Flashback Trifles Make the Sum

A 14-year-old Caspian is left to his own devices.

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A lawless town of anarchists, built on the ruins of an ancient mining city. [Lore]

Trifles Make the Sum

Postby Caspian on March 9th, 2021, 1:41 pm

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    No one follows him.

    No one really looks, either, after a half-mad gutter stray scrabbling and wheezing heavily from one turn to the next. This is a good thing, the lack of interference. But it would never have been the case in Avanthal. Someone would have pursued him if only to ask what the matter was; anyone would have asked him the very basic question as to whether he, an unattended child, is alright. But in Sunberth the hard reality is a smack of apathy with a side of not wanting to get involved if the situation doesn’t suggest material or fiscal gain. It doesn’t upset him. Who, at this point, is he to judge?

    He runs until he can go no further; he staggers another dozen yards. A door in the alley he’s found himself in kicks open, and a man in a creased cook’s paper hat gives him a cursory glance, then dumps the garbage he’s hauling out into the bin beside him.

    The door slams shut behind the cook, taking the smell and steam of frying bacon with him.

    There’s no use dwelling on the food sizzling just feet away; between him and it is a very impenetrable door and bricks that may as well be made of solid Isurian steel. He tells himself he never really liked bacon anyway.

    With no one before or behind him, he fishes the bag of candied nuts out of his pocket. The tear in the bag widens, and he hastily catches the spill before it can hit the ground. There’s even less than he’d first estimated when he’d fought for them in the plaza, covering less than the surface area of the palm of his hand. Like the bit of bread he’d had earlier, he wolfs down the handful, screwing his eyes shut at the sudden sweet spike of the caramelized sugar, the satisfying crumble between his teeth. He chews so quickly and forcefully that he almost forgets to breathe. It’s blasphemous, but – after all it had taken to get them, to wrestle for himself the most measly of handfuls – it’s one of the best things he’s ever tasted, better than any that had been freely handed to him in Avanthal.

    It’ll have to last him. Now, again, to the matter at hand.

    He’s vaguely aware of where he is. The street is lined with milliners, weavers, tailors, haberdasheries. At the southern end begin the leatherworkers and light armories. He’s been here before, the goods in the shop windows catching his eye then as it is now. Drawn like a moth to a flame, he looks up in awe at a mannequin dressed in a dramatic long coat in deep navy, the collar and cuffs trimmed with gold braid.

    There’s no way he’d be able to afford any of this. He thinks about his two pathetic coppers, the scant dozen coins hidden under his mattress. The grand total wouldn’t even be enough to buy the buttons, just as gold and gleaming as the rest of the coat’s embellishments. Supposing, in ridiculous far-flung fantasy, where he is either incredibly wealthy or develops the power to pass through glass – where would he even have cause to wear it? Given their line of work, he knows for a fact his stepfather wouldn’t take kindly to him drawing so much attention to himself. On top of all that, on his undergrown frame it’d probably drag on the floor.

    But all this doesn’t stop him from picturing himself with it on, from imagining himself as someone with the means and reason to slip it onto his shoulders like a second skin.

    There’s movement beyond the shop window. The clerk, a harried-looking man with a measuring tape slung around his neck, glares and shoos him away. Disabused of his momentary daydream, Caspian scowls and wanders a few doors down, feeling the man’s eyes on his back like knives.

    Further down the street is a bazaar. It’s only here a few days a week, a collection of tents clumped together, with vendors and their wares pressed together like sardines. Now well into the day, there’s a promising buzz of warmth and noise.

    No one bothers him as he weaves his way through the tents. He doesn’t even really know what he’s looking for – short of bringing home an actual treasure chest, the command to do something useful is unhelpfully open-ended. But, surely, there must be something here. By now he’s well aware that his minor success in the plaza this morning was only made possible because he had five methods of distraction; here, there are dozens.

    A rack of scarves catches his eye. A beam of sunlight slants from above, through a gap in the tents, sending the jewel tones of the fabrics aglow. Some of them have beading; others are framed with golden discs. Painted tin, maybe, and not real gold – but it shines all the same.

    He lingers a few vendors down, feigning cursory interest in a shelf of secondhand boots. The sign posted at the scarf vendor claims they’re all real silk. He doesn’t have enough experience to tell from a glance whether this is true, but he waits and watches long enough for a pair of young women to run their hands over a few, express their appreciation, and buy one each.

    The women seemed well-heeled, their skirts unmuddied. One had pearl earrings dangling from her lobes. They, perhaps, would be able to identify silk if they saw it.

    “Those aren’t your size.”

    Caspian jumps. The grubby man at the boot stall is peering right at him, suspenders hanging from his waist, chewing on the end of a pipe. He slaps a pair of boots onto the table, the leather split on one of the toes. One’s missing its laces. Just from a glance, the man appears to have a good sense for these things – they would certainly fit him a lot better than the steel-toed set he’d been pretending to scrutinize.

    “I’ll let you try on one,” the man continues gruffly, “but you do it here, with me behind the stall, and you don’t bolt.”

    Who steals just one shoe?

    He already knows the answer.

    “I’m alright, thanks,” Caspian says hastily, and wanders to another stall equidistant from the woman with the scarves. Not wanting to be drawn into another conversation, he starts up a casual and steady rotation through the stalls.

    There’s a lot of foot traffic here, likely to increase as they head into the early afternoon. In some ways it’s a hindrance; in many more ways it’s exactly the cover he needs. There’s more witnesses here, possibly more people to give chase – but he’ll just have to bank on the mess, and Sunberthian apathy.

    From a distance, he selects the one he wants. There’s a deep vermillion one he’s got his heart set on, and it’ll look good on his dark skin. He knows this intuitively because –

    It’s a lot like one his mother used to wear. He can see her now, the scarf clutched round her, drawn across her sharp face like a hood against the brittle cold. A lone flame on an endless canvas of white.

    He shoves the memory away.

    Snatch and grab and go. That’s all it’ll be. A matter of seconds, and more sprinting. The woman’s wearing a corset and heavy skirts; if she tries to follow it won’t be for very far.

    Holding his breath, training his eyes anywhere other than the scarves, he draws closer.
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    Trifles Make the Sum

    Postby Caspian on March 10th, 2021, 1:48 pm

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      There’s a fine line between thinking things through and steeping so hard in the possibilities he stands still. There’s just so many things that can go wrong, ranging from a public beating all the way to getting his hand chopped off, likely with an audience – a world of negative consequences and just one in his favor, that one being that he gets away with a scarf he didn’t pay for. It should stun him, those calculations, send him fast the other direction, away from a whole street’s worth of things he can’t afford to buy. But instead –

      Inside his chest his heart’s going rat-a-tat-tat, his hands going clammy, his fingers twitching at his sides as if pulsing along to the beat of animal hide drums only he can hear. The fact of there being only one positive outcome in a sea of what will surely be painful retribution makes it all the more desirable, starlit and special, the victory all the sweeter. On his lips are the remnants of the stolen sugar, plied into his memory even as the taste fades. He’s only 14 and doesn’t have the words, yet, to describe what it’s like to need another hit, another dive down into the thrill that blights any guilt he might feel. Had he ever felt guilty, though?

      Or just, like any rational person, afraid of losing a limb?

      Maybe there’s something wrong with him. Normal people, good people – they don’t find enjoyment in skirting the sides, taking what isn’t theirs. But what does he know about normal and good anymore? They’re fragmented abstractions of the past, facets of an alternate timeline with his feet still planted in Avanthal snow. Normal and good, it seems to him, are nothing but hearsay.

      There’s another young woman browsing through the scarves. It’s only a hurdle if he chooses to see it that way – she’s cover, distraction if only for a split second, potentially someone to inadvertently get in the vendor’s way and buy him a few moments of precious time.

      He can’t keep stalling; that handful of food is fuel on steady decline.

      Now less than five feet from the stall, he slows his walk, pretends he’s only noticing them for the first time. The new customer is chatting avidly with the vendor; said vendor has her well-versed script touting the strength of the silk, the sourcing, the vividness of the dyes in which each one had been dipped. A slight breeze blows through the tent, gently rustling the golden tin discs and beads on some of the scarves. Light, musical. Beckoning.

      He only has a few more moments before the vendor will surely ask him what he’s looking for. The customer asks her a question – good, the longer they chat, the better – and then the vendor’s bending down, reaching for something in a box beneath the stall.

      Knowing a chance like this won’t come again, he grabs the vermillion scarf. Even as his hand closes around it and his thoughts race ahead of him to his escape, there’s a lovely blossom of satisfaction as he sees that yes, he was so very wonderfully right, it’s brilliant and beautiful against him.

      What he had not bargained for – what had so detrimentally escaped his eye – is that the scarf, like all the others on this rack, is knotted onto its rung. When he tugs, the whole rack comes with it, a mess of wooden slats crashing to the floor. The customer shrieks and backpedals; the vendor swears as she bangs her head on the underside of the stall as she tries to shoot to her feet; everyone in the immediate vicinity turns and looks.

      He should have grabbed one of the many scarves piled loosely on the table. He should have, perhaps, simply acted like he only wanted to try the vermillion one on, untied it, and then scattered. He should have seen that the damn thing was anchored in the first place.

      Panicking, he drags the scarf, rack and all. People are either still incredibly confused or – petching Sunberthians – deeply uninterested in getting involved. He accidentally knocks the rack into a few people unable, in the crowded bazaar, to escape his radius in time. The vendor’s trapped behind a ring of people trying to give Caspian a wide berth, and in those vital seconds, he plants his foot against the rack, yanks with all his might, and breaks the rung with a snap.

      The force sends him stumbling backwards into another stall. In his wild wheeling he knocks over a table of bottles of cooking oil and sherry, and the mess of glass, at first a horror, becomes his barricade between him and the vendor. Someone snatches at his shoulder; he jerks away and draws his dagger. The unarmed man holds his hands up and leaves him be. There’s a break in the tents, just off to his left. He hurtles the last few yards, breaking into sunlight and brisk air.
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      Trifles Make the Sum

      Postby Caspian on March 11th, 2021, 1:11 pm

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        The dagger is hard to run with.

        At baseline, standing still, it feels unwieldy in his hand – and that’s embarrassing, because it’s possibly the lightest dagger in the house that very technically makes the cutoff past the butter knives. But running with it is even worse, with his arms pumping up and down and the sharp end of the blade glinting to close for comfort to his eyes. Once last spring he had come down from his room in the morning only to discover one of Taaldros’ friends gutted just outside the front door. The man had been drunk, if the vomit splattered across the walkway were any indication, and had apparently been hustling around with his knife in hand, stumbled, and promptly dealt himself a fatal evisceration. Whether the man had been hurrying into or out of the house in order to settle a score was unclear; the lesson there was that knives aren’t toys, nor do they discriminate, and if Caspian doesn’t watch it he might end the day half-blind.

        On top of the haphazard waving of his dagger – because he tried but he’s just not coordinated enough to sheathe it back at his waist, that would mean stopping, and stopping when he’s just stolen something is not an option – is the fact that not just the vendor, but someone else from the bazaar who’s taken up the charge are still chasing after him.

        They’re about a block behind him, shouting at him to stop, and the commotion makes a few heads turn. The scarf is such a brilliant hue, a sunset wrapped around his fist, a loud declaration to anyone watching that he’s certainly the guilty party.

        The vendor, for all her bustle and many skirts, hasn’t given up yet. The man with her isn’t the fittest, but doesn’t seem close to quitting. The streets he bolts through – he recognizes them distantly, belatedly, and he’s sort of sure he’s heading east and sort of south, which would put him in the vicinity of Baroque Bay. At this time of the afternoon the docks will be teaming with mariners and privateers, all the better to lose himself in.

        But he has to get there first.

        Lungs burning, knees aching, he curses at the sudden sharp incline of the street. He chances a quick look over his shoulder – and they’re still there, the vendor and the other man, and somehow gaining on him.

        It’s ridiculous they haven’t given up yet – all this for a petching scarf?

        Then again, he’s the one holding it – so yes, all this for a petching scarf.

        He spots a break in the breaks to his right, an alley he doesn’t know. Like the beginning of his day, it’s a gamble, could very well be a dead end, one in which he might never leave. In two steps he’ll reach the alley and – no. He doesn’t take it. Doesn’t take the next one either, even though he sees with a pang that it does, in fact, open up to the other side of the block. The vendor and the man are close enough that he can hear their ragged panting – or is it his own?

        A few yards ahead is a house under construction. There are workman posted up on ladders at the front, and there’s a gaping hole where the front door will eventually be. Unlike an alley, he can see the open scaffolding in the house, how he might cut through and out the other end. He stumbles as he veers towards it, picks himself up just in time, and to a chorus of protests from the workmen, bolts in.
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        Trifles Make the Sum

        Postby Caspian on March 11th, 2021, 1:45 pm

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          The house isn’t empty.

          Of course it isn’t, the men working on the facade should have been more than a hint enough – but Caspian isn’t prepared for the three painters, two people on opposite ends of a measuring tape across one length of the room, and one more heading downstairs with a saw in his left hand and a hammer in his right. They’ve been chatting and jeering but they all clam up for a second when they notice Caspian, looking at him in confusion and bewilderment, who is all kinds of guilty with his dagger and sweaty brow and a piece of fabric that probably costs more than it takes to feed him for a fortnight.

          They all stare at each other, Caspian keeled over and exhausted, breathing hard. But then come the shouts from the vendor and the man, and it becomes evidently clear to everyone present what the situation is. Between the lumber and the saw and hammer, his dagger is a joke – which is on him, because he once saw Taalviel effectively threaten someone with a pair of knitting needles. He takes the momentary break to finally sheathe it at his waist, then runs towards the other end of the house. There are gaps in the framework where windows will be. As he prepares to pitch himself over and dive through, he trips over the measuring tape and tangles his foot on one of the tarps laid by the painters on the floor. Scrambling madly, he yanks the tarp with him, setting off a chain reaction in which he upsets the nearest ladder, and the painter who’d been ogling him from the top. Said painter has a bucket of paint propped up beside him, all of it toppling, splattering Caspian with half its contents.

          Stunned, Caspian slams into the wall just below the window. Not allowing himself time to freeze, he wrenches himself up and over the side, tumbling into gravel-strewn dirt and piles of lumber.

          He’s in what will be the house’s backyard now. Luckily for him they haven’t yet fixed up the fence, and he hurtles to the other end. Like a rat through a wall he squeezes himself through a break in the posts – far too narrow for any of the adults to follow, leaving a streak of white paint behind.

          From there –

          He doesn’t think, avoids the main streets and throws himself into the first maze of alleys he can find. Legs giving out – banking that none of them had seen the direction he’d taken after leaving the backyard – he finally collapses behind a stack of crates behind a tavern. There’s enough to conceal him from view of the street, and he curls up, taking sharp, hiccupping breaths that feel like stabs in his lungs.

          The scarf –

          Shaking, he finally loosens his fist. The fabric is wrung out, torn from where it had snagged against the splintered wood of the fence. Streaked with white.

          How much could it possibly be worth now?

          He shoves the ruined fabric down his shirt, lets his head roll back against the bricks.

          They haven’t found him yet; at this point, maybe, they’ll have finally given up.

          Especially when they saw the mess with the paint in the house.

          Eyes fluttering shut, arms tightly crossed, covered in paint and grime and entirely alone –

          He’s back to where he started.
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          Trifles Make the Sum

          Postby Caspian on March 12th, 2021, 1:41 pm

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            When he wakes again, the sun is setting.

            As he heaves himself up in the alley, one hand splayed flat against the bricks, he notices the trail of paint he’d left on his way here, culminating in a white blotch in the place where he’d collapsed. It’s crusting against his clothes, stained into his skin, sticking no matter how hard he tries to scrub his hands against his knees.

            The alley is empty; he wonders if it had always been. No one had even bothered to rob him. And that’s a new low, maybe, that anyone passing by had taken one look at him and decided it wasn’t even worth the effort.

            Or, possibly worse – that they had found the sight of him so pathetic, had pitied him so much that they didn’t think it right to bring him even lower.

            Mind dulled, body aching, he drags himself home.

            It’s one foot after another, thoughts plodding even slower than his steps. The idea of running away, of taking advantage of the freedom that had been granted to him at the beginning of the day – it doesn’t even occur to him now. He’s run plenty, right into the ground, and he’s had enough. The scarf is caked through with paint, flaking and creasing, irrevocably marred. He fishes it out of his shirt and shoves it into his pocket. With all that paint saturating the fibers, it’s so much the heavier, weighing him down like a stone.

            There’s no fear in him the long way back. Even the hunger gnawing at him has been reduced to a faint suggestion. All that’s left is exhaustion, and wanting, purely and simply, to curl up somewhere quiet and familiar.

            No one says anything when he finally drags himself up the road, up the stoop. Two of Taaldros’ friends, both mercenaries and splitting a jug of malt, only throw him the most cursory glance at his disheveled state. If it weren’t for the paint – not even so white anymore, all the scuff and grime of the city sticking to him and muddying – they might not even have bothered.

            The door to the townhouse swings open as Caspian reaches the top of the stoop.

            Taaldros gives him a look up and down, the stained vermillion bursting from his pocket.

            Caspian meets his stare dead on.

            Whatever Taaldros is thinking – at least he doesn’t seem angry.

            It’s as good as an embrace.

            Wordlessly, having reached whatever verdict he needed to – Taaldros stands to the side, allows Caspian to pass.

            Pace just as steady but stilted, Caspian makes one last trek, up the staircase to the second floor. Down the long, dark hallway to his room.

            As he collapses in bed, the filth of the city stained through his clothes, down to his core, he wonders why Taaldros had allowed him back in, when he clearly didn’t meet any of his expectations.

            He doesn’t piece it together until much later, far down the line, after years of context and offhanded observations by Taalviel – but, perhaps, what had really mattered was that though he had failed, at the very least, he had tried.
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            Caspian
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            Trifles Make the Sum

            Postby Shiress on March 18th, 2021, 9:25 pm

            Your Grades!


            Caspian

            Skills

            Observation 5XP
            Stealth 3XP
            Tactics 5XP
            Larceny 4XP
            Running 5XP
            Unarmed combat 1XP
            Wrestling 1XP
            Weapon (Dagger) 2XP
            Indurance 4XP


            Lores
            I didn't really see anything in the way of lore, but if you feel I missed something, let me know.


            Rewards & Penalties

            Rewards:
            2 Copper coins
            1 slightly worse for wear scarf

            Penalties:
            3 pale scars on Caspian's right knee that may or may not fade with time.


            Notes
            An absolute thrilling little adventure!
            I really enjoyed getting a look into a teenage Caspian. The struggle and desperation felt real. The entire story had me on the edge of my seat. Bravo!

            -Dont forget to mark your grade request as graded-




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