by Peter Savoy
The winters in Arduin are cold and the opportunities for his usual forms of income, were limited, not as many visitors in the cold months. And no visitors means no income from performing on street corners. The storms kept the wharves empty, and no one wanted to have letters written or posted in the cold time.
His carefully hoarded silvers were dwindling fast when, driven to begging, he entered a dock bar called the Mizzen mast. Garish ship flags and pennants hung on either side of the thick door, telling all who had the knowing that two crews had claimed this bar as their own for the night. The flags were bright and blazoned with sea creatures and glyphs that he had never seen before, but two crews would fill a place so a quick lad could gather scraps under tables drink out of unwatched mugs and maybe earn a coin or two with some juggling.
He waited outside the door in the dusk, his stomach growling as the smells of roasting joints and fresh broached kegs wafted out. His chance came as the door swung inward, he raced low to the ground in the door and along the wall eyes smarting from the change from cold to warmth, as he ducked under the cloaks hung to dry, moving further into the tavern and closer to food. He herd a drunken young man say “damn dogsh”.
There was a kind of chaos of a sort he had never seen before, music smoke strange and exotic scents, the smell of unwashed bodies, but something smelled wrong, almost like seeing a lit oil lamp and not smelling soot. He peered out from under the cloaks and saw by an overturned table a hardly eaten trencher the hard baked bread bowl still warm and soft with juices, and there the half-gnawed joint that had been in it when the table overturned.
Meat, he hadn’t tasted meat in three months. He grabbed his find and ducked back under the cloaks well away from the forest of sea boots that filled this place. He tore into the joint with a ferocity that would do a wolf cub proud his long ears twitching for the first sounds of discovery. He kept back most of the trencher for later and after wiping his hands and face on a salt rimed wool cloak he looked out at the room for the first time to plan his next move.
Dancing on the bar was a “Pretty boy” painted and shaved, the kind the “Chicken-hawks” kept on those silver chains in the Lane of Pleasure. The clapping and stomping, the skirling pipes, and thrumming tambour, played by more painted men, all fell away and the smile dropped from his face as he realized where he might be…a “Hawk-Roost”. All the youngers knew of them …whispered tales of youngers gone missing, lost to all but prey to the ‘Hawks.
The room spun and he sat back hard hitting his head on the rough timbered wall, He remembered the jeers and crys of the band of ragamuffins that had hounded him down to the wharves. Like wolves they were darting and snapping, one grabbed the chain from his neck and ran off into the night. Another tried to tackle him but he twisted away, leaving him nothing but his brocade coat, and pleased with that he ran off, disappearing into the darkness.
Breath burning in his lungs he ran down one alley then another, but always coming back to the waterfront. If there was rhyme or reason to this maze it was beyond his ken. The sound of pursuit faded as he ran toward a lit intersection. The buildings here were lit with torches and lamps, well dressed men strolled with feathered women. Perhaps one of them might help him, he ran toward a likely couple and started to blurt out his tale.
“Help me please I’m lost and and thieves have stolen my coat”
The couple turned at his words with warm smiles the man started to pull his cape around the coatless young man and the lady reached out to grasp his arm, He shivered with relief, “safe at last safe”. She grasped his arm hard and as he winced he looked up and realized they were both men, one was dressed as a woman but both men. He slammed his right fist back into the mans’ groin, and snapped a kick into the “ladies” shin. They both screamed in an alto duet as he ducked back under the cloak of the bent over man.
Freeing himself from the cloak, he turned and ran back the way he had come with the cries of “Lost boy lost boy” called from the other strolling couples. He snapped a quick look over his shoulder and saw a burly man running after him cloak belling out behind him as he ran carrying a blanket or sack in one hand. He raced down the slick streets crying “help. watch, help, watch but no one answered. He turned another corner, and his heart sank, another wharf. Perhaps he could hide amongst the crates waiting for pickup, he raced down the wooden quay, and darted between two stacks of crates covered by a half mended sail. He quickly turned and watching the opening backed slowly deeper into the dark passage. His heart was pounding so hard in his chest he almost missed the slow heavy footsteps coming down the wharf.
He quietly stepped back one pace and then another, as he lifted his left foot, he froze his boot was held by something invisible in the darkness. Holding his breath , and stifling the scream that lay just behind his lips, he felt downward to find his boot caught in a snarl of twine, or waxed heavy line of some sort. Hot pain lanced through his hand as he encountered something in the darkness, he whimpered in pain as he sucked on his bleeding hand, then whimpered again as the heavy footsteps came quickly to his hiding place.
“Come out boy its the watch”, the gruff voice called.
But the trebling lad knew better he’d heard the watch whistles many times around his fathers house, He’d even seen the watch in pursuit one afternoon, shrill whistles calling to one another as they chased the scoundrel down. It had been the last time he had gone shopping with his mother. Two years had passed but that thought made tears well up in his eyes, he missed her so.
Suddenly, faster than a man that size had any right to be, the big man was half in the tight passageway, his ham sized hand crushingly tight on the boys arm, only the cord wrapped around his boot kept him from being pulled out like a radish. The frantic boy scrabbled behind him desperately for any purchase the cords holding his foot started parting like broken lute strings. He screamed in pain as the brute gave him another wrench, and wrapped his left hand into the mass of twine he felt something solid and grasped it firmly as the last of the cord parted sending him flying out into the arms of his captor.
The momentum of his sudden release caused him to bowl over the larger man and they rolled across the boards, and came to rest with the big man on top crushing the breath out of the boy. The heavy weight lifted from his chest as the big man rose to his knees with a puzzled look on his face before falling backwards and breathing his last gurgling breath. Gasping for breath the boy saw sprouting from his pursuers chest the wooden handle of a sailors awl.
In the darkness he heard slow quiet footsteps, too quiet for a human, an Elf! He lunged forward and grabbed the awl with his left hand, and on the second try wrenched it from the dead mans’ chest. Turning he saw an tall figure coming out of the fog, the spectral figure stopped just within the boys sight and whistled a low note. Pigeons and wrens answered, and soon after heads appeared along the edges of the wharf and he could hear the scurry of feet from the street. He was surrounded, but they would pay dearly for him. He clenched the haft of the awl tightly as the tall man glided slowly forward with arms spread wide.
“Peace boy, peace.” the man’s voice was quiet, but carried well. “We thought to rescue you from the ‘hawks, but it seems you don’t need rescuing, but ya might need a friend and The Leaper be glad to show ya the ropes if ya be a loster like ya was a crying in pleasure lane. Well boy what’ll it be, be taken by the ‘hawks or join the leapers band? Where’s ya family boy? Where’s ya friends?
Still holding the awl at the ready, he answered bitterly “family’s dead, house is burned, and I have no friends”
“Not true lad, ya got us family and friends. Right lads? “Aye Leaper aye. The rag tag chorus made him jump and spin, they were all around him now.
“See lad all friends all around, that’s Spike, here’s Flea, over there’s fast Eppie,(wearing my coat) That’s Coal and his sister Tar.” “Now lad who you be?”
He cast his eyes around the group “Wyn..Wynde…..”His voice trailed off they all had short names strong names he looked down at the awl. “Call me Needle”