The Thief's Hostage: Part Four
"Kanrik thinks she's like Hannah... He's obviously delusional!" Jakob muttered darkly, leaning against the stone wall, fiddling with the Cobrall pendant around his neck. "If there was anyone less like Hannah, it's that spoiled brat."
Tony held back a chuckle. "She wasn't that bad when I watched her in her cell yesterday."
"You didn't have to escort her around the guild for the entire day and then give up your bed for her. Kanrik didn't want her back in the cell for the night. 'Try to make her comfortable!'" the shadow Gelert mocked.
"She'll be gone today," Tony said reasonably, massaging his hand. It still felt numb from the day before when he had tried to nab a silver necklace from a vendor's stall; the spelled jewelry had frozen his fingers solid and had taken over an hour to melt.
"Today isn't fast enough."
The two boys were standing outside the bathroom, waiting for Amelia to finish washing up. Her father was going to meet her and a designated thief in front of a bakery in town where the hostage exchange would take place. The goal was to have Amelia look roughed up but not too filthy, prompting her father to hand over the 200,000 neopoints they had demanded. Luckily, a haggard appearance wouldn't be too difficult. In the 24 hours that Amelia had been in the guild, she had accumulated enough dirt and dust on her being to be mistaken for a feather duster. And Jakob was silently happy that his bed, which he had always found to be a perfectly fine place to sleep, had given Amelia a sore back.
She emerged from the bathroom moments later, strands of her chestnut hair wet from her attempts at washing it in the sink and her face only marginally cleaner than when she had woken up. Jakob thought she looked like a drowned Drugal and had to stifle a laugh. At least I'm getting some sort of amusement out of this whole situation, he consoled himself.
Tony smiled at the woodland Ixi, and Jakob couldn't tell if the silver Bori was only pretending to be nice or could actually tolerate the girl's presence. "Ready for breakfast?"
"Is it mush?"
The woodland Ixi tried to smile back, but it came out as a grimace. Following Tony, and with Jakob covering the rear, the three headed into in main hall... where Amelia stopped short and Jakob nearly bumped into her.
"What?" he growled, annoyance slipping into his voice.
Amelia's dark eyes were wide and her fur had paled. "There are... thieves in there."
Tony chuckled. "This is the Thieves Guild."
"But it was so empty before!"
"Today is a special day," Jakob muttered, pushing her along. Special because we're finally getting rid of you.
He steered her over to a long wooden table that could fit about ten and was already half filled, forcing her onto a bench next to Blue-Skinned Finnegan. The old thief was harmless; he spent his days begging on street corners, stealing from folks once he saw where they kept their purse. After a long day of work, the Tuskanniny's skin was usually tinged from the cold, which had earned him his name. But it was his lack of fingers—for most of them had succumbed to the horrors of frost bite—that seemed to make Amelia uneasy. She eyed his nubby hands, her mind no doubt dreaming up horror after horror of how he had lost his fingers.
"'Ello, girlie!" he greeted merrily, using his two wrists to hold his spoon and shovel his meal into his mouth.
Amelia frantically turned toward Jakob for help, her wet hair dripping onto her clothes and leaving dark puddles on the wooden bench. But unfortunately for her, the Gelert wasn't in the giving spirit and instead ignored her, savoring each moment as she squirmed in fright.
Tony returned to the table moments later with a few bowls of food. "Good haul today," he said, fingers twitching as he set down the bowls, drops of mush falling to the table like wet grey snowflakes. "Seems like Kanrik is pulling out all the stops for Hannah here."
"Hannah?" Amelia asked confusedly, looking around the room for the famous adventurer.
Jakob smirked, shaking his head. "Nothing."
Jakob had to agree with Tony; the food was better than usual today, but not by much. Breakfast seemed to be some type of mushy soup with a salty broth. It was cold, but Jakob didn't mind; the fireplace was blazing cheerily, keeping him warm enough. He glanced over at Amelia, wondering if she would complain about the food or the heat, but she ate the soup silently; her eyes, however, were frantic, jumping from thief to thief, and she unconsciously scooted closer to Jakob the more she looked around.
For the most part, the other thieves kept their distance from the outsider girl. The majority ate in groups, chatting merrily as they ate their morning mush and sipped watered down grog, a treat nowadays that money was so scarce.
Jakob smiled at the bustle of activity, at the noise that made Amelia wince and glance over her shoulder with every bite of food. He couldn't even count the number of silent mornings he had woken up to, the days when the kitchen and main hall were deserted, everyone either out on the streets searching for targets or holed up in bed having succumbed to the illnesses that had overtaken the guild.
But today nearly everyone had made their way to the hall. It was as if new life had been breathed into their ravaged bodies, as if Amelia had given them hope. Sure enough, every so often a thief would glance her way and grin, no doubt thinking of how life was sure to improve in the next few weeks. Jakob didn't have the heart to tell anyone that the money they would get from Amelia's hostage situation was sure to run out in a few weeks.
He suddenly wasn't hungry. He pushed his food away, having only eaten two bites.
Amelia raised an eyebrow at him. "Picky eater?" she asked.
Tony looked at him curiously. "Come on, Jakob! Best stuff we've eaten in a while... No? Fine." The silver Bori took the bowl from him without hesitation and started eating, shoveling food into his mouth. "More for me!"
Jakob saw Amelia suppress a smile, and he rolled his eyes, turning away. Tony can chat with her all he wants. I just can't wait for this rich girl to be gone. And then no more dealing with hostages, even if Kanrik kicks me out of the guild because of it. I'll figure out some other way to survive and keep my mother safe, even if I have to be outside 24 hours a day. And maybe one day we can live in a proper house, in an apartment or something...
The shadow Gelert stopped his daydreaming, his eyes scanning the room as a thought crossed him mind. It was odd, he suddenly realized, that his mother hadn't joined them for breakfast. Usually she was holed up in the sewing room at all hours, but on a day like this, word must have spread that food was good and plenty. She should have joined him.
He jumped at the voice and saw a Poogle with wisps of gray hair hovering near the table. She worked with his mother in the sewing room, and her hands were clasped, her dark eyes undeniably sad. His stomach dropped. Before she could say anything, before another word could escape her chapped lips, Jakob had started running. He heard Amelia's shock of surprise as he darted out of the hall, but he pushed it aside. He ran down the twisting labyrinth of halls, ducking when the ceiling dropped, and didn't stop until he reached his room.
He threw open the door—it had been left unlocked—and saw his mother lying on her bed, like she had been that morning when they had woken up.
But that morning he hadn't paid her any heed. He had been too upset with Amelia for taking over his bed, for being forced to sleep on the floor, for having to deal with her in general. He had been so bothered by that that he had left the room without wishing his mother good morning, without even looking at her.
But now that he did see her, he wished that he couldn't see at all. The yellow Acara was curled up in a ball in her bed, her fur paler than ever, nearly white. Her eyes were shut, and she was wearing a thick black jacket while clutching a ragged crocheted blanket around her, shaking. Jakob put a paw to her forehead, could feel her flesh burning, and took a step back. His heart sank.
His mother had caught the illness.
* * *
It hadn't taken much for Amelia to convince Tony that they should follow Jakob once he had fled from the hall. Jakob disappeared from sight after only a few seconds of frantic running, but Tony knew his friend too well. "He's either in his room or the sewing room. Those are the only places he goes."
The sewing room was empty, and so they rounded the corner into the living wing. Amelia immediately saw that the door to his room was ajar, and she rushed in, calling, "Jakob, is everything all--?"
Jakob wheeled around, stopping her in her tracks. Amelia nearly yelped. The way the Gelert was staring at her... His hands were balled into fists, his whole body was shaking, and his eyes were rimmed with red. Had he been crying? But he didn't look sad. On the contrary, he looked furious, as if the only thing he wanted to do was pull out his dagger and get rid of her forever.
"You," he growled, taking a step forward. "You did this to her!"
"Wh-what?" Amelia said, backing up into Tony. The Bori held her, trying to give her a reassuring squeeze, but she could feel his fingers twitching on her shoulders. He was nervous too.
"You did this!" Jakob repeated, gesturing behind him wildly. For the first time, Amelia saw Jakob's mother, curled up and quivering on her bed. She was wearing her jacket, the one Amelia's father had bought her for the Day of Giving, but she didn't seem to be getting much warmth from it. Her body shook as if wracked by the most intense of shivers, yet her forehead was beaded with sweat and her face was flushed. She was really sick.
"I-I didn't do that," Amelia said, trying to stay calm, looking straight into Jakob's eyes. "I didn't make her sick—"
He wasn't having that. "GET OUT!" he shouted, his deep voice echoing loudly through the hallway. His mother shook behind him, her hands clenching her ears feebly. "Leave now!"
"Come on," Tony whispered, pulling Amelia out of the room. Before the door could slam in her face, he led her down the hall, back towards the center of the Thieves Guild.
Amelia felt her eyes well with tears. What did I do? she thought, her chest heaving as she struggled for air. Did I really somehow make his mother that ill?
Tony seemed to have read her thoughts and looked at her kindly. "Cheer up," he said. "Jakob's mother is all he has. He's just lashing out. Don't listen to him."
But Amelia couldn't drown out the sound of Jakob screaming at her in her head.
He knows as well as I do that I couldn't have gotten his mother sick, Amelia thought, feeling a bit of anger well up inside of her. Just because I'm better-off than he is doesn't mean I'm the cause of all his problems!
The woodland Ixi found it easy to hate Jakob. The entire time she had been there, he had done nothing but treat her like a stain in a carpet, did nothing but keep his emotional distance from her. She had listened as he had showed her around the guild, eaten the food he had provided her, and tried to look at things with an open mind, but he hadn't done the same for her. Beneath the layer of reserve, he was stubborn. So stubborn that he had kept her as a hostage even though she wasn't the princess.
But she couldn't help but think that maybe being a hostage hadn't been so bad. Even though she had to deal with the uncertainty and fear of being captured, there had been a few people who had treated her kindly. Tony, for instance, and even Jakob's mother in the few minutes she had spoken with her. At least their lives would improve slightly with the money they were about to make off of her father. Maybe they would even have enough to get Jakob's mother some proper medicine to heal her. True, Jakob himself would also benefit from the wealth, but Amelia figured she could live with that.
She spent her last hour at the Guild with Tony playing cards on the ragged couch in front of the fireplace. Before she knew it, Kanrik appeared to take her to the exchange. She hadn't met the leader of the Thieves Guild before, but knew of him from countless sketches in the Neopian Times. He was just as terrifying as she had imagined, though he gave her a small, gentle smile before blindfolding her. Tony bid her adieu with a twitchy handshake, and although she couldn't see, she was almost entirely certain that Jakob wasn't there to wish her farewell. Which was perfectly fine with her.
She was led up a tall staircase by a thief she hadn't met before, and then after a few turns she felt the sharp sting of the winter air. Kanrik had given her an old jacket, but it was thin and barely kept in her heat. Her old one was still with Jakob's mother, but she was happy it had gone to someone who had deserved it. She was immediately thankful Jakob was much too big to fit in it.
After some time, the thief took her blindfold off. She blinked at the bright sunlight, at the white snow everywhere, and soon got her bearings. She was back in the marketplace, back where it had all began. The thief, dressed in a long hooded cloak, kept a firm hand on her arm as he led her down the crowded streets, steering her into town. Finally, when they reached the bakery, Amelia saw her father, waiting with a large bag of neopoints.
Amelia had expected the exchange to be much more tense than it was. In the end, her father merely held out the bag, the thief glanced inside to make sure there was enough gold, and then she was pushed forward into her father's arms as the thief ran into the crowd, disappearing from sight.
"Amelia!" her father said, pulling her into his arms and the folds of his warm winter coat. The chocolate Skeith smiled, grinning down at her, relief clear on his face. "Amelia, I'm so glad you're safe! Let's go inside. I'll buy you some hot bread and pastries and soup, and then we'll hit the shops for a new jacket—"
"Father, I'm sorry," the woodland Ixi apologized, holding onto him tightly. "I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused. They mistook me for the princess, and you had to pay all that money to get me back... I'm so sorry."
Amelia had expected her father to shrug, to say that they would manage without 200,000 neopoints even if it had been a hefty sum, to say that all that mattered was having her back. But instead he laughed, a deep throaty chuckle. "Oh Amelia! My darling, you are a silly one."
She blinked, suddenly confused. "What?"
Her father grinned, a businessman smile appearing on his face. The face of a man who had seen plenty of financial ruses in his day and could pull a few off himself. "I didn't have to pay anything at all. Those coins were fake."
To be continued...