It was year’s first day, and everyone was up with the sun to watch the parade.
Chance’s Ill Daughter had been chased out of every city and town in Yaa as the past night had fallen—dressed in tattered rags and muck, shoeless and shave-headed with black warts painted on her face, the girl was hollered and harried into the darkness, but she was paid for her unlucky part. It was not like the days of old, when the players were chosen without choice, stones were thrown instead of rotted fruit, and ill-luck was not considered dead until the girl was.
Today, a beauteous girl walked as Chance’s Fair Daughter at the forefront of a grand parade, with pipers and jugglers and animals, and all the townsfolk out to wave and watch, or buy food and pretties at stands, throw newly bloomed flowers, and of course, to place small tokens in the shrines of Old Man Chance—never in appearance himself, as it was considered unlucky to draw the fatelord’s eye.
The excitement of the day caught up even Syawn, who was remarkably imperturbable for a child of twelve—twelve just today, with everyone’s age rolling forward on the new year’s morn. Orange curls caught and blown about by the brisk sea breeze (the sea insisted that it was winter yet, while the grasses of the hillside said spring was come and well come,) wide green eyes delighted in the scene, his hands clapping as drums and hornpipes danced past.
Spotting a taffy stand, he remembered his true purpose. The spectacle was there to sidetrack others, not him. A street urchin all on his own couldn’t afford to be distracted from making his way in the world. There were pockets to be picked and candies to be pinched.
He jostled backwards against a woman who’d just purchased a handful of taffies, causing her to fumble them. “Sorry, ma’am.” He ducked to pick them up and handed back all but one. He slipped away before untrapping it from its leafy wrapping and popping the sticky sweet in his mouth. He smiled and picked up a fallen flower to throw back out into the street. Who said he couldn’t have just as fine a day as the king himself?
He moved with the parade—the grandest one he’d ever seen, being one of four such in the crown city—plucking modest amounts of coin as he went, along with whatever treats struck his fancy. A toddler sat against his mother’s legs, fat-cheeked and clean, playing with a miniature red-painted wagon, with a wheel-hooved horse to pull it. That would be a gift to earn Sy some real appreciation from his part-time band. He ducked down and smiled at the child, holding out half a sweetroll. The child snatched at the dessert, and Sy swiftly snatched the wooden toy from under him, pushing backwards through the crowd.
Heart pounding with the pleasant rush of a fine theft, he slowed down when he was far enough away that none would stop to wonder whether the toy in hand was his own. Another two hours he wandered through, and when things began to quiet down, he felt fat with wealth and slightly ill. Clambering onto the nearby row of rooftops, he cut an elevated path down to the city docks, where he found the local band he’d fallen in with.
“What’s your haul?” he asked with a grin, already having hidden half of his own so as not to share any. The children’s smiles slid from their faces, and they stared at him in horror.
“Haul?” the newly nine-year-old Celsia whispered. “Haul, on Fair Daughter’s Day? Y’ve surely done nos’ch thing.”
Syawn’s smile faded. “Why not? What’s the matter?”
“It’s as bad as stealing from a Chance shrine—it’s a curse! Steal last night, sure enough, but steal this morn, and y’ve soured your whole coming year.” The whole band was backing away from him, looking at him as though he was the wart-faced Ill Daughter himself. Belly churning and his head beginning to throb with a sweets-ache, he knew he had to turn the tables fast, or lose the tender shoots of their loyalty.
Syawn snorted. “Plague-brain!” He pulled the red wagon and horse from behind his back, tossing it to the youngest of the band. Newly-five Russa caught it in her grubby little hands. “My luck’s been as fair as the day.” He snapped his fingers. “Chance takes care of we who dare. I was just thinking on those overflowing shrines. We could eat like lords and ladies for a month with such a haul—or I could ’til Ill Daughter’s next night, if none of youse will dice for it. Come; why should Chance love us less than his own priests?”
Celsia crossed her arms. “Because we’re thieves, and they’ve dedicated their lives to Chance’s service.”
Sy nodded, sidling forward a step. “Aye, that would be fair of him, wouldn’t it. But loves—” he grinned, and spilled the purse full of coin at their feet, “—whoever said Chance was fair?” He looked at their faces, making sure every one was lustfully riveted on the scattered coin (except for Russa, who was busy rolling her horse and cart up and down the alley,) before turning his back on the lot.
“Youse can have that pittance as my good-bye gift. I’m off to loot four times that, and sweep Fair Fortune off her feet by my boldness. You do as you like.”
“Well,” Celsia hedged. “It’s not the morning anymore. Maybe—but the shrines! Late frost take all, even if the law din’t catch us, Old Man Chance would.”
“And it’s that kind of thinking that keeps you in the cold.” Sy glanced over his shoulder. “I’ve got a plan to get in and out and sate Chance beside, but if you’re scared to dice, then stay out of the game.”
“Well… what’s the plan, then?”
Leaping up onto his sleeping crate, Sy spun around to look down on them all, rubbing his hands together. “Here’s the notion.”