Chapter 1

A dark figure rode from the dark forest, trying to out ride the fierce storm that raged behind him. The trees shook from thunder when the man and his steed burst from the woods and into a large trading town. From under his hood his almost black eyes scanned the buildings until he found the one he wanted. He brought his horse to a stop and hitched it to a pole before he knocked on the door to a clearly boisterous tavern.

A peep hole opened and greedy eyes looked out at him.

"What do you want?" said the voice behind the door.

The man replied softly. "My name is Zaldae, I seek shelter from the storm."

"Seek it elsewhere, this building is full." Before he could close the door Zaldae held up a gold coin just so he could see.

"I think you can make space."

The greedy eyes lit up and then narrowed into slits. "This stays between you and me."

"Of course." Zaldae purred as the door opened and he stepped through. It took him a moment to adjust from the dark storm filled night to the warm, bright interior of the tavern, but he was soon comfortable enough to pull off his hood, revealing long copper hair and heavily pierced ears, and get a better view of his surroundings.

In the far corner of the tavern a fire burned merrily with the door to the kitchen right next to it, both of them working together to warm the common area. There was a lit lantern on every table and every table was filled with people laughing, joking, drinking, gambling, and losing. It was what every tavern keeper dreamed of their tavern being, but this place had something more, something that ran deep through the people that occupied it.

"Why, if it isn't Zaldae the bandit." A female voice said to his right. He turned and found a shapely brown haired woman looking at him from the lap of a slightly older man.

"Do I know you?" He asked, politely confused.

"Not really." She replied with a shrug and a slap to keep the man she was sitting on from distracting her while she spoke. "But I watched you kidnap my older sister and I've heard, and hunted, stories about you ever since."

He took a closer look at the woman. "Oh yeah! I remember your sister. It turned out she liked life on the road." A smile flickered over his face. "I think she married one of the men. What are you doing in this company?" He tilted his head to the man who was now scowling at him.

The woman shrugged. "My daddy left my mother, who then committed suicide. So now here I am, taking care of myself. Sob story innit?"

"Well then,' He mused, knowing most of it to be a lie, "I'm terribly sorry the change of topic but, do either of you two know where I can find the Queen of Thieves? I heard she was in town."

The two he spoke to went quiet and serious but a girl behind him wrapped her arm around his waist while the other carried a mug of ale like it was her life.

"I am the Queen of Thieves." She slurred.

"Nay!" Snarled a woman from across the room." I am the Queen!"

"I should know!" Drawled a handsome man by the door. "I am the Queen's lover."

A woman giggled and leaned to kiss him.

"Then am I the Queen?"

The man smiled and shook his head. "No.'

In seconds the room filled with shouts, claims, and accusations. None of it did any good to Zaldae's fraying temper. He bared his teeth and drew his sword to point it at the handsome man's throat.

"Tell me who or where she is, now! Or, I will scar that pretty face of yours to the point of…"

"Master Zaldae." Rang a commanding and maddeningly calm voice in the now silent room. "You will kindly sheath your sword, leash your temper, and hold your tongue. If you follow me, you will get the audience you seek."

Zaldae turned towards the voice and froze when he laid eyes on the woman it belonged to.

She stood proud and firm, clad in a leather vest that clasped in the front with three hooks and loose pants that most likely hid three to four knives. Her straight hair fell past her tanned shoulder and the locks were tipped with varying lengths of pure white. Framing her face was more pure white hair and electric blue eyes peered out from behind stray locks.

Those eyes, hardened into unfeeling stones, seemed to lance through Zaldae and rip apart his soul. Though she could easily be spotted in a crowd, Zaldae was sure this was the woman he was looking for.

Pulling his attention away from the woman, he sheathed his sword. Without a passing glance at he man he threatened, he followed the woman to a door next to the fireplace. She let him though first and smiled at the people in the tavern.

"Play nice my kittens." She cooed to them. The tavern was back to the way it was before she even closed the door. There was still a slight smile on her face when she sat down behind a desk opposite him. She reclined against the arm of her chair and propped her feet up on the desk. Zaldae could not help but think of a cat curled on a chair he knew was his.

"Please, sit." She said, her stony gaze still staring through him.

"No, thank you." He replied, keeping his voice level.

One of her black eyebrows went up.

"If you insist." She ran a hand through her hair. "What brings you to this tavern looking for the Queen of Theives?"

To avoid looking into her eyes he stared at the wall behind her head. 'I need a place to stay for the night and possibly a meal…"

"Liar.' She growled playfully. 'You would not walk into a place like this and ask for the Queen just so you can get a place to stay and some food." Her feet dropped from the desk and she gazed into his face. "What do you really want Zaldae? A woman in my court calls you a bandit to your face; you don't deny it. That tells me you really are one. What is a bandit doing before me, and my court, after having defied the thieves and being part of them for so long?"

Zaldae turned his head away and looked at the door.

"Your court is very loyal to you." He pointed out the obvious.

Her smile faultered for a moment. "Yes, spit and a handshake go a long way here."

When Zaldae looked back at her he was smiling. "Bandits aren't as trustworthy."

"Ah.' She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "There was a mutiny against you and now you are just looking for a new way to live."

He shrugged. 'I just want to turn over a new leaf."

She snorted. "Some new leaf!" Her hand waved in the air. "We'll see how it works. The man listening at the keyhole will show you to your room and the woman listening by the floor will get you blankets. I will personally tend to your horse.' Smiling she stool and offered him a slender hand, which he took after spitting in his own.

She smiled and rolled her eyes. "I was joking about the spit." He followed her out of the room, "Welcome, Master Zaldae, to the Court of Thieves."

Next to the door were two clearly abashed faces. He spared them a glance, but it did not linger long before it went back tot he queen. When she walked through the crowd she did not look like the commending person she did when she ordered him around, she looked like everyone's best friend. With ease she broke up fights, caught cheaters, and downed a full mug of mead. By the time she made it out the door and into the storm the whole tavern seemed brighter and happier.

"That Acqura." The man by the door said, "She is amazing."

"So much better than our last king." The woman added, a sour look on her possibly pretty face.

"Why?" Zaldae asked distractedly. 'What's the difference?"

"He cheated us out of what was ours and murdered for the joy of watching blood fall. For a thief, our Acqura plays fair and plays nice.' Explained the man. "She fights with us and fights for us. She keeps her promises and has a deep sense of honor.

All three of them looked out the window where Acqura was leading Zaldae's horse through the rain.

"Come." Spoke the man, giving Zaldae a gap toothed smile. "I'll show you to your room."