“Stop, thief!” the man shouted.
Sif risked a glance over her shoulder. He had looked so slow, weighed down by his armor, his furs, his great horned helmet, and most worryingly, his enormous double-headed axe. He had turned out to be much faster than he looked, cutting through the crowd like a longship through a swell, or at least like Sif imagined that would look. No time for imagination, though, she reminded herself. If she wanted to live to spend the coin in the purse she’d lifted, she would have to slip away from her pursuer, and even though he was half again as tall, twice as old, and three times as heavy, she was beginning to think she couldn’t outrun him. She would just have to out-think him instead, and given the weight of the coin purse he had left dangling from his belt with nothing more than a knot to hold it there, she doubted that would be very much trouble.
“Guards!” the man shouted. “Thief!”
Two watchmen, some ways down the road, turned around. “Get that boy!” one cried.
At least that part was working, Sif thought. For a few more years, at least, a pair of pants and a wool cap to hide her hair would make her one of many boys who lived by street thievery, rather than that one girl who did. She slithered past the reaching arms of someone taking the watchman’s shout to heart, then recognized the alley to her right and skidded into it.
Beggars lined its sides, and she tiptoed around their legs. Sif knew some of their faces, and she needed a distraction anyway. She gave the purse a shake, grabbed a fistful of coins off the top, and left them in a trail behind her. The beggars scrambled for them. She sped out the far end of the alley into another street, this one nearly empty, turned sharply, and picked up a cloth-wrapped packet from behind a loose brick. The next two buildings were log-built, and between them was a deep niche which didn’t quite reach all the way to the next street over. Sif sidestepped through the narrow gap, then turned around as it widened to make sure nobody in the road was watching. Quickly, she pulled off her boys’ clothes and shook the packet open to reveal a tatty doll and a dirty, simple blue dress. Slipping into the dress, she tied the purse just above her elbow and pulled a sleeve over it. In the nick of time, she remembered her hat, tossing it onto the other clothes and giving her head a wild shake. The blonde braid which had been coiled above her ears fell to reach to the middle of her back, and she wriggled back out of the niche. Still breathing hard, she inhaled deeply, willed herself to calm, and simpered at the doll just as the watchmen and the warrior shot out of the alley.
“You, girl!” one watchman said. Calm, Sif thought, and the watchman continued, “A boy went past here with this man’s coin. Did you see him?”
Sif pointed at another alley across the street. “He went that way,” she said quietly.
The watchman nodded, and he, his partner, and the warrior ran off. Sif waited for them to vanish from sight, and let out a shaky breath. She gathered her things from the niche and walked away, the tension leaving her as she considered what she could do with the money. It felt like the better part of two chieftains, by the weight of it, and that meant a month off the street during the coldest part of the winter. She would stash it with the rest.
Well, most of it, she decided. Larssen the lodgekeeper, whose inn stood in the shadow of the north gate, didn’t mind her presence, nor did he ask where her parents were or her money came from. A real meal, and one night in a real bed. She deserved that much.