Rangers of Linwood (The Five Kingdoms Book 1)

BOOK: Rangers of Linwood (The Five Kingdoms Book 1)
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Rangers

Of

Linwood

 

 

 

LeAnn Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Being small had a distinct advantage. Unfortunately, at eight years old, Tesni was starting to get to the point where she was no longer small. That was why she was taking every assignment, every mark that she could get. As she continued to grow, she would have to figure out new tricks.

For now, though, her current favorite would still work. She knelt down in front of a market stall, approximately five stalls down from her mark, and rolled beneath the cloth covering.

From there, she crawled beneath the stalls, peeking out at each one to make sure that her mark was still where she had last seen him. He was at the jewelry stall, haggling over a very nice necklace. Tesni smirked. If she did this right, she could snatch both the purse and the necklace.

Not that the necklace would mean much to Knives or any of the other members of the Thieves Guild. Yes, it was worth quite a bit of gold, but it was difficult to sell and get the gold for it because it would be so obviously stolen. It could be used as a distraction, though.

Once she was beneath the jewelry stall, Tesni cut a tiny slit in the cloth, just large enough to fit her hand and her knife through.

Just then, someone else bumped into the mark. Tesni could hear the apologies, and she recognized the voice as a local pickpocket who didn’t work with the guild. He was using an old, obvious trick to get to the mark’s purse, and Tesni just rolled her eyes.
Idiot
, she thought.

With a quick swipe of her knife, the purse strings were cut. The purse fell into her open, waiting hand, which quickly disappeared beneath the cloth. The hand with the knife was already back in its hole. Tesni barely kept herself from laughing as her competitor walked away, embarrassed, and better yet, empty-handed.

In the confusion as the mark began yelling, accusing Tesni’s competitor of theft, the jeweler became distracted by the guards coming over. He began telling what he saw, and Tesni reached up behind the stall, grabbed the necklace, and disappeared in the opposite direction.

Several stalls down, she rolled out, darted into an alley, climbed up the apple tree growing there, and hopped up onto the roof. From there, she threw the necklace as hard as she could back towards the jewelry stall. She grinned as it landed on the other side, next to her competitor, who was arrested.

I almost feel sorry for him, but just one more competitor off the streets
, Tesni thought.
If he had been smart, he would have joined the guild. Not that he’s good enough. I don’t think Knives has ever issued him an invitation.

Eventually, Tesni tore her blue eyes away from the scene. Pulling her blonde braid out of the bun she’d had it in to keep it from tripping her up as she crawled, she leapt from rooftop to rooftop until she got to the edge of town, at which point she leapt onto a tree branch and darted into the forest.

Once there, it was easy to find the cave the Thieves Guild called home.
Tap. Tap tap tap. Knock knock. Knock tap knock.
It was a complicated code, but it had to be. Immediately, the door opened, and Tesni darted in. “Hello there, Knives,” she said, grinning as she held up the purse.

“Hello, yourself, Wits,” the man replied, closing the door behind her. He was a Wood Elf, six or seven-hundred years of age, but still looked no more than thirty. Even though he was technically Tesni’s boss, they shared a friendly rivalry, Wood Elf vs. High Elf. “What kind of haul did you bring us?”

“I’m not sure,” Tesni said. “I ‘aven’t had a chance to count th’ coins, but it’s a heavy one, and considerin’ th’ necklace he was bargainin’ for, I’m fair certain that it’s at least five-‘undred.” With average wages in Linwood not more than ten gold coins per week, and usually closer to seven, it was indeed a decent haul.

When they went to count, though, both Knives and Tesni were in for a surprise. Half the coins were the larger five-gold pieces, and a few were the even larger ten-gold pieces. Altogether, it added up to over a thousand in gold.

“You’re a great asset to us, Wits. It’ll be a shame when ye’ve gotten too tall to pull yer tricks.”

“I’ve already started workin’ on new ideas, Knives. Don’t you worry your silly little Wood Elf head. My hauls won’t be getting’ any smaller.”

“Yer a clever girl, Wits,” Knives said, shaking his head. “I’ve no doubt in my mind that you’ll come up with completely new tricks. Now go get some food. You’ve earned it, lass, and ye ought to do plenty well during th’ afternoon market, as well, even when th’ others find it dry pickings.”

 



 

At the afternoon market, Tesni did, in fact, find an easy looking mark. It was a red-haired woman Tesni recognized as another Wood Elf. That wasn’t surprising. Wood Elves were a common sight in Linwood and the surrounding forest. It was Tesni who was the oddball.

Something about the way the woman was dressed, in dark green pants, with matching tunic and jacket, the jacket with gold lining, gave Tesni pause. She eyed the green and gold embroidered sash around the woman’s waist with interest. Still, Tesni prided herself on being able to sneak up on any mark. The woman was over at a food stall. Tesni went over and boldly stood next to her, pretending to be perusing the various breads available.

Carefully, Tesni pulled her own purse, filled with rocks, from her belt, as if she were preparing to make a purchase. She reached over, placed her purse strings over the woman’s belt hook and maneuvered the purses together so that the same amount of weight would always be felt.

Eventually, she got the mark’s purse alone in her hands, and she was just manipulating the strings to unravel when the woman, clearly having made a decision, reached down to get some coins out and grabbed Tesni’s wrist instead.

The woman turned to look at Tesni, who shrank back and squirmed, her first instinct to free her hand. What happened next took the girl by surprise.

“Oh, there you are,” said the woman. “I was wondering when you were going to catch up with me. What do you think? The bread stuffed with cherries for our dinner?”

“That sounds good,” Tesni said, schooling her features to make it seem as if this were the most natural conversation in all the five kingdoms to be having with this woman.

The woman handed Tesni both of the purses. “Been collecting rocks again?” she asked.

“They’re really pretty ones this time,” Tesni said.

“Alright, kiddo, count out the coins for the baker.”

Tesni turned to the baker, who was looking at them oddly. “How much for a loaf of the cherry bread?”

“One gold, three silver,” the baker said. “We’re at the end of the cherry season, and it’s still in high demand,” he added, as if trying to excuse his high price.

“How about just one gold, even?” Tesni asked. “With it bein’ th’ end of th’ cherry season, it will be harder to sell. People know th’ cherry season was over near a week ago.”

The baker leaned over. “How about one gold five silver, and I’ll pretend you didn’t just insult me.”

The woman leaned, in turn, towards the baker. “How about just nine silver, and I’ll pretend you didn’t just threaten my daughter?”

The baker looked down at the woman’s chest, gulped, and then looked back up at her. “Nine silver, then,” he agreed.

Tesni counted out nine silver coins and handed them over. The baker, in turn, handed over the loaf of cherry bread and threw in a sweet roll. As he was doing this, Tesni looked at the woman’s chest as well and realized what her mistake – and the man’s – had been.

The woman was one of the famed Rangers of Linwood. The crest, a green embroidered patch with a gold border and a bow and arrow crossed with a sword the name Arya below the weapons, stood out proudly on the woman’s left breast. She grabbed Tesni’s hand and smiled, the bag with the bread in it under her other arm. “Come on, let’s go back to camp.”

Tesni had no choice but to go with the woman where she led her. After all, she still had the woman’s purse, and the woman knew it. She would give chase, and she could easily catch Tesni.

The woman led her to the edge of town and then into the woods. She found a mossy spot beneath a large oak tree and sat, motioning for Tesni to sit next to her. The girl sat, confused. The woman could have just had her arrested on the spot, but instead she’d referred to Tesni as her daughter, threatened the baker on Tesni’s behalf, and trusted Tesni to keep hold of her purse.

 



 

Arya Summerbreeze couldn’t help but be surprised when she gripped a wrist instead of her purse as she prepared to select some bread. She was even more surprised to find that it was a young girl.

Still, there was something about her, and Arya had purchased some bread, covered for the fact that the girl was a stranger to her, and brought her here to eat and talk.

She could tell that the girl was confused as they sat beneath the tree, and Arya smiled at her. “Don’t worry, young one. I’m not going to hurt you.”

“But yer goin’ to take me to th’ guards,” the girl said.

“No, I’m not going to take you to the guards, either,” Arya said. She split the cherry bread in half and handed half to the girl. “I’m Arya Summerbreeze. And what do they call you?”

The girl just blinked, surprised. “They call me Wits.”

“A Thieves Guild nickname,” Arya said. “What’s your real name?”

“It’s Tesni. Tesni Redleaf.”

Well, that was an unexpected last name, Arya thought. When had Knives had a kid? And what poor woman had he convinced to be the mother? “And how old are you?”

“I’m eight.”

“Well, Tesni, you seem a little young to be a part of the Thieves Guild.”

Tesni shrugged. “Knives has practically raised me as his own. I’ve been with ‘em since I was four.”

So Tesni wasn’t Alastar’s child. Arya took in this information, keeping her features schooled so that Tesni would not see the frown trying to take over. “Four is a very young age at which to join the Thieves Guild.”

Again, Tesni shrugged. She still was not quite sure why she was even talking to this woman. Why didn’t she just get up and run back to Knives and to the rest of the lads? That was home, after all, and surely Knives would be worried about her. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t about to let ‘em haul me off to the orphanage. Lettin’ Knives take care of me has worked out pretty well. Who knows what kind of treatment I might ‘ave received at the orphanage, or whether anyone would ‘ave picked me? I wasn’t a baby anymore.”

Arya barely held back her surprise. “Don’t tell me that you understood all of this when you were four.”

“Not really, no,” Tesni admitted, “but it is somethin’ that I understand
now
. Knives might not be my father, but he does love me.”

“You could have a life that doesn’t involve breaking the law, you know,” Arya said. “You could come to the Rangers.” The words were out of her mouth before she realized she had said them. The last thing the Rangers needed around camp was a kid not even old enough to start training.

Tesni was as surprised as Arya at the offer. “Thanks, but last I ‘eard, I was still a bit young to be joinin’ the Rangers. I should get goin’. Knives is goin’ to be worried about me.”

Arya sighed. “Alright, but before you go, here, take this.” She poured half the remaining coins from her purse into Tesni’s and handed her the sweet roll.

“What’s this for?” Tesni asked, confused.

“Look, if I know the lads of the Thieves Guild, they won’t like it if you come home empty-handed, especially with you coming back late already. You should probably eat the sweet roll on the way back so that they don’t think you spent part of the score on yourself instead of sharing the whole with them. Call it a gift for helping me get a better price on the cherry bread. You have clearly earned your nickname.”

“Alright, thank ye,” Tesni said. Then, before Arya could respond, she was up and running through the trees. She gave the knock at the cave door as fast as she could and darted in, rolling with the impact as, in her haste, she missed the slight step down.

“Yer late, Wits.”

“I know, Knives, I know. It tends to happen when you get caught picking th’ pocket of a Ranger.”

Knives let out a low whistle. “Oi, lass, ye’ve got courage for sure, targeting one of them Rangers. How’d you escape?”

“She let me go.”

“She let you go?”

“Oh, aye, and I don’t know why,” Tesni said. “Gave me ‘alf a loaf of bread, a sweet roll, and ‘alf her purse, as well as an invitation to come join up, she did.”

“I don’t suppose ye got th’ name of this Ranger, did ye?” Knives asked.

“Aye. She said it was Arya Summerbreeze. Why?”

Knives could not hide his shock. Damn. He’d wondered what had happened to her. Now he knew that the rumors were true, that she had, indeed, gone to the Rangers and worked her way up the ranks. “She’s got a reputation, that one. She must ‘ave liked yer spunk, lass. She don’t ‘and out invites to just anyone.”

“She their leader or somethin’?” Tesni asked.

“Aye, she is, or at least one of ‘em,” Knives said. “Ye did good today, lass. Get some mess and ‘ead on to bed.”

BOOK: Rangers of Linwood (The Five Kingdoms Book 1)
9.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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