Chapter 1: A Thief

Now as the story I'm about to tell you has faded into legend for all but a few, I'll begin in it in the traditional style.
Once upon a time, in a land farther away then you could ever travel in a lifetime, lived a young man who made a living with his wits. Which is to say he was a thief, and a good one at that.
The young man's name is Lystin and he's been a thief ever since he was ten. He's eighteen now and has moved up from the world of pick pocketing and petty thievery to that of thief-for-hire. He'll steal anything for anyone so long as they pay him enough. Now most people would say he has no honour and he always responded with "If I could afford honour I wouldn't be a thief, now would I?"
So it was on a warm spring day in a special room within the Dark Moon inn, Lystin was negotiating another job.
"So what precisely do you want me to steal?" Lystin asked the two men in front of him as he lounged in his chair,
The two exchanged a glance and then the shorter one said. "A person."
Lystin nearly choked. "A person?!?!? Are you insane? Taking things gets the guards after me enough as it is. It would take a king's ransom to get me to do it."
"How much?"
"You don't have enough."
"How much?" the man repeated.
"Ten thousand gold." Lystin said, naming enough money to buy a noble's title and estates.
The two men looked at each other again and this time the tall one spoke. "Fine."
Lystin kept his face calm, as he had learned to do years ago. Inside he was very surprised and a little suspicious. Ten thousand, that's enough to hire an army, so why hire a thief when you can have an army?
"Who am I to 'steal'?" he asked.
"Prince Thane."
Lystin lost all calmness. "The prince?! You two are insane! You do know he goes nowhere outside of the palace without at least a full contingent of guards."
"He's going hunting on Lord Ferneth's lands in a week. He'll be there without anymore then two guards and a few nobles. You steal the prince and bring him to us at Karanthal Castle and we'll give you your ten thousand gold."
Lystin thought it over carefully. After all, if he had ten thousand he could quit living as a thief. He'd have enough money to do what he wanted and live comfortably. It was very tempting.
"Fine, I'll do it. One prince for ten thousand gold, delivered to Karanthal Castle."
"Bargain struck and sealed." The three of them chorused, before getting up and leaving. Lystin went to his own room while the other two left the inn.
Once safely in his room with the door shut and locked, Lystin pulled off the blond wig and fake nose. He didn't like his employers knowing what he really looked like.
He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head over his own greed. This is not going to be easy, he thought as he looked in the mirror. The reflection showed a lean young man with spiky black hair and light blue eyes. A generous mouth and a delicate nose gave him a pleasant enough face to look at.
Sighing again, Lystin turned away from his reflection. He suddenly felt as if he'd made a big mistake accepting the job. Oh well, he thought, too late now. I'd better get ready if I'm to make it to Lord Ferneth's lands in time for the hunt.
Packing swiftly as he'd learned, Lystin was ready within a half-hour. He went down told the inn-keeper to keep his rooms, paid him and then went out to saddle Black Light, his horse.
Light whickered at Lystin when he saw his master. Laughing, Lystin pulled out the apple he'd brought for a treat and gave it to Light. "You're spoiled you know."
Saddling Light and packing him was a matter of minutes as Lystin was used to leaving at the drop of a hat, or rather the drop of a coin.
The thief led his horse out of the stables before mounting and heading towards Lord Ferneth's lands.

Thane rolled his eyes behind Earl Rocci's back. What an idiot, the prince thought, you think he'd have figured out that if you keep heavily taxing your people they're going to revolt. I mean really, he was leaving them with nothing and he expects them to sit there and take it? I can't believe Father let him continue like that. Well at least he won't get any royal soldiers to help him put down the rebellion. I hope when he goes back they find some way to kill him so I don't have to listen to his whining and posturing.
When the Earl finally did turn around again to look at Thane, the prince had his face schooled into an expression of polite interest.
The whole rest of the party at Lord Ferneth's castle passed that way, whit Thane being forced to listen to the complaining, backstabbing and boasts of all the nobles at the party. I'll be happier when we hunt tomorrow. At least when we're hunting I can ride on ahead.
Finally Thane was able to escape to his rooms. He didn't want to be here. Not that home was much better, but at least at home he had a few friends. Here everyone wanted something from him and it made him both uncomfortable and angry. He began pacing his room.
After a while he pulled out his favourite book and began reading, using it as he had so many times before, as an escape. The story was about two brave heroes who saved the world.
Unable to keep his eyes open any longer, Thane went to bed, praying to any god who was listening that the hunt would not be as boring as the party.
The next day was the perfect day for a hunt. The sky was clear except for the occasional cloud and it was warm outside without being hot.
Thane got dressed quickly, anxious to be able to ride; it was one of his favourite things to do. He dressed in mottled brown and green leathers so he would blend into the forest. The rest of the nobles were wearing brilliant colours and stood out in the forest like a polar bear in the desert. Let them show off to one another, if he had to be at a stupid hunt then he was going to hunt.
When he got to the stables his horse was already saddled. Sighing, Thane mounted up. Just once, he thought, I'd like to be able to saddle my own horse.
It took a good hour before the rest of the nobles were ready. By that time Thane was in a very bad mood.
The group headed off into the forest. As soon as the pack of hounds began belling, Thane urged his horse into a gallop after them, the rest of the nobles following his lead, as he was the prince.
When he reached the hounds he found them cornering a stag, taking out his bow he swiftly shot the beast through the heart, killing it instantly. Thane's other favourite sport was archery and it showed. The other members of the hunt applauded Thane's skill.
The servants with them quickly began gutting the carcass and the nobles turned away and headed off in another direction to search for more game.
It was about a half-hour after the first kill when Thane got his wish. The hunt got very interesting. As they were riding, a great flash of light and smoke erupted in front of them and Thane's horse reared, throwing him.
He only had a minute to register this when someone grabbed him and he felt something hard hit his head and then blackness.

Lystin had heard the hounds belling and had tracked the hunt that way. Once they were within range, he threw his smoke-flash bomb to create a diversion.
He jumped out of the tree he'd been hiding in, grabbed the prince and hit him with the hilt of his dagger. Throwing the prince over his shoulder, Lystin ran to where he'd hidden Light and tied the prince to the saddle and jumped up himself. In minutes they were off towards the hiding place Lystin had secured two days before.
It was a deep cave surrounded by brush and rocks that masked the entrance. There was also a stream and clearing nearby. Pulling the prince out of the saddle, Lystin hauled him into the cave and bound him securely before taking care of Light. Once he was certain his horse was groomed, fed and content, Lystin re-entered the cave.
His captive still unconscious, the thief began making some stew over his fire, hungry after his exertions. While he cooked he studied the prince.
He had bright red hair and was taller and looked a lot stronger then Lystin. His eyes, from the brief glimpse the thief had gotten of them, were brown. He was dressed to blend in which surprised Lystin some. He'd expected him to be dressed as gaudily and as impractically as the other nobles. Shrugging, Lystin turned his back on his captive.

Thane woke to the smell of something cooking and a headache. He sat up with a groan and was surprised to find himself securely bound. When he looked around he found himself in a large cave and sitting in front of him, stirring something that smelled delicious, was a man with black hair.
"Who are you?" he croaked, his voice dry from the dust and smoke he'd inhaled.
The man turned around and raised an eyebrow over one of his blue eyes. "What in all the gods names makes you think I'd answer a stupid question like that? I've obviously just kidnapped you and if I told you my name and you somehow got away, it'd be all over for me."
"Ah. You're right. Sorry about that. You wouldn't happen to have some water would you?"
Lystin was a little taken aback with the prince's response. He didn't seem to mind being kidnapped at all. In fact he seemed almost happy about it.
"Here." He said, handing Thane the water flask.
Thane grinned at him. "Thanks. My throat feels like a desert." He had a bit of trouble opening the flask as his wrists were bound together in front of him, but eventually he managed. He gulped the water down and placed the now half-empty flask down on the floor beside him.
"You don't seem particularly distressed about being kidnapped."
"Oh I'm not. This is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me. Besides it's a hell of a lot better then listening to the nobles complain and boast to one another. If I had to spend another minute in their company I was going to kill someone."
Lystin laughed. "Well, your highness, I hope this plain fare won't be too far beneath you."
"Can I eat as much of it as I want?"
"Uh, yeah."
"Then it'll be better then any court feast."
"You're definitely not what I expected when I took this job."
This time Thane laughed. "And you're not what I expected in a kidnapper. Not that I expected to get kidnapped, but well. . . you know. So what should I call you? Mr. Kidnapper?"
"No, no! How about Lystin?" the thief said, thinking that there was no way the prince would figure it was his real name.
"Oh cool! Like that thief right?"
Lystin's eyes widened. "Thief?"
"Oh come one, don't tell me you don't know the stories about the master thief Lystin? Even I know them."
"What stories?" Lystin finally managed to choke out.
"How he stole the Lady Erma's famed black diamond necklace, how he once stole the contents of Lord Burge's entire stable in one night or how about the time he stole my father's favourite crown right off his bedside table. I can assure you he was pissed for weeks afterward. You should see the size of the rewards for him."
He had actually done all those things, but he'd been paid to do it. The stories explained some of the sly and smug looks he'd gotten from people when he'd said his name was Lystin. Gods this is a mess, Lystin thought.
"I've always wanted to meet him." Thane said wistfully.
"What? Why?"
"Because he's so free. He does what he wants when he wants. He's his own boss. He doesn't have to listen to other people and doesn't have to pretend he like people. He can leave if he doesn't like where he is. No one can force him to do anything."
"A thief's life isn't easy. If you're not good enough, you'll go hungry, you always have people after you and you can very easily die. It's a dangerous job."
"How do you know?"
"I'm a thief. I was hired to steal you."
"Really? Is that why you picked the name Lystin?"
"No. It's. . . just a name."
"Oh. So what have you stolen?"
Lystin sighed. This was going to be a long trip.