Memory’s Wake- Chapter 4
The final free sample chapter of Memory’s Wake. In Chapter Four we meet Roen and see the world from his point of view. The characters start to come together here and there are some big revelations! Most of the story is told through Memory’s eyes, but sometimes we go back to the other characters to see things from their point of view again too.
“…and then the gnome said to the merchant, ‘I’m sorry, I’m a bit short!’” The stall holder rumbled out the punch line. Around him, a huddle of corseted and bustled ladies giggled behind their gloved hands.
Observing as he strolled by, Roen wondered if they laughed at the man’s humor or the man himself. Roen hadn’t heard that joke since he was a boy and a few entrepreneurial little folk could still be seen trading on market day, bringing exotic imports and fairy goods. They rarely appeared any more and the fae had barely been importing for far longer. Funny to be joking about it now. The market suffered from their absence. One of the young ladies smiled at Roen, and he winked back, setting off another wave of giggles, quivering lace and ribbons. Shame he couldn’t stay, he thought, letting his gaze linger on them. Unfortunately, he had to get to work.
Ambling along, Roen smiled to himself. Despite his reason for being here, he enjoyed the vital chaos of the market, now in its mid-morning peak of activity. Vendors spruiked from behind makeshift carts, boisterously laid out into a rough grid of narrow aisles. Children ran underfoot. Those with money bought sweet delights to nibble on. Those that couldn’t buy bullied the sweets from those that could. Innocent thieves, thought Roen, envious.
Maerranton markets used to be legendary throughout Avall. It had been a rich city, a wealth still evident in the tall, handsome buildings of stone and sculpted bronze which stepped down the steep cobbled streets. But these were harder times and much of the city fell into disrepair. It didn’t mean much to Roen. He’d never known wealth. He did know every abandoned and derelict house, each broken and dry drainage tunnel. Hiding places. Secret routes.
Squeezing through a small gap between two men, Roen muttered polite apologies. Decent weight, maybe some gold. I can easily do better. He slipped the coin purse into a concealed pocket in his long coat and adjusted his cravat to cover the movement. His clothes were well suited to his career. He saw to that when they were tailored. Dark colored, neat but unremarkable, the suit had no frills or fancies such as some men wore. His sleeves and cuffs were designed to keep his hands free. The seam of his trousers hid a thin blade, the perfect tool for defeating locks, slicing straps of bags, or defending his life. Not that he’d ever let it come to that.
He wandered through the humming market, thick with the sounds and smells of people trading. A passing carriage disturbed a family of stray cats and one came closer to him, mewing for food. With a swift and casual movement, Roen lifted a strip of dried fish from a nearby stand and flicked it across to the kitten before continuing on.
He followed a man, clearly upper class, ridiculously dressed in startling turquoise-blue tails and top hat that oozed gaudy trims. He showed off his bad taste and bulging coin pouch to a lady whose bosom overflowed from her bodice. Roen idly browsed nearby stalls’ wares, waiting for the best moment to move in and take his earnings. But despite the peacock man’s flippant demeanor the opportunity never arose. His hands were always too tight around his money. Roen chuckled to himself at how the busty lady fawned over the miser, doubting she would get what she was after either. He could still have the man’s money. He’d just have to work a little harder.
He rolled his shoulder in its socket, still stiff and sore, and turned away. It was too risky, even without an injury slowing him down. And risks he would not, could not, take. Last week’s mess, the closest he’d ever been to capture, left him wary. He needed a new mark.
Roen headed back along the crowded aisle. Nonchalantly, he scrutinized the people around him. There. Too easy. Almost a gift. Spotting his next target, he couldn’t help but give a tiny, wry grin.
The pair showed signs of poverty, with mud and scuffs of dirt covering their hooded cloaks, but were clumsily making a deal for some food with an obscene amount of gold. Maybe thieves themselves, Roen thought, wondering who they’d rolled to get that sort of money. From their size he guessed they were younger boys, street rats, drifting through town, spending out a big take. After stumbling through the purchase of food the two moved along to a used clothing stall. They kept themselves well hidden under their travelling cloaks, but one struggled with his, his body obviously far too small for the garment. The clothing glimpsed underneath was bizarre even compared with the last man in his feathers and ruffs.
The boy in the out of place outfit fiddled with a small item of metal which flicked open into a sharp blade. He quickly fumbled it back into a pocket. Certainly fair marks, Roen decided. If anyone deserved to be victim of his crime, it was a criminal himself.
The other scamp placed his leather pack – if it even belonged to him – down on the table then turned away to trade with the merchant, picking up a plain heavy dress. Roen questioned the dress, but his mind was too fixed on the bag sitting unwatched on the table. Surely not, could it be so easy? Without a blink of hesitation he started into action. Strolling by he barely brushed the back of their cloaks as he passed, leaving no trace of the bag behind.
Roen kept his steady pace until he reached the end of the stalls and tucked himself into the shadow of a larger building. He might be finishing early today, after a take like that. He couldn’t help but look back. He knew he should move on, away from the scene. It was poor form to remain and gloat on a take, and the large bag couldn’t be hidden away like the smaller purses he took, but this intrigued him. The oddity of the pair he’d stolen from made his curiosity demand more. The inept thieves would be realizing their loss any moment now.
The boy turned back to where he’d put the bag down. He froze, staring at the empty spot on the table. He looked to his companion, who shook his head under the heavy hood. They both searched around, on the ground, panic in their movements. They stepped away from the stall to continue their hunt, unthinking, still with unpaid goods in their hands.
Roen frowned. Time to be gone. A commotion seemed inevitable when the stallholder stepped out from his stall, raised his arms and started bellowing at the street rats. Roen turned away from the vendor’s tantrum, when the large man, towering above, reached out and grabbed at the scamp, ripping back the hood of the cloak. Something caught Roen’s eye, and he looked again.
Blonde hair spilled out from under the fallen hood, and a girl’s face, soft like a petal, blushed pink with distress. Roen’s forehead knitted. He breathed out hard, a lump forming in his chest. No wonder it was too easy, the girl was the very image of innocence.
The girl babbled to the vendor. He started yelling for city guards, shaking her in disgust by a fistful of her cloak. The sort of disgust with which a thief should be treated. Guilt heated Roen’s face. The stallholder kept up his hollering, building a crowd of curious market-goers around him. The girl fell out of her cloak and she and her companion ducked back into the crowd, eluding the larger man amongst the mass of people. Too busy looking behind them, the pair scampered straight toward the city guards that had come, roused by the cries of “Thieves”. He looked from the girl down to the bag he’d stolen, and swore under his breath.
“Excuse me, Miss,” he called out when she passed within earshot.
They both eyed him suspiciously and continued to scurry forward, clinging together. Roen snorted out a breath and swore again. He held up the bag into clear view.
That got their attention, and the still hooded figure dragged the blonde toward him. Roen stepped back further into an alley, forcing them to come to him, out of sight of the approaching guards. Two girls, he saw with surprise now they stood before him. Maybe a couple of years younger than himself, which was still more boy than man. Both were attractive despite being exhausted and worn. He’d noticed before that they were dirty but could see now they were also damaged. One black-eyed and swollen, the other, the pretty blonde one, had a scratch clear across one of her cheeks, the ruby red of it contrasting starkly against her porcelain skin. They were both shaking and on edge, eyes darting, color drained from their faces.
The guards passed by without looking their way. Roen let out a loud and exaggerated puffing noise and gave his best smile.
“Nothing like a bit of excitement to start the morning! It must be your lucky day.” He continued his faux-labored breath.
The two looked at him deer eyed and remained silent. He normally had an easier time getting a smile from a girl. Not my lucky day, he thought, and continued the show.
“Well, I saw it all happen. Some dirty purse cutter making off with your bag. I thought I’d see if I couldn’t help out.”
The blonde breathed out as though she’d been holding her breath since her bag vanished. “Thank you sir, so much. Thank you. You’ve no idea what this means… I….”
Something about her face seemed familiar in the way that made his palms clammy. She was beautiful, even on the verge of tears, but what was yet another pretty girl to him? Roen let his act fall, becoming somber again.
“It wasn’t a trouble at all. When the thief saw me chasing him, he dropped the bag and bolted.”
“Just a coward after all. Bloody bully,” the dark-haired girl vented.
“What more would you expect from a thief?” he asked. He flashed a grin, but could not keep all the bitterness from his tone.
The girl turned and spoke to the blonde, shooting an awkward toothy smile back toward Roen as he watched. “Come on Eloryn, we should be clearing out.”
Roen walked up to the blonde girl and stood close in front of her. She blushed vividly and looked down. He smiled a little at that. It was nice to feel like the champion sometimes. Except that I’m the villain pretending to be a champion. His smile faded.
“Eloryn, is it? Here, so you can be on your way. Do be more wary in the future, thieves aren’t always so easily beaten.”
As he placed the bag down into her open hands, his fingers brushed against hers and she twitched back bashfully. They both apologized and the bag thumped down between them onto the cobblestones. A small object wrapped in fine velvet fell out and rolled around, unwinding itself from the material as if with a will to be free, drawing Roen’s eyes after it. It glittered where it came to a stop. Polished and precious.
The lump of guilt in his chest began to pound and he looked from the ornate amulet to the girl again. Her mouth just slightly open, she grabbed for the intricate medallion as he picked up her bag. Her effort to remain casual was ruined by her quivering lips. He could see her trying to judge his reaction, if he recognized the heirloom, if he made the connection.
A noise from the marketplace turned his attention the other way. The city guards returned, searching this time in a begrudging manner that made them all the more surly and determined. The vendor had certainly scolded them straight to work. The guards walked right toward the alley he and the girls openly stood in. Any moment now the lawmen would see the girls they were searching for, and him standing with them. Not good.
Roen broke into movement, kicking in an old door. Grabbing the girls around their small shoulders, he pushed them through, both too surprised to stop him. All three fell down broken stairs into thick, pungent mud. The two girls landed flat on their backs, stunned and winded.
Roen spun around and pushed the door back into place. Her dress pinned under his knees, Eloryn tried to wriggle free. The other girl swore liberally at him. He turned back and dropped his body down on top of them, hoping the dark shade of his coat would hide them. He slapped a mud covered hand onto the swearing girl’s mouth and gave a vehement shushing gesture to them both, pointing back through the holes in the door at the passing feet of the patrolmen.
The girls stilled. Thank the fae. Roen breathed out a silent sigh of relief. Another wriggle or scream would mean all sorts of difficult explaining to be done on his part and likely much worse for them.
The guards poked around in the alley way, making the appearance of a hunt. The dark haired girl glared at Roen. He removed his hand from her mouth and she wiped dirt from it angrily. Despite the buildup of rotting refuse, run off from the markets, this ancient, half-buried basement had been a hiding place for him on more than one occasion. Ignored by most people in the sprawling city, it even held an entrance to the city’s large underground tunnel system through a half crumbled wall.
After he thought the guards had passed, Roen waited a few moments longer, just to be sure. Only then did he realize he pinned Eloryn’s body down full length with his own. He could feel her pounding heart through the clothes between their chests. She stared at him with worried eyes in a haunting shade of green, probably planning how to get away from him. What a way to make an introduction of this importance.
Roen rose to his feet with steady movements in an attempt to not panic the girls further. The odd dark haired girl stood up next to him. She looked down at her freshly muddied clothes and swore again.
Roen reached down and helped Eloryn to her feet with as much care as he could offer. They kept their eyes on each other, waiting for the other to make a move. He knew he had to offer a sign of his allegiance.
Roen dropped down onto one knee in front of the girl, bowing low toward the unpleasant ground. “Princess, forgive me.”