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The Boy Who Stole the Moon
by Andrew L. McFarlane
The MoonThe climber cursed the moon. Were it not for that revealing lantern, the Watch would never have taken his father. He adjusted his cowl ever-tighter about him and forced himself to slow his ascent of the townhouse's wall. In his mind, his father's voice counseled him, "Slow, my boy, slow and sure is way of the wise. To the fleet may come glory, but as fleeting and bright as the flare of a match. Glory may touch that one's shoulders, but like as not the touch will be the firm hand of the Watch."

The Watch had touched the shoulder of Jair of the Midnight Step. Touched and led him to a high cell, where he had languished these five years, or died, for all his son knew. The moon rose over the screen of the neighboring building, sharpening his formless shadow on the wall. He clumsily scrabbled to the other side of the chimmney, dislodging a bit of stone that boomed on the cobbles two stories below.

There was more, and he forced himself to pause, to listen to the sounds of the city at night. Three streets away, the Red Lantern district wafted perfume and laughing calls and just to his left through a window open to the night breeze, a fat merchant snored his way through dreams of gold. Nowhere could he hear the hard click of a Watchman's booted heel. He took a breath and listened within. "Aye, to the quick may come all the glory of a short life, but the wise are as the night candle, patiently marking the hours from sun's set to rise. Their pockets may not overflow with silvers, but neither do the eyes of their loved ones' overflow with tears of loss."

Jain Nightstrider chuckled silently. His old man had had a way with words. Given the choice between work and talk, Jain had no doubt that talk would win out. How many times had they waited like this, for the passing of a cloud over the moon or a Watchman on the street, with Jair communicating the wisdom of the moment to his son in that softest of voices, like a breath of night air. His father seemed very close for a moment, and Jain choked back a sob.

Damn this moon! Cloudy four nights running as he marked his target and as he set off this night, and now, near to the richest haul of his young life, the clouds had melted like dreams and laid bare the night to its silver rays. He knew his father would counsel him to leave and return another night, but he couldn't chance that his prize would wait. His two sisters and mother needed food and coin for rent and, above all, he couldn't let the moon beat him. He gathered himself and climbed the thirteen feet to the roof at a rush, slipping over the lip like a shadow.

"Sometimes," Jain told his father, "Speed will out where patience will not." He hoped the old man could hear him. The pretense of stealth discarded, he darted a glance through the open window. The woman lay fully clothed in rich silk upon her bed, the rays of the rising moon crawling across the floor toward her.

Jain lowered himself through the window, freezing as his soft slipper nudged a stool he had not seen. The slight scrape sounded deafening to his straining ears, but the black-haired woman's regular breath faltered not a bit. He let a silent sigh of relief. He had tested the strength of her slumber, of course, with small sounds of nightbirds made outside her window at varying pitch and volume. It was good he had been correct. This lady, whom some, especially not those about to rob her, might have named beautiful in a dark and mysterious way, held a single attraction to the young thief. On her softly rising and falling breast dwelt all the beauty Jain required of her, and intricately worked disc of silver worth, he judged, many times its weight to the proper buyer He had watched every evening as she drew the medallion from a carven chest, slipped it over her head, and then lain upon the bed, above the covers, instantly asleep.

Jain glided across the room, outpacing the careful advance of the moon's light to stand beside her bed. He waited a long moment, timing the rise and fall of her breath and there, he had it off. Soundlessly, he made his way back to the window, pausing to be sure of her still sleeping form and to slip the medallion into his pouch.

He cursed inwardly as the bright metal caught and reflected a moonbeam, momentarily dazzling him, and stuffed the amulet into his pouch Just then, a cloud must have passed over the moon, for its light no longer shone in the still room. The lady turned and murmered in her dreams. Night sight gone, Jain too slowly blundered onto the roof. Still, he could thank the Mistress of Thieves for this sheltering dark as his feet blindly but surely picked their way along the Thieves Highway, rooftop to rooftop all the way home.

The next day, and the one after and after that were ones of mounting frustration. Though Jain knew that his original estimate of the value of the piece had not been wrong, he could get no jeweler to take more than a cursory look at it. Finally, he resolved to take it to old Parth, a jeweler too base to be known as anything but "Parth the Fence." It was said that Parth would buy and sell his own grandmother's golden tooth, were the price right.

Parth's words on the subject were simple and to the point. "It stinks, boy. It stinks of magic and bad luck and I'll have nothing to do with it."

Later, at home, Jain drew it forth to study it by candlelight. He had taken to wearing it about his neck as even a thief could not entirely avoid the predations of the city's many cutpurses. His eyes traced the exqusitely worked rendering. It was certainly silver, and certainly depicted the moon. Again, the moon had returned to beset him. He felt he could cast it out the window, and would, did he not need the coin it would bring. His heart caught as he saw that a small portion of the edge had broken off.

The days and nights that followed were no different. Jain worked his way lower and lower upon the rungs of the fence's ladder, and still none would even offer a price. And that was not all. Portenders and pretenders roamed the streets, crying doom and woe on the city and people the moon had deserted. And more. People, strangers, friends, would turn blind and haunted gazes in his direction, searching and finding nothing. Night after night, the medallion crumbled away, leaving nary a silver flake to show its passing. And still, even on a star strewn night, the moon did not shine.

Jain stopped eating, stopped sleeping, even stopped trying to sell his ill-gotten treasure. He realized that he just wanted to be rid of the damned thing, and set his course to the townhouse.

From the street below, he could see the lady standing at her darkened window. He watched her until the sun rose and she slipped away, returning the next night at dusk. She came to the window again, and the night breeze carried snatches of a song down to him. "I see the moon and the moon sees me and the moon sees..."

He fingered the silver sliver, all that remained of the once full disc, and made his decision. Heedless of possible observers, he scurried up the wall and climbed upon the roof. Any lady should have caught her breath, at least given an involuntary start. Not this one, she merely smiled and gestured him to come in.

With shaking hands he drew the chain over his head, the narrow crescent catching light from nowhere. The lady gently took the proffered necklace and placed it around her neck. She walked slowly to the bed and lay atop the covers. Her dreamy song followed Jain as he fled out the window and onto the roof.

"I see the moon and the moon sees me and the moon sees the one that I long to see..."

And Jain, upon glancing up, caught the rising of the last sliver of the waning moon. With a vision that was not sight, nor magic, nor anything else in his experience, he saw in his mind's eye his father, craning his neck to peek through the bars at the rising moon. . . a smile upon his face.
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