Stars Claire, Tomas and Elsie.
The Evening Ball
"This looks rather extravagant." Claire thought to herself as she eyed her attire for the evening.
The violet gown was draped elegantly over the mannequin, its sleeves and dress ended in large voluminous black frills and was laced with rich royal-purple highlights. She ran her fingers though the soft frills recalling the events that led to the present. Together with Elsie, Claire had pilfered a couple of dresses from the local boutique the night before. The means of acquisition devalued the dress in Claire's eyes. The notion that someone would spend half a thousand gold pieces on any article of clothing was lost on her.
She slipped her arms through the cool violet sleeves and fastened her bodice, and permitted herself to flirt with the reflection in the mirror. It was not often that she found herself in such fanciful attire. Satisfied, she tied her hair into a neat bun, and held it in place with a decorative gold pin. The inn she was in did not have particularly spacious rooms, but it was enough for her. She could hear the commotion going on in the next room; lots of loud booming laughter from Tomas, and some subtle grumbling she could only assume belonged to Elsie.
"Claire, are you finished? If I have to spend another minute with this moron, I'd gut him!" Elsie opened the door without waiting for a reply.
Elsie's gown was, in contrast to Claire's, much more vibrant. Her dress was scarlet red, while her bodice was a darker shade of magenta. Its frills were white and its laces gold. And as she stepped into the amber-lit room, her flaming auburn hair coupled with her scarlet silk dress almost seemed to beam with an aura as the light bounced off her. Claire had to stifle down a giggle, it was obvious that every minute the tomboyish ruffian had to spend in that frou-frou dress was torture.
“Let’s just get going.” Elsie groaned.
The journey was long. This in turn did nothing but wringed Elsie’s nerves. She had conducted, and even executed, smaller heists in the past but robbing the royal treasury was borderline insanity. But that just made it all the more gratifying. She twiddled her thumbs endlessly, barely able to contain her excitement, as the raptor-pulled carriage trudged along the dimly lit cobblestone streets.
Claire, however, was cool as a cucumber. She rested her chin on her fist and peered out the window of the carriage, her face faintly illuminated by the passing street lights.
"We’re here ladies." Tomas yelled from the front of the carriage as he tightened the reins and made the last turn towards Motretir Palace.
Roasted blood boars, smoked red-fin trouts, stewed raptor snouts and other exotic delicacies were laid out before the guests in the great hall of the Motretir Palace. Elsie almost wondered if the chefs had set fire to the local zoo to prepare the banquet.
The guests of aristocrats and self-important officials circled the grand dinner table like sharks, systematically taking turns to molest the buffet with spits and forks. Tomas wasted no time in joining the fray. Soon, his plate was piled high with food.
"You really should try some, girls. A chance like this won't come again!" He said as he sank his teeth into a succulent, gravy covered ostrich thigh, careful not to get any on his black swallow-tail coat.
Elsie covered her face and massaged her temples. "Please put that away," she said with a heavy sigh, "We need to be light on our feet for when we make our escape."
Claire nodded silently.
Tomas dropped his plate into the arms of an unfortunate servant boy and the trio delved deeper into the palace. They kept an arms length of each other and weaved through the crowd, careful to avoid suspicion. Fortunately for them, in lieu of the evening's events, many of the royal guards were concentrated around the courtyard and entrance, leaving only a handful of guards to watch over the restricted wings of the palace.
The trio broke from the crowd and proceeded down an empty hallway. And there, at the end of that hallway laid their goal. The only thing separating them was a lonesome guard and a large oak door. He wore the azure uniform of the royal Motretir army, with his rank of legionnaire proudly displayed on both sides of his broad shoulders. His arms rested on a gilded rapier which was neatly tucked into its sheath that hung from his waist.
Claire signaled to Elsie 'you're up'.
Elsie nodded reluctantly and proceeded down the hallway toward the guard.
"Oh dear, excuse me kind sir, I seem to have lost my way looking for the powder room. Would you be so kind as to escort me in the right way?" Elsie said as she looked up, doe-eyed, at the guard. It irked Elsie that she had to resort to such tactics, but she knew that she was the only one who was suited for the task. Certainly the mute girl, Claire, couldn’t do it.
"Sorry, Ma'am, but I cannot leave my post. The powder room is just down that corridor." he replied and gestured accordingly.
Elsie gasped, "My! Surely you don't expect me to go by my lonesome!” She paused and paced the marbled floor in a tight circle, gathering her thoughts. “I wonder what General Clayfield would have to say when I tell him a certain guard refused to escort the daughter of Tijar Solkavich to the powder room." It was a name Elsie had heard briefly in the murmurings of the crowd earlier and she hoped that the guard was more ignorant than he was duty-bound.
The beefy guard took off his cap and scratched his scalp. A tendril of sweat trickled down his brow as he pondered his worst case scenarios. Elsie bit her lip, if she couldn’t convince the guard to leave, it would severely complicate their plans for tonight.
Elsie’s lips parted on a soft, almost seductive, whisper, “Please, sir,” she paused, “it won’t take a second.”
Finally, the guard let out a sigh, and relented. Elsie did well to hide her exuberance, she couldn't wait to boast about this openly to Tomas and Claire.
Tomas and Claire hid in a corner as Elsie and the guard passed them. Once the coast was clear, the duo sprang toward the large oak doors. Claire pulled out her golden hairpin, allowing her long black hair to drape down the back of her neck and her shoulders, and started picking the locked door. Everything was going smoothly, but Tomas could not shake his paranoia that the guard would return at any minute.
"Are you almost done?" Tomas whispered impatiently to Claire, then pinched his eyebrows together as he realised rushing her wouldn't do any good.
Claire ignored Tomas's question. She was a professional and wouldn't let something like that distract her.
Before they knew it, the tumblers gave way to a loud, audible click. And with a concerted push, the towering oak doors creaked open. Tomas could not help but gasp, his mouth agape. The treasury was enormous, filled from front to end with glittering gold ornaments and streaks of rainbow coloured gems. It was so densely packed that there was no comfortable way to maneuver around the room. But Claire was already climbing over the mountains of gilded goods, knocking over treasure boxes, spilling coins and toppling antiques. She knew what she was after, and she had to get it before the guard returned. Tomas on the other hand, was stuffing his pockets with whatever he could find.
Eventually, after much searching, Claire turned towards Tomas and held aloft a golden amulet, in its core was a large purple crystal.
“The royal amulet of the late King Avoir.” Tomas muttered under his breath. “You actually found it! This amulet alone is going to make us rich!”
“I’m sorry milady! With all due respect, I must return to my post!” The words struck Tomas and Claire like a bolt of lightning. Round the distant corner, at the far end of the corridor, they could see the shadow of the guard growing as he approached bend towards the room.
The duo fled through the oak doors, there was no time for subtlety. As the guard turned the bend, he was knocked down by the two renegades.
“E! It’s time to go!” Tomas roared, mindful not to reveal Elsie’s name to the guard who was sprawled on the floor.
The trio headed towards the crowd, back towards the ballroom. Claire led the way, pushing and shoving her way through the volume of pompous rich folk while Tomas and Elsie followed closely behind. Men were cursing, women were shrieking, it was chaos.
As the guard picked himself up, he was greeted with an unlocked treasury room. He stood there, frozen.
Finally, the dusty cogs in his brain started to turn, “T-T-Thieves!” He stammered, “Thieves! Stop them!” he yelled over the cries of the crowd as he stumbled towards them.
His fellow guards echoed his cry and sounded the alarms. As the blaring sirens filled the large hall, guards started pouring into the ballroom from the outer courtyard and their other station points.
“What do we do now?” Elsie asked frantically. Her mind was scrambled and she couldn’t concentrate long enough to formulate a plan.
Claire gave her a hard nudge and pointed to the balcony. They were on the second floor and it was a 5 metre drop to the ground. They hurried towards it, the crowds dispersing wherever they went.
Elsie whistled for the raptors, and as they came round the side of the palace, pulling their carriage, the trio leapt from the balcony and landed on the roof of it. Some of the more stalwart guards jumped after them while the others ran downstairs in hot pursuit. But it was too late, before the guards could gather themselves, the trio had already made it past the courtyard and were riding off on their carriage into the foggy streets.