Sadly, I cannot even claim that this was my first attempt at writing. I was in fact working on a novel at the time (the first in a proposed quintet that would be followed by another quintet). Like Mel, I have preserved every painful word. In this installment you will, among other things, encounter info dumps and a rather poignant example of why I no longer even attempt to write fight scenes.
Before we start, somewhere between middle school and now I lost the first page or so of this story so here is some information you may or may not want to know before starting. It is, of course, all patently ridiculous.
Lyra, our protagonist, was the daughter of a very noble knight and grew up on a country manner in comfort. She idolized her father who taught her all he knew of the knightly arts and so she grew to love the ideals of chivalry. But then her father was killed in the line of duty and her mother, unable to go on without her husband, wasted away and soon died. As both Lyra and her elder brother, Cyn, were underage they were unable to inherit and so, destitute, moved to the city until Cyn reached the age of majority and could take over their family's holdings. Cyn pursued legitimate employment as a scribe and scholar. Lyra, however, bitter and and enraged, abandoned the ideals of chivalry and pursued a life of crime.
The story opens as Lyra is handing out orders to the gang of thieves she runs.
“... usual posts. I want you to stay away from fights and whistle if you do. I would also like to inform you that all the rules still apply and anyone caught breaking them will have to answer to me.” Lyra glared at them to drive her point home. “Alright, go!”
The gang melted back into the shadows, all but two. These were Iorek and Asriel, Lyra’s partners; second and third in command. Lyra ran her gang differently than others’ gangs. Each of her thieves had a specialty and worked in that area. Some were pick pockets, others raiders, and some were con artists. Lyra worked in all these areas but her specialty was in con artistry. Iorek and Asriel helped her. “Let’s go,” growled Lyra and stepped back out into the crowded streets.
Lyra stopped to take in all the scents of the city. Merchants yelling their wares, the creaking of cart wheels, the different cries of animals, and the laughter and talk of the crowds blended together as background noise. Different scents drifted toward her on the breeze. Fresh baked bread, sweat, dung, spices were all there, familiar. She could remember when all this had seemed alien and frightening, but it seemed like home now. She knew Cyn could never feel at home in the city as she did, but Lyra enjoyed being around the crowds, even the noises and smells.
It was easy to hide in the city, to blend in and never be noticed. It was also easy to get away. There were countless little alleys, sidestreets, and backways. One could hide hideout in the city and never be found, if one knew the right places. And Lyra, being a thief, did. Lyra was conscious of this every hour of every day, for this was her city, she may not have grown up there, but it was hers all the same. Lyra knew all this in a moment, then put her able mind to other things. The sun had risen, there were plenty of people out, and work to be done.
Lyra, Iorek and Asriel made their way to the square where each of them promptly took a strategic lookout point and leaned on whatever there was to lean against with an air of casual boredom. Lyra was leaning against the side of a stall displaying cooking pots and a few pieces of finely worked metal when the apprentice began to flirt delicately with her. When it was profitable Lyra took the time to wear a dress, as now, and looked really quite fetching in it. One of the best tactics she used was to get on someone’s good side so that they showed her the box with the money and, unwittingly, how to open it. The apprentice tinker was falling right into her trap.
Lyra was just stating that he must have awful responsibilities like, say, protecting against thieves? The apprentice, named Jobrile, said he did have a lot of responsibilities, but the money practically protected itself and would she like to see? Why of course she would!
He took her to the back of the stall where there was an iron box with a variety of locks which she looked at intently. It would be a challenge, but then again, Lyra enjoyed challenges. It wasn’t the locks that worried her, (she was an excellent lockpick) it was the iron. All faries were a little allergic to iron, especially those with magic. The apprentice noticed her staring and asked about it. It was just that all those locks were fascinating, and how did he ever keep track of all the keys? Well it wasn’t really all that hard.
Lyra threaded her way through the crowd, artfully bumping into people. She seemed so kind and so full of remorse everybody just said think nothing of it! After all the streets were crowded. Lyra had been doing very well that morning and the afternoon looked to be even better. Then everyone would stop work early, and the real revelry would begin. Lyra was just thinking to herself about how much she loved faire days when a high, shrill, whistle echoed across the square.
Nobody else paid much attention to it, but then again, Lyra was the only one who knew what it meant. It was one of her thieves whistling, and that particular whistle meant danger. Lyra also knew the type of danger the thief was in; he was hopelessly outnumbered in a fight and there was no way to get out of it. Lyra had designed the complicated system herself, rookies who didn’t know the meanings were always accompanied by someone who did until they learned. The whistle couldn’t reach over the whole city, but there was always a thief in the vicinity who could pass it on if need be. Lyra knew all this in but a second and started to make her way to its point of origin.
As she reached the allyway she knew the distressed thief was in, the rest of her gang materialized around her. Lyra entered the alley and took the scene immediately. Her thief, Borcan, a boy only about nine or ten, was surrounded by a ring of older boys. Lyra recognized some of them, they were from a gang across town. Lyra knew their leader and was not fond of him.
Sorcen, she thought. He is, I think, overly fond of making trouble. Whatever these imbeciles may say they knew Borcan was a part of my gang when they attacked him. Maybe it is time I taught him a lesson.
“Halt!” Lyra said in a strong, clear voice, “I said stop!”
“I heard wha’ yeh said, but who’re you t’be sayin’ it?”
Lyra drew herself up to her full height, looked down her nose imperially at the speaker and said, “I am Lyra Silverlit, and you are assaulting one of my thieves,” her voice was dangerously low, and by the end it sounded very much like a growl.
The speaker just smirked and Lyra knew she had been right. It had been a set up. Every thief in the city (and probably a fair amount outside of it) knew the name of the Queen of Thieves, and it was not a name to be smirked at. “And if you fight one of my thieves,” she continued, “You fight me.”
“And if you fight one’ve my thieves, you can bet on fighting me,” came a voice, and Sorcen stepped forward. “Lyra Silverlit, I challenge you.”
It is not a widely known but thieves have their own kind of Court System and customs to go with it. Everyone present knew that this was not only a fight between rival gang leaders. This was fight for superiority. In essence Sorcen was challenging Lyra’s authority as Queen and her gang’s superiority for her being head of it. Whoever won would be the rightful ruler of the thieves.
A circle was automatically formed around Lyra and Sorcen by all thieves present, except for Borcan who was trying to get his breath back; he looked pretty bad.
“I accept your challenge Sorcen,” Lyra said, though everybody had known she would. Sorcen leered. Lyra glanced back at her gang, who formed half the circle. They knew the rules, do not attack until attacked, she just wanted to make it clear it still applied.
Lyra and Sorcen stood in the afternoon sun sizing each other up. Lyra knew he was bigger and probably stronger, so she couldn’t let herself get trapped or too close. She also knew he was not as fast as she, and his reflexes were sluggish, she could use this to her advantage though her skirts would slow her up. Lyra waited for Sorcen to make the first move, she wouldn’t start a fight, but she’d finish one.
“What’s-a-matter Lyra, afraid?” he sneered.
“No,” she replied, and then he made his move.
Sorcen lunged for Lyra and hit her squarely in the eye. Nice tactic, thought Lyra, try to impair my vision. She jumped back, as did Sorcen. He was leering again. Lyra blinked once, twice, shook her head and stepped up. Sorcen lunged again but Lyra was expecting this, she ducked and hit him heavily in the jaw coming back up. Sorcen whirled toward her and her and threw another punch which she avoided easily, though she got caught in the gut with the next one. Winded, she stumbled a bit and Sorcen seized his chance. He lunged yet again and struck a blow to the head.
Lyra reeled, stars and balls of color burst before her eyes. Her skirts tripped her up and she fell heavily. She rolled over onto her back just in time to see Sorcen aiming a kick and rolled out of the way. She was back on her feet in a trice and shook her head once more.
“Doesn’t look like things’re goin’ your way Lyra!” jeered Sorcen.
A boiling rage burst in her chest and spread throughout her body. She had fought with some of the best, she knew what she was doing. She was not about to lose to a hot-headed loud-mouth like Sorcen. This time Lyra lunged, making a sound very much like a roar. He managed to block her first few blows, but just barely. Her fist finally connected with his head and then his gut. He reeled. Lyra pursued. She wasn’t a knight, she had no need to be chivalrous. Another blow to the head and one to the jaw. Fighting like a wildcat Lyra sought out all his weakest areas, until Sorcen fell to the ground with a thump.
Using her knees to pin his arms, Lyra put her hand to his throat and applied pressure, not enough to choke him, but enough to let him know she meant business. Her other arm was pulled back, the hand balled into a fist that would surely break his nose if she brought her arm down.
Putting her face very close to his she said, “Surrender,” though it came out as more of a growl. He spit in her face. Lyra applied more pressure to his throat and her upraised arm became even more taut.
“I said surrender,” she breathed. She could feel him gulping under her hand.
“Al-alright , I surrender.”
“Good.” Lyra got up and started to walk toward Borcan when she heard footsteps. She turned around at the last moment and dealt Sorcen such a blow he fell down unconscious.
“Some people never know when to quit,” she muttered as she pulled Borcan to his feet. He had been beat up pretty bad.
“Somebody see to him, then get back to your posts,” she barked, then she strode off into the direction of home.