Briar, Chapter One

Briar

Robyn steals from the rich to give to the poor.

Briar’s mother wants him dead.

With taxes on the rise, the people of Locksdale turn to her family to provide for them, but when Sheriff Locksley sees Robyn’s face she’s forbidden to enter the city again. But Robyn’s not one to sit idle. With the help of her brother, she’ll sneak back into the city only to run into Briar Bowler, the mayor’s son.

 Briar doesn’t want the life of politics his mother has laid out for him. Drawn to this girl who steals for a living, he decides he wants to get to know her, even if it means becoming a thief himself. When he meets people his mother has forced into poverty he finds he wants to save them as much as Robyn does until he discovers his missing sister living in their tree house village, the sister he thought was dead. He’d do anything to get his sister back, even if that means betrayal.

Guilt leads them to the mother Robyn thought to be dead, a cursed cat woman, and a lack of medicines to keep Briar’s sister alive. When things couldn’t get any worse, Briar’s mother attempts to kill him activating a sleeping curse that envelopes the city. With the help of a grandfather, Briarwasn’t allowed to meet, Robyn and her siblings will do what it takes to save Briar and awaken the sleeping town.

It will take a massive amount of luck, a great deal of ingenuity, and true loves kiss to stop Madeline Bowler’s path of destruction.

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-1-

Robyn

It’s the perfect night for thievery.

I steady myself against the pitch of the roof. Angry clouds cover the starry sky like a black eye, thunder rolling like a freight train. Lightning illuminates the distance giving the air a charge. Beneath my boots, random droplets make the ceramic tiles slick. On either side of me, familiar shadow-like lumps dart across the roofs. One holds up a hand motioning us forward. Even though he can’t see my head beneath my hood, I nod.

A rope bridge stretches across my rooftop and the building in front of me. Gondolas rock in the canals below. I don’t like the idea of crossing the bridge, but too much space spans between the buildings for a good jump. I’ll never make a jump that far. A poster clings to the post holding the bridge in place. I smirk when I pass it. The sketch shows a hooded figure, locks of hair hanging loosely around the chin. Her rounded lips curve up in a smirk, a bow and arrow in her hands. The words WANTED: ROBYN written above the image. No other information. The sketch reveals nothing more than a mouth and chin.

I’m the girl on the poster.

The bridge links the flat roof of the skyscraper to several apartment buildings shrinking in size to townhouses and mansions. I pull another poster off the wall before climbing onto the bridge. The image doesn’t resemble me this time. My brother Trent, cloaked in a hood much like myself, covers the parchment. The people in the city of Locksdale won’t recognize the square jaw, but I’d know it anywhere. I crumple the paper and toss it into the ocean water of the canal. My throat tightens and my hand’s ball into fists. Only a matter of time.

I head across the rooftops keeping momentum as I go. Parkour keeps us moving along and out of the hands of the sherriff’s men. The descent isn’t easy, but I’ve grown accustomed to using rain gutters or trellises to climb. I want the adrenaline rush crossing the rooftops gives. Beside me, the shadows of my siblings head toward the center of town. I’ve spent the last ten years combing the city like this. Searching for riches to feed the poor.

The city of Locksdale used to be glorious. One of the finest cities to live in. Locked away from everywhere else between the ocean and a wide expanse of forest. Now it rots, abandoned by the outside world. Few people travel through the maze-like forest, and the surrounding islands don’t contain enough space for people to inhabit. There wasn’t much left after the war. Ships come to the port to drop off minimal supplies. Pirates drop anchor and party in the local taverns keeping the economy alive. Well, they did before Madeline Bowler became mayor of the city.

My focus shifts from thoughts of what the city used to be to the mansion in front of me. The house sits three stories high with well-manicured shrubbery and a lawn below. Dirt less windowpanes grant me a clear view and I reach out to make sure glass fills the panes. No lights shine from within, but I don’t expect there to be. Mayor Bowler holds parties in her mansion nightly and everyone who’s anyone attends. One of the only ways to stay in good graces with the Mayor and sheriff Locksley, and avoid the rising taxes.

Near the kitchen, a single window sits higher on its hinges than the others leaving a small crack. Lemon wood polish scents hit my nose. I smile at my good fortune as a shudder runs through my body. The window pushes open with ease and makes a little noise. A well-kept mansion. It opens onto the backside of a couch. Again, my luck appears to have improved. Most of the time I have to break into a building. No dropping onto the floor for me this time.

Antique furniture covers the surface of the small room, designs I’ve studied out of books for their value. Knowing the merchandise helps me know what I can take, and what I should leave behind. The couch squeaks as I land on its plastic covered cushions and I cringe. Most of the uncovered items glint in the moonlight, gold candelabras, silver statues, various plates rimmed in gold. I consider taking these for a moment, but most of the time objects placed in the open get noticed. Across the room, a breakfast nook leads into a kitchen. Sighing, I pull a burlap sack from my backpack. My tiny pack won’t carry all the items I plan to steal. Jacob will have to carry the food tonight.

The pantry holds every canned and bagged good under the sun. More than I can name, anyway. This one looks to be recently refilled, much to my delight, and I almost clap my hands with glee. I make my way along the shelves dropping items with more than two in their rows. Less, and the inventory will be missed. I can’t help the giddy smile stretching across my face. In ten years, I’ve never had this much luck.

The thought sets me back on my heels a bit. I pause. Locksdale’s known for many things, but not luck.

I continue sorting through the shelves. Canned vegetables, fruits, and jars of peanut butter weigh down the burlap sack. The weight becomes too much for me to handle, but I continue. I may not have an opportunity to get this much food again. People have become more aware of our nightly trysts over the years and don’t stockpile the way they used to.

Elation turns to awareness. Something’s off deep in my gut, a creeping sensation like someone watching me. Above there something clatters to the floor and shatters, the sound of a foot fall. The hairs on the back of my neck rise, my ears perk. I close my eyes, my heart plummeting to my stomach.

He almost got me this time.

The burlap sack hits capacity and I manage to get it over my shoulder, but I won’t be able to shoulder this much weight for long. The thumping of shoes on the second floor stop, which sends a flutter through my chest. I swallow, a cold sweat forming on my body. Getting in may have been simple but getting out might prove to be difficult. I poke my head out of the pantry and scan the kitchen. The L-shape of the room makes it difficult to see anything but the stove and refrigerator.

I need to calm, focus, and think back to the sketch of the house I’d studied the night before.

With cautious steps, I move back toward the breakfast nook. I note a door off the kitchen, but I’m not one-hundred percent sure where it leads. Only the window I came through remains unlocked. Tight seals and locking mechanisms keep the others shut. The second story housed the strange thumping noise, and I’m positive whatever’s waiting for me there won’t be pretty. Going out the way I came won’t be an option. He’s bound to have the mansion surrounded.

I head for the third floor.

The floorplans I spent the night studying reveal a back staircase. The better option for me. I prefer the rooftops, know them like the back of my hand. There I’m free, and I know the others will be there too, watching and waiting.

The door opens to a small stairwell beside a dumbwaiter and I breathe a little easier. A tiny squeak escapes the tread, but nothing that would alert residents to a break in. The few sounds they do make most would attribute to the house settling.

A door at the top opens to a landing and a disorienting hallway. I can’t be sure which way I’ve come from, which throws me off and sends another thrill down my spine. Once outside I’ll be able to find my way, but indoors, without the moon, I’m lost.

I choose a door on the left near the middle and enter the room. The window allows in small shafts of lightning and moonlight through the blinds, the only illumination in the darkness. With one free hand, I release the lock and lift the pane. The window squeals more than I’d like, and I cringe, forcing the window up as fast. All noises become alarms to my whereabouts. I pause to listen. Rustling noises and creaks of the house settling meet my ears. My tense muscles relax. The crisp night air smells like rain in the distance.

A cable for hanging banners in the square links the mansion to another building across the way. I pull a couple of carabiners out of the backpack and attach them to a thick strap on the burlap sack. Across the way, a shadow appears on the top of the building pressed against the ridge. Dim orange streetlamps reveal a dark black hooded figure. Jacob coos like a dove and I push the heavy sack toward him with as much force as I can muster. The carabiners slide along its length.

“Bring it back, Robyn.”

A cool, gruff voice behind me fills me with dread. His voice grates as if scratched. I know the voice well though I’ve spent most of my time listening to it in hollow rooms or around corners. Sheriff Lockley doesn’t often bother with riff-raff like me.

I close my eyes, my heart leaping into my throat. I’ve run out of options.

“Give me back my mother.” I try to make myself clear, strong. I stay facing the mirror, watching Jacob and the sack. My hands tremble. I haven’t been this close to the sheriff since I started stealing. “I don’t have the bag.”

He snorts. “I’m not blind.”

Sheriff Locksley doesn’t travel alone, but he blocks the doorway from the other men. I’m not sure why he doesn’t let them surround me. In the small room, I’ll easily be overpowered. Maybe he’s afraid he’ll scare me, and I’ll jump. It’s not like I plan on hanging around no matter how much space he gives me.

“Almost, Locksley. Almost.” My voice quivers, betraying me. Revealing how in awe I am that he lulled me into complacency. It will never happen again.

“Almost?” He chuckles, stepping into the thin light of the streetlamps and I look at his reflection in the glass. He’s a tall man, towering like a giant over my short stature. Dark curls cover his head and dangle into his eyes. I can’t tell the color in the orange light, but they seem black and crinkled in the corners, sure he’s already won. “I’ve caught you.”

“Ya sure?” My fingers itch for the bow wrapped around my torso and the arrows in the quiver attached to my thigh, but I don’t move. I’m not sure what will happen if I turn around. In moments like these things happen in an instant.

“Only way out is down.” His brows quirk and he gives me a pointed look.

Locksley believes he knows everything about this house, but he hasn’t spent much time looking over the outside. Looking at the way the gutter attaches to the wall, or how the trees brush the second floor. I notice these things. The way vines cling to the surface of the wood, and how close the next building is to this one.  The window opens to a ledge wide enough for my petite frame, but nothing the sheriff can climb onto. On the corners of the building hang rain gutters. Men sit in the bushes below, watching the street and the first floor. They lack the ability to keep quiet. They don’t bother looking up. The cable strung between the buildings will serve as the best escape route for me.

“Since you insist,” I say with a wink and jump out of the window, clinging to the cable. My weight, along with the burlap sack, pulls the cable until it dips and my heart plummets with it. I’m not sure if it will snap or lower us to the ground. I pull my way across the rope, pushing the sack toward Jacob with the top of my head.

A string of obscenities flies from sheriff Locksley’s mouth before he yells orders to the men below. I’m not paying enough attention to understand what he says. My mind focuses on the task at hand. Jacob swings his violin case out and the neck catches onto the strap. With a few pulls and pushes from my end, he removes the sack and wedges it between the gable and the corner where it meets the roof. We’re lucky. Weapons were confiscated for the war. They can’t shoot us.

Jacob grabs my foot and pulls me the rest of the way along the cable, burning my fingers. My hood falls back exposing the upper half of my face around my tartan scarf, but I don’t have time to worry. Locksley’s men work their way through the floors of the mansion. We’re faster. Jacob pulls me to my feet and hefts the bag over his shoulder.

“You’re a teenager.” Sheriff Locksley stands on the street watching us move across the roof. His voice isn’t loud but raised enough I don’t need to strain to hear. Maybe I’m too in-tune to what he’s saying about my face. I’ve given him the missing piece to the puzzle.

I replace my hood, my cheeks burning beneath the scarf. The only defenses we keep are our anonymous identities. I have lost mine.

“Let’s go.” The harshness scolding, of Jacob’s voice surprises me, but I know it’s more out of concern than anger. I hope it is, anyway.

We run along the ridge of the roof, confident in our steps. The buildings in the square sit close enough together we can make the jumps. We’re gone before the first of the sheriff’s men have climbed onto the mansion’s roof. As we make our way back toward the woods, rain falls in heavy sheets.

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