Born as the only son of an absent father and an ill mother, Oskar lacked every resource for success; except the desperation only an empty stomach could provide. A desperation that was cultivated by the untimely death of his nurturing mother at age five. If there had been an ounce of luck in his body, Oskar would have been adopted by the holy man that laid his mother to her eternal slumber. Instead, he was cursed to hunt for scraps of food that fell from carriages, into horse manure that littered streets of the great kingdom.
Despite being forsaken by the gods, mother nature, and the humans who shared his race, he survived. He survived by stacking wood on roof tops to trap the rising heat of chimneys and shield himself against the cold bite of winter. He survived by pushing burning metal into the infected cuts, from a life without clean clothes living next to animal feces. He survived by stealing from his fellow orphans who had bludgeoned him to death's brink.
But now had come the time to thrive. Oskar thought to himself.
Oskar was crouched between two crates of funeral candles that rattled as the wheels of the wagon were guided down the pitted road that led to the castle. Across from him was an empty coffin that would be customarily displayed at celebration of a new ruler’s ascension. The previous owner of the crown could no long bear it’s weight, but another eager soul was more than willing to seize power. The box was undoubtedly shown to remind everyone that obedience was still required despite the tragedy of a missing queen and a buried king.
Oskar's slender body could have easily been concealed within the coffin, but Oskar considered it a grim omen to start his quest in a coffin. Oskar was unconscious to the real reason that kept him from confining himself to the box. A life of being battered and beaten had severely damaged his ability to trust. Being in the box would be trusting Destiny, to ensure his success. He needed to be able to see his surroundings and adapt. He could only trust himself, to grasp the riches ahead. So, he sat in silence beneath the wagons cover, his mind’s eye fixed on treasure, and his hand clinging tightly to the grip of the dagger fastened to his belt.
The candle’s rattling stopped as the wheels of the carriage entered the smooth wooden planks of the draw bridge. Oskar moved towards the front of the wagon and peeked through the swaying curtain that separated the cargo from the driver. He took in the beauty of the castle. White marble slabs were held together by gold laced mortar that shone brightly in the torchlight. Oskar had never seen the castle up close, but he smiled knowing the wealth of the walls was only mirrored by what lay inside.
Oskar’s greed disoriented him briefly and it took him several seconds to notice the gate. Thick wooden doors were clasped shut to protect the fake innocence of royal inhabitants, from the malicious ravaging that Oskar carried with him. A less determined man would have succumbed to self-pity at not considering the obstacle in front of him, but Oskar shifted his gaze to find an alternative route. He quickly spotted a human-sized passage to the left of the giant doors and understood it as an accessway for guards to access the kingdom.
When the wagon halted at the front gate, two guards habitually walked towards the back of the wagon where the thief lay hidden. After the vigilant seekers were on either side of the horse drawn cargo, Oskar rose through the curtain that had previously separated him from the driver. He smirked knowing his senses hadn’t deceived him and the polite old man had left his seat to accompany the lawful watchers. Oskar silently strode through the accessway as six eyes peered into an empty casket.
Once inside, Oskar’s journey became significantly easier. Wearing a servants garb it was easily to hide in plain sight among the scurrying feet that were preparing for the dual services taking place tomorrow. A mass for those mourning the missing queen, and a celebration of the coronation of her eldest’s succession to the throne.
Many argued that the young man was not ready to lead, and they were right, in Oskar’s mind. It was easy to see the confusion that plagued the halls Oskar roamed through. The castle was unprepared for the absence of their leader so soon after the death of the king. Rumors whispered that the queen had finally succumb to the grief of her late husband. Others spoke of a foreign lover who had won her heart and swept her off her willing feet.
When isolation permitted, Oskar would draw a piece of parchment from his pockets and trace his fingers along the hand drawn lines leading to his destination. So far, the advice of the retired servant had proven accurate. When Oskar was first struck with the idea to rob the grief struck castle, the paid slave was eager to share his clothes and knowledge. Vengeance had breathed youth back into the body that was broken by years of service, during their nightly planning sessions. Thinking of his first ally quickened Oskar’s steps, and before long he was facing the final door that stood between him and the treasure he sought.
Despite Oscar’s mistrust of the Goddess of Destiny, she was favoring him. Little had Oskar know she had been favoring him for a long time. She had been refining Oskar to the man he had become. She had raised him from the starving orphan to the bitter thief he was now. High in the heavens she was looking down smiling at the desperate seeker. Knowing his hunt for the treasure he wanted, was about to introduce him to the treasure he needed.
Standing outside the royal bed chamber’s he listened intently to what lurked on the other side; assessing whether it was safe. He was about to enter when heard faint exhale of another desperate soul. With his hand grasping the knob, Oskar rested his head on the barrier in front of him. He slowed his breath to match noise he thought he heard on the other side. A foreign warmth began to spread from his heart. The unfamiliar sensation, discomforted Oskar and he began to question if it was a person on the other side, or if a window had been left open. As Oskar waited, he become more convinced that a human could not be so still surrounded by chaos of the castle.
The sound of footsteps entered Oskar’s senses, and gradually increased in volume indicating they were headed his way. He tightened his grip on the handle still unsure of what awaited him on the other side. The pressure of the approaching noise hastening his decision. He twisted his hand, and the door unlatched.
It should have been locked. Oskar winced at the thought.
Oskar wasn’t surprised to see the young woman kneeling over the bed Instead, he was surprised by his body’s reaction to seeing her beauty. Oskar was too distracted trying to fight the emotions in his heart to notice the disappointment that filled the room.
The shadow of his feet had convinced her that prayers had been answered and her mother was home. A lie that had been revealed when a thief had entered the room. She knew the intruder was a thief, who would visit the same room grief was corrupting a second time.
It had to be her who broke the silence first. Oskar, like many men before him had lost the skill to open his mouth, and if he had the composure to separate his lips, it would have revealed a tongue tied in knots.
“Well, take what you came for and leave.”
Oskar couldn’t fully comprehend her statement but hearing the smooth honey of her voice remind him that words existed.
“I am here to collect the linen’s,” His lie was made more awkward by the long silence that preceded it.
“No you’re here to collect your riches, take what you came for and leave.” She repeated a second time bitterness sneaking into her tone.
“So…your just cool with me taking these.” Oskar taunted her as he side-stepped towards the to the opposite side of the canopy bed.
He detached his dagger from his waist and began prying the gems from the bed post. He had no intention to of using the knife against her, but he hoped to intimidate her from calling out.
“Take it all, I’m sure the new king won’t even notice.” Her response was undaunted but full of annoyance.
“No love for the young master?”
“I have a lot of love for a lot of people, just not things.”
She resumed reading the book laying in front of her and twiddling a golden rosemary between her fingers. Her lack of fear disturbed Oskar and he felt at a disadvantage. He pondered how he could regain control of the situation and felt the urge to unsettle her.
“Would you mind giving up the cross?” He asked with a flirtatious smile pointing at her chest.
“Unfortunately, not tonight, but if we both live to see the dawn, maybe the next time you come rob me.”
“So, you want to see me again?” Oskar responded. Upset she was still maintaining her composure.
“I think you want to see me, more than I want to see you.”
Oskar felt himself getting flush and had to turn away to hide his face. Hoping his embarrassment hadn’t been seen he pretended to look for other treasure.
“Why do you think that?”
“Well, you are a thief after all. This castle has more to offer you, than you have to offer me.”
She had won their playful banter and they both knew it. Oskar felt incredibly uncomfortable being the intruder in the situation. He debated just pillaging in silence or making small talk. Mostly Oskar wished she would just leave, and clearly, she wished the same.
“If I am a thief, why haven’t you raised the alarm?”
“You are no threat to me, and the people of the castle have shown little interest in what I have to say.”
Before Oskar could reply, footsteps returned to the hall outside. Panic struck him. The man Oskar was before he entered the room would have scanned for an escape route. However, the man he was now placed his life in another’s hands, for the first time, as he hid himself beneath the bed.
I shouldn’t have trusted her.
“I thought I heard voices” A booming voice spoke with authority of a crown bearer.
“I was reading aloud.” Cold formality replaced her playful tone.
“You could do that in your own room.”
“I guess I could, I will head that way shortly.”
The king-to-be grunted in approval and turned to leave.
“It seems a thief came in with the night.” She confessed her secret.
“Sister, when have talked about this before.” The voice began. “You can’t continue speaking madness. Our bloodline must stay strong in our grief.”
Oskar had half-listened to the rest of the lecture that followed. His mind was muddled by the fact he had just been talking to a princess. Oskar had heard stories from the orphan boys, of princess Kythis, who gave more to the beggars than the store owners during her shopping trips in town. Many townsfolk saw her as an advocate for their needs during times of struggle. Every woman wanted to be her, and every man wanted to suit her; yet foolish Oskar pried gems from her father’s death bed.
After the pair were the only ones left in the room Oskar slid out from his hiding place, wishing he could stay there to avoid the awkward interaction that was sure to follow.
“See they wouldn’t believe me if I tried.” Her playful tone returning.
“Princess…” Oskar hesitated with his response.
“I.. I am sorry for your loss.”
If their interaction wasn’t awkward before it was now.
“Well, I have to go.” Kythis broke the silence a second time. “Mom kept her jewelry in the washroom.”
Oskar stood there still unsure how to act or what to say.
“Stay out of the garden, it’s dangerous” She warned without turning to face him on her way out.
Oskar composed himself, pulled out his map to plan his escape. His mind replaying all interactions with the princess, who had vanished like a specter from his life. Looking at the parchment, he convinced himself of his route home. The pain of her absence masking the trust he had for her warning.
Night had deepened and the torches had been doused in preparation for rest, by the time Oskar made it to the garden. He investigated the darkness and saw a long walk between him and the aqueducts that would be his escape. Slowly he headed into the abyss that lay before him.
A rustling came from the bushes as he neared the center of the garden. Fear that a guard was patrolling lead him to grasp the blade at his hip when suddenly a beast lunged from the bushes and slashed at Oskar. He fell backwards to evade the attack. Falling to the beast still lumbered forward, following him as he pushed his hands against the dirt and in the hopes to get away quicker.
Suddenly a purple hued light entered his vision and the chanting of a voice he thought he would never hear again chased the attacker away. Once the light subsided, he saw her tending to the scrapes from the fall.
“What was that?” Oskar asked, with his heart still racing.
“It was a Therion, a corrupted dead, and my father.” She swallowed the lump in her throat as she answered.
“A shaman had cursed my father. It's what led to his death… we never expected him to turn it to that… or we wouldn't have buried him”
Her statements were absurd. However, the desperation Oskar carried with him since birth, heard the unspoken plea for help. No one else in the kingdom believed her. Oskar could have easily claimed the attack was a stray wolf and told her to go to bed. However, he could not lie to her, for the same reason his pockets were empty.
Silently, Oskar followed her. Knowing she deserved an army at her back, he made the commitment to give all his strength to her cause. A heavy green fog enveloped the pair as they followed the tracks leading them towards Evil.
“Mom” Kythis shouted as she ran away from Oskar.
When Oskar caught up, He saw the missing queen pinned by thick roots in a contorted position. Initially most signs of life were absent from the trapped woman, but eventually Oskar saw she shallow ragged breathing and her eyes blood shot moving in response to her visitor.
“It’s a siphon, we have to save her.” Kythis directed as she pulled at the roots.
As Oskar reached for his dagger, he saw two green glowing eyes attached to a humanoid shadow. He pushed Kythis out of the creature’s first assault, but the green fog hastened the create. He could only use his body as a shield for every slash that followed. The beast ceased it’s strikes when purple-hued light returned because of Kythis’ chanting.
“Read!” She broke from chanting for an instant to bellow one word as she threw a book in his direction.
The weight of her expectation was a boulder on his chest, as he responded, “I can’t.”
“Mom!” no judgement came from her tone as she directed him.
Oskar rubbed his blade against the bondage that trapped an innocent prisoner, with no success. When he paused to inspect his work, he saw the roots pulsating with the vibrant green mist that filled the air. Oskar’s back burned from the slashes of the foul beast, and he felt his strength sapping away from him. For the second time, he wasn’t enough.
When Oskar looked over at Kythis to share his shame, he saw her struggle. Her foe was too fast, and her light couldn’t affect the beast because it never fully reached it. Oskar witnessed the green fog deepen as the creature exhale, and he knew what he had to do.
Oskar staggered to his feet and wandered to where Kythis couldn’t protect him. As soon as the beast saw the frail thief within range blood lust compelled it to a frenzy. Oskar was ready for the onslaught; he jabbed his dagger into the beast’s leg as claws ripped his flesh. The viciousness would continue, but death would claim Oskar before the beast would get away. When the beast drew an arm back to swing a second strike, Oskar took advantage of the creature’s shift in balance to tackle it to the ground.
Laying there, Oskar used the weight of his body to pin the Therion. The creature raked his back with long claws as it flailed to escape. Kythis’ light flooded over him, and the creature’s movements slowed. Oskar tried to hold onto consciousness; to survive as he had against every obstacle behind him. This time was different, he finally had something worth dying for.
Oskar returned to the castle for the third time in the light of day. Each time since that faithful night as invited guest. As he walked the path his feet longed for, he saw the rescued queen. A silent nod of gratitude was exchanged.
Despite knowing he was coming, Kythis was preoccupied reading in the garden. She smiled as Oskar covered her eyes and pulled her in close. They were so close Oskar could hear her beating heart.
“What a treasure you have in your chest,” he told her.
“A treasure you don’t deserve,” she reminded him.
“Maybe… but I am a thief.”