Excerpts for Museum of Thieves
Goldie Roth hated the punishment chains. She hated them more than anything--except perhaps for the Blessed Guardians. As the heavy brass cuffs snapped around her wrists and the weight of the chains fell on her shoulders, she stared sullenly at the cobblestones.
She knew what would happen next. Guardian Hope would quote something at her. Something stupid from the Book of the Seven. Guardian Comfort would probably quote something too, and they would both look pleased with themselves.
Yes, here it came. Guardian Hope tugged on the punishment chains to make sure they were properly fastened; then she raised one plump finger. "An Impatient Child," she said, "Is an Unsafe Child."
"An Unsafe Child," said Guardian Comfort, folding his hands piously in front of him, "puts All Other Children at Risk!" All I did was try and hurry a little bit, thought Goldie. But she said nothing. She didn't want to get into more trouble than she already was. Not today. Oh no, definitely not today . . .
She squinted out of the corner of her eye at her classmates. Jube, Plum, Glory and Fort were looking anywhere but at Goldie, hoping that her trouble wouldn't rub off on them. Only Favor was watching, her eyes serious, her hands flicking together and twitching apart in the small, secret movements of fingertalk.
To the Blessed Guardians, it probably looked as if Favor was picking at the threads of her smock, or twisting the links of her little silver guardchain. But to Goldie, the words were as clear as glass. Don't worry. Not long now.
Goldie tried to smile, but the weight of the punishment chains seemed to have dragged all the happiness out of her. This was supposed to be good day, she signed fiercely. Now look at me!
"Was that a scowl?" said Guardian Hope. "Did you scowl at me, Golden?"
"No, Guardian," mumbled Goldie.
"It was a scowl, colleague," said Guardian Comfort. The morning was hot already, and he had pushed his heavy black robes away from his shoulders and was mopping his forehead. "I distinctly saw a scowl!"
"Perhaps the brass chains are not punishment enough," said Guardian Hope. "Let me see. What can we do that will make the lesson more memorable?" Her eyes fell on the little blue enamel bird that was pinned to the front of Goldie's smock. "That brooch.Where did you get it?"
Goldie's heart sank. "Ma gave it to me," she mumbled.
"Speak up! I can't hear you."
"Ma gave it to me. It belonged to my auntie Praise."
"The one who disappeared years ago?"
"Disappeared?" said Guardian Comfort, raising an eyebrow.
"Praise Koch went missing," said Guardian Hope sourly, "the day after she Separated. She was too bold, of course, like her niece here. Without a guardchain to protect her, she probably fell into one of the canals and drowned. Or was kidnapped by slavetraders and carted away to a life of misery and despair."
She looked back at Goldie. "This brooch is important to you and your family?"
"Yes, Guardian," mumbled Goldie.
"And I suppose you think about your bold aunt when you are wearing it?"
"Yes--I mean, no, Guardian! Never!"
"I don't believe you. Your first answer was the truthful one. You should not have such a trinket. It sets a bad example."
Guardian Hope jerked at the punishment chains. Clank clank clank, they went. Goldie bit off her protest. Any other day she would have argued, whatever the consequences. But not today. Not today!
Briskly, Guardian Hope unpinned the blue brooch and slipped it into the pocket of her robes. Goldie watched that hopeful little bird disappear into darkness.
"And now," said Guardian Hope, "we must be on our way." Her mouth twisted in a sarcastic smile. "We must not be late for this important ceremony, must we. The Grand Protector would be sooo disappointed."
She set off across the Plaza of the Forlorn, with Goldie stumbling beside her. Clank clank clank. The other children tagged along behind Guardian Comfort, their guardchains attached to his leather belt. Everyone they passed stared at Goldie, then quickly looked away again, as if she was diseased.
People were used to seeing children chained, of course. Every child in the city of Jewel wore a silver guardchain on their left wrist from the moment they learned to walk until their Separation Day. Whenever they were outside the house, the guardchain linked them to their parents, or to one of the Blessed Guardians. At night it was fastened to the bedhead, so that no one could break into the house and carry them off while their parents were sleeping.
But the punishment chains were different. The punishment chains were fastened to both wrists. They were far heavier than the little silver guardchains, and they clanked shamefully so that everyone knew you had displeased the Blessed Guardians. Which was a very dangerous thing to do . . .
As they approached the Grand Canal, Goldie heard a dull roar ahead of them. Guardian Comfort stopped and inclined his head. "What's that? Is there danger awaiting us, colleague?"
Guardian Hope shortened the punishment chains even further and dragged Goldie along the narrow street to the next corner. Goldie gritted her teeth and tried not to think about the blue brooch.
"No danger," shouted Guardian Hope. "It's merely a crowd."
Guardian Comfort ushered the rest of the class up to the corner, and they all stared at the throng of people walking along the boulevard that ran beside the Grand Canal. "Where are they going?" said Guardian Comfort. "The markets aren't until tomorrow."
"I imagine they're going to the Great Hall," said Guardian Hope. She raised her voice. "To witness this Separation ceremony. This Abomination!"
Several of the passersby turned to see who had spoken. When they saw the two Blessed Guardians, they seemed to shrink a little, as if the mere sight of the black robes and black, boxy hats made them afraid.
Goldie felt a spurt of anger. She hated the way the Guardians made everyone act as if they were smaller than they really were. She shifted her hands so that Favor could see them.
Tomorrow I go catch brizzlehound, she signed. Hungry brizzlehound. Put in sack, bring back to Guardian Hope. "O Blessed Guardian, here is gift to thank you for years of tender care. Please open without caution!"
Favor's face remained blank, but her eyes laughed. Won't work, she signed. Brizzlehound die of fright when see Guardian Hope's ugly mug.