A Thief's Initiation Rite, by Scott Lynch
Sorry for quoting (almost) a whole chapter here, but I was so HAPPY when I read it, and I really want to thank Scott Lynch for including in his fiction a well-established fact of history. With apologies to knights, priests, and all official institutions and all their elaborate rituals… NO ONE has a sense of theatrics like a gang of thieves.*
(For a long time now, I’ve been meaning to post the initiation rite of the Court of Miracles in Paris, but I’d have to translate it to English, and I’m
slacking exercising my right to be lazy. Here’s the link for French speakers who might be interested, and we’ll see.)
* [killjoy] I’m bullshitting you, no one’s better than the others. We
all share a flair for the dramatic, and we all know the power of propaganda.[/killjoy]
The Republic of Thieves - Interlude: Orphan Moon
A HUSH ran through the assembled thieves as several men and women, using a collapsible wooden frame, hung curtains over the door the postulants had been carried through. Other than a few vents in the ceiling, that door was the only entrance to the room Locke could see. Guards took up positions by the curtains—serious bruisers in long leather coats, with cudgels and axes ready. Chains had explained that their purpose was to ensure the privacy of the ritual. Other guards would be out there somewhere, an entire network, lurking along every route an outsider could use to spy upon or disrupt the Orphan’s Moon rites.
There were about ten dozen people in the vault. That was a scant fraction of the people in Camorr whose lives were supposed to be ruled by the god with the hidden name, but that, according to Chains, was the nature of devotion. It was easy to mutter prayers and curses in the heat of the moment, and less convenient to skulk around in the middle of nowhere on the one night a year the dedicated actually came together.
“This is the temple of the church without temples,” said a woman in a hooded gray cloak as she stepped into the middle of the vaulted chamber. “This is the ceremony of the order without ceremonies.”
“Father of our fortunes, we consecrate this hall to your purpose; to be joined to your grace and to receive your mysteries.” This was Chains, his voice rich and resonant. He took his place by the woman’s side, wearing a similar robe. “We are thieves among thieves; our lot is shared. We are keepers of signs and passwords, here without malice or guile.”
“This is our calling and our craft, which you from love have given us.” The third speaker was the garrista who’d sworn the postulants to secrecy, now robed in gray. “Father of Shadows, who teaches us to take what we would dare to take, receive our devotions.”
“You have taught us that good fortune may be seized and shared,” said the female priest.
“Thieves prosper,” chanted the crowd.
“You have taught us the virtue and the necessity of our arts,” said Father Chains.
“The rich remember.”
“You have given us the darkness to be our shield,” said the third priest. “And taught us the blessing of fellowship.”
“We are thieves among thieves.”
“Blessed are the quick and the daring,” said Chains, moving to the front of the hall, where a block of stone had been covered with a black silk drape. “Blessed are the patient and the watchful. Blessed is the one who aids a thief, hides a thief, revenges a thief, and remembers a thief, for they shall inherit the night.”
“Inherit the night,” chanted the crowd solemnly.
“We are gathered in peace, in the eyes of our Benefactor, the Thirteenth Prince of Earth and Heaven, whose name is guarded.” The female priest spoke now, and took a place by Chains’ left hand. “This is the night he claims for his remembrance, the Orphan’s Moon.”
“Are there any among us who would swear a solemn covenant with this temple, and take the oath of joining?” said the third priest.
This was the crucial moment. Any thief, anyone even remotely connected to an unlawful existence, was welcome in this company, so long as they took the oath of secrecy. But those taking the next step, the oath of joining, would proclaim their choice of the Unnamed Thirteenth as their heavenly patron. They would certainly not be turning their backs on the other gods of the Therin pantheon, but to their patron they would owe their deepest prayers and best offerings for as long as they lived. Even children studying to become priests didn’t take formal oaths of joining until their early teens, and many people never took them at all, preferring to cultivate a loose devotion to all gods rather than a more formal obligation to one.
Nazca was the first to step forward, and behind her in a self-conscious rush came everyone else. Once the postulants had arranged themselves with as much dignity as they could manage, Chains held up his hands.
“This decision, once made, cannot be unmade. The gods are jealous of promises and will not suffer this oath to be cast aside. Be therefore sober and solemnly resolved, or stand aside. There is no shame in not being ready at this time.”
None of the postulants backed down. Chains clapped three times, and the sound echoed around the vault.
“Hail the Crooked Warden,” said the three priests in unison.
A new voice boomed from the back of the chamber, and from behind the crowd of watchers came a trio of men in black robes and masks, followed by a woman in a red dress. They stormed down the aisle in the center of the vault, shoving the postulants aside, and formed a line between them and the altar.
“STOP AT ONCE!” The speaker was a man whose mask was a stylized bronze sun, with carved rays spreading from a sinister, unsmiling face. He seized Oretta, a scar-covered girl with a reputation as a knife fighter, and dragged her forward. “The Sun commands you now! I burn away shadows, banish night, make your sins plain! Honest men rise as I rise, and sleep as I set! I am lord and father of all propriety. Who are you to defy me?”
“A thief among thieves,” said Oretta.
“Take my curse. The night shall be your day, the pale moons your sun.”
“I take your curse as a blessing of my heavenly patron,” said Oretta.
“Does this one speak for you all?”
“She does,” yelled the crowd of postulants. The Sun threw Oretta to the ground, not gently, and turned his back on them all.
“Now hear the words of Justice,” said the woman in the red dress, which was short and slashed. She wore a velvet mask like those used by the duke’s magistrates to conceal their identities. Justice pulled Nazca forward by her shoulders and forced her to kneel. “All things I weigh, but gold counts dearest, and you have none. All names I read, but those with titles please me best, and you descend from common dirt. Who are you to defy me?”
“A thief among thieves,” said Nazca.
“Take my curse. All who serve me shall be vigilant to your faults, blind to your virtues, and deaf to your pleading.”
“I take your curse as a blessing of my heavenly patron,” said Nazca.
“Does this one speak for you all?”
Justice flung Nazca into the crowd and turned her back.
“I am the Hired Man,” said a man in a brown leather mask. A shield and truncheon were slung over the back of his robe. He grabbed Jean. “I bar every door, I guard every wall. I wear the leash of better men. I fill the gutters with your blood to earn my bread. Your cries are my music. Who are you to defy me?”
“A thief among thieves,” said Jean.
“Take my curse. I shall hound you by sun or stars. I shall use you and incite you to betray your brothers and sisters.”
“I take your curse as a blessing of my heavenly patron,” said Jean.
“Do you?” The man shook Jean fiercely. “Does this one speak for you all?”
The Hired Man released Jean, laughed, and turned his back. Locke nudged several other postulants aside to be the first to help Jean back to his feet.
“I am Judgment,” said the last of the newcomers, a man whose black mask was without ornament. He wielded a hangman’s noose. With this, he caught Tesso Volanti around the neck and yanked him forward. The boy grimaced, clutched at the rope, and fought for balance. “Hear me well. I am mercy refused. I am expedience. I am a signature on a piece of parchment. And that is how you die—by clerks, by stamps, by seals in wax. I am cheap, I am easy, I am always hungry. Who are you to defy me?”
“A thief among thieves,” gasped Tesso.
“And will they all hang with you, for fellowship, and split death into equal shares like loot?”
“I am not caught yet,” growled the boy.
“Take my curse. I shall wait for you.”
“I take your curse as a blessing of my heavenly patron,” said Tesso.
“Does this fool speak for you all?”
“You were all born to hang.” The man released Tesso from his noose and turned away. Volanti stumbled backward and was caught by Calo and Galdo.
“Depart, phantoms!” shouted Chains. “Go with empty hands! Tell your masters how slight a dread we bear for thee, and how deep a scorn!”
The four costumed antagonists marched back down the aisle, until they vanished from Locke’s sight somewhere behind the crowd near the chamber door.
“Now face your oath,” said Chains.
The female priest set a leather-bound book on the altar, and the male priest set a metal basin next to it. Chains pointed at Locke. Tense with excitement, Locke stepped up to the altar.
“What are you called?”
“Are you a true and willing servant of our thirteenth god, whose name is guarded?”
“Do you consecrate thought, word, and deed to his service, from now until the weighing of your soul?”
“Will you seal this oath with blood?”
“I will seal it with blood on a token of my craft.”
Chains handed Locke a ceremonial blade of blackened steel.
“What is the token?”
“A coin of gold, stolen with my own hands,” said Locke. He used the knife to prick his left thumb, then squeezed blood onto the gold tyrin he’d scored from the cake business. He set the coin in the basin and passed the blade back to Chains.
“This is the law of men,” said Chains, pointing at the leather-bound tome, “which tells you that you must not steal. What is this law to you?”
“Words on paper,” said Locke.
“You renounce and spurn this law?”
“With all my soul.” Locke leaned forward and spat on the book.
“May the shadows know you for their own, brother.” Chains touched a cool, gleaming coin to Locke’s forehead. “I bless you with silver, which is the light of moons and stars.”
“I bless you with the dust of cobblestones, on which you tread,” said the female priest, brushing a streak of grime onto Locke’s right cheek.
“I bless you with the waters of Camorr, which bring the wealth you hope to steal,” said the third priest, touching wet fingers to Locke’s left cheek.
And so it was done—the oath of joining, without a fumble or a missed cadence. Warm with pride, Locke rejoined the other boys and girls, though he stood just a few feet apart from them. […]
~ Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves