the man with it, cutting and jabbing and slashing at him.

    Fool boys going to get himself killed, he heard his mothermutter behind him. He only grinned and kept attacking. He dropped tothe ground as the guard made a cut he knew he couldnt stop and tothe guards surprise, he lost grip of the sword and it flew out of hishands and lodged itself in the charred wooden support of the burningbuilding behind Ocean-Eyes. The guards eyes were wide with fear asOcean-Eyes advanced on him. He grabbed the man and kicked him outas far as he could as the crowd parted to let the man through. The man

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    landed, sprawled in the muck, and he managed to escape as the crowdturned to an angry mob, intending to kill the men who had tried to killa good family. His companions woke up and ran after their leader.

    The crowd cheered at the guards retreating backs and turned onOcean-Eyes and began to give him pats and congratulations as hestood there, a little tired and exhausted, supported by his mother. Then

    just as gradually they started cheering, their cheers died down and adistinctive clapping sound could be heard. All heads turned to the manwho was clapping and realized who he was and the crowd broke up tojoin the bucket brigade which had started up when the fight hadbegun.

    Behind the man stood a whole squad of dismounted elite guardsof the palace, all holding their horses reins. Their captain, Ocean-Eyesrealized, was the man standing there clapping. Extraordinary fight,young man. Ocean-Eyes, I believe, the man said with a smile. Hesnapped his fingers at his men and twisted and turned his hand in themotions of several signals. The men saluted their captain and dropped

    their horses reins and half went to help in the bucket line while theother half went to see to the nearly-burned family.

    You know what we call your kind here, captain? We call youdogs. Dogs you are because you all take what you all want and nevergive it back and if that thing you wanted cant come to you, you attackthose who possess it if they dont hand it over. What is it you want?When the captain of the elite guard shows up, it usually means hewants something, Ocean-Eyes snarled, he took a step forward and hismother latched herself to him, anchoring him down from takinganother step. He ignored her and dragged her with him, stepping closeenough so that he was face to face, nose to nose with the man.

    We protect the people I protect the people, Ocean-Eyes hissed. The man actually took

    a step back. Where were you when the Johnsons were burned todeath yesterday? Where were you when the poor of the city were beingrobbed by taxes to pay for the rich nobles leisure? You arentprotecting them, captain; you live off of their money money that theyearn off the sweat on their backs and the blood from their bodies.

    Im sorry, Ocean-Eyes, this isnt my doing. I would never let mymen burn anyone for not paying their dues nor would I have allowedthe thievery to go on had I known about it, he said quietly. He seemedgenuinely sorry about it. He put a hand up. And hear me out beforeyou go on making any more accusations.

    Im sorry, Ive been protecting these people ever since I couldand someones put a price on my head for helping them, Ocean-Eyessaid with a sigh. His mother let go of him once he realized he wasntgoing to attack the captain.

    I have a proposition for you. The commander of the units in thiscity has noticed how cruelly the city guards work and realizes it is timefor a change. All the guards you see on the walls of the city today will

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    be replaced by proper, more experienced and fairer guards bymidnight, the captain said.

    And what do I have to do with this?I hear you prowl the streets at night, taking things from those

    who do not need it or just to teach them a lesson, the captains saidwith a grin. Ocean-Eyes crossed his arms over his chest and didnt let

    an expression show. Tonight, at midnight, I would like you to prowl thestreets but you will be fetching a new kind ofobject.

    What is it? Get to the point, captain; I have things to do today.Im sure you do. I would like you to bring down the former city

    guards if they are caught abusing the people that voted against theirrelease, which would be all of the townsfolk. Tonight, the people are inmore danger from their former protectors than they ever would havebeen before. This group of men is brutal and cruel and will be evermore so when they learn of their jobs. They will take their anger out onpeople who they think have caused their loss of job and power, thecaptain whispered. It will be a horror scene and you, it seems, and

    your men, are the only ones I know who are capable for this jobbecause you love the people and you take good care of them.

    Ocean-Eyes thought about it and finally nodded. If what you sayis true, then I will accept this plan, if not, then you will regret makingme give you a visit, Ocean-Eyes said, his eyes glittering dangerouslyin the afternoon sunlight.

    I swear on my life and my soul that I am telling the truth, hesaid solemnly. Behind Ocean-Eyes, the fire had been put out. Thecaptains men were waiting with their horses again. They swung intotheir saddles as one with their captain. The captain saluted Ocean-Eyes. Bring thirty-two men and pair them up. They will be able to take

    them out in pairs. Till tomorrow then, Ocean-Eyes.And with that, he wheeled his horse around and trotted down the

    street, his men behind him. People moved out of the way of thehorsemen as they passed and then they were gone. Ocean-Eyes wenton his way and disappeared in the crowd before Heart knew it. She wassurprised at her sons ability to suddenly vanish and appearsomewhere else by slipping unnoticed to different places, yet she wasproud because it reminded her of how Ocean-Eyes father had done thesame thing, appearing where he was least expected and disappearingwithout notice. She picked up his baton from where it had been flungand followed after Ocean-Eyes.

    Ocean-Eyes mulled over the captains words and silently signaledhis men to him as he saw them. They nodded and ran to get the rest ofhis court. He eventually made his way to the tavern and he pushedopen the door and fell heavily into his usual chair. One of the servinggirls came forward as soon as she saw him and gave him a mug of ale.As he reached out to take it, she caught his hand and held it up in thelight as she set down the mug.

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    You are very much like your father, James, and Im very proud ofyou, she said with a smile. He was always off helping people and theonly time I saw him was either when he needed my girls to help him orduring the night. Otherwise, he remained busy but we managed to getalong. Go on now, and be safe.


    She smiled. I used to be the leader of the most fearsome packof females in the city. We turned towards helping people after I fell inlove with your father and he asked us to be part of his court. Werefused of course but we agreed that we would be there when he reallyneeded us. I saw him every night but one day, one of my girlsoverthrew me, as is the way of power in the world of thieves and setthe guards and the police on me. That night, they almost caught mewhen I was giving birth to you. So I had to finish up quick and leave thecity and you with your father, she said with a sad smile. Ocean-Eyesembraced his loving mother and held her for a moment before hepulled his hood over his head and accepted his baton from his mother

    and left.Ocean-Eyes scaled the wall next to the tavern, climbed up onto

    the rooftop and looked out over the city. He loved it on the rovesbecause no one was up there and the roves were close to together inthe city so they were safe for traveling. No one would even know hewas up there unless they looked straight up but by then, he wouldhave been gone.

    He leaped across the gap between the taverns roof and the nextand kept moving. He crouched down on the corner of a roof just as alady dressed in plain clothes but was plainly a noble walked by downthe street.

    Ladies like those would stand out to any thief and mug a mileaway, he muttered as he followed the lady on the rooftops. Sureenough, a gang of thieves and mugs swarmed around her and with ascream, they carried her off. The gang traveled fast and Ocean-Eyeshad to run faster than he had before on the rooftops to catch up withthem. They brought the lady into an alleyway and dumped her on themuddy street but before they could get around to taking her valuables,Ocean-Eyes had made the dangerous drop from the second-floorrooftop to the ground and announced his entrance with a loud splash ofsquelching mud.

    Ocean-Eyes! one of them exclaimed. Ocean-Eyes just stoodthere casually, leaning on his baton and watching them. We weredoing your work, sir! We were harvesting them pieces off of this herelady!

    The same man that had spoken to him pointed at the pair of goldearrings that were revealed by the ladys fallen hood. The other thievesand their companions nodded in agreement. They advanced on thelady and she stared back at Ocean-Eyes helplessly. Stop, hecommanded quietly. They stopped.

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    Were doing your You are taking those pieces of hers for your own gain, John. I

    know because you are a part of a gang that takes what they want forthemselves. Ive caught people from your gang before taking peoplesbelongings for themselves and I choose not to believe you, Ocean-Eyes interrupted him. John opened and closed his mouth several times

    but Ocean-Eyes shook his head. Dont try making up an excuse, youarent even good at making them.

    And with that, John growled and barked a few orders and thenthe whole gang lunged at Ocean-Eyes. Ocean-Eyes had been expectingit. He had seen the way the gang had been standing and knew thatthey would attack him. He dropped three with his baton and sent oneflying by tripping him as he came at a full run towards him. He rammedone in the stomach and he doubled over as Ocean-Eyes turned on hisother attackers.

    He finished up quickly and let the gang run off into the street andturned his attention towards the woman. She lay where the gang had

    dumped her in the mud. She lay trembling and staring up with fear athim but he only gave her a reassuring smile and set his baton asideand lifted the woman to her feet.

    Are you all right, Miss? he asked gently.She slowly nodded and he picked up his baton and then helped

    her down the street. She watched him warily but with open curiosityand he smiled back when he caught her staring and she blushed. Oh,yes, thank you, kind sir, for saving me. It was good timing when youcame by the way you did, she murmured. He smiled.

    Did you really think that it was good timing? he murmured inreply. She smiled and shook her head. Well, I had been keeping an eye

    on you ever since you were walking in the street. Did you know thatany thief could have spotted you a mile away?

    Was I that obvious? she asked timidly and shyly. He noddedand she blushed again. He put an arm around her shoulders and shestiffened as he did it but then soon relaxed. Everyone greeted Ocean-Eyes with a smile or a bow and tipped their hats to his companion. Forthem, it wasnt unusual to see him with his arm around the shouldersof a lady. The woman he escorted gave him strange looks every timethe people they passed greeted him. Pardon me, but who are you?

    I am James Ocean-Eyes, Prince of the Thieves, son of the PirateQueen, he replied casually and then smiled down at her. You can callme Ocean-Eyes since that is what everyone calls me.

    So you are the infamous Ocean-Eyes! she exclaimed. He onlywalked on but she grabbed his arm and it made him stop. Everyone islooking for you to claim the hundred pieces of gold award; what areyou doing wandering out in the open! Anyone could catch you and turnyou in.

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    Yes, but these people are my friends. They are the ones I helpand protect from ones like your sort, he said. He pulled gently out ofher grip and continued on. Who are you anyway?

    I amLadyKatherine, she murmured, looking away. He didntmiss the hesitation or her glance away from him and knew that shewas lying but didnt press her. You may call me Kate.

    All right, Kate, where were you going before the gang caughtyou? he asked her.

    She shrugged. I was just wandering the city. I wanted to getaway from the palace for a while. There was a huge fight up there andthe tension is high, she said. Ocean-Eyes was about to reply but therewas a scream and a shout and Ocean-Eyes ran towards the sound withKate on his heels, hoping that it wasnt another fire.

    As he arrived on the scene, there was the shout of Thief! andsomeone almost broke past him as they ran and he reached out andhis strong hands managed to keep a hold of the man, he realized.

    Stop, thief, and give the good woman back her purse, he

    commanded as kind as he could make it. The young man stubbornlyshook his head. Give it back and Ill give you a pouch of silver.

    And with that, he brought out a small pouch of silver and held itup in front of the mans face and shook it there. The man stared at thepouch and then slowly handed him the purse. Then he suddenlysnatched the pouch and ran. Ocean-Eyes shook his head and strode upto the woman and handed over the purse. The woman offered a smileof thanks and he smiled back and went on his way with Kate behindhim.

    You were wandering the city, he said flatly as if they had neverbeen interrupted. As they went on their way, he stopped more thieves

    from taking things from people and saved a man from being swindledof all of his money.

    Kate observed all he did with curious eyes. Yes, I was wanderingthe city, trying to see the life of the people here and see if I couldblend in. It was something I always did when I came down to the citythough it was usually one of my servants who came down to buythings for me, she said.

    As night started coming, he escorted Kate to the palace gate anddropped her off there with the promise of seeing her again. She wouldbe safe beyond this point. Before she left, she stood on tiptoe andkissed him gently on the lips and with a smile, she was gone. He stoodthere for a moment, stunned, before he set off to meet with his menand the captain for the nights work, hands in his breeches pockets andwhistling cheerfully as he went along.

    His men and his mother included had all decided to meet thecaptain at Ocean-Eyes court in the tavern they usually did since itwas away from the wall and no one would suspect anything if a groupof men appeared in the tavern. As he entered the room, the mencheered and celebrated what they were about to do that night.

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    Ocean-Eyes, we think it is time you took your fathers place asKing of Thieves to begin your new reign on a night when the cityguards are to be replaced with honest men, one of the men called out.Everyone cheered at the words and Ocean-Eyes smiled.

    Tonight, I agree, is the perfect night that I should take thethrone of the city as King of Thieves like my father was before me. My

    mother, the Queen of Thieves has returned home and she will rule bymy side, Ocean-Eyes announced. They cheered and a happybarkeeper brought out the chair covering that was decorated with theemblem of the King of Thieves and all the symbols that representedthe title and the purpose of the title. It had been put away when hisfather had died since no one came forward to take the place as kinguntil now. The barkeeper respectfully spread it on Ocean-Eyesthrone and bowed himself away.

    Ocean-Eyes ran his fingers over the silk of the covering,memories coming back to him. He remembered when he was younger,he would stand or sit beside his father as his father sat on this very

    covering and this very chair. Now it was his turn to take his place. Hefaced his court and with a smile, he sat down as they cheered. Drinkswere dished out and they drank to his health and his newresponsibilities. He thanked them and some called for seconds, notgiving up the chance to drink ale paid for from the pocket of someoneother their own.

    After everything settled down, the captain came striding throughthe door with some of his guards and a table was hastily cleared forthem in front of Ocean-Eyes. As the captain sat, Ocean-Eyes lookeddown at the man with some sense of authority as his mother steppedup next to him. He felt the comfort of her presence and the comfort of

    his fathers through the covering of the chair like an embrace and hiscourage rose. He motioned the barkeeper over and the man and hisgirls served the guards some drinks and left.

    The girls stayed and they flirted and talked with the strangers.The guards smiled and flirted back but they did nothing else, nopinching nor attempts to kiss one of the girls, Ocean-Eyes noticed withinterest. The captain only smiled at the girl who tried to flirt with himand waved her away.

    Ocean-Eyes, your men seem a littlecheerful tonight, hecommented, pausing to watch Ocean-Eyes celebrating men. Thebarkeeper had been instructed to water the ale and to not let any ofthe men have third helpings of the drink because they had work to dothat night. The men would have been rowdier but because of thewatered ale, they werent as much.

    We watered the ale some, captain, not to worry, Ocean-Eyesreplied, knowing the captains worry. The captain gave a brief and quicksmile but Ocean-Eyes knew he was relieved.

    We start in half an hour, Ocean-Eyes. Meanwhile, do you haveany rooms or somewhere for me to rest? The whole day Ive been

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    going around stopping men from burning down houses and arrestingthieves, the captain said. He emphasized his point by hiding a yawnbehind a hand. Ocean-Eyes nodded at the stairs that led to the upperlevel of the tavern and the captain stood and walked up the stairsfollowed by two of his guards, no doubt to guard him while he napped.

    Your Majesty, someone said. Heart nudged him and he realized

    that that person was talking to him and smiled. He looked around forthe person addressing him and found him in front of him. The manbowed low. Your Majesty, congratulations on your new post. Hopefullyyou will rule as well as your father?

    We shall see, rise and return to your companions, Ocean-Eyessaid with a smile. A guard approached him and seated himself in a seatnext to Ocean-Eyes.

    Your Majesty? he asked curiously.Ocean-Eyes has been elected tonight to be the King of Thieves,

    Heart explained. We address the King of Thieves as Your Majesty asis suited for his position as ruler of the crooked protectors of the

    people.I see, the man said to no one in particular and looked out over

    the tavern at the men. Your subjects seemed overjoyed about it.Ocean-Eyes grinned. He was beginning to like this man. They

    like to find any excuse of an occasion to drink, he replied. He leanedback in his seat and watched over his men.

    To your health and new reign, Your Majesty! someone criedfrom over on the other side of the room and everyone cried out thesame words and it was silent for a moment as they took a swig fromtheir tankards.

    Dont get too drunk, men, we have work to do tonight, Ocean-

    Eyes warned, standing up. They nodded and shook their heads,whether in agreement of not getting drunk or denying they weredrunk, he didnt know. He walked among his men, talking to the moresenior men and told them what to watch out for and told them to helpthe younger and more inexperienced men with the job. They noddedand went back to their drinks.

    Exactly half an hour later, the captain appeared at the top of thesteps and waited for everyone to quiet down. Ocean-Eyes climbed upnext to him to stand next to him. Someone call my guards in fromoutside please, the captain started out. One of Ocean-Eyes thievesran outside and shouted for the captains men. A moment later, theycame followed by the thief who had gone to fetch them. Those menfound seats and all was quiet once more. You all know our job tonightto end the tyranny of the city guards who are supposed to be guardingthe citizens of the city but are instead terrorizing them. Ocean-Eyeshas sent me a letter with the lists of the pairs. Please get into themnow.

    For a moment there was some shuffling and moving around andthen when it stopped, everyone had gotten into their pairs. Ocean-Eyes

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    stepped forward. One elite guard will be put with each pair so that ifyou must attack a city guard, you will not be in trouble for it becauseyou have a person of authority with you to help you attack and arrest ifneeded. Elite guards, please find a pair to join for the night, Ocean-Eyes said. The captain gave a small nod at him in silent consent andapproval as the guards behind him went to join their fellows down the

    stairs and got into groups also. Once everyone was settled and groupsof three men stared up at them on the stairs, waiting for furtherinstructions.

    In three minutes, the watch will change. When the former cityguards go to their stations for the night and find someone alreadythere, they will be angry to find that they have been replaced and theirservices are no longer needed. We need you all to spread yourselvesevenly along the city wall and follow the angry guards. If they startcausing violence, arrest them. This includes vandalizing property, thecaptain said quietly. I will be paired with Ocean-Eyes and Heart andthe three of us will be traveling over the city tonight watching over the

    proceedings until morning comes. If you need help, my men havewhistles and certain codes to blow them in. Listen to the guards in yourgroups for they will help you all with whistle codes if you aresummoned for help.

    And blow as hard as you can on the whistle for as long as youcan and as loud as you can if you need our help with a group or if youneed nearby groups to help you, Ocean-Eyes added. The groupsnodded. Now go men, go and deal justice out to those who doesntrespect it in the proper way it should be.

    With a roar of approval, the groups charged out into the nightand dispersed all over the city, following the guards in their groups to

    assigned places. Ocean-Eyes went down the stairs and took his cloakfrom his mother and put it on. He grabbed his baton and was about toleave when Heart grabbed his arm.

    I have something for you, she said and with that, she reachedbehind his chair and brought out a bag filled with hilts of knives of alllengths. He drew one out and smiled. He stuck two of the medium-length knives in his boots where they could be drawn easily and tiedtwo of the smaller-length knives to his forearms and the last one, along knife that came in a sheath, next to his sword on his belt. Heembraced his mother.

    Thank you, Mother, he murmured. He kissed her cheek andwith her and the captain at his heels, he slipped out the door. Heclimbed onto the roof the same way he had done earlier in the day.

    Why arent we on the ground? the captain asked as he pulledhimself up heavily onto the roof next to Ocean-Eyes. Heart pulledherself up onto the roof easily. Ocean-Eyes thought it must be fromclimbing masts and sails for sixteen years in all kinds of conditions thatmade it easy for her.

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    It is so that we can cover more ground and see easier onto thestreets, he replied. The captain looked across the new perspective ofthe roads above the streets that he had never seen before in this wayand nodded in understanding. Come on, its almost time.

    And with that, Ocean-Eyes made his way across the rooftopstowards the ones closest to the walls followed by his companions. As

    they neared the walls, there was an angry shout and swearing on thewalls. The city guards must have just found their replacements,Heart said with a wolfish grin behind them. The other two men grinnedand just waited.

    In the dark, Ocean-Eyes could pick out the groups of three alongthe walls. He saw two detach themselves from the wall and slip intothe shadows of the streets as the former guards started coming downthe stairs from the city walls with angry looks on their faces. The othergroups began to do the same.

    Then over on the other side of the city, there was a whistle blast,calling for help. Ocean-Eyes immediately took a running leap to the

    next roof and ran across the rooftops, leaping over gaps in betweenthe houses. The whistle sounded again, this time much closer. Ocean-Eyes stopped and listened and he heard sounds of struggle and ascream just below him so he looked down.

    Two groups of his men and their guards tackled with a gang ofsixteen former city guards who were about to carry off three women.They were outnumbered. Without hesitation, Ocean-Eyes dropped tothe ground and landed neatly on the ground. Heart and the captainhad caught up and Heart leaped and landed neatly next to him but thecaptain just climbed his way down.

    Captain, get those women out of there, Ocean-Eyes

    commanded as he hit one guard in the stomach as he charged towardshim. He dropped him easily and tackled a knot of the guards as thecaptain did as he was told and coaxed the women out from behind thegroup of guards. They came out without hesitation and the captainbrought them to a safe distance before joining into the fight.

    When the fight was over, the sixteen guards lay on the groundmoaning as the thieves and guards walked around with leather ties andtied their hands together and hobbled their feet to prevent them fromescaping. There were several short blasts of whistles nearby and thecaptain straightened from tying off one guard. All of his guards lookedat him to see what he would do as the thieves, Ocean-Eyes, and Heartwatched, a little confused.

    Theres been murder, the captain explained. He turned to hismen. You men get these people to the holding cell at ourheadquarters just around the corner. Im going with Ocean-Eyes andHeart to investigate the murder.

    His men saluted him and they moved off. Ocean-Eyes and Heartfollowed the captain as he took them down the street as the whistlesounded again for murder. The captain took his own whistle out and

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    replied back and the whistle stopped. They turned down an alley andfound one of the groups standing guard around a city guard who hadbeen gagged and bound hand and foot. The man had blood splatter allover his bound hands and the front of his shirt and all over hisbreeches. He snarled at them as they arrived and Ocean-Eyes silencedhim by giving him a tap on the head with his baton. The men stepped

    back to reveal a white body lying on the stones of the street.Ocean-Eyes stepped closer for a closer look and to examine the

    body. The body belonged to a young girl just a little younger than hewas and her mouth was wide open with terror and her now-glazed-overeyes showed fear. Her throat was slit open and there were stab woundson her legs and arms. Her white skirt was bunched up under her andshe lay in a pool of her own blood. Ocean-Eyes turned away, sickened,and Heart rubbed his back in sympathy.

    I have seen many dead in my time but never as gruesome asthis, Heart murmured angrily, her eyes still on the girl who wouldnever grow up to be a wife and a mother and be an important

    somebody in the city.He did this? Ocean-Eyes asked, pointing to their prisoner. The

    men nodded and he strode up to the man and untied his gag. Howcould you kill that little girl?

    I had to, I had to do it, the man moaned.You had to do it for what? Ocean-Eyes demanded. The man

    didnt reply and he hit him hard across the face with the back of hishand. Reply to my question! A little girl is dead just because you hadto do it!

    The man winced and shook his head. Ocean-Eyes backhandedhim again and everyone started forward to keep him from hurting their

    prisoner but Heart warned them with a shake of her head and theybacked off. All right, I had to do it because she wanted me to, theman cried. Ocean-Eyes knew he was lying.

    If she had wanted you to do it, she wouldnt be sprawled out likethat and there wouldnt look as if it had been a struggle! he yelled. Hestood over the man and poised to strike again. Tell the truth!

    Ocean-Eyes, the captain said quietly.No, this man will tell me why he killed that Ocean-Eyes! We have other responsibilities right now! You can

    question the man later, the captain said over him. He came over andrubbed the younger mans shoulders. Ocean-Eyes, it is not your faultthat this girl died. You cant be there for everyone but just be glad thatyou are there for them.

    But No buts, Ocean-Eyes. It wasnt your fault and we will get to the

    bottom of this. Go tend to the girl. We will take this man up to theholding rooms and will come back for you, the captain said. Ocean-Eyes reluctantly nodded and turned back to the girl. He closed hereyes and her mouth and pulled her skirt back to where it should have

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    been. He lifted her onto a stretcher that came for her and crossed herarms over her chest as the blood from her clothing and wounds soakedinto the canvas of the stretcher. Someone handed him a bucket ofwater and a rag and he cleaned off the blood on the girl whilemurmuring to the gods to let her have a safe passage to the landsbeyond where those that have moved on went. Someone placed a

    sprig under her crossed arms on her chest and pulled a sheet over herbody and then he didnt see her face any more.

    The men that had come for her carried her away as he leanedagainst the wall after washing his hands free of blood in the bucket ofwater which was now red with blood. He could still smell the sharpscent of the blood on his hands but he ignored it and just waited for hismother and the captain to return.

    They returned to him a few minutes later and then the rest of thenight was quieter after that. They made several more arrests andstopped a man from stealing from someone. The man wasnt a guardso Ocean-Eyes gave him a pouch of silver and bade him good luck on

    his life. The captain gave him a look but said nothing as the mancarried off the bag of silver. They continued on until the sun rose andthen they returned to their rooms, wherever each may be, and slept,exhausted from the nights work.

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    Welcome back, my lady. Would you like something to eat ordrink? Or perhaps a nice bath after your day out in the city? theservant murmured. Kate smiled and shook her head and waved thewoman away.

    I just wish to rest, please, she replied. The woman curtsied andleft.

    Kate changed into her clothes by herself and flopped onto herbed with its silk sheets and warm blankets and soft feather pillows. Shethought about her day and she thought about Ocean-Eyes. She hadreally met him, the King of Thieves, and she was really smitten by him.

    Just thinking of handsome young man sent shivers of pleasure throughher body that she had never felt before.

    She shook her head to clear her head of such thoughts. Hes acommoner and Im, well, a princess, she told herself sternly. She wasthe youngest daughter of the royal family and her cruel father didntpay her mind, for which she was thankful for, and instead paid mostattention to his sons, the future rulers of the kingdom. Her mother wasthe kings fifth wife she was pregnant with another child. Kate hopedthat it would be a boy because the king had threatened that he wouldthrow her out of the palace if she didnt provide him with another son.Her mother had only given her father daughters, fine daughters, but

    daughters nevertheless. The king wanted sons, despite how many hehad already, all of them his blood sons. There were sixteen of them,four sons from each of his former wives. Kate had two older sisters, allfull sisters instead of half like her brothers. But her father wanted sons.

    Her thoughts turned back to Ocean-Eyes and his handsome smileand his open heart and his generosity. He had saved her when shethought no one would and he had even let her stay around and watchhim work. He had even personally escorted her to the palace gates tomake sure she got home safe despite his own danger.

    She could still feel his arms around her and his arm around hershoulders protectively and she remembered their kiss. Thought it was

    brief, it had been a true, first, real Someone banged noisily on her door and she sighed and got up.

    She threw on a robe and answered the door. Her sixteen half-brothersstood there in the doorway grinning at her and she let them in.

    Her brothers managed to find places to sit in her rooms and theywere joined by Kates two sisters. What is it? she asked them.

    Nothing, dear sister, cant we just visit you? one of them askedwith a grin. He kicked off his boots and leaned back in his seat,

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    throwing his feet up onto the table. Weston, the one who had replied,was her favorite brother. He was almost ten years older than her buthe was more like a father to her than any of her brothers. He was alsovery protective as a result.

    The door opened again and more people came in and sherecognized most of them as her cousins. There were an uncountable

    number of them. She had so many of them that she didnt know all oftheir names and if she did, she would get them mixed up.

    Kate groaned. There were so many people in her rooms, howwould she fit them all? The problem was solved when people saw howmany were already in the room and left. Those were mostly the non-relatives. At the end, she had almost thirty people in her rooms andshe rang the bell for the servants. They came up and served out teaand other beverages, poked the fire, opened the curtains and windowsto let some fresh air in and left.

    Weston patted the open seat next to him, inviting her to sit, andshe sat down next to her brother. She leaned on her brothers side as

    he put an arm around her. Their little gathering became a party asmore people came and went and they stayed up until two hours pastmidnight in her rooms until only Kate and her siblings were left. Thatwas when their father opened the door to the room and they all shot totheir feet and all was quiet.

    King Harold the Sixth examined each of his children with piercingsteel-grey eyes that all of his children had. Nineteen pairs of grey eyesreturned his gaze silently. King Harold came over to Kate and shetrembled but Weston held her closely so she felt a little safer than shehad if she had been standing alone. Her father chucked her under thechin hard and she winced.

    Lose the sullen look, Katherine. Ladies should have soft andinnocent looks, not like yours, her father commanded.

    Yes, Your Majesty, she murmured, curtsying to him. He gaveher a look and she gulped. Father.

    He gave her a long look before he came to the front of the room.Everyone return to your rooms. Proper princes and princesses dontstay up all night waking up the people in the palace, he commanded.

    Yes, Father, they all murmured. Weston kissed her on the cheekand embraced her before leaving after her siblings. Her father watchedher with an unwavering gaze and she trembled under that look.

    Weston seems a bit warm to you, he commented.He is my brother, Father. My favorite brother, she admitted.

    Her father could be kind when he wanted to but she had to watch herstep because his mood changed unexpectedly.

    I see, the king commented again. He strode to the window andlooked outside at the city below. Katherine, my daughter, you mustnot have any favorites even among your siblings. Favoritism is notgood for anyone, especially for a princess like you.

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    Father, Weston is my favorite brother because he treats me likea person, not just a girl. Hes protective and he cares for me more thanany of my siblings have, even my older sisters. Hes like a father tome, she said and then gasped as she realized she blurted out the lastpart.

    Like a father to you? Are you saying that I havent been a

    father to you? her father asked softly.Father, what I meant is, hes What you mean is, is he is always there for you and always

    protects you from anything he can, even though it may be a bad dreamor a silly fear such as a fear of the color red and hell do anything hecan to make you happy, her father murmured. She nodded as herfather sighed with sadness. He turned and pointed to the couch in theroom and she sat down and he sat beside her. I had a brother likeWeston once. He was like my father. My real father was always offconquering lands and off on crusades.

    What happened to him? Kate asked.

    He was taken from me, he whispered. Kate thought it was thefirst time that her strong and never faltering father had ever showedany emotion in years. Kate gingerly put a comforting arm around herfathers shoulders. He was taken from me by the King of Thieves.

    Ocean-Eyes?No, his father, her father said angrily. My brother had been

    foolish enough to steal from the King of Thieves and the king foundhim and killed him for stealing. I was so angry at the time because myfather had died a few weeks later from a fatal wound, making me king.So after hearing of my brothers death, I found where he lived and hadmy men bar the doors and windows of his house so no one could get

    out and had it burned to the ground.And?The King of Thieves was burned to death inside his house saving

    his son. He could have saved himself but his eight-year-old son wasscreaming on the lower level so he charged down, smashed open awindow and threw out his son before the newly-added air fueled thefire and the fire consumed him, her father said in a dead tone. Sheknew from his tone and faraway look that he had been there during theburning of the house. I was there the whole time, watching the mansacrifice his own life to save his son. I strode towards the boy,intending to kill him and end the line of the King of Thieves but anabbot got to him first and took the crying boy into his arms andproclaimed to everyone that he was under the protection of HorthsTemple, the temple of the dream god.

    Kate stared at her father. Thats why you let the city guards dowhat they liked to the city people, she whispered. He nodded. Butwhy father, why take it out on the city people?

    It is because those very people protected the King of Thieveswhen I wanted him dead. It is because those very civilians protected

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    Ocean-Eyes, wake up, someone whispered into his ear.He groaned and tucked his head under his pillow.Ocean-Eyes, someones here to see you, the voice said again

    and the pillow was taken from him. He groaned and sat up. It was justa few hours before noon, he saw as he looked out the window. He hadonly gotten a few hours sleep and only wanted to fall back into bedand sleep some more.

    He looked around and saw that his mother was beside him andshe was holding his pillow. She smiled and gave him pillow back andleft after letting in someone dressed in a hooded cloak he knew toowell. Kate, what are you doing here? How did you find me? he asked

    drowsily as Kate slid the hood off and smiled at him.Ocean-Eyes, I have something things to tell you. Some things

    that I think you deserve to know. And Im not a lady, Im a princess, theyoungest daughter of the king, she replied. He opened and closed hismouth a few times as she came and sat on the edge of the bed.

    She put a finger over his lips and leaned over him and kissedhim. He held her close and when she broke the kiss, she slipped in nextto him. Some things you need to know are that the fire that killed yourfather eight years ago was no accident. It was set by my father, shewhispered. His grip around her waist tightened and she shifteduncomfortably beside him but said nothing and went on. Your father

    had killed my fathers brother for stealing from him and my father wasmad at him so he started that fire at your house. He saw your fatherthrow you out the window to save you before the fire burned him todeath. My father was still angry and had wanted to kill you also but theabbot saved you instead. Im so sorry, Ocean-Eyes.

    Hed always told me it was an accident, Ocean-Eyes whispered.He realized he was holding Kate a little too tightly and loosened hisgrip. Sorry.

    She smiled up at him but then the smile faded. Do you knowwhat this means for us, Ocean-Eyes? she murmured. He took herhand and intertwined his fingers with hers. It means we cant be

    together. Our fathers had a grudge against each other and my fatherstill wants to kill you.

    Makes no difference to me, Kate, he replied. He looked up andshe met his gaze.

    Well I cant keep doing this, coming down to the city all thetime, alone. My brothers will find out eventually and so will my father.Then one day, hell have someone follow me and then when he finds

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    that Im coming to see you, hell have you killed because commonersare not supposed to associate themselves in this way with the royalty.

    Unless the royalty gives permission, he finished with a smile.You forgot the last part, princess.

    But it doesnt matter! My father will have your head eitherway, she whispered furiously. Before she could say anything more,

    Ocean-Eyes took her head into his hands and kissed her on the lips assweetly as he could. Her arms went around his neck as she returnedthe kiss passionately.

    Kate, I love you, and nothing will stop me from feeling that,Ocean-Eyes said hoarsely after they parted. Even if there are athousand kings after me, I still wont stop loving you.

    Weve only seen each other for two days, she murmured.Yes, but you triggered something last night that wont stop me

    from seeing you, he replied with a smile. She smiled back and let himlay down on the bed before she used his chest as a pillow. Ocean-Eyesfell asleep again, exhausted from the night before and the last thing he

    saw before he fell asleep was Kate.When he woke again, he eased himself out from under Kate and

    pulled the covers over her before he left the room, not minding as acool breeze brushed against the bare skin of his chest. He made hisway to the altar where he had placed the gold ornaments the first nightafter he discovered there was a bounty on his head.

    He sat there in front of the altar, staring up at the statue ofHorth, the Dream God.

    What did you want me here for? Why did you claim me? hewhispered to the god, not expecting a reply. Silent tears rolled down hischeeks as he remembered his loving father and the news he had

    learned about his death. Behind him, the priests of the temple wentabout their silent business, casting worried glances his way but did notdisturb him. He fell into a state of meditation after wiping the tears offof his cheek