Excerpt from The Violet Fox:
“How dare you attack my carriage, Freetor,” the prince said. His voice was thick with the regional accent: long a’s and hard c’s.
I laughed. “You Marlenians like to pretend to be brave and dashing.” My knife toyed with a gold chain around his neck, but I had my eye on a shiny brooch over his left breast. “Really, you’re just scared meat hiding underneath silk and gold.”
“And you’re just a filthy Freetor playing dress-up!”
I pressed the knife against his neck and felt the cold blade of his knife dig into mine. All I had to do was press a little harder, and the prince of Marlenia would bleed like my people had bled and join them, rotting in the ground.
“It seems we are in a stalemate,” the prince said. “Release me and leave, and I will forget this ever happened.”
“Give me everything of value that you’re wearing, and I’ll consider it.”
“You’re in no position to bargain.”
The two servants leaned away from me and shared looks of extreme terror. Balled into fists, it seemed like they wanted to fight, but were too scared to move. I twisted the blade pointed at Prince Keegan’s neck. “Neither are you.”
The carriage slowed to a stop. The guards shouted outside. I looked to the window, knowing I only had seconds to escape.
“My family will eat tonight,” I said.
I released the knife from his neck. The prince followed suit. The carriage door opened, and an angry, sweaty guard appeared. Smiling at him, I grabbed the prince’s brooch and tore it off his jacket. The servants seized my legs as I reached for the opposite door. I kicked free but lost my balance, and the guard sliced my arm. The brooch flew out the window. I screamed and fell forward. My weight pushed the door open, and I landed in the dirt.
“Seize her!” the prince ordered.
I was dizzy with shock. Something dug into my side. Thinking it was a rock, I rolled to avoid it, but the gold glint in the sun caught my eye. With my good hand, I tucked the brooch into my pocket.
“Well, well, the Fox is at it again.”
Guards pulled me to my feet. I still had the mask around my eyes, but I doubted they would let me keep that for long. The prince stepped out of his carriage, and the guards parted to make way for him.
“Give it back, thief,” the prince said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The guard yanked my head backwards and held a knife to my throat. “Perhaps this will refresh your memory.”
“I wouldn’t try anything if I were you,” I said. “There’re a bunch of Freetors watching us right now with crossbows. If you so much as scratch me, they will open fire on your precious prince.”
The guards exchanged glances. I kept my expression blank. Of course there was no one waiting to rescue me. In the underground, everyone helped their neighbours get by if they were trouble. Even when I joined the Fighters, I took the vow to put my personal needs second to the needs of the Freetor people. On the surface, that vow didn’t always apply. It was every man for himself to avoid getting captured. Because getting captured meant death, or worse, torture. And giving up the names of our fellow Fighters and information about our safe points meant we’d all die. Heroics were something only Marlenian women read about in their weekly gossip stories. I prayed that the guards were ignorant of Freetor customs.
“If you return the brooch, we will let you go free,” the prince said.
I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows. Let me go free? The guards mirrored my reaction. Wasn’t I the most wanted Freetor on the streets? Wasn’t the price on my head enough to feed ten starving Freetor families for a year? As if to prove his good faith, the prince held out his hand. The guards loosened their grip on my head but still held my arms tightly.
My eyes darted back and forth between his open palm and his face. If I gave up the brooch, everyone within three caverns of mine would starve. But I would be free to steal again tomorrow. Unless the prince was lying. His eyes didn’t waver from mine. They were different from the guards’. Less hardened. Sheltered. Green, speckled with flecks of gold. My teeth gritted as I realized that he probably didn’t worry about where his next meal was coming from.
One of the guards holding my arms kicked me in the shins. I couldn’t hold back a scream.
“You have nothing to say to the prince?” the guard said. “She stares at you with such disrespect, Your Highness. I take it that she is declining your generous offer?”
“She was quite talkative in the carriage,” the prince remarked.
I ignored the pain in my leg. “This brooch, when sold, will feed twenty people, maybe more. I won’t give it up.”
“Any merchant showing sympathy to the Freetors is breaking the law. Perhaps you could enlighten us as to which merchants are helping you, and we might be lenient.”
Right. As if I would betray the few decent Marlenians sympathetic to our cause. All we wanted was to be free of Marlenian tyranny and have our own lands on the surface.
“I didn’t think she’d talk,” the guard said. “I would say that’s a no to your deal, Your Highness.”
“It would seem so,” the prince replied, heaving a heavy, sarcastic sigh. “Take her to the dungeons, then. I imagine she’ll feel right at home there, in the cold, damp underground.”
Marlenian dungeons hadn’t existed until fifty years ago. The prince’s grandfather—the previous Holy One—had decreed that if the Freetors wanted to hide in their filthy holes, he would dig one for them in the castle. The dungeons were said to be twice as deep as the Freetor caves and three times as cold. Light could not survive down there. It was also said that the whole underground was reinforced with half a league’s worth of stone, so a prisoner wouldn’t be able to dig himself out. No Freetor had ever lived to report what was really down there, and I certainly wasn’t going to volunteer for that mission.
I had another knife hidden in my boot. If I could only . . .
“Find the brooch,” the prince ordered.
Their hands slipped into my pockets, and out came the brooch. Twenty people’s meals in the centre of his palm. The guard handed it to his liege. My heart sank.
“Take her to the dungeons,” the prince said. “Alert the authorities and the business councils that we have apprehended the Violet Fox and that she will terrorize our streets no more.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” the guard to my right said as he tightened his grip on my arms.
I resisted. There was no way that I was going to live the rest of my life in a dark dungeon. If I was going to die, it would be with a knife in my hand and a smile on my face—and I’d take as many Marlenian guards as I could with me. The prince, too, if I could.
One of the guards slammed me in the stomach. I doubled over again, but this time I took advantage of the opportunity. Grabbing the knife from the hidden compartment in my boot, I whipped up with a steady swing and slashed Prince Keegan across the lips. Like two fat worms, they split in two and oozed red. He screamed and fell to his knees in agony. Part of me wanted to watch him suffer, as he had made my people suffer, but Rordan’s voice shouted from a distance, and it would be foolish not to heed his call. I slipped by the guards, rushing to help their prince, and followed my brother down a side street.
“You came back for me,” I remarked.
“You’re my sister,” was all he said.