Only a thin paper screen separated her from the guards. She pressed her hands against her mouth as the stolen jade sat like live coal in her pocket.
Surely, they could hear her frantic heartbeat all the way across the room. But despite the vigorous search she could hear on the other side, no one uncovered her.
Finally, the doors closed and silence descended. She waited. When minutes passed and she still heard nothing, she unfolded from her hiding place and stepped out.
A young man sat on the window seat.
“I mean no harm,” he said immediately with his hands in the air, “The jade you took is important, but not very valuable and easily traced. Let me trade you this gold bracelet for that jade.”
The bracelet hung from his curled fingers, plain but heavy. Just selling the gold itself would fetch a pretty price.
“What’s stopping me from taking both?” she asked. Why make an offer unless the jade was actually worth something?
“What bodyguard?” There were only two of them in the room.
“A stealthy one who knew you were hiding there all along. Look. The jade’s worth lies in its sentimental value, not monetary price. This bracelet will serve you better than that jade will.”
Ah. Sentiments. Truth be told, she had only just crept into the building when the guards came. The jade was just something she picked off the floor on the way to her hiding spot. With everyone on high alert, it would be difficult enough to escape, let alone steal anything else.
“Give me.” She held out her hand.
“We exchange at the same time,” he said.
She traded the jade for the bracelet and escaped through the window.
Alone inside the room, the man released a sigh of relief.
“Awake, guardian of my house.”
The jade shook off its stiffness and uncurled in the man’s palm.
“Good thinking,” the jade guardian said as it stretched.
“I thought you were supposed to be my bodyguard, not the other way around,” the man teased.
“I’ve saved you and your ancestors more times than I can remember. It’s only fair that you save me occasionally.” The jade climbed up his arm to settle into its usual spot at his neck. “So, back to what we were doing before that brat knocked me off.”
“Gladly.” The man opened the door and left the room.
Genre: general, fantasy