Entry Nickname: Fake Heirs Do It Better
Title: The First Law of Loyalty
Word Count: 97k
Genre: YA Fantasy
Every night, seventeen-year-old Arun climbs above the mud and grime of the streets into the grand hotels to steal the foreigners’ gold. The gang she serves follows the old philosophies, demanding strict obedience to elders and superiors. Arun is proud to serve them loyally, as her father does, too.
When her cousin, Jaruk, is one of several boys kidnapped by a Grand Duke as part of a plot to put a fake prince on the throne, her loyalties are torn. Gang rules forbid her from meddling with nobility or politics. Disobedience means death for her and dishonor for her father. But Arun loves Jaruk like a little brother, and the duke is torturing the boys in his attempts to recreate the long dead royal family’s magic.
What the gang doesn’t know, they can’t punish. Behind their backs, she trades information with some nobility, but she quickly realizes that even if she gets Jaruk out of the Grand Duke's hands, there will be nowhere to hide when his "prince" controls the country. To protect Jaruk, Arun must outwit the duke and discredit his prince with her own more convincing fake heir. It's a con too high-profile to hide. If she fails she's dead, and Jaruk will suffer, but success will bring the gang's wrath down on her, Jaruk, and her father.
I would've rather been with my brothers, slinking through darkened hallways and snatching treasures from empty rooms. Instead, I sat at the back bar of a dockside inn. The stench of booze and sweat strangled me, the pressing heat like chains. Through the smoky haze, I stole glances at the unfortunate pair of foreign sailors beside me, their misfortune being they were idiots about to lose a bunch of money. At least, that was the plan.
They watched my accomplice, Petch, move three cards in circles on the bar top. Their thick, hairy arms folded across their chests gave them an intimidating edge, but the ignorant curiosity plastered on their pale faces indicated they'd make fine marks.
Petch stopped shuffling the cards. "Which one is the queen?" he shouted. The din of the off-key piano and the men bellowing along nearly swallowed his words. I placed a silver coin on the middle card. He flipped it, showing me the face of our country's first queen. Black smudged the edge of her gold headdress. I sent a silent apology her way for Petch shoving her face into the bar’s grime like that.
Petch pushed me two silver coins. Now came the part where I persuaded these sailors to throw money at the game, and therefore convinced Boss Suttirat I wasn't a completely incompetent con artist.
"You look intrigued." I turned to the sailors, tried to make my voice feathery and cute—not so easy with all the noise.