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 January 8th, 2021, 1:20 pm

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    50 Fall 507
Come back when you’ve done something useful.

Caspian is 14 years old, and the words mean something – but the problem is that they possibly mean too many things, and off the top of his head quite a few of them are contradictory.

Since being taken to Sunberth, he’s been caught trying to run away twice. This isn’t a tongue-in-cheek maneuvering to suggest that there have been other instances in which he’d successfully slipped away undetected. No, this is simply to indicate that the real meat of those experiences was not the scheming, plotting, execution, or most pathetically, hope – the real takeaways were how immediately his attempts were curbed, and the series of consequences that pummeled him back into the dirt. If he were being honest, before, during, and after those days, he had never truly believed his chances had both feet on solid ground.

The end result – the prefacing diagnosis, really, the moment they’d clapped eyes on how terrified and spindly he was – was that he was a liability. And liabilities were locked in the upstairs bedroom, the one down the hall with shredded wallpaper that might have once been begonias, and given a meal a day if someone remembered; possibly two, if Taalviel was around.

More than once, he wondered why they just didn’t kill him and be done with it, if he was, by their very verbal accounts, a waste of roof and rum. More than once in the past hour – an ungodly one, still two bells before the dawn – does he wonder if they just can’t be bothered to do it themselves, and have subsequently set him loose, so the reeking heap of a city might do it for them.

But the way his stepfather Taaldros had said it –

Come back when you’ve done something useful.

As if it’s a test.

As if it’s a trick.

As if Caspian had always had the proverbial key, the freedom to come and go from the battered brick townhouse by the Daggerhand hill.

What’s to stop him from leaving Sunberth entirely?

As he skulks at the mouth of a tavern alley, hands in his pockets and shoulders hunched against the pre-morning chill, he knows.

He’s no money, save for the handful of copper mizas squirreled away underneath a floorboard in his room. He’s got no food. He’s got no friends and even the petching wind ails him, and if someone were to stumble out of the tavern he’s creeping behind it would most certainly strike terror into his matchstick heart because he knows that if they were to turn their attentions to him, he doesn’t have the moxie nor the means to extricate himself unharmed.

What he does have –

The dagger feels cumbersome and heavy against his waist. Which is embarrassing, because the louts called it a needle, given how slim and light it is, and slung plenty of jokes his way about his going into embroidery.

If pressed, could he use it?

The door to the tavern slams open, slams shut. Heavy, ponderous steps sound down the short flight of wooden stairs – really, stairs? In front of an alehouse? – and pause just around the corner from the alley. Caspian’s hand flies to the dagger at his waist, and he shrinks back into the alley. But going backwards, and going backwards in the dark – he stumbles over nothing, rakes back in his breath and prays the stranger didn’t hear him.

There’s a scrape, a whiff of tobacco – whoever it is, they’ve just stopped to smoke.

Frantically, Caspian shrinks behind a barrel, still mere feet from the end of the alley, and holds himself and the dagger in the dark.
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Last edited by Caspian on January 31st, 2021, 2:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Scald and Scamper

Postby Caspian on January 15th, 2021, 1:48 pm

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    He’s breathing too loudly.

    He knows it even without Taalviel there to admonish him for it, is sure of it even without someone else to slap him in spite of it, because it’s not exactly quiet when one’s pressed up on the side of a tavern in one of the denser parts of town, yet he can hear his lungs gusting like frantic little bellows. Tattered, patchy, rat-squeak –

    Unable to school his thoughts or his system, he claps his free hand over his mouth. Without both hands on the dagger, it trembles in his grasp. But just his hand isn’t enough to stifle himself, and he drags the neckline of his ragged tunic up, then his hand again over that. And when that doesn’t work –

    He holds his breath.

    Blood beats loudly in his ears. He has to shut up, has to do it now, because nothing had happened yet he’s nearly given himself away by working himself up to hyperventilation in the dark.

    For some reason –

    It works.

    Maybe it’s that he’s shut his eyes, or his heartbeat hammering in his ears was the focal point he needed – or, finally, Taaldros’ house motto of petch off and do it is starting to take hold – but when he finally allows himself to exhale he feels blood rush down, like he’s loosened a faucet, and a chill rolls over him where his skin had flushed. And when he breathes again – though still muffled behind cloth and hand – it’s a wisp on the wind.

    The man who had stopped to smoke on the corner is drunk enough that he begins unsteadily sliding. He catches himself, hiccups, and rights himself against the wall again. The tails of his coat and glimpses of his right arm peek over the corner of the building and into the alley where Caspian is crouched. It seems an eternity, his waiting there for the man to finish his tobacco and move on – but when he finally does, it’s only to stumble directly into the alley itself.

    Though he’s already pressed tightly enough against the tavern wall to feel years of grime sticking between him and the bricks, he shrinks back further, wishes his skeleton to collapse and curl in on itself like an insect. If the man had not been terribly drunk, he might have seen Caspian as he went by – but as it was, Caspian goes undetected.

    The man doesn’t make it very far. The smoke from his tobacco pipe follows him like a heady stream – too pungent, actually, is it in his pocket and still lit? – and he collapses a few yards away in the alley.

    In the dawning light, Caspian is becoming dangerously more visible – but so is the man, and from here he can see that he’s lying on the ground like a sack of flour. The pipe rests in his outstretched hand and his mouth hangs agape. His eyes, for now, are shut, and he’s mumbling incoherently to an audience only he can see.

    Now, possibly, is the wise time to run.

    But if the man had been in the tavern – possibly, to get himself into the state he’s in, it had taken mizas to do it. And mizas, according to just about anyone, are plenty useful.

    Still crouched, Caspian creeps further into the alley, taking one careful step at a time. The man doesn’t rustle at the first step, nor the second, or the third – a few more, and he’s got a stack of crates for more cover. The man is slumped against the opposite wall, and no matter what he does – if he does it, he’ll be in full view. In full range of grabbing and strangling and –

    He slumps back against the wall, shuts his eyes, finds his heartbeat until his breathing slows.

    Though this time –

    Perhaps it had quickened for another reason.

    Not just terror –

    But exhilaration.
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    Scald and Scamper

    Postby Caspian on January 24th, 2021, 3:31 pm

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      The lower to the ground he is, the closer to the murk and filth that’s been layered on for years. And maybe it’s silly, crouching like this, as if it would conceal him any better from the unconscious man he’s steadily prowling towards, with nothing obstructing his view. For one, the man himself is already on the ground, so if anything Caspian’s just made himself all the more visible. In his nervousness he doesn’t see the puddle until he’s stepped well into it, and with a gasp of revulsion he propels himself the last few steps forward.

      The man is a little over an arm’s length from him now. It might all be in his head, but Sunberth has a way of seeping its smells into one’s clothes no matter how often one launders. Even then, this close he can discern the fire-sour reek of alcohol on the man’s blustered exhales from the rest of the alley rot.

      Where does one usually keep their purse?

      Likely in a pocket; being belted at the waist and dangling is like asking for fruit to be plucked. If it’s a pocket, he hopes it isn’t a back one, because he’s not sure he can guarantee the man will stay unconscious upon an attempt to roll him over.

      The way out of the alley behind him is clear. The way ahead –

      He squints at the dark. The morning light isn’t enough to determine whether the other end opens – it might be a dead end, or simply a very tight turn to the left, which hopefully lets out into the street on the other side of the block. It’s a dangerous fact to tangle with, that if someone appears from behind him he might very well be boxed in.

      Better make it quick, then.

      Though it has him grimacing, the focused eye he casts across the man’s rumpled figure – petch, if he’s got a purse it really could be anywhere, with how loose and scrunched over the man’s clothing hangs. Very lightly – the barest of swipes – he pats the man’s left pocket, then the right. The tattered linen is wet with petch knows what, but aside from what is possibly a bit of flint, he’s got nothing there. If it’s really the back pockets – he’ll walk away, he has to, because there’s no way he and his scrawny, undernourished and battered form have the fortitude to heave the man over, even on a good day. But he’s wearing a coat – and it would make sense, wouldn’t it, to keep something as dear as coin so close to one’s heart.

      Scrumming around the man’s chest – the idea gives him pause. Something about reaching closer to the man’s face, anatomically speaking, seems so grossly intimate and frankly risky but the fact of the matter is he’s already here on the ground before him, and it makes very little sense for him to get squeamish now.

      Thankfully the man’s coat is already unbuttoned – imagine having to deal with unwinding all that with his shaking hands. One of the lapels has been cast open, gravity sagging it down towards the floor. He brushes his hands across the coarse wool, prods gently with his fingertips – and it’s harder than with the man’s pants because the material’s so much thicker, but he’s mostly sure there’s nothing in that inner breast pocket.

      Which leaves the other one, lying flat across the man’s chest, rumbling and falling with his liquor-laden snores.
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      Scald and Scamper

      Postby Caspian on January 26th, 2021, 2:06 pm

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        The coarse, stained wool lapel is more like armor.

        So thinks Caspian as he reaches out a trembling hand. It’s heavier than it should be – seems that way, at least, and in the back of his mind he knows it’s his nerves taking over and misfiring on his perception but at this point in his life knowing the source of a problem doesn’t necessarily mean he has the means to fix it. Has the man thrown up down his front? That would certainly account for the unnatural wetness in which the lapel is soaked, the grit Caspian can feel beneath his fingers. The thought makes him gag, which is too much movement for someone skulking about a breath away from their mark. He reins it in, looks back and forth down both sides of the alley. Still alone. But who knows how long that’ll last?

        The dagger is on the ground beside him. Though he’d rather have it in hand – again, he’s crawled right up to this stranger he’s doing his very best to rob – it had been too much to maneuver, to much to keep straight, especially with the matter of shifting a single lapel proving to be too much for both his hands. Growing a third hand is out of the question, so on the stones beside him the dagger goes.

        Whatever is soaked into the front of the man’s coat becomes all the more apparent when he’s not so much as lifting, but peeling it away. He holds his fingertips in a pincer-like grip, like ratty little tweezers, and he’s pinching the very tip of the point on the lapel. Millimeter by millimeter, he pulls it back. In the growing light he can make out all of the man’s features now, his hawk-like nose, bent from a healthy number of punches to the face over his lifetime, the uneven stubble across his cheeks. The tattoo plastered from his neck down to his chest. The pipe has long since gone out in the man’s splayed hand. He’d been so drunk he’d hardly even smoked its contents.

        Just as Caspian’s pulled aside the lapel enough to see the split of the inner breast pocket, the man stirs. Stifling an exclamation of fright, he stumbles back, dropping the lapel. The weight of the movement is just as good as a knock from a gust of wind, and if the man doesn’t wake –

        He doesn’t. He grumbles in his stupor, mouth falling open after a series of unintelligible denouncements. He shuffles against the refuse he’s propped against, scrubs a hand across his face as if warding off a fly, then snores once more.

        The lapel’s fallen all the way open. Something’s dragging it down, more bodily than any saturation of grime or vomit could do. Heart thudding in his chest, Caspian leans forward once more, holding the end of the lapel out as far as he can without tugging on the rest of the coat. There’s definitely something in that pocket. Feeling as rabid and squeamish as if he were rummaging through the man’s internal organs, he slips his hand into the pocket. Feels the tell-tale braided ends of corded purse strings. Swiftly – deftly –

        Not so deft, because the mass of the purse catches on the lip of the pocket. The man begins to stir once more. Throwing caution to the wind, Caspian gives the purse a firm tug – falls back onto the sludge-soaked stones with it in his fist.

        “Ye – ye wan’, I – summat o’er in th’ derry – “ the man slurs thickly. One of his eyes has cracked open and he stares at Caspian in confusion.

        In terror, Caspian scrambles to his feet, turns back down the way he came – remembers the dagger, and runs back and snatches it up. Just as he’s about to turn again down towards the street, someone emerges from the tavern. Another man – a bartender? – exhausted but alert enough to know guilty when he sees it.

        With the way ahead blocked, Caspian runs the other way down the alley, knowing full well it could just be a dead end.
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        Scald and Scamper

        Postby Caspian on January 31st, 2021, 2:26 pm

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          A light breeze brushes against his skin. He snaps his head to the left – and there, blessedly there, is a gap in the bricks, like a squeezed-out turn to the alley that leads into the next. If he can get through the gap, into the second alley – what are the chances that then leads out into the opposite street?

          Certainly better than his chances of going back the way he came.

          “Wait – “ the man who had just come out of the tavern calls.

          Caspian shoots for the gap. It’s just enough for him to get by, but something jams – no, something tugs, and it’s that petching tear in the right knee of his trousers, the one that someone had tried to patch together and he’d done a terrible job of reinforcing. This is a terrible time for the worn-out item of clothing to prove the worth of its material – for no matter how much tugs, the tear in the knee is caught on one the jutting bricks and isn’t ripping free.

          He can sense the man just a few yards away. The dagger is still in his hand. He passes it to his left hand, tosses it down. With both hands free he can scrabble with more leverage at the bricks – and with one last heave tears the bottom half of his pants’ right leg clean open.

          With a shout, he lands on the other side, and into – thank all the petching stars above – another alley that opens up onto the next parallel street. As he snatches up the dagger, he catches a glimpse of the man peering at him through the gap with something like –

          Worry?

          But snakes wear human skins in Sunberth, learn to smile and simper and apply with the gentlest touch. An act of kindness, he’s learned, is anything but.

          And his stepfather thinks he hasn’t learned a thing.

          He ignores the man shouting after him and dashes down.
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          Trifles Make the Sum

          Postby Caspian on February 11th, 2021, 1:21 pm

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            It’s only when he emerges on the other side of the block that he realizes he’s bleeding.

            It seems, at first, like a lot. But admittedly, it doesn’t take much to set him off into a panic. He’s just never been hurt before, never with such casual ease, before Sunberth just didn’t think of pain as a matter of course. Here he finds injury and alarm with more regularity than breakfast. Here – it’s like if he isn’t suffering, he must not be doing enough.

            In his first year here – and then some – any injury, any cause for fright, even touchless, was enough to shut him down, reduce him to a useless mass of tears in the corner. But this is not his first year – this is the beginning of his long third. When he quells his breathing – accepts that yes, he has been hurt, and it will need to be dealt with – he sees that the blood is really just a scrape. He’s leaning against a dilapidated storefront, peering down in revulsion at the red pooling up on his right knee. His torn trousers are entirely flagged open. It’s starting to drip down his shin, alarmingly warm and thick in dawning air. These pants – he doesn’t know how to sew and he’s already quite sure no one back at home would bother. He tears off the bottom half of his right pant leg and ties the threadbare fabric around his knee. As if in immediate proof of his overreaction, the blood does not soak through; it does not flood, nor does it burst. It simply sticks into the fabric as it’s meant to, and though it burns to bend his knee – is he tearing the scrape further open? – he finds he’s perfectly capable of walking. Perhaps as further proof of some shift in his thinking – from there to here, from comfort to constant combat – he scrubs off the trickle of blood down his leg, now drying, with his sleeve. Said sleeve is rolled up, the bloody patches contained – and now he’s just like all the other urchins, asymmetrical and muddied, but hobbling about all the same.

            With that order of business done, he turns his still hammering heart to the pouch he had stolen from the drunkard in the alley.

            If it’s substantial – perhaps this is all he needs, and he can go home, crawl back into bed or even into the larder if it suits Taaldros, and be told that he’s finally done something in the way of earning his keep.

            The pouch, to his dismay, is empty save for two copper mizas and a spare button.

            This is where he sees that his logic has failed him.

            The man was able to drink himself into a stupor because, yes, he had money – emphasis on the past tense, the had. Evidently the condition Caspian had found him in had not been achieved because he had pursued it by half measures.

            He’s not fool enough to think for a second that this buys his entry back into the house.

            He shoves the purse into his pockets.

            As far as effort over time and value – diminished, then, by degree of injuries sustained – he might have been better off absconding with the man’s boots and hawking them on the piers.
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            Trifles Make the Sum

            Postby Caspian on February 14th, 2021, 1:47 pm

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              The city is waking now. In truth it never really sleeps – there’s always someone lurking about, someone stumbling home, the sleepless and the soulless and even children like him, who loathe staying but don’t know enough to leave.

              As the sun breaks through the morning mist, his stomach rumbles. The sound is, at this point in his being here, almost unnecessary. Hunger is a constant; he doesn’t need the reminder. Even if he’s just eaten he could always stand to eat more, so precariously does it seem that his next meal might be. It’s a miserable, wearisome way to live, and its toll is written across his face. But this is what Taaldros and Taaalviel and anyone of the cohort who pass through like to remind him: that things could be a whole lot worse, that all he has to do is take one look around him to see that as far as how children are treated here, he’s practically royalty.

              He takes this look now. From the corners of windows, peeking from behind curtains, from the depths of the alleys he limps by, there are pairs of eyes – so many of them younger than his, yet with a beaten, barren quality that ages them far beyond. Small figures like crumpled matchsticks in rags huddle on the stones, shuddering in the early morning air. He thinks he’s thin – they’re bundles of scrap, their days numbered. At least he has a roof over his head; at least he can say he’s eaten in the last 24 hours, and that it wasn’t rotten, nor moldy. It was even on a plate. There are meager days, and the larder isn’t exactly bursting – it’s not like the Hold in Avanthal, with its vast storerooms of dried fish and candied nuts and berries, where all he had to do was sigh and one of the aunties would insist on pressing a stick of caribou meat into his hand. And in the gaps, like now, he’s expected to fend for himself. But at the end of the day it's possible there’s some form of sustenance waiting for him, a meal unceremoniously dumped on the table for him and Taalviel, without finesse and growing cold, but nevertheless cobbled together.

              He has a roof over his head; he has a parent, no matter how alienating he might be. And these children –

              He stops looking.

              So many of them have nothing.

              Is it apathy that keeps him going? That has him never stopping? There are social workers in the city, well-meaning, well-groomed men and women who make a show of giving alms. It’s a losing battle, like trying to control the tide, like patching up a dam with chewing gum. He wonders how much they have, if they see so much to give. He wonders further – and this is a new thing, the affliction that is Sunberth creeping into his brain and taking hold – what they’re really after. Because it doesn’t really compute, looking out for someone who isn’t your own here, giving things away and allegedly for free. What’s their angle?

              It’s fully morning now, and his body wants breakfast. He hasn’t stopped being cold, even with the sun upon him.

              A warm smell wafts towards him.

              His head snaps in its direction, the proximity of food signaling to him as loud as a clarion. A few yards down the block is a bakery.

              From his earlier theft of the drunkard’s purse, he has two copper mizas. Two would likely buy him an entire loaf of bread. And that’s all well and good, but – two is all he’s got. If he spends that two – it doesn’t take a genius to deduce he would then have zero. This is an unacceptable idea. He had gone through too much to get the pair of coppers, embarrassingly much given how little the venture had paid out, and the most sensible thing he can do is add it to the growing stash squirreled away beneath his bed.

              The bakery has two sets of windows facing the street. One of the windows is in direct view of the counter and the cashier. The set behind it is right in the cashier’s blind spot. It’s slightly ajar, and on the sill are loaves set to cool.

              He contemplates the bakery from across the street and a ways down – far enough that it’s not immediately obvious that he’s staring, but near enough that he can still accurately scope out his approach. This is one of the nicer streets in Sunberth; the bakery even has a colorful pennant cheerily gusting over the front door.

              He can cross the street, slink along the facade, crouch beneath the windowsill. Ease that window further open and snake a hand in to grab one of the loaves. Then run like hell, and hope no one notices.

              Minutes pass. His hands are growing clammy. Somewhere along the way his heart had started racing, and it’s making him flush, overriding the chill that had stuck to his bones since dawn. He realizes he’s done a whole lot of thinking but not very much moving, which is precisely what his stepfather says is wrong with him.

              He needs this, he tells himself. There needs to be some source of energy in his body if he’s going to spend the rest of the day filching something valuable enough to earn his passage home.

              Holding his breath, he shoves his hands into his pockets and attempts to cross the street in the most casual way he can.
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              Trifles Make the Sum

              Postby Caspian on February 22nd, 2021, 1:33 pm

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                Trying is what ruins him.

                Suddenly it’s like he’s got two left feet, and thinking too hard about putting one foot in front of the other makes the act an embarrassingly rickety and daunting one. Is he walking too fast? Too slow? What constitutes suspicious behavior, exactly? And – thankfully he’s got some kind of anchor with his hands in his pockets, but what in the world is he supposed to do with the angling of his arms?

                When he gets to the other side of the street he pauses. Settles back against the bricks, tries to slump the way he’s seen other layabouts and loiterers do, but just like walking, reflecting too hard on something that ought to come naturally makes it feel like anything but.

                He scans the street. There are day laborers with carts and pickaxes in hand, heading towards their construction sites, others likely to the quarry. A woman dragging along two yawning children, all in matching bonnets, hurry past without sparing him a second glance. From this vantage point he can see another alley across the way, a huddled figure right at the mouth. Another child, likely, from the size of it, but with their hood pulled low over their eyes. The number of potential witnesses does nothing for his nerves – but the important thing is none of them are in a position to care what happens to a spare loaf of bread on a windowsill.

                He glances up the street, towards the bakery. It’s – was it two or three doors down? He really ought to have counted, but the smell alone, stronger with each step he takes, is telltale enough. For the length of the next building he tries that casual walk again, sweat prickling the back of his neck. He hasn’t really thought this through – at least, not the whole scope of it, because as quiet and docile of an image he’s trying to project, he’s just been passed by a handful more people who are decidedly all churning up far more of a hustle. And this makes him stick out, or so his anxiety says – because in the morning people tend to have somewhere to be, employment and errands and obligations, and this slippery meander-saunter he’s got going on is much more of a late-afternoon mood.

                The extended duration of his ambling, though, is partly for the sake of stalling. Distantly it occurs to him that he hasn’t done anything wrong yet, that he might still turn back; that he could very well keep this awkward, fidgety shuffle right past the bakery, and no one would be the wiser. But he’s come this far, is now this close, and the warmth emanating from the bakery window is now just a few feet in front of him.

                He steals a glance behind him, checks the street ahead. There’s no one, save for that huddled child in the alley opposite the street, who hasn’t moved an inch since he spotted them.

                Now along the facade of the bakery, he crouches – doesn’t have to drop very much at all, with how tall he isn’t and might never be. The window is slightly ajar, and from here, just below it, he can’t see the loaves – he just has to trust that what he had spied, the precarious positioning of the bread, when he first began.

                But here’s another thing he hadn’t but really should have sorted out before he’d even crossed the street.

                Whether to do this by slow slink, or snatch it up and sprint.

                He goes for slow. He reaches up, fingertips coasting up and over the sill. Holds his breath and eyes the window. He can’t see the cashier from here; he can only hope the obstruction is mutual. Several agonizingly long seconds pass, in which he wonders wildly if someone’s moved the bread, or if he got its position wrong to begin with. The smell of eggs and sugar and cream taunts him as it billows down from above. But, finally, sending his heart nearly leaping from his throat – his fingertips brush against what must be one of the loaves. He brushes against it – it barely moves. If he’s going to grab it that means proffering much more of his hand, that much more risk of being in view.

                His knees are aching from holding his half-crouch; his arm burns from suspending it in midair. Before his stomach can growl again he decides to take the plunge, rears up a couple more inches and snags the end of the loaf, thankfully roughed and pointed enough for him to more easily get a grip. He tries to slide it off the sill, slink back down – but as he looks up, he realizes the window’s not open nearly enough for the bread to seamlessly pass.

                It’s easy mathematics – it’s not even mathematics, it’s a ready visual assessment. But he tries anyway, and as anyone might have predicted, the loaf jams between the window and the sill.

                There’s a flurry of movement beyond the window – and to be honest, he’s not absolutely sure he’s been spotted, but it’s enough to set off his already delicate trigger. He wrenches the loaf down, tugs the window that much open – which groans and only relents the barest of an inch – and yanks the lot free.

                The cashier’s shouting now, scowling down at him from behind the window. Not giving himself time to think or panic, he shoves the loaf down his shirt and runs.
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                Trifles Make the Sum

                Postby Caspian on March 3rd, 2021, 1:47 pm

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                  The loaf is oddly light in his hands.

                  The observation occurs to him as he runs, with the disaffected distance of a lone porch light in the winter. Somehow, between the windowsill and his panicked yanking, it had halved itself. Steam issues into the air.

                  Lungs burning, he turns sharply down an alley. The cashier had given up – when, he doesn’t know, but possibly after just a few blocks. There had been no one else in the bakery, and they couldn’t leave the shop entirely unmanned for very long. Given the opportunity, the urchins would doubtlessly have swarmed, and there’d be a lot more damage than a stolen loaf of bread.

                  Panting, he falls back against the bricks. It’s a loss, but – it’s okay, he had accidentally gone for one of the larger ones anyway, and there’s more than enough. Just as he’s about to bite down, he realizes he isn’t alone.

                  Another kid not much older than Caspian suddenly appears, snatching at the loaf. The girl, bearing broken, blackened teeth, is dressed in rags – the same he had noticed just before he’d made the steal, and mistakenly passed off as not a threat. She must have been watching him the entire time.

                  Caspian swears. She punches him in the jaw and knees him in the gut. The loaf tears between them, more than half in her hands. He doesn’t want to hurt her; he remembers too late the dagger at his waist but reaching for it means abandoning one hand from the bread for it. In his panic and indecisiveness, she strikes him against in the gut, and his head slams against the bricks. He snatches at her hair as he falls, kicks out blindly. He thinks he connects – it does little to slow her. Howling, she pounces on him again, wrenching herself free, and he curls up into a ball as she rains down kicks upon him until he throws his arms over his head in clear defeat.

                  The girl scampers, and all that’s left in Caspian’s hands is the very tail end of the loaf. It’s so meager he could close his fist around it without crushing it. Numbly – because it's entirely brutally possible that another street rat would slit his throat over it – he puts it in his mouth. Forces his aching jaw to chew and swallow.

                  The whole ordeal leaves him hungrier than before.

                  He exits the alley with a limp. The girl, of course, is nowhere to be seen.

                  A few blocks south is a small plaza with a fountain, empty and dry save for gray-green puddles and stray broken bottles. It’s well into morning now, and vendors are setting up their carts in a ring. Sore and still in shock, Caspian huddles on a stone stoop and watches the proceedings. Some of the vendors will have trinkets, shiny enough for Taalviel to stab someone over; many more will have –

                  It’s torture, sitting here, all of it self-inflicted. One of the vendors is roasting chestnuts, loud and sparking in the pan. The man adds sugar, and –

                  Caspian screws his eyes shut, inhales deeply. The warm smell of caramelizing sugar reminds him of –

                  His eyes stay closed. In his mind are snowy hills and dales, jeweling, snake-like lights across the night sky. The aunties merrily chattering as they roasted nuts and roots in great pans in the Hold, firelight flickering between them.

                  It’s not exactly the same, the sugar and nuts they use here in Sunberth. But it’s close enough that he feels a tiredness behind his eyes, tears threatening to spill, a sob that might escape him and be heard by everyone if he isn’t careful.

                  His stomach rumbles again, wrenching him back into the present, and his eyes open.

                  Will the man ever leave his cart?

                  Caspian sizes him up. He’s middle-aged, older than Taaldros; doesn’t appear to be a fighter. He’s a bit thick but sort of stooping. There’s a club by his feet, propped up against the cart that any customers approaching from the front won’t see. But Caspian can, from his vantage point several yards in the man’s blind spot.

                  Anticipating a healthy bit of business, the man is scooping the chestnuts into waxed paper bags, and setting them at the front of the cart.

                  Like the baker, would the man not want to abandon his storefront for more than a minute, if Caspian were to duck and grab and go?

                  With just that bit of bread in his system, does he have the energy to run for even a minute, likely more?

                  Indecisive, Caspian prowls to another stoop, still out of sight of the man, watching him with avid eyes.
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                  Trifles Make the Sum

                  Postby Caspian on March 5th, 2021, 1:18 pm

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                    Waiting is the right move.

                    This really should have been apparent to him the moment he entered the plaza, but he’s not the only waif skulking around the perimeter. Still smarting from the beating he’d taken in the alley, he knows better now than to underestimate similar solitary strangers with their hoods drawn. But the greater and far more obvious threat – which, again, if he were worth his spit he should have noticed from the beginning – is the circle of urchins scuffling a few yards to his right. There’s four of them, now joined by a fifth who they greet with a raucous chorus. They look younger than Caspian, maybe 11 or 12, but more wiry, would probably punch harder than the girl who’d stolen his bread. One street-hardened Sunberth scrapper is bad enough – that’s what this city is built on, people with nothing to lose – but a whole pack of them? Luckily for him, they’re too preoccupied with wrestling and kicking around a rotten piece of fruit.

                    He doesn’t have to wonder long, what it would be like to be on the receiving end. Whether they had planned this before congregating or they somehow, like a grubby-fingered little hive, had collectively come into the idea within the last few minutes, they suddenly disperse with the vulgarity and force of a popping pustule.

                    Honey, in effect sweetness does appear to catch more flies – for the boys dart towards the man with the candied nuts from all angles. One zips behind him, which makes him wheel around; with his back turned, he’s slow on the uptake when another boy shoves his cart, and another is throwing pieces of the rotting fruit they’d been playing with. The fourth makes a mad grab for the club at the same time as the vendor, holding on with a manic grin like a dog clamped down on the other end of a stick. And the fifth –

                    The fifth swoops in, snatching up as many of the prearranged bags as he can carry.

                    A couple of the other vendors have taken it upon themselves to rush over. A couple, but not all, Caspian notes – because this happens often enough that it’s not terribly surprising, and they’re worried about being raided themselves if they abandon their posts. But they’re coming from all the way across the plaza, and Caspian’s much closer, and that fifth boy, he can only carry so many.

                    Not giving himself time to think, Caspian bolts from the stoop. It’s only a few yards towards the vendor, and two of the boys are about to topple the entire cart. The vendor’s still locked with the boy who’d grabbed the other end of his club. Sugar and nuts are scattered across the ground, some of the bags torn open and spilling onto the dirty cobblestones. Like a hawk – no, that’s wishful thinking, like a rat – he zips in just close enough to try and snatch up one of the bags that’s fallen the greatest distance from the scuffle. But the boy who’d been throwing fruit, hands now empty, is gathering up as much as he can, and he beats Caspian to it, shoving him to the ground with a snarl.

                    The two people who are trying to help – they can’t tell the difference between Caspian and the rest of the lot. Even if they could, they wouldn’t care. One of them has their own club, and Caspian’s scrambling away just in time. It misses him by inches. Fortunately for him there’s plenty of distraction, and in the absolute howling shyke storm the other kids are kicking up, he manages to snag one of the bags. It’s ripped and spilling half its contents, but he shoves it into his pocket all the same, and without looking back sprints across the plaza and into another maze of alleys.
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