Ambika's Story

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Ambika's Story

By An Anonymous Wanderer

As I travel, I'm often asked if I can share the life stories of certain members of our fellowship. It seems to me that so many of us, upon joining the guild of shadows, gave up the associations that others take for granted that perhaps we make something of a family of our own from what we know of one another. I've been asked before about the lady Ambika, but have always hesitated to speak overmuch about her. She is a private sort, and not interested in having the details of her life carelessly spread about.

Ambika Seordmaor was born into a family of craftsmen and artists -- comfortably off, though by no means nobles. Her parents' only girl, she spent most of her free time in the company of her brothers, who never bothered to coddle her. Her mother, tired and distracted from contending with four children, a household, and trying to help her husband run his business, was generally just relieved to send the whole flock off together. As a result, Ambika learned more of hunting and fighting than she did of more 'ladylike' pursuits.

Her father was a kind but rather absentminded craftsman -- a maker of bows and crossbows who lost himself in books as often as his work allowed. He loved his children in an evenhanded but distracted way, doling out affection and teaching in equal measure to all. Her father gave her the same lessons her brothers received; in his gentle and rather muddled way, he simply chattered about and taught whatever currently interested him to any of his offspring who happened to be around at the time.

Ambika, rather to her own surprise, found she had a natural talent for bow-crafting, and in particular for the short bows and lighter crossbows that seemed to demand less of strength and more of her own agility and accuracy. Before too many years had passed, her skills had surpassed those of her father, and she derived a profound satisfaction from making a crossbow that was not only pleasing to the eye but a well- balanced and lethal weapon.

As Ambika moved into young womanhood, her mother grew increasingly anxious. Her only daughter was masterful with a crossbow, could quote philosophy, calculate the effects of wind speed and direction on the trajectory of a bolt, and could wrestle two of her three brothers to the ground. Somehow, though, she had not developed many of the more genteel skills her mother felt appropriate to a young woman who by all rights should be considering marriage soon.

Her mother was utterly appalled at this realization -- she had ambitions of arranging a good marriage for her only daughter, and being a skilled hunter and maker of crossbows didn't fit that picture. She insisted Ambika learn a more ladylike skill. Her mother was both stubborn and wise; she realized that if she tried to restrict Ambika too much, her headstrong daughter would rebel and perhaps even leave. She presented a compromise: Ambika would apprentice to a jeweler in the next town in exchange for teaching the jeweler's two young sons how to read and write. She didn't confess to Ambika that she also hoped her daughter might have a better chance at making a marriage by taking up work that was more delicate in nature, and by moving to a town where she wasn't seen as quite so rough around the edges.

Frustrated at her mother's demands, and yet intrigued at the possibility of leaving home, Ambika conceded. It was quickly clear that the jeweler had minimal interest in teaching her. He'd seen the opportunity to get his sons some easy schooling, and little else. At heart an opportunist, and naturally skilled, Ambika managed under his grudging tutelage to learn basic engraving and gemsetting. Her own natural talents helped her further develop her eye for color, texture, and design. The news of her father's death came while she was still apprenticed to the jeweler. Devastated by his loss, she quickly realized that her brothers would be inheriting his business, and that her mother would be frantic to find her a husband. She was unclear as to what she wanted to do with her life, but utterly certain that she wasn't going to let herself be married off and tucked away in some little village.

Young men did, in fact, begin to find excuses to loiter around the jewelry shop. They all seemed rather pallid and monotonous, and truth be told, they bored Ambika silly. When her day's work was over, she'd run to her room, slip into hunting leathers, and head for the woods with her crossbow. The only real enjoyment she got from her hapless suitors were the times she'd invite them to accompany her and then slip away, leaving them in some unfamiliar glade while she disappeared laughing into the shadows. She preferred hunting alone, though she had an ugly experience with Enoch, the local innkeeper's son. A mean-spirited brute, he found her one afternoon in a little meadow and tried to force himself on her. He nearly succeeded -- he was a big man. But her ability to move like quicksilver saved her. Still, it took the sight of her crossbow leveled at his heart and the cool determination in her eyes to send him away with a muttered curse and threats of future retribution.

Late one winter afternoon, the little shop was crowded. A holiday was approaching, and townsfolk had gifts on their minds. The jeweler was appraising gems presented by some locals for purchase, and Ambika was working at engraving a set of bracelets when two unfamiliar men stepped into the shop. This was hardly an unusual event -- the gem shop was well known, and travelers often stopped in to trade or haggle. Glancing up, she was shocked to see the taller of the men nonchalantly slip his hand into a customer's pocket and take some coins. She drew a deep breath to shout, but at that moment the thief somehow realized he'd been spotted. Brilliant green eyes met hers, and he flashed her a wicked smile so engaging that she stopped, silenced, and simply gaped at him. Her mind was racing. There was more life and excitement in that single moment than she had experienced in most of her young existence. The cloaked thief and his companion stepped close to another customer, made another grab, and slipped out the door. With another flash of emerald eyes in Ambika's direction, they were gone. Luck was not with them. One of the customers discovered his loss before they'd been gone more than a few minutes. A shout went up, with the outraged victims demanding justice. The thieves managed to get out of town, but given their unfamiliarity with the surrounding woods, their chances didn't look good.

The jeweler, feeling his reputation was at stake because the theft had occurred in his shop, shouted for help and joined the hunt, telling Ambika to mind things while he was gone. Disconcerted and filled with conflicting feelings, she paced for a few minutes, then, not quite sure what she planned to do, grabbed a crossbow from the back room and ran out the door. Following the sound of raised voices into the woods, she came upon a grisly scene. The jeweler and Enoch had cornered one of the thieves. He was already dead, or nearly so -- impaled through the chest with a pitchfork. A storm of emotions swept Ambika. She felt half-sick at the sheer bloody mess of it all, and half-frightened. Yet she found herself exhilarated and nearly swooning with relief as she realized that the dying thief was not her smiling man. With a slight rustle of leaves, the shadows behind the trees moved and he was there in the clearing. The dark ebb of blood down his side showed that he was seriously injured, but he seemed calm, standing quietly and holding nothing but an oddly delicate little blade. The only sound was the ghastly choking of the dying man.

The jeweler ripped the pitchfork from the doomed pickpocket's chest, while Enoch laughed and, brandishing his cudgel, started to move toward the cloaked man, making an obscene comment about the diminutive size of the blade he held. The thief grinned at that and stood toying with his dagger in such a casual way that he looked almost at ease, though the blood constantly welling from his side didn't bode well.

With the merest flicker of motion, the little blade flashed through the air and buried itself in the jeweler's throat. He dropped the pitchfork and fell to his knees, choking around gouts of blood in a horrid echo of the fate of the fallen pickpocket.

Enoch flashed Ambika a venomous look over his shoulder as he swung his cudgel and started to lunge at the cloaked man. "Don't just stand there, you stupid cow!" he hissed. "Shoot!"

Shoot she did. She drew a deep breath, emerald eyes met hers for an instant, and without even pausing, she leveled her crossbow and sank a bolt through Enoch's chest. In the tiny space of time it took for bolt to fly, her life path was determined.

The thief graced her with a courtly though somewhat shaky bow, and smiled at her almost gently. "Well, lassie. It seems you've more of the outlaw than of the village in your heart. You can go back to town and pin both deaths on me, if you wish, but that's your bolt in his chest, and something tells me you'd be better off to come with me now. Somehow I don't think 'hearth and home' will be very welcoming to you."

There was really no question in her mind. She turned her back on all she'd known, took his outstretched hand, and walked away. The following years were good to her. Her emerald-eyed man was a lifelong rogue, one of a band of thieves who were devotees of Damaris, and who dedicated their work to him. A skilled and tight-knit group, they traveled about the lands, specializing in gem thefts. Petty pickpocketing was pure recreation for them, though after the incident in Ambika's village, there was heated discussion of the need to remain low-key in future escapades, and to focus on risks that brought greater rewards than a mere handful of silvers.

Ambika's ability to craft fine crossbows benefited them greatly, and they gladly taught her the finer points of everything from basic pickpocketing to the myriad of skills required to pull of a complete sweep of gems and treasures from a guarded estate. She finally learned to wield a dagger, though she preferred engraving them to using them. Her first murder with a crossbow was not to be her last; she found she had the innate ability to make cool-headed decisions when the question came down to life or death.

Her smiling thief is still in her life as I write this, though she steadfastly refuses to marry him. She's not sure why; the whole notion makes her skittish somehow. My own opinion is that for her, marriage harks back to the kind of life her mother wanted her to have, and that's enough to cause her to shy away from it.

Her knowledge of gems gave her shadowy family access to some exclusive collectors who were interested in the finest jewels, and not interested in asking where they came from. As a result, Ambika will frequently make little sorties on her own, scouting out a town and its prospects for future business -- whether the business be gem theft or backroom sales of contraband. The crossbows she crafts represent an easy and legitimate source of income, and give her the chance to investigate a city and its denizens under cover of her merchant role. She is dedicated to her god, her craft, and her family of thieves. She is a lady I've been proud to know, and if anything of her story helps or informs you, then I deem this work a success. I simply ask that you keep this within the guild, and not spread idle chatter to those who might wish her harm. If ever you chance to meet her, do me the kindness of telling her I've tried to do her justice with my poor words. And -- watch your pockets. She'd give her life for another thief, but she's not beyond offering a little lesson in skills. You don't have to tell her I told you that part.