Authors: J. J. Newman
Tsaeris stared at the woman.
“I don't have anywhere to go.”
Wait a second. You ain't one of them street kids, are you?” she asked.
You know. No home or parents. Living in the streets.” He could see her face soften at the suggestion.
A street kid. One with the shadows, and the City. Nobody to answer to but hi
mself. The idea had some appeal for the naïve orphan boy.
He looked at the woman, and saw a free meal in her sympathetic eyes.
“Yes,” he replied. “I am.”
Tsaeris sat in an alley, eating bread he had purchased with some nameless person’s money as he thought back to the bar woman. She had always been good for a free meal until she died of the wasting disease a year back.
Stealing had always come easily to Tsaeris, and he considered himself almost an expert. He also had “the luck”. Most street kids found only trivial amounts of money on their victims. A few coppers, a silver penny if they were having a very good day. For the most part, that's how it was for Tsaeris. Yet occasionally he would cut a purse, and a gold coin would drop out. It wasn't every day, but it was far more often than one would expect in a district like Darson. When the luck saw fit to grant him a gold coin, he would celebrate by sleeping in an inn for a day or two.
The luck was not with him today. The purse he had cut for his breakfast had contained only a few coppers. Enough to eat once or twice, but he would have to cut another purse again later. The people walking the streets were almost as poor themselves, so the take was
usually very small.
Sometimes Tsaeris considered making his way to one of the more prosperous districts where the purses were heavier. Yet the more prosperous the district, the more it was protected. The City Watch was in the rich districts in greater numbers than the others. Tsaeris smirked at the thought. Not like Darson could use
The City Watch, what with all the rape and murder. No, the watch was busy protecting fat merchants.
Before Tsaeris had been born, T
he City had been ruled by a King and nobles. The hundreds of districts had each been owned by a noble, and there had been a king to govern them all. From what he understood of recent history, the nobles had hated and fought with each other. They all had small armies, and The City had been on the brink of civil war for as long as anyone could remember.
The King had no way to control the nobles, except for
The City Watch. The nobles would often forbid entry into their districts by other nobles or their servants, but The City Watch had jurisdiction over the entire city. Their presence had kept the nobles in check for centuries. That was until “The Great Purging”, as it was known.
Nobody really understood what had happened during The Great Purging. The City erupted suddenly into civil war. The nobles fought each other at every gate, every mansion, on nearly every street. The King's forces were quickly overwhelmed when they
had tried to intervene. The fighting had lasted for days, and the streets were littered with the dead and dying. When the war had finally ended, thousands of lives had been lost.
What was so strange about The Great Purging was that against enormous odds, the King, his entire royal family, and every single noble from every single district were all killed. There was not a single survivor with any royal or noble rank left to govern.
The Church of The Light claimed it was an act of the Light itself to purge the city of its corrupted rulers, hence giving the name to The Great Purging. To this day, there was still no true government in the City. A council of important men decided to act as the governing body until the entire mess was sorted out. Since then, more than a decade had passed.
The council was made up of Watc
h Commander Bryce, the head of The City Watch, Master Henning of the Merchants Guild, Admiral Cunak of The Navy, and Sir Godfreid, Paladin Commander for the Church of the Light.
None of them had any real power, save Master Henning. The City was truly run by the guilds. Trade was controlled by the merchant guilds. To hire a
laborer one would have to commission the Laborer’s guild. There was a guild for nearly everything, and their strict rules and policies might as well have been considered law. No council member would dare anger the guilds, for they had the power to shut down the entire city, which in turn would cripple all of Arindine.
Tsaeris finished his breakfast, and headed out into the streets. It was morning, and the streets were crowded. The people looked hopeless, most of them having resigned to their lot in life years ago. They walked without ever seeing the world around them, which made them easy prey for the many street kids working the morning crowd.
Tsaeris took a moment to cut another purse, and was excited to feel a silver penny hit his palm. The luck was with him today after all, it seemed, even if it wasn't in the gold-giving mood. Tsaeris was feeling good. The morning wasn't even over yet, and he was already done his work for the day. He wondered how he should spend the rest of it.
A commotion broke out on the other side of the cobblestone street. It seemed a street kid had been caught in the act of purse cutting, and the large, angry victim had the boy tightly by the wrist. The street kid tried desperately to get away, but the man held him tig
ht. A few words were shouted by the man, but Tsaeris could not make them out amidst the noise of the street crowds. The kid’s eyes widened in fear. The large man took the boy’s arm in both hands, and deliberately broke his wrist. Tsaeris could hear the boy scream. The people walking by barely took notice as the large man tossed the screaming boy into a nearby alley, and walked away. Street kids were considered pests, as reviled as the common rat.
Tsaeris watched the large man leave, and looked back at the crying boy in the alley. The boy noticed Tsaeris watching, and the two made eye contact. The boy mouthed the word
. Tsaeris shrugged, and then walked away. There was nothing he could do for the boy, so why even bother? An injury like that usually meant death in the streets. That kid’s life was over, and Tsaeris had himself to worry about. Survival. That's all that mattered.
Tsaeris walked into the tavern in the late afternoon. He took a quick survey of the common room and saw a familiar face sitting at one of the tables. He ordered a tankard of ale, then walked to the table and took a seat.
Jason,” Tsaeris said.
Hey, Tsaeris. We both took enough for a drink or two, it seems.” Jason was another Street kid, about the same age as Tsaeris. He was smaller than Tsaeris, which was a rare thing, and he had sandy blond hair. He looked much younger than he was.
Yeah. The luck saw fit to drop a silver penny my way.” Tsaeris took a long pull of the ale.
Well then, looks like you're buying me an ale or two.” Jason grinned.
Tsaeris considered it for a moment. He hated sharing. It was bad habit to share when you had next to nothing, but Tsaeris liked Jason
enough, he supposed, and he wouldn't mind the boys company while he drank. A silver penny could go a long way for two boys, at least for a single night.
Alright Jason. I'll buy for the night, but I want one of your knives.” Tsaeris smirked as Jason considered. Jason had two knives. It seemed a fair trade to him, and he hated paying and getting nothing in return.
I don't know Tsaeris,” Jason said doubtfully.
Oh, come on, Jason. You don't know? You want free drink all night for nothing? Tell me, when was the last time you had to use both knives at the exact same time? “
“Tell you what. Throw in a bit of food, and I'll do it.”
No. It's not like those knives are daggers. They're just crummy little blades. And besides, buying you food means I drink less. That's not going to happen.”
. “But you already have a knife,” he complained.
“This isn’t about the knife, Jason. It’s business. You want something for nothing, go cut another purse.”
Jason gave a heavy sigh.
“Alright, Tsaeris. You buy for the night, and you can have one of my knives.”
“Good. Hand it over.” Tsaeris looked at the tiny rusty knife Jason handed to him. It wasn't much bigger than the blade Tsaeris used to cut purses.
I don't get it, Tsaeris. With all the luck you have, why you don't just save up and buy a better knife or dagger yourself.”
Tsaeris made a motion, and the knife seemed to disappear into thin air.
“Where am I going to buy a dagger, Jason? There are no weapon smiths in Darson, and weapons are probably more expensive than you think they are. Besides, I don't need a fancy expensive weapon. Odds are if I'm in a situation where I need one, I'm screwed anyway.”
“Didn’t you used to own a dagger?”
“Yes. But I didn’t buy it!” Tsaeris replied, incredulously.
“If you don’t need it for a weapon, why even take my knife?”
“I don't know. Seemed wrong not to get something for my money, and I could use the knife as a tool to cut things.”
Cut what things?”
I don't know. Things. Forget about the knife, Jason.” Tsaeris finished his ale, and signaled to the barmaid to bring them both another tankard.
Have you ever left the District, Tsaeris?” Jason asked suddenly.
Tsaeris shook his head.
“Nah. Why bother?”
Well, there is a lot more money to be made in other districts. Merchants and other rich assholes, just waiting to have their purses cut.”
Don't be an idiot, Jason. You think it would be that easy? Just walk into one of the rich districts, and we'll be rich ourselves within a day or so? There's a reason kids like us stay right where we are.” Tsaeris stared into his tankard of ale, tiring of Jason’s company already.
It might not be as bad as you think. It might be easy.”
Easy?” Tsaeris was getting irritated. “Forget that the Watch is walking the rich districts in full force. The rich districts are where all the thieves’ guilds are. If we started working in those areas, one of three things would happen. We would be arrested, killed for working without permission, or forced to work for one of the guilds. To hell with that that. I'll keep my slim pickings and my freedom, thank you.”
I'm not saying relocate, Tsaeris. What if we went just for a few days? Find a big score, do it and get out. Come back to Darson, and live for months or even a year off of the spoils. If we were quick and quiet, nobody would know who we were.”
“If it were that easy, th
ere wouldn’t be any street kids.” Tsaeris took another pull of his ale.
“I don’t know about that. I bet a lot of the other kids are just happy to survive another day. And besides, who’s to say that it never happens? There are street kids in every district. I’m sure a few have pulled this off, and probably got away with it.”
Tsaeris was about to shoot the idea down again, but a thought struck him. Why not? The two of them were nobodies. If they got in, and out, who would come after them? Their lack of status or connections made them as good as invisible, at least for a short time. He shook his head suddenly.
Why are you even talking about this with me, Jason?”
Been thinking about doing this for a while. Decided I was going to do it, but I need one more to come with me. And who better than you, Tsaeris? Of all the other street kids, you're the one least likely to just stab me in the back after we're done.”
“Why do you need another kid? Somebody to leave
behind to take the fall, if you get caught?” Tsaeris asked, suspiciously.
“No. The truth? I want the luck, and that only comes with you. I promise I won’t screw you over. And we both know that if we get caught, it’s every man for himself. Does having the other there give one of us a better chance to escape? Sure. But there’s no way of telling which one of us it will be, right?”
Look, don't decide now. I leave in three days. Think about it. If you're in, meet me here on the third night.” Jason seemed so sure of himself.
Which district?” Tsaeris asked, but he was afraid he already knew the answer.
Market.” His eyes locked on Tsaeris.
Tsaeris sighed. Market district. Of course it was.
The Market district was the trading center of the entire city.
The harbor was attached to the district, as were the main city gates, and the district offered the only exit to the royal highway. Market, as the people called it, had never been ruled by a noble. It was always considered neutral territory. Anyone was welcome in Market.
Gold flowed through Market like the lifeblood of the city, and it was
there that men made their fortunes. Market was more than just stalls, shops, inns and brothels. People lived in Market, and to live there was a sign of success. Even the homeless people were said to seem somehow more dignified than in other districts.
Tsaeris had never been to Market, but he had heard many stories. From honest people, he heard tales of the extrava
gant shops selling exotic items, of bakeries with the finest breads, smiths with the finest weapons, and taverns with the finest ale. From the not so honest people, he heard tales of gangs, thieves’ guilds, and an even more mysterious organization that seemed to control it all. They also spoke of Gravelock, but that name was a city wide myth as far as Tsaeris could tell.