Written by Harry McKenzie, copyright 2008; posted with full permissions; edited by Joe Parish.
Teras: Dalan 3rd, 1320 Avard
A small thin girl with dark hair, ragged clothing and a simple cloth patch over her left eye sat on the edge of the street watching people hurry past. She was slightly dark complected, thin and rather dirty. Baths were something the needy got few of in these hard times. Aside from the eye patch, there was little to distinguish her from the many other poor refugees who had swelled the town's populace in the wake of the Undead Wars. To the casual passerby, she was merely another unfortunate orphan, there were many of those here now, so most gave her no more than a passing glance.
The reality of it was that she was on possibly the most important mission of her young life. Marcus had entrusted her the vital job of lookout in his weekly theft of food from the market across the street from where she now sat. It was an important task, only given to those Marcus was considering for admission to his gang. Up until this morning, he had shown no indication that he had even known her name, let alone was considering her for membership.
Life in the orphanage was hard. Too many children, not enough staff, too little food, too many sick, too few medicines to go around, and no real hope for most of the children. The older ones formed gangs, both as a way to protect each other, and as a substitute for family. At any given time there were three or four such gangs in the place. At the moment, Marcus led the strongest one. The one everyone aspired to join. The one that few were admitted into.
The girl reached into her pocket and produced a rather tattered cloth doll. It was small, and homemade, and was on the verge of falling apart. Many hasty repairs were visible, the threads mismatched and rather poorly applied in places, but it was the girls last link to her home and family. It was her greatest treasure and her good luck charm. She lovingly stroked the worn yarn that served as it's hair before replacing it in her pocket.
She watched the three older boys who were helping Marcus as they mingled with the shoppers in the market, their job was to distract the vendors. Once the vendors were distracted, Marcus and another boy, Keif, would dart in to grab whatever food they could, and then get clear with their prizes. If all went well it usually worked. A few times it hadn't, but so far, none of them had been caught by either the vendors or the town watch.
The city of Teras, being the capital of Rakore, had a very competent city watch. Rakore was possibly the strangest nation on all of Galeth, it was made up of an unusual mix of races, that all shared one common trait: they openly defied the rest of the world by offering safe haven to mages. Magic and it's use were forbidden by most of the churches throughout the land, but Rakore ignored the churches and their Inquisition.
None of this really was of any concern to the girl, however, as the distraction team went into action. One boy shoved another down, and then they began to fight. Within a few seconds, all three boys were creating quite an uproar as they “fought”. Slamming each other into tables and overturning baskets. Within less than a minute, they had a large crowd gathering to watch.
Once that was accomplished, Marcus and his two helpers moved. They ducked into a stall and loaded the sacks they carried with whatever foodstuffs they could quickly grab. They were in and out within a few seconds. The girl made sure they were well away before raising her right arm into the air and twirling it a bit, the signal to the diversionary team to finish up. The boys “fight” quickly wound down and then ceased entirely.
As the boys faded away into the crowd, the girl too began to make her way away from the area. As she made her way out of the market, she found herself behind a rather rotund man. She idly noted a small purse tied to his belt…tied with a rather frayed cord. It simply mesmerized her. She watched as it bounced in time with his steps, she even thought she could hear the clink of coins from within it.
She had a small clasp knife in her pocket, it's blade was quite sharp. She carefully opened it, taking care not to accidentally cut herself with it, and keeping it out of view as much as she could. She continued to follow the man, waiting for the right moment. She wasn't really sure what the right moment was, or even what she was doing, but she knew that if she did this right, that purse would be hers.
A group of people coming from another direction crowded around the man, and the girl realized that this was the moment. She deftly reached out, and her tiny blade cut the frayed cord. The purse dropped free of the belt, and her tiny hand caught it, and quickly tucked it into her tunic. Her other hand returned her knife to it's pocket, though she couldn't fold the blade away, and it cut her slightly in the process.
She turned away and threaded her way out of the press of people. Taking an indirect route back to the orphanage, she checked behind her frequently, fearful that someone had seen her brazen act of thievery. After reaching the orphanage and seeing no one chasing after her, and no sign of the town watch in pursuit, she began to accept that she had got away with it.
She was practically giddy with excitement as she made her way to her secret hiding place in the attic. She had found a place up there where there was a small gap between some boards, behind the opening was a small space with no access other than the gap she had found. She quickly staked it out as her own private hiding spot. No one else seemed to know of it, and no one much bigger than her could actually squeeze through the gap.
She squeezed through and sat down on the small bed of rags she had made. She pulled her knife from her pocket and closed it, and then pulled her prize from beneath her tunic. She sat looking at it in wide eyed wonder for a time, before finally loosening the cord that held it closed. She reached inside and her hand closed over several smooth and cool objects.
She pulled them out and laid them in her lap. She could not read, but she recognized them as Ducats, the recast quartz coinage of Rakore. Each was six-sided and bore a number on one side and the crest of Rakore on the other. There were six coins in total, five of them were copper colored, and one was silver colored. The girl was holding more money that she had ever seen in her short life. She inspected them for quite some time, fascinated by the way they felt, their cool smooth texture, the heft that each possessed, and the way the light reflected off their surfaces.
Finally, she decided to put them away and go check in with Marcus, lest he wonder just where she was. She replaced the coins in the purse and hid it among the rags that made up her bedding. She squeezed back though the small opening and made her way down to the common hall that served as the dining area, play room, and occasional classroom.
She spotted Marcus after a few moments of looking for him. He was sitting atop one of the tables in a corner, holding court as it were. She made her way over to him, passing through the group of older boys that kept anyone not part of the gang away from their corner. Marcus gave her a grin and waved her over to sit next to him.
“And here's our lookout.” He said with a grin, “You did good today kid.”
The girl blushed a bit at the praise. “I didn't really do anything.”
“Because it went the right way.” Marcus told her, “You were key to making sure it did. If someone had seen us, it would have been up to you to warn us off. Mike says you paid attention real close, right Mike?” The last question addressed to another boy that she hadn't noticed before.
Marcus snickered at her look of surprise, “I always have a couple of lookouts…the more eyes the better…it's how we see who will work in our gang.”
“Oh.” she said simply, she cast her one good eye down to the floor for a moment, just how long had Mike been watching her?
“You did good…like I said.” Marcus continued, “I'm gonna give you a try on a couple more jobs later this week…if you keep doing good, you'll be in. And once you're in, you get to hang with us permanently. The other gangs are gonna know you're one of ours after today, so you move your bed over by ours, okay?”
She nodded, a look of hope suddenly upon her small face.
“And you let me or Keif know if anyone bothers you about it.” He told her. He paused and thought for a moment, “What's your name, anyway? I can't just keep calling you girl.”
The girl paused for a moment, no one really called her by her name since she had come here two summers ago. And her name was a bit of a mouthful, she had always thought it too long. She made a decision, “My name is Cleo.” She told them. In that moment, Carmelita Van der Veers died, another forgotten victim of the War of the Undead and it's aftermath. The Van der Veers family would lose her trail after tracking her to this orphanage some four years hence, and give her up for lost. In her place, One-eyed Cleo was born. A girl who would go on to become something Carmelita could never have been.