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The case was simple: a baker, suspicious of his dwindling inventory, hired a strong arm to guard his shop at night. The strong arm caught a youth filching and turned him over to the Watch. The trespasser was a boy of ten or eleven claiming no relatives and no home, but well-fed and reasonably clean. It matched the description of most padfoots, although clean was debatable, and the baker was demanding justice and recompense from the guild itself, which was strange. Padfoot’s was not an official guild, and very few people outside of it knew of it.

There was no doubt of the youth’s guilt of trespassing, but the baker was claiming quite a large sum and moons of losses, unlikely to have been committed by the boy in question, or any single thief. Very few thieves were dumb enough to clean the same place more than once in several moons.

The only date listed was the day of the arrest, a phase earlier. Likely the Captain had received the case when it happened, since it was a youth with no family and therefore too complicated for the Watch, and had been sitting on the information for four or five days. The Captain probably already knew everything there was to know, including exactly how much the baker had actually lost.

Was it a test for me, to see where my loyalties would lie?

But five days was enough for Bigfoot to know, as well. He would not do anything, not with the Watch involved, but it seemed unlikely that they would not have mentioned it, or at least been concerned. Plus, Padfoot’s had several members who kept track of the whole groups’—movements—and they kept a list of who had strong arms.

But then, I might not have noticed. They had been concerned about me and my past, and I had been distracted by that. And if the baker had recently hired the guard, it could have been overlooked. It might have been a really unlucky padfoot.

Or ‘Freddie’ Bigfoot and the Captain had already reached an understanding, and the padfoots were confident that the problem was solved.

Unless they thought I had come as the Captain’s spy?

I tried to remember all their expressions and only remembered a past headache.

The cost of damages was outrageous. Even if the boy had been cleaning the bakery every day for the three moons the baker claimed losses, he could not have stolen so much bread. Probably, the baker was hoping to be compensated for the expense of the strong arm.

Unless some particular item of value had been stolen?

I read and reread the case files and looked through the lawbook the Captain had given me until my eyes hurt, my feet fell asleep from sitting cross-legged, and my lamp flickered out.

 

Dressed and outwardly prepared, though seriously lacking in sleep, I stepped into the Captain’s office with a confidence I did not feel.

Captain Winter was at his desk, unconcerned as ever. But it was almost comforting that he was there, waiting, when he could have been off eating breakfast or meeting with the king. He even gave me his full attention, setting his papers aside and watching me benevolently. It was a terrifying sight. “Miss Avery. I trust you slept well and have wonderful news for me.”

Meeting his intelligent eyes, I knew he had already solved the case and had kept it as a test for me. Forcing myself to appear relaxed, I sat and said, “Unfortunately, our shopkeeper has not been very forthcoming. It would be impossible to prove that the boy has stolen so much, and illogical for him to have done so at one location, even in so many moons. If the baker were willing to submit his ledgers, we could verify the amount, but not the identity of the thief, or that this ‘Padfoot’s Guild’ was responsible. As the boy caught in the bakery would not have been able to take anything, he cannot prove that this boy ever stole anything at all.”

He made no response, but I paused, weighing the risk of continuing to speak against the likelihood of being given more work if I did not say enough. “It appears that the baker is hiding a more serious theft. Far more likely than moons of petty thieving, he experienced one burglary. It would have to be some specific object of immense value for him to have noticed that it was missing. For whatever reason, he expected the thief to return. He hired a guard and a boy was caught. The baker believes it is his original thief. Even if it is not, he wishes to be compensated.” Inspired, I asked, “I assume that, as the boy claims no relative and is not part of a recognized guild, the recompense would come directly from House Saliz?”

Captain Winter still made no response, nor any sign of being impressed or disappointed. His expression was the one that had made me read the entire dictionary twice plus three law books that weighed more than I did.

I tried not to look as desperate as I felt. “I am led to conclude that the object in question must be something that the baker does not wish to speak of, such as an object of power or an illegal artifact.”

There were some, according to legend or Jaiden, objects infused with magic created by powerful mages. It was said that the Mad King himself had enchanted objects using the souls of the people he murdered, but that was probably just a story Jaiden had made up to scare me. True or not, other sources agreed that there was a dagger, a brooch, a ring, a mirror, and a crown. The dagger had been buried in Horatio’s throat and the king’s crown was destroyed during that same battle. The others were only spoken of as objects that ensorcelled and enslaved, but no one could prove that they actually existed.

There were other objects of power that were less sinister. A master bard’s long-used lute, a swordmaster’s favorite sword, even a great chef’s cookbook could become enchanted over time by the passion of those that used them. These were generally family heirlooms, kept as a special reminder of their ancestors. They had a slight effect of improving the skills of whoever used them—making a better cook, a more accurate swordsman, a truer lute player. They were no substitute for skill and hard work.

But those with power like the Mad King’s could create objects that worked regardless of who wielded them. They could give you powers you did not have, abilities that had a greater impact than cooking a good stew or playing a pretty tune. Powers to conquer, to destroy, to bewitch.

If you believed in that sort of thing. Jaiden did, but most people did not. Still, it was fun to talk about, and made the Mad King into more of a fanciful story and less of a recent horror.

In all likelihood, the baker was stingy and greedy, and wanted to get as much as possible out of the situation. But this was Saliz, where magic danced like the wind and flowed like music. It was possible that his family had an heirloom they considered priceless.

“Or a perfectly legal but secret family recipe book,” I finished.

The Captain’s eyes were twinkling with his superior knowledge. “Give your conclusion,” he said.

I was sure I had already concluded several times. “Without proof of the existence of the stolen goods, House Saliz can only hold this boy for trespassing.” He did not respond, so I added, “Perhaps the baker will be more forthright if he is told that additional evidence is needed for monetary recompense to be given.”

Captain Winter laughed quietly, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was impossible to be prepared for his reactions. “Our baker was not so unforthcoming as he appeared in his report. The stolen object was one heirloom wooden spoon, which he claims is imbued with the souls of all his ancestors.” Eyes still twinkling with mirth at his own underhandedness, he spread out the papers before him: one long narrative history of the baker’s family, a short description of the object, and a drawing. “Does it look familiar to you?”

I barely glanced at it. “Yes. Your cook has it. So does every house in town. Shall we check them all?”

It was an ordinary kitchen spoon, but the Captain’s sudden disinterested expression suggested I had failed. I looked at the drawing again.

You’re dead.

On the bottom right corner of the handle, there was a small engraving. It was a rosewood tree with two little birds in the branches. I had seen that spoon, just the day before at Padfoot’s, floating in a bowl of stew. Only the engraving was not any family crest, it was a maker’s mark.

As with most apprentices, my mark was designed for me from my master’s. It was mostly his, but the birds faced opposite directions. He said it was because I was in opposition with myself, whereas he was always in harmony.

A journeyman was permitted to change his mark, with approval, and a master could do as they pleased. But as an apprentice, I had no choice but to use the mark Throne had given me, and out of habit I had used it at Padfoot’s.

“It was found in the thief’s possession?” I tried to ask as though it were a possibility.

Someone must have mistaken it for his, and thought it had value.

“No. The baker believes it will be found at the thief’s hideout.” He shuffled through the other papers on his desk.

The Captain knew that I had spent time at Padfoot’s, and that I had been a woodcrafter’s apprentice. I could admit to having made the spoon, thereby declaring it worthless. Anyone would assume that the similarity of the mark was a deliberate imitation.

Even in the north I would have known of his legacy, had I not had the old recluse himself for a teacher. At ten years as a beginner apprentice, he had made pieces for the palace. As a journeyman at fifteen years, his Charmed wood was sold at premium prices throughout all Niare. At twenty years he was accepted as the youngest craftmaster in history. He had been commissioned to redecorate the royal suite after King Horatio’s death, and then he had vanished.

But I had not learned of Thorne’s fame until my brief visit to Atelis, when I had foolishly thought I could earn another apprenticeship. Instead, I was laughed out for claiming Thorne as my teacher. Even then, I had not thought much of it until the padfoots had exclaimed over the mark. I had been forced to claim it was only a joke, which they had accepted easily. I had forgotten about it.

Unlucky.

“It is fake.” I said, fighting the temptation to sigh. “An imitation Thorne, made sometime in the last—” I hesitated. When had Thorne disappeared from Saliz? “—five years. Probably less.” I looked again, wondering how it would look to any other woodcrafter. “It is not even a good fake, and definitely not an heirloom.” I set the papers back on his desk.

The Captain had returned his full attention to me. “Well-reasoned, however the piece is not a fake.” He picked up the drawing.
I reached across the desk to point out the birds in the tree. “Thorne’s mark has two birds that face each other. These are not the same.”

“True, but if you read the description, you will find that the mark is supposed to be the family’s crest, partially destroyed by years of wear. He does not claim it as a Thorne.”

“And the family’s mark just happens to look almost exactly like a famous master’s?” The birds were small enough that at a glance, most people would mistake it for a Thorne. That was probably why the baker wanted it, but how had he known of its existence? Not only knowing of it, but the drawing was accurate even to the detail of the birds. Was there a snitch among the padfoots?

“Many woodcrafters have marks with trees and animals.” The Captain spoke with indifference, but I could feel his attention.
It was not simply a test of my loyalty, but a question of my identity. I had claimed to be woodcrafter apprentice. He wanted proof.

“Before Master Thorne, no self-respecting woodcrafter would touch rosewood. It was considered unlucky.” Plus, the trees had a tendency to attack woodcutters. “They certainly did not use it as their maker’s mark. Any apprentice can tell you the same. This piece could not have been made before Thorne’s rosewood creations made him famous, nor is it likely to have been made before he disappeared from the guild.” I almost felt smug.

“In that case, run along and ask them about it.”

In my panic, I reacted without thinking. I smiled, irritation clearly showing, and said, “Why should I when you already have?”

Fortunately, he just found me amusing. “It is his student’s.” He watched my expression with eyes that twinkled. “The old master took and trained an apprentice.”

I didn’t have to fake my disbelief. “The guy renowned for his narcissism stooped to teach a child his craft?” That was what they had told me, in Atelis. “Please, next you’ll be telling me he registered his student and said something nice about—him.” I let my eyes roll away, just as those woodcrafters had done.

“He returned to the city in person after living ten years as a hermit to register his student as a journeyman. I believe he was also heard giving compliments.”

“He didn’t-!” I wanted to press my face against the floor to check that it was not spinning or moving in any way. Thorne had come all the way to Saliz to register me at the Saliz Woodcrafters Guild?

It is his guild..

It made sense, in a way, and I had known that he had left Willow Falls. Mother had told me, when I begged to be allowed to go back and finish my apprenticeship rather than being married to the Count. She had said that he had abandoned me, despaired of my work.

Thorne had been hopeful, then.

Coming from him, that was high praise. Surely Thorne would not have lied to Mother about where he was going or why.

But Mother...

It was not just one or two times she had lied to me.

"You look unwell, Miss Avery." Captain Winter seemed to appreciate my shocked expression.

“He took a student,” I said, sounding far more shocked than I needed to.

Captain Winter leaned forward, studying me.

He doesn't see you.

"That is the very same expression that--another woodworker made, to hear of it."

"He is considered a millennial talent."

“He is a millennial fraud, at least." The captain's expression turned dark.

Sounds like a personal grudge.

He recalled himself and picked up the drawing. "In some northern swamp, he found what he called his spirit child. Must have been quite the Talent,” he said, looking thoughtfully at the plain wooden spoon.

“His student is a journeyman?” I should not have asked, but I could not help it.

“Yes, although he has not collected his seal. Thorne was in the city awhile, apparently expecting him to show.”

“Then, Master Thorne has come back to Saliz, to the Guild?”

“He had for a time, but I do not know whether he is still here. In any case, it should be useless to question him. He has not seen his student in nearly two years. Apparently circumstances have not permitted him time to accept his certification, thus his journeyman’s papers await him at the guild. Although, he must be in Saliz, if his spoon is.” His wry tone made my stomach curl.

Did he suspect me after all?

I took a shallow breath to clear my mind. “But, even if it is Thorne’s student, it is still a spoon. It is not worth anything.” Even if it were made by a Master Crafter a hundred years earlier, it was a spoon. As the craft of a Master’s student, it was worth the same as any other spoon.

I picked up the report on the spoon. Among many ridiculous claims of the spoon’s magical attributes was one that made me wince: the ability to heat a soup or stew rapidly. That, to my chagrin, was true, although rather than rapidly it was more like uncontrollably. It had always been my greatest difficulty, keeping fire out of my wooden creations. Master Thorne had learned to laugh at it, especially when a chair or table I was loathfully crafting burst into flames without actually burning. But the worry in his eyes had made me wonder if perhaps the combination of my Gifts was an unnatural, unexpected thing. He had spent many moons teaching me to focus, to imagine that the two were completely separate. Mostly I had improved, but with the spoon I had been carelessly thinking about hot food as I carved it.

Still, I raised my eyebrows at the list and read one particularly imaginative quality. “‘Creates soups that can cure any sickness, including sadness.’ Does he think us stupid?”

“Prove that it does not.”

“What?”

“While it is not generally believed that Talented cooks can heal physical ailments without the proper ingredients, they have long and oft cured those of the emotional variety. Most of these,” he nodded to the list, “although unusual, are not impossible for a long-respected legacy of cooks and bakers. They are also, doubtless by design, not easy to test.”

“Except that the spoon would have to be incredibly old. You yourself just admitted that the mark is that of a young journeyman.”

“If you cannot prove it, then it matters little.”

I felt all the tension seep out. Most woodcrafters knew how to examine a piece to determine how old the wood was and when it had been cut from the tree.

Remember the laws.

I could have, if Thorne had not been so unexpectedly proud of his apprentice. I had never realized how sentimental he was. Probably he had even put my parents’ real names in the paperwork, which exposed me as King Horatio’s granddaughter. That made the seal useless to me. “Legally, I cannot. I have no standing with the guild. Any certified journeyman could.”

I had never understood why Mother had given him father’s real name, him being from Saliz. But I knew that she had. He had only mentioned it once, when I had asked if I could accompany him on a trip to Sorya, to see the Guild House there. He had said that it was too far south, that someone might realize who I was. Although that turned out to be ridiculous, as no one had recognized me as a royal from Essel to Saliz.

I suppose Mother assumed that I would never be good enough to complete an apprenticeship. She was happy enough to send me to Thorne, but she had very loudly disparaged of my being any good at it. Even when the Count came, she wrote only my name and hers on the marriage certificate.

Is it any wonder, really?

The Captain ignored my answer and repeated his, sounding for all the world like he had not already said it.

I almost assured him that I could verify the age as easily as the next half-baked apprentice. I even felt inclined to admit that I had only failed to obtain the ranking of journeyman by a misfortune of timing. I resisted. There was no reason to make myself any more conspicuous than I already was.

“No,” I admitted with all the strength of the shame I had always felt about my apprenticeship. “I was never able to reach journeyman status. I worked more than five years, including my time as a student, but… It did not work out.” I let my voice sound embarrassed enough to imply that I had not been good enough. It should not have been hard when I had believed it for so many years, but the newness of the discovery was too exciting.

“I see. In that case, we will have need of a proper journeyman.”

The Captain’s easy acceptance of my incompetence stung. My cheeks burned and I wanted to admit everything as he instructed me to find him a journeyman who could.

 

I was so distracted by the idea of his apparently low opinion of me—and that I should care!—that I had followed his directions and arrived outside the Woodcrafter Guild with his missive before I even considered the possible danger of going there.

Worse, I was half-starved. It was strange how quickly I had adjusted to eating regularly after a year and a half of near-constant hunger pains.

Not knowing what else to do, I lifted the very pretty, well-crafted door knocker and let it drop loudly.

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About the author

Moonweave

Bio: I dream, I travel, I read, I write, and then I start over again.

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