Monday, 7 November 2016

[Northspell 12] a den of thieves

The woman gave them a flat sort of bread, a handful of sticky dried fruits, and a drink of water from a stone vessel at the back of the room where it was cool and damp. The water tasted slightly gritty, but Irena was so thirsty that she didn't care. She drank every last drop from the thick pottery cup.

 Gia stared at her. "Go get some more then, greedy."

"Oh, I don't want any more." Irena said.

"Not for you, for us."

"Get it yourself," Irena retorted, feeling braver now that she'd had some food and drink.

"I'll get some more." said Arkel, darting over to the roughly carved stone channel that ran in and out of the back wall. He dipped the cup into the water and drained it, then dipped his hand to fill it again.

"I wish we had one of these. It's such a pain having to carry water from the well..."

"I thought you said it was the best?" Gia teased, taking the cup that he held out to her.

"It is," said Arkel, unperturbed, "but it could do with a few improvements."

"Like beds, a fireplace, and its own water supply?"

Irena thought it didn't sound like a very good place at all.

"That was great thanks," Arkel said to the woman, "But we need to get back to The Best Hideout Ever and we can't tell you where it is because the less you know the better."

The woman laughed again. "Alright chicks, whatever you say. Hand over the dibs before you go."

Gia reluctantly took out the pouch and placed it on the table. The woman searched through it, removed three coins, and gave one to each of the children.

"What good is that!" Gia said, as Irena turned hers over and over, examining the words and intricate patterns on the front and back.

"Don't spend it all at once, chickens..." the woman said as she closed the door behind them.

"Spend it on what?" Gia grumbled, shoving her coin into a pouch sewn onto the inside of her tunic sleeve.

"I like it. It's pretty." Irena said, rubbing her fingers over the raised surface of the metal. "But what do I do with it?"

Gia looked at her in astonishment, while Arkel was doubled over with laughter. "You're joking, right?"

Irena narrowed her eyes. "I don't make jokes."

Gia shrugged. "Whatever. You exchange it for things you want."

"Food!" Arkel said, straightening up and patting his stomach, "You can get lots of food with it."

"Not with what Mamata gave us this time. Besides, it's too late now - we need to get back."

Arkel bounced into action, sprinting ahead, so the girls had to break into a run to catch him up. Gia quickly overtook him and grabbed him by the shoulder. "Not so fast, shortlegs. Let's see if it's clear first."

"But I did check..." Arkel protested, struggling free of her grip.

"Well let's check again."

Irena hung back while Gia looked carefully up and along the walkway, but there was no one in sight.

"Alright, let's go," she said eventually, after Irena had got tired of standing and was beginning to get chilled in her thin dress. It was properly dark now, and the only light came from the moon far above. It shone quite brightly, but that only made the bits in shadow even darker.

The moon had shifted across the starry sky by the time they reached their destination. There was a narrow cleft in the cliff face, through which the children slipped easily.

***

Irena sat on a pile of different coloured rags and looked around her. Gia was asleep nearby atop a bundle of old clothes in various states of repair, and Arkel lay curled up in an alcove that was reached by way of a makeshift ladder. It was simply a long piece of scrap wood with shorter bits of wood hammered into it with metal pins. "I made it myself." Arkel had said proudly, and Irena, not wanting to disappoint him, had nodded in appreciation. Gia had rigged up a hanging for him made from scraps of old clothes that were too worn to be mended. Gia mended their clothes, stealing odd bits of fabric from the dying process, or taking things from unattended washing lines. She always added lots of pockets for stashing small stolen things.

For larger things, she showed Irena the bags they used. "We only use these if Mamata sends us on a job." She said. Mamata, it seemed, was the woman who had fed them. She knew how to find forgotten places where there were things to steal, and sold on anything that Gia and Arkel picked up.

The bags were made of a thick, sturdy material, with wide straps to fit over their shoulders, and separate fabric pouches inside. "To stop things rolling around and making a noise." Gia explained.

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