The Treasure Hunter
by Annie Felis

King Edgar sighed as he rounded the corner of another hallway. Why did he have to handle this? The head of security had already handled the situation, the perpetrator had been caught, and the item in question had been returned. Why drag it out? Why did he have to talk to this thief?

Rynas, the head of security for Figaro Castle, rambled on about how the thief was caught, oblivious to the fact that the young king wasn't really listening.

"Sire....sire, can you hear me?"

"Hmm? Of course. Continue, please."

Rynas adjusted one of his gauntlets as he walked, and nodded. "As I was saying, we haven't been able to get his name, or any information out of him. He's sealed his identity as tight as a drum, and only gives backtalk to any question we give him." They reached the top of the stairwell that lead down to the dungeon. "Apparently, not even my men could forcibly get an answer out of him."

Edgar snapped his head up to look at the officer. "You beat him?"

"Sire, it had to be done. The man is a criminal, and has caused nothing but trouble. If the Lieutenant hadn't shot him, he would of undoubtedly gotten away."

Anger flickered briefly in the young king's icy blue eyes. "Somebody shot the man?"

"It's only a flesh wound, nothing serious, only meant to slow him down. Sire? Sire, are you listening?"

King Edgar rushed down the stairs and past the guards, pointedly ignoring the chief of security. A few guards in front of the row of cells saluted smartly as the king approached.

"Where is he?" Edgar's voice was as cold as his eyes.

One of the guards looked baffled. "Sire?"

Edgar grated his teeth. "The thief, where is the thief that tried to take my father's sword from the armory?"

The guard saluted again. "This way. Sire."

Edgar followed the guard down the dank hallway, trying to keep his anger his check. They shot the man? And then they beat him? That's the last thing he wanted, even for a criminal. What sort of shape was this so-called thief in, anyway? Could it be that he can't answer questions simply because all the energy had been beaten out of him? The king hadn't been in office for long, but he could think of a few soldiers that would have to find themselves other jobs if the thief was in terrible condition. Edgar's thoughts halted as he reached the cell with this apparent menace inside.

The man inside was seated against the wall, partially slumped over with his sandy-brown hair falling in his face. He wore simple clothing: blue jeans, T-shirt, boots, and a black sleeveless leather jacket that revealed slim but muscular arms. There was a white and blue bandanna tied around his head, apparently more for looks than for the purpose of keeping his hair back. What Edgar noticed most was the dark wet stain on the man's lower left pant leg, obviously where he had been shot with a crossbow. At first he thought the man was unconscious, but then he shifted his legs slightly.

"So, the king himself comes down to see me." He sounded fairly young, bordering on adulthood. "I feel special."

Edgar peered through the bars into the dark cell to try to get a better look. "Who are you?"

The sandy-haired thief chuckled. "Caught."

King Edgar frowned. "Look at me when I talk to you."

"Why of course, your Royal Majesty." he replied in a sardonic tone. "Anything the king says." The thief slowly rose, wincing in pain, and pushed his hair out of his face to meet Edgar's blue eyes with his own plain brown ones. He was young, perhaps a year or two younger than Edgar. He also was bleeding freely from his nose and a cut on his forehead, and there were two dark smudges under his eyes. "King Edgar, huh? Always thought you were younger."

"And I thought you were older. What's a kid doing trying to steal from Figaro Castle?"

"What's a kid doing being a king?"

"I'm 23..." the king retorted.

"I'm 20, so I'm no kid either." He limped up to the bars and gripped at the cold metal with his gloved hands. "So why the personal visit? You gonna hang me or behead me or something like that?"

Edgar swallowed down the pity that rose in his throat and shook his head. "That is yet to be decided. I'm here to review your motives and your character before I declare a sentence." Just like me, he thought. Only a few years younger, and he's just like me: a man that's barely past being a boy, stuck in a position he doesn't want.

The sandy-haired man shifted his weight, trying to lessen the pain in his left ankle. "Do whatever, I don't care."

"You'd just throw your life away like that?"

The thief snorted. "And why not? I'm caught, I'm facing the head honcho here, and I've gotten my ass kicked all over the place on my way here. I don't have much going for me."

Edgar turned to the guards. "Who did this to him?'

The guard who led the king to the cell saluted again. "Lieutenant Chance apprehended him after shooting the suspect in the leg. After that, I, Milon, Arant and Vinos tried to beat some sense into him, and to get some answers out of him."

The young king sighed. "By who's order?"

"By Chief Rynas' order, sire. He said to use whatever forced needed, since the man was armed, and had taken down seven of our men in his flight from the armory."

"And the black eyes? Who did that?"

The guard grinned proudly. "I did, sire. I could give him a fat lip to match, if you wish."

"I do not wish it!" Edgar snapped. "From now on, all orders dealing with any force given are to be run by me. Is that clear?"

The guards saluted. "Sire!"

Edgar turned back to the thief, who was grinning like a maniac. "And what's so funny?"

"You. I thought the King of Figaro was a hot-shot who only did things for his own best interest....and for the ladies."

The king walked up to the bars. "I'd watch what you say; your life hangs in the balance here."

The thief laughed again. "I told you, I don't care. Not like I have a life anyway, if I was just trying to steal a stupid sword."

"Why'd you do it then, if it's just a "stupid sword"?"

The other young man shrugged. "To see if I could. For the thrill. Nothing else."

"What's your name?"

The thief wiped at the blood running from his nose, and shrugged.

"Answer me when I talk to you. What is your name?"

The thief laughed and waggled a finger at Edgar. "Nice interrogation attempt. But no dice."

One of the guards jammed the butt end of his spear through the bars to ram it into the young thief's stomach. "Answer the king!"

The thief doubled over with a grunt as he grabbed at his stomach. He gripped at the bars with his free hand to support himself, trying to catch his breath. Edgar turned to the guard. "And what is your name?"

The guard saluted. "Milos, sire."

"Congratulations Milos, you've just entered the world of unemployment." He ignored the look of disbelief the former-guard wore on his face, and turned to the rest of the guards that were leering over the thief's condition. "And the rest of you, go join him. I don't want riffraff in my castle, especially when I pay their wages." The guards just stared at him. "Go on! Get!"

The guards scrambled practically over one another to get out of the dungeon as Edgar watched them go with a look of disgust on his face. How could such animals be working for him? He turned to the remaining guard, the head jailer of the dungeon. "Go get a medic down here right now. Run."

The guard nodded, dropped his pike and ran up the stairs, no questions asked.

"....hh...ockkk...." the thief said, still short of breath.

"What was that?"

"My name..." he said in a hoarse whisper, still partially doubled over. " Locke. Cole."

Edgar nodded. "My apologies for what those men did for you, Locke. I'm having someone come down to look at your injuries as we speak."

Locke cleared his throat, gaining his voice back. "Thank you. I didn't think you'd do anything for me, seeing that I stole your daddy's sword."

"No harm done, the sword is back in my possession. Besides, I've heard of you."

Locke laughed, then winced in pain and held his sides. "I'm honored. I think. How'd you hear of me, anyway?"

Edgar pulled a chair from the head jailer's desk over to the cell and straddled it, facing the thief. "From Banon, the head of the Returners. He told me about a young thief that was working his way up in the ranks of the Returners, and he mentioned his name was Locke Cole."

The sandy-haired young man shook his head. "Treasure hunter."

"Excuse me?"

"The term is "treasure hunter", dammit. I'm not into petty thievery, I'm too far above that level."

Edgar grinned. "Oh, of course. Locke the...hehehh...."treasure hunter". I'll remember that."

Locke rushed up to the bars and gripped them with his hands. "Don't insult the title, or I'll shove your pretty-boy face up your ass."

The young king laughed. "Just as Banon said. Complete with attitude." Then he frowned. "If you're so good, then why haven't you gotten out of that cell yet?"

It was Locke's turn to laugh. "To see how far I could get before I was really in hot water. Observe." He reached into one of his gloves, pulled out a narrow sliver of metal, and reached through the bars to insert it in the lock He wriggled it for a few seconds, then gave his wrist a sharp jerk, and produced a click from the lock. He withdrew his hand back into the cell, and with a light push opened up the door.

"Impressive." Edgar said in earnest. "And I thought the security here was air-tight."

"Oh, it is. That's why I came here, for the challenge. There's probably some things of value here, but I'd prefer to go for something that's valuable to the people of this castle, not to myself. I chose your father's sword because I knew it was put on display in memorium of him, and was guarded 24/7. I didn't take into account that there were more guards out in the hallway walking past. That's the only reason they beat my hide and dragged me into here. Kind of sorry I had to kill a few of them." He walked past Edgar, still limping, and sat on the head jailer's desk. "So you've talked to Banon?"

King Edgar nodded. "He wants me to join the resistance against the Empire. I have no love for the empire, but if Figaro Castle resists, I don't know what would happen to South Figaro. I have to think of my people, after all."

Locke shrugged. "So join, and don't let the Empire know. That's what the cities to the west did, and they have less Empire problems. The Returners are slowly but surely working towards their goal, and when the time comes for them to obtain it, they'll need all the help they can get. Including the help of King Edgar Roni Figaro, and his men at Figaro Castle." He saw Edgar's answer, and held up his hand even before the young king could speak. "Just think it over. It's a big decision, I know....but it's also an important one."

Edgar thoughtfully tapped at his chin with a finger. "Maybe I should speak with Banon again.....but I don't want to send anybody who might turn and go straight to Gestahl. There are some Empire-lovers here in Figaro, and the last thing I'd want is one of them to tattle on me."

The treasure hunter smiled. "But that's where I come in. I'm a Returners liaison. I go to various cities to deliver and take messages for Banon. I don't love the Empire one bit...hell, I hate them worse than anything else. I'd be more than willing to deliver any message you have for Banon to him. Free of charge."

Edgar stood up to face Locke. "Sounds like it could work. I'll write up a message, and send you on your way as soon as your wounds heal. But first you'll be a guest here until that time comes." He extended a hand to the treasure hunter. "Locke Cole, this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Locke grinned and shook Edgar's hand. "Friendship, then."

King Edgar examined his hand, then held it out, frowning. "Locke, I'd like my rings back."

The sandy-haired thief laughed and plunked them back into Edgar's open palm with a wink. "Sorry. Habit."

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