Can a street-thief-turned-cat defeat a dragon and regain her human form?
Life was tough but manageable when orphan Nat had to pick pockets to stay alive. But a house-breaking attempt gone wrong leaves her covered in fur and sporting a tail.
The only way to break the curse? Drip some dragon’s blood on her paws.
In the process of facing a beast who has conquered hundreds of knights, Nat will have to come to terms with her deepest fear.
Appropriate for children, Burgling the Dragon is also enjoyed by adults who read Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve always loved middle-readers and young-adult fantasy that uses a physical journey to bring characters through an emotional growth. Plus, who doesn’t want to write about dragons?
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I tend to base my characters on aspects of my own personality and of people I know. While I don’t know anyone exactly like the protagonists in this story, Thorn reminds me of myself and Nat reminds me of my best friend.
Nat stood in front of a darkened house in the capital city. She was a dirty, gray figure—one of those children over whom the king’s eyes slid as quickly as they could, one-third from guilt and two-thirds from distaste. Waif, guttersnipe, and ragamuffin—three words were quite enough to dismiss her from view.
Now Nat was doing an even better job of disappearing. Aided by darkness and posture, the girl seemed to fade into the brick wall behind her. She moved with the exaggerated slowness of the crouching hunter and, had she been in a forest creeping toward a deer, the animal would have stared long and hard, perhaps even stamped a front hoof to lure the intruder into revealing motion, but at last it would have continued grazing, unalarmed.
People, of course, were not even that observant. This is almost too easy, Nat thought. She had staked out this house for over a week, watching the comings and goings until she knew when the young master would disappear for a night of drinking, when the servants would slip out the back door to go home to their own families, when the maid and butler would turn out their respective lights and join in the chorus of snoring.
Tonight all of the inhabitants had already left or fallen asleep, but Nat was reluctant to give the signal to invade the silent house. This was her first big housebreaking and her nerves were keyed up to a fever pitch. After tonight, she would be more than a pickpocket with a small band of co-conspirators. After tonight, she would be worthy of notice.
Nat bit her tongue between her front teeth, not very gently, to get her mind back onto business, and at last gave the signal—a sharp nod of her head. After counting to ten thrice over so the message would have time to be relayed around the house, she slipped forward, hugging the shadows and dodging street lamps until she arrived at the front gate.
The barrier was barely worthy of her consideration, but she’d already slipped between the bars a few times that week to test the cavity’s size. Now she did so again and dropped to the ground in the shadow of a large bush. The house didn’t even contain a single guard dog and Nat grinned the ferocious grin that always sent her second lieutenant, Thorn, cowering. Thorn was not there to see—she was around the corner perched on a wall, watching for anything out of the ordinary.
A near-silent tongue click alerted Nat to Tad’s arrival. Tad was the smallest and youngest of Nat’s motley crew, and the word on the street was that Nat had taken him in because she felt sorry for him. To that, Nat had merely responded with a particularly ferocious grin—she never felt sorry for anyone nor looked out for anyone but herself. Tad was useful—he was quick and he had the innocent face, the quivering lip that would make a rich lady take pity and unhand him if he got caught snitching her diamond bracelet.
Now he lay silently on the ground nearby and Nat waited for the boy’s breathing to match her own. She could have danced a jig to the beat of her heart, but her inhalations were carefully slow and even and near silent.
A minute passed. Two, and she raised herself onto one knee…only to flatten her body again at a warning whistle from around the corner. Thorn had a knack for throwing her voice, so the whistle wasn’t as dangerous as it might have seemed.
With the alert came the sound of footsteps. Not Thorn, obviously, because Thorn knew better than to walk like a great ox with heavy boots that thumped like hooves. The walker slowed in front of the gate, and Nat curbed her breathing further. Not that she feared getting caught, but precautions were always worthwhile.
The boots belonged to the constable. Nat had expected him by at some point, not that it mattered since she didn’t plan on getting caught. As if responding to her defiant thoughts, the boots moved on, clomping away down the street until they faded beyond the limits of her hearing.
Nat gave it another ten counts of ten, mostly to let Tad recover his equilibrium, then she stood and slipped silently to the half-open window in the pantry. A boost from Tad and she was through, dropping silently onto cold clay tiles. She reached an arm back out the window and Tad followed her, landing every bit as silently as his leader had before.
The two thieves had no need to speak—the entire plan had been talked out and memorized back in the deserted house in which Nat and her fellows gathered. Tad would remain on the ground floor listening for Thorn’s signal and stealing the silver while Nat searched for the master’s gold and the mistress’s jewels.
Moonlight shone in cracked slivers through the stained glass windows to lie upon the stairs, and Nat didn’t bother to dodge around the light as she ascended. In the scanty illumination, her spiky hair cast shadows like daggers, or so Nat liked to believe. Her chin was not much less pointed, nor was her nose. Nat opened her mouth into a grin and was disappointed that her teeth weren’t sharp as well. Perhaps she would file them into points like the fangs of a wolf, or of a dragon.
The thief pranced up the stairs—silently—her feet pointing so she moved as she imagined a master swordsman might. But then Nat snapped her mind back to the present. It wouldn’t do to become too cocky and to get caught. Might as well snag the cash and jewels and scat before Thorn worked herself up into a real worry—the girl was anxious far too much, and about people other than herself too. Nat shook her head at the madness of such a concept.
The jewelry, what there was of it, was not hard to find. The young master’s wife was off somewhere in the country, and most of her gems had gone along for the ride. What few were left had been slipped into a little safe behind the mirror, with the combination recorded on a scrap of paper wedged under the dial. Did the lady have no sense (Most likely not, thought Nat) to put a safe in such an accessible location? Likely she wanted it accessible so that the jewelry could be got out and tried on daily. If I ever own jewels, Nat’s internal dialogue continued, (though why I’d want them is beyond me), they’ll go under something heavy so the servants will hear when a thief comes in and moves the bed away to get at them.
Baubles removed from the mistress’s sub-par hiding place, Nat found the master’s safe in his study, and it, at least, did not have a combination slipped under its dial. But the lock was no better made than the other and Nat’s ear had no problem finding the right sequence of digits to spring the latch.
Inside were piles of coins, loosely stacked, and Nat ran a hand through her hair in excitement. She’d certainly picked the right house! The thief opened her purse to accommodate the money, but even in her excitement and greed she was careful to hold the first handful of coins firmly so as to prevent clanking as she took the riches from the safe. The butler’s room was located just above the master’s study, and for all Nat knew, he might be a light sleeper.
As it turned out, the question of the butler’s sleeping habits was moot. As soon as Nat’s clenched fist left the safe, a cacophony of bells and hoots erupted, startling her enough that she dropped the coins.
Magic! I should have known! wailed Nat silently. She might have guessed, but the young master hadn’t looked rich enough to hire a magician. Drat and blast! she raged, even as her hands quickly swept the remainder of the coins into her pouch. No point in wasting good money.
The thief was out the window in seconds, but even so it was only a moment before the first servants entered the room. Efficient, thought Nat as she clung below the window ledge, her fingers clinging to cracks in the stone wall. But not efficient enough to catch me.
In fact, the servants gave no thought to the open window. After a hurried discussion in which the obvious was stated—the safe’s wide open! There’s money on the floor! There must be a robber in the house!—the maid let out a shriek of alarm that nearly loosened Nat’s grip on the wall.
That’s a relatively effective defense, thought Nat sardonically once she had recovered her balance. By this time, the maid seemed to have regained her equilibrium as well and was demanding that the butler go in search of the thief. “He can’t have got out,” she declared. “The doors’ll’ve locked as soon as the ruckus started.”
“Or so the master said,” grumbled the butler, but he obeyed, and a few seconds later thunder on the stairs marked his descent. Nat chuckled quietly and began her own descent more nimbly and quietly. Before the maid managed to summon sufficient courage to follow the butler, Nat had dropped to the ground, squeezed through the gate, and high-tailed it for home.
Aimee Easterling has been spoiled by four dogs, has spoiled six cats, and has largely been ignored by two guinea pigs, four turtles, a cockatiel, and a slew of fish during her thirty-some year life. Studying biology and working as a naturalist have both informed her writing, but she’s quite willing to let reality slide in favor of a good story. When not writing, she loves to read and always keeps books by Robin McKinley, Patricia Briggs, and Elizabeth Peters on her shelf. She is currently hard at work writing her next novel. Visit her at wetknee.com/aimee.
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