by Andy Peloquin
I’ve always been fascinated by the art of picking pockets, lockpicking, and thievery. On more times than I’m willing to admit, I’ve wanted to try lifting someone’s wallet to see if I could. I’ve actually studied how to pick locks (though who among us hasn’t?).
This interest is definitely one of the reasons that my latest novel—Child of the Night Guild—explores the skills and tools needed to survive as a thief.
My main character, Ilanna, belongs to House Hawk, which are third-story thieves (also known as cat burglars). However, she also spends time learning to pick pockets on the streets of the fictional city where she lives. Through her training, she acquires a number of tools that make it possible for her to steal—both from homes and people on the street.
Lockpicks – Every burglar needs a set of lockpicks to help them get through exterior and interior door locks, as well as locked cases and shelves. Medieval-era lockpicks were far less durable than modern lockpicks. There are dozens of different types of rakes, picks, and tension tools, each designed for a different type of lock as well as a style of lock-picking.
Leather gloves – The leather gloves used by the thieves aren’t the delicate sort used by Victorian-era women, nor the heavy-duty gloves used by modern construction workers. They were a cross of sorts—the flexibility and versatility of thin leather, but with thicker material used for the palms so thieves could slide down ropes without burning their hands.
Soft-soled boots – When slipping through the bedroom of a sleeping nobleman or walking down a guarded hallway, a thief CANNOT have boot soles that make noise. Soft-soled boots (which are closer to moccasins than proper boots) allow them to move in near-absolute silence. They’re durable and watertight (medieval cities had terrible drainage and sewage disposal systems), but they allow the same flexibility as rock climbing shoes.
Hooded cloak – Contrary to popular opinion, assassins and thieves didn’t wear black to hide in the darkness. Black is a shade darker than “night”, so a person in a black cloak will stand out. Instead, dark or mottled grey was the color of choice. A hood was used to conceal the thief’s features, and to cover the eyes (which reflect light).
Super-light rope – Modern cat burglars use an assortment of climbing equipment and gear to break into homes, but nothing beats good old-fashioned rope. The rope used by House Hawk was alchemically created to be extra-light but as strong as a very thick rope.
Finger-knife – The finger-knife was worn by pickpockets and used to slice the drawstrings of a purse. In medieval times, pockets were uncommon, and leather purses (moneybags) were attached to the belt by the drawstrings. The finger-knife is an easily concealed weapon that comes in handy when performing the “bump” (bumping against a mark and using the body contact to steal their belongings) or “snatch” (stealing without making contact).
Dagger – Every thief needs a dagger for protection. Plus, in medieval times, daggers were the all-purpose tools used for eating and working. Everyone owned belt daggers—many crude, but all functional.
To read more about Ilanna and her fellow thieves, check out Child of the Night Guild.