In her youth, Dorimatha plucked coins from beneath the tongues of the dead, wherewith their families had hoped to buy loved ones passage across the river of fire to the Far Shores, and learned to carry a dagger along with a spade when crawling through those catacombs, for there were other things that preyed on the newly dead.
Fuller to her growth, and running from the pimpish eye of a stepfather, Dorimatha had dressed as a boy and scraped the gold off statues of gods, and learned sums and letters at the table of a particular merchant, who turned an honest face to the guardsmen, but at night opened his doors to thieves and those desperate to pawn their goods.
It was fifteen summers before Dorimatha was forced to steal a life. A guard on a caravan whose eyes were quicker than his sword or tongue, and she bought silence with his life's blood, bled out through a slit throat. That was not the worst of that night, for the traveling priest was canny and paranoid, given to hiding serpents and flesh-eating beetles amid coin and jewels.
Three moons later, the shadows moved against Dorimatha, the rats and insects of the shadows betrayed her, and so cursed she fled from the temple-town of Ga and its rich stream of pilgrims on the death-voyage to the Necropolis. On the highway she found a different life, long dusty miles and weary feet, and the curse dogged at her heels, for dogs awoke and barked, horses, oxen, and camels gave voice when she was near; and shadows fled where they should have gathered. Yet she knew there were other priests in other towns, who might know of the breaking of curses.
A thief can live a long hard road on stolen silver from the dead, and the miles worked their changes on Dorimatha. No longer did the thief of Ga flinch to cut a throat, or shy fry baring flesh to tempt a guard before burying her own steel prick in their flesh. Muscle showed where once was baby fat, and she could speak more languages than she could read - at least, enough to haggle and argue.
The curse worried her heels always, so that theft from the living was a hard occupation, and she turned a sweet mask to those in the caravans she traveled, innocent and honest. At night she would venture far from them, into the tombs in the where old kings lay buried with antique treasures. Some things there perhaps should have scared her more greatly than the curse, that bayed and howled, or held secret covens before the graves of sorcerers. Her luck in such things came in five scars and a curved dagger, on which had been carved some ancient prayer - and those runes still held power among the dead and half-dead.
Other thieves she met, by darkness and moonlight. Some carried trophies of their occupation: a necklace of mummified fingers, each marked by a great jeweled ring; the spots of a leper, his flesh dry and sloughing; filed teeth and a terrible appetite; and one young man with a flute carved from a thigh bone, who thought he could charm the knickers off any young girl he fancied - and was found, one day lashed to a trunk and sobbing, his instrument protruding from a bare backside, blood and shit running down the hollow instrument.
At last a certain hermitage, a shaven-headed priestess greeted her as a sister.
"I serve Aman, the thief of the gods; Aman, who in the dawn time was man, but burgled the palaces of the immortals, and so became as one of them. I see his blessing on you, sister. But also a shadow."
Then did Dorimatha tell the shaven-headed hermit of her curse, how animals and shadows betrayed her. The priestess muttered a curse on all wizards.
"I know such a curse; it is one used by necromancers of a certain sect, who believe all the treasures of the earth belong to the dead, and as lords of the dead all wealth above and below ground is their own. It can be ended only with the death of the magician, whose skull must be crushed and made into an ointment with oil and in total darkness, and then the ointment applied and you swim naked and clean through a river. That is the counter-charm."
Dorimatha thanked her sister, and so planned her return to Ga. For it was not meet for any thief to live a life betrayed by shadows.
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