Alie strolled along beside the wall's parapet, his bronzed chest gleaming by the sun's setting light. He turned to rest an arm on the parapet and look out beyond the courtyard's walls. He saw, at the immediate base of the wall, a dirt trail that the servents and merchants used, as well as some of their disgarded rubbish. Beyond this path was a grassy slope that dipped into a sparkling blue moat, and came back out again after several yards of swimming. Soon after the moat, however, desert rock took posession of the ground, dropping away into descents of slopes and cliffs. The palace was situated on a strategic hill, the beginnings of a water spring in the middle of the palace courtyard. The water flowed off to a gate in the northern wall, but Alie was currently looking West, revelling with the landscape in the sun's myriad colors. It was probably this wall, he thought. The North is too steep, and the large plateu of the South too exposed. Of course, they might have come by the main palace grounds from the East...and killed the guards in their departure...but they definitely left by the West wall. Just then, one of the guards came up to Alie.

"Greetings, sire!" came the guard's gruff voice.


"Perhaps you should wait hidden somewhere...for good luck, you know."

Alie only nodded grimly. He knew what the guard meant. No one who had a good look at the thieves had lived, in either of the attacks. Unfortunately, two of the people who apparently did get a good look were his two older brothers. He was his father's sole remaining son.

Alie walked away from the guard and towards a tower in the middle of the West wall. Opening its door, he went down a stairwell and out into the shaded courtyard. He nodded to a woman servent finishing up her gardening chores, and went to the pool made by the spring's beginnings. Breaking a cane of bamboo, he sat down on a rock beside the pool and began whittling. He waited until the woman servent was done and gone, then looked around the courtyard. There were two guards on each wall, one for each side walls, which were divided in the middle by a tower. There was also a tower at each corner, so that altogether there were eight towers in all, including the gate-towers. In addition to the two guards per wall, there was a spearman on the ground for each of the two gates, one gate leading into the main palace grounds and the other leading out with the water.

The guards' alertness was maybe less than it should have been, but the last theft had been over a fortnight ago, and since the first was only a couple of days before the second, the common belief was that those two thefts were all that would happen. Alie guessed otherwise, but was glad none of the guards were ever looking his way. Finishing with his bamboo, he hid his bow and arrows beside the pool's edge and slipped into the water, making only a small splat with his still unsheated sword. He moved into the midst of some plants growing out of the water, so that no one could see him unless they were right beside the pool. In case that happened, Alie now had a hollow bamboo tube to breathe through while hiding beneath the water's surface.

The cold desert night air had just finished seeping the last of the day's heat from the pool when the thief's presence was made known. Alie noticed with a morbid satisfaction that he had guessed right, for a guard lied at the bottom of the East wall with his throat sliced, and the thief stood on the parapet where the guard had been just moments before. No...Alie thought, BOTH of the East wall guards have been sliced!

With both East guards now gone, the thief had a clear shot at all eight that remained. He had obviously been observing somehow for awhile, for his timing could not have been more perfect. Within five seconds, most of the guards met the same fate by whispering arrow as the East guards did by silent knife. The thief had a crossbow in each hand, both of the gate spearmen were skewered with an arrow, then three seconds later two more were dead. Alie had heard of warriors who could fire two accurate shots every three seconds, but to actually see this thief do so with his compound bow was beyond amazing. Alie involuntarily grimaced as yet another angry sound sped through the suddenly hot air, like a single wasp speeding towards its target, and, hitting its target, immediately killing it and sending it flying to the ground.

Three guards were left. One had reached the North-West tower, another the South tower. The third, the one Alie had spoken to just moments earlier, having seen that he could not have reached a tower in time, had immediately thrown himself on the outside of the North wall, and was now hanging onto its parapet.

The thief was already running towards the South-East tower when the guard in the South tower fired from a peep-hole. Like an echo in a small room, the thief's bow twanged immediately after the guard's, and almost as quickly came a re-echo of the guard's howling. The guard in the North-West tower ran out into the courtyard as soon as the thief entered into the South-East tower, but was shot dead as soon as the thief came back out, running towards the South tower. Within seconds, the thief burst into the South tower, then there was a short scuffle, and then a quick slash. The thief came out headed towards the North wall.

Alie stay hidden where he was, knowing his skill was insufficient to save the last guard. He watched helplessly as the thief drove towards the hanging guard, dispatching his life with efficiency. Then the thief was gone, skillfully climbing down the same part of the wall that the guard had just a moment before been hanging onto.